(Cliff Claven-to-English translation: I parked my blog at Harvard Yard.)
Harvard’s Berkman Center for the Internet and Society released an extremely flawed study of influential political blogs that found some interesting contrasts between the ones on the left and the right. In sum, liberal blogs are more communal, set up as digital campfire “Kumbaya” sessions that invite multiple users and issue more frequent calls to action. Conservative blogs tend to be solo acts.
As highlighted by The Nation’s coverage, the study floats the idea that the difference could be as political as it is technical:
The right’s relatively limited integration of user contributions is consistent with readers or users who seek the stability of authoritative voice, consistent with claims… about the kinds of psychological needs that conservatism serves. Similarly, the more egalitarian, participatory practices on the left require tolerance for the unpredictability of open and fluid discourse.
The concept that conservative philosophy leads to more individually-themed blogs makes sense, but for the complete opposite reason outlined here. In just about every domestic policy debate over the last 30 years, conservatives have argued for a reduction or limitation of government programs, while liberals and progressives have argued for an expansion of government programs. It follows, then, that a conservative is more likely to start a blog by himself or herself than to round up a bunch of friend; a liberal might be more inclined to look for collective action. I don’t necessarily buy it, but I can understand the argument.
The paper also presents a second, much more plausible explanation: that leftist online political discourse came of age in the mid-2000s, when liberals saw Republicans in power and a Democratic party that boasted dynamic leaders like Tom Daschle, Dick Gephardt, and John Kerry. Remember at this time, John Edwards was the breath of fresh air that was supposed to bring new life to the party – that’s how hopeless things looked for the Democrats.
This explanation,though it may be closer to the truth, highlights the major problem with the study: it’s based on data collected in 2008. That’s before Twittering conservatives started holding local tea party protests last year to protest government spending – and well before those protests became a national organizing flash point.
The openness of the tea party movement – and its base of activists who are frustrated by both parties – seems to bolster the latter conclusion on the nature of 2008’s conservative blogosphere, but it begs two more questions:
- At the rate technology and tactics develop online, how can you say you have credible current findings about the nature of online activism with two-year-old data?
- If a UMass guy can understand that, what the hell is going on Harvard?