New Open Access Article on Digital Political Talk and Participation across Established and Third Wave Democracies

Sage Open, an interdisciplinary open access journal, has recently published an article, coauthored by myself and Augusto Valeriani, in which we explore the relationships between different forms of online political talk and different modes of political participation across seven Western democracies. We have written this paper for a special issue, currently under development, edited by Pablo Barberà that will present research on social media and politics by members of the SMaPP Global Network, a great interdisciplinary initiative sponsored by New York University that I am honored and grateful to be part of.

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In the article, we distinguish between online political talk that occurs on social networking sites (SNS) (such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram), where users interact with broad audiences across public, semi-public, and private spaces, and mobile instant messaging services (MIMS) (such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Snapchat), where users interact with narrower audiences in mostly private spaces. We also distinguish between institutional political participation, which occurs in and around the structures of representative democracies (elections, parties, and public officials), and extra-institutional participation, which occurs outside of the representative circuit and involves protest repertoires. Finally, following Samuel Huntington, we distinguish between established democracies (Denmark, France, United Kingdom, and United States) and “Third Wave” democracies (Greece, Poland, and Spain). The key theoretical difference for us is that levels of political trust are generally higher in established than in Third Wave democracies.

We find that use of both SNS and MIMS for political discussion is positively associated with institutional political participation. However, while political talk on SNS is positively associated with extra-institutional participation as well, political talk on MIMS is not. Finally, we show that the positive relationship between political talk on SNS and institutional participation is significantly stronger in established than in Third Wave democracies, while there is no significant difference between these groups of countries when it comes to the relationship between political talk on MIMS and participation. The chart below summarizes these latter findings:

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As we discuss in the article, there are three key take-away points from this study. First, online political talk is a relevant piece of the puzzle of political participation. Secondly, technologies and their affordances matter, as different types of online environments create better or worse opportunities for types of informal political talk that may be conducive to participation. Thirdly, institutional legacies shape the relationship between online political talk and participation, which is stronger in high-trust, established democracies than in low-trust, Third Wave democracies. Thus, we argue in our conclusions, “technology interacts with
individual predispositions and political institutions—including the legacy of those that are now history—in shaping political outcomes.”

Here is the full citation and abstract:

Vaccari, C., & Valeriani, A. (2018). Digital Political Talk and Political Participation: Comparing Established and Third Wave DemocraciesSAGE Open8(2), 2158244018784986.

We investigate whether and how informal political talk on digital media contributes to citizens’ political participation with unique surveys based on samples representative of Internet users in seven Western democracies. We show that political talk on both social networking sites and mobile instant messaging platforms is positively associated with institutional and extra-institutional political participation. However, the relationship between talk on social networking sites and both types of participation is significantly stronger in established democracies (Denmark, France, United Kingdom, and United States) than in “third wave” democracies (Greece, Poland, and Spain). By contrast, the strength of the relationship between political talk on mobile instant messaging platforms and participation is not significantly different when comparing established and more recent democracies. These findings suggest that informal political talk on digital platforms can contribute to citizens’ participatory repertoires and that different institutional settings, in combination with different technological affordances, play an important role in shaping these patterns.

New Article on Dual Screening, Public Service Broadcasting, and Political Participation

The International Journal of Press/Politics has just published a new article that I coauthored with Augusto Valeriani on the relationship between dual screening and political participation across eight Western democracies (Denmark, Germany, Greece, Italy, Poland, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States).

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In this article, we make three contributions.

First, we find that political dual screening — that is, combining television and social media in attending to and engaging with political issues and events — has a strong positive association with political participation, which we define and measure by including both face-to-face and online behaviors aiming at influencing public officials, elections, and other citizens’ opinions. This contribution builds on previous work on the UK case that I did with Andrew Chadwick and Ben O’Loughlin.

Second, we show that the positive relationship between dual screening and participation is relatively stronger among citizens with low levels of interest in politics than among citizens with high levels of interest in politics. In other words, political dual screening may contribute to closing the participation gap between low- and high-interest voters.

Third, the relationship between political dual screening and participation is stronger in countries with strong Public Service Broadcasters (Denmark, Germany, and the UK in our study) than in countries with medium PSBs (Italy, Greece, Poland, Spain) and in countries with weak PSBs (the United States). Thus, we argue, the combination of television and social media may be helping Public Service Media perform one of their key functions of keeping citizens involved in politics.

Here is the full abstract.

