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.

  • cynic2

    I wonder when they invented printing was there a similar debate though on slightly different terms

  • Delphin

    Collapse of the broad middle?
    People want a more personalised product reflecting their perceived notion of themselves, be it shiny little electronic boxes or political parties. This is driven by an ever more sophisticated marketing industry embracing new technology.
    The broad middle remains as a coalition between political parties rather than a coalition within them. (Except in NI where the tribal nature of society makes parliamentary democracy an impossibility)

  • As Archimedes had it: “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.”

    Similarly, make me vaguely literate, give me a bit of chalk and a wall … as seen at Pompeii.

    So to the e-media. It may not move the world, but it don’t half annoy the parishioners.

  • aquifer

    The increasing divide between rich and poor locally, the export of manufacturing jobs to the developing world, the mechanisation of manual tasks, the substitution of factory production for craft, and the downsizing of the public sector, are all hollowing out the socio-economic middle.

    With the uber-rich and the working poor distracted or working all the hours, we might expect less concern for and support for politics in general.

    Nothing stands still. Membership of a political party might have been seen as useful and effective in the past, but the politics of the last sound bite does not reward such long term commitment, which is now bypassed by the paid lobbyists.

    When power has passed to impersonal capital unchecked by the public interest, there is a danger that power in politics then passes to the extremists who have no qualms with violent coercion and blackmail, and who can engage people emotionally in a way that underfunded token representatives can never do. Even trolls can get a little bang for no bucks.

    Parliaments, by providing an outlet for grievances, maintain a consent to be governed. When most people are estranged from influence, calculated violence can then present itself as dissent, and does, also when propagating political fiction.

    The blogosphere brings a parliament into anyone’s back room when other political arenas are crowded out by capital. By being very big and diverse, it may even define a middle, while depending on actual politics to deliver.

    Is there sufficient consensus on the web that is very different from that in the parliaments outside and could generate change?

    If debates on the web bleed back into journalism maybe.

  • “So to the e-media. It may not move the world, but it don’t half annoy the parishioners.”

    Malcolm, the cosy interactions between politicians, bureaucrats, lobbyists and the mainstream media are in much need of ‘disruption’ in this small corner of the planet 🙂

  • “the once all powerful gatekeepers in the media are losing their power to brigade opinion”

    Mick, who, in general, are these gatekeepers?