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Article

Partisan Media and Polarization: Challenges for Future Work  

Matthew Levendusky

Four potential mechanisms explore the linkages between partian media outlets and attitudinal polarization, as well as discusses how such outlets cause polarization and influence American politics more generally: partisan media outlets can have direct effects on their audience, indirect effects on the broader population, effects on the news media, and effects on political elites. Some challenges and questions remain to be answered in each area in the hopes of spurring more, and broader, work on these media institutions.

Article

The Media and Political Behavior  

Hajo G. Boomgaarden and Rüdiger Schmitt-Beck

Media are key for the functioning of democracy. It is the essential link between politics and citizens, providing critical information and interpretation of politics and room for debate. Given this central role of the media for democratic political processes, questions about how mediated political information would affect citizens’ perceptions of and attitudes toward politics, as well as ultimately political behavior, have been dominant in research in the field of political communication. While vast amounts of mid-range theories and empirical insights speak in favor of influences of media on citizens, there is little in terms of a universal theoretical framework guiding political media effects research, which makes it difficult to give a conclusive answer to the question: how and, in particular, how much do the media matter? It may matter for some people under some conditions in some contexts relating to some outcome variables. Technological changes in media systems pose additional challenges, both conceptually and methodologically, to come to comprehensive assessments of media influences on citizens’ political cognitions, attitudes, or behaviors. Research needs to be clearer as to which conceptualization of media is followed and how such conceptualization may interact with other dimensions of media attributes. Measurement of media use and reception needs to take into account the increasing complexities of how citizens encounter political information, and it requires alignment with the conceptualization of media. Political media effect theories should not continue developing side by side, but should attempt to find a place in a more comprehensive model and take into account how they relate to and possibly interact with other approaches. In sum, the field of political media effects, while vast and covering a range of aspects, would do well to consider its role and purpose in increasingly complex media environments and, accordingly, provide more integrative perspectives, conceptually, methodologically, and theoretically.

Article

Social Media and Elections in Africa  

Iginio Gagliardone

The analysis of the diffusion of social media in Africa and its relevance for politics has been caught in a paradox. On the one hand, social media have been saluted for their newness and for their ability, especially in connection with increasingly accessible portable tools such as mobile phones, to offer a level playing field for individuals to participate in politics and speak to power. On the other hand, this very enthusiasm has evoked relatively tired tropes used to frame the advent of other “new” technologies in the past, stressing what they could do to Africa, rather than exploring what they are doing in Africa. Early research on the relationship between social media and elections in Africa has tended to adopt normative frameworks adapted from the analysis of electoral contests in the Global North, presupposing unfettered citizens using social media to root for their leaders or demand accountability. A more recent wave of empirically grounded studies has embraced a greater conceptual and methodological pluralism, offering more space to analyze the contradictions in how social media are used and abused: how humor can be turned into a powerful tool to contest a type of power that appears overwhelming; or how armies of professional users have exploited people’s credulity of new media as “freer” from power to actually support partisan agenda. Interestingly, this latter approach has brought to light phenomena that have only recently caught global attention, such as the role of “fake news” and misinformation in electoral contests, but have played a determinant role in African politics for at least a decade.

Article

Crisis Communication  

Matthew Seeger

Crisis communication may be understood as the process of creating and exchanging messages between interdependent stakeholders in conditions of high uncertainty, threats to high-priority goals, and the need for immediate response created by a crisis. This process occurs through established channels and networks of communication, using a variety of message forms. Feedback, message consistency, message tailoring, message reach, transparency and openness, immediacy, credibility, and coordination with key groups, among other factors, are related to effectiveness. Communication within the context of crisis is necessary for coordination, sense-making, effective response, recovery, renewal, learning, and the development of resilience. Processes of communication generally follow the developmental nature of crises from pre-crisis conditions where risks develop and incubate to post-crisis conditions where social and organizational structures, processes, and norms are reconstructed. Crisis communication is closely related to risk communication that concerns the ongoing process of exchanging messages to monitor, understand, and manage risks. Effective communication is essential to the successful management of crises, and communication functions should be included in crisis and risk policy formation and planning as well as response and recovery. Communication may also promote the development of resilience and contribute to system renewal.

