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Liveblogging the Harvard Internet & Politics conference part 3

BY Editors | Wednesday, December 10 2008

Examining the Networked Public Sphere in Recent Elections

A conversation with Yochai Benkler & Eszter Hargittai

(We're transitioning from the morning's focus on the role of the Internet in field operations to a broader "networked public sphere.")

Eszter: Even among the 50% of Americans who have broadband, IT plays very different roles in their lives. How does this play out in terms of who is mobilized, who gets input into the agenda, who gets services? What happens when fatigue with these new tools kick in? What about misuse of these systems, such as spreading misinformation?

Yochai: The story of the networked public sphere, that changed people's perception of efficacy because they adopted new behaviors that made them effective on their own. Understanding meetings as (a) understanding how to win the next battle vs. (b) having conversations to shape the agenda. What about

To Eszther: Is the Internet making, e.g., misinformation worse, or just more visible? Eszther believes worse -- the repetitiveness and rapidity of the Internet can make the information more pernicious. But doesn't the counteraction also now happen apace?

The social graph (Facebook) vs. social action? Yochai: A potential tension between a successful transition to government and a widescale democratic process, as long as governance is focused on setting off discrete actions rather than provide a platform for discussion. The challenge is to create a sustainable platform of inclusion rather than sudden outbursts.

What is the interaction among the three faces of power? Campaigning as reflective of the first face, while there are also the second (setting the agenda) and third ("Yes we can"). So this perhaps puts Marshall Ganz's and Yochai Benkler's views into a broader context.

Are there examples of mass agenda-setting vs. mass agenda-disruption? Yochai is not sure the two are different -- after all, at core setting an agenda is to disrupt someone else's idea of an agenda. Josh Marshall's role in the U.S. attorney scandal is one possible example, although it's not a great example since it wasn't a groundswell.

What kind of democracy we want leads to the kind of platform we need to construct to enable that democracy. E.g. in health care reform, do we want a plebiscite on what kind of conditions should we cover, or do we want HHS to do it?

Marshall: We should recognize just how different the Obama campaign was from its predecessors. But the campaign had to be pushed to relinquish some power and responsibility. And it has everything to do with why people are still out there clamoring to stay involved as compared with isolated individuals. The connection between deliberation and action is crucial; how to connect them rather than divorce them. The distinction that Marshall was trying to draw was between agency in the tool vs. agency in the leaders.

Yochai: It's important that we distinguish a campaign with a known agenda vs. setting an agenda in a democratic, participatory manner.