(In honor of our fan fiction conversation last week.)
Our story thus far: Political hopeful Johnny Freeman has sold his soul to the devil in exchange for help on his campaign for world domination. After collecting the necessary signatures to run for Supreme Global Senate, Johnny’s campaign is floundering and the devil has come to claim his due. Manuel Castells has agreed to help the devil set up a Twitter account, in exchange for some extra time to get Johnny’s campaign up and running. The devil has also agreed to renegotiate the terms of the contract if Johnny wins, allowing the politician to keep his soul in exchange for some basic lessons on tweeting. The three men sit in Johnny Freeman’s living room with the shades drawn….
The stranger sat in the corner, muttering and counting on his fingers, and occasionally pecking at the keyboard in front of him. Castells turned his attention to the hapless campaigner.
“Let’s talk campaign strategy,” he said. “How have you been interacting with voters?”
Johnny pulled out a box of leaflets, posters and newspaper clippings, but Castells brushed them aside.
“I’m talking about the network,” he said. “How are you communicating with the people?” He grabbed Johnny’s keyboard and typed a few words into Google.
“Oh boy,” he said. “You realize you have almost no online presence aside from your opponent’s Google bombing? How do you expect to spread your message if you don’t take advantage of the media and interactive horizontal networks?”
“Inter- what now?” Johnny asked. The stranger chuckled in the corner.
“Blogs! Websites! Texts! Tweets! What century is this?” Castells demanded. “Power relations are shaped with this technology! You can’t effectively challenge the institutionalized power structure without taking advantage of the public sphere. You need to set up networks with powerful people in government and organizations and with individual voters! You need to spread your message through those networks. That’s how you rise to power.”
“What about when I released those photos of my opponent to the Huffington Post International? The ones where he’s cutting up an E.U. flag to make swim trunks?”
Castells sighed. “You realize scandal politics contribute to widespread cynicism about the democratic political process in general, right? This is a mess. You have no online presence whatsoever,” Castells said. “A hundred years ago you might have been able to win this campaign, but today there’s no chance.”
The stranger cheered and stepped forward to claim his prize. Johnny turned grey with fear.
“Whoa there, buddy,” Castells stepped forward and placed a hand on the stranger’s lapel. “I’m going to have to stop you right there.”
The stranger sputtered, but Castells stood firm.
“First, let’s point out the obvious that Johnny doesn’t need to win this election to achieve or exercise power. While we’ve been talking, my TA has been setting up a website, facebook page and Twitter account, and my friends have started ghost-blogging on his account. His message is out there. Besides, the power of the state is weaker than it was before the ICT revolution began. So participation in the Supreme Global Senate isn't the only way to effectively achieve or exercise power. And globalization, expanding NGOs and scandal politics are challenging state sovereignty even further. With the right tools and strategy, Johnny can communicate and exercise power quite effectively without ever leaving his computer chair.”
Castells gestured to the computer screen as the stranger frowned. “As you can see from the results of this online poll and the comments in these chat rooms, the public opinion is clearly opposed to your claiming Johnny’s soul. Also—,” Castells leaned forward and clicked to a new tab. “Right here, look, the facebook group ‘Let Johnny Freeman keep his soul’ has gained two million new members in the past hour. I’m afraid you can’t follow through on your plan without thwarting the opinions currently dominating the public sphere, and seriously jeopardizing your reputation.”
The stranger snarled. “I’ll go to the mainstream media,” he snapped. “I’ll write letters-to-the-editor in all the major papers about how Johnny reneged on his contract!”
“That’s always an option,” Castells mused. “Mainstream media and traditional ICT power players are increasingly taking advantage of the network society. But you did agree that the contract could be renegotiated. And I think you might also want to consider this.”
Castells stepped to the window and threw it open. Thousands of young people stood below waving signs and chanting Johnny’s name.
“My TA also organized a flash mob through her mobile network,” Castells said. “As you can see, Johnny's message has infiltrated the public sphere and mobilized the masses. They've clearly turned against you in this case.”
The stranger stormed out of the house, tweeting furiously on his Blackberry. Castells and Johnny updated Johnny’s facebook status to "un-damned," then toasted their success.