New Media and Revitalization of Politics: Rachel Gibson

I found this article by Rachel Gibson to be an excellent and informative read that examines the current American culture pertaining to institution’s and the use of social media  in the 2008 presidential election. I particularly liked this article because Gibson, a political science teacher in the United Kingdom, provides an unbiased examination of how the Obama campaign revolutionized the use of social media and “web 2.0”  In the article, Gibson explains how social media provided voters with a sense of citizen empowerment that was lacking prior to 2008. Social media allows the campaign to mobilize quickly and provide voters with a sense of connection with other voters and candidates. As Gibson explains, “Citizens are able to spread the word themselves, spontaneously, socially embed (rather than institutionally driven) layer of political action during the campaign.” The question that arises from this socially driven campaign is whether it negatively affects the content of the campaign. Gibson says that Americans are more concerned with scandalous and personality based aspects of politics rather than the substantive issues. Gibson states that the campaign is at threat of being “trivialized and tarnished” and therefore lacking serious debate.


This was by far my favorite article we have read as it made me reflect constantly throughout the reading and question just how American campaigns are operated. The first question that I wanted to examine is the notions that can we as Americans trust institutions, and more specifically, politics. Reflecting on the previous campaign, I recalled the first presidential debate where it was “unanimously stated” that Romney was the clear and decisive winner. Anchors from every news outlet praised how strong Romney appeared, but rarely referenced the content of his speech.  I believe as social media progresses, politics are moving further away from substance and closer to theatrics. Politics have become about who appears the strongest and most fit to stand in front of a camera and deliver a powerful speech rather than who is most competent to run the country. I can recall during the 2008 campaign when people said John McCain is too old and would make our country appear weak to the outside world. Politics is far too much appearance and not enough substance.

Another example of this is during the 2008 campaign where Barack Obama was very popular amongst celebrities. As Gibson states Americans are more concerned with personality led aspects of politics than the politics themselves. Politics are beginning to have a TMZ or People magazine like feel to them. Rap artist Young Jeezy released a song entitled “my president is black” and rapper Jay-Z was photographed several times having lunch with Obama. Amongst my group of friends it was almost like the “it” thing to do to vote for Obama because he was young and in tune with our demographic. I personally voted for Obama on issues, but it just raises a certain level of concern for me because I believe citizens should make the best informed vote rather than what is simply trending at the time. I suppose this could date back to John F Kennedy when he was so popular due to his handsome appearance and relationship with Marilyn Monroe.

I believe Americans should not exploit the use of social media, and rather use it as Gibson highlights it. We should use it as a platform to connect with fellow democrats or republicans across the country and unite to have our voices heard. We should use it to voice our opinions to our leaders in a timely manner and to demand substance.  Social media allows us as voters to have more power than ever before, and we should be using this power to promote serious debate rather than be consumed by celebrity like antics.

In conclusion I do believe social media is beneficial, as Gibson highlights it provides the voter with a sense of empowerment and connection to the candidate. During this past election, more than ever my friends were interested in politics. We found ourselves watching debates rather than Monday Night Football.  We all had our personal beliefs and every time there was a point or funny instance, we took to twitter. During the debates twitter was buzzing with college kids discussing politics. Instances such as these are why social media is great as it provides a unified platform for debate and discussion to take place. People may not know there is a debate, but they’ll check their twitter feed and see everyone discussing it and tune in. It is a fantastic way to get people to become informed, and in turn allow voters to vote on substance rather than appearance.

Shirky Summary:

In this book, Shirky discusses how society is a complex, ever evolving group that is intertwined with one another.  Shirky explains how there are several groups with different values and ideas that are constantly adding to one another, and in turn evolving. Technology has provided an easy platform to create these groups and share their ideas. Shirky explains that groups are now share then gather, rather than previous notion of gather than share. Because some groups are so large, the group faces the difficulty of all members seeing eye to eye. Coordination, communication, and organization all get harder when the group gets larger. Shirky cites the “Tragedy of the Commons” as an example of this. He explains when a small portion of the group does not consent to the goal and challenges it, the whole group suffers. With so many members, there is bound to be those who do not agree. Shirky explains how the main priority for groups should be to maintain the structure of the group. As an example, a corporation could provide a list of core values and make sure every member abides by them. The success of the company is contingent upon how successful it is at maintaining the structure of the group. Shirky cites how smaller railroad operations run smoother because they have fewer people and fewer things to manage. Large instances of management just stem more management, in turn making it much more difficult. Finally Shirky recalls how his uncle Howard’s small town newspaper compared to USA Today. USA Today was too naïve to think they would have competition as they are a very large group. Large publishers such as USA Today did not realize the impact of blogs would soon have independent writers. The main notion spelled out in the final section is how everyone today is their own media outlet.


I found reading these three chapters to be very beneficial. Shirky does a terrific job of providing real life examples to support his claims. I chose to look at this reading in two ways; the first being that America is becoming one large group, and the second being that everyone is their own media outlet.

I found Sharky’s notion that large groups are harder to manage to be very accurate. This past week we were assigned a five person team in marketing class where we had to come up with a product and promote it. After two classes we finally generated an idea and were about to work on promotion until the teacher added a student to our group. The new member hated the idea and instantly tried to critique what we had been working on for so long. This is similar to Tragedy of the Commons because a small portion of our group and challenged the main idea, in turn compromising our group as a whole. When I read this I thought of our current United States Congress. I am not a political science major but I always hear the news outlets discussing how nothing can get passed in the congress. They are a small group but one that constantly has a portion of it disagreeing. As a result, the ones compromised are the U.S. citizens. I just thought this was interesting as it goes against Shirky’s example of the small railroad company operating so smoothly.

My favorite part of Sharky’s article is his notion that everyone is their own media outlet. When I read this I immediately thought back to the night Osama Bin Laden was killed and it was  first reported by a local middle-eastern in the neighborhood that a helicopter was landing at a strange time of the night. This was literally up to the second breaking news being reported by social media. Another example I thought of was from this past election when the video leaked of Mitt Romney saying he only cares about 47% of the country. In my opinion everyone being a media outlet is a double-edged sword. It is beneficial in the sense everyone is connected and people can get news in a to the minute manner. People can hear about news and tragedies across the world and be informed. If you are sitting in traffic you can report it on twitter and people can know to avoid that area. If there was a terrorist attack or a shooting on campus you can get updates and take the necessary actions. In this sense, I think it makes life easier for people and offers several benefits. The contrary to everyone being their own media outlet is that it is very intrusive. I reflect back to my high schools day when we won the championship and at our post game cookout someone took a picture of kids drinking beer and they were suspended. It requires everyone to be on their best behavior, especially professionals, and I just don’t think that is fair. Everyone is now a member of the paparazzi just waiting to snap a picture and upload it to social media. People are constantly losing their job to pictures they did not know were being taken, something that would not have happened without the “web 2.0” age. I think it is an invasion of privacy that needs to be closely examined.

Questions: Do people believe everyone being their own media outlet is intrusive?

Do people believe social media is the reason Obama won?