I have known Karoli for a number of years, first through her blog and then as one of the first people that I followed after joining Twitter. She is an incredibly smart woman who doesn’t suffer fools gladly – maybe that’s one of the reasons why I like her so much.
When I first started putting together the idea for this 10 Questions interview series Karoli was one of the first people I thought of interviewing. While she doesn’t concentrate that much on the tech side of things she is still a force to be reckoned with when it comes to political blogging and Twitter activity.
Needless to say I was very happy when she agreed to take part in this interview. As a side note Karoli gave me permission to edit as needed but I have not edited a single word as that is my policy when it comes to these 10 Question interviews.
So without any further ado here is Karoli and her 10 Questions interview.
1. I was thinking back over the time that we have known each other through both blogging and on Twitter and back in the early days you where more involved in the tech / early social media days side of things but you seem to have made a major shift into the political realm of things. What prompted this change? Was it a gradual shift in your own interests or was it more driven by events around you?
Karoli: I started my blog as a challenge. By the third post, I was ranting about Caremark and insurance companies’ intervention in prescribed medications for my son. That’s been a theme throughout my blogging, though I have also focused on tech, online, and even legal (like the Julie Amero case [ed: IIRC this is where I first met up with Karoli as she commented on my post about the issue]).
In 2006 I started a parallel blog just for politics, but found my main blog suffering. It seemed to me that if everything is political; eg, tech, government, devices, all of it, I should also put it all in one place. Still, there’s no question that it’s become much more focused in the political direction over the past year or so.
Part of it has to do with being laid off. I didn’t have to worry that my employer was looking over my shoulder, so I had a little more freedom to speak my mind. Most of it though, relates to the fact that the press is abysmal with what and how it reports things. If I have a little bit of Google juice, I’ll gladly pour it on posts that matter to people looking for some truth. The other part has to do with my own investment in Obama’s election. I’ll be damned if I was going to sit and watch liars trash him and what he was trying to do without speaking my mind, too.
The main reason that I blog less about tech in general is because it seems to be such an echo chamber. You’d have Arrington or Mashable come out with their posts, then a flurry of posts from others about their post, and on the weekends a nice fat bitchmeme to keep interest high until more news came out on Mondays. I’m a user — an edge user for sure, but still a user, not a developer, not a VC, not anyone other than Jane Geek who digs new tech toys and how they fit into my life. There didn’t seem to be a way to break out of the pack and get some traction or a voice.
2. From my limited following of the political happenings and the blogosphere that has built around it it strikes me that there are more women involved in the political end of blogging than in the tech and social media arena. Have you noticed this or would you say that the involvement of women in blogging is fairly represented in all the various types of blogging that there is?
Karoli: I’m not sure I agree about women bloggers vis a vis politics. We still seem to have to shout or get shrill to be heard over the din of the men, and if you look at the bloggers who are actually getting paid to blog about politics, the majority of them are men. Huffington Post doesn’t count, since anyone who posts there does it without being paid. Other than a few notable women, the first-tier political bloggers are still mostly men, whereas I see many more women blogging in tech (even back in the days when I was blogging more about tech) — Mashable seems to be particularly good about bringing women in to blog, as does Om Malik. I read his WebWorkerDaily blog every day. Sarah Perez over at ReadWriteWeb is another, as well as Corvida at SheGeeks (who does one of the best jobs mashing up politics and tech of any of them).
One of the funny and somewhat weird things about where I am in terms of blogging right now is that I fit into no specific world, which is why I appreciate the women who do such a great job bridging the different spheres of blogging (which is by no means the same as a blogosphere…). Sarah Granger (@Sairy on Twitter) is a MOMocrat, a Mommy blogger, a political blogger, and does work for O’Reilly and Gov2.0. She also writes for TechPresident. She’s managing to mingle her different interests in new and creative ways. Some of us are working with different groups in the political sphere to raise their presence in social media. Francine Hardaway is a social media consultant, venture capitalist and blogger across many different spectrums, too.
Despite the fact that the highest profile women bloggers tend to be lumped into the ‘Mommyblogger’ category, the truth is that they cross all different gaps and bridges and bring a more holistic view to the landscape. If I can ever stop obsessing on health care reform, I might do that too.
3. You are fairly active on Twitter. What lead you to use it as a primary method of communication with people, other than your blog which you still maintain quite regularly.