We investigate the relationship between political dual screening—that is, watching political contents on television while reading and commenting on them on social media—and political participation across eight Western democracies: Denmark, Germany, Greece, Italy, Poland, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Based on custom built online surveys conducted between 2015 and 2016 on samples representative of the adult population with internet access in each country, we test hypotheses on both intra-country and cross-country direct and differential effects of political dual screening on various forms of offline and online political participation. We find a positive correlation between the frequency with which citizens dual screen political content and their overall levels of participation. Such correlation is stronger among respondents with lower levels of interest in politics, suggesting that dual screening has the potential to bridge participatory gaps between citizens who are more and less politically involved. The relationship between dual screening and participation is also significantly stronger in countries whose media systems feature the strongest Public Service Broadcasters. Our findings suggest that dual screening makes a positive contribution to democratic citizenship and political equality, and that it can also help public service media fulfill some of their key functions.

If you are interested in the article or have any questions, please get in touch!

Call for Papers: Fourth IJPP conference, Oct 10-12 in Oxford (submit by June 15)

Cross-posted from Rasmus Kleis Nielsen’s website.

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October 10-12 2018, the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford will host the fourth International Journal of Press/Politics conference, focused on academic research on the relation between media and political processes around the world. (See the program from the 2015 conference, the 2016 conference, and the 2017 conference.)

A selection of the best full papers presented at the conference will be published in the journal after peer review. The deadline for submission of abstracts is June 15 2018. Attendees will be notified of acceptance by June 29 2018.

Professor Andrew Chadwick from Loughborough University will deliver a keynote lecture.

The conference brings together scholars doing internationally-oriented or comparative research on the intersection between news media and politics around the world. It aims to provide a forum for academics from a wide range of different disciplines and countries to discuss the theoretical, methodological, and substantial challenges and opportunities for research in this area. It is open to work from political science, political communication, journalism studies, media and communications research, computational social science, and many other fields.

Examples of relevant topics include the political implications of current changes in the media, the relative importance of new forms of digital media for engaging with news and politics, studies of the role of entertainment and popular culture in how people follow current affairs, studies of relations between political actors and journalists, research on political communication beyond the electoral context (including of government, interest groups, and social movements), all with a particular interest in studies that focus on parts of the world that are under-researched in the international English language academic literature, develop comparative approaches, or represent substantial theoretical or methodological advances.

Titles and abstracts for papers (250 words max) are invited by June 15 2018. The abstract should clearly describe the key question, the theoretical and methodological approach, the evidence the argument is based on, as well as its wider implication of international relevance.

Please send submissions to the email address ijpp@politics.ox.ac.uk with the subject line “IJPP conference submission” including in the email the full title of your paper, the abstract, and your name and professional affiliation. (Please do not send attachments.) Full papers based on accepted abstracts will be due Friday September 14, 2018.

The conference is organized by Rasmus Kleis Nielsen (RISJ Director of Research and IJPP Editor-in-Chief) and Cristian Vaccari (Loughborough University, incoming Editor-in-Chief). Please contact Rasmus Kleis Nielsen with questions at rasmus.nielsen@politics.ox.ac.uk.

More about the journal, the Reuters Institute, and the keynote speaker:

The International Journal of Press/Politics

IJPP is an interdisciplinary journal for the analysis and discussion of the role of the press and politics in a globalized world. The journal publishes theoretical and empirical research which analyzes the linkages between the news media and political processes and actors around the world, emphasizes international and comparative work, and links research in the fields of political communication and journalism studies, and the disciplines of political science and media and communication.

Keynote Speaker – Andrew Chadwick

Andrew Chadwick (PhD London School of Economics, FRSA) is Professor of Political Communication at Loughborough University, where he leads the Doctoral Training Centre in Online Civic Culture and is a member of the Centre for Research in Communication and Culture. His books include The Hybrid Media System: Politics and Power (Oxford University Press, 2013; Second Edition, 2017), which won the 2016 International Journal of Press/Politics Book Award for an outstanding book on media and politics published in the previous ten years and the American Political Science Association Information Technology and Politics Section Best Book Award, 2014; as well as The Handbook of Internet Politics, co-edited with Philip N. Howard (Routledge 2009), and Internet Politics: States, Citizens, and New Communication Technologies (Oxford University Press, 2006), which won the American Sociological Association Best Book Award (Communication and Information Technologies Section). Professor Chadwick is also the editor of the Oxford University Press book series Oxford Studies in Digital Politics and was a founding Associate Editor of the Journal of Information Technology and Politics and continues as a Senior Editorial Board member for the journal. He also serves on the editorial board of the International Journal of Press/Politics and Social Media and Society.

The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism

The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism marks the University of Oxford’s commitment to the comparative study of journalism around the world. Anchored in the recognition of the key role of independent media in open societies and the power of information in the modern world, the institute aims to serve as the leading forum for a productive engagement between scholars from a wide range of disciplines and practitioners of journalism. It brings the depth and rigor of academic scholarship of the highest standards to major issues of relevance to the world of news media. It is global in its perspective and in the content of its activities.

