As a mid-forties college professor who worked in and for the Clinton Democratic party of the 1990’s, I’m protective of you and your husband and the ways in which your stewardship of the Democratic party has been assailed in the last few months. Progressives have levied an effective critique at the famed “triangulation” strategy in which the party took more centrist positions to protect Southern and rust belt Democrats in Congress.

As an example — Michelle Alexander’s scathing article in the Nation that blames you and your husband for turning your backs on Black voters in the 1990’s through your support of welfare reform and the Crime bill. While I have great respect for Michelle Alexander, her widely cited article misses the political context in which you acted. The Bill Clinton of 1992-1994 passed the Brady Bill, raised marginal tax rates for upper income Americans and sought to achieve universal health care coverage. The result was a Republican tsunami in 1994. As titular head of the party, your husband faced a choice after the Republican’s took over Congress that year — stay left and run the risk of becoming a regional party or move to the center and stay relevant. Because we can’t replay the nineties, we will never know if a more progressive Bill Clinton would have lost the 1996 election if he stayed to the left of the country.

A sharper critique is the one that paints the 1990’s as the era of Wall Street deregulation, reckless free trade agreements and corporate excess. Of course, the reality is more complex. If anyone needs a refresher as to what the Clinton presidency left the Bush administration, they can re-watch this celebratory State of the Union speech from 2000:

In it, you can see him repeatedly taking credit for the passage of both Republican and Democratic ideas. Those who study power know there is a distinction between achieving results through authoritative “power over” a group and achieving results through force or sanctions and a getting things done through a “power to” bring the relevant players to the table to hammer out a solution. I believe you are a transactional politicians who knows that any economic reform would require Wall Street and Corporate America to be at the table. Senator Sanders is a “power over” politician who thinks that Wall Street simply can be chopped down to size through sheer political will.

In a free market democracy, the idea that you can “make Wall Street pay” by regulating and taxing them into oblivion is farcical. A “power over” approach to corporate America assumes they don’t have options like moving more of their activity overseas, cutting the number of workers or simply going out of business. As Paul Starr argues so eloquently in Politico, there is a difference between a liberal and a socialist. Liberal leadership requires both recognizing the essential role that the financial and corporate sectors play in job creation and standing up to these entities so that their pursuit of profit helps, not harms, the polity. Liberals realize that state power sometimes serves as a necessary check upon runaway fiscal/corporate power. Bernie Sanders isn’t offering this vision of leadership. His vision isn’t to work with Wall Street, it is to “bring it to heel” to borrow a Hillary Clinton phrase from another context. In his discussion of his proposals, he seems unconcerned with how his policies would impact the work of the financial and corporate sector. The few questions posted to him on this measure are battered away with a glib call for corporations and Wall Street to “pay their fair share.”

This is why it is equally discouraging is to see someone like Senator Sanders, who is not a Democrat and has not done the hard work of party building, capture the imagination of voters across America, by promising a “revolution.” It’s discouraging because it implies that the problem is with the Democratic party and with liberalism. Rather than running to defend the Democratic party, Sanders sees his shot to push the party left by running against it. Jamelle Bouie in Slate put it succinctly, you are running to be the head of the current Democratic party and he is running to be head of an idealized, pure progressive Democratic party that does not yet exist. But we don’t need a different Democratic party, we need more Democrats in office. We really haven’t had “liberal” leadership for the past eight years because Democrats haven’t had veto proof majorities for the last 7 years. Maybe those “Feeling the Bern” would have been satisfied with liberal governance, but we won’t know because they and others didn’t turn out to elect Democrats to Congress, state legislatures and governorships.

Secretary Clinton, I get what you are doing. As a pragmatic Democrat, you’re trying to run to the left in the primary and the spring back to the middle once you’ve dispensed with the slightly crazy old man and his community radio, Dr. Bronners’ soap, Frankfurt school ways. But here’s the problem. While you probably won’t lose to Bernie Sanders, you run the risk of putting the party in jeopardy by not more effectively advocating for liberal governance. Much like I think the Republican party has been damaged by getting pushed too far to the right, I think the party may be irrevocably damaged if it is pushed to far to the left.

As a Democrat, what I like about you and your husband is that you fight for Democrats. It was discouraging and shameful to watch 2014 Senate candidates sprint so far away from the Obama record that they seemed indistinguishable from Republicans. While your husband may have “triangulated,” you and he could also “throw a punch” and stand your ground against your opposition when necessary. It is time to fight for the soul of the party.

