In the 21st century, it will be increasingly impossible to do political analyses without discussing social media dynamics as an integral part of the story. ––Zeynep Tufekci
I’ve mentioned before that one of my aims during my Kennedy School time is to think more deliberately about how to communicate well-crafted policy solutions to a broader audience.
This week our MPP Digital course had a series of readings that focused on the Arab Spring. Basem Fathy reported on how email and social media interacted with the offline growth in Egpytian protests from 2000 to 2011. Zeynep Tufekci, a UNC professor, walks through how the internet – and particularly Twitter – was/is a path to disseminating information when journalists or protestors encountered the dangers of arrest during protests.
While I admit the Arab Spring and my broader Kennedy School goals are very different from one another, Tufekci talks a great deal about how to focus attention on a topic – in her case a reported arrested during Egyptian protests – in an increasing chaotic social media universe.
One challenge of new media environments is that they scatter attention and consequently tools and channels which can unite and focus attention are key to harnessing their power. Hashtags and trending topics are one way in which people can focus among the billions of tweets floating in cyberspace. In fact, a key dynamic in “social media” is that it works best when coordinated with “focusers”.
Obviously, in the environment of policy analysis/advocacy there is a need for more than focusers, but I do think that Tufekci’s point that there must be a way to centralize the flow of information and create an identifiable word or resource that people know to access to monitor the debate on an issue.
Tufeki’s words aren’t the only ones bouncing around in my head this week. Tammy Haddad – a D.C. based media and production guru – also visited the Kennedy School this week. Her experiences in television and video media lead her to emphasize the importance of video and a messenger in advancing a political or policy message.
This is easier said than done for many state-based policy groups with limited resources and capacity. However, the reality is that generating video content and pushing it out are less expensive than a decade ago.
Ethan Zuckerman points out in his 2011 Vancouver Human Rights Lecture that:
Participatory media is makes it possible for people to create media at very, very low cost. And then if they are able to use that complicated network (of more traditional media outlets), it is possible sometimes, and not always, to get that media out and get it amplified to the point that it reaches enough people that you are able to have a coordinating function.
Both Zuckerman and Haddad have hit on the theme of groups generating their own content through media creation and then using social media/email to promote the content. Eventually, more traditional media outlets with larger audiences may pick up the content, but the platform where groups share their analysis and perspectives can also be accessed by interested individuals.
In the quest for state-based examples of this approach, I came across NC Policy Watch. The site, which is aligned with the North Carolina Justice Center, has video content, op-eds, editorial cartoons, images, and blog content that all align around key advocacy priorities for the NC Justice Center. Their video content includes experts from both the Center and partner organizations and effectively puts a face with many key issue areas.
Between readings, class and visiting experts, this week provided lots of food for thought about how to better communicate substantive policy issues. I’m excited to learn more as these 2 years at the Kennedy School continue.
Until Next Time.
Note: This post is for Nicco Mele’s course – Media Politics and Power in the Digital Age – at the Kennedy School of government.