If a picture is worth a thousand words, what is a map worth?

By Robin Miller

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I have always been  intrigued by the power of maps and their ability to draw the viewer into the narrative they illustrate. It is understandable that I was thrilled when I learned the Information School at Pratt would be hosting a workshop entitled “Storytelling with Maps: Visualization as Narrative” presented by Jessie Braden from the Pratt Spatial Analysis and Visualization Initiative (SAVI). After attending the workshop, I knew that I wanted to learn more about SAVI and geographic information systems (GIS) technologies, so I approached Jessie with a request to visit onsite at SAVI and she was kind enough to accept.

So, on a cold and blustery autumn morning, I travelled to Brooklyn and had the pleasure of spending three hours in the warm company of Jessie Braden, Case Wyse and their hardworking team at the Spatial Analysis and Visualization Initiative. Located in a newly redesigned subterranean space on the Pratt Institute’s Brooklyn campus, SAVI serves as a technical research and service center for the greater Pratt community as well as external clients, through the use of mapping, data and design. When I arrived I had the opportunity to speak one on one with Jessie Braden, SAVI Director and co-founder, who gave me an overview of what they do, who are their clients, and what type of technologies they use. In brief, the SAVI team provide GIS lab support to Pratt students and faculty on the Brooklyn campus and consulting services for non-profit and community-based organizations, often pro-bono. She also noted that they have been very fortunate and have never had to do any formal advertising. All of their contract work comes via word of mouth from previous clients. When I asked what a normal day looked like, she told me it would be roughly 30% consulting services, 30% support to the Pratt community, 30% administration of SAVI, and 10% research.

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Additionally, she provided a detailed overview of their certificate program for professionals as well as information on upcoming workshops at SAVI. They also offer a GIS and design certificate program for professionals to incorporate data driven mapping and visualization tools into their problem solving toolbox. As I am very interested in GIS work, I was excited to learn about the different technologies employed by the SAVI team. Jessie was happy to provide a short list of the products they use most often which include:

MAPPING

  • Arch GIS – (heavy usage)
  • QGIS
  • Carto
  • Map box
  • Leaflet
  • Esri

DATA CLEANING & ORGANIZATION

  • Excel
  • R & Python
  • SQL (in ArchGIS)
  • Open Refine
  • Adobe

I was then invited to attend their Friday check-in meeting where the full team discuss current, upcoming, and possible future projects. During the meeting Jessie discussed several projects that are currently being reviewed including the Hudson River project for graphic design and data mapping services, pro bono work for Mixteca working with undocumented immigrants, and a vacancies project which looks at commercial vacancies in New York City. The meeting closed with a team review of their new business cards.

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After the meeting, I was able to meet one on one with Case Wyse, who works as a Spatial Analyst. He gave me an overview of his work which he stated is more on the data analysis side, whereas Jessie does most of the visualization.

Additionally, I had time to speak with their 2017 GIS and Design Certificate Program Student Fellow and two of their graduate student assistants who were working in the lab. All three provide support to Pratt students and faculty who come to use the lab or need help incorporating GIS and mapping tools into their own work, as well as work on projects, as assigned by the SAVI team leaders.

“We are absolutely inundated with volumes of geospatial data,” says Mike Tischler, director of the US Geological Survey’s National Geospatial Program, “but with no means to effectively use it all.”1

In conclusion, SAVI is doing great work and if the folks at Wired and the US Geological Survey are to be believed then they are going to continue to be very busy. I am grateful to Jessie, Case and their team for taking the time to speak with me.

https://commons.pratt.edu/savi/

1 Enthoven, T. 2017. Mapping the Future: Cartography stages a Comeback. Wired. https://www.wired.com/story/mapping-the-future-cartography-stages-a-comeback/

Protected: A Meeting on UX with Logic Department

By asrp

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Protected: A Visit to Namely, Inc.

By Matt Bishop

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Protected: Observation: Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center Library

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Protected: A Night in the UN Global Pulse Data Playground

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I Want To Believe: ‘Illegal Alien’ as Dropped Subject Heading?

