Clay Shirky: social media turned Dems, GOP into host organisms for third party candidates

In an "essay in 50 tweets," Clay Shirky explains how the growth of direct-to-voter channels has ruptured the mainstream political parties in America, who relied upon party power-brokers to enforce a prohibition on mentioning the third-rail topics that are the fissure lines the parties paper over.

The parties refused to allow their frontrunners to speak out about these issues -- which revolve around race and class -- though the public and the press were hungry for statements on one side or the other. Politicians who broke ranks were lavished with press attention (because they were hot stories), but without the parties, couldn't mobilize voters.

Social media's capacity for mobilizing voters upends this. Now, politicians who dance on those third rails get tons of press attention, and bypass the party to reach voters.

It's a sharply argued explanation for how a RINO (Republican in Name Only) and an independent senator came to be the frontrunners for the GOP and the Dems.

Online fundraising let outsiders raise funds, and it became a symbol of purity. Anyone *not* raising money at $25 a pop is now a plutocrat.

And then there was vote-getting. Facebook and MyBarackObama let the Obama campaign run their own vote-getting machine out of Chicago.

McLuhan famously said "The medium is the message." This is often regarded as inscrutably gnomic, but he explained it perfectly clearly.

"The personal and social consequences of any medium result from the new scale introduced into our affairs by any new technology."

The new scale Facebook introduces into politics is this: all registered American voters, ~150M people, are now a *medium-sized* group.

'All voters' used to be a big number. Now it's <10% of FB's audience. "A million users isn't cool. You know what's cool? A billion users."

Reaching & persuading even a fraction of the electorate used to be so daunting that only two national orgs could do it. Now dozens can.

This set up the current catastrophe for the parties. They no longer control any essential resource, and can no longer censor wedge issues.

Each party has an unmentionable Issue X that divide its voters. Each overestimated their ability to keep X out of the campaign.

Jeb(!) Bush, who advocates *religious litmus tests* for immigrants, has to attack Trump's anti-immigrant stance, because it went too far.

Clinton can't say "Break out the pitchforks", because Democratic consensus says "We've done as much to banks as our donors will allow."

In '15, a 3rd party candidate challenging her on those issues *from inside the party* was inconceivable.("I don't think that word means...") So here we are, with quasi-parlimentarianism. We now have four medium-sized and considerably more coherent voter blocs.

2 rump establishment parties, Trump representing 'racist welfare state' voters, and Sanders representing people who want a Nordic system.

Social media has turned Republican & Democratic Parties into host bodies for 3rd party candidates. [Clay Shirky/Storify]

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