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Dark Participation: A Critical Overview  

Thorsten Quandt and Johanna Klapproth

The profound sociopolitical transformation processes that characterize the second decade of the 21st century have also led to a focus on new topics and a reconsideration of previously established approaches in communication studies. In particular, the academic discussion of online communication has drastically changed in tone and focus. While the new possibilities of online participation were initially described from a predominantly optimistic perspective stressing the high potential for deliberative democracy, work in communication studies at the end of the second decade of the 21st century paints a rather dystopian picture of the online world. The growing attention paid to problematic forms of user participation has led to various new concepts describing phenomena such as toxicity, disinformation, or hate speech. The concept of “dark participation” introduced by Thorsten Quandt takes up the profound change in perspective with a systematization of negative forms of participation in a unifying umbrella model. This generalistic model delineates the variants of dark participation according to five dimensions: the actors, the reasons for their behavior, the targets or objects of their participation, the intended audiences, and the structure of the process. In addition to this systematic categorization of negative participatory forms, the term dark participation also serves as a rhetorical device for commenting on the observable change in perspective: The original publication encourages a process of critical reflection on normativity in the discussion of participation and, by calling for more balance in the analysis of online participation, warns against reducing complex social communication phenomena to a one-sided positive or negative perspective. Since its initial publication, the concept of dark participation has served as a theoretical point of reference for various empirical studies. Due to its use as a rhetorical device and the critical examination of previous participation approaches, the original publication also stimulated an intensive discussion about the proposed concept. In addition to the critique regarding the theoretical assumptions and the distinction between “dark” and positive participatory forms, some authors also demand an extension, a different contextualization, or an elaboration of specific details. As a universal concept with a deliberate openness to such further delimitations, dark participation can serve as a starting point for theoretical extensions, especially in the research field of (digital) journalism and social media, and as an impulse for transfers to other related fields.


Journalism on the Web  

Michael Karlsson and Kristoffer Holt

In the early 21st century, almost everyone takes journalism on the web for granted. However, it was not many years ago that journalism moved online and a distinct form of journalism began to develop. Ranging from online doubles of the paper editions to publications exclusively produced for the web, the evolvement of web journalism has entailed both dramatic and not-so-dramatic changes in the way that journalistic products are produced, disseminated, and received. Online journalism has usually been demarcated from traditional journalism by four traits: interactivity, immediacy, hypertextuality, and multimodality. These characteristics are generally identified by scholars as points where journalism on the web brings added value in comparison to the old print newspapers. Interactivity involves various aspects of user activity and participation in the processes of consuming, contributing to, and disseminating news afforded by the web. Immediacy refers to the nature and consequences of the faster pace of publication in web news. Hypertextuality has to do with the possibilities of linking journalistic texts to other texts, which makes the text more transparent and open. Multimodality denotes the telling of news with the use of many different modes at the same time. When studying research about these aspects of web journalism, three general observations can be made. First, researchers have approached these characteristics unevenly in terms of scope and interest. The interactive aspects of web journalism are by far the most investigated. Second, the four characteristics have been studied through the lenses of different theoretical frameworks. Third, empirical research shows that change in journalism is slow and not always as radical as many predicted when journalism on the web was in its infancy.


Transparency in Journalism  

Michael Koliska

Transparency is the most recently established ethical principle for professional journalists, even though its roots stretch back almost a century. The emergence of transparency as a core journalistic ethic and value has been fueled mainly by three distinct yet interdependent developments. First, sociocultural advances in society have gradually increased the availability and demand for more information, including in areas such as politics and business. This development instilled an expectation of the “right to know,” also impacting the journalistic institution. Second, the introduction of digital media technologies has provided more means to disclose information, interact with journalists, and witness news production. Third, ethical and normative discussions by journalists and scholars have promoted more openness about journalism. Transparency has frequently been advocated as an effective way to combat the ongoing decline of trust and credibility in the news media. A central rationale supporting information disclosure and providing direct access to journalists and news organizations is that the audience will be able to ascertain which journalism it can trust to be true or which journalism may be superior. Specifically, in times when the news media is being labeled as fake or lying to the public, transparency may indeed be an important mechanism for the audience to hold journalism accountable. Yet, while the promise of transparency is an enticing prospect for the journalistic institution, empirical research has not quite been able to support all the claims that transparency will indeed improve credibility and trust in the news media. However, transparency is a nascent ethic and practice in journalism, and has only recently been officially recognized. Journalists and news organizations are still in the process of finding new ways to openly engage with the public, showing them the journalistic production process and building relationships with their communities. After all, building trust takes time and may only be achieved in a continuous effort to engage in an open, honest, and personal dialogue with the people.