By tylerdnns

When the word “alien” is used to classify an individual, it is inaccurate, silly, and downright disrespectful. On one hand, it brings to mind science fiction fodder from the 1950—bulbous heads with tubular arms bearing “We come in peace” banners. It’s disrespectful, obviously, because it reduces a human being, no better than you or I, to this cheap, cartoon visual.

The history of the term begins unexpectedly. This now-offensive term was once used to supplant a much more offensive one.

In the 70s, “a group of Chicano UCLA students […] suggest[ed] the [LA Times] use the term illegal alien. They were responding to an editorial in the publication whose title referred to people who’d crossed illegally from Mexico as wetbacks.” So for a period, the term was a politically correct answer to what now seems like an archaic and particularly nasty slur (that reputable newspapers would publish without a thought)

So in the 80’s, when politicians like Ronald Reagan were using the term, it didn’t strike people as offensive as it does now. According to NPR, it wasn’t until the 90’s that the phrase started becoming associated with bigotry. Despite this current understanding that the term is outdated, it is prominently linked to political, right-wing rhetoric.

Politicians like Ted Cruz and Donald Trump coupling the words “illegal alien” with the word “criminal,” (NPR) as an antecedent or vice-versa. They are essentially labeling a voiceless people in a way that the people themselves don’t determine.

The current political climate in which the term “illegal alien” has an insidious relevancy is interesting when compared to the Peet article. It describes the avenues and roadblocks a Dartmouth student navigated in her quest to remove “illegal alien” as a subject heading with the Library of Congress. While researching, the student noticed that many inflammatory readings about non-citizens were found under the heading “illegal alien.”

The student took her concerns with the heading to a rights group for the undocumented students at Dartmouth. From there, the bipartisan group took the student’s concerns to librarians at Dartmouth. The librarians advised that the group would have to take it up with the Library of Congress directly. What follows was a description that, frankly, painted the Library of Congress as an impenetrable and hierarchical force at best. On the more extreme side, an absolute, perhaps harsher interpretation might cast LC as sometimes-protector of the hegemony.

After six grueling months of waiting, the Library of Congress finally got back to Dartmouth students, denying the change. The LC memo stated that the terms “illegal alien” and “undocumented immigrant” were not interchangeable. In their eyes, the connotation for each phrase was different.

Then, after what seems like relatively small pressure from ALA and civil rights groups, the Library of Congress relented. They changed the heading to “non-citizen”…for three months, at least. After that short span, Republicans (specifically) tried to stop this.

One Republican senator from Tennessee (neighbor to my own home state, Alabama) even went so far as to say the name-change would cost taxpayers frivolously, and therefore would not have been worth pursuing. As if using more thoughtful words wouldn’t lead to a more uniform, thoughtful community benefiting everyone…

The bill was ultimately passed, then denied, and is now currently up in limbo. The end of the Library Journal article is optimistic. It highlights the enterprising Dartmouth student, a former undocumented individual who is now a modern incarnation of civil rights hero. The article champions individuals like her, and as readers we are implicitly encouraged to follow suit.

Despite the bill not passing by the time of the article’s publication, the work done by the students was still necessary. The publicity generated by their efforts makes “illegal alien” seem even more antediluvian and backwards, further discourages thoughtful people (most of us, in my opinion) from using it. Any publicity, if it encourages less usage of this word, will paint researchers who use this tag as insensitive, pressuring everyone to use it less in every capacity, unless trying to incite (like insensitive, topical politicians of the day). In short, I don’t think anyone who matters is going to be using this term.

Both words in the label “illegal alien” are propaganda. “Illegal” implies criminal activity even when none occured. “Alien” is a particularly cartoonish way of saying an object doesn’t belong. It is not just propaganda, but it is immoral propaganda.

