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.