Citizen politics (VII): Round Table

Notes from the workshop Citizen Politics: Are the New Media Reshaping Political Engagement? held in Barcelona, Spain, on May 28-30th, 2009. More notes on this event: citizen_politics_2009.

Rachel Gibson

All politics is both personal and local… and national… and… Have to manage the way to connect the personal to the local.

Emergent e-campaign strategy: depends on infrastructure and the tools; and of the logic of networked communities, whether they are autonomous or not. A difference between building “real” communities, or populist platforms addressed to many in general (to the “herd”).

A major challenge: how to measure actions, people, quality, etc. A need to modelize “digital natives” and the way they interact between each other and through technology.

Main research approaches in Politics 2.0, all of them interrelated:

Foci, key factors /
Level of Analysis
Internal External
Elite (supply) Campaign change, tools, national/local power, adoption diffusion Inter-party comptetition, campaign site analysis
Mass (mass) Party membership, supporters, volunteers Electoral mobilization

Víctor Sampedro

We should not embrace the discourse and language of marketing or consultants, of populism, of counter-hegemonic collectives.

We have to assess the validity of our data, and collaborate both with the industry and the subjects of our studies.

We have to clarify what we understand by counter-power measures of ICTs and also, the concept of empowerment, and the concept of mobilization.

Is it a grassroots approach really a better system? Shouldn’t leaders lead? Is there still a role for leaders to “educate” the voter or to find “better” solutions and show them to the citizen?

Brian Krueger

Everything that’s great can be used against you: we should be thinking about Internet surveillance and monitoring. We know little about it and should be paying more attention to it. And this includes the sheer sensation of being monitored, as it has behavioural effects (e.g. self-censorship). Evidence shows that people feel monitored if they’d type “impeach Bush” or “assassinate Bush”. Open political criticism is tied to the feeling of being watched. And this sensation of being watched most probably changes your own behaviour, even if you’re not actually watched. And it’s likely to change how and how much you are participating.

Bruce Bimber

Motivation, attitudes, trust… the umbrella were to begin exploring participation. And then focus also on the changes that the new media are infringing to the landscape.

How would the landscape look like when “all” the people would have been socialized with these new media?

How different Web 2.0 tools differentiate one another? What different specific applications do they have?

We’re right to talk about choice, but we do still have not good models how to measure how choice happens and why.

More effort should be made in analysing how citizens can affect agenda-setting, on a decentralized and bottom-up communication scheme. And also how horizontal communication happens, how peer-to-peer can pass the message on.

Should focus more not on how people mobilize, but what the specific motivations and contexts are. What keeps people awake at night.

Andrew Chadwick

We need more appreciation of social network environments (i.e. tools), and balance technological determinism with social determinism, keeping in mind how technology did change some human behaviours.

How do we contextualize a campaign or social movement, specially when social movements increasingly look like parties and parties increasingly look like social movements, and borrow each one’s instruments and techniques.

Look at how citizens cognitively negotiate information overload in an age of information saturation (not scarcity).

Can we do politics in a space owned by the market and private interests? Can the citizens build their own forums, create their own network effects and avoid commoditized online spaces?

We do need to start looking in more sophisticated ways how people are exposed to online content, including accidental exposure.

There are many cross-section analyses, but few panel-data analysis, which are usually acknowledged to be more robust (though more difficult and expensive). And we should use more the “free range” data that people automatically create with their actions (e.g. logs) instead of “battery raised” surveys. And combine methods.

We should be aware of how mobile technologies might be changing the economy of attention and politics.


Bruce Bimber: mobility is more about time, more about “always on” rather than physical space or ubiquity (Chadwick fully agrees).

Rachel Gibson & Bruce Bimber: there are places where the local factor really matters and shapes how the institutions work or are built and managed.


Citizen Politics workshop (2009)

Citizen politics (VI): Online Public Sphere

Notes from the workshop Citizen Politics: Are the New Media Reshaping Political Engagement? held in Barcelona, Spain, on May 28-30th, 2009. More notes on this event: citizen_politics_2009.

