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How Digital Activism Favors Conservatives

by Jen Schradie

Pub Date: May 1st, 2019
ISBN: 978-0-674-97233-9
Publisher: Harvard Univ.

Academic study of how contending political groups do—or do not—leverage digital media in their quests to recruit support and members.

Focusing on the workers rights movement in the battleground state of North Carolina, documentary filmmaker and sociologist Schradie points out a great gulf in technological sophistication between left and right, with the former “having belatedly awoken to the notion that they were on the wrong side of a digital political divide that they weren’t even aware existed.” Part of the problem, writes the author in a book likely to appeal most to sociologists and aspiring digital activists, is that many working-class labor activists have neither the interest nor the resources required to master social media even as conservative activists manage to form themselves into “hierarchical organizations” with the money to buy computers and the people committed to getting their message out. Thus, Schradie suggests, the image the words “digital activist” should conjure is not of a left-wing student or labor activist but instead a well-heeled think-tank denizen or technologically adept tea party member. Though the latter groups tend to be well-funded, it’s not only money that carries the day; it’s that very hierarchical organization that seems central. Moreover, as Schradie observes, the decline of traditional journalism has come in an atmosphere in which rightward organizations such as Fox News and Breitbart have filled the vacuum even as left-leaning publications have struggled to find space in the cybersphere and funding to permit them to compete. “As a result,” she notes, “digital evangelists were able to spread their anti-government message in sync with the convergence and ascent of social media, conservative news, and the Christian right.” If they are to compete, leftist activists must do more to gain access to media and attain the skills necessary to put out a coherent message; if not, the gulf will only grow.

A rather arid but useful work in the sociology of political communication.