Warnick’s Theory and Current Campaigners

Warnick begins chapter four of his book by discussing the three perspectives of online interactivity. The first approach he takes is interactivity primarily as a technological function of a medium. This view requires no interaction on the people’s part, but rather it highlights the effects of media. Opposite to this, the second perspective of online interactivity focuses on user-to-user interaction (Warnick 69). The example of emails is used by Warnick to show how every response in an email is generated by a previous statement, leading to direct interaction between the sender and the receiver of the message. The last approach Warnick mentions to online interactivity is what users experience and perceive. In this method, there should at least be a one-sided engagement on the user’s part, whether it is with another source or the computer itself (70).

Warnick then proceeds to explain how interactivity is a form of rhetoric. He uses Burke’s definition that “persuasion is generally aligned with identification between people” (70). This means that websites allow their visitors to engage in a wider sense of belonging by using persuasion. Therefore, online interactivity promotes identification, encouraging people to join together in a common cause. The best example to fit this explanation is political campaign websites. These websites are designed to appeal to voters, and by using certain forms of interactivity, campaign parties activate user responses and influence the user’s thought pattern (71). This hidden persuasion is thus, characterized as rhetoric.

As we saw in the different campaign websites shown in class, we could see the concept Warnick discusses in his article. For one, all three candidates’ sites had a form of contact whether it was “call now,” “follow us,” or “send email.” This is an example of site author(s)-to-user and user-to-site author(s) interactivity (76). By adding this type of interactivity, campaign runners show that they are willing to listen and learn from the people, which is a strong form of persuasion (72). Each candidate invites users to his cause (site-to-user interactivity) and then, allows the users to donate money to help their campaign (user-to-site interactivity).

On the other hand, there is also a limitation on how much user-to-user interaction occurs on these websites. For example, in Newt Gingrich’s page, we saw how the twitter posts were mainly from Newt himself. This creates a censorship of opinions, making sure that the campaign managers do not lose control over their campaign discourse. If all tweets were present on the website, negative views would be displayed, losing the support of some Gingrich supporters (72). Therefore, while it is important for users to communicate with site author(s), at the same time, their interaction with one another is limited for the purpose of a political campaign website.

The new concept of “text-based” interactivity was also present in all three campaign websites that we viewed in class. All candidates used their personal voice as well as present the voters with outside views of their campaign. Photographs of the candidates were displayed showing them interacting with different parties, showing them as family men, or showing them as supporters of America (73). Some sites, like Romney’s, used a balance of photographs, subheadings, icons, etc. while other websites, like Rick Santorum’s, failed to create this balance. It seemed to be more textual based rather than visual based, serving as a downfall for Santorum’s campaign site.

It is also notable how none of the three websites limited user-to-documents interactivity. This is probably smart for a campaign site to do because if users were allowed to upload any form of document to a campaign website, the campaigners can expect false information and negative comments being uploaded by the opposing parties. Therefore, most political campaign websites fail to invite its users to submit content (76).

In evaluating Bush’s website for the 2004 campaign, analysts said that the website was “unapproachable” when compared to Richard Gephadrt’s site, which included a separate column by his daughter and his wife, creating a friendlier environment (83). We saw the same thing in Newt Gingrich’s website, where there was an entire column dedicated to his wife, showing the role a future first lady must play. Once again, this grabbed the audience’s attention, while the other two websites lost credibility for not displaying such strategic columns on their site.

In the Bush campaign, there were heartfelt statements by his supporters that expressed their personal support for the candidate (84). Once again, Newt Gingrich used the same technique in his website, allowing famous figures (mostly political ones) to comment as to why they will be voting for him. This shows a limited user-to-document interactivity, in which only certain individuals were allowed to contribute their thoughts to the website. “The high-level of text-based interactivity [in Gingrich’s site] interactively buttresses the immediacy and personalization of expression on the blog” (85).

It is crucial that campaign websites utilize different types of interactivity on their website. This helps increase the likelihood of user visits as well as prolongs their stay on the website (87). By absorbing information better, users are encouraged to become voters, which accomplishes the goal of a political campaign website. At the same time, it is important to note that none of these campaign websites promote full interactivity. This limitation is because of three main reasons: “lack of sufficient resources to handle individual submissions, concerns about losing control of campaign discourse, and loss of the strategic ambiguity needed in appeals to a mass audience” (90).

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2 Responses to Warnick’s Theory and Current Campaigners

  1. cdadas says:

    You beat me to the punch–I was going to ask in class how we might apply Warnick to the candidates’ websites we looked at. 🙂 Well done! I think you’re right that even though 8 years have elapsed since Warnick wrote her chapter, some things have not changed in terms of website interactivity. You brought up the point that many of these websites do not allow user to user interactivity, presumably because it might compromise their control over the discourse of the campaign. Obama’s website in 2008 did allow this, though we have no way of knowing how many posts were deleted by the campaign. It’s important to unpack the ideas of interaction and participation that many people claim when it comes to these websites.

  2. Misbah says:

    Wow really? That’s pretty gutsy on Obama’s part. I mean obviously it was very controlled, but it still creates a lot of support for his campaign.

    PS: I’m glad I can guess the purpose of our readings and class lectures 😀

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