A Political Campaign in 140 Characters

By Jessica Jochum

Since the development of various technologies and progression of the digital age, the electoral process has dramatically changed since 1789 when George Washington was elected. The presidential candidates for the 2016 election are fighting a battle that hasn’t been fought before.

The Past – 1789 to 2000s.

In early America, presidents such as George Washington and James Monroe traveled by horseback or carriage to address crowds in person and published statements in “broadsheets” and early newspapers. Lincoln had the relative advantage of traveling by locomotive or using the telegraph. Telephones appeared in the White House in 1877 while Rutherford B. Hayes was president. Like Harding, President William Taft used the phonograph to distribute recordings of his speeches. However, the most rapid advancement in communication for presidents occurred in the 20th century. 1

Those advancements are found in the introduction of radio, television, and later, the internet. Each technology had the power to change, for better or for worse, a candidate’s campaigns and influence on voters.

One of the most notable, influential presidential campaigns that took advantage of the media occurred in 1960, when Kennedy was running against Nixon. They participated in first ever televised Presidential debates known as “The Great Debates.” The debates were simultaneously broadcasted over the radio. Those listening to the radio declared Nixon the winner of the debate, and those watching the televised broadcast decidedly chose Kennedy as the winner. Why was there such a stark difference of opinion? On the radio, listeners judge the debates through speech and tone. With the introduction of television, there came all kinds of new ways to judge candidates: not just by what was said, but body language, eye contact, charisma, and of course, appearance. When it came to the newly developed judging criteria, Kennedy floored his opponent. Kennedy looked directly into the camera, whereas Nixon shifted his gaze to the side. Kennedy was tanned, and wore make-up; Nixon looked pale and sickly after just recovering from the flu. 2

Polls revealed that more than half of all voters had been influenced by “The Great Debates,” while 6% claimed that the debates alone had decided their choice. Whether or not the debates cost Nixon the presidency, they were a major turning point in the 1960 race—and in the history of media in campaigns. 3 

Nixon-Kennedy-debates_19604

The slightly more recent past.

Social Media. Need I say more? Okay, I guess I do.

Barack Obama, coined the “President of Social Media”, garnered five million supporters on fifteen social networking sites for the 2008 election, with most of the “follower” count being on Facebook and Twitter. Prior to this election, neither of these platforms were used in campaigns. During his 2008 campaign, Obama launched an “Ask Me Anything” thread on popular site, Reddit, which became one of the most popular threads of all time. Obama and his team strategized to use these social media platforms to reach out to the young and minority voters. Upon his victory in the 2008 election, Barack sent a tweet “We just made history. All of this happened because you gave you time, talent and passion. All of this happened because of you. Thanks” – which was retweeted only 157 times. His later 2012 victory tweet (“Four more years.”)  became the most shared post in the site’s history, with over 400,000 retweets within a few hours of his posting. 5

barack

This dramatic increase shows the incredible growth of not only users on twitter, but their online interactions in politics. Obama was the first candidate to embrace and effectively utilize social media in his campaign, and throughout his presidency. His strategy was so effective because “the medium wasn’t the message, so to speak; it was the vehicle. It connected with people, with real enthusiasm, in real time, and gave them an easy and accessible way to show their support for change.” 6 Currently Obama has twenty aides that update his social media accounts.

Today.

The current campaigns for the 2016 Presidential Election featured the first “official” integration of social media of its kind – with Twitter. Sure, hashtags have been used widely for years – and Obama certainly capitalized on the use of Twitter during his campaign and throughout his presidency. However, this is the first election that Twitter officially partnered with the GOP and Democratic Debates.

cbs

This partnership featured live coverage of the events on Twitter. Users simply had to click on the #GOPdebate or #DemDebate links and they would be brought to a live twitter feed of coverage. The feed showed popular tweets using the hashtags, a “top stories” with photos and videos, and a sidebar for related articles to topics being discussed on the debates, provided by organizations such as USA Today, New York Times, and Fox News. (It is worth noting briefly that the organizations that were live tweeting were largely either reiterating the candidates’ claims, or in some cases, to support their own agenda, so to speak. @PlannedParenthood was especially active during the debates, either condemning the views of Republicans or praising those of Democrats. Clearly, the material being promoted on twitter was not bias-free.)

