July 19, 2006

IF YOU DON'T BUILD BRIDGES, YOU WON'T HAVE TROLLS

Political blogs: Are they dead? (Mary Carey, Daily Hampshire Gazette, 7/19/06)

IS the heyday of the political blog already past?

Joe Trippi, the savvy online political organizer for former presidential candidate Howard Dean, says the relevance of the Weblogs might be fading.

Skeptics say the discussions at the online forums inevitably tend to devolve into less-than-enlightened shoutfests. For an example, they point to a recent debate at the Daily Kos, the country's most influential left-leaning blog. Over 1,000 posters piled on to an exchange about whether the Kos had become a cult of personality.

Kos posters complained about 'trolls,' and 'troll ratings.'

The former, for the uninitiated, is 'someone who comes into an established community ... and posts inflammatory, rude, repetitive or offensive messages designed intentionally to annoy and antagonize the existing members or disrupt the flow of discussion, including the personal attack of calling others trolls,' according to the online encyclopedia Wikipedia.

Asking whether political blogs are dead is kind of silly. If the question is whether political blogs have lost their influence, the answer is that they never had much influence. The on-line population is too different from the real world population. Try to imagine people voting based upon a blog's endorsement; once you get past Kos, it's almost impossible -- and Kos always loses.

Kos is an outlier. Kos (and DU and, for all I know, Free Republic) are Cass Sunstein's nightmare of self-selecting ideological segregation come to life. These sites are obsessed with the party line and punish the smallest deviation. A commenter who dares to suggest, on DU, that maybe the 2004 election wasn't stolen is dismissed as a Freeper. On Kos, he's made invisible. But these sites are not, in the BrothersJudd sense, blogs.

What a political blog can do is facilitate conversation between those who inhabit a more narrow ideological spectrum. Right libertarians can talk to theocons who can talk to neocons. Sometimes, Darwinists can talk to aDarwinists who can talk to anti-Darwinists. But for this discourse to work, there must be limits. For example, no one can talk to those who are anti-car.

This is a long way 'round to, once again, thanking the commenters for making Brothers Judd blog such a congenial place from which to stand athwart the information superhighway of history, yelling "stop."

Posted by David Cohen at July 19, 2006 9:43 AM
Comments

You're welcome! (I must confess that once in a blue moon, well maybe not that often, I do miss Bart's acidic comments). The conversation here is always stimulating and thought provoking.

Posted by: Dave W at July 19, 2006 10:39 AM

Have political blogs lost their effectiveness? Were they ever effective?


Joe Trippi, the savvy online political organizer for former presidential candidate Howard Dean.


The answer to those questions can be found in the fact that wonderboy Joe Trippi's candidate lost and lost bad. Worse than the Yankees melting down against Boston.

Posted by: pchuck at July 19, 2006 10:45 AM

Influence isn't measured only by Numbers, OJ.

Gays are about 2% of the population, yet get their message/agenda into nearly every prime time TV show and nearly every classroom in the nation.

The influence of Blogs (and the relative unimportance of numbers), is further proven by the larger influence of conservative blogs over liberal. Liberals like KOS have more numbers, but WE (Powerline, FreeRepublic) keep agitating stories like SwiftVets and Memogate until the MSM is eventually forced to take note.

A blogger broke the "classified" story the broke the Liberals in Canada, and Daschle was harried by bloggers who trickled into SD's consciousness with the truth that Washington Daschle wasn't like SD Daschle.

Blogs may never get the reader/viewership of the MSM, but they don't need it to be influential. They just need to stay adept at eating the dinosaurs' eggs and/or getting the right ideas into the meme pool.

Posted by: Bruno at July 19, 2006 11:29 AM

I will concur with Bruno, except to qualify it by asking what it means to be "influential". If that means electing specific candidates, then yes, weblogs are influential only on the margins, in some cases. And that influence is primarily negative, in that Old Media and politicians find it harder to spin in an environment with weblogs. Weblogs can point out that one side has nothing, but they can't make something for other side.

Also, weblog influence will follow the standard new tech roller coaster, exploding and then collapsing, over and over, until it's old tech. Why that comes as a surprise every time a new technology shows up is beyond me.

