Controlling the Message

Controlling the Message: New Media in American Political Campaigns

Victoria A. Farrar-Myers
Justin S. Vaughn
Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 368
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt15r3xsj
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  • Book Info
    Controlling the Message
    Book Description:

    From the presidential race to the battle for the office of New York City mayor, American political candidates' approach to new media strategy is increasingly what makes or breaks their campaign. Targeted outreach on Facebook and Twitter, placement of a well-timed viral ad, and the ability to roll with the memes, flame wars, and downvotes that might spring from ordinary citizens' engagement with the issues-these skills are heralded as crucial for anyone hoping to get their views heard in a chaotic election cycle. But just how effective are the kinds of media strategies that American politicians employ? And what effect, if any, do citizen-created political media have on the tide of public opinion?

    InControlling the Message, Farrar-Myers and Vaughn curate a series of case studies that use real-time original research from the 2012 election season to explore how politicians and ordinary citizens use and consume new media during political campaigns. Broken down into sections that examine new media strategy from the highest echelons of campaign management all the way down to passive citizen engagement with campaign issues in places like online comment forums, the book ultimately reveals that political messaging in today's diverse new media landscape is a fragile, unpredictable, and sometimes futile process. The result is a collection that both interprets important historical data from a watershed campaign season and also explains myriad approaches to political campaign media scholarship-an ideal volume for students, scholars, and political analysts alike.

    eISBN: 978-1-4798-6550-5
    Subjects: Political Science, Sociology, Psychology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction: Controlling the Message in the Social Media Marketplace of Ideas
    (pp. 1-10)
    VICTORIA A. FARRAR-MYERS and JUSTIN S. VAUGHN

    The presidential candidate’s campaign faced the threat of being derailed following a scathing depiction of him posted by an individual citizen. Regardless of whether the claims made against the candidate were truthful, the message already had gone viral, and the candidate’s campaign flailed in its efforts to respond. Finally, one of the candidate’s supporters not affiliated with his campaign repackaged the critic’s depiction into a new theme, one that resonated positively with voters. The repackaged message itself continued well beyond its original posting as it was replicated in different forums time and time again.

    The presidential campaign from which this...

  5. PART 1: ELITE UTILIZATION
    • 1 Strategic Communication in a Networked Age
      (pp. 13-31)
      DANIEL KREISS and CREIGHTON WELCH

      In the weeks before the 2012 election, President Barack Obama’s supporters using the campaign’s Facebook application received messages asking them to urge select friends in key swing states to vote, register, or volunteer. An estimated 5 million voters responded positively to the requests of their friends, many of them 18- to 29-year-olds who could not be reached by phone (Judd 2012d). On quick glance, it may appear that there is not much new here. The 2008 Obama campaign notably pioneered the use of social media platforms for political organizing, leveraging Facebook to mobilize and coordinate supporters for electoral ends (Kreiss...

    • 2 Congressional Campaigns’ Motivations for Social Media Adoption
      (pp. 32-52)
      GIRISH J. GULATI and CHRISTINE B. WILLIAMS

      The 2006 midterm elections ushered in a Democratic majority to the House of Representatives for the first time in 12 years amid the backdrop of an unpopular war, an unpopular incumbent president, and evidence of a culture of corruption permeating the Republican-led Congress. The campaign season also was memorable for its media spectacles surrounding Mark Foley, Jack Abramoff, Tom DeLay’s smiling mug shot, and the “macaca” moment. A more significant longterm development in how campaigns are waged, however, was the debut of the popular social networking site Facebook as a campaign tool. Almost one-third of the candidates running for the...

    • 3 Surrogates or Competitors? Social Media Use by Independent Political Actors
      (pp. 53-73)
      JULIA R. AZARI and BENJAMIN A. STEWART

      The rise of social media has provided both an opportunity and a challenge for national campaigns.¹ This new medium allows independent groups to reach important constituencies. These groups may act as surrogates for official campaigns, echoing and amplifying the official message of the two presidential campaigns. However, social media can also make it more difficult for campaigns to control the message. Our research question concerns whether these independent political sources used social media in 2012 to act as campaign surrogates or as competitors for control of the campaign message.² We focus on the use of Twitter to issue what we...