The Democratic Debate on Nov 14th, 2015 aired on the CBS network. Twitter and CBS linked together, and users had the unique opportunity to tweet to CBS using the #DemDebate hashtag. Tweets were pulled from the thousands sent, and some were read to the candidates to respond to – not unlike how reality shows in the same vein as  America’s Got Talent and The Voice display live tweets. Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton made a statement early in the debate, and a twitter user tweeted asking her to clarify her response. Hillary addressed the question and cleared up any miscommunication (well, so she hopes).

All of the candidates were tweeting during the debates. Rather, someone on their team was tweeting from their accounts. This gave candidates an extra platform to clarify or expand upon their responses in the debate. Hillary Clinton’s twitter account even tweeted at the start of the debate, “If you’re not watching the #demdebate, we can email you the highlights!” along with a link to sign up for her mailing list. Clever, Hillary. Clever.  

Okay, but does social media really make a difference?

Facebook claims to have increased voter turnout by 340,000 votes. And a third of those aged 18-24 indicated that reading something on social media would influence their vote more than televised debates. In the same age group of those online, 41% of users participated in political activity online. 7

In today’s world, not having a digital presence would be more detrimental than having one. Candidates that don’t use social media might come off as if they had something to hide. Erin Lindsay, a principal for digital at Precision Strategies, says social media “forces candidates to show more personality. Authenticity is a big thing in social media. I think the candidates that are the most successful are the ones that are clearly the most comfortable.” 8 Voters want someone genuine, and social media gives a way for the candidates to prove their authenticity.

The political advertisement spending is expected to reach 11.4 billion dollars for the upcoming election. Spending on social media is estimated to account for over half of the one million dollar budget for social media – a 5,000% increase from the 2008 election. 9  With a budget this large, you can definitely expect a flurry of activity from the candidates on the networking platforms.

Facebook and Twitter have been the major sources of social media campaigning. However, this election is the first one in which we can see Instagram becoming an up-and-coming player. In November 2015, Instagram boasted having 400 million monthly users, as opposed to Twitter’s 316 million. 10  The campaigning territory on Instagram is starting to be utilized, but still is not as popular as Facebook and Twitter when it comes to political activity. Imagine the mental anguish that would go into choosing the best photo filter…

From riding on horseback to constructing a (hopefully) carefully thought out tweet, candidates have embraced technology as a part of their campaign.

  1. http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/harding-becomes-first-president-to-be-heard-on-the-radio
  2. http://www.history.com/topics/us-presidents/kennedy-nixon-debates
  3. http://www.history.com/topics/us-presidents/kennedy-nixon-debates
  4. http://www.kingsacademy.com/mhodges/03_The-World-since-1900/11_The-Bewildering-60s/pictures/Nixon-Kennedy-debates_1960.jpg
  5. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/nov/07/how-barack-obama-celebrated-twitter
  6. http://www.dragonflyeffect.com/blog/dragonfly-in-action/case-studies/the-obama-campaign/
  7. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/r-kay-green/the-game-changer-social-m_b_8568432.html
  8. http://thehill.com/policy/technology/251185-welcome-to-the-social-media-election
  9. http://www.wired.com/2015/08/digital-politcal-ads-2016/
  10. http://www.cnbc.com/2015/09/23/instagram-hits-400-million-users-beating-twitter.html

Distorted Textbooks: Weapons of Mass Instruction

By Jessica Jochum

tom cruise

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I’ll never forget when I was teaching third grade, the week before Columbus Day rolled around. Another teacher approached me – noticing my lack of cheesy bulletin boards, no doubt – and said, “I can’t believe you’re not doing a lesson on Columbus!” She wasn’t referring to a lesson on what Columbus really did. Teaching such to a group of 8 year olds would probably cause nightmares and result in angry phone calls from parents (trust me on this one). She was referring to the typical elementary lesson that says, “In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue! What a swell guy!”