Granularity in citizen’s online engagement
Andrew Chadwick

Dissatisfaction with the debate around e-Democracy and the concept of the public sphere. A new approach is needed and it would be worth looking at it from Yochai Benkler’s point of view, who states that granularity (of collaboration) determines the success of a (collaborative) project.

The online scenario has change with the appearance of the Web 2.0. Thus, online politics should be reshaped accordingly, and make possible more granular ways to participate.

Usability is one of the things that have radically changed in recent years. Web 2.0 platforms are simple and more easy to use. It is also easier to aggregate simple and small contributions together.

Low threshold political behaviour is central in most Web 2.0 political websites.

Web 2.0 do not solve the trust issue, but they have no doubt addressed this subject and they are far better than other solutions (newsgroups, IRC, etc.).

Community engagement requires third places not explicitly political/politicized (squares, bars, etc.) and this is going online now too. Facebook-like platforms are places where politics can piggy-back other conversations and meetings.

More granularity does not necessarily means less quality (i.e. because there is “less effort” and “less commitment” in just e.g. sending a single petition to the Prime Minister). Numbers matter. And, indeed, more granularity implies less risk.

Granular participation needs reconceptualization of decentralized politics. How to measure this? What’s the role of the intermediaries? Do we need them? Will political content be created?

How to support new patterns of interaction between politicians or policy-makers and the citizens? Will this interaction take place in third places? Will people welcome politicians in these third places? Will politicians be willing to enter these places?

Participation in online creation communities
Mayo Fuster

Online Creation Communities (OCCs) are collective action performed by individuals that cooperate, communicate and interact, mainly via a platform of participation in the Internet, with the goal of knowledge-making and which the resulting information al pool remains freely accessible and of collective property.

Political relevance: they are spaces for civic engagement in the dissemination of alternative information and for participation in the public sphere; and citizen engagement in the provision of public civic information.

Two cases: and Wikimedia Foundation.

There is very strong inequality in participation: active participants (1%) that heavily contribute and are responsible for most of the content; contributors (9%), a low percentage of participants that make small or indirect contributions; and lurkers (90%), a large presence of individuals that do not participate. This pattern repeats everywhere and everywhen.

For the distribution is: 82% lurkers, 14.3% contributors and 3.7% active participants. Distribution of profiles varies depending on what is understood by participation.

97% of participants in presented themselves as individuals, not as members (or even representatives) of organizations.

Participation as an eco-system:

  • Participation is open, the system is open to participation
  • Participation has multiple forms and degrees which are integrated: a critical mass is essential to initiate the project; weak cooperation enriches the system; lurkers provide value as audience or through unintended participation that improves the sys tem
  • Participation is decentralized and asynchronous
  • Po is public
  • P is autonomous, each person decides which level of commitment they want to adopt and on what aspects they want to contribute
  • Participation is volunteering

Norms, technology and information: Pondering the infrastructural choices of “e-participation”
Anders Koed Madsen

Analysis of portals to gather political or public-service-like content: How do the different portals shape and materialize the abstract pormises of citizen participation? Which elements give promises of new modes of citizen-engagement?

1st dimension: Structured semantics vs. unstructured semantics. This is a basis for both transmission and deliberation, though there is a trade-off between noise-reduction and diversity of inputs. There are also differences in how interaction is facilitated. Reacting citizen vs. proactive; moderated vs. unmoderated; agenda setting vs. open agendas; etc.

2nd dimension: Rationalistic content vs. non-rationalistic content. Differences in forms of content. The semantic choice can constrain the dialogue.

3rd dimension: Loose moderation vs. strict moderation.

How the election of these dimensions can affect content?


Brian Krueger: does really a bigger size in the network implies a more useful network? Isn’t there a trade-off between size and usefulness? Is there a way to create networks that are useful to share knowledge?

Ismael Peña-López (re: Chadwick’s): One variable missing in the equation of how Web 2.0 have changed the landscape is the focus of most Web 2.0 platforms, or who benefits from them, shifting form the organization to the individual. Contributing to newsgroups benefited the community, uploading photos on Flickr benefits me; participating with a political party benefits… the party, but participating in TheyWorkForYou or FixMyStreet benefits… me! It is, again, a switch from push strategies (be engaged, then work for the party/candidate) to pull strategies (work for you, then be engaged). In some way, the Web 2.0 allows for including the concept of utility in the equation of political engagement.

