At #media140 OzPolitics at Old Parliament House today the US Ambassador touched on the issue of the pastor from Gainsville Florida who threatened to burn a copy of the Koran. He noted that this person, who was not terribly successful on the face of it with only fifty members of his congregation.
But with the advent of the 24-hour news cycle and proliferation in 24-hour new channels Ambassador Bleich noted the need for these media outlets to generate more interesting news more often. The general business of government can be a tad dull for the general non-wonk population. Thus 24-hour news outlets face a constant need to ‘sex-up’ such news as there is.
Thus, as Ambassador Bleich so charmingly put it, it’s better news when some “wingnut” totally disagrees with some relatively innocuous government policy and threatens to “paint themselves purple at 3 o’clock”.
For example, it is only the die-hard wonk community that watches or listens to Parliamentary Question Time. The rest of the population remains blissfully unaware of this and instead take their news from mainstream television and radio news. Admittedly the Twitter community is likely to have a significant cross-over with the aforementioned political wonk community.
But, as Malcolm Turnbull so presciently noted, most ordinary people arrive at the television news in the evening already aware of most of the important news stories for the day. And it is the realtime web that is driving this proliferation of news.
News stories are breaking on realtime web platforms such as Twitter. They then evolve into mainstream news media stories. The ALP spill of Kevin Rudd for Julia Gillard that precipitated the recent Australian election is a good example of this phenomenon.
But the thing that is happening alongside this is the ability for smaller, less powerful groups to use social media in disruptive ways to mainstream political discourse. Thus the pastor mentioned above got airplay far wider than his small church would normally be able to garner.
John Robb has written extensively about the nature of guerrilla insurgencies using disruptive tactics. This trend is also perceptible in digital media. There is the possibility for non-official actors to participate in political discourse in ways that were impossible in the heyday of broadcast media.
And because these groups have less to lose than incumbent players they can afford to take risks in the use of new technologies. An example of this is President Obama during his election campaign. He took many risks and use social media in ways that other candidates did not. Viral material like the now famous Yes We Can video arose. The Obama campaign drove an exceptionally sophisticated use of social media and social networking because of its challenger and outsider status. We did not see Hillary Clinton or John McCain using the same tactics. They did not perceive the need to do so.
Thus we can expect to see outsider groups to harness the power of social media and insert themselves into political discourse in disruptive ways. Guerrilla media is now in the hands of the populace and we’re into a time of fragmentation of messaging and proliferation of niche groups. Looks like even more of the “wingnuts” will get to have their 15 minutes of fame thanks to the 24-hour news cycle and the proliferation of social media.