American Political Discourse: The Collapse of Civility and Commonsense Negotiating Strategies

Two aspects of contemporary political discourse in America seem to undermine the aims of all stakeholders. These aspects are apparent on social media, orchestrated campaigns, such as via email platforms, and on most major media with the one extraordinary exception of public broadcasting.

UnknownThe first is civility. Too often, all parties in political debate are increasingly lacking civility. Too often, individuals seem to believe that they need to be remarkably rude, shocking, or exaggerated in their insults and claims about one another in order to be heard. This person is a fascist, liar, bully, and so on. There is quite the opposite of the wisdom embedded in many traditions, such as of the British parliament, for example, to refer to others in Parliament as one’s Honorable Friend, or Right Honorable Friend. Vulgar name-calling and insults are the stock and trade of our politicians and increasingly our highest-paid media pundits. It may be the media equivalent of click-bait, but it is absolutely poisonous to a negotiation.

The second is an absence of minimal commonsense. In politics, a rational political actor wants to achieve some policy objective, such as a vote or other decision. This is not necessarily the art of making a deal, but it does require some art of negotiation. If people thought one minute about politics being a process of negotiation, they should try to avoid putting the party they are negotiating with on the defensive. Calling someone a traitor, liar, or another derogatory name is a good way to start a fight, not a negotiation.

Perhaps the aim is to get attention, rather than achieve any policy objective. But if policy change is a goal, I have long subscribed the sage advice of Roger Fisher, Will Ury, and Bruce Patton’s popular book, entitled Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In (Houghton Mifflin Company, 1981), such as the need to separate people from the problem. For instance, one might focus on how we get out of this box, rather than Bill says we should do x, and Nancy says we should do y. American politics is almost exclusively focused on the Republicans want to do x, and so the Democrats want to do y, or vice versa. Completely the wrong strategy. My work on the role of modeling public policy decisions found that this was the secret ingredient of successful modeling – contestants became focused on the assumptions underpinning the model, rather than the policy preferences of the contestants (Dutton, W., and Kraemer, K. (1985) Modeling as Negotiating. Norwood NJ: Ablex). But one cannot focus on the problem when the lack of civility leads everyone to become mired in the mud fights among the contestants. They need to put their gloves ‘on’ in the political arena.

I don’t know if it is possible to reform the processes underpinning policy gridlock in the United States. It is becoming obvious that a change of political party fortunes has not made a difference. However,  a good start would be to focus on the very basics – how contestants talk to and about one another. Without a more civilized discourse, the art of negotiation and politics will be lost in a growing obsession with getting attention.

 

Orwell’s 1984: Must Reading for the Digital Age

I have not taught an undergraduate course on the Internet and society for quite some time, but when I did, at USC, I had George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four on the required reading list. I remember one of the last classes I taught. It was in 1998. It is memorable because my students – after questioning why they should read a book written in 1948, and published in 1949 (how could it be relevant?) – came into class after seeing Will Smith’s movie, entitled Enemy of the State. The movie was based on Will Smith’s character being chased by the bad guys and all the time aided by satellite surveillance technologies, following a sensor planted on Will. It was: “Professor Dutton. This is exactly like 1984!”  img_0867

Even in 1998, I had learned the sad news that 1984 had been removed from most required reading lists across high schools in the US. That was one of the reasons I put it on my reading list. I was worried that my students may never have read this book, and I was right.

So it is very heartening to me that 1984 along with other dystopian futures novels are making a strong comeback.* They are indeed still relevant. Some attribute the rise of dystopian novels like 1984 to the election of President Donald Trump, but I believe it goes well beyond any single individual, and is tied to the information revealed by Edward Snowden, particularly around mass surveillance. The technologies envisioned by Orwell, like the telescreen, have been surpassed, but the idea of trying to sense what people are thinking, and not just what they are doing, by their location, movements, and associates, remains very central in understanding contemporary debates over surveillance in the digital age. Even Enemy of the State was trapped in mere surveillance – tracking and capturing Will Smith. But Orwell saw the ultimate objective to discern what a person was thinking, and whether they were about to commit a thought crime.

I first read 1984 in high school, and recall wondering if I would even be alive in 1984 to see if Orwell was a futurist. Long past 1984, I still wonder if Orwell will be proven right in my lifetime, if he has not already captured today’s threat better than any other novelist. It should be must reading for anyone living in today’s digital age.

*http://www.pbs.org/newshour/art/george-orwells-1984-best-seller-heres-resonates-now/

Society and the Internet: a new reader for courses

A new book edited by Mark Graham and myself is in print and available for courses: Society and the Internet: How Networks of Information and Communication are Changing Our Lives. It is published by Oxford University Press, and material about the book is available on their website at: http://ukcatalogue.oup.com/product/9780199662005.do

How is society being shaped by the diffusion and increasing centrality of the Internet in everyday life and work? By bringing together leading research that addresses some of the most significant cultural, economic, and political roles of the Internet, this volume introduces students to a core set of readings that address this question in specific social and institutional contexts.