As of now, your attacks on your opponent have tried to paint his as a disingenuous progressive — a supporter of the minutemen, an opponent of the auto bailout and a an NRA fanboy. These weird critiques have little impact because they do not reinforce people’s pre-existing notions of Bernie Sanders. Nobody who has payed any attention would believe that he opposes the auto-bailout… it would be completely anathema to his core identity to do so.

A serious concern I have is that you present as a candidate that has an uncomfortable relationship with power and hence is uncomfortable with yourself. Your reluctance to admit that you might have Wall Street connections and may (god forbid) have said a few nice things about Goldman Sachs at a speech, can’t be dismissed. You need to explain why you have a relationship with banks and I think it’s because as much as we may not like it, we need to work with them. The impression of you can only be overcome by not just admitting that you talk to and take money from banks because we need Wall Street for the national and global economy to function, but that it’s a strength that Wall Street with work with you. You need to find messaging that is consistent with the idea that a global economy is not perfect but it is better for Americans than 17th century mercantilism, or whatever Sanders proposes as an alternative to our current economic system.

We are in a social media age that values the presentation of authenticity above all else. You very well may be the more authentic candidate, but your opponent has mastered the art of not appearing rehearsed. If you want to make any dent with youth voters, you need to drop the rehearsed lines. The “no bank to big to fail and no executive too powerful to jail” verse would have sounded great coming out of Jesse Jackson’s mouth in 1988, but it is cringe-worthy coming out of your mouth in 2016. It sounds like an infomercial pitch and millenials are too finely tuned-in to “scripts” to resonate with anything that sounds packaged. Note that Bernie Sanders is just as packaged, but his packaging “seems authentic.” Ask Bernie Sanders a question on a tough vote and watch him equivocate and parse like the best “flip flopper.”

You have no other choice. If you aren’t frank about your belief in transactional, “power to” politics, voters will think you are hiding something. Your appeals will seem trite and insincere. This is why when you tell young people that “they may not be for you, but you are for them,” it sounds to them like you’re doing a late night infomercial, selling Snuggies or Sham Wow’s. Maybe this is why one millenial in the Fox News town hall crowd couldn’t restrain herself from outwardly showing her disdain for you on national TV.

I’m still with you, but I hope you begin to stand up for your version of the Democratic party and not try to “out Bernie” your Democratic Socialist opponent.

Guest Post by University of Minnesota graduate student and friend of the blog, Ryan Larson. See the more lovely pdf version here.

When reading my esteemed colleague (and former official, and current satellite-unofficial, advisor) Andrew Lindner’s post on the shift in buying power in English Premier League teams, my interest was sparked by one of his last propositions: “It may just turn out that 2015/16 was an outlier season and that the clubs with the deep pockets will buy their way to success again next season.” In order to adequately evaluate this claim, data from the coming seasons would be needed. However, we can assess whether the 2015-2016 break in the “buying wins” trend is due to a few influential points. In other words, do a small number of teams disproportionately account for the change in trend?

After replicating Andrew’s data manipulation and models, I looked at some influence regression diagnostics, namely Cook’s Distance. In a nutshell, Cook’s Distance measures the change in a regression coefficient when an observation is deleted. The following plot shows influence indicies for each point in the 2015-2016 model, and indicates that points 101 and 112 are statistically influential: Leicester City and Chelsea.


In accordance with the high Cook’s Distance values, I removed Leicester City and Chelsea from the 2015/2016 model. Although the downturn of money-flush Chelsea and the success of relatively pauperized Leicester City are influential, they in themselves do not account for the break in the trend. In terms of the trend Andrew is noting, the correlation between wage bill and points in the 2010/2011-2014/2015 seasons is .81, and the correlation (with estimated points) in the current 2015/2016 season is .43 – indeed a marked difference. But even after removing Leicester City and Chelsea, the correlation in the current season is .64. In other words, wage bill is still giving teams less point return as compared to previous seasons, even after the removal of Chelsea and Leicester City (see updated plot below). This strengthens the assertion that the diminishing power of deep pockets is an overall trend (at least for this season) as opposed to just the disproportionate influence of two wildly performing teams respective to their piggybanks.


Cross-posted at my web site.

Arsenal’s victory with a breathtaking extra time goal by Danny Welbeck this past weekend notwithstanding, Leicester City’s season has had the kind of storyline we normally only see in Hollywood movies. This isn’t a March Madness Cinderella team upsetting Duke in a one off win. Leicester is a team with a wage budget less than a quarter of the size of the league favorites. Leicester finished 14th in the English Premier League last season. Leicester’s leading scorer this year, Jamie Vardy, had 5 goals in 36 matches last season.