Altering history through education has become commonplace. Why? Textbooks. Okay, okay, textbooks aren’t solely to blame. Definitely not. But they are a factor. We’ve seen it in the whitewashing in Texas textbooks that fail to mention Jim Crow laws or the Ku Klux Klan, and in science textbooks from South Korea that exclude any mention of evolution. However, one of the most alarming cases of altering history can be found in Japanese textbooks.

But first – a brief history refresher:

Over the course of six weeks in late 1937 and early 1938, there was a mass killing of Chinese citizens at the hands of the Japanese Imperial Army. The Japanese Imperial Army, commanded by General Matsui Iwane, seized Nanjing, China (Nanking) on December 13th, 1937. What followed was nothing short of horrendous. Between 100,000 to 300,000 Chinese were murdered, 2 and tens of thousands were raped (some sources estimate the number of rapes to be between 20,000 and 80,000).3  Following the end of World War II, Matsui and his lieutenant Tani Hisao were convicted of war crimes by the International Military Tribunal and were executed.

Since the events that took place in Nanking, controversy has erupted. There has been denial about the tragic event ever taking place. In 2012 Japanese mayor of Nagoya, Takashi Kawamura, said “It is true that a considerable number of people died in the course of battle. However such a thing as so-called Nanjing Massacre is unlikely to have taken place.” He insisted that there were only acts of combat that occurred, not mass murders or rapes. 4

This denial has made its way into Japanese textbooks. In Japan, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT) authorizes any and all textbooks used through a rigid screening process. As early as 1955, the Ministry of Education (simply known as MOE at this time, the name changed later to MEXT) in Japan banned one third of the current textbooks. 5 The Sino-Japanese War was entirely removed from its textbooks. In the 1970s, two out of the six textbooks mentioned the Nanking massacre, but had the number of those killed down to only 42,000. 6 However, by 1978 the Ministry of Education removed the number of those killed out of all textbooks. The textbooks have been revised over and over again to further downplay their involvement in Nanking.

In the mid/late 1950’s, the Ministry of Education stated in regards to a textbook that did not put Japan in the best lighting:

“It is not good only to see Japan’s past war(s) as imperialist war(s). It is inadequate to say that Japan ruled China and made it miserable.

[The textbook] says, ‘Our country inflicted immeasurable suffering and damage on various Asian nations, especially during the Pacific War.’ . . . Eliminate this description, since a view even exists that [Japan] provided various Asian nations the chance for independence [from their Western colonizers] through the Pacific War.

[The textbook], in its treatment of the war, describes it as if Japan were unilaterally bad; it is not grounded in understanding of world history such as the international situation of the time.” 7

While the Japanese government doesn’t supervise the writing of the textbooks, they still have a major say in what gets published, and what doesn’t, through MEXT. Approved texts often require revisions until deemed satisfactory. This approval process and the textbooks authorized as a result has consequently led to several controversies and court cases. There have been three major attacks on Japanese textbooks since the implementation of the textbook screening process in the late 1940s. The major attacks occurred in 1955, in the early 80’s, and mid 90’s.

