Across most of the Western world, the dominant norms around journalism entail what the authors of the Worlds of Journalism Study defined as “monitorial journalistic cultures“, where journalists are seen as checks on other powers and must therefore remain independent from them. Yet, sometimes journalists legitimately decide to venture into politics, either as advisors or as full-fledged candidates and officeholders. (The current Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is a former journalist.) What happens, then, when journalists straddle the boundaries of these norms and seek to become politicians themselves? How do voters respond to the fact that some members of a professional group that is supposed to hold politicians accountable are coopted by politicians?
In a new article published open-access in the International Journal of Communication I set out to shed some light on these issues based on an experiment embedded in the pre-electoral survey of the Italian National Election Studies, of which I am honored to be a member, in the run-up to the 2018 Italian general election. I started with two theoretical premises. First, journalist-candidates should increase levels of populist attitudes, as the populist mentality denies the separation of society into different groups (what Ernesto Laclau has termed the “logic of equivalence“) and populist politicians routinely lambast the media as out-of-touch elites in cahoots with political elites. Secondly, I reasoned that high-profile journalists may be strong candidates due to their popularity and communication skills, and may thus result in a higher probability to vote for the parties that recruit them.
To test these hypotheses, I designed an experiment whereby participants were randomly assigned to seeing different types of information on parliamentary candidates, some of which reported accurate information on high-profile former journalists who were running for the three major parties at the time: center-right Forza Italia, center-left Partito Democratico, and populist MoVimento 5 Stelle. Participants in the control group were simply asked if they knew who the candidates were in their constituency.
I then asked participants questions that measure their levels of populism and their probability to vote for the three parties that were fielding journalist-candidates. I measured populist attitudes by asking participants how much they agree with three statements: “Politicians in Parliament must follow the will of the people”; “I would rather be represented by an ordinary person than by a career politician“; and “Journalists are too close to powerful groups to inform ordinary people.” I measured probability to vote with a standard question that asks respondents to rank their likelihood to vote for a party from 0 to 10.
Because participants had been effectively randomly assigned to seeing different types of information on (journalist-)candidates, differences in participants’ responses can be attributed to the effects of the different information they saw before they answered those questions.
The results suggest that when people are told that some journalists are running for office, they become more likely to endorse populist attitudes, as you can see below.. Interestingly, however, people did not become more likely to vote for the parties that were fielding the journalist-candidates they had just learned about.
These results suggest that journalist-candidates do not directly enhance the electoral prospects of the parties that recruit them, but they weaken democratic legitimacy by performing what I call “populism vindicated by the media“, which results from media representatives’ conducts that may be seen as validating populist claims. On a more optimistic note, citizens’ negative reactions to journalist-candidates suggest that they value the role of the media as an independent Fourth Estate and as a check on elected officials.
On a personal note, this has been a fascinating journey. Growing up in Italy, where the revolving doors between journalism and politics seem to be constantly spinning, I often wondered whether this kind of close integration led citizens to lose faith in journalists’ professionalism and politicians’ accountability. I was very grateful to be able to include this experiment in the 2018 general election survey of Italian National Election Studies, which gave me the opportunity to empirically test those intuitions. This study went through many different iterations (and yes, journal rejections!) and I am very happy it has now seen the light. I hope you enjoy the article and look forward to your comments.
Facilitating the conditions under which independent research can access high-quality, privacy-compliant data from digital platforms is not simply an issue of interest to academics interested in digital media. As I emphasized in commenting on my recent work for the Council of Europe, democratic societies need the kind of knowledge that can derive from responsible access to and use of these data to develop evidence-based policies that are increasingly necessary in the face of societal concerns for the problematic uses and undesirable implications of some digital technologies. We need evidence-based policies in these areas not only because it is good practice in complex societies, but also because most of the policies that are being discussed in liberal democracies would entail some limitations to freedom of expression, which is a universal human right according to Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The work we did with this committee, which included twelve representatives from academia, civil society, and technology companies, was one of the most fascinating and challenging experiences of my professional life. We dealt with a large number of very complex issues while striving to take into account legal, technical, scholarly, societal, and economic perspectives. More often than not, I found myself in admiration of the expertise and acumen of my colleagues and feeling I was learning way more than I was able to contribute.
