Monday Notes – politics, policy & media

Over the weekend

  • He is both polarising and popular, and the adaption of The White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army as a Jeremy Corbyn political anthem is one of the more unusual and amusing stories from 2017.
  • How to Recognize Propaganda | Cold War Era Educational Film | ca. 1957

I was amused by this video that showed up on my YouTube feed. The more things changed…etc.


Sri Lanka

With a new budget due from the Government, this is a reminder that Sri Lanka’s economic development plans remain complex and perilous.

While I share many of their concerns about the employability of Sri Lanka’s workforce, I would urge caution in terms of the employment law. The situation is far more complex than a simple hire-fire paradigm.


Online Marketing & E-commerce

It’s becoming very obvious that a key issue in e-commerce is to own your own delivery and logistics network. Two articles caught my attention last week:

  • Walmart is still playing catch-up to Amazon.com on same-day delivery, though it is worth noting that their Jet.com purchase appears more successful than the market predicted.
  • Meanwhile, Amazon’s focus appears to be on final-mile delivery that is still outsourced to UPS and FedEx

Monopolies, Uber and Information

The dominance of Facebook and Google as information gatekeepers strips us of power and leaves us helpless. This is what they, and those that aspire to join them, are designed to do.

In the crucial early hours after the Las Vegas mass shooting, it happened again: Hoaxes, completely unverified rumors, failed witch hunts, and blatant falsehoods spread across the internet.

But they did not do so by themselves: They used the infrastructure that Google and Facebook and YouTube have built to achieve wide distribution. These companies are the most powerful information gatekeepers that the world has ever known, and yet they refuse to take responsibility for their active role in damaging the quality of information reaching the public

There were parallels for me when reading about the misidentification of the Las Vegas shooter (and the role big tech had in this) with this article about Uber. Specifically:

This is the way these companies are supposed to work – they run at a loss until they become a virtual monopoly, and hopefully by the time they dominate the market entirely they will have found a way to repay their investors. It’s what Facebook and Amazon did. And Uber has a plan too, a particularly unpleasant one. It was never meant to be a taxi firm; this is only its chrysalis.

Uber isn’t just a company; it’s a fully-fleshed model for the economic structures emerging throughout the developed world. It breaks the laws of old-fashioned national and local governments with impunity (just watch; London will roll over eventually). Just about every new tech firm has to announce itself in relation to Uber: an Uber for dogs, an Uber for education, an Uber for sadness. It’s a machine for processing human relations. We wander blind in the darkness, until an algorithm puts one person in another’s car.

The connection here is the effect of these increasingly monopolistic companies on us:

From then on, all our relations are transactional, and all of them are processed – from tipping to conversation – through Uber’s platforms. It’s not just a piece of computer technology; it’s a social technology, designed to individuate us, to turn us into consumers and entrepreneurs and nothing more, to leave us utterly alone and utterly powerless.

This is why steps to improve the quality of content (for example, human moderators) do not address the real reason we should be concerned— the by-design monopolistic nature of a handful of companies that dominate our digital lives.

#GE2017 – Demographics, policy and messaging

Some recent tweets:

  • There is an interesting  and ongoing battle between the Conservative’s rigid messaging on Corbyn and Brexit and wider issues on policies.

  • The message may (pun intended) be getting through but what do voters value?

  • Labour’s performance with younger voters continues to be a source of interest.

And these polls via the Economist added to that.

  • Some poor Labour marketing in terms of presentation.

  • Aside from the UK, Macron’s win also brought up something I’ve written about before:

Roundup on politics, media & campaigning.

There’ve been a few articles that caught my eye lately, but these two stood out in the context of this blog.

The always excellent Matt Taibbi had an excellent piece on the current status of the news media in
light of the US Presidential elections.

But young audiences in particular tend to be incredibly turned off by the media-as-cheerleaders model of reporting. News audiences among the young have in recent years declined rapidly, mirroring a corresponding loss of trust in major-party politics.
“Garbage, lies, propaganda, repetitive and boring,” is how a University of Texas researcher described the perceptions of young people vis a vis the news. Corporate news directors, much like the leaders of the Republican and Democratic Parties, seem blissfully unconcerned with the changing attitudes of their future customer base.

As I’ve written on this blog, the role of the news media in relation to a campaign is changing dramatically.

The question is, will the mainstream news industry in its current form, through an orgy of partisanship,  compromise itself to the point of irrelevance?

Post-truth politics and the ability of campaigns to be fast and loose with the facts is another topic that this blog covers.

This Guardian article makes the case that with social media, we are in an unprecedented age of outrageous untruths.

In the age of social media, moreover, dubious political claims are packed into atomised fragments and attract thousands of enthusiastic retweets, while the people who help to redistribute them are unlikely ever to see a rebuttal that comes later or in someone else’s timeline. We’ve all moved on.

Social media is less a conversation than it is a virtually distributed riot of “happy firing” (a term for the celebratory shooting of assault rifles into the sky).

I also had the privilege of attending the E-lection Bridge Asia-Pacific conference, an annual conference that brings together political strategists and campaign managers throughout the region.

As a test to incorporating more multimedia content onto this blog, I recorded some brief thoughts on the event.

Unscaling political parties and disintermediation.