Article

Social Capital and Democracy in Africa  

Richard Asante

Social capital is a slippery concept that signifies different things for different authors, and its uses are not always consistent. Despite this lack of consensus, most scholars agree on its basic idea: “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” Participation or membership in social networks and voluntary organizations creates norms and values such as trust, cooperation, and reciprocity that lead to productive state, institutional performance, and democratic communities. Social interactions and connections expand access to information and political ideas, nurture active citizens, stimulate individual participation in politics, collective decision-making, and policy formulation, which increase governmental accountability. In recent years, civil society actors in Africa have been emboldened to build social capital in response to restrictions and attacks on civil and political liberties, creeping authoritarianism, constitutional manipulations, and lack of governmental accountability. However, there are formidable challenges to generating social capital due to the character of civil society, its structural weaknesses and internal contradictions, socio-cultural factors, and limitations from the state.

Article

Social Media Lessons on the Nature of Political Decision Making  

Douglas R. Pierce

Traditional models of political decision making tend to focus on the subject’s information levels or information-processing strategy. One of the most common conceptions of political decision making assumes that voters who are informed by a store of factually accurate policy information make more optimal decisions—that is, decisions more in line with their supposed political interests—than those who lack such information. However, this traditional view of political decision making minimizes the roles of affect and social influence on judgment. No phenomenon underscores the primary place of these constructs more so than the meteoric rise of online social media use. Indeed, scholars working at the intersection of social media use and political judgment have made important revisions to the traditional model of political decision making. Specifically, the popularity of online social networks as a tool for exchanging information, connecting with others, and displaying affective reactions to stimuli suggest that new models of competent political decision making which take into account social, affective, and cognitive elements are replacing older, information-based and rational choice models. In this essay, I review some of the pertinent literature on social media use and decision-making and argue that motivation, emotion, and social networks are key components of political judgment and are in fact more relevant to understanding political decisions than political knowledge or political sophistication. I also propose that new models of political decision-making would do well to take into account automaticity, social approval, and the role of information in both rationalizing preferences and persuading others.

Article

Social Media and Foreign Policy  

Trevor Rubenzer

Social media refer to websites and other Internet applications that enable users to create and share content with other users, as well as to react to such content in various ways. As social media have become more accessible, in terms of both Internet access and ease of use, it has become one means by which people, nonstate actors, and governments can share their foreign policy priorities in an effort to receive feedback, engage in diplomacy, educate people, and attempt to influence foreign policy outcomes. Foreign policy practitioners and scholars have rushed to describe and begin to analyze the ways in which social media has become part of the foreign policy process. The social and political upheaval associated with the Arab Spring, some of which has been traced to both foreign and domestic use of social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, created a greater sense of urgency among those who seek a greater understanding of the impact of social media on foreign policy. Thematically, much of the academic work concerning social media and foreign policy is conducted as part of the broader public diplomacy literature. Public diplomacy, which relates to efforts by international actors to engage with foreign publics in the pursuit of policy goals, can be advanced along a number of paths. However, given their accessibility, low cost, and ease of use, social media has become a critical tool for a wide variety of international actors running the gamut from governments to portions of civil society to terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq Syria (ISIS, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant or ISIS based in part on the group’s territorial claims). Social media and foreign policy work can also be found in the political communication literature, in working papers and articles generated by foreign policy think tanks such as the Council on Foreign Relations, and in academic journals dedicated to area studies that often concentrate on specific episodes of social media used to influence foreign policy. Theoretical development in the area of social media and foreign policy is fragmented across disciplines and approaches. Network theories focus on interactions between parts of a network (in this case a social network); network analysis methods are sometimes employed as part of this theoretical framework. Other theories in this area focus on traditional problems associated with collective action and how these problems can be overcome by removing barriers to communication and lowering the cost of some types of political action. Different theoretical perspectives are often accompanied by different empirical results. Results vary from findings of a profound impact of social media on foreign policy outcomes to skepticism of the role played by social media in the face of other, potentially confounding, factors.

