There are plenty of reasons to side with either view of Dr. David Perlmutter’s “Blogwar by Balkanization” thesis: One could cite many examples, as he does in his book “Blogwars,” arguing for or against this way of looking at political partisanship in blogs and new media. Are the contributors and users of political new media warring partisans, constantly at odds with each other and tearing at each other’s thoughts – and throats? Or is that same group of contributors and lurkers seeking information to strengthen their views or finding information that enhances and increases their political knowledge and efficacy?
There was a time when one could easily argue for Balkanization, that political bloggers and other creators and users of new media were hyper-partisan, hostile toward and nastily at odds with each other (or perhaps less dramatically, fervently devoted to posting content attacking and questioning the opposition). Indeed, “bloggers tend to be both more passionate about their politics and more partisan than the average voter” (Perlmutter, 2008, p. 38).
The Daily Kos, for example, has since its inception in 2002 offered liberal views and often hurls attacks at the right. Or take Memogate, the infamous debacle that led to Dan Rather’s downfall at CBS: When right-wing bloggers started questioning the authenticity of erroneous documents critical of George W. Bush’s Air National Guard service, Rather and CBS continued defending their story – but relentless attention led Rather and CBS to admit they could not prove the validity of the documents (Perlmutter, 2008, p. 92).
But the game has definitely changed in four years: Many bloggers are still hostile, but many are a reputable source of information: Bloggers are hired campaign experts and regular contributors to major new sources; YouTube serves as a fact checker; Twitter and Facebook links supporters from across the country. So even with some general unpleasantness, the argument has turned against Balkanization – and given the results of the 2008 presidential election, it’s easier to argue that side (at least for now).
As Perlmutter (2008, p. 39) points out, “…partisanship can be a unifier for many, whereby in facing off against enemies people become comrades of the trenches and may use online resources to find each other, coalesce, and mobilize for group action.” Is this not almost exactly what happened through Obama’s Web site?
Obama’s campaign Web site made it easy for users to share content, blog, find events near them, and join interest and regional groups. Although not bound necessarily by partisanship – but most definitely by a movement – Obama unified millions of his supporters. They came together and, exactly as Perlmutter argued in his book, mobilized for group action.
Obama’s Web site isn’t the only strong evidence against Balkanization. The Daily Kos hinted at Republican Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin’s family drama. Many bloggers acknowledged sexism in the campaign. “Joe the Plumber” became a major problem for Obama when he asked the candidate about tax policy. All of these things (and many more) contributed to heightening awareness of campaign issues (though one might argue we might not be so partisan, given some of this election season’s good, non-partisan fun with things like Barack-rolling on YouTube).
If anything, we’re seeing that the partisan bloggers and new media aren’t harming democracy – they’re helping it by unifying supporters of causes and increasing awareness – and based on how Obama built his support on his Web site, it could certainly be argued that it increased political participation by the record number of voters turning out on Nov. 4.
–posted by Ryan Curell
Originally posted November 11, 2008 at PolicyByBlog