New Publication: Digital Media and the Surge of Political Outsiders

Ralph Schroeder, Sebastian Stier, and I have a new article out in Social Media + Society. In “Digital Media and the Surge of Political Outsiders: Explaining the Success of Political Challengers in the United States, Germany, and China“, we argue that digital media neutralize two former monopolies in structuring political discourse and political coordination and mobilization. In the past, these monopolies allowed media and political organizations to channel politics.

This allowed them to arbitrate which political voices and options reached the public thereby filtering out challenges to the political status quo. On the plus side, this contributed to a more or less civil political discourse and kept extremists from establishing viable organizational challenges. On the negative side, this also limited the opportunities of legitimate but underrepresented voices to provide alternatives to the political status quo. By breaking these monopolies digital media extend the space of political competition for the good but also for the bad.

In the article, we discuss cases from China, Germany, and the USA how political outsiders have attempted to use digital media to mount a viable challenge to the political status quo thereby strengthening the position of outsiders across political and media systems.

A broadening of the spectrum of political discourse does not mean that extreme factions will win or stay in power. Instead of witnessing a decline of democracy driven by digital media, we are observing the erosion of institutions that kept discourse artificially restricted.

While the future of political competition might be noisier and less polite than we are currently used to, opening up the space of political competition might also be an invigorating stimulus that contemporary social conditions demand.

Abstract: There has been a recent surge of political actors and groups challenging the legitimacy of established political institutions and mass media. We argue that this wave is no accident; rather, it is driven by digital media. Digital media allow outside challengers to route around social institutions that structure political discourse, such as parties and legacy media, which have previously held a monopoly on political coordination and information distribution. Digital media have weakened the power of these institutions, allowing outsiders to maintain extreme positions that formerly would have been filtered out or suppressed by institutions structuring political discourse. In this article, we explicate mechanisms linking digital media to the rise of outsiders by discussing the successes of a diverse set of challengers fighting for attention and representation in the different political contexts of the United States, Germany, and China. We thus provide a novel explanation that systematically accounts for the political consequences of digital media.

Andreas Jungherr, Ralph Schroeder, and Sebastian Stier. Digital Media and the Surge of Political Outsiders: Explaining the Success of Political Challengers in the US, Germany and China. Social Media + Society 5(3): 1-12. doi: 10.1177/2056305119875439.

New Publication: “Characterizing Political Talk on Twitter”

Oliver Posegga and I have a new paper out in the the Proceedings of the 52nd Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences (HICSS). In Characterizing Political Talk on Twitter: A Comparison Between Public Agenda, Media Agendas, and the Twitter Agenda with Regard to Topics and Dynamics we compare lists of prominent topics in newspapers, television, survey responses, and on Twitter during an election campaign. These comparisons speak to the different mediating processes of political reality on different media. Our findings indicate that it is futile to expect social media services to mirror political reality or the coverage of politics in legacy media truly. Instead, it appears more fruitful to use differences in the reflection of political reality across different sources to develop a better understanding of common or divergent mediating processes between sources.

Abstract: Social media platforms, especially Twitter, have become a ubiquitous element in political campaigns. Although politicians, journalists, and the public increasingly take to the service, we know little about the determinants and dynamics of political talk on Twitter. We examine Twitter’s issue agenda based on popular hashtags used in messages referring to politics. We compare this Twitter agenda with the public agenda measured by a representative survey and the agendas of newspapers and television news programs captured by content analysis. We show that the Twitter agenda had little, if any, relationship with the public agenda. Political talk on Twitter was somewhat stronger connected with mass media coverage, albeit following channel-specific patterns most likely determined by the attention, interests, and motivations of Twitter users.

Our findings indicate that:

“political talk on Twitter is distinct from public opinion on the most pressing political topics and political media coverage. Although political talk on Twitter shares topics with political media coverage, we find a communication environment characterized by the attention, interests, and motivations of politically vocal Twitter users. These mediating factors led political talk on Twitter to deviate in strength and dynamics from political coverage in mass media. On Twitter, therefore, we find a political communication environment interconnected with more traditional spaces of political communication but also following its own channel-specific dynamics.”

Source: Oliver Posegga and Andreas Jungherr (2019). Characterizing Political Talk on Twitter: A Comparison Between Public Agenda, Media Agendas, and the Twitter Agenda with Regard to Topics and Dynamics. In HICSS 52: Proceedings of the 52nd Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences. University of Hawaii at Manoa: Scholarspace. p. 2590-2599. DOI: https://hdl.handle.net/10125/59697.

Syllabus: Digital Media in Politics

Later this week starts my course on the role of Digital Media in Politics at the Department of Political Science at the University of Zurich. The course aims to give an overview of various debates on different uses and effects digital media have had in politics:

The course examines the impact of digital media on politics in international comparison. Digital media play an increasingly important role in politics. Be it political communication, the coverage of politics in the news, campaigning, public discourse, or collective action, various political fields are changing due to digital media. This makes it paramount to identify, assess, and understand the role of digital media in politics. Over the course, students will be introduced to important approaches in conceptualizing and measuring the effects of digital media on politics. In this, we will focus on the role of digital media in helping political actors fulfill specific tasks in their work, such as gaining representation in the political information space, reaching people, convincing and mobilizing people, coordination, organizing, and measuring and evaluating the impact of their actions.

In the course we will talk about:

  • Media systems,
  • Publics and counterpublics,
  • Polarization,
  • Election campaigns,
  • Political participation and collective action,
  • Data-driven campaigning,
  • Modes of control,
  • Disinformation and manipulation, and
  • Platforms as political actors.

[Syllabus]

Course Material: Summer Semester 2018

Spring is sadly taking its time but the summer semester starts rolling into sight. This summer, I will be teaching two courses at the University of Konstanz. The first is an introductory course to political psychology. The second is a methods course on how to use digital trace data in the social sciences illustrated by working with Twitter data. If you are interested in taking the courses have a look at the course material: