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.
Below is the Table of Contents of the book. You can order it via Oxford University Press (as paperback or hardcover) or through most online retailers, where it is also available as ebook. The book also features an extensive Online Appendix, which you can access via the Open Science Foundation.