The collapsing broad middle and the rise of the disruptive troll as undocumented feature

“For you, in my respect, are all the world; Then how can it be said I am alone, When all the world is here to look on me?”

– ACT II SCENE I, Midsummer Night’s Dream

So, trolling? First, it’s not about a single typography called bloggers, yet it is about blogging (however you care to define that, Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, etc). As the old timer techies used to say, “it’s not a bug; it’s an undocumented feature!”

A couple of years ago Jay Rosen expounded a little on his January 2005 Bloggers vs Journalists theorem:

Ask bloggers why they blog and they might say: because big media sucks! But they will almost never say: I AM YOUR REPLACEMENT. This fantasy of replacement comes almost exclusively from the journalist’s side, typically connected to fears for a lost business model.

There is no doubt that Twitter has been the step change moment for most in the professional journalist class. It was their coming out moment not simply as obsessive net readers but as often joyful participants. And crucially, Facebook caused the liberation of many of their readers.

Each year that passes the net is closing in tighter and tighter on traditional ways and means of producing and disseminating knowledge (which at its best is what traditional journalism has been good at. Nate Silver having almost broken a whole category of political journalism in the US is moving from print political to sports broadcast.

In this connected world nothing is sacred, and nothing is certain except that the gates of Athens have been thoroughly thrown open, and with the inrush of previously excluded citizens come the trolls.

So established politics is under challenge in the two key jurisdictions this blog (to borrow an old phrase) operates within because the once all powerful gatekeepers in the media are losing their power to brigade opinion.

In Westminster, for the first time in the post war era, there is a coalition, and as we head to 2015 the Conservatives are facing challenges from the right, driven no doubt by recession and high youth unemployment. There is BNP as well as UKIP representation in Brussels.

In Dublin the opposition is made up to the highest contingent of independents, Sinn Fein and with the state’s former party of government Fianna Fail only a nose ahead of the others.

I suspect this fragmentation of opinion is a direct result of the loss of power from the media and their often dependent political establishments. As James Harkin has it, the broad middle is no longer favoured by the market. Bland flavours in politics, and society no longer bite.

Without that broad middle, and the rise of the disruptive troll as undocumented featureour world is changing in ways that are driven by deep uncertainty.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

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