#301      39 min 30 sec
What's not to "Like"?: Social media and its impact on the political process

Political scientist Prof Victoria Farrar-Myers discusses the increasing, evolving impact of social media on political processes and communications. Presented by Peter Clarke.




Prof Victoria Farrar-Myers
Prof Victoria Farrar-Myers

Professor Victoria A. Farrar-Myers, Professor in Political Science and Distinguished Teaching Professor with The University of Texas-Arlington is the 2013/14 Fulbright Flinders University Distinguished Chair. Through her Fulbright, Victoria has come to Flinders University in Adelaide to undertake research into executive foreign policymaking with a particular emphasis within the Pacific Rim.

Victoria has a BS in Political Science and Public Administration from Russell Sage College; an MA in Political Science from University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; and a PhD in Political Science from State University of New York at Albany. She has won awards and prizes including the Regents' Outstanding Teaching Award, The University of Texas System; being a National Finalist, Citizen Service Before Self Honors, The Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation; and an American Political Science Association Congressional Fellowship. Her interests include the American presidency, executive politics and foreign policy, and institutional development. Recent publications include Scripted for Change: The Institutionalization of the American Presidency (2007), and Corruption and American Politics (2011) as co-editor.

Credits

Host: Peter Clarke
Producers: Eric van Bemmel, Kelvin Param, Peter Clarke
Audio Engineer: Gavin Nebauer
Voiceover: Nerissa Hannink
Series Creators: Kelvin Param and Eric van Bemmel

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VOICEOVER 
This is Up Close, the research talk show from the University of Melbourne, Australia. 

PETER CLARKE
I'm Peter Clarke.  Thanks for joining us.  Many analysts claim that social media is further democratising our systems of government; others are not so sure.  As we move from an era of mass media, with its one-to-many dynamic, to a many-to-many social media world, how are our systems of governance actually faring, especially within operating democracies, but also in more autocratic states?
Our guest on Up Close today has been researching this question in some detail.  Victoria Farrar-Myers is Professor in Political science and distinguished teaching professor with the University of Texas-Arlington, and here in Australia the 2013/2014 Fulbright Flinders University Distinguished Chair.  Professor Farrar-Myers recently delivered a lecture at the University of Melbourne titled Who Leads, Who Follows: Political Efficacy in a Social Media Age.
Victoria, welcome to Up Close.

VICTORIA FARRAR-MYERS 
It's good to be here.
PETER CLARKE
We're going to be talking about social media a lot during this conversation.  Let's try and tease out exactly what it is.  We tend to talk about it as a monolithic form of media, and clearly it's not - we've just got to think about Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, WikiLeaks perhaps, Skype - they're all very different in their operation.  Which are the important ones for political research?

VICTORIA FARRAR-MYERS
I think all of the above actually.  For all of us, social media and its different aspects, whether you're talking about YouTube videos, whether you're talking about Twitter and the 140-character commentary that you see pervading campaigns, whether you're talking about Instagram, whether you're talking about Facebook, which it's obviously changing the way in which it operates, where we're seeing more and more people in their 30s and 40s maybe adopting, more parents, and more the young people turning towards things like Snapchat and some other - Instagram and some other more instantaneous feedback kinds of groups; it's not monolithic.  They're different mediums of which we need to think about how we best capture those.
So for example a Tweet itself might send an instantaneous reaction to a commentary or what is happening at a time period, but it doesn't give the same kind of ability that say a video on YouTube will allow for a more in-depth discussion or even a programme like ours which is podcast or sent across the world that would allow for others to learn a much more deeper message.  We can't treat any of these sources as one particular source of social media, but as a grouping or a plethora of opportunities of which governments and individuals can take advantage of.

PETER CLARKE
You mentioned commentary, and comments, in all their various forms and guises, seem to be common right across most social media.  Is that correct?