But this season, Leicester has had sustained success, leading the league through the first two-thirds of the season and downing major clubs like Man City. Vardy has become a hero, leading the league with 19 goals. As Sports Illustrated soccer writer, Grant Wahl, put it on Twitter,

But just how unusual is this season? Very. Compared to the socialist sports leagues of the United States with their strict salary caps, the EPL is the Wild West where top teams can pay players as much as their owners are willing to spend. It has led to massive inequality between clubs with four teams spending at least £100 million more in player salaries than most of the rest. Unsurprisingly, it is usually the case that clubs that pay for better talent do better.

Taking data on club wage bills and season point total from the past five years¹, I produced the figure below that charts the relationship between spending and success for the four campaigns from 2010/11-2014/15 in red (with some assistance from my Skidmore colleague, Michael Lopez, who has studied salary and wins in MLB). In a normal season, £25 million in additional wage spending is worth about 6 points (or two wins). Moreover, team simply do not join the rarefied club of 75+ points in a season without a wage bill north of £140 million.

EPL Points by Wage Bill

This season broke that (see the blue points). The aristocrats were deposed (well, at least Chelsea and Liverpool). Southampton and West Ham are in positions to win Champions’ League spots. As of writing, positions 5 and 14 on the table are separated by only 3 wins. This season, £25 million in additional wage spending is worth about half a win.

And, well, Leicester … as NBCSN commentator Peter Drury exclaimed during Leicester City’s victory over Manchester City, “They’re not just beating the richest club in the land! They’re rippin’ them on their own patch! Why shouldn’t they be champions?” As the figure show, Leicester of this season is an unbelievable outlier. Over the past five years, the next closest club with a wage bill under £50 million had 22 fewer points (7 wins)!

What explains the wilting effect of wages on points? It’s easy for the punditocracy to come up with individual accounts. Leicester’s success is due to its “team spirit and togetherness.” The seeds of Chelsea’s unprecedented misfortunes were visible in their low-scoring title year last season. But the truth is that even the data-equipped are grasping for answers.

It may just turn out that 2015/16 was an outlier season and that the clubs with the deep pockets will buy their way to success again next season. For now, let’s just enjoy the competitive balance and hope that Leicester can win a title for underdogs everywhere.


¹Because the current season is still underway, I estimated this season’s final point total based on current standings.

During the 2012 campaign, I made the prediction that Newt Gingrich would become the Republican party nominee over Newt Gingrich because he was more adept at what I called “high valence” politics, or the ability to remain relevant in the attention economy by saying outrageous, emotion laden, things that would attract the media’s attention. I was wrong.

It appears I was off by four years.

Whether Donald Trump becomes the Republican nominee for the presidency is almost secondary to the fact that he has mastered the art of agenda control in the new media age. A citizenry that has been trained to demand quick hits of rapid fire novelty by their smart phones has little patience with long, involved political debate that produces little emotional payoff. The dopamine effect of an easily digestible outrageous statement is infinitely more powerful than the slow burn of a well crafted argument. Saying that “we’re going to win so much you’ll be tired of winning” is clear, concise and charged with optimistic positivity. If you noticed from the video below, Donald Trump speaks in tweets. Our politicians are speaking in Tweets.

YouTube Preview Image

Even Bernie Sanders, to whom I have more affinity, is engaging in a form of high valence politics by tapping into citizen anger towards Wall Street. While justifiable, his notion that all of society’s ills reside with hedge fund managers is presenting a simplified view of reality that is bound to disappoint. For better or worse, we need Wall Street, unless we intend to radically change the global political economy which would have its own unpredictable, unintended consequences.

This idea of high valence politics is with us to stay. Rather than pine for a return to a more deliberative and rational way of doing politics, we instead need to figure out a way to make reasoned arguments compete in the new attention economy. The trick is making complex, nuanced views of political reality emotion laden and digestable.

Cross-posted at my web site.

Last week, in response to presidential candidate Donald Trump’s proposal that the U.S. ban Muslim immigrants, MSNBC host Chris Hayes tweeted …

Thirty percent seemed high to me (or at least I hoped it was high) and I thought I’d try to come up with a better estimate of the percentage of Americans who might support an American National Front party if we had a parliamentary system. I also wanted to explore who these people would be. But first a few caveats …

In the Land of Imaginary Politics

In some ways, considering any question about parliamentary system in the U.S. is a bit like asking, “how would things be different if everything was completely different?” In part, that is because a parliamentary system would allocate representatives differently, shifting power away from low population states (e.g., Wyoming, North Dakota) that are overrepresented because of their mandatory one House seat and two Senate seats. A truly proportional system would be more urban, more coastal, more diverse, and almost certainly a bit more Lefty. The Democratic and Republican coalitions would also probably split into multiple parties. It’s quite possible that we could see a white working-class unionist party with some strong protectionist policies that might contend with the National Front for votes. Any case, there are a lot of “known unknowns” and probably a few “unknown unknowns.”