Ismael Peña-López (re: Krueger’s comment on Chadwick’s): useful for who? the bigger the network, the more useful for aggregate purposes (more data, more content) though it can be overwhelming at the individual level. In fact, the ideal would be huge networks made out of many small personal networks. Indeed, to share knowledge there must be that shift from working for the others (push) to working for oneself (pull) and then reuse/aggregate this content so that it is connected with other content and people, building a network up.


Citizen Politics workshop (2009)

Citizen politics (V): Impacts on Knowledge and Participation

Notes from the workshop Citizen Politics: Are the New Media Reshaping Political Engagement? held in Barcelona, Spain, on May 28-30th, 2009. More notes on this event: citizen_politics_2009.

The Political Knowledge Gap in the New Media Environment
Eva Anduiza, Aina Gallego and Laia Jorba

Knowledge gap hypothesis (Tichenor, Donohue and Olien, 1970, 159-160): As the infusion of mass media information into a social system increases, segment of pupulation with higher socioeconomic status tend to acquire this information at a faster rate than the lower status segments.

What is the impact of new media on the knowledge gap? There’s much more information of any kind; more choice and possibilities, etc. Two approaches:

  • Cognitive abilities are more relevant, so the knowledge gap is due to capability; same with motivation.
  • On the other hand, serendipity (when surfing the Internet at random) can play an important role in decreasing the knowledge gap

A survey on Internet uses and political knowledge showed that Internet users are more knowledgeable in political issues (leaving aside age, education and other variables that could influence political knowledge).

There is also a positive interaction between Education and Internet use, meaning that more educated people can learn more about politics in the Internet. But also a negeative interaction between Interest and Internet use, that is, less interested people learn more on the Internet about politics than interested ones. Why is it so?

Reinforcement and mobilization: the influence of the Internet on different types of political participation
Marta Cantijoch

What’s the impact of the Internet on political participation? We’re seeing a decrease of representational forms of participation and an increase of protest and other extra-representational activities. Reasons could be dissatisfaction, disaffection (as less involvement) and apathy, discontent (but eager to get involved), etc.

Three theoretical profiles:

  • Disaffected: low levels of involvement, dissatisfied with the political system, low feelings of engagement. Expected not to participate whatever
  • Critical: High political involvement and feelings of engagement, but low satisfaction wiht the sisyte. Expected to get involved in extrarepresentative activities
  • Institutionalised: High political involvement, and feelings of citizen duty, matched by the political system. Expected participation in representative models.

What happens with these three profiles when the Internet comes in? More information available, higher diversity of discourses, unplanned exposure to information. If the Internet fosters extra-representative forms of participation, Disaffected and Institutionalized citizens will be mobilised, but Critical ones will find their eagerness not to mobilize reinforced.

A survey+analyses were performed to measure turnout, representational and extra-representational participation according to Internet use, and voluntary search for information and proclivity to be exposed to serendipitous political information.

Findings are that the more the Internet use, the higher the probability to be mobilized at al levels. In other words, using the Internet increases the likelihood of participation in extra-representational modes, though it has minimal effects amongst disaffected (mobilizing in institutionalized and reinforcing amongst critical citizens).

On the other hand, being exposed to more political information also increases the probability to mobilised, regardless of it being voluntary (active search) or involuntary exposure to political information.

Political participation, alienation and the Internet in Spain and the United States
Mike Jensen

Political alienation can be explained, from the demand side, by several reasons. Putnam (1995, 2000) states that it might be because of a loosening of personal ties with the civil society. Also due to a generational shift in participatory repertoires away from hierarchical political engagement.

On the supply side, Stoker (2006) or Hay (2007) explain it by the increasing complexity of politics. Political marketing could well be another reason.

Does low specific and diffuse support negatively impact participation? Are there differences between offline and different online forms of participation? Is there evidence that the politically alienated offline are participation online? Do we find differences between Spain and the US?