Additionally, scholar and textbook editor Saburo Ienaga sued the Ministry of Education three times in 1965, 1966, and 1982. The 1982 lawsuit was settled in 1997 in which the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Ienaga, declaring that the Ministry of Education’s censoring of certain events, including the sexual assaults in Nanking, were unconstitutional. This ruling was a huge step forward for textbooks including a full, uncensored history. After the ruling, seven major textbooks were published in 1997. All seven mentioned the massacre, and five reported the death toll of Nanking at 300,000 (the other two had the number at 200,000 – a big improvement from the earlier 42,000 statistic). 8

This is an ongoing battle. In 2001, more textbooks were published that were met with much criticism. One text in particular, the Tsukurukai history textbook, sparked even greater outrage than the rest. This text “questions the actuality of the Massacre of Nanjing, and erases from its records any mention of the Japanese military sexual slavery system, which was one of the largest war violence in the 20th century”. 9 The Chinese and Korean governments demanded changes be made to the text, and a two day conference was held, called “The Asian Solidarity Conference on Textbook Issues in Japan—No! To the Distorted History Textbook”. 10

The influence of textbooks is not unlike the power of archives. Archivists hold immense power (and according to Uncle Ben in Spiderman, or Voltaire or Churchill depending on your sources, with great power comes great responsibility). They get to pick and choose what’s worthy of archiving, and what goes out with the garbage. Archivists have a huge hand in what gets remembered, and what becomes a part of our history. Textbooks have a similar control. They offer a particular narrative of history that may or may not be entirely accurate. But textbooks aren’t like a Wikipedia article that the general public knows not to trust entirely. Textbooks offer a sense of authority to its readers. Textbooks, from a reader’s perspective, don’t need to be questioned. It is assumed they are unbiased and factual – regardless of if they actually are.

There seems to be an impossible balance between reporting history as it actually occurred, and reporting history as those “in charge” would like it to be remembered. Textbooks influence identity – As you read through the history books of your country, you construct an identity of the country, and of yourself as a citizen of that country. The impact of a textbook on our histories cannot be underestimated.

Edward Snowden, the Patriot Act, and the ALA

By Jessica Jochum

The concern for patron privacy is a tale as old as time. Well, almost. The Code of Ethics for Librarians, published in 1939, states “It is the librarian’s obligation to treat as confidential any private information obtained through contact with library patrons”. 1 It’s no wonder that when the Snowden controversy emerged in 2013 that the American Library Association took a stance. However, within 24 hours, that position wavered.

In 2013, Edward Snowden released thousands of classified government documents revealing NSA surveillance programs. The debate encompassing the controversy often begs the question – is he a hero, or not? Did Edward Snowden do the right thing? The ALA Council issued a resolution on June 30th, 2013 supporting Edward Snowden. The resolution says that the ALA “recognizes Edward Snowden as a whistleblower who, in releasing information that documents government attacks on privacy, free speech, and freedom of association, has performed a valuable service in launching a national dialogue about transparency, domestic surveillance, and over classification”. 2

However, the next day on July 1st, the resolution was revised and took out any mention of Edward Snowden.  The new resolution urges the United States Congress and Obama to “reform our nation’s climate of secrecy, over classification, and secret law regarding national security and surveillance” and “reaffirms its unwavering support for the fundamental principles that are the foundation of our free and democratic society”. 3 While the core ideas of privacy remain, the choice to remove any mention of Edward Snowden in the revised resolution has not gone unnoticed.

Why, in the matter of a day, did the American Library Association revise their position? The idea, the “myth”, of neutrality comes to mind. Robert Jensen makes it very clear in his article The Myth of the Neutral Professional that neutrality is impossible. You will always have a stance on any issue – even not taking a stance, actually, is a stance in itself. Yet, the ALA seems a little shaky on taking a non-neutral standing when publicly supporting Edward Snowden. Perhaps supporting him would have been too controversial. Maybe it would have been crossing the political lines too much. Possibly, supporting whistleblowers is great in theory, but not when it applies to an individual’s personal case. Whatever the true reason, the ALA focused their resolution more so on the importance of privacy as a whole and swept Edward Snowden under the rug.