The report, which includes a draft of the proposed Code of Conduct, is now publicly available and open for consultation from any stakeholder involved. One key recommendation, which we discussed at length with the Working Group, is that an independent intermediary body should be created, tasked with a variety of important functions described on page 13 of the report:
For some initial reflections and highlights, please see the threads by Rebekah Tromble and Mathias Vermeulen, who played a key role in facilitating and informing our work as part of the data rights agency AWO.
Between 2020 and 2021, all members of the MSI-DIG committee worked very closely and benefited enormously from the input of member States and civil society stakeholders, as well as the competent and steady support of the Secretariat, to produce two key documents:
I had the pleasure and honor to serve as Co-Rapporteur, together with the fantastic Alexandra Borchardt, for the drafting of Recommendation CM/Rec(2022)13, which on the 6th of April 2022 has been adopted by the Committee of Ministers. Natali Helberger and Viktors Makarovs were invaluable as Secretary and Deputy Secretary of the Committee. The Council of Europe’s Elena Dodonova and, before her, Charlotte Altenhoener-Dion, were invaluable in helping us navigate both organizational and substantive issues.
The document aims to clarify how States and other stakeholders, including internet intermediaries, can fulfill their human rights obligations and responsibilities with regard to freedom of expression, combining legal, regulatory, administrative and practical measures. It is divided into six sections:
Foundations for human rights-enhancing rule-making
Digital infrastructure design
Accountability and redress
Education and empowerment
Independent research for evidence-based rule-making
I hope this document will be useful to policymakers and regulators, private companies, and civil society actors as we all grapple with the difficult choices and trade-offs that the contemporary digital media environment entails for the preservation of human rights. Our Northern star throughout the writing of this document has always been Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which is always worth reading in full:
1. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This Article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises. 2. The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.
Last week, I had the pleasure of discussing the Recommendation at the UNESCO World Press Freedom Day Global Conference 2022, held in hybrid format in Punta Del Este (Uruguay). I participated in a panel titled “Freedom of Expression during Conflicts – Curbing of war propaganda/disinformation vs. access to information on internet platforms”. The panel also featured Guy Berger (UNESCO),Eliska Pirkova (Access Now), and Ambassador Thomas Schneider (Swiss Federal Department of the Environment, Transport, Energy and Communication).
In this study, based on two experiments on representative sample of social media users in Germany, we investigate how people use the “block” and “unfollow” (or “unfriend”) function on social media against their friends who report misinformation. In particular, we ask whether users use these functions differently depending on whether the friend who reports misinformation has similar or different political views to their own.
We find that, indeed, users are substantially and significantly more likely to block their friends who share misinformation if those friends have different political views to their own. We argue that these patterns, in turn, have important implications for network polarization, i.e., the degree to which the other users with whom we are in contact on social media tend to cluster based on political preferences. By disproportionately cleaning up their social media feeds from disagreeing friends who share misinformation, users may end up reducing the diversity of the content they encounter, whether accurate or not. As we argue in the conclusion:
“Partisan blocking derives from a confluence of other users’ norm violations and popular social media affordances originally introduced to grant people greater control over their online experiences. Even when used by citizens to protect themselves from misinformation shared by their online friends, blocking and unfriending can end up disproportionately severing ties to politically dissimilar others. At the same time, because politically similar friends who share inaccurate content are less likely to be blocked, partisan blocking does little to solve the problem of users who continue to push misinformation to their like-minded online friends.“
“I think that probably the most important takeaway is that there are some drawbacks to the widespread assumption that one of the best ways to protect people against disinformation is to give users tools that enable them to limit contact with other people who share misinformation,” Vaccari told me. “If people applied those tools in a politically neutral way, then there would be no problem with that argument. But the problem, as this study shows, is that people apply those blocking and unfollowing tools in a way that is partisan.”
Full citation: Johannes Kaiser, Cristian Vaccari, Andrew Chadwick, Partisan Blocking: Biased Responses to Shared Misinformation Contribute to Network Polarization on Social Media, Journal of Communication, Volume 72, Issue 2, April 2022, Pages 214–240, https://doi.org/10.1093/joc/jqac002
The deadline for submission of abstracts is 23 May 2022. Attendees will be notified of acceptance by 6 June 2022. Registration fees will be due 8 July 2022 and full papers based on accepted abstracts will be due 8 September 2022. A selection of the best full papers presented at the conference will be published in the journal after peer review. Previous journal special issues based on conference papers can be found here and here.
The conference brings together scholars conducting 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 disciplines, countries, and methodological approaches to advance knowledge in this area.
