This week’s readings provide an interesting look at the role new media has played in political movements. I found these readings to be quite fascinating and really enjoyed how the authors gave specific examples of how social media influenced specific activist movements around the world.
In particular, I found Castells argument about the horizontal diffusion of political messaging to be quite interesting. Castells states that the network effect, which involves “ person-to-person, horizontal, mass communication,” resonates more with individuals than top-down messaging. To highlight this point, Castells gives the example of Prime Minister Berlusconi during the 2004 elections. People were “indignant at seeing their personal and political privacy invaded by the prime minister for electoral gain," causing Berlusconi to lose the election by a larger margin than what was originally anticipated. Think about it, if you received an unsolicited message from the government canvassing for your vote or advocating for a specific policy, you too would probably be angry or annoyed. (I know I would be.)
Why are we so resistant to receiving messages from the government, and more willing to be influenced politically by messaging we receive from people in our network? To some extent, I think it is because there is a belief by many people that any messaging coming from the government to something as personal and private as our mobile phones is not only an invasion of privacy, but is loaded with propaganda. When receiving a message from our friends, although we know that they are clearly trying to influence our opinion, we often think that they have our best interest at heart by informing us about a cause or encouraging us to vote for a specific candidate. Their motives for sending the messaging are perceived as being more transparent and honest. In contrast, when receiving a message from the government, we tend to believe that the purpose of their message is solely to influence our opinion in order to carry out a political agenda that best suites their needs. There is no assumption that they are truly concerned about our well-being.
Since new media is proving to be an effective way to mobilize people politically, it is in the government’s best interest to find a way to build trust with its citizens through mobile technology. Who knows, maybe in the not too distant future, the government will pay people in our network to send us messages on their behalf…or maybe they already are...