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Politics in the Social Media Age: Insights From Joe Lockhart

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Joe Lockhart is in a unique place to have a word or two about the ever-changing media and technology landscapes and their impact on politics.

The former White House Press Secretary for Bill Clinton spent years in politics, but he actually started his career in broadcast journalism and most recently served as Facebook's VP of Corporate Communications.

He had a number of fascinating insights on tech, media and politics at the Brooklyn Law School on Friday. Here are some highlights from his talk with Brooklyn Law School Dean Nick Allard, "Campaign 2012: Who is Setting the Agenda?"

On the media's election coverage this year:
-"Not going to give them a good grade"; we're in a "period of profound transition" and the media isn't doing a good enough job educating & informing the public

Tech transformation:
-In 1980, there were no 24-hour news stations; there was three networks, tens of millions of people watched three men say here's what's happening in the country, in the world
-There was a consensus, a common conversation around the country; tech and 24/7 news cycle fundamentally changed that
-News is now fragmented and the American people get it from a variety of places, including social media

How people get their news now:
-We're now entering an era where people are informing each other, through the likes of Facebook and Twitter, but we're not quite there yet
-If you're conservative, you're more likely to watch Fox News, if you're liberal, you're more likely to watch MSNBC; the same with newspapers and so on
-It's tougher to get facts and think for yourself; this system is not best serving the public

Ignorance online:
-"There is a lot of sharing but there's just as much sharing of ignorance as knowledge"
-Need a centralized core of journalism to inform people, and we don't have that now
-We need more authorities, otherwise people will just go to their friends

Social media's impact on politics:
-Things now are so connected and so immediate
-Washington is a town built on power and the pursuit of power
-Internet provides instant reactions and both parties try to jump on that; if not for now, for an edge in the next election
-It has sped up the news cycle, putting pressure on campaigns to respond more quickly and leaving less time to develop a narrative

Future of social media:
-The technology is just scratching the surface of its promise
-Where do you turn when you don't trust a central power or institution? You turn to your friends
-The tech can be even more interesting and powerful as it scales; smartphones are cheaper than computers and will become ubiquitous; everyone will be connected through phones
-You can see what your friends think immediately, and things happen much quicker; friends talk about it, their friends talk about it, it goes viral, etc.

Business implications today:
-A large portion of news business is about staying afloat now or making a profit, less about journalism
-That's really changed the dynamics of how politics is discussed or covered
-The media "wants to put on a show"; it's more about style and less about what the public needs to know
-There are "a couple newspapers left driven by journalism and not by business, but that's it."
-It's scary. We're starting to see major cities without newspapers.
-Business driving editorial is scary. "When I started in the business, I didn't see that to be the case."
-Why is Fox News, MSNBC so successful? Found an audience that led to a gold mine.

On media picking "winners" or "losers" after debates:
-They talk a lot, and then the numbers come out and then they change their tune to the numbers
-The public processes information over time though, big swings happen 3-4 days after a debate when people decide what they found important
-"The media doesn't give people the best tools to make the best decision they could"

On the rise of fact checking:
-Yes, there are fact checkers, but content producers are always going to beat fact checkers and censors
-You can fact check, but it's already out there in the media bloodstream; not everyone sees the fact check after the fact

Legal ways to improve media landscape?
-Not sure. The law was written in a way with three major media networks in mind. Now it's not like that.
-How can you enforce fairness in media? Not sure you can.

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