Digital Media and Democracy: Tactics in Hard Times

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Google Scholar. Bayat, A. Life as Politics. Stanford: Stanford University Press. Cammaerts, B. Vestergaard Eds. Castells, M. A Network Theory of Power. International Journal of Communication , 5, — Crete-Nishihata, M. EEE Internet Computing, 17 3 , Deibert, R. Boler Ed. Cambridge: MIT Press. Diamond, L. Liberation Technology. Journal of Democracy, 21 3 , Fahmy, Z. Fuchs, C. Social Media: A Critical Introduction. London: Sage.

Can You Trust The Press?

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Book review: Digital media and democracy - Strathprints

FCJ fibreculturejournal. McAdam, D. Dynamics of Contestation. New media can relay information directly to individuals without the intervention of editorial or institutional gatekeepers, which are intrinsic to legacy forms. Thus, new media have introduced an increased level of instability and unpredictability into the political communication process. The relationship between legacy media and new media is symbiotic. Legacy media have incorporated new media into their reporting strategies.

They distribute material across an array of old and new communication platforms. They rely on new media sources to meet the ever-increasing demand for content. Despite competition from new media, the audiences for traditional media remain robust, even if they are not as formidable as in the past. Readers of the print edition of The New York Times and viewers of the nightly network news programs far outnumber those accessing the most popular political news websites Wired Staff, Cable and network television news remain the primary sources of political information for people over the age of thirty Mitchell and Holcomb, Consequently, new media rely on their legacy counterparts to gain legitimacy and popularize their content.

Ideally, the media serve several essential roles in a democratic society. Their primary purpose is to inform the public, providing citizens with the information needed to make thoughtful decisions about leadership and policy. The media act as watchdogs checking government actions. They set the agenda for public discussion of issues, and provide a forum for political expression. They also facilitate community building by helping people to find common causes, identify civic groups, and work toward solutions to societal problems.

New media have the potential to satisfy these textbook functions. They provide unprecedented access to information, and can reach even disinterested audience members through personalized, peer-to-peer channels, like Facebook. As average people join forces with the established press to perform the watchdog role, public officials are subject to greater scrutiny. Issues and events that might be outside the purview of mainstream journalists can be brought into prominence by ordinary citizens.

New media can foster community building that transcends physical boundaries through their extensive networking capabilities. Although legacy media coverage of political events correlates with increased political engagement among the mass public, mainstream journalists do not believe that encouraging participation is their responsibility Hayes and Lawless, However, new media explicitly seek to directly engage the public in political activities, such as voting, contacting public officials, volunteering in their communities, and taking part in protest movements.

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At the same time, the new media era has acerbated trends that undercut the ideal aims of a democratic press. The media disseminate a tremendous amount of political content, but much of the material is trivial, unreliable, and polarizing. The watchdog role pre-new media had been performed largely by trained journalists who, under the best of circumstances, focused on uncovering the facts surrounding serious political transgressions.

Much news in the new media era is defined by coverage of a never-ending barrage of sensational scandals—be they real, exaggerated, or entirely fabricated—that often are only tangentially related to governing. This chapter begins by briefly addressing the evolution of new media in the United States to establish the core characteristics of the current political media system. We then will focus on the role of media in providing information in a democratic polity, and will examine the ways in which new media have impacted this role.

The diversity of content disseminated by new media has created opportunities, such as the ability for more voices to be heard. However, the questionable quality of much of this information raises serious issues for democratic discourse. Next, we will discuss how the new media are integral to political coverage in a post-truth society, where falsehoods infused with tidbits of fact pass as news. Finally, we will contemplate the ways in which the watchdog press is being overshadowed by the mouthpiece press which serves as a publicity machine for politicians.

New media emerged in the late s when entertainment platforms, like talk radio, television talk shows, and tabloid newspapers, took on prominent political roles and gave rise to the infotainment genre. Infotainment obscures the lines between news and entertainment, and privileges sensational, scandal-driven stories over hard news Jebril, et al. The infotainment emphasis of new media at this early stage offered political leaders and candidates a friendlier venue for presenting themselves to the public than did hard news outlets Moy, et al.

The fusing of politics and entertainment attracted audiences that typically had been disinterested in public affairs Williams and Delli Carpini, Initially, the public responded positively to the more accessible communication channels, calling in to political talk programs and participating in online town hall meetings. It was heavily dominated by commercial interests and those already holding privileged positions in politics and the news industry.

Public enthusiasm eventually gave way to ambivalence and cynicism, especially as the novelty of the first phase of new media wore off Davis and Owen, The next phase in the development of new media unfolded in conjunction with the application of emerging digital communications technologies to politics that made possible entirely new outlets and content delivery systems. The digital environment and the platforms it supports greatly transformed the political media system.

