Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Penetrating Your Media Bubble

The Virus Penetrates A Cell Wall ... And A Voter Goes Ron Paul?
Google Reader died yesterday. What was that? It was a service from Google* (read the footnote for more info, Mom and Dad) that took a lot of blogs and news-sources (like CNN) and put them all together in one place and let you know when there was a new story. When Google pulled the plug on Reader there were a bunch of other services people started using--but at least one person--Wonkblog's Erza Klein--decided to ditch News Readers altogether. Here's one of his reasons why:
Second, it reinforces my filter bubble. Never heard of a “filter bubble”? Eli Pariser, author of — you guessed it — ‘The Filter Bubble‘, defines it as “the unique universe of information that you live in online.” Pariser’s main concern is with algorithmic filters, like the one Google applies to your search results (if you’re worried about that, then Duck Duck Go has you covered). But Reader and Twitter are even worse than that. Rather than an algorithm filtering what I read, I’m filtering what I read.
Erza was essentially self-filtering (his choice of blogs, who he follows on Twitter, who he friends on Facebook, etc.). The point is that all of us do that: all of us live in a "news bubble" based on what we pay attention to, who our friends are, and so on (the DuckDuckGo link shows that the services we use like Google also apply a filter invisibly to our search results in their ongoing quest for relevancy).

How does a message-maker break into that info-sphere? That's the million-dollar question: how do you get something to go 'viral' so that people within our Filter Bubble (that's Facebook Friends, Mom and Dad) will share it with us?

Just as a virus has a protein coating that it binds to a cell wall in order to penetrate and unleash its RNA payload, so to do memes (ideas, messages) come in certain "wrappers" that get into your head-space. It turns out that the thinking is that a key component of the "wrapper" for the message (whatever it is) is that it has to be funny.

Example: Making Abortion Funny
Conservatives looking ahead to the media wars of 2014 and 2016 are asking how to get their messages in front of people--specifically younger people--and the problem there is that their  messages are not funny.
Abortion has to be made funny, the thinking goes, because funny sells on social media, and that’s where one goes to court young people. “You can engage with sarcasm, it’s hard with the abortion issue, but you have to,” said Students for Life president Kristan Hawkins at a breakout panel at the Faith and Freedom Coalition Conference in Washington today on how to win millennial voters. “Unfortunately we have to, because this is the generation that we’ve been dealt.”
This was high-lighted in a report by College Republicans which hit on the idea that viral media on the GOP side wasn't successful in 2016:
Most importantly, it means creating online content that is interesting, funny, or positive, and that makes someone want to share it with their friends because it makes them seem interesting and funny. As young voters increasingly distrust campaign advertising, finding ways to get supporters to put their “seal of approval” on a video or post by sharing and retweeting is essential to giving your message the credibility that will let you change minds.
What gives? Why is this the case for Republicans--but not for Democrats? Is it simply that Republicans are terminally un-hip? Let's see ...

An Analysis of Republican Humor
I decided to do an in-depth scientific analysis of Republican messaging with an eye towards humor--specifically to see what messages they were trying to share and how they were trying to "wrap" them. I decided to go to people who were professionally funny and see what they were doing with Republican humor.

I avoided Political Cartoons--because while these are often funny, they are generally more pointed and direct than the kind of jokes you'd see in the comics section of your newspaper. Instead I got a list of conservative comic strips and picked a few from there.

Mallard Fillmore
Mallard Fillmore is a mallard duck in a human world. He's a newspaper man and is constantly bewildered by the (left-wing) politics of the day.
Look at Those Eyes: They Don't Even Move and It's Still Funny!
What's The Content? Going back three strips (above is the most current) current content (big story of the day or top of mind conservative stuff): The second one is a judge (presumably in the Trevon Martin / George Zimmerman case) making a ruling based on which side will be more violent. The third was Ben Franklin wishing us a happy 4th of July--noting that his team only had to beat the British. We have to defeat the IRS.

Humor Mechanism: The humor mechanism is the Only Sane Man trope over and over and Mallard Fillmore's eyes--which are great.

Here's Day By Day. It seems to chronicle some young people coming to grips with the (absurd) facts of politics.

Gender / Racial--But Not Overly Harsh
What's The Content? I didn't get the second strip (I went back 3) but the 3rd one back was the founding fathers--but using modern day names for politicians--bitching about the Tea Party. It was, I'll say, overly sophisticated--and not in a good way.

Humor Mechanism: Day By Day is ironic. We are expected to laugh at the difference between what is being said (or shown) and reality (seeing Hillary as the only man in the Democratic party and making fun of Rubio--as a woman--for "sleeping around" with bipartisanship. You can argue 'slut' can apply to men--but given the context and reality, I'm not sure I buy it as an insult).

Diversity Lane
Here's Diversity Lane--which chronicles a miserable 'liberal family' and their (general) bad behavior:
The Spoiled Brat Expressions For The Kids Are The Artist's Major Talent
What's The Content? It focuses on deconstructing stated liberal beliefs. One recent one shows people signing up for being friends of the Muslim Brotherhood--at a Berkeley Street Fair--and a little girl saying the people are suckers for anything with "brotherhood" in it.

Humor Mechanism: You are not expected to laugh at the family so much as sneer at them. The expressions are not befuddled (like Mallard) but often harsh and angry (or smug).

The comic seems to largely take direct shots at Obama:
Could be True ...
What's The Content? From what I could tell? 80% directly at Obama and his giving press conferences or saying things the author thinks is a target for derision.

Humor Mechanism: Your hatred for Obama.

Given the more traditional comic-strip format I wanted to see if things were different with political humor (from the right) than standard Political Cartoons. They're not. All of these are designed to be provocative to some degree (as any political humor would be). If you post these to your Facebook page you will get Facebook drama. If you don't want Facebook drama, you won't post these. It's that simple.

In order to break into non-political people's media spheres with humor what the Republicans will need are far more people willing to invite drama on themselves who are already in those spheres. This would be young Republicans who have a varied roster of friends and are (now) willing to take the hit for being provocative with sarcastic messages.

I think we can see why that doesn't go viral--but pictures of Obama drinking in a college dive does. One is pointed and, essentially, negative. The other is not pointed--and is generally "positive" (Obama connecting with young people).

My conclusion is that you can't make abortion funny in a meaningful way: instead you have to have some generally positive less political content that will still draw in views / readers.

That may be a hard thing for a base that has embraced The Party of No to create.

* Google Reader is a Google Service--that a lot of people loved--but is now being discontinued--that gives you a list of all new content on whatever web-sites you "subscribe" to (you put the header URL into Google Reader and it sort of keeps-a-watch on the site and you see each new article show up as a headline--and you can click on it to read the article.

Some articles appear in full--but most actual news-sites just show you the headline and a paragraph as they want you to click-through to the site itself. Google isn't the only company with a reader: I use Feedly for mine (now that Google is going away)--but it was one of the most popular.

Got it, Mom and Dad?


  1. AH, I had Google Reader. But I did not know what it was called. Mom

  2. Comedy is about speaking the truth to power.

    Conservatism is about power telling everyone else to go screw themselves.