Citizen Journalism and Social Media

First, a caveat. This isn’t a political blog. Not by a long shot. I’ve written those before and it just gets my blood pressure high. But this does address a political issue and takes a stand on that issue. For me it’s pretty clear, but for others not so much. If you disagree, that’s fine. But I’m trying to examine a larger issue here.

Last week, the Supreme Court issued this surprising decision about corporate political spending. Overturning over a hundred years of legal precedent, they’ve decided to allow corporations the same amount of first amendment protection as a person and let them spend directly on political campaigns, just not directly for the candidate. In essence, if a company doesn’t like a candidate, they can spend from their corporate accounts to see to it that person is defeated. This creates a number of problems:

  • It could stifle innovation, as large companies with entrenched interests can support politicians to stop new companies from gaining traction
  • It allows for foreign individuals to now have a much greater impact on US national elections
  • It enables corporations an even larger sphere of influence on the political system (at a time when we really need less)

So for all of these downsides, I’m not despairing. What this would likely mean would be increased spending on advertising. Mainly TV commercials. However, political ads are basically exercises in marketing individuals. Their positions as well, but mainly them. And while commercials continue to evolve, people seem to evolve faster. And political ads have plenty of people watching them in the blogosphere and at places like that break them down.

Advertisements used to focus on the actual product, now they focus more and more on lifestyles. However, people are realizing this. Often campaigns target different micro-demographics in order to make people feel as though everyone else they know is voting a certain way. Products do the same thing. Buy this product and enjoy a different lifestyle. However, especially with campaigns, it’s easier than ever to go against the flow.

This quote really sums it up:

“The only security of all is in a free press. The force of public opinion cannot be resisted when permitted freely to be expressed. The agitation it produces must be submitted to. It is necessary, to keep the waters pure.”    –Thomas Jefferson to Lafayette, 1823

We’re now in a world with more free speech and free press than ever imagined by the founders of the USA. It’s as though everyone can have a newspaper and town crier. It’s much louder, but everyone can keep everyone else in check. Social media and blogs enable anyone to call out hypocrisy. If companies decide to enter the political fray, it’ll be obvious. Everyone can shout it from the rooftops. If someone sets up a fake company to run money through to support a candidate, a freedom of information request can easily expose what’s happening, and a blogger can get it out to the masses.

If the supreme court’s decision had happened 20 years ago, it would’ve had a much more devastating effect. Without free and cheap communication platforms, people would just be left to their own devices and cliques to discuss these elements. But in this day in age, we have enough smart and savvy people to keep political ads in check. Companies are free to spend their money, but just like television ads, they’re getting more expensive and less effective everyday.

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