VICTORIA FARRAR-MYERS
Absolutely.  You know media, classic media in terms of whether it's TV media or whether it's newspaper media has been, as you indicated, a one-way messaging.  What's interesting about social media is it allows the user to create the message itself; it allows the users to create information.  So that commentary, those comments you see at the end of reports or Tweets about particular things that are happening in the world, allows individuals, ordinary citizens who are not involved in government, to be able to create their own sense of the world, but it also requires though then vigilance on understanding who the source of that is, who is making that statement, what credibility do they have, do they have a credence to that, and that takes a lot more work by people sometimes to really pay attention to that and it behoves people who study it and scholars and others who utilise it to really understand both the positives and potentially the downsides or the negatives that come with social media.

PETER CLARKE
Victoria, from what you're saying so far, it seems to me that you're pointing to the fact that within the social media realm messages which traditionally were left intact are somehow subverted by the whole mad process of social media.  Is that how you see it within political campaigns?

VICTORIA FARRAR-MYERS
Absolutely.  Back in the late '90s I actually had the opportunity to serve as an American Political Science and Congressional Fellow in the US House of Representatives and I remember a story a congressperson shared with us bemoaning the fact that they couldn't control their message even at that point in time, and this was still when we were heavily into using obviously traditional media markets of television and of radio and of pamphlets and those types of things. 
I think there's a real concern that messages can be warped in social media; that messages can be reframed, messages can be reutilised, messages can be brought back up years later when the message today is different than the message tomorrow.  I think messages that are tailored - you have to be very careful when you tailor messages to certain segments that that tailoring doesn't so narrow you that when you try to reach a broader audience that suddenly you're hamstrung by that.  This understanding of how messages take on a life of their own within social media, and also the fact that I think a lot of people feel as if once it's on social media they own it.  
That's why this issue of intellectual property is of interest in social media contexts as well because we think we own our ideas, but when we place them in a social media context people can take those ideas, morph them in a different way.  Plagiarism is obviously an issue, issues of idea co-optation, issues of warping of messages, and certainly this issue of being so narrowly tailored on the message that you tend to box yourself into a point where you're no longer able to be valid and true to yourself.  It's going to force a lot of people in political realms as well as, frankly, CEOs, I would say society itself, to really look inward and ask themselves what are our true values, how do I want to present myself and make sure that presentation of self is one that remains valid and if there is any kind of maturation or growth on your part, that you're able to explain it in the context of that development so it doesn't seem as if you're flip-flopping.

PETER CLARKE
Bearing all that in mind, what role from your researches do trust and intimacy play in all this?

VICTORIA FARRAR-MYERS
Well trust and intimacy will play always in politics and trust and intimacy actually plays in life.  We trust who we understand; we trust who we know; we have intimacy in relationships and we trust to have people come into our lives when we feel as if we're not being judged or not being attacked or we're not being subverted or not being used in some way.  That's no different than when we enter the social media marketplace.  There's a false sense of intimacy in the social media context; in a sense you feel like you have a relationship with someone because you've been Skyping or you've been Facebooking them.  
But I think we have to understand, just because I know everything about your life and what you've done, doesn't mean I really know you.  That that false sense of intimacy can be very problematic.  What I've watched with some digital native individuals where they feel as if they go online and Google me and they see who I am and they think that they know who I am and know what I stand for and what I do and make presumptions about how to interact with me and have found it's quite surprising when that level of intimacy is not there.

PETER CLARKE
Victoria, are you amazed by how rapid the infiltration of social media has been?  Facebook 2006, and that was its embryonic form, Twitter just a couple of years later, it's been very rapid.

VICTORIA FARRAR-MYERS
You know social media, five years from now, if you think about our conversation today, will it have resonance because we probably are not even thinking of the various avenues that probably will develop over this period of time.  Twitter itself, in 2012 in the United States election and the presidential format, Twitter wasn't even a player in the previous presidential election and in 2012 it was known as the Twitter campaign.  So just rapidly changing forms of medium.  
What is interesting about watching the evolution of this form of media is that innovation and interdisciplinary discussions between engineers and people who develop code and people who traditionally don't speak to sociologists and social scientists and in governing, all are coming together to have to understand how to build a better way in which to, not only harness its power, but harness the potential negativity of it.  I'm more excited than ever to see the amazing iterations that will follow for years to come.