Examples of relevant topics include, but are not limited to, the political implications of changes in media systems; the importance of different types of media for learning about and engaging with politics; the factors affecting the quality of political information and public discourse; media policy and regulation; the role of entertainment and popular culture in how people engage with current affairs; relations between political actors and journalists; the role of visuals and emotion in the production and processing of public information; the role of different kinds of media during conflicts and crises; and political communication during and beyond elections by government, political parties, interest groups, and social movements. The journal and the conference are particular interested in studies that adopt comparative approaches, represent substantial theoretical or methodological advances, or focus on parts of the world that are under-researched in the international English language academic literature.
Titles and abstracts for papers (maximum 300 words) are invited by 23 May 2022. The abstract should clearly describe the key question, the theoretical and methodological approach, the evidence presented, and the wider implications of the study for understanding the relationship between media and politics. Authors are encouraged to provide as much detail as possible about the spatial and temporal context of their study, the research design employed, the data collected, and the main results of the analyses.
The registration fee for the conference will be GBP 250, to be paid by 8 July 2022. The fee covers lunches and coffee breaks on 22 and 23 September, two conference dinners on 21 and 22 September, and farewell drinks on 23 September. A limited number of registration fee waivers will be available for early career scholars and scholars from countries that appear in Tiers B and C of the classification adopted by the International Communication Association. Applications must be made by 23 May 2022 via the abstract online submission form available at https://bit.ly/IJPP2022.
More about the journal, the University, and the Centre.
The International Journal of Press/Politics is an interdisciplinary journal for the analysis and discussion of the role of the media 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. The journal is published by SAGE Publications and is ranked 7th in Communication and 9th in Political Science by Journal Citation Reports.
Professor Maria Repnikova is an expert on Chinese political communication, and an Associate Professor in Global Communication at Georgia State University. She has written widely on China’s media politics, including propaganda, critical journalism, digital nationalism and soft power. Dr. Repnikova is the author of the award-winning book, Media Politics in China: Improvising Power Under Authoritarianism (Cambridge 2017), as well as the recent, Chinese Soft Power (Cambridge Global China Element Series). Her public writings have appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, and the Atlantic, amongst other publications. Other than working on China, Repnikova does comparative work on information politics in China and Russia. Most recently, she has been researching and completing a monograph on Chinese soft power in Africa, with a focus on Ethiopia. Dr. Repnikova holds a doctorate in politics from Oxford University where she was a Rhodes Scholar. In the past, she was a Wilson Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center (2020-2021), a visiting fellow at the African Studies Center at Beijing University (2019), and a post-doctoral fellow at the Annenberg School for Communication (2014-2016), amongst other positions.
Based on a 440-acre, single-site campus at the heart of the UK, Loughborough University is ranked top 10 in every British university league table. Voted University of the Year (The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2019) and awarded Gold in the National Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), Loughborough provides a unique student experience. Loughborough University has excellent transport links to the rest of the UK. It is a short distance away from Loughborough Train station, a 15-minute drive from East Midlands Airport (near Nottingham), an hour drive from Birmingham Airport, and an hour and 15 minutes from London via train.
Since its establishment in 1991, the Centre for Research in Communication and Culture has developed into the largest research center of its kind in the UK. The Centre is proudly interdisciplinary, combining social science and humanities approaches for the rigorous exploration of the production and consumption of different forms of communication and creative texts. CRCC’s research draws on and contributes to theories and methods in cultural and media studies, sociology, politics, psychology, history and memory studies, textual, visual and computational analysis, and geography. The Centre promotes research that explores how media and cultural texts are produced, how they construct meanings, how they shape societies, and how they fit within an ever-growing creative economy.
Unlike in previous book presentations, I started by offering a brief overview of our arguments, followed by extensive discussion, competently chaired by Dr James Dennis. I am very grateful to the PSA MPG for the invitation and to all those who attended for their insightful contributions. The recording of the seminar is now available online.
Unlike in previous book presentations, I will provide a brief overview of our arguments and most of the event will be dedicated to questions from participants. I very much look forward to discussing our work with anyone who will intervene and with Dr James Dennis, who will serve as chair.
Last week, I was honored to give a talk at the Center for the Study of Democratic Citizenship, which brings together six leading universities in Quebec (Concordia University, McGill University, Université Laval, Université de Montréal (UdeM), Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), and Université TÉLUQ).
