Information Deficit Disorder

Via Twitter, James Poulos passes along an interesting piece by Conor Friedersdorf titled “Iran, Twitter, and The American Information Elite.”  Basically, he noticed over the weekend that all of his blogger/journalist friends were intensely aware of what was happening in Iran whereas other well educated people he encountered hadn’t the slightest clue.

I can’t help noticing that information elites are able to process breaking news and form political opinions about it faster than ever before (see the Feiler Faster thesis as told by Mickey Kaus); that these folks are blogging and Tweeting their policy suggestions and demands almost immediately; and that due to arguably dubious strategic political considerations, all of Congress seems to be getting on Twitter.

Are we approaching a point where political information is processed so fast that an event happens, information elites weigh in to shape the discourse surrounding it, the conventional wisdom is communicated to Congress, and elected leaders formulate reactions based on public opinion… all before most of even the formerly plugged in members of the public ever learn what on earth is going on, or have a chance to form an opinion? Is anyone who works at a company that blocks their Facebook feed going to be meaningfully disadvantaged in the political process? Egalitarian concerns aside, are the information elites going to set a course, ossify as they always do in their opinions, and influence the nation’s course too hastily? Are we on course for a kind of political singularity?

An interesting set of questions.  Having been blogging virtually daily for the past six and a half years, the way I process and consume information has changed considerably.  Things become “old news” very quickly, so the pressure to form a strong opinion in real time is the nature of the enterprise.

I tend to start the day with Gmail and Google Reader, even on the weekends, and so processed dozens of blog posts on the subject of the Iran mess over the weekend.  Because I do most of my foreign affairs blogging at the Atlantic Council these days and 1) the topic is a bit outside our baliwick,  2) the blog I’ve developed there is aimed at providing something akin to expert analysis, and 3) having a 5-month-old means less time for writing on weekend mornings, I just read and thought about things and got around to writing Monday.

Iran’s Elections: What We Know (And What We Don’t) and Iran’s Elections: What Now? are almost surely better posts than I’d have dashed off Saturday.  But Conor’s right:  The prevailing opinion that the Iranian elections had been stolen was already formed by then and it’s reasonable to presume that the early deciders will shape the opinions of those catching up later in the week.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. John Burgess says:

    I’d suggest that the information being distributed from within Iran via Twitter and other social networks is, practically by definition, coming from a particular and likely narrow segment of the Iranian population. Thus, the information being sent is likely not representative of the country at large.

    It may be accurate as far as this subsection of the population goes, but just how far does it go?

    I see stories reporting on unrest in less than a half-dozen major cities. Is that a national uprising? Or is it the anger of urban elites?

    Urban elites in Iran are not to be dismissed as trivial, but it takes more than that group to run a revolution.

  2. Tlaloc says:

    An interesting set of questions. Having been blogging virtually daily for the past six and a half years, the way I process and consume information has changed considerably.

    I actively dislike reading newspapers now because the information is compartmentalized and I can’t just go look up more info about a story I’m interested in, or try and get another perspective to see if the reporter is being sloppy. Newspaper just feels dead end.

  3. Janis Gore says:

    It’s about time for an update on young Katie. Does she have her mother’s smile yet? Good smile, Ms. Joyner.

  4. Dave Schuler says:

    It’s hard for me to imagine anything more likely to undermine Congress’s authority than Congressmen tweeting.