Rethinking Media and Democracy, SSHRC-Funded Research Project, 2005-2008

Megan Boler was the Principal Investigator of a 2005-2008 Project called “Rethinking Media, Democracy and Citizenship: New Media Practices and Online Digital Dissent after September 11”, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC).

This project examined how new forms of political citizenship are engaged through digital media to create public spaces of dissent. It explored the sites of “digital dissent”, resistance, and civic participation which arise in a epoch marked by the convergence of increased uses of Social Web alongside erosion of civil rights and freedom of press in the wake of the war on terror. (Click here to read about origins of project.)

Engaging a large team of research assistants — scholars as well as journalists– the project produced one of the first systematic qualitative studies of the motivations of “prosumers'” (producer-consumers)  to engage in political digital dissent.

The project focused on four web-based networks of circulated dissent: (1) MoveOn’s Bushin30Seconds campaign, 150 independently-produced 30 second Quicktime movies that address a range of post 9/11 political concerns; (2) Web-logs that engage political discussion of media representation of U.S. foreign policy, particularly with respect to the invasion of Iraq; (3) Online discussions (threads, blogs, comments posted to blogs) that address Jon Stewart and The Daily Show, with particular focus on Stewart’s 2004 appearance on the CNN talk show Crossfire; and (4) Independently-produced multimedia “viral videos” that address diverse political issues related to U.S. policy.

Project Summary

During Year One, Dr. Boler supervised a team of nine researchers and consultants to analyze the discourses and digital media productions produced across these four sites. The team developed an extensive on-line survey which was administered to 159 users/producers. Analyzed through SPSS, the survey findings complement a 2006 PEW Foundation survey of “bloggers”.

In Year Two, the team conducted semi-structured interviews with 35 of the online producers of dissent. Click here to find two “remix” samplings of our data, combining visuals over audio clips from our interviews with digital dissent prosumers. The audio tracks of these videos are made from excerpts from our interviews with bloggers and indy digital video producers.

The following publications resulted from the “Rethinking Media, Democracy, and Citizenship:

Boler, Megan. Digital media and democracy: Tactics in hard times. Mit Press, 2010.
Publisher’s profile page, with free download of Introduction here.

Boler, Megan. “The Transmission of Political Critique after 9/11:“A New Form of Desperation”?.” M/C Journal 9.1 (2006).

Boler, Megan. “The Daily Show, Crossfire, and the will to truth.” Scan Journal of Media Arts Culture 3.1 (2006).

Boler, Megan. “The Daily Show and Political Activism. Changing the World, One Laugh at a Time.” Counterpunch, 2007

Boler, Megan and Stephen Turpin. “Ironic Citizenship, or Coping with Complicity in Spectacular Society,” New Network Theory International Conference, Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis, Institute of Network Cultures, University of Amsterdam (2007 June).

Schmidt, Andrea and Megan Boler. “Will New Media Save Democracy?” CommonDreams, 2007.

Schmidt, Andrea. “Politics for Consumption: How war bloggers feed the spectacle,” Digital Dissent, User-Generated Content, and Web-Based Publics: Reconceptualizing Citizenship, Resistance, and Political Media. International Communication Association, Montreal, May 2008. pdf

Burwell, Catherine. “Calling on the Colbert Nation: Fandom, Politcs and Parody in an Age of Media Convergence,” in Megan Boler and Ted Gournelos, eds., Electronic Journal of Communication/La Revue Electronique de Communication, Vol. 18, #2, September 2008. ms pdf

A Note From Dr. Boler on Rethinking Media and Democracy

This three-year funded project was sparked by a paradox I observed when I began to study online digital dissent during the years after September 11, 2001. A professor at Virginia Tech at the time, I spent long hours on the Internet surfing and searching for alternative media accounts about the U.S. invasion of Iraq (see also my web-based project Critical Media Literacy in Times of War).

The paradox? On the one hand, increased public demands for truthful accounts from media and politicians expressed across the blogosphere in online discussion threads, viral videos, and animations (see Who We’ve Talked To for examples). But on the other hand, alongside this demand for truth a post-modern skepticism “that all truth claims are constructions”. In short: the common thought was that the only thing that is certain is that we’re being lied to.

The paradox sparks our  study of the motivations of those producing what I call digital dissent — tactical online expressions that counter and subvert corporate-owned news.

Who We Talked To


Killing Train Dr. Sanity | Left I on the News | Black Five | Healing Iraq | Abu Aardvark | Dahr Jamail’s Mid-East Dispatches | Ambivablog | Idealistic Pragmatist | Grateful Dread Radio

On Viral Video

Eric Blumrich | Robin Sloan and Matt Thompson: Epic | Jamie Wright, ‘Florida Voting Machine’‘ | Andrea Natella, ‘Where Next’ | Dominic Tucci | Dood | Paolo Pedercini | Rich Webster | Barbra Tolentino | Zadi/Karmagirl

On The Daily Show Colbert Report

One Good Move | Something Requisitely Witty and Urbane | No Fact Zone | On Lisa Rein’s Radar

Bush in 30 Seconds Selections:

Ben Bryant, #93 – Which Guy? | Rich Garella, #2 – Polygraph | Ravi Krishnaswami (collaboration), #122 Bushillin Toxum 1 & #136 Bushillin Toxum 2 | Penny Little (collaboration), #10 – Army of One | Holly Mosher (collaboration), #128 Bushit Meter | Meredith Lucio, #119 Who Do You Work For? | Diana Hamaan (collaboration), BUSH: He Makes Your Head Spin (To view Hamaan and the Bush in 30 Seconds archive, visit Mugsy’s Rap Sheet)

Interview mashups/rethinking media and democracy

From our 35 audio interviews with digital dissent producers, we have created sound-byte compilations illustrated with videos, of short excerpts from our interviews on different themes that emerge from this research.  We have completed two mashups thus far, with more to come:

On All This Lying in the Media

Flag, Blur!


Selection and Election in American Democracy



Video Clips/rethinking media and democracy

The audio tracks of these videos are made from excerpts from our interviews with bloggers and indy digital video producers (see who we’ve talked to). Through this format you hear a sampling of people’s motivations to express themselves publicly as digital citizens.

First, a video by Eric Blumrich:

Viral Power–Rethinking Media and Democracy Project, by Li Koo

Followed by the wonderful placeholder, Election Magic:

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