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Social Media Ninjitsu | Debate, Innovation, And Change In The World Of Digital Media
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Political Debate online and social media

Debate, Innovation, and Change in the World of Digital Media


Copyright @ 2010 Devin K Naruse

Albert Bandura was a former APA president and the creator of Social Cognitive Theory.

Through what we observe both in daily lives, through role models (aka celebrities) and in the mass media, we model the behaviors plus thethoughts and value systems that base upon those behaviors. He made the case that the mass mediaexerts a heavy influence on both the behaviors and values on the cultural and interpersonal levels of communication.

This theory was testament to the power of media campaigns to not only shape public policy, but also behavior and practices. It was also testament to the power of propaganda via mass media toinfluence society negatively. This theory was applied by many scholars within health communications who advocated for and ultimately debated the merits of fear-based media campaigns in the 80s to prevent AIDS.

David Zarefsky studied historical presidential debates to measure the impact of critical debates on shaping public sentiment, policy and evenbehavior. He adopted a pedagogy of effective argumentation based on what methods of argumentation or political campaigns brought results; that is; swayed voters. However, Zarefsky tended to marginalize the fact that effective argumentation is not always good, and can even be destructive. His analysis of presidential debates also tended to ignore certain key questions:

How possible is it that the way in which these debates are structured and moderated is influenced by lobbyists and special interests backing these candidates?

How possible is it that the raising of significant issues for debate is framed by the influence of moneyed interests behind political campaigns?

How possible that in the age of Twitter, Technorati, & You Tube that the way in which debates reach the public & get processed by the public mind may be transformed?

Competitive debate can be thought of as the engine for what Everett Rogers (the leading scholar) called “The Diffusion of Innovation”. Diffusion of Innovation is the name given to Roger’s theory about the distinction between Early Adopters and Late Adopters of new technologies and the way in which innovative forms and method ripple outward from early adopters to late adopters to later (perhaps) influencing public policy and attitudes.

Today this can be seen in the context of new technologies that permit anything from “open-sourcing” to “participative authorship”, & the rise of the “Creative Commons”. For those of you not familiar with open source technology a good example would be Wikipedia – a site that not only publishes its own material; but also provides free software with which you or anyone can edit them. Other examples would be MySpace, Face Book, Twitter, Digg, Technorati, & Google Buzz – just to name a few

For those of you who might object that Wikipedia is non-academic or unreliable; consider the fact that the concept used here is adopted (as we speak) by members of the academia. The wiki-media framework is already being used to publish material and even online courses. Today’s realm of communications on all levels – interpersonal, group, organizational, cultural – now revolve around an ever-changing landscape of advancements in technolology, whose fate rests not solely in the hands of technological researchers and designers. Rather the fate of communication technology & policies underlying their use does rest more and more on the debates that take place both in the public forums and private domains; about how these technologies are to be deployed, regulated, and used by the majority of people.

The role of technology in human culture is itself subject to change and reflection. It is never a constant with definite answers. Instead, it is a dilemma that conscientiously pursued – only leads to greater questions about the future of electronic communications as we know it.

For academia to ignore this crucial impact is itself worthy of investigation. Everett Rogers was quick to point out that modern day advancements in telecommunications and Internet technology were driving innovations in many fields as diverse as healthcare to business marketing. He was however slow to point out how necessary innovations were in the field of policy changes regarding digital technology.

I suggest that future directions of research include these channels:

  • There is no doubt that the formation of “virtual communities” such as Face Book come with distinct micro-cultures and non-verbal codes of their own; which has in turn influenced interpersonal communication patterns throughout society.
  • More research and “civic discourse” is needed on the question of ownership over the shaping of these communities and communication patterns -for good or for bad. Such concerns encompass issues such as privacy, potential for government surveillance, abuses of power, and the effects of digital communication on individual well-being. Repeated studies show a direct correlation between rising incidences of clinical depression and time spent browsing the web.
  • Research grants can advance further studies on the impact of corporate ownership and increasing consolidation of mass media channels (including the telecommunication industry’s hold over the World Wide Web) on the quality of communication between communities and individuals

Further questions I will invite:

  1. How will expanding conglomeration of corporate ownership of media including the Internet affect the crucial debates of today?
  2. How will the increasing digitalization of communication channels change the nature of competitive debate in already existing academic debating societies organizations such as the American Forensic Association?
  3. Will the nature of these discourses change?
  4. Will they become restricted or more open?
  5. Will it promote or inhibit civil society?

Today’s academia  must take into account that we are living and communicating in an environment increasingly mediated with and saturated by digital communications for good or for bad. It is not enough to talk about the pedagogy of debate without including the context for which effective pedagogy and argumentation can happen in today’s age. Otherwise communication scholars run the risk of studying in the 21st century an outdated 20th century model of communication.

A wealth of information on this issue already exists in independently funded studies and yet is hard to draw on in academia. If enough academic research is directed here in the public forums of debate as well as in research and scholarship, it will give much needed credibility to efforts to steer policy in the right direction with lawmakers and the courts. We must see innovation not only in the rise of technology; it is innovation in sound policy that will result in the sound use of technology that enriches rather than debases the quality of our culture and communications.

Increasing numbers of academics must embrace this priority if we are to steer the future direction of digital communication away from bureaucrats and special interests and towards the public interest.

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