politics

Twitter’s connections tend to be less about strong social relationships and more about connecting with people for the purposes of commenting and information sharing.

Twitter has exploded in recent years, now boasting half a billion registered users. Like blogs and the world’s largest social networking platform, Facebook, Twitter has actively been used for political discourse during the past few elections in the US, Canada, and elsewhere but it differs from them in a number of significant ways. Twitter’s connections tend to be less about strong social relationships (such as those between close friends or family members), and more about connecting with people for the purposes of commenting and information sharing. Twitter also provides a steady torrent of updates and resources from individuals, celebrities, media outlets, and any other organisation seeking to inform the world as to its views and actions. This may well make Twitter particularly well suited to political debate and activity. Yet important questions emerge in terms of the patterns of conduct and engagement. Chief among them: are users mainly seeking to reinforce their own viewpoints and link with likeminded persons, or is there a basis for widening and thoughtful exposure to a variety of perspectives that may improve the collective intelligence of the citizenry as a result? Conflict and Polarisation Political polarisation often occurs in a so-called ‘echo chamber’ environment, in which individuals are exposed to only information and communities that support their own viewpoints, while ignoring opposing perspectives and insights. In such isolating and self-reinforcing conditions, ideas can become more engrained and extreme due to lack of contact with contradictory views and the exchanges that could ensue as a result. On the web, political polarisation has been found among political blogs, for instance. American researchers have found that liberal and conservative bloggers in the US tend to link to other bloggers who share their political ideology. For Kingwell, a prominent Canadian philosopher, the resulting dynamic is one that can be characterised by a decline in civility and a lessening ability for political compromise to take hold. He laments the emergence…

Is an action only ‘political’ if it takes place in the mainstream political arena; involving government, politicians or voting?

Following a furious public backlash in 2011, the UK government abandoned plans to sell off 258,000 hectares of state-owned woodland. The public forest campaign by 38 Degrees gathered over half a million signatures.

How do we define political participation? What does it mean to say an action is ‘political’? Is an action only ‘political’ if it takes place in the mainstream political arena; involving government, politicians or voting? Or is political participation something that we find in the most unassuming of places, in sports, home and work? This question, ‘what is politics’ is one that political scientists seem to have a lot of trouble dealing with, and with good reason. If we use an arena definition of politics, then we marginalise the politics of the everyday; the forms of participation and expression that develop between the cracks, through need and ingenuity. However, if we broaden our approach as so to adopt what is usually termed a process definition, then everything can become political. The problem here is that saying that everything is political is akin to saying nothing is political, and that doesn’t help anyone. Over the years, this debate has plodded steadily along, with scholars on both ends of the spectrum fighting furiously to establish a working understanding. Then, the Internet came along and drew up new battle lines. The Internet is at its best when it provides a home for the disenfranchised, an environment where like-minded individuals can wipe free the dust of societal disassociation and connect and share content. However, the Internet brought with it a shift in power, particularly in how individuals conceptualised society and their role within it. The Internet, in addition to this role, provided a plethora of new and customisable modes of political participation. From the onset, a lot of these new forms of engagement were extensions of existing forms, broadening the everyday citizen’s participatory repertoire. There was a move from voting to e-voting, petitions to e-petitions, face-to-face communities to online communities; the Internet took what was already there and streamlined it, removing those pesky elements of time, space and identity. Yet, as the Internet continues…

Editors must now decide not only what to publish and where, but how long it should remain prominent and visible to the audience on the front page of the news website.

Image of the Telegraph's state of the art "hub and spoke" newsroom layout by David Sim.

The political agenda has always been shaped by what the news media decide to publish—through their ability to broadcast to large, loyal audiences in a sustained manner, news editors have the ability to shape ‘political reality’ by deciding what is important to report. Traditionally, journalists pass to their editors from a pool of potential stories; editors then choose which stories to publish. However, with the increasing importance of online news, editors must now decide not only what to publish and where, but how long it should remain prominent and visible to the audience on the front page of the news website. The question of how much influence the audience has in these decisions has always been ambiguous. While in theory we might expect journalists to be attentive to readers, journalism has also been characterised as a profession with a “deliberate…ignorance of audience wants” (Anderson, 2011b). This ‘anti-populism’ is still often portrayed as an important journalistic virtue, in the context of telling people what they need to hear, rather than what they want to hear. Recently, however, attention has been turning to the potential impact that online audience metrics are having on journalism’s “deliberate ignorance”. Online publishing provides a huge amount of information to editors about visitor numbers, visit frequency, and what visitors choose to read and how long they spend reading it. Online editors now have detailed information about what articles are popular almost as soon as they are published, with these statistics frequently displayed prominently in the newsroom. The rise of audience metrics has created concern both within the journalistic profession and academia, as part of a broader set of concerns about the way journalism is changing online. Many have expressed concern about a ‘culture of click’, whereby important but unexciting stories make way for more attention grabbing pieces, and editorial judgments are overridden by traffic statistics. At a time when media business models are under great strain, the…

By 2015, the proportion of Chinese language Internet users is expected to exceed the proportion of English language users.

The rising prominence of China is one of the most important developments shaping the Internet. Once typified primarily by Internet users in the US, there are now more Internet users in China than there are Americans on the planet. By 2015, the proportion of Chinese language Internet users is expected to exceed the proportion of English language users. These are just two aspects of a larger shift in the centre of gravity of Internet use, in which the major growth is increasingly taking place in Asia and the rapidly developing economies of the Global South, and the BRIC nations of Brazil, Russia, India—and China. The 2013 ICA Preconference “China and the New Internet World” (14 July 2013), organised by the OII in collaboration with many partners at collaborating universities, explored the issues raised by these developments, focusing on two main interrelated questions: how is the rise of China reshaping the global use and societal implications of the Internet? And in turn, how is China itself being reshaped by these regional and global developments? As China has become more powerful, much attention has been focused on the number of Internet users: China now represents the largest group of Internet users in the world, with over half a billion people online. But how the Internet is used is also important; this group doesn’t just include passive ‘users’, it also includes authors, bloggers, designers and architects—that is, people who shape and design values into the Internet. This input will undoubtedly affect the Internet going forward, as Chinese institutions take on a greater role in shaping the Internet, in terms of policy, such as around freedom of expression and privacy, and practice, such as social and commercial uses, like shopping online. Most discussion of the Internet tends to emphasise technological change and ignore many aspects of the social changes that accompany the Internet’s evolution, such as this dramatic global shift in the concentration of…