PETER CLARKE
You may have seen the book by the author Tom Standage called The Writing on the Wall: Social Media in the First Two Thousand Years and he cites a number of examples, obvious ones like Cicero's political letters during the Roman Republic progressively annotated by his readers around Rome and beyond; Martin Luther going viral for example; Thomas Paine's pamphlet.  The social media we're talking about today, is it simply an extension of a very long history, or is digital social media intrinsically different?

VICTORIA FARRAR-MYERS
That's a very interesting question to answer because in some ways it's very traditional in its trajectory in the sense that it's still about communicating and disseminating ideas from individuals to groups and groups of individuals.  What is distinctive about this medium is the ability to do this instantly across the world, the ability to reach as many individuals as possible in a very short period of time, which normally when you think of traditional media, the ones that you mentioned in the examples, those are rollouts over a period of time.  Going viral was much slower.  Going viral today is much quicker.  That is fantastic in terms of getting feedback, but it's also potentially negative in the sense that we've seen some of our major media markets having difficulty with going live on a story very fast because they want to be first and then having it … get it wrong and have to take it back.  So it has really created some ethical questions.

PETER CLARKE
Is there some sort of digital alchemy at work there that causes the viral syndrome?

VICTORIA FARRAR-MYERS
Communication is viral isn't it?  It's always been; communication is viral.  Marketers have known for years that the best way to market a product is word of mouth.  Campaign strategists have known the best way for years to get someone to turn out to vote is to go and ask them personally to go out and vote for you.  Whether it's governments wanting reactions to public policy or controlling the message and the way in which something is presented to the public. I mean we talk about media framing, the framing of an issue in a certain way.  
We also know that selectivity bias, that individuals tend to select things that they like that sort of  reinforce their own positions.  The interesting part of social media is that we're seeing the same kinds of realities like that happening where people are actually selecting the various people that support what they say.  They like the people that say what they like.  An interesting term which is a flame where we go negative on someone that we don't like or we de-friend someone that we feel is saying things that we don't like.  
The same types of activities, protest activities, activities of dissemination, activities of the way in which our communication is commenced I think is happening; it's just I think the timeframe, the quickness of it is something that again behoves us to take a step back, and scholars like myself and others who have been involved in this to ask, we have all this data but are we using it to its best advantage, and also are we understanding its potential negativities.

PETER CLARKE
We're talking about social media but we should acknowledge mobile media which is a cross-cutting idea, social media and access to all that the internet offers but mobile, and of course the ability to take photos, to make recordings et cetera.  That's part of this equation isn't it?

VICTORIA FARRAR-MYERS
Absolutely a part of this equation.  Mobile media has had a chilling effect.  And what I mean by a chilling effect in some ways is it's made people much less willing to be as open as they might be in certain forums because I think they realise that anybody in the audience could be sitting there Tweeting out a message, or anybody could be surreptitiously (sic) recording something on their iPhone or on their Google Glass, on their new watch that they can do or the next iteration of technology that will allow you to do that.  You know specially now in this era of WikiLeaks and the release of information in the US by Snowden, the world confronting, listening on each other, the gentleman or gentlewoman's agreement that countries for years have listened to what each other have done but now it's sort of out in the open, that people know that there is, and pretty much anybody now has the technology to be able to do that.  
I think that raises different kind of auspices about personal privacy, about security, about what it is you feel comfortable in releasing, and what will you have to face in 10 years.  And I think one of the things that's interesting about the digital age is that there's always been a footprint that you leave in your life but a digital social media footprint is there forever.  A lot of people think when they take something down off the internet or Facebook or whatever it doesn’t exist, but it does.  I think young people getting jobs to people who are running for offices need to keep that in mind, that those messages can come back to them later on and they will be held accountable for them.

