Ben O'Loughlin has a new column in the Global Policy journal exploring the function of Russia's international broadcaster RT, previously Russia Today:
Incredulity doesn’t kill curiosity; it encourages it. Though distrustful of logical chains of ideas, I loved the polyphony of ideas. As long as you don’t believe in them, the collision of two ideas – both false – can create a pleasing interval, a kind of diabolus in musica. I had no respect for some ideas people were willing to stake their lives on, but two or three ideas that I did not respect might still make a nice melody.
Umberto Eco, Foucault’s Pendulum, Vintage: London, p. 95.
Modern politics has always entailed a degree of credulity on the part of policymakers and citizens. We cannot directly experience most political events. We rely on journalism to tell us what is happening, while recognizing those representations are necessarily imperfect. We hope that all journalists try their best, otherwise we cannot be informed and think, vote and act responsibly. In journalists we put our trust and faith. When journalists mislead, intentionally or through error, outrage follows. They have broken the pact. But what happens when a global news organisation promotes incredulity towards journalism and world events? Will audiences succumb to an entirely playful attitude to the truth and see the political ideas and events for beauty they create together rather than their correspondence to reality, akin to the playfulness Italian novelist Umberto Eco suggests? Will Russia’s international broadcaster RT – previously Russia Today – succeed in undercutting the evidentiary basis of political discussion and reduce world affairs to nice melodies that do not take us to events on the ground but that we find curious nevertheless? Or, instead, could RT be dragged into a more mainstream, less radical form of news? Could RT be just another normal media outlet?
Read on here.
Routledge in New York have released the paperback version of Strategic Narratives: Communication Power and the New World Order by Alister Miskimmon, Ben O'Loughlin and Laura Roselle. You can order a copy here.
Following events in Israel and Gaza this summer, the journal Media, War & Conflict has published a virtual special issue, available for free here. The editors selected reseach articles from the past and present that offer some analytical insight for those trying to make sense of the recent conflict. It is difficult for peer-reviewed scientific journals to respond to ongoing events, but we hope readers will gain for comparing media strategies in 2014 with those of past conflicts.
Update September 2: This article has now published in the IJoC. Click here to download.
Andrew Chadwick and Simon Collister have a new article out that examines the mediation of the Snowden leak. It will be published by the International Journal of Communication in the early autumn.
The paper is being presented at the APSA Political Communication Section Preconference in Washington, DC next week. Abstract and full PDF below.
Andrew Chadwick and Simon Collister “Boundary-Drawing Power and the Renewal of Professional News Organizations: The Case of the Guardian and the Edward Snowden NSA Leak” International Journal of Communication 8, 2014.
We argue that the Edward Snowden NSA leak of 2013 was an important punctuating phase in the evolution of political journalism and political communication, as media systems continue to adapt to the incursion of digital media logics. We show how the leak’s mediation reveals professional news organizations’ evolving power in an increasingly congested, complex, and polycentric hybrid media system where the number of news actors has radically increased. We identify the practices through which the Guardian reconfigured and renewed its power and which enabled it to lay bare highly significant aspects of state power and surveillance. This involved exercising a form of strategic, if still contingent, control over the information and communication environments within which the Snowden story developed. This was based upon a range of practices encapsulated by a concept we introduce: boundary-drawing power.
Ben O'Loughlin is one of the speakers at the symposium Streets to Screens: Mediating Conflict Through Digital Networks on 7th November 2014 at Goldsmiths, University of London. The symposium is on the topic of mediating conflict through digital networks
- What role do networked eyewitnesses, activists and citizen journalists play in conflict communication today?
- What are the challenges faced by those mediating conflict online?
- In what ways are social media content produced within the zone of conflict shaping the coverage produced by news organisations?
- What are the implications of these forms of reportage for eyewitnesses, activists, citizen journalists, perpetrators, NGOs, journalists, news media, audiences and global publics?
Andrew Hoskins, University of Glasgow
Ben O'Loughlin, Royal Holloway
Sam Gregory, WITNESS
Liam Stack, New York Times
Claire Wardle, UNHCR
Stuart Allan, Cardiff University
Malachy Browne, Storyful
Lilie Chouliaraki, LSE
Tickets are FREE but registration is required. For more information please visit:
For more information, please contact Holly Steel at firstname.lastname@example.org
Ben O'Loughlin is part of a panel kicking off this year's CRESC Annual Conference in Manchester on 3rd September 2015. The panel, Soft Power and its Critiques, also features Marie Gillespie and Robin Brown, two experts on international communication and public diplomacy.
The aim of this panel is to offer a range of critical perspectives on contemporary conceptions of soft power as well as questioning how soft power strategies are applied in practice:
- How are users 'engaged' by soft power initiatives?
