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.

How Prevalent are Filter Bubbles and Echo Chambers on Social Media? Not as Much as Conventional Wisdom Has It

A few days ago, a tweet by Rasmus Nielsen inspired me to think about the widespread idea that most social media users only engage with political viewpoints they already agree with. The argument that social media are “echo chambers” or “filter bubbles” often looks like a truism in public discourse across Western democracies, chiefly but not only the United States.

Rasmus’s thread pointed to several studies showing that political echo chambers are by no means the norm on social media. Research by Seth Flaxman, Sharad Goel, and Justin Rao finds that use of search engines and social media “are associated with an increase in an individual’s exposure to material from his or her less preferred side of the political spectrum”. A study by Richard Fletcher and Rasmus Nielsen himself found that people who come across news while using social media for other purposes “use significantly more online news sources than non-users”. An extensive review of the literature by Frederik Zuiderveen Borgesius, Damian Trilling, Judith Möller, Balázs Bodó, Claes de Vreese, and Natali Helberger concludes that “at present there is little empirical evidence that warrants any worries about filter bubbles“.

To those one may add a three-country study by Pablo Barberá which finds that “most social media users are embedded in ideologically diverse networks” and research by Matthew Barnidge showing that “social media users perceive more political disagreement than non-users” and that “they perceive more of it on social media than in other communication settings”. Just days after Rasmus’s tweet, Elizabeth Dubois and Grant Blank published an article titled “The echo chamber is overstated“.

Yet, as Rasmus points out, conventional wisdom seems to be stuck with the idea that social media constitute filter bubbles and echo chambers, where most people only, or mostly, see political content they already agree with. It is definitely true that there is a lot of easily accessible, clearly identifiable, highly partisan content on social media. It is also true that, to some extent, social media users can make choices as to which sources they follow and engage with. Whether people use these choice affordances solely to flock to content reinforcing their political preferences and prejudices, filtering out or avoiding content that espouses other viewpoints, is, however, an empirical question—not a destiny inscribed in the way social media and their algorithms function.

To contribute to this conversation, here I present some data from online surveys conducted in 2017 in France, Germany, and the United Kingdom immediately after each country’s general elections. (A few days ago I published an article in the Italian newspaper la Repubblica where I presented data on Italy telling a similar story.) The surveys were fielded as part of a comparative project on social media and political participation, funded by the Italian government, for which I serve as Principal Investigator. We commissioned Ipsos to interview samples of 1,750 respondents per country. We constructed these samples to be representative of internet users in each country based on gender, age, education, region of residence, and occupational condition. The research design is the same as the one employed in other research we have published, which you can check out here, here, here, and here. Augusto Valeriani and I are writing a whole book about this and other topics, which will include data from nine Western democracies including the three this post is about. Surveys are imperfect instruments, but (as we argue in the publications linked above) they are still among the best tools to measure users’ experiences across different environments, media, and digital platforms. This is relevant to the question that sparked this post: to understand whether social media function as filter bubbles, we need to know how prevalent filter bubbles are both on social media and in other environments. Surveys allow to gauge differences and similarities between these spaces.

To find out whether users encounter political content and views they mainly agree and/or disagree with, we asked respondents two simple questions: “How often do you agree with the political opinions and messages published on social media platforms by the people you follow?” and “”How often do you disagree with the political opinions and messages published on social media platforms by the people you follow?”. To compare users’ experiences across different environments, we asked a similar pair of questions focusing on face-to-face conversations (the phrase we used was “the opinions of others you speak with about politics, excluding online contacts”) and mass media (where we asked respondents to focus on “the political opinions or political contents you see in the news on television or newspapers”). To each question, respondents could answer “Always or very often”, “Often”, “Sometimes”, “Never”, and “I don’t know”. The chart below shows the percentages who answered either “Always or very often” or “Often”, excluding “Don’t know” answers. The questions on social media were asked only to those respondents who claimed to use at least one social media platform (90% of our sample).

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In all three countries, the percentages of users who claim to often agree with the political content they see on social media are substantially lower than the percentages of users who claim to often disagree with those contents. There are country variations, with more balanced results in Germany (29.3% disagreement, 24.8% agreement) and more lopsided patterns in the UK (32.3% disagreement, 21.6% agreement) and, especially, France (32.9% disagreement, 17.9% agreement). Still, the overall finding is clear: social media users are more likely to disagree than agree with the political contents they see on these platforms.