PETER CLARKE
So from what you're saying, those already blurry boundaries between the public sphere, the private sphere, and of course the secret sphere are now even more blurry?

VICTORIA FARRAR-MYERS
I would definitely agree with that.  That blurriness has created some difficulty in understanding.  For example in democracies that are predicated on coming to agreements amongst leaders on very sensitised issues or trade agreements among multinational multi-states, multilateral agreements.  Those - people I think have an expectation that there will be less secrecy, that there'll be more information, and so there's a railing almost against secrecy.  Yet in some senses it isn't secrecy; I think we're redefining what secrecy is.  What it really is, is a healthy respect of the fact that some of these processes need to take place one on one where hard issues are dealt with and hammered out, and it's not that people want to just have nice press briefings where they all say they agree and they smile; I think really what they want to be able to do is have those hard conversations without having judgements or being forced into intractable positions.
In the United States we've seen paralysis and hyper-partisanship in our own US Congress but we've seen the same kind of thing happening in the Arab Spring in the Middle East; we've seen the same things happening in Asia Pacific here; we've seen things happening in China, where governments are trying to figure out what should they control and how should they control it and you see pushback by people, people saying no, you shouldn't be able to control, you shouldn't sensitise, you shouldn't be able to do this.  So very much the combination of those different spheres are putting different types of pressure I think on governments and people alike.

PETER CLARKE
This is Up Close and I'm Peter Clarke in conversation with political scientist, Victoria Farrar-Myers, about how social media might be reshaping our political communications.  Victoria, let's put social media aside for a moment and look at this phrase that you use, political efficacy.  What do you mean by political efficacy?

VICTORIA FARRAR-MYERS
For me political efficacy is about the individual ordinary citizen feeling as if they have an opportunity to make comment and participate in the dialogue of which the governing, whatever governing rulers are and be able to participate in the dialogue of their destiny.  Now, I should say a caveat here: I am an American Politics scholar, I do come out of the American system of which popular sovereignty, which is a term of art that we use that says that the power and authority for government comes from the people, so very much a separation of power system.  So for me political efficacy is essential to self-governing in a republic like the United States.
That being said, in a world context political efficacy in other states who might not perceive the role of government in that way or maybe perceive the ordinary citizen having not much power or control, I think there still is a sense of efficacy of the destiny of one's country and efficacy in the sense of the innovations that countries pursue.  For example, all countries, no matter whether developed or developing, are interested in building an innovation within their populace to develop the middle class, to develop a class of consumers, to develop those that are going to be the future engineers, the future scientists.  
I think having an opportunity through social media to learn about the amazing opportunities that are worldwide, that are within your reach, that can make young people feel vital and feel important, not only a contributor within their country but maybe a contributor throughout the world, and ways in which governments also can start to appreciate how other governments are acting and perhaps break down some of those barriers and maybe create a cultural connectivity that there might not necessarily be before.  I think that for me political efficacy ranges those whole set of spectrums.

PETER CLARKE
I imagine in this kind of political science research, allying it with media research, that you need to set some sort of benchmarks, come to some sort of view of how do you measure effectiveness or the feeling of efficacy.  How do you go about that?