Internet Studies is a burgeoning new field, which has been central to the Oxford Internet Institute (OII), an innovative multi-disciplinary department at the University of Oxford. Society and the Internet builds on the OII’s evolving series of lectures on society and the Internet. The series has been edited to create a reader to supplement upper-division undergraduate and graduate courses that seek to introduce students to scholarship focused on the implications of the Internet for networked societies around the world.

The chapters of the reader are rooted in a variety of disciplines, but all directly tackle the powerful ways in which the Internet is linked to political, social, cultural, and economic transformations in society. This book will be a starting point for anyone with a serious interest in the factors shaping the Internet and its impact on society.  The book begins with an introduction by the editors, which provides a brief history of the Internet and Web and its study from multi-disciplinary perspectives. The chapters are grouped into five focused sections: (I) Internet Studies of Everyday Life, (II) Information and Culture on the Line, (III) Networked Politics and Government, (IV) Networked Businesses, Industries, and Economies, and (V) Technological and Regulatory Histories and Futures.

A full table of contents is below:

Society and the Internet How Networks of Information and Communication are Changing Our Lives

Manuel Castells: Foreword

Mark Graham and William H. Dutton: Introduction

Part I. Internet Studies Of Everyday Life

1: Aleks Krotoski: Inventing the Internet: Scapegoat, Sin Eater, and Trickster

2: Grant Blank And William Dutton: Next Generation Internet Users: A New Digital Divide

3: Bernie Hogan And Barry Wellman: The Conceptual Foundations of Social Network Sites and the Emergence of the Relational Self-Portrait

4: Victoria Nash: The Politics of Children s Internet Use

5: Lisa Nakamura: Gender and Race Online

Part II. Information And Culture On The Line

6: Mark Graham: Internet Geographies: Data Shadows and Digital Divisions of Labour

7: Gillian Bolsover, William H. Dutton, Ginette Law, And Soumitra Dutta: China and the US in the New Internet World: A Comparative Perspective

8: Nic Newman, William H. Dutton, And Grant Blank: Social Media and the News: Implications for the Press and Society

9: Sung Wook Ji And David Waterman: The Impact of the Internet on Media Industries: An Economic Perspective

10: Ralph Schroeder: Big Data: Towards a More Scientific Social Science and Humanities?

Part III. Networked Politics And Governments

11: Miriam Lips: Transforming Government by Default?

12: Stephen Coleman And Jay Blumler: The Wisdom of Which Crowd? On the Pathology of a Digital Democracy Initiative for a Listening Government

13: Sandra Gonzalez-Bailon: Online Social Networks and Bottom-up Politics

14: Helen Margetts, Scott A. Hale, Taha Yasseri: Big Data and Collective Action

15: Elizabeth Dubois And William H. Dutton: Empowering Citizens of the Internet Age: The Role of a Fifth Estate

Part IV: Networked Businesses, Industries AND Economies

16: Greg Taylor: Scarcity of Attention for a Medium of Abundance: An Economic Perspective

17: Richard Susskind: The Internet in the Law: Transforming Problem-Solving and Education

18: Laura Mann: The Digital Divide and Employment: The Case of the Sudanese Labour Market

19: Mark Graham: A Critical Perspective on the Potential of the Internet at the Margins of the Global Economy

Part V. Technological And Regulatory Histories And Futures

20: Eli M. Noam: Next-Generation Content for Next-Generation Networks

21: Christopher Millard: Data Privacy in the Clouds

22: Laura Denardis: The Social Media Challenge to Internet Governance

23: Yorick Wilks: Beyond the Internet and Web

Let us know what you think of our reader, and thanks for your interest.

Financial Times Opts for Independence from Press Regulation

Hope springs eternal. Wonderful to learn that the FT has opted out of both the new Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso), as well as the Parliament-backed Royal Charter system, which threatens to undermine the independence of the press in Britain. The paper is creating its own self-regulatory system through a new ‘editorial complaints commissioner’, according to The Independent (18 April 2014) and PressGazette, see: http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/financial-times-opts-out-ipso-favour-its-own-system-regulation  The FT might continue to play a role in the Fourth Estate if it continues to guard its independence. Hopefully other papers will follow its lead.

