Intriguing Politics – Social Media Discussion

FACT:  The second International Conference on Weblogs and Social Media (ICWSM) wrapped up yesterday in Seattle. It was organized again by the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (or AAAI), with co-sponsorship by Microsoft, Google, and several universities and Web 2.0 companies. The papers are already being posted online here, which is great as there were some very interesting topics explored. 

ANALYSIS:   One really thought-provoking theme was proposed by Matthew Hurst, a scientist at Microsoft’s Live Labs (and co-creator of BlogPulse), who was a participant on the “Politics and Social Media” panel.  He’s summarized his points on his own blog, but it’s definitely worth pointing out the key distinction he posed:

Firstly, politics is about scaling social organization. A premier can’t talk to every citizen, so s/he has lieutenant’s. They have their own underlings, and so on in a typical hierarchical/departmental structure. Social media, however, is all about individuals – we read entries in weblogs, etc. So, if a politician wants to connect via social media, isn’t there some sort of fundamental mismatch? Obama may have 20, 000 followers on Twitter, but how many comments has he left on blog posts?

Secondly, there is the issue of social media amplifying the polarization (or homophily) found in any topical community. Thus, individuals look around at their neighbours in the social graph and see much of what they themselves are made of.

This bottom-down, top-up dichotomy has been discussed more generally about social media and social networks (often drawing a sharp distinction between “old-media” and “new-media,” or more colloquially if imprecisely as between “the media” and “the web.”)

As Hurst points out, “On both sides of the picture, there is a scale problem – from the top down, the politician cannot interact directly with the atomic scale of social media. From the bottom up, consumers (of social media) are faced with an inability to get a broad view of the issues.”

There are a variety of approaches to “solving” this “problem,” if indeed that is what it is.  Hurst pointed to “automation” as the solution, which frankly just begs the question; of course there are no approaches to rectifying these inefficiencies without automation of some sort.  I can think of several subtly intriguing ways of addressing them which are being pioneered and explored – some successfully, some failing and leading to iteratively better ideas. More thoughts on this in future….

3 Responses

  1. I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Hurst’s suggestion: “Automation” is what is needed more than ever in politics. I envision a future where automaton legislators write prefabricated laws that are interpreted via artificially intelligent judges.
    A clockwork congress that receives, evaluates, and replies to all the minutest mental perambulations of every individual member of their constituencies and dutifully responds to the aggregated popular will.
    “Automacracy,” government by Anthropomorphized Hollywood style robots.


  2. On second thought perhaps that should be, “Automatocracy”.


  3. Your excellent suggestion was actually implemented in stages, quietly, over the years 1962 – 1978. We currently have the best Automatocracy money can buy….


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