Add your Insight
05 July 2021
Special Issue Editor(s)
Audencia Business School, France; University of Silesia, Poland
Freie Universität Berlin, Weizenbaum Institute for the Networked Society; European New School of Digital Studies, Germany
University of Washington, USA
Hertie School of Governance, DE
Digital Campaigning in Dissonant Public Spheres
Digital communication and digital media are massively challenging what we thought we knew about elections, referenda, protest mobilizations and other forms of political campaigning. Not only have political parties mediatized in high-choice media environments (van Aelst et al. 2017), but transformed into transmedia parties (Casero-Ripollés et al. 2016) with communication at the core of their activities. Public spheres have become dissonant (Pfetsch 2018), disrupted by the inability to communicate across differences, increasing cacophony and polarization (Bennett & Pfetsch 2018). Never-ending revelations about Cambridge Analytica, as the tip of an iceberg, expose manipulations of voter’s opinion formation processes at a massive scale and transnational reach (Cadwalladr 2020).
Within these new contexts, parties, candidates and political movements develop new strategies of campaigning, including (but not limited to) microtargeting, embedding employees from tech companies into their campaigns (Kreiss & McGregor 2018; 2019), experimenting with new platforms beyond ‘traditional’ social media (such as TikTok or WhatsApp, e.g. Kligler- Vilenchik & Tenenboim 2020). At the same time, the campaign environment and its rules are in constant flow: some platforms end political advertisement (e.g. Twitter and Spotify, Kreiss & Perault 2019), others attempt to adjust to new rules (e.g. Facebook), or change the rules for certain aspects of campaigning, e.g. during the 2019 EU elections. New actors have joined the game of campaigning: algorithms that curate news feeds and manage content (Diakopoulos 2019), social bots that automatically distribute messages and likes (Keller & Klinger 2019), chat bots on campaign websites, or data scientists who joined PR consultants from the era of mass-centered and target-group-centered campaigning.
Audiences, imagined audiences (Litt & Hargittai 2016), and the ways in which voters use social media are also changing: Social media have become main sources of political information for a relevant part of the electorate (an average of 52% worldwide, Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2019), but at the same time voters tend to not trust social media for news (23% worldwide, Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2019). They perceive that news will find them rather than actively searching for information (Gil de Zuniga et al. 2017), and increasingly refrain from political debate on social media – fearing conflict and attacks, moving to the relative anonymity of messenger services.
Under these conditions, planning a campaign faces new challenges. In addition, the current Covid19 health policy interventions may alter how the campaigns are run (e.g. US presidential election 2020) or how to face and communicate around the necessity of election postponement (e.g. French March 2020 elections, Polish presidential election May 2020).
Special issue profile
The theme of the special issue lies within the core of Political Communication and aims to gather current research on recent political campaigning. We are looking for studies covering the most recent elections, referenda, or organized political actions within a wide geographical scope. Our particular focus is not so much on campaigns themselves, but on how the interactions and relations between campaigns and media and citizens change in the context of dissonant public spheres.
The special issue aims to answer some topical research questions:
- What is the current state of political campaigning almost two decades after the emergence of social media? Especially, what role do social media platforms play in shaping the disruptive public sphere and with what effects on the political outcomes?
- Where does political communication research need to go in order to overcome the contemporary challenges of data access restrictions when studying interactions between campaigns, voters, media and platforms?
- How can academics trace and monitor digital manipulations within political campaigns across countries and over time?
- What are the consequences of digitally-driven changes in political campaigning for democratic societies?
We are looking for either theoretical papers, or papers based on sound methodological work. We welcome quantitative and qualitative studies, from both traditional approaches (surveys, experiments, content analysis etc.) and more innovative methodologies (social media networks analysis, social scientific computational methods and/or trace-databased research).
The special issue would be accompanied by a thematic Forum based on shorter essays.
We also invite the submissions to Forum.
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