The full video of the recording of the event is now available on YouTube. I hope you find it interesting. Many thanks to CSDC and in particular to its director, Professor Frédérick Bastien, not only for the invitation but for a very kind introduction.
Welcome and Opening remarks Cristian Vaccari (Loughborough University), Editor-in-Chief of IJPP
12:35-1:50pm News and the Pandemic Chair: Alexandra Segerberg (Uppsala University)
The Psychological Empowerment of Solutions Journalism: Perspectives from Pandemic News Users in the UK Xin Zhao (Bournemouth University), Daniel Jackson (Bournemouth University), An Nguyen (Bournemouth University), Antje Glück (Bournemouth University)
Framing migration during the Covid-19 pandemic in South Africa: a 12-month media monitoring project Thea de Gruchy (University of the Witwatersrand), Thulie Zikhali (University of the Witwatersrand), Jo Vearey (University of the Witwatersrand), Johanna Hanefeld (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine)
YouTube as a source of information about unproven drugs for Covid-19: The role of the mainstream media and recommendation algorithms in promoting misinformation Felipe Bonow Soares (UFPEL/UFRGS), Igor Salgueiro (UFPEL), Carolina Bonoto (UFRGS), Otávio Vinhas (University College Dublin)
Media and Politics around the World Chair: Edda Humprecht (University of Zurich)
The public performance of ANC political demagoguery: The case of Jacob Zuma’s ‘Arms Deal’ court appearances Lefa Afrika (University of Cape Town)
Populism Influence on Media Content: Polarization and Professionalization in Ecuador before and during Correa’s era Manel Palos Pons (University of California, San Diego)
Risks of COVID-19 reporting in (semi-)authoritarian states: Perceived pressures on journalists in Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan Svetlana S. Bodrunova (St. Petersburg State University), Nikita Argylov, (Far Eastern Federal University), Aliaksandr Hradziushka (Belarusian State University), Galiya Ibrayeva, (Al-Farabi Kazakh National University)
New Perspectives on Misinformation and Disinformation Chair: C.W. Anderson (University of Leeds, Associate Editor of IJPP)
Misinformation and Trust in Institutions in Four Countries in 2019 and 2021 Shelley Boulianne (MacEwan University), Edda Humprecht (University of Zurich)
Social media and political misinformation in the 2021 Mexico elections: Maximal panic, minimal effects Sebastián Valenzuela (Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile), Marcelo Santos (Universidad Finis Terrae), Carlos Muñiz (Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León)
Marking the boundaries between visual and textual disinformation in a digital world: A literature synthesis and research agenda Teresa Elena Weikmann (University of Vienna), Sophie Lecheler (University of Vienna)
Setting the agenda through misinformation: Analyzing the vote-by-mail coverage during the 2020 US elections Jonas Kaiser (Suffolk University), Carolyn Schmitt (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), Kathryn Stapleton (Suffolk University)
Day 2 – 14 September 2021
Hearing or Ignoring the other side: Causes and Consequences Chair: Jason Reifler (University of Exeter)
Why read news from the other side? How people’s selection and avoidance of news articles on social media increases polarization Jakob Boggild (European University Institute)
Selective Exposure and New Political Cleavages: Political Media Use and Ideological Reinforcement Over Time Adam Shehata (University of Gothenburg), Mats Ekström (University of Gothenburg), Per Oleskog-Tryggvasson (University of Gothenburg)
Curating political animosity? The relation of algorithmic news curation to ideological extremity and social and political intolerance Linda Bos (University of Amsterdam), Jakob Ohme (University of Amsterdam), Artemis Tsoulos-Malakoudi (University of Amsterdam)
Debating the Normative Foundations of the News Chair: Thea de Gruchy (University of the Witwatersrand)
“Fair and balanced”: What news audiences in four countries mean when they say they prefer impartial news Camila Mont’Alverne (University of Oxford), Sumitra Badrinathan (University of Oxford), Amy Ross Arguedas (University of Oxford), Benjamin Toff (University of Oxford), Richard Fletcher (University of Oxford), Rasmus Kleis Nielsen (University of Oxford)
Fake News and Value Pluralism: A Liberal Response to Post-Truth Politics Nick Anstead (London School of Economics)
“Polite Watchdog”: Kompas and Watchdog Journalism in the Post Authoritarian Indonesia Wijayanto (Universitas Diponegoro)
Social Media and Politics Chair: Duncan McCargo (University of Copenhagen)
(In)Civility of Campaign Videos and User Comments in Facebook: Affective Polarization and Mobilization Taberez Ahmed Neyazi (National University of Singapore), Ozan Kuru (National University of Singapore), Subhayan Mukerjee (National University of Singapore)
