Mar 09 2015
How new media is changing political life
By Lu Chuanying
Manuel Castells, the prominent Spanish sociologist predicted early on when new media (such as Facebook) had not come into being that the Internet marked a revolutionary breakthrough in bureaucracy as the main mode of management in human history.

  In less than ten years, the new media composed of social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Internet media represented by The Huffington Post, Project Syndicate, and China’s the Paper has broken through the temporal limitations of communication that constraining traditional news media, and achieved real-time generation of almost unregulated news and information. The penetration and popularization of the Internet has equalized the discourse powers of the elite and the public. Internet-enabled pluralism has facilitated the diversification in expression among people of different cultural, regional, and education backgrounds.

New media not only has diminished the influence of the traditional media on political life, but also has been reconstructing the political ecology. With the help of the powerful new media, in the 2008 general election, Barack Obama impressed the American public as a young, dynamic, and optimistic politician committed to changing the decaying American politics. After outmatching the politically well-connected Hilary Clinton, Obama beat the Republican candidate John McCain in a sweeping victory, to become the first U.S. president as a communicator-in-chief. Western politicians use new media to endear themselves to the general public to win wider support.

In the recent local elections in Taiwan, the public participated and expressed their concerns and demands in political debates through social media such as LINE. The youth, in particular, has demonstrated their new media-spurred political activism. For Taiwan politicians, the key to election victories thus is how to make full use of new media as a ubiquitous tool to respond to the public in an effective and interactive way. The one reason that the ruling KMT suffered a crushing defeat was that they had already been beaten by the DPP and other opposition parties on the new media battlefield.

New media benefits those politicians who are skilled at using them  while imposing sufferings on those who ignore its power. What deserves attention is how new media has been changing political ecology. Responding to the public’s concerns and demands does not simply mean opening a social network account or forwarding a few blog articles. What is important is that we should put into perspective the role of new media in reorganizing and mobilizing the public to influence the political decision-making process and impact the trajectory of political events. Whether in the turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa, or in the “Occupy Wall Street” protest in the U.S., or the “Sunflower” student movement in early 2014, new media’s role in propagandizing, organizing, and stirring should not be ignored.

Politicians across the world are paying growing attention to new media. But the revolution brought about by new media is only in its early stages. As the 1980-90s generation become social mainstream, we will begin to feel the growing power of new media in the near future. What’s more important is that in the age of the Internet of things, cloud computing, and smart cities, the exploration of new media’s role in changing the way of people’s lifeand thinking must be placed against the backdrop of the restructuring of human society. 

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