Karoli: Instant gratification, instant news, inspiration, and a sense of where the interest swarms are at any given time. I also think it’s the best megaphone I’ve got when news breaks and the mainstream media pundits get it wrong from the start. Not interpretationally wrong. Factually wrong. I find Twitter to be a far more dynamic and representative heartbeat than Memeorandum or Techmeme. It also takes me out of the echo chamber, because I follow an incredibly diverse group of people.
4. Given that you spend a lot of time on Twitter do you find the conversation is different than what might happen on your blog?
Karoli: Yes, Twitter tends to capture more genuine reactions and passions than a blog comment will. Generally people will say things on twitter they won’t say in a formal blog comment, and they’re reacting in that moment to the situation at hand. The ebb and flow of the stream gives an intuitive sense of what parts of the picture are missing, or need to be filled in more completely, which generally points me toward a blog post that needs to be written.
5. One of the big things about social media and blogging is that it is about having conversations and I was wondering given your more political bent these days do you keep yourself open to the conversations on Twitter and other blogs of those who might not agree with you and your philosophies or do you try and stay within the spectrum of your political beliefs?
Karoli: Interesting question. A year ago I’d tell you that I was open to disagreement. I still am, but less so on Twitter, mostly because it’s a waste of time, at least when it comes to open discussions with conservatives. I do have several conservatives I follow, and I will engage with any who appear to be polite. But after I debunked the lies pouring from the keyboards of a few notable personalities, I came to the conclusion that it was useless to try to reach out or engage, because there was too much invective flowing from that group into Twitter. Ironically, the most passionate and public disagreements I’ve had are with people on my own “side” of the political spectrum. Dave Winer, for example, someone I’ve respected and followed for years, blocked me on Twitter presumably for a remark I made about his objection to President Obama’s choice to escalate Afghanistan. I’ve had a video showdown with Micah Sifry over his criticism of Organizing for America, squabbles with people more progressive than I about pragmatism vs purism, and honestly, those arguments can be just as eye-opening and mind-bending as any I’ve had with people on the right side of the political spectrum.
6. The thing that I have found with just about any political discussion is that everyone seems to line up on their own sides of belief and nothing will get them to consider alternating viewpoints. Do you feel that things like Twitter and blogs manage in any way to change this attitude or do they in fact make the situation worse?
Karoli: There’s no question that Twitter can be a big echo chamber full of reasons to entrench. Over on the conservative side, they use bots and a number of other tools to reinforce their memes and strengthen their message. They rally the troops with it, and they use it as a platform to propagandize. However, Twitter is but one small stream in the pond, and Facebook truly is their staging platform. This is why Sarah Palin uses Facebook rather than her own blog or website to start things. It’s so easy to send it in to viral overload.
If blogs and social media contribute to entrenchment, it is because the audience is picking and choosing the message they want to hear without considering the entire picture. This is why I like primary sources — my own impression of a speech or a CSpan broadcast of Senate or House sessions, my hands on the iPhone, testing new apps, trying out new media as a way to make my message stand out. The fact remains that Twitter, Facebook, blogs, cable news and other media will all be cherrypicked by people who are looking to find a message that jives with what they intuit or are comfortable thinking. What twitter allows is a rapid-fire alternate response that might penetrate at least a few, or inform a few others, or start some fires on blogs that at least let that poor guy who doesn’t watch Fox, MSNBC or CNN to get a clue beyond the twists given the facts by the so-called mainstream.
Was that a very long way of saying no?
7. In a recent post on your blog (On a personal note – http://www.drumsnwhistles.com/2010/01/22/on-a-personal-note/ ) you talk about being tired as a result of feeling that all your hard work through helping to get Obama elected and the the health care reform was going to be for naught. In your words – You were tired. Do you still feel that way? Do you see a point where you might leave the political blogging spectrum and find some other way to become involved again but perhaps this time in something less contentious?
Karoli: Oh, that was a horrible week. Saddest for me about that week was how much energy went into pushing back on my own group — the same people who I had worked alongside to get him elected. It still boggles my mind to see how effortlessly they’ve been manipulated into being constantly negative, and how willing they are to do the damage that negativity brings to the table. With that said…I don’t see myself necessarily leaving political blogging or toning it down. I probably will refocus it some in the coming months to be more California-focused with Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman running in GOP primaries. It looks like Meg especially, has a stronger shot than I’d like, so I’ll be working on and offline to stop that as much as I possibly can. Also, the California legislature is on the verge of passing single payer health insurance statewide, even though Arnold will veto it. If we are somehow able to hang on to our representation in the legislature and elect a Democratic governor, we would be one of the forward-looking states to start the ball rolling toward single payer. Yes, California will be a larger part of my focus in the months to come.
