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Frontmatter Pages i-vi. Download PDF. Contents Pages vii-viii. List of Figures Pages ix-x. Get Access to Full Text. List of Tables Pages xi-xii. Preface Pages xiii-xxii. Presidential Power in the Modern Era Pages Bridge Building Pages I then examine the consequences of these new mechanisms on the public sphere and political campaigns. Introduction Engineering the public: From broadcast to the Internet New dynamics of persuasion, surveillance, campaigning and social engineering Consequences and power of big data analytics Discussion and conclusion.

Emergence of networked technologies instilled hopes that interactivity in the public sphere could help limit, or even cure, some of the ailments of late modern democracies. In contrast to broadcast technologies, the Internet offers expansive possibilities for horizontal communication among citizens, while drastically lowering the costs of organizing and access to information Shirky, Indeed, the Internet has been a critical tool for many social movements Tufekci and Freelon, The same digital technologies have also given rise to a data—analytic environment that favors the powerful, data—rich incumbents, and the technologically adept, especially in the context of political campaigns.

These counter—trends arise specifically from an increased exploitation on big data , that is, very large datasets of information gleaned from online footprints and other sources, along with analytic and computational tools. Big data is often hailed for its ability to add to our knowledge in novel ways and to enrich our understanding Lazer, et al. However, big data also needs to be examined as a political process involving questions of power, transparency and surveillance.


As a normative but contested ideal, the public sphere is envisioned by Habermas as the location and place in which rational arguments about matters concerning the public, especially regarding issues of governance and the civics can take place, freed from constraints of status and identity. This shift to a partially online public sphere, which has brought about the ability to observe, surveil and collect these interactions in large datasets, has given rise to computational politics , the focus of this paper.

Computational politics refers applying computational methods to large datasets derived from online and off—line data sources for conducting outreach, persuasion and mobilization in the service of electing, furthering or opposing a candidate, a policy or legislation. Computational politics is informed by behavioral sciences and refined using experimental approaches, including online experiments, and is often used to profile people, sometimes in the aggregate but especially at the individual level, and to develop methods of persuasion and mobilization which, too, can be individualized.

Federal Trade Commission, While computational politics in its current form includes novel applications, the historical trends discussed in this paper predate the spread of the Internet. However, computational politics introduces significant qualitative differences to that long march of historical trends. Unlike previous data collection efforts for example, collating magazine subscriptions or car type purchases which required complicated, roundabout inferences about their meaning does a magazine subscription truly signal a voter preference?

Computational politics turns political communication into an increasingly personalized, private transaction and thus fundamentally reshapes the public sphere, first and foremost by making it less and less public as these approaches can be used to both profile and interact individually with voters outside the public sphere such a Facebook ad aimed at that particular voter, seen only by her. Overall, the impact is not so much like increasing the power of a magnifying glass as it is like re—purposing the glass by putting two or more together to make fundamentally new tools, like the microscope or the telescope, turning unseen objects into objects of scientific inquiry and manipulation.

First , the rise of digital mediation of social, political and financial interactions has resulted in an exponential increase in the amount and type of data available, especially to large organizations that can afford the access, i. Second , emergent computational methods allow political targeting to move beyond aggregated group—based analysis and profiling to modeling of specific individuals. Third , such modeling allows for acquiring answers about an individual without directly asking questions to the individual, thus opening the door to a new wave of techniques reliant on subterfuge and opacity.

In combination with the other dynamics outlined here, these models allow for enhanced, network—based social engineering.

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Fifth , digital networks enable these methods to be experimentally tested in real time and for immediate deployment, adding a level of previously unfeasible dynamism and speed to molding the public sphere. In other words, an ordinary user sees an opague algorithm as a black box. Though the field is growing — and significant contributions have been made by boyd and Crawford , Kreiss b , Bryant and Raja and Lazer, et al.

Popular media, on the other hand, rarely goes beyond exploring big data as a hot, new topic and an exciting new tool, and rarely consider issues of power. Previous scholarly exploration of new media technologies and politics includes, most notably, the prescient analysis by Howard , which anticipates some of the key aspects examined here, especially with regard to new media, as well as Kreiss b , Howard and Kreiss , and Kreiss and Howard which focus more on privacy aspects.

However, social media platforms that are increasingly integral to the practice of computational politics have fully blossomed only recently. While I, too, pick multiple examples from the Obama campaign, as it is the most recent, best studied and most relevant one, this paper is not meant as a study or indictment of any particular campaign, nor to imply that all the developments outlined here fully practiced by any single campaign [ 1 ].

