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.
NPCU research student Puay-Hoe Chua will present at this week at the LSE Media and Communications PhD Symposium 2014: Power in Media and Communications: Change or Continuity? He will talk about the nature of legitimacy in East Asian media-political systems, using analysis of the Asian Barometer Survey to contextualise how political communication operates in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore. This is drawn from his ongoing PhD research. His paper is titled, “Change or continuity in political communication control? A comparison of 4 Sinic societies.”
LSE Media and Communications PhD Symposium 2014
Power in Media and Communications: Change or Continuity?
Date: Thursday 5 June 2014, 09:00–18:00
Graham Wallas Room | 5th floor Old Building
After airing an interview last month with the NPCU's Ben O'Loughlin and co-author Laura Roselle about their book Strategic Narratives: Communication Power and the New World Order, the KZSU-FM Stanford University radio interview show and podcast Hearsay Culture now has that interview available as a podcast here.
Hearsay Culture has been interviewing communications scholars since its founding, including Manuel Castells, Ethan Zuckerman and Lawrence Lessig, and its podcast archive is well worth exploring. The host, Dave Levine, describes its audience as 'techies and IP geeks' in California but the subjects addressed range across the field of political communication.
On 5 June 2014 Amy Smith and Nikki Soo will present papers at the conference Politics: The State of the Discipline at the University of Kent. The conference is organised on behalf of the ESRC's South-East Doctoral Training Centre and provides an opportunity for early-stage PhDs to present their initial research to peers and staff at other universities. The abstracts of Amy and Nikki are below. Thanks to the University of Kent for organising the event. If you wish to attend, contact them at: email@example.com
Amy Smith: Hitting a Moving Target: Controlling the news agenda during elections in the new media environment
This paper will argue that existing models of agenda-setting are not applicable to political communication during elections in the ‘internet-age’. Seminal models, such as Herman and Chomsky’s propaganda model and Bennett’s indexing hypothesis, no longer accurately reflect the power relationships between the three main actor groups in political communication: political elites, traditional media, and citizens. An alternative model will be presented, drawing on Andrew Chadwick’s theory of the hybrid media system and Cristian Vaccari’s analysis of citizen’s use of ‘digital politics’ in western democracies. There will be a discussion of the implications for power relationships in the new media environment, and the normative dimension provided by our discipline. Finally, this paper will show how the new model of agenda-setting will be utilised during the 2015 United Kingdom General Election.
A core assumption of political communication is that political and media elites will look to control the news agenda during an election campaign. However, with newer media and digital technologies, citizens are able to interact more efficiently with both elites; this alters the power dynamics between actors. As scholars within the discipline we need to analyse agenda-setting during elections from a fresh perspective. This paper acknowledges the impact of citizens through online tools and recognises the strategies that elites use to retain control of message dissemination. It argues for a reconceptualization of agenda-setting which realistically reflects power relations as they are played out during elections, and shows how this will be demonstrated during the 2015 United Kingdom General Election.
Nikki Soo: Digital Media and Democratic Hopes: A Study of ICT Impacts
The pervasive presence of information and communication technologies (ICTs) has been deemed by many such as Karlsen to be a driving force for change. As a hierarchy-free, interactive and global medium rooted in multiple information sources, the Internet and ICTs have allowed an expanding number of users unrivalled opportunities to access information as well as politically express themselves through new avenues. Available research reveal that ICTs have precipitated a paradigm shift in contemporary politics but these studies are predominantly focused on Western liberal democracies.
Recognising this caveat, this paper proposes to inquire and assess the interactions between ICTs, political parties and civil society in non-democratic Asian nations. Singapore will be used as a case study. Democracy eludes this island state despite high levels of Internet penetration, economic development and a well-educated population. To understand if ICTs have made an impact in Singapore’s road to democracy, the following methodology will be employed. Vanhanen’s participatory democracy theory will be synthesised with the theory of mass responsive democratisation to generate a causal path. A qualitative study of three indicators (political institutions, political culture and media system) will be carried out alongside several interviews before being evaluated against the hypothesis. This research hopes to contribute towards democratic transition studies revolving around the potential of the Internet, generating significant analytical and practical ramifications in subsequent ICT-related democratisation studies.