I believe the the blogosphere, in aggregate, will be very influential in the long term because it will become a major player in the ideosphere, a place where new ideas are incubated before escaping to the real world. To use an OJ analogy, it will be like the coffee shops and pampleteers of earlier centuries. Were not the Federalist Papers originally just pamplets, the 18th century equivalent of weblog posts? Were not key ideas first shaped and discussed in the coffee houses? The key thing to remember is that none of these directly influenced events, and that's where the dKos model fails.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at July 19, 2006 11:41 AM

Blogs can spread information, and push ideas on policy, but in the end the most partisan sites can't tell people what to think, outside of a handful of true believers. The problem is folks like Kos believe they can sway a large percentage of the electorate, and just as the mainstream media types thought the McGovernite/anti-war movement was the wave of the future in the late 60s and early 70s because they were generally sympathetic to their beliefs, they inferred more policial infuance on Markos, the DU folks and others on the left in the run-up and aftermath of the 2004 vote, because in general they're sympathetic to the ideas Kos, DU, etc., champion.

Articles like those by Trippi, or the ones recently in Newsweek, New York magazine and elsehwere that are showing buyer's remorse is partially a return to reality after the high of thinking the Internet was going to change the tide of American politics from the move right over the past 35 years. But part of it also is simply anger that Markos and his pals have been so inept at their mission of translating Internet anger into election wins (what is it? 0-for-19 or 0-for-20 right now). They still think they can use the Internet to regain power, but they want their own people in charge of the web efforts.

Posted by: John at July 19, 2006 12:25 PM

Bruno: I think that OJ is either traveling or preparing for tomorrow. This is mine.

First, I think that Kos is, for these purposes, something other than a blog. It is more a use of the blog format (isn't it more accurately a semi-closed blogosphere of its own?) by political professionals. I would argue that the influence is running from politics to the on-line left. Wasn't the real meat of the overblown Kosola argument that Kos was using the blog to bring the Koskids to more or less traditional Democrats, rather than vice versa?

Second, I do think that blog influence is almost nill. The problem with the pamphleteer metaphor is that the holders of the limited franchise at the time were all literate men of at least some means. The pamphlets were self-consciously a discussion among the electorate. Blogs are certainly not that.

Third, the blog-reading population is not only limited, but different. Political blogs are read by white men. They are read by libertarians. That is not the electorate, nor is it the vanguard of the electorate.

Fourth, let's look at the exception that proves the rule: Rathergate. The best that can be said for the blogs is that they pointed out mistakes in the documents so obvious as to be undeniable -- and that got other MSM outlets interested. Blog influence there was like the influence of the leaker; it is borrowed from the MSM.

The counter-example is Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame. There credibility has been shattered on-line. Even their defenders are reduced simply to arguing that "outing" a CIA "operative" is bad; no one argues in Wilson's favor. And yet AOG argues that their silly lawsuit is going to be good politics and good for them. How is that possible if blogs have any influence?

The Swift Vote Vets were also a big story because they were a big story in the MSM and that was prompted by their commercials, by their own website, and by the Kerry Campaign's incredible incompetence in dealing with them. Blogs have no been able to stop the meme in the MSM that all the Swift Boat Vets' claims have been debunked.

The Canadian example is interesting, but the lesson there seems to be that blogs can have some influence if they are the only source of information. Even so, the situation that occurred in Canada can't happen in the US and, even in Canada, it only happened because the MSM pointed to the blogs although they couldn't carry the story.

Posted by: David Cohen at July 19, 2006 12:26 PM

In addition, blogs have made it impossible for the left to control information. Something on an obscure blog can wend its way through the blogosphere to talk radio and Fox News and eventually the msm must deal with it. I think keeping everybody honest is the most important function of blogs at this point in time.

That said, this is my favorite blog for a lot of reasons, the main one being, it's fun.

Posted by: erp at July 19, 2006 12:47 PM

Yes, the 'Memogate' imbroglio shows that blogs do have a particular influence ( of the concrete analysis type), but the squishier sorts of analyses are still the province of other types of media.

David is right when he notes that Libertarians are overrepresented in blogs, something that can be construed as saying blogs will have limited influence on questions of policy.