Unscaling was not a  phrase I was familiar with in a political context, though the basic principle is certainly well known: conventional business paradigms are being disrupted by technology.  To unscale refers to the specific act of “dismantling all large-scale, vertically integrated, mass-market institutions”.

I have been writing about the disintermediation effect that we are witnessing during the US primary elections. While the current US election cycle is an especially vivid example, there has been a global trend in political establishment disruption, with the rise, for example, of the Podemos party in Spain, Syriza in Greece and the AAP in India.

In particular, Podemos made use of owned media to build its brand awareness.

I think that what Podemos shows, and what other social movement groups like Juventud Sin Futuro or Oficina Precaria show, is that you can combine the autonomous, digital media campaigns with an active reaching-out to mass media”, says Cristina Flesher Fominaya, author of Social Movements and Globalization

These disruptions have been in the form of new parties. What is different about the US is that we are seeing long-established mainstream parties being disrupted. Applying the idea of unscaling in this context, media disintermediation does not just apply to the relationship between politicians and the mainstream media. It also applies to the relationship between politicians and their parties. Both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have not only had to fight issues with media coverage, they have also had to battle against their party’s establishment. Their success is an example of successful unscaling.

Republican or Democratic validation used to matter — it would get candidates in front of newspaper editorial boards and on TV, access to phone banks and help draw the live crowds. Today, YouTube stars have bigger audiences than most TV shows, blogs cut out the media middleman and Meetup groups and Twitter get the crowds organized.

In parties with a primary or voting system to nominate candidates, new media has now provided an opportunity for candidates to bypass their party’s establishment and still effectively campaign for nominations. This means that the disruption to the political mainstream may not follow the antecedent of new parties but as insurgent candidates taking over established ones. Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour party may prove to be a more typical model in the medium-term than Podemos.  At the very least, we are in a transitory phase before this vision of startup political parties can become a reality:

 The economics of unscale predict that many startup parties will challenge the big parties and steal their members. Some will catch on, re-bundle voters around issues they care about and reach enough scale in a new way to have influence.

Media disintermediation and priming in politics.

Having posted earlier on the way agenda setting and priming have functioned in the US Presidential Primaries, I thought it useful to take a look at how social media affects this process, focusing on the impact of owned media. My interest in this was also stimulated by listening to a number of podcasts and having read articles that seemed bemused about why the largely negative press coverage of Donald Trump has not affected his success.

By making some issues more salient in people’s mind (agenda setting), mass media can also shape the considerations that people take into account when making judgments about political candidates or issues (priming).

Framing, Agenda Setting, and Priming: The Evolution of Three Media Effects Models / Dietram A. Scheufele & David Tewksbury

In a traditional model involving agenda setting / priming, the media’s impact extends through the entire lifecycle of the process. Not only does the media’s content set the agenda in the public’s mind, it exerts an ongoing priming influence. This is due to the fact that the “mainstream” media used to be a primary source of content about the issue. As I’ve touched upon previously, the media played an important role in the agenda setting process that made Trump a viable candidate.

 However, the disintermediation effect that social media has had on news means that priming (and possibly agenda setting) now occurs from a wider variety of sources.

In this election cycle, the “traditional entities” – the political parties, the media and the donor class – have been “cut out” as middlemen, said Gibbs. Outsider candidates have been able to “build an audience, deliver a message, and create a platform, all of their own construction.” Candidates can speak directly to voters through social media; Bernie Sanders in particular, despite a lack of media coverage compared to Donald Trump, was able to raise millions, said Gibbs. And although he has made extensive use of media coverage, Trump has circumvented both the Republican Party and the donor class.

– TIME’s Nancy Gibbs: The Disintermediation of Media and Politics

Essentially, this means that the media mix available to campaigns has changed dramatically. Most importantly, they can:

  • Become their own content creators on social media and push this content to the audience.
  • Leverage independent new media entities (especially those that favour the campaign) to push out content.

As a result, the weightage given to the traditional mainstream media is less, while that of the campaign’s owned content has increased. While this process has taken place over a number of years, the gap between the tone of the mainstream media’s campaign of the Trump campaign and the connection that campaign has built with voters is its most dramatic incarnation.

The very simplified diagrams below illustrate the change.

Screen Shot 2016-05-30 at 8.24.20 AM

Agenda Setting in Trump’s Triumph

A note about one of the many things that struck me while observing the Republican primaries. I thought it an interesting exercise to evaluate this using the agenda setting marketing theory.

Agenda-setting theory describes the “ability [of the news media] to influence the salience of topics on the public agenda.”

Using this, it is apparent that  media’s overwhelming coverage of the Trump campaign acted to prime the electorate to be open to his messaging. This is consistent with the role of the media in an agenda setting context. They did not tell the voters what to think about Trump. Rather, by talking about his attributes, they directed a receptive primary voter audience to Trump and his messaging.

The media’s coverage told voters that:

  • Trump is interesting.
  • Trump is different.
  • Trump is an outsider.

Given the current zeitgeist is anti-establishment, this created a perfect platform for Trump to push his message. With social media providing campaigners their own publishing platforms, the role of media organisations will be increasingly confined to that of agenda setting, while their role as opinion makers will continue to diminish.