Participatory Communication in International Context  

Tom Jacobson and Nicole Garlic

Participation through communication has been studied internationally in analyzing social change at varying levels of analysis. In modernization theory, it was used largely at the national level for analyzing media consumption and participation in democratic political institutions, particularly voting, in newly established countries. In postmodernization theory, Paulo Freire and others employed it to analyze both interpersonal interaction and community development processes. Since that time, interest in participatory processes has proliferated in a variety of community development, social movement, and other middle-level social change efforts, including some operating via social media. In addition, with increasingly urgent threats posed by pandemics, human rights violations, global warming, and other international pressures today, transnational forms of civic and political action are increasingly treated as processes of global level participation. The idea of a global political public sphere is one of these processes. Citizen representation in multilateral organizations, global social movements, and other forms of cosmopolitan action are also treated as participation. A comprehensive understanding of participatory communication in the international context must attend to social processes at various levels of analysis, ranging from local project interventions to national political processes to global change.


Climate Change Communication  

Amy E. Chadwick

Climate change, which includes global warming, is a serious and pervasive challenge for local and global communities. Communication theorists, researchers, and practitioners are well positioned to describe, predict, and affect how we communicate about climate change. Our theories, research methods, and practices have many potential roles in reducing climate change and its effects. Climate change communication is a growing field that examines a range of factors that affect and are affected by how we communicate about climate change. Climate change communication covers a broad range of philosophical and research traditions, including humanistic-rhetorical analyses, interpretive qualitative studies, and social-scientific quantitative surveys and experiments. Climate change communication examines a range of factors that affect and are affected by how we communicate about climate change. Much of the research in climate change communication focuses on public understanding of climate change, factors that affect public understanding, media coverage and framing, media effects, and risk perceptions. Less prevalent, growing areas of research include civic engagement and public participation, organizational communication, and persuasive strategies to affect attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors related to the climate. In all of these areas, most of the research on climate change communication has been conducted in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and Western European countries. There is a need to expand the climate change communication research into other regions, particularly developing countries. In addition, climate change communication has natural links to environmental and health communication; therefore, communication scholars should also examine research from these areas to develop insights into climate change communication.


Risk Governance  

Rolf Lidskog

Scientific advances, technological development, and changes in risk consciousness have led to stronger demands on society to manage and control various kinds of risks. Risks should be assessed, prevented, controlled, and communicated in order to prevent negative impacts. Risks related to the environment and health are probably some of the most research-dependent examples. It is primarily scientific experts that provide knowledge to authorities, organizations, and citizens about environmental and health risks and thus exert considerable influence on the understanding and management of risk. At the same time, there are actors in society—especially citizen and interest organizations—that question whether risk regulation is reliable and relevant. There are also demands that citizens should have more transparency and control over risk regulation. The current situation is characterized thus by a paradox: Issues relating to environment and health are seen as increasingly expert dependent while citizens simultaneously demand increased influence over them. This development is especially noticeable in the European Union, with its strong emphasis on the rights of citizen and consumers to have access to information about risk and also opportunities to influence their regulation. In response to this situation, risk governance has been put forward. It refers to a body of ideas for how to more responsibly and efficiently deal with complex risks issues, where there are different interests and standpoints about how to regulate them. Fundamental ideas of risk governance are openness, transparency, participation, inclusion, deliberation, and reflexivity; that experts involved should be open to questioning the situation; should not conceal issues of uncertainty and pluralism (that there exist different legitimate understandings, evaluations, and recommendations); and should be receptive to the input and participation of other stakeholders. This means that risk regulation should no longer be organized into three discrete activities: risk assessment, risk management, and risk communication (aiming at a one-way transfer of knowledge from the regulators to the public).


Alternative Organizational Culture  

George Cheney and Debashish Munshi

Alternative organizational culture is an evocative yet ambiguous term. In disciplines like communication, sociology, anthropology, management, economics, and political science, the term leads us not only to consider existing models and cases of organizing differently from the norm but also to imagine paths and possibilities yet to be realized. The ambiguity and referents of the term are important to probe. The term and its associations should be understood historically as well as culturally. Alternative organizational culture also implies certain dialectics, leading to questions about both principles and applications.