This reminded me of the struggles for more apt representation (or representation at all) in the Library of Congress subject headings outlined in the Drabinski readings. “Lesbian” finally got validation from LC as a subject heading in 1976. The dynamics of power, of literally waiting for the hegemony to realize that a disrespect is taking place, and then waiting on them to care enough to change it, is relevant in the Dartmouth case as well. When a dominant class is put in charge of defining a less-influential other, they are only going to approach this task with the limited understanding they bring to the table.

The Drabinski article was about how people are limited by their biases, whether they realize it or not. Even when the defenders of these inaccurate subject headings are in the wrong, they often don’t seem to realize or spend too much time defending instead of just realizing the new for something new and more respectful. If harmful language can exist in libraries, those hallowed places idealized by Madison and Jefferson, then what hope is there for the drastically more-chaotic spaces outside of it?

Above all else, we just have to ask people and understand what they feel comfortable being called. Why is that so hard?

Drabinski, E. (2013). Queering the Catalog: Queer Theory and the Politics of Correction. The Library Quarterly: Information, Community, Policy, 83(2), 94-111. Retrieved February 20, 2017, from https://lms.pratt.edu/

Greene, D. (2015, August 19). The Evolution Of The Immigration Term: Alien. Retrieved February 20, 2017, from http://www.npr.org/templates/transcript/

Peet, L. (2016). LC Drops “Illegal Alien” Subject Heading. Library Journal, 141(11), 12-13.

An Unspoken Prescription for our Information Elites

By evolow

Last month, I had the pleasure of attending the first day of the Avant Museology Symposium at the Brooklyn Museum. It was an experience my wife and I went into with little foreknowledge of the contents. We knew that the general subject matter would relate to the future of curation and exhibition design. I knew that the most inscrutable (least scrutable?) Art History department lecturer from my undergrad alma mater would be in attendance, and I knew there would be some famous curators there. All fuzzy notions. The event happened to fall three days after the United States unexpectedly elected Donald Trump as its next President, and the firmly liberal or left wing audience and speakers at the symposium had not recovered from the initial shock of that upset. In his opening remarks, artist and founder of e-flux (the organization responsible for the symposium) Anton Vidokle quipped that his friends were “depressed and catatonic.” There was indeed a feeling of catatonia or paralysis in the air.

A lecture by critic Boris Groys provided a retreat into the high-minded world of modern art theory, considering the question of whether museums provide art with too much protection or too little, calling up in the process the ghosts of Kasimir Malevich, Martin Heidegger, Immanuel Kant, and perhaps most of all Walter Benjamin.

Then the Americans took the stage. Or rather, two Americans and one Briton, though the effect of sudden westernization after two thoroughly Russian speakers was jarring. Brooklyn Museum Director Anne Pasternak and Chief Curator Nancy Spector sat on either side of artist Liam Gillick and discussed the (by their admission) confounding results of a 2008 group show at the Guggenheim Museum curated by Spector and featuring Gillick. The show, titled theanyspacewhatever, was a bold decision on Spector’s part to give over the space of the Guggenheim entirely to a group of ten critically acclaimed contemporary artists, with the idea that they collectively would transform the space in ways that challenge the dictates of the institution. Flipping through a slideshow of installation pieces, Gillick and Spector conceded that the exhibition lapsed into a collection of individual works rather than the grand collaborative statement originally intended. There was a wistful, unmoored feeling in the air as these three very established art world figures discussed further curatorial adventures, all the while projecting the feeling that they wanted to burst the bubble of their status and do something. The preview for the panel in the symposium program does indeed use the words “outreach” and “progressive,” but the three speakers, clad all in black and seated onstage on chic modern chairs, appeared comically distant from the America that had a few days earlier so startled and dismayed them. Between them and me lay three rows of mostly unclaimed reserved chairs. The audience, of course, appeared uniformly academic and/or artistic, skewed heavily toward age groups under 30 and over 50. The conversation lurched closer to the present political situation when the panelists called for questions from the audience. I almost spoke up, but held my tongue, cowed by the presence of my inscrutable old Modern Art professor and the knowledge of my own plainspokenness amidst all this abstraction.