VICTORIA FARRAR-MYERS
Methodologically that has been I think the most difficult quandary for scholars.  Communication scholars obviously have been way out in terms of their amount of scholarship and the amount of attention and time they've spent to it and certainly have an amazing set of theories that they've used to explain mass versus elite communications.  Political science I think, myself, I'm interested in institutions and how institutions are built.  To me I see the social media infrastructure as building a new set of institutions in which people can engage in cross-disciplinary, cross-country, cross-world conversations about larger issues that are confronting the world.  Whether we're talking about global warming, sustainability, whether we're talking about health and welfare, public health issues, natural disasters, relief efforts, all of those things I think really enable people to have a greater sense of conversation.  
Methodologically though it is difficult to measure that.  There are several ways to get at measuring.  Certainly experiments. Experiments meaning having people who sit down and actually read a text versus people who are allowed to say comment on a text, participate in sort of an old way of media versus the new social media way of engaging in media.  That's one way to study it. 
Another way to study it is to look at the rates in which people actually use different kinds of medium and how they're actually going about using the different kinds of medium.
The other way is to look at ways in which people participate pre the dawn of social media and then how are they engaging perhaps in various different spaces after the intervention of social media.  Methodologically there are different ways to do it but I think that is something that is very much we're at the genesis of trying to get our hands around.  We have a lot of data but now we're in the process of not only theorising but trying to engage in the empirical nature of making it tangible and understandable to be able to say that it's just not an anecdotal story, but indeed what we're seeing is patterns across countries and across the world.

PETER CLARKE
Victoria, as you probably know, Australian political scientist John Keane, with his descriptive phrase "a media saturated society" talks about a new post-representative democracy, he calls it monitory democracy, with a plethora of entities and various forces scrutinising governments and politicians.  Do you accept the main thrust of that analysis?

VICTORIA FARRAR-MYERS
In part.  In due deference to my colleague, he certainly makes an interesting contribution to this discussion in the sense that social media does set up a cacophony of voices. There are two ways of perceiving that.  Certainly the cacophony of voices can add different ideas; it's kind of a brainstorming session online.  Anyone who's ever participated in a brainstorming session where you sit around with a group of colleagues and you talk about a topic and you're able to come up with different ideas; sometimes you're able to come up with amazing innovations that you would not normally on your own.  
But certainly there's also the downside of cacophony of voices which is creation of white noise where eventually people feel like they're overwhelmed with too much information and just can't seem to get their hands around it.  So in some senses it makes them retreat farther back into their own values and their own core and hold onto them even tighter to the point that they're intractable and want to stand strong in what they believe in and very much start to fight against the other, as defined as anyone else who has different ideas to themselves.
So I tend to see both sides, both this positive and negative, or what I would call the dual-edged sword of social media.

PETER CLARKE
The other thing about social media, Victoria, is that it is constantly changing.  We have television, we have radio, we have printed newspapers which are relatively stable in their media form.  But social media is changing almost every day.  We see the algorithms for example for Facebook shifting and altering the very nature of the interactive protocols.  This is a moving target you have to research; how did you go about that?  Give us some idea of those experiments you mentioned earlier?  How did you go about those?

VICTORIA FARRAR-MYERS
Well I came at this question actually as a researcher of campaigns and I was interested in campaign information and whether the nature of campaigns was actually changing because of the ability to have real time conversations or one of the most interesting things that I found was the serendipitous tape that was done of candidate Romney who had run for the 2012 election against President Obama and, unbeknownst to himself, in the midst of very friendly audience had talked about a strategy and was taped and said 49 per cent are just not going to be with us so let's figure out a strategy by which we can win this election.  That was used very well by the Obama administration and other groups that were in favour of Obama's second term to use that and turn that on its head to make it seem as if that was Romney writing off the world.
And then I also looked at social media as a way for which people to participate in terms of financing.  So I was smart enough to know that I didn't have all the answers, nor did I have all the tools in my tool bag, to be able to do this.  So I talked with a good colleague of mine, Justin Vaughn, who's at Boise State in the United States in Idaho, who is a co-editor with me on a book called Who Controls the Message which will be coming out 2015 by New York University Press.  We brought together a series of scholars, both political scientists and communications scholars, and we asked them in real time during the 2012 presidential election to study the use of social media, and we particularly asked them to look at different forms of medium.  So we had every kind of form of medium that there was in existence at that point in time was being studied by one or more sets of our team.

PETER CLARKE
The full spectrum of social media.