The public became more involved with the actual production and distribution of political content. Citizen journalists were eyewitnesses to events that professional journalists did not cover. Non-elites offered their perspectives on political affairs to politicians and peers. Members of the public also were responsible for recording and posting videos that could go viral and influence the course of events Wallsten, The campaign made use of advanced digital media features that capitalized on the networking, collaboration, and community-building potential of social media to create a political movement.

The Obama campaign website was a full-service, multimedia center where voters not only could access information, they also could watch and share videos, view and distribute campaign ads, post comments, and blog. Supporters could donate, volunteer, and purchase campaign logo items, like tee shirts and caps.


The campaign was active on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, as well as a range of other social media platforms that catered to particular constituencies, such as BlackPlanet, AsianAve, and Glee. The campaign pioneered digital microtargeting tactics. The new media trends established in the campaign have carried over to the realm of government and politics more generally. Social media have become a pervasive force in politics, altering the communication dynamics between political leaders, journalists, and the public.

They have opened up wider avenues for instantaneous political discourse and debate. However, there also has been backlash when social media discourse has become too nasty, and users have blocked content or dropped out of their social media networks Linder, Social media allow people to efficiently organize and leverage their collective influence.

Thus, political leaders are held more accountable because their actions are constantly probed on social media. At the same time, legacy media organizations have come to rely on aspects of new media. Newspapers, in particular, have experienced financial hardships due adverse financial market conditions, declining advertising revenues, and competition from proliferating news sources. The size of traditional newsrooms in the U. Legacy news organizations have cut investigative units, and only around one-third of reporters are assigned to political beats Mitchell and Holcomb, Mainstream journalists have come to rely heavily on new media content as a source of news.

These trends have seriously influenced the quality and nature of news content as well as the style of political reporting, which has become more heavily infused with infotainment and quotes from Twitter feeds. The complexities of the new media system are reflected in the diversity of available content.

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In the new media era, the boundaries that separate these disparate types of information have become increasing muddled. Professional media editors who regulate the flow of information by applying news principles and standards associated with the public good have become scarce Willis, They have been replaced by social media and analytics editors whose primary motivation is to draw users to content regardless of its news value.

Audience members have to work hard to distinguish fact from fiction, and to differentiate what matters from what is inconsequential. A number of explanations can be offered for the shift in the quality and quantity of political information. The technological affordances of new media allow content to propagate seemingly without limits. Social media have a dramatically different structure than previous media platforms. Content can be relayed with no significant third-party filtering, fact-checking, or editorial judgement.

Individuals lacking prior journalism training or reputation can reach many users at lightningfast speed. Messages multiply as they are shared across news platforms and via personal social networking accounts Allcott and Gentzkow, In addition, the economic incentives underpinning new media companies, such as Google, Facebook, and Twitter, are predicated on attracting large audiences that will draw advertising revenue. Political content is used to drive consumers to social media products, rather than to perform the public service function of informing the citizenry.

Commercial pressures lead media organizations to feature incendiary stories that receive the most attention. Further, while platforms proliferate, similar content is dispersed widely as media power is concentrated in a small number of old and new media corporations McChesney, Search engines direct users to a limited selection of heavily trafficked and well-financed sites Hindman, ; Pariser, Other explanations focus on the nature of the American political environment that has become extremely polarized, prompting the emergence of political agendas that promote rogue politics. A Pew Research Center study revealed that the gap between Democrats and Republicans on core political values, including the role of government, race, immigration, the social safety net, national security, taxes, and environmental protection, have grown to epic proportions for the modern era.

Two-thirds of Americans fall solidly in the liberal or conservative camp, with few holding a mix of ideological positions Pew Research Center, ; Kiley, Speech on new media reflects these stark political divisions, and frequently devolves into expressions of hostility and ad hominem attacks. President Donald Trump used Twitter to ignite a controversy over NFL players who protested racial oppression during the playing of the national anthem before games. He used a derogatory term to refer to players, who are predominantly African American, and urged team owners to fire those supporting the demonstration.

Modern-day new media echo chambers began to form during the first phase of new media, as conservative talk radio hosts, like Rush Limbaugh, attracted dedicated followers Jamieson and Cappella, Even politically disinterested social media users frequently encounter news articles unintentionally as they scan their feed Gottfried and Shearer, The ability of social media to isolate people from exposure to those with differing viewpoints exacerbates political polarization.

A significant segment of the public perceives journalists as removed elites who do not share their conservative values. He maintains that the mainstream media are out-of-touch with a wide swath of the public. During the recent election this became clear as legacy media institutions are unable to connect effectively with the frustration and anger of people outside of high education and income circles Camosy, Some scholars argue that new media are closing the gap between distant journalists and the mass public by giving voice to those who have felt left out Duggan and Smith, The Tea Party, a conservative political movement focused around issues about taxation and the national debt, used social networks for political mobilization in the midterm elections.

