Reflective Blog

5th February 2017

Networked Participation

Can social media be designed in a way that nurtures political engagement?

Verily, in society’s naivety, social media has become an outlet of frustrations, immaturity, egoism, and entertainment. I have shown it in a bad light as corrosive of our intellectual conversation, but that is not the whole picture. In fact social media platforms can be a powerful tool for the public engage with politics, they can comment, follow, and support policies and parties they are interested in. “Those are tiny acts of participation which in an earlier era would have been too small. Politics was much lumpier, you would have to join a political party, would have to go to a very long meeting. That fact, that you can do very small bits of politics I think is drawing people into politics that wouldn’t have engaged before” says Professor Helen Margettes, director of the Oxford Internet Institute. We can see how digital networking can be used to reinvent how our democracy works.

Infact, its happening already.

Brigade is a social media platform like Facebook or Twitter, it lets people rate and discuss policies that they agree or disagree with. As a result it encourages intellectual debates to give people a better understanding of local politics and how it matters to them. Its co-founder, Matt Mahan, described how Brigade is designed to “use existing technologies that have already had a big impact in other spaces from dating to social networking and applying those new tools to the political process”. This insight into technological communications has improved the effectiveness of Brigade as a platform. In doing this Brigade makes policy matter to the consumer, by allowing them to discuss and apply the information to their own ideas.

Crowdpac has a similar objective. Through the consumer agreeing and disagreeing to a series of statements and ranking how important they are, Crowdpac presents where on a left-right authoritarian-libertarian grid the consumer is in relation to political parties. It also shows how political candidates stand in relation to the policies the consumer agrees and disagrees with. Through using these mechanisms, political orientations can be explained to a consumer, and they can also see how certain policies they care about effect how they should vote.

By using these kind of technologies, the designer can help make politics an accessible area for the public. It also helps them to feel as if they are engaging with a nations democracy. However they are not. The political system already is interactive but people don’t seem to see this or participate in local politics, partly because they don’t understand how this works, and partly because it doesn’t suit their lifestyles. Platforms like Brigade and Crowdpac create a starting point for consumers to learn, but they do not solve the problem.

3rd February 2017

Platforms

Why is technology uniquely positioned as an instrument for changing political news consumption?

I have already described how the consumer turns to the most entertaining or accessible sources such as popular websites, blogs, and social media to get their political news. This has eroded the voice of professional news organisations which provide credible sources of information, however the format by which these are communicated fail to meet the expectations of a digitised society. Liliane Landor of BBC Language services described in an interview that the BBC was not using the correct tools to reach out to younger audiences. Their methods do seem to replicate the orthodox structures of news papers but on new platforms such as websites, apps, and videoclips. As a result they capture their audiences attention far less than popular media. It would be appropriate here to use McLuhans most famous quote “trying to do todays job with yesterdays tools – with yesterday’s concepts”.

What is the solution?

Interaction. Caitlin Moran, author and columnist at The Times describes that people do not watch the news because it reports events that have happened or are happing. It results in people feeling as if politics is disconnected from their lives and it is out of their influence. Moran speculates that if the news as presented several years in advance, consumers would consume it and realise “hang on I can change this”. If people feel that they can participate in a democracy, suddenly politics becomes a lot more relevant to them. It matters.

Helen Thomas from the BBC described  that in the near future “being an active citizen, being engaged in the democracy we live in is going to become vitally important but to do that you need good information”. This ‘good information’ comes from professional news organisations that put political news through a process of editing, fact checking, and contextualising which provides healthy information for the public. That is why it is important to reinvent the way news organisations communicate the news to stand out in the modern world.

Caitlin Moran’s solution to this is through using the exceptions of modern technology. She uses her smartwatch as an example. It condenses and visualises information in a way that is relevant to her. She has done a certain amount of exercise, but instead of just saying that it puts it in graphs and tables. She can interpret it. She can respond to it. Longform news doesn’t do that, it does not contextualise information to help the consumer understand without extensive reading, and it does not visualise politics in ways that make it relevant, so they can act upon it. Newsbrands need to take on the modern consumers’ expectations of technology, and apply it to their exhibition of politics. They need real interaction.

31st January 2017

Acta Diurna

How have past technologies revolutionised how politics has been communicated?

POSTAL SYSTEM

Personal communications across distances allowed the sharing of ideas and information between districts and separate communities. This provided a degree of national identity and social cohesion, through the understanding of regional politics. However access to these texts would have been limited to the educated minority, and to the powerful. Political news was clear and controlled.

NEWSPAPERS

The first newspaper, Acta Diurna, was the news bulletin of the Roman Republic. Originally carved out of stone they were used to post civic notices, information, and announcements in public places.  This authoritative communication of news kept the literate public informed and responsive to the political authority of the era. They provided a factual, unquestionable statement of political news.