- To what extent is soft power a global concept?
- How do governments attempt to harness and use soft power?
- How has British soft power evolved from an analogue to a digital world?
The panel addresses the following critical questions:
What’s new about soft power? How does it differ from older forms of 'cultural imperialism'?
Why are European powers disinvesting in media/public diplomacy and soft power initiatives at a time when rising powers are investing? Are the kinds of values that have featured prominently in western soft power strategies (tolerance, pluralism, cultural diversity, impartiality) losing some of their leverage?
Is soft power just another stage in the advance of Public Relations as the art form for politics par excellence? What does ‘power’ look like beyond the nation state? How are soft power strategies affected by the rise of transnational and supranational communities beyond the nation on one hand, and of multiple diasporas within nation states on the other hand?
If we wish to attend, please register here.
O'Loughlin is former Specialist Adviser to the House of Lords Select Committee on Soft Power, which published its final report earlier this year, while Gillespie has just published a new report examining how the BBC World Service and British Council are using digital media to fulfil their cultural diplomacy functions. Robin Brown is completing a new comparative history of public diplomacy.
Ben O'Loughlin will be lead editor of the journal Media, War & Conflict for the next 12 months, taking over from Prof. Barry Richards. The journal has enjoyed a marked upswing in the quality and quantity of submissions over the past year and the editorial team have a number of initiatives to take the journal a step forward again.
The journal recently moved to Online First allowing articles to be published immediately ahead of their inclusion in formal issues. There are some great pieces by the likes of Stuart Allan, Shawn Powers and Guy Golan available here.
For enquiries about submitting to the journal please contact Ben.OLoughlin@rhul.ac.uk.
The journal's current book review editor is Theo Mazumdar at University of Southern California. For enquires about reviews please contact Theo at email@example.com.
20 June: Akil Awan to speak on 'Drivers of Violent Extremism & Radicalisation Online' at Workshop organised by GPSG/PSA & the Politics & Media Research Group at Bournemouth University.
Akil will be presenting a keynote on 'Radicalisation Online', where he will discuss his work on the role of the Internet and Social Media on the growth of violent extremism. He will be exploring the problematic linkage between words online and actions offline, as well as addressing the simplistic and false dichotomy of the virtual and real world that such discussions are often predicated on. He will also take part in a round-table discussion on the 'Drivers of violent extremism'.
Workshop of the Greek Politics Specialist Group (GPSG) of the Political Studies Association (PSA) in association with the Politics & Media Research Group at Bournemouth University.
Political Violence and Extremism in Greece and in Europe
Date: Friday 20 june 2014, 09:300–18:00
Canada Water Library
Most political parties completely fail to respond to email enquiries, wasting an opportunity for politicians to reconnect with voters online
Voters seeking to connect with political parties are likely to be sorely disappointed if they try contacting a party by email. This is the key finding of new research by the New Political Communication Unit's Cristian Vaccari, published in the Journal of Information Technology & Politics. Cristian tested parties in seven countries by sending email enquiries, both asking about political issues and offering to volunteer. The response rate was staggering, and similar across all countries: the majority of emails received no specific response from the parties whatsoever. In this post he shares his detailed results.
If parties and politicians want to reconnect with citizens, they need to be there when and where they need them. As more and more people get online and the internet becomes increasingly embedded in citizens’ everyday lives, politicians are faced with increasing challenges and opportunities not just to speak to citizens, but to listen and respond to them. In spite of the enthusiasm for social media and mobile applications, email is still the most viable and inclusive channel through which citizens can interact with politicians. According to Ofcom’s Adults’ Media Use and Attitudes Report 2014, 90% of UK internet users send and receive emails at least quarterly, which makes email the second most common activity after general browsing (91%). Age-related differences in the use of email are rather mild, with 90% of the 16-24 year-olds and 77% of the 65+ doing that at least quarterly. Social media, by contrast, are used by 69% of UK internet users and are substantially more popular among younger than older users.
Email is thus a very good example of what Rasmus Kleis Nielsen has called “mundane internet tools”. These tools are less sophisticated than other digital artifacts, but precisely for this reason they can be more useful for campaigning and mobilization to the extent that they reach broader audiences and are less difficult for them to use. Politicians ignoring emails from voters do so at their peril. A study of US citizens found that ‘candidates and their online campaigns […] risk giving participants a negative impression by not replying to email messages’, as ‘The sender of the message feels slighted if after sending the message no response or feedback is given back to the sender.’
