As pessoas curtem os políticos no Facebook? Não mesmo!

My article “Do People “Like” Politicians on Facebook? Not really. Large-Scale Direct Candidate-to-Voter Online Communication as an Outlier Phenomenon” is now out in a Portuguese translation in the Revista Eletrônica de Ciência Política (thanks to the hard work of Márcio Cunha Carlomagno and Sérgio Braga).

I wrote the article with Cristian Vaccari and we first published it in English in the International Journal of Communication in 2013. It is based on data from the 2010 U.S. mid-term elections and shows how though a few candidates have very large online followings, most do not.

On that basis (and existing research showing the limited reach of candidate websites), we suggest that large-scale direct online communication between politicians and ordinary people via social media platforms is a rare, outlier phenomenon—even in the case of high-stakes, well-resourced campaigns—and suggest that the most relevant political implications of social media take the form of (a) new forums for indirect communication about politics and (b) institutional changes in political communication processes.

Since then, (a) campaigns have begun to invest more in online advertising and social media advertising to get below their (often low) “organic” reach so it would be well-worth revisiting the issue, and (b) social media especially Facebook have changed their algorithms and grown in importance as gateways to news (as shown in the Reuters Institute Digital News Report and elsewhere), so it would be well worth revisiting the issue.

My hypothesis would remain that the majority of candidates, even in high-stakes elections, with well-resourced campaigns, and running in countries with high levels of internet use and high levels of social media use, attract very limited attention from the broader population online.

Below for basic information about the new Portuguese translation.

As pessoas curtem os políticos no Facebook? Não mesmo! A comunicação direta em larga escala entre candidatos e eleitores como um fenômeno outlier

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, Cristian Vaccari

Resumo

A popularidade online de alguns poucos candidatos tem levado muitos analistas a sugerir que as mídias sociais têm dado aos políticos novas e poderosas formas de se comunicar diretamente com os eleitores. Examinando se isso está acontecendo em uma escala significativa com base na análise de 224 candidatos dos maiores partidos concorrendo em distritos competitivos para a Câmara dos Deputados dos Estados Unidos durante as eleições parlamentares de 2010, descobrimos que a maioria dos políticos online é, de fato, largamente ignorada pelo eleitorado. A atenção dada pelos cidadãos aos candidatos online se aproxima das distribuições de lei de potência, com alguns candidatos obtendo muitos seguidores e a maioria definhando na obscuridade. Como a comunicação direta online em larga escala entre os políticos e as pessoas comuns nestas plataformas é um fenômeno raro e outlier – mesmo no caso de campanhas eleitorais altamente competitivas e com candidatos com amplo acesso a recursos financeiros – sugerimos, neste texto, que as implicações políticas mais relevantes das mídias sociais assumem a forma de (a) novos fóruns para comunicação indireta sobre política e (b) mudanças institucionais nos processos de comunicação política.

Palavras-chave: mídias sociais; Facebook; candidatos; eleições

Come work with me!

We at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism are recruiting for a one-year post-doctoral research fellowship for someone to come to Oxford and work closely with me on a research project focused on how news media organizations in different countries handle their relationship with digital intermediaries, and how these in turn handle their relationship with news media.

Clearly, this is a very timely and live issue, with the growing role of search engines and social media as drivers of traffic to news online, with Facebook offering to host news content, and with Google’s launch of their “Digital News Initiative” in Europe. It is a project I’m really looking forward to working on and were I’m particularly keen to find the right colleague.

The application deadline is June 5.

More details here.

Inaugural Int’ Journal of Press/Politics Editorial

My inaugural editorial for the International Journal of Press/Politics is now out.

A couple of snippets below.

[The International Journal of Press/Politics’] purpose has been a constant for almost twenty years, from when the journal was first launched in 1996. … [The] title continues to capture what it is about. It is international in that it is dedicated to research that transcends its geographic context, making an explicit contribution not only to our understanding of political communication in a single country—whether that country is the United States or Uzbekistan—but also with relevance across the world, either because it clearly specifies the conditions under which the empirical results may be relevant elsewhere or because it makes a theoretical or methodological contribution along with a clear argument about how this might be applicable in other contexts. It is about the press in the broad sense of news media in all their variations of hard news, soft news, punditry, and opinion across all platforms, whether analogue or digital. It is about politics in an equally broad sense to include not only election campaigns and the candidates and parties most directly involved but also policy processes between elections and political actors beyond electoral politics, including governments, interest groups, and social movements. The ideal article in the International Journal of Press/Politics delivers a rigorous analysis covering all these three bases. Submissions covering less than two of these three bases, or that remain wholly internal to a highly specialized scholarly subfield, are likely to get a (polite) desk reject and a suggestion they go elsewhere. We are proud to publish high-quality country case studies, but they have to be positioned as such to make an international contribution. We are happy to accept articles from scholars who are clearly positioned in one discipline or approach, but they should be placed in a wider and often interdisciplinary context.

And

My aim as editor is to ensure that the International Journal of Press/Politics continues to advance our understanding of the interactions between news media and political processes around the world and to serve the international and interdisciplinary community of scholars working in this area of research. Ultimately, a journal is what the people who submit to it, review for it, and edit it make it. My predecessors as editors, past and present members of the editorial board, as well as the contributors and peer reviewers who have been involved, have made the International Journal of Press/Politics what it is today. I want to thank all of them—in particular Silvio Waisbord, who has been a tremendous help as I prepared to take over as editor—for all their work. I will edit the journal in the spirit of those who have done so before, and aim to serve and expand the intellectual community around it.