4 June - Communicating Contested Political Histories: Memory, Truth and Denial in the Srebrenica Genocide
The Srebrenica massacre in July 1995 was the single greatest atrocity on European soil since the Second World War, during which Bosnian Serb forces systematically massacred more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys in a crime judged by the International Court of Justice at The Hague to be an act of genocide. As we approach the 20th anniversary of Srebrenica, the terrible events of the past continue to haunt us – not just through the ongoing discovery of mass grave sites in Tomasica and elsewhere, but also through the pernicious denials of ethnic cleansing and genocide, and the rise of revisionist history that has taken hold in parts of the Balkans.
How do we communicate and remember contested political histories, particularly those involving extreme violence? How do we commemorate these tragic events without first achieving agreement on the narratives of what took place? How do we arrive at 'reconciliation' when the 'truth' itself is so polarising?
This event seeks to address these issues surrounding remembrance of Srebrenica, by discussing survivor testimonies, the painstaking process of establishing facts and truth, and the contesting of genocide denial and revisionist history.
- Dr Akil N Awan, Lecturer in Political Violence and Terrorism, Department of History, Royal Holloway, University of London.
- Adam Boys, Director of International Programs, International Committee for Missing Persons (ICMP).
- Muhamed Durakovic, Srebrenica survivor, and Head of Libya programme at the ICMP.
- Dr. Eric Gordy, Senior Lecturer in Politics of Southeast Europe at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies (SSEES) of University College London.
Date/Time: 4 June 2014 6:30pm
Location: Room 261, Senate House, Malet St, London WC1E 7HU
Generously supported by the Humanities & Arts Research Centre (HARC) at Royal Holloway, University of London, and Remembering Srebrenica.
The NPCU's Ben O'Loughlin has published a new column for the journal Global Policy, 'Narratives of Transition in Syria'. This emerges from recent discussions at the Carter Center in the US addressing the prospects for reconciliation and the role media might play in the process. He argues that any new national narrative or story that incorporates the identities and aspirations of different sections of Syrian society must also mesh with narratives the major international powers have about sovereignty, human rights, and how such conflicts should be settled. Without that international buy-in, those external actors will continue to support differing factions and conflict will continue.
NPCU PhD researcher James Dennis has published a new article in openDemocracy , 'After the party - what can political parties learn from 38 Degrees'. His analysis comes from recent research he has carried out of the organisation across different locations and campaigns. He argues that if parties are to avoid terminal decline they must heed the lessons 38 Degrees offers - people want influence and tangible efficacy from their politics rather than being offered rigid ideological platforms and unresponsive hierarchies.
The second leg of the NPCU-Georgia State University programme on Religion, Media and Conflict takes place in Atlanta, Georgia on 7-9 May. This workshop focuses on Syria, and takes place at the Carter Center. It will provide a closed-door forum for a small group of policy makers, experts, and religious actors to think critically about the challenges posed to the international community by the Syrian civil war and ensuing humanitarian crisis. While a number of immediate operational and tactical issues deserve attention, the workshop aims to anticipate and envision solutions to medium and long- term problems such as sectarian conflict, political reconciliation, and nation- (re)building. The project is supported by grants from the British Council and the U.S. Institute of Peace.
For those in town, below are details of a free and public event that is part of the workshop. Kindly RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org or 404.727.1438.
Syria, The Human Toll: Prospects for Reconciliation and Redevelopment
Thursday, May 8 7pm Jimmy Carter Library and Museum
Not since the Rwandan genocide has the world seen a humanitarian crisis like the one caused by Syria’s civil war. As the conflict enters its fourth year nine million people have been displaced, the education system is in ruin and the country’s medical system is near total collapse. With religious extremism on the rise and opposition groups divided, the prospects for peace remain elusive for the near future. While much international attention is focused on political processes that will lead to a cessation of conflict and a peace settlement, Syria’s humanitarian crisis continues to deepen. Governments and private donors are focused on the challenges of meeting immediate needs for food, shelter and medical care. But, what are the prospects for the future? This public discussion with policy, NGO and academic experts provides an opportunity for stakeholders to share their perspectives on the challenges of post conflict reconciliation and redevelopment in Syria.
Thanks as ever to Tim Rivera from British Council USA for assistance with the Bridging Voices program, as well as to The Carter Center, GSU, and Emory University.