Rethinking Media and Democracy Project

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”.

The project was 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 how Dr. Boler got the idea.

Engaging a large team of research assistants, –scholars and journalists–the project produced one of the first systematic empirical studies of “prosumers'” (producer-consumers) motivations 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.

Key research questions included:

-How are new media being used creatively to create communicative networks for political debate and social activism?

-What are users’ and producers’ motivations for engaging in online political engagement?

-Do online participants feel they have a public voice and/or political efficacy?

-To what extent is/was frustration with mainstream media a motivation to blogging or other forms of digital production?

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.

During Year Three, Dr. Boler and research assistants analyzed interview data using HyperResearch software, and presented their findings.

Here’s a brief summary of the project’s findings:

-increased online engagement requires redefinitions of political citizenship

-online web-based practices do NOT take away from offline organizing or activism

-digital media increasingly redefines practices of journalism

-across partisan lines, frustration and a crisis of faith regarding media and politicians motivates online political engagement

-satire and fake news have extreme appeal in an era characterized by crises of truth

-remix is being used to hold politicians accountable!

For more on Rethinking Media, Democracy, and Citizenship, see our conferences papers and publications.

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