The alien atmosphere reasserted itself with the ascent of famed Swiss curator Hans-Ulrich Obrist to the podium. Rail thin, the smartest dressed of all, he delivered his prewritten lecture at high speed with head bowed and a thick, not-quite-German accent.

I left the symposium stimulated and happy, but with the firm conviction that the star curators and critics I’d seen on stage could not be further removed from the benighted America they wished to reach out to. They might indeed be actively repellant. It made me sad to realize this, that for all their intellect this critical upper crust could not reach into the center, that they must in fact recuse themselves.

I thought of the election, the moral failure of the liberal elite, the wealthy centrists to blame, and the wealthy people I encounter every day at my fancy restaurant job. Then I realized a directive for the intellectual, artistic class.

My restaurant is owned by a charismatic, creative semi-celebrity chef, married to an artist and friends with the likes of Laurie Anderson and Paloma Picasso. Yesterday, Camille Pissarro’s great-grandson tipped me $10 for fetching his coat. The balance of the customer base, those who aren’t members of the creative elite, is made up of financiers, dentists, and attorneys. They don’t perform academic or creative work, but they are all too glad to express their appreciation of creative and unusual cooking. If they can claim a friendship with the aforementioned chef, even better. My realization is that these people, the plutocrats who so disproportionately dictate society’s course, rely upon the creative elite for validation. They desperately need the friendship, approval, or at least output of the creatively blessed to give their lives texture and meaning. They need to know that when they left this or that Ivy to pursue a JD or MBA, they did not somehow lose out to their friends and classmates who got MFAs instead. They must beat back the encroaching darkness of intellectual oblivion and moral bankruptcy. My recommendation to their more enlightened validators, then, is simply to wield that influence. Withhold validation. Nudge your moneyed acquaintances left, or let them suffer.

On the way home from the symposium, I found my confidence growing, wishing I had spoken up earlier. I decided to take my notes home and send an encouraging, clarifying email to Spector, Pasternak, and Gillick. Then I found that none of their email addresses are publicly available. The end.

Observation at the NY Federal Reserve’s Archives

By kraines

On Friday, December 9th, I joined associate archivist, Julie Sager, and observed her work at the New York Federal Reserve’s. I spent a few hours in the afternoon with Miss Sager, observing the work she does and discussing current issues in archiving. The day was as exciting, as it was interesting. Simply entering the building was awe-inspiring as you can’t help but imagine you’re walking into a castle. A tower adorns one corner of the stone structure and huge arched ceilings mark an era of grandeur in New York construction.

First we stopped up in the library, a bustling room of cubicles and chatty voices. Miss Sager described the work she does on most days, starting with email and research in the mornings. Some afternoons consist of status meetings or a recent committee to re-establish the access and retention policies for records stored on-site. However, most afternoons are spent researching in the archives for queries and FOIA requests.

Most information requested through FOIA is already available through public record but many people think a FOIA request is required. When information is sealed, a FOIA request does not guarantee access. Access is determined by the law department. Other times, the requester want to see the steps taken during research by the archivist, as required by FOIA requests. Miss Sager helped to develop the reporting system used to track the workflow of research using a program called sharepoint. The library and archivist team is able to track all research because the program allows for reproducible searches and reduces research time for similar or multiple inquiries on the same info.

Next, we walked through the archives and records rooms as she discussed a recent problem. We pulled a few boxes in archives to search through later. The archives and records are stored in old cash and coin vaults. They are sealed behind huge metal doors with complex locking mechanisms (picture gringotts in Harry Potter.) Recently, Miss Sager has been following the trail of some missing records. Lending to banks was typically recorded in the meeting minutes by members of the federal reserve; however, during WWI lending practices reported through a different method. Miss Sager was able to determine why the records are missing from archived meeting minutes but has not been able to find the missing information. Interestly, Miss Sager is now responding to the 3rd of 4th request from different parties in the last year for the same missing info.