One would expect, then, that parties and candidates in the UK and across Western democracies should pay considerable attention to incoming emails and respond to them quickly and thoroughly. After all, politicians spend a lot of time, resources, and effort in trying to capture voters’ attention, so they should cherish the opportunity to address them when they are requested to do so. However, incoming emails also pose serious challenges for political organizations: first, they take time and effort to respond to, especially if volumes are high; second, answers need to be carefully crafted, as any reply that is inaccurate, offensive, or simply off message can easily be forwarded to the media or political competitors and cause unwanted embarrassment; third, research shows that politicians are reluctant to interact with voters online because they are afraid to lose control of their message, and email exchanges initiated by citizens are less controlled by politicians than, say, email newsletters that parties and candidates send periodically to their subscribers.
To evaluate the merits of these different considerations, I conducted a longitudinal study of 194 parties and presidential candidates or party leaders in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The study covered each national election that occurred in these countries between 2007 and 2013, including European Parliament elections and Presidential primaries in the US. In order to assess political actors’ e-mail responsiveness, two fictitious e-mails were sent to each of them from accounts coming from their countries and writing in their official languages. One email requested information on the party’s tax policies, the other pledged to be willing to volunteer for the campaign. I then recorded whether and how quickly these emails were answered, excluding those replies that appeared to be automated. A total of 608 email exchanges (304 issue questions and 304 volunteer pledges) were considered.
The results, which are illustrated in a recently published special issue of the Journal of Information Technology & Politics, show that most parties and politicians failed to respond to both emails: 65% of the issue questions and 59% of the volunteer pledges elicited no specific answer whatsoever. By contrast, only 16% issue requests and 21% volunteer pledges were replied to within one business day, with another 15% and 17%, respectively, receiving a response within four business days, and 4% and 3% within one week ore more. British parties, which I emailed in 2009 (European elections) and 2010 (general elections), answered only 8 out of 21 issue inquiries and 5 out of 21 volunteer pledges—overall, an even poorer showing than their counterparts in other countries.
What factors made political actors more or less likely to respond? A multivariate analysis considering a variety of structural and organizational factors found that:
- Party leaders are less likely to respond than both party organizations and presidential candidate campaigns—as parties’ and presidential candidates’ online communication apparatuses tend to be more developed than those of party leaders in parliamentary democracies;
- Parties that receive more votes are more responsive to issue inquiries, but not volunteer pledges—a reflection of the fact that larger parties tend to be better resourced both financially and organizationally, but also that smaller parties are motivated not to waste opportunities to recruit new volunteers;
- Political actors belonging to the Green and Socialist and Democratic party families respond to more emails than the rest—possibly reflecting their different organizational cultures and approaches to voter engagement;
- Political actors competing in elections where turnout is lower are more likely to answer both types of emails—a sign perhaps of the fact that they understand that they cannot take voter involvement for granted and should seize any opportunity to make a connection.
Why, then, do parties and candidates fail to respond to citizens trying to contact them through the easiest and most popular online tool? Answering large numbers of personal messages that require individual consideration requires time and manpower which any campaign is hard pressed to employ as parsimoniously and effectively as possible. In particular, parties may be more likely to answer emails from people they know than from the complete strangers that wrote to them in my experiment. They may also think that answering emails such as the ones that were sent for this research may not be absolutely crucial to inform and engage their online audiences—after all, if they want to learn about their tax positions they can Google them or browse their websites, and if they want to get involved in the campaign they can sign up as online volunteers on their online engagement hubs. Finally, as my study shows, not all parties and campaigns are equal in their (lack of) responsiveness to emails, and progressive political actors in particular seem to be more keen on engaging in these exchanges than the rest.
Politicians have an understandably hard time meeting the demands of a hyper-connected society and ever-hungry media. However, their silence to citizens’ inquiries can be deafening and generate disillusionment and alienation among those voters who, instead of calling it quits and giving up on politics, still strive to engage with their representatives and hold them accountable on their own terms. My study shows they still have a long way to go.
Note: This column is reposted from Democratic Audit.
June 10-11, 2014: Andrew Chadwick Speaking at University of Oslo Conference on New Trends in the Public Sphere
Professor Andrew Chadwick is speaking next week at the University of Oslo’s conference on New Trends in the Public Sphere.
The conference brings together scholars working in the fields of sociology, politics, communications and will be held at Åsgårdstrand in Vestfold. The University of Oslo’s Institute for Social Research is currently engaged in a multi-strand research programme on Social Media and the New Public Sphere: Consequences for Citizenship and Democracy.
Andrew’s talk is entitled "The New Public Sphere in Flow: Media Hybridity and Political Power." The themes will be based on his recent book The Hybrid Media System: Politics and Power and will also introduce new research, including an analysis of the mediation of the Edward Snowden NSA leak.
Details of this conference, which is a closed event, are here.