    • 4 The Competition to Control Campaign Messages on YouTube
      (pp. 74-90)
      ROBERT J. KLOTZ

      On November 6, 2012, President Obama, instead of trying to control his own message, envisioned himself as the remixer. He was prompted by a New Hampshire radio host asking about Psy’s “Gangnam Style” dance. President Obama explained, “I think I can do that move, but I’m not sure that the inauguration ball is the appropriate time to break that out” (WZID 2012). It is a sign that politicians are becoming more comfortable with diminished control of their video message when, on Election Day, the president would wonder about how to adapt an Internet meme. Being able to laugh at yourself...

  6. PART 2: MESSAGE CONTROL IN THE NEW MEDIA ENVIRONMENT
    • 5 Campaign News in the Time of Twitter
      (pp. 93-112)
      REGINA G. LAWRENCE

      As economic and technological upheaval has rocked the news industry, media outlets are adapting unevenly to a new environment of dissolving boundaries and hyperfast speed. These developments are rather perfectly encapsulated in the new prominence of Twitter as a reporting and news-dissemination tool (Enda 2011; Farhi 2009b).¹ Twitter’s microblogging capacity has offered journalists new ways to communicate with the public and with each other at warp speed and with some degree of freedom from the constraints of traditional news work.

      Twitter is quickly spawning a cottage industry of research by scholars in mass communication and journalism. How Twitter is shaping...

    • 6 New and Traditional Media Reportage on Electoral Campaign Controversies
      (pp. 113-135)
      MIKE GRUSZCZYNSKI

      There has been perhaps no other time in the history of the United States press when candidates had less ability to “control the message.” With the advent of a newly reinvigorated partisan press, brought about partly as the result of technological change (Sheppard 2007; Sunstein 2007), campaign operations are now faced with getting their message out with not just a small handful of media outlets but a plethora of sources that hew to their own ideological and partisan divides (Stroud 2011). Moreover, at no other time have candidates had less ability to mitigate the negative political ramifications of campaign scandals,...

    • 7 Traditional Media, Social Media, and Different Presidential Campaign Messages
      (pp. 136-152)
      MATTHEW ESHBAUGH-SOHA

      There is a common perception among pundits, politicians, and scholars of presidential campaigns and American politics that new media have changed the nature of electoral politics.¹ Like the advent of television before it, new media—but especially Internet blogs, online news websites, and social media—appear to have altered the essence of the presidential campaign. Whereas previous advances in media ushered in an era of candidate-centered politics and greater reliance on independent fundraising to advertise on television, more online media have increased the range of voters’ sources of information and have shaped campaigns in distinct ways. The omnipresence of Twitter...

  7. PART 3: SOCIAL MEDIA’S IMPACT ON CAMPAIGN POLITICS
    • 8 The Influence of User-Controlled Messages on Candidate Evaluations
      (pp. 155-180)
      JOSHUA HAWTHORNE and BENJAMIN R. WARNER

      The rise of social media as a potent political force in campaign politics played a major role in journalistic analyses of the 2012 presidential election. Traditional media lavished attention on the content of political discussions on social media platforms (Fouhy 2011; Sloan 2012), the influence of social media on electoral outcomes (Parker 2012), and the predictive power of social media trends on election results (“Did Social Media Predict the 2012 Presidential Election Results?” 2012). Driving this coverage was the fact that social media were more widely used during the 2012 election than at any previous time. For example, a picture...