Politics and the Internet

Dutton, William H. with the assistance of Elizabeth Dubois (2014) (ed.) Politics and the Internet. London and New York: Routledge. See: http://www.routledge.com/books/details/9780415561501/

Delighted to see the first pre-publication copy of the four volume set on Politics and the Internet, edited by me with the assistance of Elizabeth Dubois. It is within a larger set of books published in the Critical Concepts in Political Science series by Routledge. Designed as a reference for libraries and scholars within this area, eighty four chapters reprint work that is foundational to the study of politics and the Internet, comprising four volumes:

I. Politics in Digital Age – Reshaping Access to Information and People

II. Compaigns and Elections

III. Netizens, Networks and Political Movements

IV. Networked Institutions and Governance

Politics and the Internet

A common complaint of the Internet age is that we have little time to look back, and therefore risk giving inordinate attention to the most recent work. It is certainly the case that the study of politics and the Internet is developing at such a pace that it will be far more difficult to reflect the full range of research over the coming decades. However, this collection is designed to be of value well into the future by capturing key work in this burgeoning and increasingly important field and making it accessible to a growing international body of scholars who can build on its foundations. I hope you suggest this reference for your library.

The Fifth Estate: Not the Movie

A number of colleagues have brought my attention to the popular launch of a movie, entitled The Fifth Estate. It is not unrelated to my work on the Fifth Estate, as it focuses on WikiLeaks, and such whistle-blowing Web sites are one of many ways in which networked individuals can hold institutions more accountable. For those who like the movie or the idea of a Fifth Estate, I invite you to read more. It is actually used by me as a means to convey the significance of the Internet as a means for empowering networked individuals in ways comparable to the Fourth Estate, the press, of an earlier era. See, for example:

Dutton, W. H. (2007), ‘Through the Network (of Networks) – the Fifth Estate’, Inaugural lecture, Examination Schools, University of Oxford, 15 October. Available online at: http://webcast.oii.ox.ac.uk/?view=Webcast&ID=20071015_208

 

 Dutton, W. H. (2009), ‘Democracy on the Line: The Fifth Estate?’, Oxford Today, Vol. 21, No. 2, pp. 12-15.

 

 Dutton, W. H. (2009), ‘The Fifth Estate Emerging through the Network of Networks’, Prometheus, Vol. 27, No. 1, March: pp. 1-15.

 

Dutton, W. H. (2010), ‘Democratic Potential of the Fifth Estate’, PerAda Magazine, http://www.perada-magazine.eu/pdf/003003/003003.pdf

Dutton, W. H. (2010), ‘The Fifth Estate Emerging Through the Internet and Freedom of Expression’, pp. 22-25 in A News Future and the Future of the Journalism Profession: An IPI Report. International Press Institute and the Poytner Institute.

 

 Dutton, W. H. (2010), ‘The Fifth Estate: Democratic Social Accountability through the Emerging Network of Networks’, pp. 3-18 in Nixon, P. G., Koutrakou, V. N., and Rawal, R. (Eds), Understanding E-Government in Europe: Issues and Challenges. London: Routledge.

 

Dutton, W. H. (2011), ‘A Networked World Needs a Fifth Estate’, Wired Magazine, 22 October, http://www.wired.co.uk/magazine/archive/2011/11/ideas-bank/william-dutton  

 

 Dutton, W. H. (2012), ‘The Fifth Estate: A New Governance Challenge’, pp. 584-98 in Levi-Faur, D. (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Governance. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Newman, N., Dutton, W. H., and Blank, G. (2012), ‘Social Media in the Changing Ecology of News: The Fourth and Fifth Estates in Britain’, International Journal of Internet Science, 7(1): 6-22.

 

 Dutton, W. H. (2013), ‘The Internet and Democratic Accountability: The Rise of the Fifth Estate’, pp. 39-55 in Lee, F.L.F., Leung, L., Qui, J. L., and Chu, D.S.C. (eds), Frontiers in New Media Research. Abbingdon: Informa, Taylor and Francis/Routledge.

 

 Dutton, W. H., and Dubois, E. (2013), ‘The Fifth Estate of the Digital World’, pp. 131-43 in Youngs, G. (ed.), Digital World: Connectivity, Creativity and Rights. London: Routledge.

 

 Dubois, E., and Dutton, W. H. (2013), ‘The Fifth Estate in Internet Governance: Collective Accountability of a Canadian Policy Initiative’, Revue française d’Etudes Américaines RFEA, forthcoming.

 

 

Politics and Policy of the Internet Seminar at Konstanz University

I have been spending the week keeping quite busy and engaged teaching a small seminar at the University of Konstanz, Germany. The seminar is entitled ‘Politics and Policy of the Internet’ and my 12 students are masters students in their faculty of politics and public administration. The first photo is of a subset of the class during one of our breaks.

Konstanz Students 2013

Preparing for, and giving the course, has been very useful in moving me along in completing a 4 volume set of readings for Routledge, entitled ‘Politics and the Internet’. Also it has been refreshing to hear the discussion of the readings. I’m impressed by the high standards the students have in the methodological rigor and argumentation of the various readings – excellent critics, but also in their ability to see the contributions of the work they review. The discussion of particular contemporary issues and cases has been the most interesting aspect, and I was pleased to be able to introduce the students to some of the ancient history of tele-democracy around interactive cable, videotex, and bulletin board systems. Sometimes it is useful to be older.