February 09, 2004

The Dean Scream vs. The Net Dream

The Howard Dean collapse has given me a new stock answer to reply to people who argue that the Internet is a power equalizer:

"Howard Dean had a website. Look how much good it did him, in fighting a media slam. YEARRGH!"

[And I can have my scream above as a multilayered reference, encompassing both the famous image driven into our collective consciousness by media saturation, as well as my own desire to scream whenever someone preaches the website-is-equality argument!]

In some ways, it's fascinating to watch the Who-Lost-Dean debate. PressThink has a great summary article on various explanations. One interesting underarticulated thread, is that here, we've actually run a large-scale real-world experiment in being heard versus power-laws in audience numbers. Again, Howard Dean had a web platform, an extremely well-known site as such things go, where people could go to get his side of the story! Remember the net utopian idea? Just have a site on The Internet, and the media can't smear you, because people can (gasp, choke, get a load of this) find it out themselves!.

But, overall, they don't. People don't painstakingly research an issue. Either they don't care, or they take the media report as definitive, or they just don't want to be bothered.

In general, the blogosphere just talks to itself. So the A-list posters, who have tens of thousands of readers, get a vastly inflated sense of their own influence. They're big fish (A-list) in a small pond (policy blogs). But when it comes to the general political mediamass, the blog-writers who aren't members of that punditocracy, don't even register. And even those who are media pundits, are low on the scale.

Just as the blog A-list is around 1000 times more powerful than the average blogger, the mass media A-list is around 1000 times more powerful still. Welcome to my world, folks. This is how it feels to be a minnow instead of a shark. When you get slammed, you get to hear dark mutterings from your friends about how threatening you were to the powers that be, or how we must redouble our efforts against The Man, or that your sacrifice was worth it because of the change it wrought.

But in terms of the cliche about a beautiful theory being slain by an ugly fact, well:

"Remember, no matter how hard you work, no matter how right you are - sometimes the dragon wins."

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in activism , cyberblather , politics | on February 09, 2004 11:59 PM (Infothought permalink) | Followups
Seth Finkelstein's Infothought blog (Wikipedia, Google, censorware, and an inside view of net-politics) - Syndicate site (subscribe, RSS)

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The Why Is Dean Losing Brigades are guilty of at least these three basic sins:

1. Woefully underestimating the ability of voters to think for themselves, rather than do what "the media" says they are about to do.

2. Forgetting that Dean is losing because not enough people are voting for him. No one votes for a wannbe president because they think the way he uses the Internet is neat.

3. Not understanding that the web doesn't operate in interrupt mode. Broadcast and, after a fashion, print media do. Someone can be watching the evening news and, Bam!, there's a soundbite from some candidate. Someone can be reading the newspaper, and, Bam!, there's a political ad on the next page. The web can't do that. Web users won't see your site unless they want to, and there's nothing you can do about it.

Posted by: billg at February 10, 2004 03:06 PM