Article

LGBTQ Politics in Media and Culture  

Thomas J. Billard and Larry Gross

As the primary vector by which society tells itself about itself, popular media transmit ideas of what behavior is acceptable and whose identities are legitimate, thereby perpetuating and, at times, transforming the social order. Thus, media have been key targets of LGBT advocacy and activism and important contributors to the political standing of LGBT people. Of course, media are not a monolith, and different types of media inform different parts of society. Community media have been an important infrastructure through which gays and lesbians and, separately, transgender people formed shared identities and developed collective political consciousness. Political media, such as newspapers, news websites, and network and cable television news broadcasts, inform elites and the mass public alike, making them an important influence on public opinion and political behavior. Entertainment media, such as television and film, cultivate our culture’s shared values and ideas, which infuse into the public’s political beliefs and attitudes. Generally speaking, the literature on LGBTQ politics and the media is biased toward news and public affairs media over fictional and entertainment media, though both are important influences on LGBTQ citizens’ political engagement, as well as on citizens’ public opinion toward LGBTQ rights and their subsequent political behaviors. In the case of the former, media—particularly LG(BT) community media—have played an important role in facilitating the formation of a shared social and then political identity, as well as fueling the formation of, first, separate gay and lesbian and transgender movements and then a unified LGBTQ movement. Moreover, digital media have enabled new modes of political organizing and exercising sociopolitical influence, making LGBTQ activism more diverse, more intersectional, more pluralistic, and more participatory. In the case of the latter, (news) media representations of LGBTQ individuals initially portrayed them in disparaging and disrespectful ways. Over time, representations in both news and entertainment media have come to portray them in ways that legitimate their identities and their political claims. These representations, in turn, have had profound impacts on public opinion toward LGBTQ rights and citizens’ LGBTQ-relevant voting behavior. Yet, the literature on these representations and their effects overwhelmingly focuses on gays and lesbians at the expense of bisexual and transgender people, and this work is done primarily in U.S. and Anglophone contexts, limiting our understanding of the relationships between LGBTQ politics and the media globally.

Article

Social Media in Emergency Management  

Clayton Wukich

Social media applications such as Facebook and Twitter enable the rapid transmission of public warning messages in the event of a disaster. This augments traditional channels such as television and radio and may indeed save lives. The interactive nature of social media enables other types of information exchange beyond the one-way broadcast of warnings and guidance that has long characterized risk communication. Authorities monitor social media data for situational awareness, and they can solicit input from the public and engage in more deliberative conversations. In turn, the public initiates communication by asking questions, providing input, and requesting help. They expand the reach of official messages by sharing with friends and followers. Therefore, from an emergency management perspective, social media applications can disrupt the traditional one-way mode of communication and improve the efficacy of efforts to communicate risk. Research from across academic disciplines (e.g., computer science, communication, information systems, public administration, and sociology) illustrates: (a) the need for social media in emergency management; (b) the related benefits of use; and (c) the best practices used to attain those benefits. This offers a roadmap for authorities to effectively implement social media in their organizations while avoiding potential pitfalls.

Article

E-Participation  

Marta Cantijoch and Rachel Gibson

The study of e-participation is a young and growing discipline in which controversies are vibrant. One of these is the lack of a widely accepted definition of “e-participation.” Online political activities that involve little effort from the participant, such as liking or sharing political content on social media, are particularly divisive. Some scholars are reluctant to label expressive forms of online behavior as political participation. Others argue in favor of an adaptation of previous definitions to accommodate recent technological changes. Levels of engagement in different types of e-participation are increasing steadily over time. While differences between democracies are often stark, the upward trend has been consistent, especially since the emergence and expansion of social media. Whether this means that previously unengaged individuals are now taking part is one of the central questions of the literature on e-participation. To date, research has shown positive but modest results in support for a mobilizing effect. Particularly promising are findings suggesting that online tools are attracting younger participants to the political arena. Online forms of political engagement are often placed in a more general process leading to online and offline political participation. “Lean-forward” models that provide a contextualized understanding of the drivers and effects of e-participation are particularly insightful. In order to provide robustness to some of the questions that remain unresolved, scholars exploring e-participation should consider expanding their methodological repertoires. The trend is toward mixed designs that combine surveys and other forms of data (big data collected from social media or qualitative data).