Posted by: Bruce Cleaver at July 19, 2006 12:59 PM

"Influence isn't measured only by Numbers, OJ.
Gays are about 2% of the population, yet get their message/agenda into nearly every prime time TV show and nearly every classroom in the nation."

Getting your message out isn't the same as "having influence". For all the success in getting their message into TV & classrooms, they are having ZERO success in getting their positions adopted whenever the public gets to vote on it.

Posted by: fred at July 19, 2006 1:09 PM

Mr. Cohen;

Ah, but while the Wilson/Plame lawsuit is good for them and their crew, it is bad in the longer term for the ideology they are nominally proponents of. That's consistent with my stated view.

Perhaps it's a time scale issue (mine is in the decades), and / or whether one considers online communities in general to be part of the blogosphere (which is implied by the original article with its mentions of Daily Kos and Free Republic, although you seem to eschew that later in your comments). I consider singling out "weblogs" from the online community experience to be untenable.

What we see over and over again in American politics is third parties being stifled because the mainstream parties steal the useful ideas, leaving the third parties with only the dregs with which to distinguish themselves. I agree that you won't have individual people made or broken by the blogosphere, but you will see long term, indirect influence moving party platforms.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at July 19, 2006 1:14 PM

Few trolls, but definitely a fair share of Billy Goats Gruff.

Posted by: ghostcat at July 19, 2006 1:32 PM

As a big fan of poli-blogs, I must point out that blogs never really had much influence over the "masses" per se.... what they have had and, very importantly, CONTINUE to have.... is influence over the media.

Like erp has said, they have made it impossible for the left to control information.

Now, arguably, the most talented and cogent conservative blogs (like this one) might still have been just yelling into a lefty hurricane were it not for the amplification of talk radio and FOX, etc. But the fact is, they have proved to be an extraordinary source of "open source" journalism that in turn hands enough teeth to FOX and radio, that their stories, and deconstruction of their opponents stories, simply cannot be ignored or shrugged off.

In that, they seem to me as strong as ever. And yes, talented (and reasonable) lefties can do the same thing. More power to 'em.

But the left has been in charge of the message for so long, and all too prone to purge "wrong-thinking" than to argue it away, that the b'sphere still favors the right. The fact that lefty blogs seem centered around a few high profile blogs, like Kos, America-blog, Huffington, while the top right blogs all have lower "ratings", but there are many more of them, serves to help the right even more.

Blogs matter now just as much as at any time in the past.

Posted by: Andrew X at July 19, 2006 1:52 PM

I don't think I agree that the blogs don't influence people generally. A self-selected and unrepresentative fraction of the electorate read blogs, true. But they talk about what they read to others -- their families, friends, neighbors, co-workers. And they now have facts and links to buttress their arguments. Memes and counter-memes spread virally (how I hate that word -- so Marketing 101) because people talk to each other. And the biggest influences on you are the people you know or are close to. I'll bet only a tiny minority actually read anything on a blog about Dan Rather. But everyone knew he'd screwed up. BTW, that's often true of TV and newspapers too -- someone sees something on TV and tells his spouse or teenaged kid, say, and his wife mentions it to her sister and the kid tells his friends and then everyone's heard about it.

Posted by: Lisa at July 19, 2006 2:12 PM

I agree with Lisa. I'm trying to find the quote I want, it's either Kirk or Kirk quoting Burke, but it talks about how the real shapers of opinion are everyday people who exert influence over their families and neighbors. They occupy a middle ground between the uninformed masses and the profesional commentariat. If a blog can reach them, it can do a lot of damage.

Posted by: Pepys at July 19, 2006 2:46 PM

But seriously, isn't the real problem with the blog the over-the-top homophobia?

Posted by: David Cohen at July 21, 2006 9:31 AM

Darwinophobia.

Always wondered why I've never once read a comment here from a homosexual Darwinist soccer player.

Posted by: M. at July 21, 2006 10:15 AM

Any quote from a soccer player is necessarily from a homosexual Darwinist soccer player.

Posted by: David Cohen at July 21, 2006 10:30 AM

Given the body count of Darwinism the only folks who oughtn't be afraid of it are healthy white European Rationalists. White Christians have to hate it because it's evil and everyone else because it's aimed at them.

Posted by: oj at July 21, 2006 11:43 AM
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