When Michelle Obama’s twitter account was hacked it seemed to be a nasty nuisance, to some perhaps almost to be expected as a public figure in the final stages of the election. Post 4 November 2008 and the landslide victory of her husband we may want to rethink our ideas of what it means to activate an electorate in the age of social media and microblogging in specific. I have been following Barack Obama (and Joseph Biden) for quite some time and one of the most remarkable features of his settings or befriending politics involve equality – if you follow him, he follows you – and yes, it is auto-follow but at some point this was an option chosen consciously.
Equality rather than just a marketing trick as sceptics thought seems to have informed his choice. He managed what politicians around the globe have been dreaming of for centuries: mobilise the masses, engaging them by listening carefully to their very basic need of being taken seriously and therefore gain their trust, support – and passion. The speed at which tweets were forwarded, retweeted and commented on when they had been set up as status updates in facebook was unprecedented. And even though I was travelling that day in Germany and had only limited access on my mobile I felt I was part of the events to an extent I had never been before in any other election. Obama may have had an excellent and hard working team of skilled aides who were trained in capturing their every move in max 140 characters – but why are so many other politicians obviously entirely unable to follow suit and at least set up an account and start engaging with the electorate? The underlying issues may be little surprising: the widespread model of leadership which is more concerned with maintinaing power than solving problems and developing the hierarchy-driven societies towards transparent global communities of stakeholders has come seriously under threat thanks to one man who has proved that being media-savvy is not sufficient – listening skills and the ability to involve them rather than exclude until the day of ticking that box dawns are key to understanding his momentous victory. Now, what next for the 44th US president who has been greeted with plenty of doubt when it comes to capabilities of resolving the issues inherited by the past government? I wouldn’t be too surprised to see him pursuing that path further and getting citizens debate and participate in solutions by help of microforums .
Censorship in the blogosphere may trigger instant associations to China, Syria etc and policing the internet. But censorship may not only occur on the national or the macro level but also on the micro level. The extent of control exercised when readers comment on postings may say more about the individual/s running the blog than any statements made by them in their profile or postings.
Under the umbrella of an individual’s anxieties, i.e. the need to feel in control in the virtual world where many perceive themselves not in command but rather controlled by the invisible audiences – and other unknown forces – , the only way to restore order and a sense of power is to censor comments to a degree that may disencourage readers to comment at all. This resulting lack of feedback and interaction in a rapidly growing universe of blogs, online social networks, and microblogging tools such as twitter may contribute to a sense that ‘those out there’ are indeed powerful invisible audiences who consume but remain emotionally unavailable. A desired outcome of the regulatory mechanisms at the micro level in the blogosphere?