8. I am a firm believer that Social Media, the one without all the marketing and hot to trot guru experts spouting buzzwords, has the potential the be a real conduit for change. Given your experience with the political realm of blogging and usage of Social Media do you think that rather than putting our faith in governments and leaders we would be better off building a real grassroots alternative using things like the real Social Media?
Karoli: I think we still need governments and leaders. What needs to happen, though, is an adjustment to how those leaders hear the people they represent, and especially shed the arrogance and sense of entitlement they seem to have as they settle into a nice long entrenched term. This is especially true of the US Senate, by the way. We’re cued into what nonsense they’re pulling, but they seem to think it’s all perfectly ok. Of course it’s not, and now we’re seeing, reacting, responding and acting in real time. They still seem to be out in the 80s somewhere.
However we do still need leaders. Twitter, Facebook, online interaction are all part of the larger social realm that includes who we chat with at the grocery store and meet for coffee on Thursday afternoons, after all. One look at the absurdity that is Proposition 8 speaks volumes about why constitutional amendments shouldn’t be laid before the people and voted up or down by a simple majority, while a look at the health care reform sausage demonstrates why it would have been good to have social media have a seat at the table when they were crafting it. There needs to be a rebalancing on both sides. Leaders need to listen, and they should hear without the incessant gaming that goes on via social media. They need a way to identify organic swarms around datapoints on social media (and I am not speaking of the PR nonsense , hashtag wars or other artificial means here), and use that to understand the pulse of those they represent. This is all esoterica right now, but I think anyone using social media can grasp intuitively what I mean. There is a certain energy, a pulse that forms around things naturally, not via bot or hashtag. That’s what needs to be brought into the conversation with government.
9. There’s a lot of talk about the so-called real-time web and the massive influence it might have on our future. Do you think it will have any real effect on things like politics, the political process and how people interact based on their political beliefs or is there a danger that we could see even more polarization right across the country – beyond what we are seeing now?
Karoli: You will see more polarization but you’ll also see some unholy alliances. One that is happening now: Jane Hamsher (progressive blogger, founder of FireDogLake), Micah Sifry, and other progressives teaming up with conservatives who have vowed to destroy progressives, such as Grover Norquist, Brent Bozell, and Americans for Prosperity (one of the corporate-sponsored PR groups who stirred up the teabaggers and town hall movements). Politically, we’re in very interesting times. We have unprecedented access to the town square and process via the Internet and social media, but it is also being gamed by some very, very skilled PR professionals to push a specific agenda. Then you have the ones like Jane, who view any partnership with the extreme right as some expression of bipartisanship and harmony. Weird. Polarization and partnerships. I think it will continue until we come to a more stable place in our politics. Obama’s election was an earthquake of sorts. We’re still feeling the aftershocks. The generation coming of age now knows no other way but to have ubiquitous internet access, takes for granted the global friendships made via social media with others in other countries, and has exposure and expectation to a far wider range of thought and ideas. That will play into our politics in significant ways as they exercise their voice and influence in government.
10. Again regarding the future – what effect do you see things like Twitter, Facebook, blogs and social media having on the American society say 2 years, 5 years and even 10 years from now?
Karoli: I hope in 10 years we’ll all wonder why gay marriage was outlawed, what the big deal was with tea parties in 2009, and laugh at Sarah Palin becoming a verb representing the stupid in American politics. Being “Palinized” will not be a compliment in my land of hope. I think we’ll all still be passionate, still be entrenched, and still love the power of a great speech. I also think expectations will rise as we see what other countries with less constraints are able to do for their citizens. The term “socialist” will not be a swear word. It may, in fact, become a term of envy in this country. The question will be whether the young people like my children will be mobilized enough to get out in the streets, in their cities, off their phones and out of their virtual worlds enough to change the worlds in which they live. I certainly hope they do. This place, the Internet, is a powerful environment, but only if the message is brought out of the electrons into the communities where people live.
On the other hand, we could also become corporate robot-speakers. The real war right now is a message war between corporate propaganda spinners (who use social media and tech quite effectively in some cases) and the realspeakers — those who speak their conscience and resistance to the ever-pounding messages washed over us in so many different venues. That’s why I appreciate the contrarians like you, who aren’t afraid to stand up and say hey, Microsoft isn’t so bad, Apple can be evil, and Google will sell you as adsense to make people think they’re smart when they’re being stupid. Really, engagement on all levels matters more than anything else. The voices that echo are the voices of the genuine, not the lockstep egos or corporate PR folks, which is why I intend to keep shouting out there.
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