PRINTING PRESS

Gutenburg’s press reinvented Europe, the power to publish ideas were no longer held in the hands of the state and church. This period opened the mind of humanity in period known as the Renaissance, the effect of this was suddenly the public could question and enquire, reflect and reject information imposed on them by authorities. They could publish their own interpretation of news, this, in small part, broke down some of the authority of news. Perhaps the way that the press revolutionised Europe 400 years ago foreshadows the destabilisation of political communication today.

RADIO

Radio provided an experience. It became part of a routine, part of a lifestyle, as people tuned in at scheduled times and all listened to the same news bulletins like clockwork. The public were well informed of most political information that effected them. The news was a voice of patrician authority that represented democracy.

TELEVISION

Television worked very much like a visual radio, with the same structures and mechanisms for communicating political news. Again, it was an experience, brining families and small communities together in living rooms to be updated on current events. This was around at the time when there was an increasing amount of political news available, with the advent of globalisation in the post war world. During and up to this period, political news was still contained, controlled by the newsbrands that accommodated social cohesion.

TELECOMMUNICATIONS

The most powerful and ubiquitous tool for communication, mobile technology and digital networks are the key to our next social revolution on par with the renaissance. The internet has democratised the news, allowing the public to be journalists; reporters of their own news, presenters of their own political interpretations. But with everyone able to share their opinions and preach their views the world of online political information has become loud and pollutive. (read my Zeitgeist post to find out more)

28th January 2017

Zeitgeist

Why does fake news and post truth culture impact how the consumer understands politics?

Researching deeper into the mass information news culture I followed a lead toward post truth culture and how it is the main risk to political communication today. Indeed, so much so that ‘post-truth’ became oxford dictionary’s word of the year 2016, and our time has become labeled as the ‘post truth era’. 

Luciano Floridi described what has happened; that the internet has become an “echo chamber of pleasant lies and reassuring falsehoods” as the public have sought entertainment, gossip, and opinions that satiate their appetite for the news that they want to hear. This “deterioration and pollution of the infosphere” represents how we have allowed digital information to grow untamed corroding the very platform from which most people consume their political information. This means that it is up to others to translate this information, regardless of its province or accuracy. Whether it is news editors, anonymous live bloggers, or ubiquitous Twitter users, the consumer relies on others to edit and contextualise this information to create a “lens on the world”.

This is dangerous.

The consumer’s reliance on these sources for their political understanding damages our democracy and political system. Professor A. C. Grayling describes today as “a culture where a few claims on twitter can have the same credibility as a library full of research”. But why is this? In today’s fast paced society, consumers expect information quick, light, and accessible to consume, and this so happens to be the same platform that anyone can publish information on. The lines between news and entertainment have blurred, and our social cohesion suffers as a result.

26th January 2017

Proliferation

Where do consumers source their political news and why is it significant?

Historically, The News has been the main channel for political communication, with news bulletins read out on radios or television with patrician authority. 

But now this has changed.

The era of mass communication and information via the internet has heralded a new means of consuming political news – bottom up. The BBC Radio Four podcast ‘Brave New Worlds, Making News’ discusses the issues caused by consuming political information via grassroots sources in contrast to professional news brands. One of the main things the source described was the confusion and lack of cohesion in society due to the lack of a distinctive voice on the web, this is probably what Marshall McLuhan meant when he said “what’s that buzzzzzzzzzing?”. Twitter is a great example of mass information news – so many people can post any kind of “political news” and be heard, reputable or not. 

Journalist John Snow warns that this presents news in short “gobbets of information rather than a chaptered book” this results in a lack of consistency and miscommunication of politics. As a result “people depend more and more on somebody to sift and refine mass information into news”. This presents the need for journalists, structured news organisation, or educational outlets to exhibit news in a way that helps the public make sense of all this noise.

However, it is not as simple as packaging political news as concise ready meals of information. The news itself is  “needs to be interpreted… it is like a book, it isn’t self evident what is being told to us” therefore there need to be mechanisms, deigns, or tools that help the public to think about the news after its consumption. To give it context and and connection to the consumer, so it matters to them.

23rd January 2017

Twenty Sixteen

Why is it time for us to rethink our methods of Political communication?

For me, the zeitgeist of a year has never been as clear as it was for 2016. A year that highlighted the consequences of social division and political discord. I want follow this problem via the communication channels that the public uses to consume political news, to find out how the exhibition and experience of political news affects our interpretation and understanding of politics. I want to investigate how new technologies can revolutionise how we communicate political news, to encourage people to be more engaged in our democracy and promote greater social cohesion.

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