Network Society course (V). Carol Darr: Citizenry in the Network Society (I)

Notes from the course Network Society: Social Changes, Organizations and Citizens, Barcelona, 15-17 October, 2008.

Citizenry in the Network Society
Carol Darr, Harvard Kennedy School

One American in then tells the other nine how to vote, where to eat, and what to buy. They are The Influentials (Ed Keller & Jon Berry).

Obama had little influence, short experience, etc. to have rallied for being the democrat candidate to the presidency of the US: to raise votes and, most important, to raise money. What did happen so that he could be a candidate to the primary elections and, actually, to end being the candidate to the presidential elections? Everybody can buy products, but not everybody does: how do you make people buy your product? There’re some people that influence others to do things.

The Influentials find new ideas, find new people, and gather information because they are all the time picking and pulling information from anywhere. The Influentials know what’s happening in their communities and build social networks, because they know e.g. twice as many people as any other person, and hence they are at the forefront of whatever is happening… or going to happen.

The Influentials are important, especially for politicians and governments:

  • Other people look for them and value their opinions
  • They engage and are active within their communities
  • They are at the cutting edge of events, 2 to 5 years beyond the rest of the world
  • They are deeply interested in politics

Being influential is about being engaged in community activities, disseminating information about these activities, letting your ideas being known in media or at events, directly letting your ideas being heard by decision-takers by taking part in their events or agendas or teams, etc.

Influentials, Poli-Influentials and Politicians

Influentials and Poli-Influentials do more things that define the profile of an Influential than politicians or other people do, especially those activities that are more active. But, indeed, also passive political activities have a higher level of engagement amongst Influentials and Poli-Influentials.

When talking about online proactive political activities, Poli-Influentials detach themselves from Influentials and Politicians, that (while less active the latter), approach their profiles.

Poli-Influentials have usually (and significatively) reached a higher education level, being 60% of them post-graduates (PhD, masters, etc.). Notwithstanding, education does not affect the kind of activities taken by anyone, just the degree. In other words: the more education, the more influential activities people engage in, but in just the same proportion (online vs. offline, imparting a conference vs. writing an article, etc.) that other people not as much engaged. As expected, passive activities get the lion’s share vs. proactive activities.

It’s astonishing [appalling?] to see how little involved Politicians are. And, against all myths, how highly involved are intensive Internet users.


Q: If Barack Obama won the presidential election, would he be keeping the online channel “open”? Or was it just for campaigning? A: He does not have a choice. The conversation is set, so it is plain impossible to close it. People are now empowered, and they are not letting this be lost. On the other hand, the online channel benefits Barack Obama: because of the young profile of Internet users; and because the Internet requires proaction (is not passive) so it benefits charismatic leaders because their magnetism drives people inside the Internet and proactively look for information and engage in whatever online action.

Ismael Peña-López: This is the description of a profile… but what about the performance of these profiles? Politicians (by construction) get what they planned (they’re ruling anyway), but what about Influentials and Poli-Influentials? Why not everybody that does the things that influentials do, are that influent? What happens when influentials become rulers? Is it good? Is it bad? A: We might not know what Influentials’ impact is as individuals, taken one by one. But we do know that the activities that define the Influentials and Poli-Influentials profiles do have an impact on politics. Hence, we can infer, at the aggregate level, that the more influential activities you’re engaged in, the more influential (again, at the aggregate level) you’re likely to be. And, indeed, people behind influential activities are often used as an asset by partisans and politicians, to get ideas from them, to recruit them, etc. Concerning politicians (and other people) not engaged, this is a luxury that is not sustainable in he long run: the Internet has showed the power that it can feed to a newby (i.e. Obama) that knows how to be engaged and use empowering tools to raise communities and debate around him.

Q: what’s the liaison between online and offline engagement? A: There’s a closest link. People were already engaged before the Internet. The Net just made it easier. Of course, as an easier way to be engaged, it is becoming an excellent entry gate for people flirting with being influential, but all in all, sooner or later, they’ll create their offline or local communities, and engage in many other activities different than online.

Q: are offliners cease to be influentials? A: Not yet. There’s always people that knows everybody, the big media, the professional apparatus, etc. But it is likely to happen that the raise of video, that does not require written fluency, will shift the landscape towards a more balanced distribution of influence.

Q: Was it the lack of women in the Internet the reason why Hillary Clinton was not elected? A: Not likely. Barack Obama won because of other reasons: change, connection with the young, a personal philosophy similar to that of the Internet (freedom, conversation, proaction). Hillary Clinton represented just the opposite philosophy.

Marc López: Are we going towards a fragmented way of policy making? Towards a world of nano-lobbies and politicians serving nano-lobbies’ interests? A: Guess it’ll be just that way. Every single person of the world with a cellphone + camera has a world wide reach TV emitter.

More info

Institute for Politics, Democracy & the Internet (2004) Political Influentials Online in the 2004 Presidential Campaign (PDF file, 2.92MB)


Network Society: Social Changes, Organizations and Citizens (2008)

If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:

Peña-López, I. (2008) “Network Society course (V). Carol Darr: Citizenry in the Network Society (I)” In ICTlogy, #61, October 2008. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
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