For the sake of this exercise, let’s assume a few things. First, I’ll assume that the U.S. National Front has the organizational and financial resources to operate a functional political party and field reasonably electable candidates. Second, let’s stipulate that the mainstream media regards the NF as a legitimate political party and treats them with the same commitment to the objectivity norm that we see with the Democrats and Republicans. Trump’s recent Muslim ban proposal caused a number of mainstream media outlets to break with that practice, calling it dangerous and racist. Finally, while the National Front is more or less a single issue party, they do have stances on other issues. For example, the National Front in France is pro-choice and pro-civil unions for same-sex couples (though opposed to same-sex marriage). Let’s chalk that up to the particulars of each country’s domestic politics and ignore the party’s secondary positions.

With all those provisos, let’s now explore how many Americans have attitudes that might align with a U.S. National Front party using data from the 2014 General Social Survey.

The American National Front

The National Front’s primary issue is opposition to immigration. The most basic question we can ask is, how do Americans feel about the current levels of immigration? The view that immigration should be reduced is, by no means, rare. A full 43.6% think immigration ought to be decreased – a minority, but a sizable one.

But there’s more to the National Front than just wanting to reduce immigration. The key to understanding them is that they see immigration as fundamentally destructive to the nation’s culture. Compared to the level of support for reducing immigration, far fewer Americans hold (or at least admit to) this view. Only 3% of Americans strongly agree that “immigrants undermine American culture” and only an additional 18.2% agree. Even among those who favor reducing immigration, only 29.4% see immigrants as undermining American culture at all.

Those who favor reducing immigration and see immigrants as undermining American culture – the key positions of the National Front – make up approximately 12.8% of the American public, according to 2014 GSS data. That makes it a fringe group.

Still, as Figure 1 shows, depending on the exact issue, up to half of Americans favor some of the views and policies of the National Front. A majority of Americans disagree that legal immigrants should have the same rights as Americans. About 35% agree that immigrants take jobs away.


Taken together, these results tend to suggest that a U.S. National Front could draw substantial support if they avoided the rhetoric of immigrants damaging culture and focused on policy.

Who are the core National Front supporters?

If we take only those who are on board for the full anti-immigrant slate (reduce immigration, shouldn’t have the same rights, take jobs away, hurt American culture), they make up only 8.2% of those that answered all of these questions in the GSS’s sample. That 8% would likely be the NF’s corest of core supporters.

But to expand that a bit, let’s assume that the NF’s cultural grievance is essential to the party’s nature and combine that with the issue dominating the news at the moment: closing the borders. That gives us the 12.8% previously mentioned, the largest group that matches up with the NF on both culture and policy.

Who are the core of an American NF? Surprisingly, they only partially fit with the popular image of Tea Party types. The group is 79.3% white, 57.8% female (yes, female!), has slightly higher incomes, and has a mean age about 3 years older than the rest of the sample (50.7 years). They are also much more likely to come from the South Atlantic region and only 17% of them have a college degree or higher. Perhaps, most surprising, they’re not all or even mostly Republicans as Figure 2 shows. In a multi-party system, a U.S. NF would probably draw votes away from the two current parties in relatively equal proportions.


In conclusion, Chris Hayes’ estimate of 30% is well above the 12.8% who are strongly aligned with the National Front’s views. The anti-immigrant sentiment that Trump is tapping into is not merely a subset of Republicans. Rather, it appears to be an ideological group that is concentrated among low education Southerners, but also one that spans the current parties. Though the cultural anti-immigrant argument does not resonate with most Americans, depending on how the party campaigned and who their opposition was, they might attract a larger pool of voters who agree with them on immigration policy.

Cross-posted at my web site.

For the past few years, I’ve been researching the field of citizen journalism (you can read a bit about our project here). For the current paper I’m working on with UMN sociology grad student and jazz saxophone beast Ryan Larson, we’re looking at changes in the organizational population of citizen journalism (CJ) sites over time. In other words, we’re asking: how many CJ sites are there? And how has that changed over time? Then, we discuss some important social and historical forces that may have contributed to it.