After two surveys (Spain and US), we test trust in the central governemnt, in political parties and the local government, responsiveness of authorities, complexity of politics and elite interests domination. In both countries we can group (principal components analysis) the variables in two factors: diffuse support (concerning the former three) and specific support (latter three).

US: In general, either diffuse or specific support seems not to affect political participation. Only diffuse support has a weak association with offline political participation in the US. Reading online political news does have a political impact in participation at any level. And there’s a segment of the population that expend a lot of time surfing the Internet as a way of expressing aspects of their lives, participating in Web 2.0 related platforms.

Spain: A negative relation between being for a major party and online participation. Diffuse support is positively related with online participation, while specific support is positively related with offline support. Again, reading political news leads to higher probability to participate, whatever the means.

There is either no or a negative relationship between participation and support. We find evidence of younger cohorts particularity participation oin Web 2.0. Some evidence for cultural shaping of the Internet as there are difference sin how the major parties relate to the Internet.


Bruce Bimber: What happens with long-term participation and whether we believe it is good or bad? Is it really useful so treat the Web 2.0 differently from online participation? For older generations there might be a difference, but is that difference there amongst younger generations?

Ismael Peña-López (re: Aina Gallego’s paper): reasons why less interested learn more through the Internet could be that more interested have a wider range of information sources and rely not on serendipity. On the other hand, because their threshold for new information is higher than non interested. It would be useful, then, to add a couple more variables: (1) do you rely on other sources to get political information and how many (2) how well do you think you are informed on political issues.

Rachel Gibson: It might also be a case that the information you find on the Internet is low quality and thus it has a negative effect on your knowledge level.


Citizen Politics workshop (2009)

Citizen politics (IV): New Mobilization Strategies

Notes from the workshop Citizen Politics: Are the New Media Reshaping Political Engagement? held in Barcelona, Spain, on May 28-30th, 2009. More notes on this event: citizen_politics_2009.

Assessing Internet Mobilization – A Methodological Approach for Integrating Web Analysis and Survey Data
Camilo Cristancho and Jorge Salcedo

Analysis on two demonstrations against the crisis: how were they organized and how were people mobilized.

How did you find out about this protest rally: face to face (44%), e-mail (31%), traditional media (15%), website (10%).

Online mobilization is received by the same profile of individuals who get mobilized by offline channels: participants are both activists and Internet users.

Online contact is limited to association networks. Organizations are more likely to use face-to-face and less likely to use e-mail.

Past participation types have an influence on future ways of contact: people that have taken action online are more likely to get e-mail. E-mail mobilization is linked to past forms of online engagement, though there is no previous consent to get these e-mails.

Surprisingly, on a second order mobilization, activists contacted online shifted to offline to propagate the message.

Associations which mobilize the majority of people do not have a high presence in cyberspace: there is an inverse relationship between presence and e-mail mobilization.

Internet mobilization has a great potential for expanding participation. On the other hand, need for visibility leads to clusterization and concentration.

Opt in or Tune out: Online Mobilization & Political Participation
Brian Krueger

There is a huge difference between solicited contact between online and offline models: online contact from mobilizing institutions is 62% unsolicited vs. 38% solicited. In offline contact, 24% is solicited and 76% is unsolicited. It thus looks like online activists are always “the same people”, and it is easier to expand your base for mobilization by going offline. At least in theory. At least in a first order of things.

Expanding participation by online means would then depend on several things, and it depends whether you want to activate the active (mobilization from solicited political e-mail) or you want to activate the inactive (mobilization from unsolicited political e-mail).

So, does unsolicited political e-mail induce individuals to participate in politics?

Unsolicited online mobilizing measures do not seem to have an influence on being actually mobilized. Same with offline, though, if it has any impact, it is more due to the system (being offline) than because of it being solicited or unsolicited.

There’s another point to be made: major institutions (parties, political organizations) do not normally engage in unsolicited mailing. This might be another reason why unsolicited e-mail is not effective: because it is used by already “marginal” organizations, so it’s the organization (not the means) what does not matter.

Research should be made on a 2-step mobilization process, where more focus is put on the role of friends and family, so that to avoid the appearance of spam. Need for more studies on peer-to-peer engagement.

