Twitter and elections

2009 and 2010 are exciting years to study the Internet. Anyway, I think so. Some of you may know my academic life revolves around micro-blogging these last months and the coming ones as well. The reason is that Twitter is becoming more and more popular amongst politicians. Not only that, in 2009 we had the European parliament elections where Twitter was used by some of the candidates. In 2010 we had the local elections in the Netherlands. Some two weeks before that we (i.e. the Dutch) had a governmental meltdown: the social democratic party (PvdA) decided to quit the government. Therefore, we also have general elections on June 9th. And then there is South Korea, where on June 2nd, there are local elections. Oh yes, the UK has general elections as well: Gordon Brown has to set a date that is before June 3rd.

As for South Korea, some interesting thongs are happening here. Apparently the political parties are stepping up their online campaign activities, according this newspaper article.The Grand National Party handed out smart-phones to national assembly members and candidates, hoping they will pick up text-messaging and Twitter to connect to the public. The Democratic Party also stepped up their online activities, creating a network party. These effort can be necessary. I learned that politicians in South Korea have a considerable

The Korean Election Committee however seems to have some problems with these increasing online political activities. To ensure fairness in election campaigning several regulations apply. Striving for fairness in campaigning is of course essential. At the same it seems quite impossible to banish Twitter or other kinds of micro-blogging services (let’s not forget there are other ones besides Twitter, such as Me2day, Plurk and Renren). First of all, micro-blogging is sort of an informal way of disseminating information. It’s low profile, no dressed up website, but merely short texts. At the same time the messages are only actively targeted to those that explicitly subscribed to the Tweets of the candidate. These are the ones that are already interested in politics in general and the candidate in particular. These probably will need little convincing to vote for the candidate as it is. Furthermore, the question is to what extent the Tweets are actually campaigning messages or merely chitchat. Tweeting about daily issues (enjoying your coffee, being stuck in traffic) doesn’t look like political campaigning. That is, political campaigning in the strictest sense. For some time now, politicians, at least in western countries increasingly personalize their campaigns, presenting themselves as mortals having the same problems other people also have. By doing so they hope, is their guess, they appear as normal people made of flesh and blood and hopefully more likable. This in turn should ultimately lead to more votes in the elections. The jury’s verdict on that is still out.

Just recently, David Nieborg (University of Amsterdam), guest in the radio show Tros Radio Online, said that the new social-democratic party leader Job Cohen (the former leader Wouter Bos resigned two weeks after the local elections and 12 weeks prior to the general elections)  should start using Twitter. He predicted this could lead to four more seats in parliament. Well, I’m not that sure. Twitter is not online a micro-blogging service, but also a social-network site. A characteristic of a social network is homophily: people that are similar tend to form a social network. So what happens is that politicians using twitter are primarily preaching to the converted instead of the disbelievers. However, the disbelievers is where the electoral gain is to be expected. So, the effectiveness of Twitter and other social network sites as campaigning tools for more electoral gain is expected to be limited. However, the final verdict is to be passed by empirical research.

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New research project

Recently we (Liesbeth Hermans, Alexander Pleijter and yours truly) received a grant from the Dutch Press Foundation to do a survey on journalists use of the Internet, ethics, professional values and related topics. Especially for this project I put a website on the Net: www.journalisteninhetdigitaletijdperk.nl (Journalists in the digital age). Yes, it’s a Dutch website. However, the most important information on the project will also be published in English.
We hope to have the first results published late 2010 or early 2010. This will be quite exciting. The new data collection allows for longitudinal comparisons of journalists in 2000, 2006 and 2010. Since 2000 (the data were collected by Mark Deuze for his dissertation) journalism has changed a lot. Or to be precise: the context in which journalists do their job has changed drastically. The Internet is omnipresent, newspapers are increasingly losing subscribers. Whether journalists changed as well in these changing environments is not fully clear yet. However, we have already seen some shifts in the importance of different professional values. Also, their activities must have changed quite drastically, given the many blogs newspapers and news programs publish.

To stay up-to-date, go to www.journalisteninhetdigitaletijdperk.nl

To see similar studies we did some time ago, see the following publications:

  • Hermans, L., Vergeer, M., &  d’Haenens, L. (2009). Internet in the daily life of journalists. Explaining the use of the Internet through work-related characteristics and professional opinions. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 15, 138-157.
  • Hermans, L., Vergeer, M., & Pleijter, A. (2009). Internet adoption in the newsroom: Journalists’ use of the Internet explained by attitudes and perceived functions. Communications. The European Journal of Communication, 34 (1), 55-71.
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    it’s almost like Christmas

    Two chapters I co-authored were published in a book this week. The first one (Vergeer, Coenders  & Scheepers, 2009) focuses on explaining the time people spend on watching TV. The interesting point about this study that explanations are not only sought at the individual level (especially in terms of alternative ways to spend time) but also at the level of the television system (i.e. tv program diversity, number of commercial and PSB channels, the budget). The study uses multi level analysis to test the hypotheses. Here is the abstract:

    This study aims to explain the variation in time spent on watching television in 15 European Union countries, using determinants defined at the individual level, and characteristics defined at the national level, such as the number of channels and nature of the television supply. The results of the multi-level analysis show that the number of channels in countries has no effect on time spent on television. Yet, the more diverse the program supply on public broadcasting channels in different countries, the less time people spend on watching television. However, this relation decreases when more commercial channels are available to watch. This suggests that EU citizens, having commercial channels as alternatives, avoid a diverse program supply in favor of commercial program supply.

    The second chapter Westerik, Hollander, Verschuren & Vergeer, 2009) in the same volume, deals with community involvement and media use.

    Full references:

  • Vergeer, M., Coenders, M. & Scheepers, P. (2009). Time spent on television in European countries. In R.P. Konig, P.W.M. Nelissen, & F.J.M. Huysmans (Eds.), Meaningful media: Communication Research on the Social Construction of Reality (54-73). Nijmegen, The Netherlands: Tandem Felix.
  • Westerik, H., Hollander, E., Verschuren, P. J. M., & Vergeer, M. (2009). Media use and community involvement: A theoretical and meta-analytical review. In R. P. Konig, P. W. M. Nelissen, & F. J. M. Huysmans (Eds.), Meaningful media: Communication research on the social construction of reality (pp. 38-53). Nijmegen, The Netherlands: Tandem Felix.
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