One of the factors that I wonder about is the public’s interest. There’s a substantial academic literature on CJ that just keeps growing, but how interested in CJ are normal people? This afternoon, I decided to give it a quick-and-dirty look. I used three sources of Google-powered data. First, I tracked the number of Google Scholar references to the exact phrase “citizen journalism” over time (that’s the yellow line). Second, I used Google’s Ngram, which searches for references in the vast collection of books archived in Google Books (available through 2007). The number presented in the double blue lines is percentage of books each year with a reference to “citizen journalism” presented in 10 millionths of a percentage. Finally, the dotted gray line is search volume data from Google Trends (available from 2006 on). It’s a normalized interest index that is relative not absolute and varies from 1-100. I averaged the monthly values to produce annual scores.

CJ Trends

A few important things jump out. One is that “citizen journalism” as a term essentially didn’t exist before 2002. That said, the practice of CJ, ordinary people gathering and reporting news, is actually older than having professional journalists who report the news. It took academics until about 2004 to start writing about CJ in large numbers, but, man, are we pumped about it now! In 2014, almost 2,000 sources in Google Scholar mentioned “citizen journalism.” Though the books data only go through 2007, they seem to be running slightly ahead of articles, but follow the same trajectory.

As for the public, the big finding since 2006 is a dramatic decline in search volume. What does this mean? Is the public less interested in CJ? Are they using different terms to describe the same practice? Or are they turning to Twitter and Facebook rather than Google to locate it? I think all of the above are possible. The chart does make me wonder if citizen journalism is a trend that is more meaningful to media and academic elites than to the general public.

So, did citizen journalism rise and fall without the academy noticing? Stayed tuned for our paper.

Like everybody else, I’ve been following the controversy involving NAACP leader Rachel Dolezal who identifies as black despite her lack of African-American ancestors. A few quick thoughts:

1. I don’t know her life. In both the cases of Michael Lacour (he of the Science fraud) and Rachel Dolezal, I’ve been thinking a lot about journalist and humorist, Jon Ronson’s, new book, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed (here, as an excerpt in the New York Times Magazine). Web 2.0 is technologically designed for cascades, for the viral. What serves to spread knowledge and empower, also serves as a powerful tool for ridicule, humiliation, and hatred. We should hold fraudsters accountable and make them answer for their behavior. But shaming is no pathway to understanding and reconciliation.

There’s certainly a place for expressing outrage and anger. But, as Jon Ronson told GQ online this week, there’s a big difference between Rachel Dolezal and the McKinney cop. Neither Lacour nor Dolezal are perpetrators of violence or hate speech. In Dolezal’s case, she has quite clearly done remarkable work to advance the black community and the cause of social justice.

Any scholar of restorative justice would say, let’s fully acknowledge the wrongdoing, but respect the wrongdoer’s human dignity and look for reasonable pathways by which s/he can be part of the restoration and healing process. It’s not what Twitter is built for, but let’s give it a try.

2. Speaking of accountability … icon of men’s fashion, Matt Lauer, made a real hash of his interview with Dolezal this morning because he seems to have an incredibly poor understanding of race and ethnicity. He let Dolezal off the hook by allowing her to say, “I identify as black,” without pressing her and asking, “What is your ancestry? What are their ethnic origins?” She would have been forced to acknowledge that her ancestors did not identify as black and are ethnically of European descent. Instead Lauer repeatedly used the term “Caucasian” — a sure sign you don’t “get” race and ethnicity — and allowed her to dodge the deeper question.

Here’s what Lauer should’ve asked: Race is a social construction, but also becomes “real” in people’s minds and its consequences. Our construction of race links blackness to African ancestry and a set of phenotypes. Is race fluid enough that people can opt to identify as a race without any of the ethnic background typically linked with the group? Moreover, is it wrong to adopt that identity without having the experiences of growing up black and as someone with the privilege to give it up at any time? In other words, he should’ve asked her to defend her conceptualization of race and answer for the moral issues with adopting it.

3. Identity or status? Lauer didn’t make Dolezal say it, but what she’s doing is treating race as a fluid identity and ignoring the fact that it’s also an ascribed status. Several people have pointed out why it was easy for her to do that and what’s wrong with doing it (and especially why it’s especially wrong that she adopted “peak blackness”). All of those points are right, but I also think it’s been made possible by a shift in our sociological thinking about race.

