Internet, Politics, Policy (I). Arthur Lupia: An impact Assessment

Notes from the Internet, Politics, Policy 2010: An Impact Assessment conference, organized by the Oxford Internet Institute, and held at St. Anne’s College, Oxford, UK, on September 16-17, 2010. More notes on this event: ipp2010.

An Impact Assessment
Arthur Lupia, University of Michigan

The Internet is a new device that can be used to drive change, but still we have to find out how. Most efforts to do so have ended in sheer failure.

A lot of the debate is understood as a confrontation between “us” the people that want to shape the Internet for higher goals, and “them” people that are lazy, ignorant or apathetic to politics. With the result of failure. Guidelines should be:

  • Biology, defining the possibilities.
  • Social scientific studies of learning, persuasion, etc.
  • Political contexts, that pose special challenges.

Persuasion is a battle for:

  • Attention. Attention has a very limited capacity and a high decay rate; thus, a winning utterance must provide a large amount of pleasure/pain and prevail over proximate other utterances. On the other hand, what a target audience remembers may not be what you intended them to remember.
  • Elaboration. Learning, physically (by linking neurons), is putting close two different concepts. To be able to leave a cognitive legacy, chunks of information have to be perceived ad unique and highly relevant. The topic has to be local, make its consequences concrete and immediate, and make the desired outcome possible to achieve through actions that the audience can imagine taking.
  • Credibility. Credibility is a lot about context. Politics is not only about what you say, but about how you say it: politics yields to language indeterminacy, with words having multiple meanings, and meanings being context-dependent. For contested issues, high credibility is a must, and credibility is domain-specific and bestowed by the audience. Credibility is a function of source, message and contextual attributes and audience effects. Credibility is about setting up strategic contexts, based on a perceived interest proximity, about interactivity.

How to build trust? The Habermas’ Argument: in the absence of natural law, no common framework informs legitimacy claims. If an ideal discourse is procedurally transparent, it can facilitate collective legitimacy.

Lupia-Krupnikov-Levine (2010): an expanded domain for transparency is required for discourse to generate legitimacy. A “procedurally transparent” discourse will anyway be influenced by interruptions, the order effects on persuasion, disagreement… matters difficult to deal with. Thus, this domain of procedural transparency has to be expanded, and there is also a need for a higher commitment in measuring success and failure.


Q: How does the Sarah Palin and the Tea Party affaire can be explained with this frameworks? A: It is about localization: the message found its niche thanks to the Internet. Before that, the mainstream media space was crowded with messages and it was more difficult to allocate yours in there.

Q: Nowadays we do build at destroying credibility and reputation, how can new media contribute in solving that? A: New media can certainly act as counterweights to the biases of mainstream media. And microtargeting, making things local, relevant to me is a way of doing things that mainstream media can compete with.

More information


Internet, Politics, Policy 2010: An Impact Assessment (2010)