VICTORIA FARRAR-MYERS
Full spectrum of social media to try to get a sense of some spectrum being utilised more, is it more developed, is it engaging people in different ways, what is it doing to efficacy, what is it doing to some of the bigger picture questions we've already discussed thus far.  We did do experiments.  One of the issues we had to learn about is scraping data, which is a technique in which you can pull data off of Facebook sites and you can pull data down off of Twitter feeds.  We were able to pull down those messages and trace trends over periods of time.  We were able to look at the top people who were Tweeting and followed to see how they trended over a period of time.  We were able to take certain messages from the campaigns and trace those over a period of time.
In the YouTube sector we were able to look at small short videos versus long video formats and we were able to trace that over periods of time as well.  2012 was very much a case study; for us it was very much a book about methodology, about now that we have all of this data, how can political science and communication scholars and scholars who are creating the code and scholars who are using the code, and frankly practitioners who are trying to make sense of do we use a green screen versus a blue screen or do we use five buttons versus six buttons, what's going to make a difference in making people interface with this new forms of communication tools in a way in which that continues that trajectory that media has always played in our political realm.

PETER CLARKE
As part of that process of sifting and analysing, do you get a sense of a balance between what we would see as quality information and the information, and often the polemic, you find in the comments section for example, the blaming and flaming syndrome for example?  Often that becomes more part of the story, at least for the next 24 hours, than perhaps what we're used to from that more traditional journalism.

VICTORIA FARRAR-MYERS
I think you are seeing much more emphasis on what I would think is the commodification of this medium, not only…

PETER CLARKE
This medium being social media?

VICTORIA FARRAR-MYERS
Yes.  The commodification of social media and what I mean is monetisation basically, looking for ways in which to support this medium.  Up to now a lot of it has been free and open access and I think the problem is how do we support the continued innovation on that is finding ways to either sell ads or sell subscriptions or with Facebook pulling down some of its analytics, charging researchers or campaigns for that kind of data so that they can continue to offer the kinds of innovations and continue to develop the types of software and innovations that we're used to in the rapid speed that we're interested in and used to.
That aspect of it is corollary to what we saw with newspapers and traditional cable TV and TV medium in a sense that ads, commercials we had to put up with because they paid for those programmings; newspapers had to sell ads because that was the way they were able to publish a newspaper.  The deeper question goes to something that you were hinting at, which is the quality of information, the depth of information.
I think one of the things in social media is people have a breadth of information; we read 140 characters, we read the first line; we can all say we know what's going on today.  But if you probe deeper and say what is really happening and why it's happening, that's what I think is still missing.  There's much room for growth in that aspect and I think you're seeing some partnerships like Washington Post and Jeff Bezos in the United States, Amazon has done this, Facebook is starting to do this.  Huffington Post and some of the others who have been sort of avant in this area even before what we're paying attention to now, are trying to build back in what you might think of beat reporters.  What I mean by that are people who actually spend time standing in the hallway in City Hall or standing in the hallway of governing bodies and really get - build those networks of information and trust so that they can build the information that's necessary to make good quality decisions and not just snap judgements based on someone's opinion.

PETER CLARKE
As we know, Victoria, there are some users of Twitter for example that have become mini broadcasters in their own right.  If you've got a million plus followers you're reaching out to a very large group of people.  Just as an antidote to the idea of the echo chamber and much smaller communities of interest, what role does popular culture play in political messaging using social media?

VICTORIA FARRAR-MYERS
Popular culture is going to play a significant role in the growth of social media for many years to come.  I think we have a tendency to liken the number of followers with the quality information or the number of likes you get as the approval for what it is you're saying.  The same question though that we've asked since the age of media is who is the provider of that information, what is their credibility, do they have a political bent, what is their agenda.  I think what's disconcerting about popular culture and its ability to have this influence is well, it's wonderful to have a singer reach millions of people that I, as a scholar, could not reach.  The problem with that is that I'm associated with that person and does that necessarily mean then they're a spokesperson for my ideas and what I do.  So associations then become ways in which you're judged as well.