As a structural kind of a guy, I tend to think about race (along with gender, class, sexuality, etc.) as a status. It’s a status that is associated with an enormous wealth gap, a higher risk of victimization by police, experiencing discrimination in hiring practices, and so on. Admittedly, treating race as a status alone grants people little agency when we know that people also make meaning from and perform race in various ways. As a corrective to a narrowly status-based understanding, many scholars and activists have framed race/gender/sexuality (and, to a lesser extent, class) as identities — which they absolutely also are. We hear this perspective in phrases like “I identify as a man” rather than “I’m a man” or “I identify as a white” rather than “I’m white.” This move is an empowering one because it acknowledges our human agency. The risk of emphasizing the identity component over the status component is that we create the impression of unlimited agency and may not consider either the way society ascribes status or the moral implications of adopting particular identities (e.g., a person of European ancestry identifying as black, a person with only heterosexual relationships and desires identifying as “queer”).

Of course, both status and identity are real. To deny neither agency nor structure, we need to balance the two in conceptualizing race.

Science recently published a study done by its researchers in collaboration with the Information School at the University of Michigan that finds that Facebook isn’t entirely to blame for political polarization in the United States. It found that its own news feed algorithm has a small but significant effect on filtering out opposing news content for partisan users on Facebook. More importantly for the researchers, the algorithm did not have as strong an effect on filtering opposing news as users themselves. Predictably users on the far right and far left of the political spectrum filter their news content in line with confirmation bias theory.

Zenyep Tufecki already did a takedown of the sampling problems with the study. Here is the description of the sample from Science:

All Facebook users can self-report their political affiliation; 9% of U.S. users over 18 do. We mapped the top 500 political designations on a five-point, -2 (Very Liberal) to +2 (Very Conservative) ideological scale; those with no response or with responses such as “other” or “I don’t care” were not included. 46% of those who entered their political affiliation on their profiles had a response that could be mapped to this scale.

A key problem with this study is the standard problem of “selecting on the dependent variable.” By only sampling partisans, you are likely to find people who act in partisan ways when they evaluate news content. But my problem with this study runs deeper than selection bias. The study’s underlying assumption is that Facebook is simply a neutral arbiter of political information and it’s relevance is only applicable to those heavily interested in politics. In my view, Facebook’s influence runs much deeper. It changes the ways in which we relate to each other, and in turn, the ways in which we relate to the public world.

Facebook and related social media have created a seismic shift in human relations. Facebook’s platform takes conversations between friends, once regarded as “private sphere activity,” and transmutes it into what appears to be a public sphere for the purposes of serving the dictates of market capital. Facebook has created unique and powerful tools to allow individuals with the opportunity to more carefully “present themselves” to a hand picked circle of intimates (and semi-intimates). Facebook’s particular logic is connection and disclosure. More often than not, connection happens through expressive communication of feelings (pictures, observations, feelings, humor, daily affirmations, etc.). Facebook encourages us to “present ourselves” to our networks in order to form closer bonds with our friends and loved ones. It’s part of it’s business model. But we are in competition with others to gain the attention of our circle, so we are driven to use expressive discourse that is high-valence (e.g. strong attractive or aversive) content to gain the attention of others.

I argue in my 2012 book, Facebook Democracy, that Facebook constructs an architecture of disclosure that emphasizes this type of high-valence, expressive, performative communication. To Facebook, political content is simply one more set of tools we can use to “present” ourselves. If we want to use politics to connect with others, it needs to be impactful, expressive content that sends clear messages about who we are, not invitations for further conversation or clarification on public issues. This is not to say that people don’t argue on Facebook or have useful deliberative discussion, but I’d argue they do this in spite of Facebook’s goals. Argumentation or deliberation are not typically used to bring one closer to one’s friends and family.

While the personal and emotive is a key way in which we get into politics, staying engaged requires both expressive/connection based discourse and rational/deliberative discourse that encourages “listening” rather than simply “performing.” The notion that a “click through” necessarily means engagement with the ideas presented in “cross-cutting” articles suggest sharing cross-cutting/opposing articles is done in the spirit of deliberative discussion. More likely, cross-cutting articles are intended to reinforce an identity. More useful for Facebook scholars might be to look at instances where partisans are sharing cross-cutting articles and examining how they present the article. Are they presenting it and inviting mockery of it? Or are they inviting their networks into a conversation about it?

This is the key challenge that Facebook poses to democratic life. Rather than ask whether Facebook’s algorithm presents partisans with access to opposing views, we should be asking how we use political content on Facebook to present ourselves to others (and how we can do it in more productive ways). If Facebook and other media encourages expressive discourse over deliberative discourse, we run the risk of becoming a society of citizens that talk without listening.