The role of Facebook influencers in shaping the narratives of the Rodrigo Duterte era Renee Karunungan (Loughborough University)
Politicians and journalists – interactive communication in social media? Kinga Adamczewska (Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań)
Communicating Covid-19 Chair: David Smith (University of Leicester, Managing Editor of IJPP)
Pandemic Nationalism: How Exposure to Government Social Media Affects People’s Belief in COVID-19 Conspiracy Theories in China Anfan Chen (University of Science and Technology of China), Yingdan Lu (Stanford University), Kaiping Chen (University of Wisconsin-Madison), Aaron Ng (National University of Singapore)
Understanding the Agenda of Alternative and Online Political Media Post-Corbyn and through the Covid-19 Pandemic Declan McDowell-Naylor (Cardiff University), Stephen Cushion (Cardiff University), Richard Thomas (Swansea University)
The role of political partisanship for the relationship between trust in the news and trust in the government as sources for coronavirus information: Findings from two cross-sectional online survey studies in six countries Anne Schulz (University of Zurich), Richard Fletcher (University of Oxford), Rasmus Kleis Nielsen (University of Oxford)
Day 3 – 15 September 2021
Media Policy between Old and New Challenges Chair: Joyce Y.M. Nip (University of Sydney)
Content Moderation in the Digital Democracy: What’s the Problem? Nahema Marchal (University of Zurich), Fabrizio Gilardi (University of Zurich), Emma Hoes (University of Zurich), Jonathan Kluser (University of Zurich), Meysam Alizadeh (University of Zurich), Mael Kubli (University of Zurich)
Funding Democracy: Public Media and Democratic Health in 33 Countries Timothy Neff (University of Pennsylvania), Victor Pickard (University of Pennsylvania)
Good Journalism or Good Business? The politics of press support and news production in Taiwan Hsiao-wen Lee (SOAS, University of London)
International Perspectives on Social Media and Political Communication Chair: Danielle K. Brown (University of Minnesota, incoming Associate Editor of IJPP)
Exploring Digital Campaign Competence: The Role of Voter Knowledge on Data-Driven Election Campaigns Sophie Minihold (University of Vienna and University of Amsterdam), Sophie Lecheler (University of Vienna), Claes de Vreese (University of Amsterdam), Sanne Kruikemeier (University of Amsterdam)
The gendered use of social media among political candidates in transition contexts: evidence from Tunisia Malin Holm (Uppsala University), Yasmine Naila Skhiri (Uppsala University), Pär Zetterberg (Uppsala University)
Pandemic Politics: Microtargeting Strategies on Facebook India Kiran Arabaghatta Basavaraj (University of Exeter), Holli A. Semetko (Emory University), Anup Kumar (Cleveland State University)
Digital Media and Politics: Dynamics and Influences Chair: Shelley Boulianne (MacEwan University)
Incumbency, corruption, and the politics of online content regulation Kyong Mazzaro (City University of New York)
Trolling with the Punches: How Journalists Navigate Online Harassment Elizabeth Dubois (University of Ottawa), Chris Tenove (University of British Columbia), Sabrina Wilkinson (University of Ottawa), Trevor Deley (University of Ottawa)
News We Can Use: Local news and civic engagement in neighbourhood chat groups online Laszlo Horvath (Birkbeck, University of London), Joshua Blamire (University of Exeter)
Day 4 – 16 September 2021
Understanding Patterns of News Consumption, Avoidance, and Sharing Chair: Sophie Lecheler (University of Vienna, Associate Editor of IJPP)
I Do Not (Want to) Know! An Empirical Investigation of the Relationship Between Unintentional and Intentional News Avoidance and Their Predictors Dominika Betakova (University of Vienna), Hajo Boomgaarden (University of Vienna), Sophie Lecheler (University of Vienna), Svenja Schäfer (University of Vienna), Loes Aaldering (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam)
Neither absent nor ambient: A more holistic view of incidental exposure to news in the digital age Ruth Palmer (IE University), Benjamin Toff (University of Minnesota and University of Oxford)
To convince, to provoke or to entertain? A study on individual motivations behind online misinformation sharing in six Western democracies Sophie Morosoli (University of Antwerp), Peter Van Aelst (University of Antwerp), Patrick van Erkel (University of Antwerp)
Contentious Politics and Information Flows Chair: Taberez Ahmed Neyazi (National University of Singapore)
Now is the time to protest: the eternal sunshine of a spotless polity Ricardo Fabrino Mendonça (UFMG/INCT.DD), Nina Santos (INCT.DD)
Conventional vs. Contentious: Exploring the relationship between participation in the social movement and voting intention in Hong Kong Pei Zhi (City University of Hong Kong)