Moreover, citizens are much more likely to encounter disagreeable views on social media than in face-to-face conversations, as we can see by comparing the left and center pane of the figure above. The patterns that emerge for offline discussions are the mirror image of those observed for social media, with substantially more users claiming they often agree with other people they talk to compared with those who claim they often disagree with them. The difference between agreement and disagreement in face-to-face conversations is of about 10% in France and the UK, and a whopping 36.8% in Germany (58.1% agreement, 21.3% disagreement). Thus, social media augment political pluralism when compared with face-to-face political talk.

However, television and newspapers are the most important vehicles for political pluralism, as you can see by comparing the left and right panes in the figure. In both the UK and France, twice as many respondents claim they often disagree with the political views expressed in TV and newspapers than those who claim they often agree. In Germany, the difference is still quite large (36% disagree, 26.5% agree) and larger than for social media. Consistent with research by Diana Mutz and Paul Martin from nearly two decades ago, in general, the mass media are the main source of exposure to counter-attitudinal political information.

Assessing the frequency of political agreement and disagreement on social media in isolation from one another is helpful, but how much overlap there is between them? Do people who report often agreeing with others also feel they often disagree with others, or are these separate groups of people, some of whom are in echo chambers while others are constantly battling against others they disagree with? To find out, I combined the answers to the questions on agreement and disagreement. The math is pretty simple, as you can see from the illustration below. Respondents who answered “Never” to both questions were classified as engaging with “No content“.Respondents who agree more often than they disagree with the content they see are classified as seeing “Supportive” messages, and those who disagree more often than they agree are confronted with “Oppositional” messages. Finally, respondents who gave the same answers to both questions were classified as seeing “Two-sided” content. (Of course, there can always be more than two sides to any political conflict, especially in European party systems; I use this term to echo John Zaller’s classification of campaign messages, which I find helpful to think about these issues.)

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Most users claim to agree as often as they disagree with the political content they see on social media, so I classify them as encountering two-sided messages. Among respondents who identify a one-sided tendency in the content they see, users who predominantly see oppositional content greatly outnumber those who predominantly see supportive content. There are, again, some country variations, with French respondents more likely to see oppositional content (29.5%) than British (26.1%) and German ones (25.8%), and, conversely, German respondents more likely to see supportive content (20%) than British (16.1%) and French ones (12.8%).

Overall, the picture is clear: if you ask social media users to evaluate their levels of agreement and disagreement with the political content they see, ideological echo chambers and filter bubbles on social media are the exception, not the norm. Being the exception does not mean being non-existent, of course. Based on these estimates, between one in five and one in eight social media users report being in ideological echo chambers. However, most social media users experience a rather balanced combination of views they agree and disagree with. If anything, the clash of disagreeing opinions is more common on social media than ideological echo chambers.

New Article out on How German and Italian Campaigns Intertwine with each other

A new article by myself and Claudius Wagemann is out in a special issue of Contemporary Italian Politics dedicated to Italy-Germany relationships. Based on content analysis of more than 500 newspaper articles, we look at how the press in Italy and Germany talked about the other country during both its own domestic elections and the other country’s election.

The article is titled “Outsiders looking in and insiders looking out a comparative study of newspaper coverage of Italian-German relationships in the 2013 elections”. Our main goal is to articulate and explore the concept of transnationalized election campaigns, and public discourse more generally, which we articulate as follows:

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Here is the abstract of the article. Full text is available here.

We conceptualise transnational political communication as an emerging phenomenon in globally connected polities, whereby public discourse in a country increasingly focuses on politics, policies, and political actors in other countries. There are two dimensions to transnationalisation: ‘outside-in’, when political communication focuses on the domestic politics of foreign countries, and ‘inside-out’, when foreign countries play a role in a country’s domestic public discourse. We apply this conceptual distinction to a study of newspaper coverage of the 2013 German and Italian elections in both countries. Based on a content analysis of 428 articles across six newspapers, we find that Germany received more, and more positive, coverage in the Italian press than Italy did in the German press. While the German press tended to be neutral and to cover Italy only as part of Italy’s own electoral politics, the Italian press intensely covered Germany during both the German and Italian elections. Articles in the inside-out mode of transnationalisation were more likely to discuss the interdependencies between the two countries, but those articles could only be found in the less powerful Italy, whereas they were nearly absent in the more powerful Germany.