Records are created by outside parties, such as banks and businesses, and are stored on-site for a predetermined amount of time. Miss Sager has recently been involved in the research and decision to change the time a record is kept in storage at the federal reserve. Based on information she has found at other institutions, she suggests they keep records for 20 years before removing or archiving them. When a record is removed, it is either returned to the creator or destroyed. I asked how Miss Sager feels her career may be affected by the move toward digitization in archives and libraries. She says that her career will be secure for at least the 10-20 years left in current records. She and her boss also plan to find classes based on archiving born-digital documents. She says, “There aren’t as many solutions to born-digital [records] yet… I have records now that are printed emails because they didn’t know how to save them at the time.”

The idea of printing emails to save them is laughable but during a time when servers couldn’t host, save, or archive important emails, printing was the best solution. Digital preservation comes with the challenge of fragility. Born-digital objects do not fade in sections or lose only portions of information as a book or printed object would. Rather, they become unusable with time due to file corruption and most often because hardware has upgraded. (1) Most often in preserving born-digital materials, we rely on printed emails, screenshots, and other second hand methods of retention. The original will never be captured fully, although snapshots may convey the intention. This method of preservation may be the only solutions we have currently but in the overwhelming amount of information created in today’s digital age, new options will need to be explored.

(1) Rosenzweig, R. (2003, June). Scarcity or Abundance? Preserving the Past in a Digital Era. The American Historical Review, 108(3), 735-762.

Visiting the Bruce Springsteen Special Collection and Archive

By alchomet

IMG_5133

“He just went right over to that picture of him and Diane and smiled.” Eileen Chapman, Associate Director of the Arts at Monmouth University, explained to me what it was like when Bruce Springsteen himself came to visit the archive of his fan materials at the Bruce Springsteen Special Collection at Monmouth University. “He mostly wanted to just look around, but he didn’t request anything.” Still, she seemed pleased with the memory. “I can’t believe I forgot to ask him to sign the guest book!”  Eileen acts as director of the archive, assisted by Alana, a social work student at Monmouth. Together with another student assistant, they have tackled the work of tracking, arranging, and housing the collection, corresponding with patrons, providing reference, and serving the reading room.

There are no professional archivists on the staff, and none have ever worked there, but the Bruce Springsteen Special Collection is not a typical archive in a lot of ways. Most notably, the collection has nothing to do with Monmouth University’s library system, although it is housed on the Monmouth campus–the collection is not in the library, the librarians do not work on it, and the library system, for now, is not in the process of acquiring it. The archive is a single house located on Monmouth’s campus across the street from the student center, and adjacent to the performing arts building. It still looks a lot like a house–until the Springsteen collection moved in, it had been a living space for Monmouth students.

Eileen explained that the collection had been kept at the Asbury Park Public Library until 2011, when she suggested that the Friends of the Bruce Springsteen Special Collection (the group of fans who support and act as a kind of Board of Directors for the collection) move it to Monmouth University, only a few miles north of Asbury Park. She said that the public library really didn’t have space to house the quickly-growing collection, nor did they especially have the tools to provide access to its wide range of audio-visual formats. Various parts of the collection were being in stored closets and other strange spaces in the library, she explained, and library staff and directors began to disagree with the Friends over the treatment of the collection. Eileen was eventually able to convince Monmouth to take it on, although it took years. She told me that it had been a hard sell to the University to agree to house the collection–the library director did not agree that it would be relevant to the school’s library, and it remains apart from it today. The archive house only gets a few visitors a week–maybe 4 or 5, according to Eileen, and none of the University faculty have incorporated the collection into their coursework.

There are other subtle downsides to the archive’s move: unlike the public library, the house is open from 9 AM to 5 PM on weekdays only, rendering it inaccessible to most with a full time job. Its location–set back from an arterial street of the campus–is not exactly easy to find, even with a GPS. I had in fact taken a cab from a New Jersey transit station in order to get there, but then had to wander a bit before I saw the little unmarked house. Further, moving it even a little way outside Asbury Park makes it a harder stop for Springsteen tourists to make (although all visitors need to make an appointment with Eileen before coming in).

