Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Political Gossip

Would you believe the gossip on Democratic Rep. David Wu?

As a project for Computers in Society class we were assigned groups with a specific "Pop Culture" topic to be considered in the context of social media and cyberspace. Solid assignment!

My Group is "Gossip 1." The group was initially composed of six students, left to decide on what to work on. We figured to divide such a broad topic into popular categories. Movie stars, pop divas, etc. In the end I was left with gossip in politics as the most common were taken.

Quite a challenging task, as I came to figure that political gossip is much different than your average gossip topic...mainly due to the fact that politicians are in charged of responsibilities that can easily affect your own life! But also because these politicians are already well-defined public figures to be scrutinized and criticized in every speech and action they take; political or not. Their reputation is their profession's livelihood. Rumors and gossip are of the most harmful essence.

But first let's review what gossip is, and how it manifests it's self in our contemporary lives. As most sources agree, gossip is the spreading of negative and unverified information about an individual.

The Wikipedia page defines gossip as malicious in nature, and it is popularly regarded as such by popular opinion (that is, what we can derive from pop culture). I liked the definition that Wisegeek.com has to offer:
"In general, gossip involves the creation and repetition of rumors regarding an individual who is not present to offer his or her perspective on the purported events under discussion. Generally, gossip has little or no basis in fact and is sometimes intended to convey a negative image of an individual. This process of spreading rumors is utilized in just about every setting from reporting on the movements of public figures to discussing situations involving family, friends, and acquaintances"
I like how this definition included the fact that the individual the gossiping is being done about is NOT present to defend his/her self against the allegations. Thus, gossip is just bad in general and the more considerate individual will usually avoid it. One can perceive the correlation of gossip with teenage school girls. As much of a stereotype that is, it is only by experience that people learn the dangers of gossiping.

What ever gossiping has been trough out human nature, it is now amplified by the improvement of the tools humans have made. Now, the most useful tool is the internet. Gossip now spreads instantly around the world, with a filter on which gossip to read/watch about in the web. However this all applies to your average gossip. Everything gets weird when we introduce the Political gossip into the web.
Since politicians are already set to be criticized under scrutiny by every one, the news and reports about them are presented upfront by major news companies. Big names such as ABC and CNBC news companies present politician's current events right upfront. This reporting gets spread around by people, and as all gossip works, soon more opinions will be added to the facts, and thus a fallacious image of a political candidate is made.
 Here the First Lady is stalked at Target, forming a scandal with gossip:

People who are into this make their own political gossip websites, such as ObamaTwits.com and Cracked.com. Here the blogger/writer will present this political scandals with their opinion or bias.
But where is the line between these political scandals and gossip drawn? What ever gossip arises from political events will harm the politician's reputation. This collective bad image perceived and reciprocated by the people is the advent of gossip rather than the original factual scandal it self.

People, specially politicians, are prone to making mistakes. This mistakes continue to happen with technology, specially the internet. This is how Democratic Rep. David Wu of Oregon resigned from politics by accidentally emailing pictures of himself in questionable outfits. Yeah, the hilarious tiger outfit.

One of the biggest phenomenons in politics for me has been how the internet has crept it's way into our politicians smartphones: Twitter. Anybody who is somebody in the political world has Twitter. All their tweets can be found here, with each politician having their personal "@your_favorite_candidate."

Twitter is now the stage where most of the political dirt and gossip comes into play, in a hand held device near you! Mainly because it isn't just updated by their administrative counterparts--no--they personally write their comments and opinions on the matters at hand; specially during on-going speeches by their competitors.

Now not only is this gossiping harmful for the individual politician, but the biggest reason why political gossip is different than other gossip is that leadership capabilities or political competence in a candidate may all go to waste by  negative perceptions of this person formed through gossip. The good politician might have a scandal that could ruin his career forever, while the genuinely bad politician will get away into office and affect every ones lives negatively.

Bringing the internet and cyberspace into politics can of course be a good thing, as most political administrations like Obama's have a facebook page where he can reach millions of varying demographics using such websites.

Twitter, however, can be the downfall as the politicians' comments and opinions get recorded and spread faster than ever before, giving them much of a less change to defend themselves. As Rep. Wu showed us, politicians have to be careful on how they use their technology and present themselves through cyberspace.


  1. A surprisingly lighthearted read on politics and social media. The potential damage for gossip against politicians is something we've all heard a little about (and maybe even engaged in) I'm sure.

    On the flipside though I wonder if there are any significant cases of positive gossip benefiting politicians. I guess that kinda overlaps with the idea of "campaigning" and not gossip but even with, say Obama's Facebook (?) account as he was running for president I think there's only a certain limit to what politicians can control on SNS sites, and the rest would actually be up to fans to share, spread the word, like, disprove etc. And isn't that like gossip! :P

  2. True, but scandals about famous people makes them even more famous! (You buy their CDs or watch their movies). Scandals about famous politicians, however, never bring anything positive the one being gossiped about.

    You're right about the politics, reminds me how during the Bush administration in the States, people voted more for "American Idol" than the November elections! Shows how the power is the people but neglected.

    Politics in Japan, I've been reading, have a whole different twist to them.
    If your interested, I work with TUJ's ICAS (Institute of Contemporary Asian Studies) and we hold numerous lectures regarding politics in Japan and Asian. You might enjoy it, catch me there.

    By the way, was that recent email from the Student Government body from you?

  3. good post. some of your points i never thought of before.. it was very interesting, and so true what you mention about twitter and how it can be dangerous for the reputation of politicians. personally i dont like twitter all that much. its like a massive junkyard just collecting tweet after tweet.. most of the time

  4. Thanks Johanna! Most of my friends don't like twitter either, for the same reasons. I had to brainstorm a lot for this post, as I had never considered all this!


Final Blog Post.

Final blog post assignment: "Choose two or more articles from the four Scoop It channels . I’ve set up that are related to a simila...