Cross-posted on my web site.

Most Americans get their news from local TV news programs. While TV news does a fine job with “Local Boy and Lost Dog Reunited” stories, where they often fall short is on stories that require more than a cursory rundown of the day’s events. So, what most Americans saw when they tuned in to the local newscasts this week was a story about wild and irrational rioters in Baltimore looting and destroying their city.

Of course, today, the news ecosystem is a lot bigger than just TV and, in some ways, the Internet offered promising alternative coverage. Those following hashtags like #BlackLivesMatter on Twitter were reminded that these riots spring forth from a context of persistent police violence against black residents, including Freddie Gray who died after suffering a spinal cord injury while in police custody. On web-based news startup sites, including, we were reminded that half of the residents of Freddie Gray’s neighborhood don’t have jobs. On his blog, journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates pointed out that calls for nonviolence and “calm” among protesters are not matched with similar condemnations of violence by police in daily encounters with black residents.

On my own Facebook feed, several friends shared research findings that note rates of incarceration of black men by orders of magnitude higher than any country in the world, failing schools in poor neighborhoods, and inadequate access to healthy food and even clean water in urban black communities. One friend shared a classic academic article called “The Diffusion of Collective Violence” by Daniel Meyers that explains how urban riots grow.

All of these web-based media provide precisely what’s missing from local TV news: the sort of sociological and economic context necessary to understand the events in Baltimore. But then again, many of my Facebook friends are college professors who do things like share data on social media. Elsewhere on the web, it was easy to find openly racist commentary on the Baltimore protesters, but also decent, open-minded, white people who don’t understand why recent issues with police amount to more than a few bad apples.

The Internet is a democratizing force that gives many more people the opportunity to express themselves – and that’s a double-edged sword.

Media scholars have long observed the danger of the Internet to act as an echo chamber where the likeminded speak to the likeminded. As a consequence, Internet news may provide desperately needed context, but it’s unlikely to reach those who need to hear it in order to stand for real justice.

The protests turned violent in Baltimore are borne of years of economic and social deprivation, institutional racism, and police brutality towards people of color. In the mainstream news media, it’s all too easy to miss that context. In the public sphere offered by the Internet, we risk preaching to the choir. If we are to achieve any measure of social change and reconciliation, we must deliberately engage with ideas and evidence that could lead us to change our minds.

It’s a truism that the Civil Rights Movement succeeded in the 1960s because TV cameras captured the violence against nonviolent protesters. The current movement against police brutality has gained steam, in part, because of smartphone videos uploaded to the web. As much as media has brought public attention to issues of racial injustice, neither the mainstream news model nor the web-based model are fully equipped to promote understanding and social change. As news consumers, we need to demand insight, not mere updates from traditional news outlets. As neighbors and citizens, we need to push ourselves to learn more, have hard conversations with those we disagree with, and develop greater empathy for each other.

I quit running half-marathons because of my RunKeeper app. During each of my half marathons, the 90’s hip-hop on my phone would be interrupted by a tinny voice reminding me that I was getting farther and farther off my two hour pace. While RunKeeper didn’t make me a sub-par distance runner, its constant quantification of my performance made me a disgruntled runner. When it comes to how fast I was running, I wanted to know, but I didn’t want to know.

In my day job as a political scientist, I see parallels between my frustration with “quantified running” and our national frustration with American politics. Our impulse towards knowing without understanding is making us a society of disgruntled citizens. While the Fitbit doesn’t make us hate Congress directly, it serves as a symbol of our society’s insatiable need for information. In my case, my “need to know” resulted in slapping “analytics” onto my running that I really could have done without. In politics it leads to a relentless demand that the system be transparent and accountable at all times, even if we’re not entirely sure what we’re looking for.

What is so bad about transparency in politics or in life? Most Americans would say that we need more accountability and transparency from our political institutions, not less. In March of this past year, C-SPAN, the cable channel that shows Congress, celebrated its 35th year of broadcasting the proceedings of the House of Representatives. Six years later, C-SPAN began televising the Senate. In both cases, there has been little reflection on how these technological intrusions have affected the work of either chamber.

What underlies the public’s call for more cameras is summed up by Justice Louis Brandeis famous quote that “sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” But if this were true, why is Congress’ popularity at an all time low? Confidence in institutions has steadily eroded since the 1970’s. According to Gallup, in April of 1986, the last poll taken before C-SPAN began broadcasting the Senate proceedings, 42 percent of Americans approved of Congress. No great number, but in August of 2014, Congress’ approval rating had fallen to 13 percent. A January 2013, Public Policy Polling Survey found Congress to be less popular than, among other things, cockroaches, France and used car salesmen.

