Can blogs affect politics and society?

As a lead-up to mesh in May, the Gang of Five — that is me, Rob Hyndman, Mark Evans, Mike McDerment and Stuart “call me Chairman Mao” MacDonald — have been talking a lot (not surprisingly) about the themes we want to look at, and crawling the blogosphere for evidence of how Web 2.0 and blogs are — or aren’t — affecting media, marketing, business and society/politics.

We decided to look at that last one in part because of the effect that bloggers had on the coverage of the Iraq war, on the election of George Bush and even on events such as the Jayson Blair affair at the New York Times — but also because of the effect that bloggers like Michael Geist and Ed “Captain’s Quarters” Morrissey and Joey DeVilla had on the Canadian election, when they helped destabilize and possibly derail the candidacy of Sarmite Bulte, the record labels’ best friend.

But we want to talk about more than that during the panels on the Web and politics/society at mesh in May. Could blogs and other Web-based technologies help non-profit groups and disadvantaged groups gain more of a voice, and thus help affect policy? And even broader than that, what are the implications of “open source” tools such as Wikipedia.org on human society — do they make it better or just reflect the worst elements of human nature? Mark wonders what Jane Jacobs could have done with a blog, and Rob asks whether they turn the blogosphere into an echo chamber. Stuart has some thoughts as well.

There’s plenty of material there for an entire conference, let alone a few panels and keynotes. Hopefully we’ll be able to pack enough of it into the time we have, and get plenty of participation and comments from attendees. If you have any thoughts or links, you can post them here or head over to the mesh wiki and throw them onto a page, or tag them with our del.icio.us links (described at the wiki).

29 thoughts on “Can blogs affect politics and society?

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  8. Bah, humbug. Is there anyone there who isn’t going to say “Blogs are just the bestest most disruptorious democratic people’s pamphleteering revolution. Down with the MSM! Advantage bogosphere!”?

  9. I guess we’ll find out, Seth. Maybe you should come and say that. Might get some discussion going.

    Mathew

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  12. Thanks for the link, Seth. That’s quite the post from Respectful of Otters — and it has a point. But is it that surprising that blogs would be used by one party or another to try and influence or spin a story? Seems to me it happened a lot during your elections and the Banana Boat controversy or whatever it was.

    In a way, that illustrates how blogs are becoming more a part of the political infrastructure, which is exactly the kind of thing we want to talk about at mesh — not how blogs are some kind of altruistic, lily-white voice of the people, but how they become part of the conversation… for better or worse.

    Mathew

  13. An e-Chicken in Every Pot.com

    One of the things we will be exploring at mesh is the impact that social media and the interaction that web 2.0 is enabling is having on politics and society.

    In the US, for instance, political blogs have almost become mainstream, with some sporting weekly reach and unique visitors numbers which exceed all but a handful of major newspapers. The Huffington Post, Captain’s Quarters…the list goes on and on, and the influence grows.

    Not to mention the role that the web has played…

  14. While it’s probably not controversial to believe that blogs influence politics and society, it may be hard to prove it objectively. An easier task is to show how blogs can influence other blogs and Web based communities. Akshay Java has been modeling influence in blog communities and has a technical report on it: Modeling the Spread of Influence on the Blogosphere. I think the work can be extended to document the spred of information and ideas from blogs to MSM. That’s a bit closer to showing that blogs affect society.

  15. Thanks for the comment, Tim. That’s an interesting paper — thanks for pointing it out. My own pet theory is that blogs have effectively just become part of the ecosystem that the mainstream media relies on for ideas about what is really going on in the world.

    Mathew

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  17. I generally like to watch the Keith Obermann show on the US MS/NBC cable channel. It’s a news show, I guess. One thing that annoys me about it, though, is that the last half hour seems to mostly be devoted to stories that bounced around on the internet that same day. So I think that the show has a bunch of young ‘reporters” whose beat is to sit in a windowless room and surf the web. Talk about outsourcing!

  18. There are more examples than most traditional leaders in media, journalism, politics and government, and business can shake their fingers at, and various initiatives and communities (of interest, activism and innovation) are connecting and sprouting all over the Web, all around the world. And then of course there’s that pesky emerging principle of *wirearchy*, as a supplement to traiditonal hierarchy … but I would say that, wouldn’t I ? 😉

  19. Yes, thanks Jon. A fascinating issue from the Economist — not a bad
    overview. I wrote a post on it when it came out the other day.

    And thanks for the comments.

    Mathew

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