Regardless of their seemingly “neutral” opinion of Snowden (though, we know in reality it isn’t neutral at all), the ALA has not had such a wavering stance on all controversial subjects. The ALA is extremely vocal in regards to patron privacy, especially when it comes to the Patriot Act. The Patriot Act was signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2001. Before the Patriot Act, 48 states had laws protecting library users’ information, including search histories and circulation records. Information would only be released if there was a court order. 4 After the Patriot Act (particularly Section 215) was signed into law, that information was easily accessible to government agents. “Third-party holders of your financial, library, travel, video rental, phone, medical, church, synagogue, and mosque records can be searched without your knowledge or consent, providing the government says it’s trying to protect against terrorism”. 5

It did not take long for the ALA to get involved. ALA President Barbara Stripling (role served 2013-2014) says in a 2013 open letter to members of the organization:

When we [the ALA] spoke out in 2001 against the passage of the PATRIOT Act, we were concerned about Section 215, a provision of the law that allowed the government powers to obtain ‘business records and other tangible things’ from suspected terrorists. We were fearful that the government would come into libraries without warning and take library records on individual patrons without reasonable suspicion. Libraries were one of the first groups to publicly oppose the bill, and many legislators and privacy experts have noted that Congress would not have understood the chilling impact on privacy if librarians had not brought it to the nation’s attention. Librarians were so vocal in their opposition to the law that Section 215 was called the ‘library provision.’ We could not have imagined then what is happening today. Today, in spite of the leak allegations, the government continues to use the ‘library provision’ to vacuum up private communication records of Americans on a massive scale.”6

In 2001, the ALA teamed up with the American Association of Law Libraries and Association of Research Libraries to write a letter to Congress voicing their concerns about the Patriot Act. These concerns included the expansion of access to business records, education institution records, and the expansion of trace devices to the Internet. 7 In 2003, the ALA issued “Resolution on the USA Patriot Act and Related Measures That Infringe on the Rights of Library Users” 8 and later “Resolution on the USA Patriot Act and Libraries” in 2005. 9 The American Library Association has not remained silent when it comes to the Patriot Act. Far from it.

As of June 1st, 2015 Section 215 of the Patriot Act has expired. Thankfully. Even better, on June 2nd, 2015 the USA Freedom Act was signed into law (and librarians rejoiced!). The Freedom Act, loudly advocated for by the ALA, would limit the scope of information the NSA and government agents could receive. 10 It definitely would not solve all of our privacy concerns, but it is a step in the right direction.

With the amount of advocacy against the Patriot Act and for patron privacy, it doesn’t make sense why the American Library Association revised its June 2013 resolution and removed its public support for Edward Snowden. It seems hypocritical to advocate against the Patriot Act, and not openly support Snowden. The reasoning behind it is undoubtedly political. The ALA has been decidedly non-neutral in their position of patron privacy, and should proudly advocate for those that have helped to further that cause.

 

 

  1. “Midwinter Council Minutes,” American Library Association Bulletin 33 no. 2 (1939): 128–129.
  2. Resolution in support of Edward Snowden. (2013, January 29). Retrieved September 20, 2015.
  3. ALA Council passes resolution on whistleblowers; government transparency. (2013, July 2). Retrieved September 22, 2015.
  4. England, D. (n.d.). The patriot act and library records. Retrieved September 22, 2015.
  5. Roller, E. (2013, June 7). This is what section 215 of the patriot act does. Retrieved September 28, 2015.
  6. Wright, J. (2013, July 11). ALA president Barbara Stripling: “Our country needs to find the right balance”. Retrieved September 22, 2015.
  7. Library community statement on proposed anti-terrorism measures. (2001, October 2). Retrieved September 22, 2015.
  8. Resolution on the USA Patriot Act and Related Measures That Infringe on the Rights of Library Users. (2003, January 29).
  9. Resolution on the USA Patriot Act and Libraries. (2005, June 29)
  10. How does the freedom act affect nsa surveillance. (2015, June 3). Retrieved September 22, 2015
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