Rather, this is an empirically based conceptual, theory—building paper that grapples with the consequences of newly emergent computational politics. Consequently, this paper focuses on the intertwined dynamics of computational politics and big data with an emphasis on their implications for power, politics and the public sphere and engages in empirically based, conceptual theory—building required for both more conceptual and empirical research. While many of the aspects explored here apply in commercial, corporate and other spheres, albeit with different emphases, questions of political computation deserve independent analysis as the considerations are not identical, and since the practice of politics is central to questions of civics Hillygus and Shields, ; Kreiss, a; b.

William howell power without persuasion summary

This debate on meaningful participation in governance for a society that is too large for frequent and direct face—to—face interaction — any social organization bigger than a small village or a hunter gatherer tribe — goes back at least to Plato and Aristotle in written records. At its heart, this debate asks in large societies where centralization of power and delegation appears inevitable, whether citizenry — within its gradually expanding, historically variable definition — can ever be fully equipped to undertake or understand all the complex decisions that are required for governance, and further, what, if anything can keep those with power in check so that they do not assure perpetuation of their own rule.

Plato, famously, called for kings to be philosophers so that they would rule justly for the good of society but not necessarily by being truthful or accountable Plato, Walter Lippmann expressed pessimism at the possibility of a public actually in charge of governance, and argued that the powerful would always be able to manipulate the opinions, beliefs and ultimately, voting behavior of ordinary citizens.

John Dewey, however, believed that it was possible to build social and political institutions — ranging from a free press to a genuinely enriching education — that would expose and counter the manipulations of the powerful and allow for meaningful self—governance by an educated, empowered citizenry. Though both Dewey and Lipmann worried about the powerful controlling the public, neither had experienced the full force of broadcast media, yet to come.

The rise of broadcast media altered dynamics of politics in fundamental ways. Bernays saw this as an unavoidable part of any democracy. He believed, like Dewey, Plato and Lippmann had, that the powerful had a structural advantage over the masses. Bernays recommended study of the public through opinion research, and controlling it through managing of communication and media. The techniques of opinion control espoused by Bernays became bread—and—butter of political campaigns in the post—war West.

However, messaging and mobilization based on such sub—categorization has limits intrinsic to the method, as all categorization hides variation. The match between demographics or political profiles and a specific person is, at best, broadly probabilistic and often very muddled. During the broadcast era, most targeting was necessarily course—grained, because TV audiences were measured in broad demographics. Because audiences could not be tightly defined, messaging had to be broader as well.

Many exposed to the ads would not fit the target group, and many members of the target group would be excluded. Research showed that such political advertisements on broadcast TV remained largely ineffective in tipping the scale between existing candidates, at least when compared with more structural factors such as the unemployment rate or economic growth [ 4 ]. Similarly, almost all voter canvassing and turnout campaigns have traditionally been based at the precinct level simply because demographic data has been available at that level.

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However, precinct data are probabilistic in that no precinct uniformly votes for a single party, so campaigns tend to pour resources into a specific precinct in the hopes that they will mobilize more supporters than opponents, and that their canvassing efforts will not aggravate too many supporters of the other party Issenberg, Political campaigns, in turn, ignore precincts which contain many of their own voters, but less than those of their opponent.

Unsurprisingly, targeting individuals as individuals rather as members of broadly defined aggregates has long been the holy grail of political campaigns. Such efforts have been underway for decades.

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Culling information from credit cards, magazine subscriptions, voter registration files, direct canvassing efforts and other sources, political parties, as well as private databases, have compiled as much information as they can on all individual voters. However, until recently, the collection of individual level data was messy and fragmented, and targeting was still on done by aggregate groups, which were simply based on richer individualized data than before. Much of this has changed with the rise of the Internet, which greatly increases the type and amount of individual data, and computational analytics, altering what information can be gleaned from these sources.

New dynamics of persuasion, surveillance, campaigning and social engineering. The recent rise of big data and computational techniques are changing political communication with citizens once again. If the twentieth century engineers of consent had magnifying glasses and baseball bats, those of the twenty—first century have acquired telescopes, microscopes and scalpels in the shape of algorithms and analytics.

In this section, I examine six, intertwined dynamics which create a new environment of surveillance and social engineering. Big data: The advent of digital and networked technologies has caused an explosion in the amount and variety of data available on each individual, as well as the velocity with which such data become available Bryant and Raja, ; U. These large collections of data, referred to as big data, are not just more of old kind of data.

While no single metaphor fully captures its novel impacts, big data, like the microscope and the telescope, threatens to upend our understanding of multiple fields and to transform the practice of politics. What has changed is not just the depth and the scope of available data: the fundamental nature of data available for aggregation has undergone a significant shift. Political campaigns were faced with the task of inferring what such a transaction meant.

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Does it correspond to a position on progressive taxation? The answer often was, maybe, but only weakly. Such data provided some correlational guidance at the group level but did not allow precise individual targeting. Some of this growth is of latent data; transactions which are carried out online for a wide variety of purposes now leave behind harvestable imprints.