From Encounters to Engagement - Examining Political Engagement in an Age of Social Media


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Type of work: PhD Thesis


e-Democracy | e-Politics | Participation | Politics and Political Science


In the current information environment that is increasingly defined by digital technologies, this dissertation focuses on exploring the political implications of citizens’ everyday interactions in online social networks. This dissertation suggests that the user-directed flow of content and the newsfeed structure that enable users to broadcasts information among social ties generate an important shift from purposefully seeking politics online to encountering politics through social networking. In this context, this dissertation presents three studies that examine the outcomes of routine social media use on three different dimensions of democratic citizenship. The first project examines whether social media use can contribute to an informed citizenry. Granted that a healthy participatory democracy is the product of citizens’ political deliberation, this dissertation asks if social media can serve as an effective source for information and promote an informed and engaged citizenry. The second project explores the potential of social media to serve as a democratic sphere that facilitates citizens’ engagement in political discourse. This project sheds light on the potential of social media to embrace diversity and plurality in political discussion and facilitate expressive behavior, despite the high sensitization toward the social presence of others. Finally, the third project examines whether encountering news and politics in social media can ultimately promote citizens’ behavioral participation in the democratic process. Taken together, the findings of this dissertation provide evidence on the possibilities as well as limitations of encountering politics to contribute to engagement in politics.