Appointed Editor-in-Chief of the International Journal of Press/Politics

IJPP logo

I am delighted to announce that in January 2019 I will become the new Editor-in-Chief of the International Journal of Press/Politics.

Since its foundation in 1996, The International Journal of Press/Politics has always published path-breaking research on the intersection between media and politics, based on a plurality of approaches, a variety of methods, and a distinctive international and comparative outlook.

I will have very big shoes to fill, following in the footsteps of founding editors Pippa Norris and Marvin Kalb, and subsequent editors Alex Jones and Thomas Patterson, Silvio Waisbord, and Rasmus Kleis Nielsen. Together with Sage Publications, they have built and strengthened a unique journal that I have always cherished as a reader, reviewer, author, and book reviews editor.

I still remember when as an undergraduate student at the University of Bologna I discovered IJPP in the library of the Department of Communications. I ended up spending the whole day frantically browsing all the print issues I could get my hands on, scribbling notes for pages and pages, and feeling my head spin at the thought of all the amazing research that was being done around the world and all the things I wanted to learn. I feel very fortunate that now I have a chance to help my colleagues inspire future generations of students and scholars through the journal.

Editing IJPP will be a fantastic opportunity to strengthen its distinctive profile, serve the outstanding research communities that contribute to it, and tackle urgent and crucial debates around media, politics and citizenship around the world. I cannot wait to get started.

Here is a link to Loughborough University’s press release on my appointment, with some nice quotes from outgoing Editor Rasmus Kleis Nielsen and Sage Publications. Many thanks to them, the members of the journal’s editorial board, and my colleagues in Loughborough for their support.

Speaking at the University of Liverpool on British Tabloids and Online Misinformation

uniofliverpoollogo2.jpgOn Thursday, April 19, I will be speaking at the Media, Communication and Politics Research Seminar Series, organized by the Department of Communication and Media at the University of Liverpool.

The talk will start at 5pm and is open to everyone. The address is 19 Abercromby Square L69 7ZG.

I will present new research, coauthored with my colleagues Andrew Chadwick (Loughborough University) and Ben O’Loughlin (Royal Holloway, University of London) on the role of British tabloids in providing resources through which social media users may accidentally or intentionally spread inaccurate information on social media.

The paper is forthcoming in New Media & Society. Stay tuned for more details on our research!

What do We Know about Social Media, Political Polarization, and Political Disinformation?

The Hewlett Foundation has just published a report that provides an overview of the current state of the literature on the relationship between social media, political polarization, and political disinformation. The report was coordinated by Josh Tucker and features contributions from Andrew Guess, Pablo Barberá, Alexandra Siegel, Sergey Sanovich, Denis Stukal, Brendan Nyhan, and myself. Importantly, the report also identifies key gaps in our knowledge of these phenomena and the kinds of data we need to overcome them.

Screen Shot 2018-03-20 at 10.38.28.pngI wrote the section on “Online Content and Political Polarization“, where I focus on the kinds of contents, spread across traditional and digital media, that have been shown to contribute to, as well as mitigating, different forms of political polarization. Here is the executive summary:

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The full report can be downloaded for free at the Hewlett Foundation website and on the Social Science Research Network. Thanks to the Hewlett Foundation for funding this project and to Josh Tucker for bringing me on board.

What Have Italians Been Searching on Google During the 2018 General Election Campaign?

A few weeks ago, I complied some data from Google Trends on the keywords and topics Italians had searched during the first three weeks of the general election campaign. Now that the campaign is drawing to a close, it is time to go back to the data and see what, if anything, has changed.

Before we do that, let me repeat the caveats on using these data I discussed in the first post:

  1. Not all citizens or voters are internet users (in Italy, only about 65% are).
  2. Searching for something on Google cannot be taken as a simple indication of preference, or intention to act upon that preference. It is more an indication of curiosity.
  3. Those who act upon that curiosity and search for information on Google may not be representative of the whole group of internet users who share that curiosity.
  4. Google’s affordances (such as suggestions and related results) may change the incentives to perform certain searches.
  5. Working with data generated by users’ free searches mean we have to creatively identify search terms that we believe correctly represent a certain object of interest, and that is no easy task.

Still interested? Great.

The data I retrieved from Google Trends is publicly accessible. It captures searches conducted in Italy from January 7th, the first business day after the Christmas holiday, until February 28th, 2018. By clicking on the charts below, you can access Google Trends and tweak those searches in any way you like. Data are normalized from 0-100, where 100 represents the temporal unit when any of the search terms under comparison in a given chart reached its peak in the period of analysis. Given how Google Trends works, there is no way to know precisely the real numbers of searches these values correspond to. Comparisons can be made within the charts presented below, but not across them, as the 0-100 ranges represent different quantities of searches depending on the keywords and topics being compared.