PETER CLARKE
You're listening to Up Close.  Our guest is political scientist, Professor Victoria Farrar-Myers from the University of Texas Arlington and we're exploring the shifting character of political information and communication in a social media age.  Victoria, there's an interesting case study coming out of last Federal election here in Australia.  An independent was campaigning against a sitting frontbencher and social media lay at the heart of that protest campaign and the independent won very clearly.  It was a very grass roots community-based but socially media-driven campaign.  Do you have similar case studies in the United States where the social media campaign seems to be at the nub of success?

VICTORIA FARRAR-MYERS
Absolutely.  These grass roots campaigns, what you can do for example, build applications, apps, that you can use in campaigns which allows you as a voter to load in your contact list and allows you to send out messages to all your friends as if it comes from you.  It's you asking your friends to vote or you asking your friends to participate in a particular cause that you're interested in.  I think that's a very powerful way in which your example here in Australia of the grass roots being able to get that independent across the line.  That very much can happen and has happened.  Barack Obama's campaign in 2008, in 2012 online has taught us that personalisation of campaigns through the use of these applications and through the ability of using these more intimate conversations through Facebook and the different kinds of social media, can make people feel as if they're going to be held accountable if they don't do this because their friend is asking, not some remote person.

PETER CLARKE
Yet certainly in the American setting, and to a large degree here too during the last days of a big Federal campaign, it's television ads that are still the currency.  I know in certain battleground states you might be having a television ad every minute or so on local televisions.  Explain that: mass media is still really the currency, yet we're talking about social media as being deeply important.  How do those two play off each other?

VICTORIA FARRAR-MYERS
I think you're talking about the established media and it's still a big player because people know how to use it.  People understand how to use political ads; people have tested political ads, they've tested messaging; they understand how to buy media buys, because there's so much research about them.  There's a famous book in the United States called Air Wars published by Congressional Quarterly Press and now in a number of iterations that has looked at this - the Annenberg Center in Pennsylvania has looked at this; there's a lot of work that's been done on the effectiveness of campaign ads and I think people feel comfortable.
What's happening though is that campaign ads, they cost so much money to produce.  In the United States in terms of campaign finance they're still the number one cost for campaigns.  In the last two weeks of a campaign when media buys are so incredibly important, what we're seeing is outside interest groups or other interested parties are buying media time which is keeping candidates out of that time.
In addition, you pointed out in the United States in battleground states, those are states where we have very close elections where the margin of victory can go by less than one per cent one way or the other, you see that there's a saturation of ads.  They can happen every minute or so; you're having a new ad from someone else and it gets to a point where people just get so saturated they're done.
So I think a lot of people are still comfortable with that old media.  I think that's why you're still seeing that.  People are less comfortable but are intrigued by the prospect of social media because it is lower cost, it is more immediate, you can target markets easier, you can micro-target, meaning getting down to people who like chocolate who live in a particular district on a particular block who have voted a certain way in a certain time period, or believe in education because they gave a certain amount of money to this NGO.
You can get down as specific as that. The concern here is that all of this is happening so fast; social media is developing so fast that we haven't had time to reflect on the best usages of it.  So it's still the concern that we're not using it or campaigns or people who are using social media are not using it perhaps in the best way possible and may in fact be turning off some people or turning on people that they don't necessarily want to turn on.
So I think until more research is done, that tried and true sticking with TV is still important.

PETER CLARKE
Victoria, how does traditional retail politics, glad handing, shopping malls, railway stations, kissing babies, how does that style of traditional politicking intersect with social media politicking?