Visiting Professor in Munich

Through the good offices of Thomas Hanitzsch, I’ll be spending the summer semester as a visiting professor at the Department of Communication Studies and Media Research at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich in Germany.

I will be teaching two courses (one on political communication and one on interview methods, focused on what I call “folk theories of journalism”), supervising some students on their thesis work, and enjoying a new intellectual environment while working on some of me comparative media research.

I also hope to use the opportunity to visit some of the Munich-based media organizations, such as Süddeutsche Zeitung, an up-market nationally distributed newspaper title which has held print circulation roughly stable over the last decade while building a significant online presence and Bayerischer Rundfunk, one of the biggest ARD affiliates.

Beyond that let me just say Munich has made a terrific first impression, it looks like a really interesting, beautiful, and lively city.

The question

I was on a dissertation committee yesterday at UNC-Chapel Hill, discussing Dave Bockino’s work on journalism education and journalism students in India and the US (congratulations on the doctoral degree, Dave!).

I didn’t get in my stock question, the one I always ask, so now I’ve copied it out from an old (2010) email to my friend Julia Sonnevend–then my fellow PhD student at Columbia–and here it is:

“OK, so the fact that [X] happens, and that [Y1, Y2, … Yn] can help us conceptualize it is interesting, but what does that mean? What is at stake in making that argument? What do we learn, what should we do differently?”

Fill in X and Y1, Y2 … Yn at your own leisure.

Julia called this “the Rasmus question”(which I’m kinda proud of) because I basically asked it every year at Columbia when we PhD students presented our dissertation projects, but really it is just me channeling the pragmatist philosophy of William James.

No, this won’t be the “Meerkat Election”. Or the “Periscope Election”. It’s digital politics as usual.

No, this won’t be the “Meerkat Election”. Or the “Periscope Election”. And as exciting as these new live streaming social media apps are, they certainly not “taking over” Washington, the Presidential Primary, or the 2016 elections (or any other political scene).

It’s the same old story, and we will hear it again and again over the next year and a half.

Much of the hype emanates from the run-up to the US presidential primaries and general elections and wild extrapolation from a few high profile incidents or particularlly succesful outliers.

  • 2004 was called the “Meetup Election” after Howard Dean’s spectacular primary campaign used the platform as part of its effort to mobilize volunteers and raise money.
  • 2008 was called the “Facebook Election” and the “YouTube Election” as these tools grew in importance and particularly the Obama campaign used them.
  • 2012, of course, was called the “Twitter Election” (by amongst others, a purely disinterested source like the CEO of, well, Twitter) as that was the new tools of the season.
  • And 2016 in addition to having already been dubbed the Meerkat Election will probably also be called the Snapchat election and the Whatsapp election and surely more too.

Much of all this hype is driven by a combination of tech journalists and political reporters with an endless need for new content and always looking for the new thing and self-interested sources like political operatives and tech professionals who have a story to tell. (It turns out that the Smith for President social media director thinks social media may decide the election, and that social media consultant Johnson and social media CEO Williams agree.)

One is tempted to say that much of it is bullshit (in the technical sense of the term as communication designed to impress), as no one seems to care whether it is actually true in any meaningful sense of that word. Thought-provoking that even very self-consicously “serious” news outlets lend their name to this stuff.

It’s all predictable but slightly annoying, as is the tendency of some journalists in other countries to pick up on coverage of US election campaigns and assume that whatever happens (or could/will/may happen there) will eventually also decide the upcoming election in country X.

What is missing from this is the simply but important point made by everyone from serious political professionals like David Plouffe (as he has written, “balanced communications across all mediums is critical in any messaging effort today”) over scholars of political communication and media like Andrew Chadwick to historians of technology like David Edgerton: the interplay between old and new media is not either/or scenario where a succession of new media arrive, displace old media like television and inherited campaign practices like going door-to-door, and proceed to decide the election in a blaze of dazzling technology-driven power. It is an additive process where new forms of campaign communication are gradually added on to existing, well-known ones in the pursuit of victory.

So what we have today is digital politics, yes, because these tools—all these tools, including seemingly old and unsexy “mundane tools” like email, spreadsheets, databases, etc—are increasingly integral to much of what many of us do, especially in high income democracies, and hence also important parts of the political process.

But it is digital politics as usual, as old media and campaign practices remain stubbornly important and central, and elections are still won as much on the basis of policy, personality, performance, and at the mercy of events and conjecture like changes in the economy.

I know saying we have a “complicated” election ahead of us that will be decided by a combination of many different factors and where those involved will rely on a wide range of different forms of communication, most of them fairly well-known and older ones, is not very exciting. But it is the honest-to-God truth of the matter. Calling it the “app-of-the-year election” is not.

Now that is off my chest at least I will have this blog post to point to for the rest of the 2015-2016 election season and probably for the rest of my life.

Review of “Political Journalism in Transition”

Simon Dawes has written a very nice review of Political Journalism in Transition: Western Europe in a Comparative Perspective (which was published in 2014 by I.B. Tauris, edited by Raymond Kuhn and myself).

The review is published in Media, Culture, and Society and concludes

The authors get to the heart of contemporary debates about the future of media regulation and the extent of state intervention, the role of the market and the importance of autonomy and independence. In illustrating the contextual differences between media systems and journalistic practices in the ‘West’, they also contribute to a more informed critique of the realities of political information, engagement and accountability, as well as a richer understanding of the causes and background of recent scandals involving both political and media figures.

The full review is here. The first chapter of our book is freely available here and the the book can be bought from the publisher, Amazon, or, if you live in a truly unusual community, your local bookstore.