    • 9 Terms of Engagement: Online Political Participation and the Impact on Offline Political Participation
      (pp. 181-199)
      MEREDITH CONROY, JESSICA T. FEEZELL and MARIO GUERRERO

      Less than ten years ago, in 2004, Howard Dean revolutionized the way in which politicians campaign and fundraise in elections. Using the online web tool meetup.com, Dean and his supporters mobilized citizens to raise $15 million in small donations in one fundraising quarter. Similarly, Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign efforts included a strategic social networking element at MyBarackObama.com. Obama went on to easily surpass Dean’s fundraising efforts and set a new record by raising half a billion dollars online in just a 21-month span (Vargas 2008).

      Beyond fundraising, political campaigns are incorporating more interactive online strategies to win elections. For example,...

    • 10 Is Laughter the Best Medicine for Politics? Commercial versus Noncommercial YouTube Videos
      (pp. 200-218)
      TODD L. BELT

      The Internet has a number of campaign uses, from organizing volunteers to fundraising to message force multiplication. But campaigns are not the only sources of political information on the Internet, and not all information is sober. In fact, much of the political information on the Internet is not created by campaigns or even news organizations, and the purpose may be more to entertain rather than to persuade. But entertainment and persuasion are not mutually exclusive, and motivations may differ by content creator.

      In this chapter, I examine two different types of Internet content creators: commercial and noncommercial. The content of...

  8. PART 4: SOCIAL MEDIA AND CIVIC RELATIONS
    • 11 Comment Forum Speech as a Mirror of Mainstream Discourse
      (pp. 221-244)
      KAREN S. HOFFMAN

      Advances in technology have historically expanded citizens’ participation in politics.¹ From Gutenberg’s printing press to television, progress in communications technology has given an increasing number of citizens a voice in political debate, creating an information environment that increasingly includes citizens’ perspectives and opinions. The Internet continues this trend, as the growth of cable news sites, blogs, and social media has lowered the barriers to participation. One online space that has attracted a growing number of participants is the comment forum commonly attached to news sites and blogs. Indeed, the Pew Research Center reports that 21% of American adults who use...

    • 12 Sparking Debate: Campaigns, Social Media, and Political Incivility
      (pp. 245-269)
      DANIEL J. COFFEY, MICHAEL KOHLER and DOUGLAS M. GRANGER

      The lack, or the perceived lack, of incivility in public discourse in the United States has become a subject of great concern.¹ Both participants in and observers of national politics believe that disrespectful and discourteous behavior is inhibiting the solution of pressing problems before the nation. The potential that political disagreements will spill over into civic life has led to some concerns that a breakdown of the social fabric or even violence may result. At the very least, there seems to be broad agreement that incivility is a threat to the health of the American political system.

      Both theorists and...

    • 13 Flaming and Blaming: The Political Effect of Internet News and Reader “Comments”
      (pp. 270-301)
      BRIAN R. CALFANO

      The events of the 2012 election suggest that race and religion were salient contributors to President Obama’s victory (Scheiber 2012). Obama’s second win in as many presidential contests solidified the notion that identity politics can capture voters’ motives as much as any other subject, including the economy (Smith 2013). Of course, identity politics are nothing new to U.S. presidential campaigns. In the modern presidency era, appeals to ingroup and outgroup identities as the basis for political judgments (see Tajfel and Turner 1979) have been strongly associated with Republican Party strategy, although Democrats have not sworn off these tactics either (Mendelberg...

  9. Conclusion: Message Control at the Margins
    (pp. 302-306)
    VICTORIA A. FARRAR-MYERS and JUSTIN S. VAUGHN

    In the introduction, we identified four key themes that would guide the series of independent yet intersecting analyses that would follow. As those themes were explored and answers were provided to the questions being asked, a series of lessons for operating in the social-media-driven political environment emerged. These lessons shape the larger conclusions that can be derived from the collective efforts of the analyses herein.

    The first important lesson that candidates and others must remember is that the fundamentals of running a campaign—developing a message that voters will buy into, targeting potential voters who will be the most amenable...

  10. ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTORS
    (pp. 307-310)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 311-316)