Tale of Two Internets: How Information Flows from the US to Chinese Social Media Yingdan Lu (Stanford University), Jack Schaefer (University of California Los Angeles), Jungseock Joo (University of California Los Angeles), Kunwoo Park (Soongsil University), Jennifer Pan (Stanford University)
Perspectives on Media Effects Chair: Laszlo Horvath (Birkbeck, University of London)
The Other 98%: Exposure to and Effects of Political Content Beyond News: Evidence from browsing data in three countries Magdalena Wojcieszak (University of California Davis and University of Amsterdam), Sjifra de Leeuw (University of Amsterdam), Bernhard Clemm (University of Amsterdam), Ericka Menchen-Trevino (American University)
Does corruption corrupt? The behavioral effects of mediated exposure to corruption Israel Waismel-Manor (University of Haifa), Patricia Moy (University of Washington), Rico Neumann (University of Washington), Moran Shechnick (University of Haifa)
Does Identity Matter? Ethnicity, Religion and Effects of Negative Campaigning on the Perception of Candidates Kelechi Amakoh (University of Amsterdam)
Digital Innovation in News: Challenges and Strategies Chair: Declan McDowell-Naylor (Cardiff University)
The creation of algorithmic publics in authoritarian regimes: Explaining digital innovation uptake in Russian news media Olga Dovbysh (University of Helsinki), Mariëlle Wijermars (Maastricht University and University of Helsinki)
Does political position matter? Affective engagement strategies of news providers on Facebook in post-handover Hong Kong Joyce Y.M. Nip (University of Sydney), Benoit Berthelier (University of Sydney)
Uneasy Bedfellows: AI in the News, Platform Companies and the Issue of Journalistic Autonomy Felix M. Simon (University of Oxford and Columbia University)
Conclusions and farewell Cristian Vaccari (Loughborough University), Editor-in-Chief of IJPP
I am beyond delighted that our new book has now been published by Oxford University Press, as part of the Oxford Studies in Digital Politics series edited by Andy Chadwick. Written with Augusto Valeriani (University of Bologna) and made possible by a large grant funded by the Italian Ministry of Education, the book sheds light on the relationship between social media and political participation. Our analyses are based on custom-built surveys on samples representative of internet users in nine Western democracies between 2015 and 2018: Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Poland, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Based on these data, we argue that social media do indeed increase political participation in both online and face-to-face activities—and that they expand political equality across Western democracies. We find that, for the most part, social media do not constitute echo chambers or filter bubbles, as most users see a mixture of political content they agree and disagree with. Various political experiences on social media, such as engaging with supportive viewpoints, accidentally encountering political news, and being targeted by political mobilization, have positive implications for participation and active political involvement: social media allow citizens to encounter clearly identifiable political viewpoints, facilitate accidental exposure to political news, and enable political actors and ordinary citizens to reach voters with electoral messages designed to mobilize them. Moreover, political interactions occurring on social media do not only benefit citizens who are already involved, but boost participation across the board and especially among the less involved. This is because social media offer both additional participatory incentives to the already engaged and new political opportunities for the less engaged. The combined effects of these incentives, and of their different effects on citizens with different levels of involvement, is a leveling of participatory inequalities among those who are more and less involved in politics.
By adopting a comparative approach, we also show that political institutions matter since some political experiences on social media are more strongly associated with participation in majoritarian systems and in party-centric systems. But overall, the relationship between the political experiences on social media that we study and political participation looks rather similar across the nine countries we studied, which suggests that these processes may be increasingly standardized, at least in the realm of liberal Western democracies.
In sum, we argue that, while social media may contribute to many societal problems, they can help address at least two important democratic ills: citizens’ apathy towards politics, as social media expose people to information that may stimulate them to participate, and inequalities between those who choose to exercise their voice and those who remain silent, as political experiences on social media seem to make a stronger difference for citizens who are relatively less involved in politics.