Wednesday, November 12, 2003

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How blogs affect politics

Pejman Yousefzadeh (who has lots o' good stuff on his blog) has a Tech Central Station essay on how blogs affect political debate. As a case study, he looks at Josh Chafetz's recent triumph at the Oxford Union. The highlights from Pej:

What Chafetz's success shows is the ability of Blogosphere to be used as an instrument to rebut fallacious and inaccurate arguments in all sorts of public forums. With search engines built into many blogs, it is easy for people to look up information on a topic of interest, and then reference that information when desired. The Blogosphere can be -- and increasingly is -- a tool of rapid response that can churn out counterarguments to assertions made by journalists, politicians, and other public figures. Although blogging began as being a tool through which people could publicly express themselves on issues of importance to them, it has evolved into being a virtual war room -- and thus has established itself as a formidable presence in any public debate....

It's no surprise to see that Josh Chafetz was praised for his speech and that he was considered an outstandingly well-prepared advocate for his side. But even those with natural talent benefit from help, and Chafetz had the considerable advantage of being able to use the information accumulated in the Blogosphere to back up and advance his arguments. In doing so, he demonstrated anew the fact that blogs can be a potent and effective tool in rebutting clichés and pabulum -- in stark contrast to the days before blogs hit the big time, when conventional wisdom often went unchallenged and was routinely recycled by a media unchallenged by the decentralization and alternative viewpoints that have been brought to the public discourse thanks to blogging.

As someone with an interest in this topic, I must thank Pejman for adding to my reference list. His reward.... a footnote!! [That's a reward?--ed. For a U of C graduate, yes, it is.]

UPDATE: Robert Tagorda has further thoughts on this.

posted by Dan on 11.12.03 at 10:24 AM


He's right, so far as it goes.

But I would also observe that most blogs come pretty close to reflecting a pretty dull and obvious kind of conventional wisdom.

Most liberal sites are collections of reasons why all of the most hard-hitting liberal arguments are reasonable and true. And there's a vast number of conservative sites that are really more pro-Bush than they are conservative -- that is, they defend pretty much anything the administration does and exude this partisan spirit that divides the world of the "good guys" who are rhetorically loyal to their man and the "other" awful folks who disagree.

Your site -- and OxBlog and CalPundit and Tacitus, etc -- are the exceptions to an otherwise pretty strong pattern in the blogosphere.

posted by: William Swann on 11.12.03 at 10:24 AM [permalink]

Did you read the New Republic article on Joe Trippi? The article says that Trippi's use of Dean's Blog For America is revolutionizing campaign politics.

posted by: Laura on 11.12.03 at 10:24 AM [permalink]

I'm fairly new to blogging, so the observation has probably been made before, but it appears that the blogosphere is becoming closer to the bulletin board system discussed by Orson Scott Card in _Ender's Game_ : namely a forum for people to rationally (and irrationally) debate and for memes to be established and distributed. The ability to fact-check was not something he mentioned, but is a somewhat logical extension of having fast, worldwide access.

So, how long before Atrios becomes the first Hegemon? :)

posted by: Jeff on 11.12.03 at 10:24 AM [permalink]

Isn't the strength of blogs that you have to be connected to use it. Imagine if your newspaper came with an internet link and Google. Wouldn't you fact check some things that sound implausible, or send off a letter to your representative when you get angered at what he is doing or not doing ?

Whenever I argue person to person nowadays, it almost never fails that there is a point at which one of us will say: that's crap, let's google it up.

posted by: ch2 on 11.12.03 at 10:24 AM [permalink]

I'm not as convinced as others that the blogosphere is as fact checking as many think it is. I see a lot of bloggers still closed in their own worlds.

posted by: GT on 11.12.03 at 10:24 AM [permalink]

I agree with GT that most bloggers are in their own worlds; however these worlds are fairly wide if the blogger is any good. I am a liberal blogger, but Tacitus and Drezner are on my daily read list and another half dozen conservative/liberterian bloggers get my traffic at least twice a week as part of my own factchecking my ass.

I also agree that the Blogosphere is wonderful as a news filter and aggregator. Just go over to the Kos diaries, and you can find almost anything that you ever want to with regards to polling and Democratic primary politics. Go over to Voloch and you'll find a link and a very quick summation on almost any legal argument around. It is a wonderful storehouse of diffuse knowledge that is accessible to skilled info retrievers at very low costs. Plus every now and then the analysis for the top-flight bloggers are incredible.

The Blogosphere hopefully will not be the bust equivilent in being able to solve all of humanity's problems while producing extra-ordinary returns on capital, but it is a useful tool.

posted by: fester on 11.12.03 at 10:24 AM [permalink]

In fact the more I think about it the less I agree with the idea that the blogosphere works as a great fact checker.

Just look at how many bloggers (Jane Galt, Musil, Luskin, I think Tom Maguire as well) were proven wrong and were shown to have no technical understanding of the CA energy crisis which Krugman got right.

Did any of them ever correct themselves?

posted by: GT on 11.12.03 at 10:24 AM [permalink]

The very fact they were proven wrong does what ?

support my point...
not support my point ...

or in other words,
you can't get away with posting crap in the blogosphere. Can you get away with in the mainstream media (including Faux) ? Do I need to ask ?

posted by: ch2 on 11.12.03 at 10:24 AM [permalink]

I have to agree with William Swann, as far as the average blog. The question is, which ones will be most influential, and gravitate to the top of the list. Glenn Reynolds is less partisan than your average columnist, but not always that much so. There's still plenty of hope, especially if we bloggers think what we can do to point things the right way.

posted by: David Weisman on 11.12.03 at 10:24 AM [permalink]

It's funny what attitude and personal bias can do to a person. My feeling on the blogs is exactly the opposite of William Swann and David Weisman.

As I explore blogs, I tend to come back to the ones the strike me as intelligent and intellectually honest and ignore the rest. Although these make up a very small percentage of what's out there regardless of the persuasion, every one I've found tends conservative.

I'ved actually made a pointed search for liberal blogs that fit the bill--intelligent and intellectually honest--and I've pretty well given up. There aren't any.

Kausfiles comes close, but Kaus is always bashing liberals. From a place of love maybe, but he doesn't defend the liberal position on anything. And nobody who does does it well.

posted by: Ignatius Byrd on 11.12.03 at 10:24 AM [permalink]

Apologies to David Weisman. I may have read too much into your first sentence

posted by: Ignatius Byrd on 11.12.03 at 10:24 AM [permalink]

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