The archive house still retains some of the cozy feeling of a home, although much of the actual living spaces are occupied by steel shelving and Hollinger boxes, housing around 20,000 items of Springsteen fan material. The front living room of the house operates as the collection’s reading room. There is a large circular table for researchers to review material, and a reference desk across from the front door. There is a TV equipped with VHS and DVD players, as well as stereo equipment for playing records, CDs and cassettes. The kitchen has a few PCs, a microfilm reader, a flatbed scanner, a copy machine, and some arranging space on the counters. The rest of the house is the collection: the downstairs bedroom-like space holds newspapers and printed out internet-published articles, while bedroom spaces upstairs house academic papers, A/V materials, fan ‘zines, printed books, posters, t-shirts, and more. Decorating the living/reading room are beautiful, rare photos by Barry Schiener, a rock photographer, of Bruce in the ’70s and ’80s.

I love the idea of the archive house. Springsteen himself writes frequently of houses in his songs–the bedroom as personal space, the threshold, the porch, the yard, all hold immense weight in the universe of his lyrics. Only cars get more airplay in his lyrics than houses. It should go without saying, too, that his work glorifies the lives of working class Americans perhaps better than any other artist’s does–what better space to honor that vision than a simple home? Still, the collection might be even slightly more accessible if there were some signage by the road.

Eileen spends most of her time at the University working at the arts center, so when I visited on a Friday in November, a student assistant, Alana, worked with me. She has been working at the collection for four years, and is now in the middle of getting her Masters degree in social work from Monmouth. She seemed excited that I was studying to be an archivist, but hadn’t decided to go that route herself, although she loves working with the Springsteen collection; for one, Monmouth doesn’t offer a library or archives program.

Unfortunately, the collection barely has an online presence. The archive’s site has inventories of the collection by format, but no functioning OPAC (it remains un-integrated into the University library’s OPAC). Alana uses an excel spreadsheet to manage the archive’s inventory. For now, however, the collection is small enough that with some assistance, it’s not too difficult to assess and retrieve items of interest. When I requested to browse some of the ‘zines, Alana seemed unsurprised, and brought down a few boxes that she knew were popular. I mentioned that I was looking for a ‘zine a friend had made, and she worked with me in the inventory to find it, although there were no author names associated with ‘zine titles. My friend’s ‘zine (probably) wasn’t there–I should mention that almost all of the material in the collection has been donated.

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While there are a myriad of examples I could make of what professional archivists would do differently in the Bruce Springsteen Special Collection, there’s a whole lot that they get right. Would a University library even be the appropriate space to house the fan collections of the man who sings, “We learned more from a three-minute record, baby/than we ever learned in school”? Indeed, professionals are trained to provide better far better access to materials like these, and I am dreaming of the day that the collection gets a detailed online catalog, but absorption into a more sterile academic environment would likely mean losing the comfortable feeling of the archive house. It was a pleasure to talk to Eileen and Alana (Alana and I talked a lot, actually), and our feeling of camradarie was facilitated by the homey environment. It’s harder to just hang out with librarians in a library or archive, not in the least because of . In this sense, I think Alana and Eileen have beaten the burnout blues that plague a lot of University librarians. I felt that I could walk away knowing that the archive was conceived of and run with the rabid love of fans–this seems especially important given Springsteen’s powerful interpretations of alienated work in America.

When it was time to close up, Alana gave me a ride back to the train station (the archive house is located about 2 miles from the Long Branch New Jersey Transit stop on the Shoreline route). I had suggested that I could walk, but she seemed to expect that she would drive me, without us talking about it first. She said she frequently drove visitors to and from the collection. We drove past her old dorms on the way and she pointed them out–brick and square and overlooking the Jersey shore, but we were listening to pop radio in her car, and not The Boss. She assured me that she did indeed love Bruce, but, you know, some of her friends were bigger fans.

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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.

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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
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