Friday, January 04, 2008

The Effects of Citizen Journalism on the Iowa Caucuses...

Only four days into the new year, the Iowa caucuses have elevated Barrack Obama and Mike Huckabee to front runner positions in the presidential election campaign. The caucus system is not a straightforward vote, but rather a type of meeting where people discuss the candidates openly. Because the caucus is an open dialogue and not a secret ballot, is it possible that there was a "YouTube Effect" that affected the final results?

As this Wired article describes, not only were many of the caucus debates recorded on video-enabled cell phones and digital cameras, but newspapers and television stations such as the Des Moines Register and CNN even encouraged people to do so.

If Iowa citizens knew there was a strong chance that they'd end up on YouTube, to what extent did that alter their behavior at the caucuses?

It seems reasonable to expect that 1) some people became inhibited by the cameras and did not speak their mind fully, 2) others became more brazen and emboldened to speak up louder than usual seeing an opportunity to reach the attention of a much wider audience, and 3) voter turnout, which saw an 80% increase over 2004, was similarly affected.

Democracy certainly requires open dialogue and the free exchange of ideas, however democracy also must balance such openness with privacy issues. This is evident not only in the "secret ballot" system where we vote behind a closed curtain and in how juries deliberate behind closed doors, but it is also entrenched in our institutions, such as Supreme Court deliberations. The logic is simple: people are more likely to stick to their convictions when they have no need to fear a public backlash.

The internet has tremendous potential as a democratizing force due to its ability to create openness, and "citizen journalism" is an avenue towards decentralizing the power of the media and leveling the playing field. However, millions of Little Brothers recording your every move ultimately has the same effect as one Big Brother doing so - the chilling of free speech. Advocates of citizen journalism ought to beware that they don't negatively alter the presidential selection process and scare citizens away from participating in the political process under the guise of "openness", even if that, in and of itself, also is a noble pursuit.


At 5:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gostei muito desse post e seu blog é muito interessante, vou passar por aqui sempre =) Depois dá uma passada lá no meu site, que é sobre o CresceNet, espero que goste. O endereço dele é . Um abraço.


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