Tea Party candidates employed social media to reshape public discourse around the campaign, forging a sense of solidarity among groups who previously felt disenfranchised Williamson, Skocpol, and Coggin, Candidates pushing an extreme agenda have amplified this trend. Highly partisan, flamboyant congressional candidates, on both sides of the aisle, who spark political disagreement and indignant rhetoric garner the most supporters on Facebook. They use social media to solidify their political base Messing and Weisel, American author Ralph Keyes observes that society has entered a posttruth era.

Deception has become a defining characteristic of modern life, and is so pervasive that people are desensitized to its implications. He laments the fact that ambiguous statements containing a kernel of authenticity, but falling short of the truth, have become the currency of politicians, reporters, corporate executives, and other power-brokers. Journalist Susan Glasser argues that journalism has come to reflect the realities of reporting in post-truth America.

Objective facts are subordinate to emotional appeals and personal beliefs in shaping public opinion. The public has difficulty distinguishing relevant news about weighty policy issues from the extraneous clamor that permeates the media.

The work of investigative journalists has in some ways has become more insightful and informed than in the past due to the vast resources available for researching stories, including greater access to government archives and big data analysis. However, well-documented stories are obscured by the constant drone of repetitive, sensationalized trivia-bites that dominate old and new media. Post-truth media was prominent during the presidential election.

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Media accounts of the election were infused with misinformation, baseless rumors, and outright lies. False stories and unverified factoids emanated from fabricated news sites as well as the social media accounts of the candidates and their surrogates. Republican nominee Donald Trump used his Twitter feed to push out sensational, unverified statements that would dominate the news agenda, a practice he maintained after assuming the presidency. He alleged that the father of Ted Cruz, his challenger for the nomination, was involved in the assassination of President John F. False news stories infiltrated reports by legacy media organizations as they relied heavily on digital sources for information.

Contrived controversies detract from coverage of important issues related to policy, process, and governance Horton, The feud dominated coverage of the battle over tax legislation on new media, and commanded the front page of The New York Times. The most extreme illustration of the concept of post-truth reporting is the rise of fake news.

The definition of fake news has shifted over time, and continues to be fluid. During the campaign, the concept of fake news was attached to fictitious stories made to appear as if they were real news articles. These stories were disseminated on websites that had the appearance of legitimate news platforms or blogs, such as Infowars , The Rightest , and National Report. A compilation documented sites that routinely publish fake news Chao, et al.

Authors are paid—sometimes thousands of dollars—to write or record false information. Some of these authors are based in locations outside of the United States, including Russia Shane, They make use of social media interactions and algorithms to disseminate content to specific ideological constituencies. Fabricated stories are spread virally by social bots, automated software that replicates messages by masquerading as a person Emerging Technology from the arXiv, While some fake news stories are outright fabrications, others contain elements of truth that make them seem credible to audiences ensconced in echo chambers.

Conspiracy theories, hoaxes, and lies were spread efficiently through Facebook, Snapchat, and other social media, and reached millions of voters in the election Oremus, For example, a fabricated story on The Denver Gardian , a fake site meant to emulate the legitimate newspaper, The Denver Post , reported that an F.

Conditions in the new media age have been ripe for the proliferation of fake news. The new media system has lifted many of the obstacles to producing and distributing news that were present in the previous mass media age. While vestiges of the digital divide persist, especially among lower-income families Klein, , barriers to new media access have been lowered. The cost of producing and distributing information on a wide scale have been reduced. The logistics and skills necessary to create content are less formidable. Social networking sites make it possible to build and maintain audiences of like-minded people who will trust posted content.

Fake news proliferates widely through social media, especially Facebook and Twitter. In fact, fake news stories are spread more widely on Facebook than factual mainstream media reports Silverman, Audiences are fooled and confused by fake news, which confounds basic facts about politics and government with fiction. Finally, legal challenges to fake news and the distribution of false content are much more difficult to pose, as it is costly and time-consuming to sue publishers for spreading false information.

An alternative meaning of fake news emerged after the presidential election. This is an apple. Some people might try to tell you this is a banana. They might scream banana, banana, banana, over and over and over again. They might put banana in all caps. You might even start to believe that this is a banana. Facts are facts. They are indisputable.

Digital Media and Democracy: Tactics in Hard Times Digital Media and Democracy: Tactics in Hard Times
Digital Media and Democracy: Tactics in Hard Times Digital Media and Democracy: Tactics in Hard Times
Digital Media and Democracy: Tactics in Hard Times Digital Media and Democracy: Tactics in Hard Times
Digital Media and Democracy: Tactics in Hard Times Digital Media and Democracy: Tactics in Hard Times
Digital Media and Democracy: Tactics in Hard Times Digital Media and Democracy: Tactics in Hard Times
Digital Media and Democracy: Tactics in Hard Times Digital Media and Democracy: Tactics in Hard Times
Digital Media and Democracy: Tactics in Hard Times Digital Media and Democracy: Tactics in Hard Times
Digital Media and Democracy: Tactics in Hard Times Digital Media and Democracy: Tactics in Hard Times

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