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In response to Levinson’s Ch. 12, regarding Obama’s highly effective use of social media during his hugely successful 2008 Presidential Campaign, I thought I’d do a little amateur investigating into the role of social media now, 4 years later. According to Patch.com, a New York-based news group, the Republicans are trying to exploit social media with unprecedented fervor this election.

Okay, it might not exactly be a “mad fervor,” but there are some interesting developments on both sides. First, Obama broke new social media ground by getting a tumblr account. Now, this has got to be big news in the social media world… Unfortunately, I can’t quite assess it because I just got a Tumblr account of my own today and am not quite sure what it’s main “objective” is (do website’s all have ‘objectives’??). Regardless, it is a new and tech-savvy display of Obama’s connection with the younger kids… Younger than me, perhaps! From what I can surmise from the water-cooler talk about this new approach, there is a heightened increase in ‘trolling.’

TROLLING—THE PARTY-POOPERS OF SOCIAL MEDIA

Do you think the Official Obama Administration would put this up?! Well, it's on his Tumblr feed! Go Democracy!

UrbanDictionary.com defines trolling as “being a prick on the internet because you can.” I love this definition, but I find the second definition a little more politically relevant: “Typically unleashing one or more cynical or sarcastic remarks on an innocent by-stander…” Cynicism has a long and rich tradition in politics, starting with it’s reluctant ‘founder,’ the ancient Greek Diogenes. He was known to go around, much like Socrates, and harass people, like Aristotle, pointing out as many selfish tendencies and ironies as possible. Now, I haven’t read any of Levinson’s section about trolling, but I think it provides an interesting foil to the whole ‘purity of social media’ and democracy. Is there some point where social media, like tumblr, enhances people’s ability to be reached in meaningful ways, but reverses into repugnant ‘trolling?’ Wasn’t Socrates himself a social “gadfly” of democratic Athens?

STAND (OR LINK) WITH MITT

Mitt Romney has his own blog… well, that’s what it says. Seriously, the only evidence that this is any kind of “blog” and not some standard website was the word “BLOG” innocently hanging near the top. Upon further investigation (and correct me, please, if I am wrong), people are not able to leave comments on the “blogs,” which read like nothing more than news updates. While there is definitely a fine line between the two, blogs have to be “inherently social,” right? And there’s no ostensible interactivity.

One more thing that I thought was interesting, and at least obliquely related to social media and politics, was the Patch.com article’s bit about the mass-dispersal of the “Stand With Mitt” slogan and image:

It got me thinking more about the potentially tense relationship between social media and political unification. When the internet, and the new new media especially, thrives off of freedom of expression and diversity (some might go so far as to call it massive fragmentation of information), how easily can a candidate create a sense of unity and consensus with his online “herd”?  Maybe by churning out highly-polished images and slogans. Okay that’s not too bad. But where does that stop? Where does the enhancement of interaction begin to obselesce dynamic learning?

For instance, take the SOPA debacle. Late last year I first read about this legislation. Before I did much more reading (and very one-sided, no doubt), I already had a pre-written appeal to my senator that could be sent by “me” with just a click of a button. Now, I am still against SOPA, but I am considerably more informed now compared to then. What I wonder is if the internet’s quick ability to barrage and seduce with images and information actually stifles a fair amount of industrious self-teaching on matters and debates.

The questions march on…

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