Party Leaders

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Overall, searches for the main party leaders have grown as election day neared, signaling increased interest among voters. Center-right leader Silvio Berlusconi still leads the pack, as he has for all the campaign. In the final stretch, populist right leader Matteo Salvini, who is allied with Berlusconi, and Five Star Movement leader Luigi Di Maio are catching up. The center-left Democratic Party leader Matteo Renzi has struggled to attract comparable levels of attention. In the final weeks of the campaign, interest has grown for Emma Bonino, leader of a pro-European integration party that is allied with the Democratic Party. The leader of the new left-wing electoral cartel Free and Equal (“Liberi e Uguali”) and President of the Senate, Pietro Grasso, has been the target of the fewest searches. If we average search volumes throughout all the campaign, the most searched leaders are from the center-right coalition, the Five Star Movement is in close contention, and the least searched leaders are from the progressive camp.

Parties

The scenario looks less politically lopsided if we compare searches for the main political parties. The Five Star Movement is by far the most searched-for party, followed at some distance by the Democratic Party, interest in which peaked when the party announced its candidate lists at the end of January. The two main center-right parties were much less searched for and, just as its leader, Liberi e Uguali was by far the least searched party. Given how common it is to Google anything we do not know about these days, it is puzzling that a new party that polls credit with more than 5% of the popular vote has failed to attract a sizable volume of searches for itself and its leader.

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Similar to what I had noted in my previous post, when we compare searches for parties and leaders, Berlusconi is much more searched than his party, Forza Italia, as is Salvini compared with Lega Nord. By contrast, Di Maio is less searched than the Five Star Movement. Searches for Renzi track those for the Democratic Party pretty closely, and exceed searches for current Prime Minister and Democratic Party member Paolo Gentiloni.

Issues and Proposals

When it comes to the policies and proposals Italians Googled, comparisons are difficult because many issues have been discussed in the campaign, but I have chosen six that seem to me to have been the most relevant:

  • immigration;
  • the flat tax, proposed by the center-right coalition;
  • the law Fornero that reformed (and in many cases restricted access to) pensions, which all the parties apart from the Democratic Party propose to change or abolish;
  • the 80 Euro monthly fiscal bonus that the Renzi government granted to lower-salaried workers, and that the Democratic Party now proposes to extend to other categories of beneficiaries;
  • the property tax (“patrimoniale”) that Liberi e Uguali proposes to introduce;
  • and, alas, Fascism, as the campaign has been marred by many episodes of violence, including a drive-by shooting by a former Lega Nord candidate who calls himself a Fascist and injured seven African migrants in Macerata, as well as various clashes between far-right and anti-Fascist groups.

Because the daily fluctuations in search volumes are larger for these searches than for those on leaders and parties, to simplify the picture I calculated weekly averages. As a result, the maximum value is no longer 100, which is the maximum daily volume as returned by Google, but close to 80.

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As the figure shows, the flat tax has been the most searched issue in the final stretch of the campaign. Immigration has also been a constant presence, with the pensions law trailing closely. Together, these issues suggest the center-right agenda has attracted most Google searches. The key proposals from the center-left and left register substantially lower interest, as their leaders did. (The Democratic Party leader had proposed to abolish the license fee for the public service broadcaster in January, but the official party manifesto only talks about “reforming” it. A notable peak in Google searches for the license fee was recorded on February 19, when the government issued a decree that exonerated low-income over-75s from paying it. Liberi e Uguali proposed to abolish university tuition fees at the beginning of the campaign, but this issue generated even fewer searches than the property tax.)

Finally, searches for Fascism achieved a sizable volume, which grew during the campaign and especially after the Macerata shootings. In general, though, searches for Fascism in Italy exhibit a seasonal pattern, as they tend to grow each year between April (when commemorations celebrating the fall of the Fascist regime take place) and June-July (when high school final exams take place and many students flock to Google in search of potential topics and answers on one of the cornerstones of the country’s history). From 2004 to this day, however, the yearly peaks have tended to yield lower volumes year after year. Interestingly, however, searches for “Fascism” and “Mussolini” are higher this year than they were at the same point one year ago. 

Politics and Everyday Life

Finally, and similar to my previous post on the subject, it is always instructive to compare searches for political and campaign terms to searches related to people’s everyday lives and popular culture. When we plot keyword searches for Berlusconi against searches for porn, the weather, Sanremo (a popular televised music festival broadcast every year in February), and the national lottery, all the nonpolitical search terms are much more popular than the most popular political keyword.

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In particular, Italians seem to be understandably worried about the weather. Which may, indeed, have important repercussions on who gets to turn out on the fourth of March.