VICTORIA FARRAR-MYERS
Retail politics will never go away - I feel very confident in saying that - because retail politics is what drives people; relationships drive people.  People to people contact and relationships between people are what motivate people to get up off their couch and to do anything.  Retail politics, it's a term that a lot of people use which is essentially what you just said: going to an individual and saying will you vote for me, will you support me, can I count on you, eye-to-eye, handshake to handshake.  It's very difficult to say no in that world.
Social media has some of that aspect because you can have that personal conversation, that personal IM chat, that personal Facebook message.  But you can turn off your computer and turn off your e-mail at any time; you can turn off social media or unfriend someone on Facebook very rapidly and very quickly without them knowing.  There's a false sense of reality and a false sense of intimacy sometimes that social media breeds that still makes people a little wary (sic) that that will build the same kind of dividends that the retail politics of the face-to-face building of networks.
That being said, I do hold out hope that social media, as it develops over the next decade or so, is providing an opportunity for collaborations that are never possible.

PETER CLARKE
Victoria, so far we've framed our conversation within democracies.  Let's look further afield at places like China, to Turkey, for example, which quite recently the government there clamped down on Twitter, and other more autocratic states and ostensible democracies like the much-wired Singapore.  How do your findings and researches apply to those more autocratic states?

VICTORIA FARRAR-MYERS
Even in the autocracies or in the types of governments you're talking about where there has been a clear decision made about what is private and what is public and what is released and what is allowed, I think it is only putting off the question of when and which there will be enough pushback by the people to address this.  We've seen in China this pushback by the people to have more openness.  I think as we see a mobilised globalised workforce, a globalised society, that even if countries try to withhold information within their boundaries of their country, which is their due right to do, I think the permeability of the social media and of the internet will get in based on people who travel, based on people who are studying abroad, based on people who are being educated in different realms.  So I think there's a false sense of control.

PETER CLARKE
Final question: I'm asking you to gaze into your digital crystal ball now.  Looking ahead, five, 10 years, always speculative with digital revolution questions, where are we heading with all this and also will the digital natives, the twenty somethings of today, as they come into their own politically and in terms of leadership, are they going to be key in the trajectory that you perceive?

VICTORIA FARRAR-MYERS
The digital natives of today, of which my own son is a digital native; he shocks me every day with what he figures out that my gadgets can do that it took me weeks to figure out - the digital natives, what we're seeing in studies done in psychology and sociology on even the millennial generation which is sort of the 20 some odds now, and the generation of my son - my son is about three - so his generation who are clearly the digital natives, we have yet to foresee the potentiality that this has to offer.  But I don't want to make too much of the sense that it's going to replace the old system.  Evolution is a layering effect of which we build upon the knowledge of previous.  So just like the printing press built into telegraph, telegraph built to radio, radio built to television, television built to cable, cable built to social networking.  
I think what you're going to see though is a demand for a type of interaction and a type of instantaneousness of contact by this digital native generation.  We're already seeing that in education; we're already seeing in the demands of the way in which we're teaching and instructing and we're seeing in the ways in which they're learning and grasping and the ability to do.  But we're also seeing though that multitasking is not necessarily multi-depth learning and so I think the one crystal ball warning, if I may give one, is not to be so enamoured with the new technology to forget that this is one of a long lineage of innovations of which we will layer upon the lessons and understanding and it behoves those of us in this time period to make sense of it so that those digital natives of tomorrow can build upon the best aspects of it and innovate to make those even the next generations ways in which to engage.

PETER CLARKE
Victoria, thanks so much for being with us today on Up Close.

VICTORIA FARRAR-MYERS
It's been absolutely a pleasure.

PETER CLARKE
Our guest on Up Close today, Professor Victoria Farrar-Myers, Distinguished Teaching Professor with the University of Texas Arlington and the 2013/2014 Fulbright Flinders University Distinguished Chair.  If you'd like more information or a transcript of this episode, they're available on the Up Close website.  Up Close is a production of the University of Melbourne Australia.  This episode was recorded on 30 April 2014.  Producers were Eric van Bemmel, Kelvin Param and me, Peter Clarke.  Audio engineering by Gavin Nebauer.  Up Close was created by Eric van Bemmel and Kelvin Param.  Thanks for being with us.  Bye for now.

VOICEOVER
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Copyright 2014, the University of Melbourne.


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