To be sure, Congressional approval ebbs and flows, but we’ve seen a steady downward trend in our view of our legislative institutions over the last three decades. While cameras in Congress hasn’t caused the decline in popularity, cameras haven’t helped.

We live in an age where technology promises to help us gain greater access to ourselves. Through apps that track our sleep, mood, fitness, food intake, blood sugar levels, etc., we are promised better living through information. But as we gain more information, do we gain greater understanding? Scientists are taught that data collection should follow from good theory. Theory is what helps us understand what we are looking for when we observe the world. In other words, scientists need a well thought out reason for collecting data, otherwise it’s just noise.

As far as politics are concerned, the majority of the American public would like more noise. A 2009 poll commissioned by C-SPAN found that 65 percent of respondents agreed there should be cameras in the United States Supreme Court. In a chapter for the 1997 book “Covering Congress, C-Span president Brian Lamb noted that 75 percent of the public approved of having cameras in the House and Senate. Lamb noted that one response to the survey suggested that “cameras should be everywhere except bathrooms.” But if we are to gain more information about Congress, are we prepared as citizens to make sense of it?

Americans in general have little interest in making sense of the noise. Political Scientists John Hibbing and Elizabeth Theiss-Morse observed in 2002 that most Americans favored a system of stealth democracy where they were not called upon to participate actively in or know much about in the political process. According to surveys done by Hibbing and Theiss-Morse, most Americans were less interested in transparency and more interested in “effective management” of problems like job creation or fighting terrorism.

So why the cameras if we’re really not that interested? The effect of C-SPAN cameras in Congress has been to turn every session and committee hearing into a low-intensity, reality television show. Whether C-SPAN cameras are directly to blame, It is no coincidence that the drop in Congressional approval corresponds with the advent of a 24- hour news cycle that demands to be fed information. By now, we are well aware that personal failings, flubs during speeches or grandstanding efforts like the Ted Cruz filibuster in 2013 are more impactful than the actual product of Congress. In 2014, Florida Representative Joe Garcia(D) was caught on C-SPAN’s cameras picking and eating his own ear wax. Having access to Congress on television might produce hilarity on “The Daily Show,” but at what cost?

In the Virtues of Mendacity: On Lying in Politics, UC-Berkeley historian Martin Jay argues that our demands for authenticity in politics has led separate politics from “the political.” We expect our public officials to have the same integrity, honesty and accessibility we demand from our private relationships. He finds this problematic, since “dealmaking” is a vital mechanism for arriving at compromise in American politics.

But as a public, we are uncomfortable with this idea. We want our elected officials to be beyond reproach, but because we suspect they are not, we want someone to watch them to make sure they are behaving themselves. Hence, the real “watchers” of C-SPAN are interest groups, political parties and think tanks, that are more than happy to look for ways to confirm the public’s suspicions, particularly when it comes to their opponents.

Because members of Congress know this, they seek out spaces to conduct private work. The House leadership, intuitively are aware of this. have kept rigid control over the positioning of the cameras in Congress. On numerous occasions, the House leadership, regardless of party, has ordered the cameras to be turned off or positioned away from part of the chamber. During the contentious 2003 floor vote over the Medicare prescription drug bill, the Republican leadership kept the cameras pointed towards the Democratic side of the aisle for three hours, presumably so the public would be spared the sight of the majority’s relentless arm twisting of its members.

Each emerging technology changes the relationship between the viewer and what is being viewed. My run was affected by my constant quantification of its speed. On a run, the synthetic voice would interrupt my mid-nineties hip-hop to tell me that I had run the previous mile in 10:15, when I was shooting for 9:30. By knowing this piece of data, I have put a label on it. By calling it something (a “slow run” in this case) I have in a real sense reduced its value. I could have seen a beautiful sunset on that mile or had a personal insight, but by viewing through the lens of my run tracker, it became a slow mile, and nothing else.

With Congress, our perception of it is impacted by our televising its proceedings. We may not watch CSPAN but most of us like knowing its being televised because “someone will be watching.” Rather than unquestioningly embrace the accumulation of information, we should be asking ourselves, what do we want this information for and how do we intend to use it? and recognize how politics works. We don’t need to get rid of information. Instead, we need a more subtle understanding of the reasons for its collection. To be sure, there is an important place in American politics for a watchdog role. But a good watchdog knows what they are looking for and doesn’t bark at every subtle movement.