The Impact of Online and Offline mobilization on Participation Modes
Sarah Vissers, Marc Hooghe, Dietlind Stolle and Valérie-Anne Mahéo

Is mobilization tool-specific or is there a spill-over effect of online mobilization on offline participation and of face-to-face mobilization on online participation and visa versa?

An experiment was designed with two organizations trying to mobilize (online and offline) two different groups of people (+ control group) to rally for environmental issues.

Results show that in the long run, mobilization rates drop, but for the group belonging to a lower socio-economic profile, the web (web tools) has a positive impact in maintaining mobilization rates.

For face to face, it always has a positive effect on both groups regardless of their socio-economic profile, but web mobilization has a negative effect in the long run in the higher socio-economic level group.


  • Effects of mobilization processes tend to be tool-specific.
  • Pre-existing levels of Internet skills had no effect on the mobilization potential of Web mobilization.
  • Strong differences between students and participants with lower socio-economic status. Mobilization most effective for least-mobilizsed and least-interested.


Andrew Chadwick (discussant): A distinction between impersonal unsolicited e-mail and interpersonal unsolicited e-mail. Where’s the line that separates spam from “ambient information”? What about the economy of time? We should do more research on the availability of time amongst activists, and see whether they go online because they cannot attend face-to-face meetings, or they precisely go online because they have plenty of time to commit in more ways. And also use time as a proxy of the degree of involvement of a specific individual in a specific action, and thus be able to compare offline and online activities with a common “currency”.


Citizen Politics workshop (2009)

Citizen politics (III): Parties and Elections in the US

Notes from the workshop Citizen Politics: Are the New Media Reshaping Political Engagement? held in Barcelona, Spain, on May 28-30th, 2009. More notes on this event: citizen_politics_2009.

Youth, Online Engagement, and the 2008 U.S. Presidential Election
Bob Boynton, Caroline J. Tolbert and Allison Hamilton

With the Internet, political activity that was hidden — the voters’ — comes to the surface. Things that you could only know through surveys, now you can know it by looking at how many people looked at this or that video on YouTube.

And the information about the candidates has also boosted: from an average of 15 TV ads that lasted 30″ each, to 150 videos you could watch on YouTube.

And not only importation about what voters passively do, but also what actively do, their political action or engagement.

The “celebrities video” by McCain was viewed circa 2 million times, while the spoof/answer by Paris Hilton was seen by circa 7 million visitors. What happens to our understanding of politics when the unofficial beats that much the official message?

65% of visits to Obama videos in YouTubre came from the campaign official website. The top referrer to McCain’s videos in YouTube came from The Hufftington Post, who was against McCain.

The average of comments in the Obama site was 75 while in McCain’s it was 25%.

“Technology is a Commodity”. The Internet in the 2008 US Presidential Election
Cristian Vaccari

Research questions

  • Technological vs. social determinism: Is the Internet a channel of social-political dynamics, or can it be a driver too?
  • Post-bureaucratic political organizations (Bimber): How do campaigns resolve the trade-off between bottom-up spontaneity and top-down control?
  • Hypermedia camp and the managed citizen (Howard): Does data-driven selection and direction of volunteer engagement change the campaigns’ organizational incentives and practices?

Methodology: focus on the meso (organizational) level, 31 interviews to political consultants.

Two main conditions for an online campaign to work: content, based on the character of the candidate; and organization, based on committing to a volunteer-centered model rather tahn a marketing, command-and-control model.

Obama’s campaign worked more at the organizational level, building relationships, than at the marketing level, sending out messages and ideas.

There was no evidence found of a trade-off between organization and empowerment. But the grassroots revolution is still to be organized.

The Obama hybrid model: based on trust and authenticity, and with data assisted guidance.

From mass communication system to mass community system. From message control to message guidance. From a marketing paradigm to an organizing paradigm. From top-down vs. bottom-up to data-driven, targeted relationship management.

Research must be carpenter-driven rather than hammer-driven (Marshall Ganz).

New Media and Horizontal Politics in the Obama Campaign
Bruce Bimber

Obama’s was both the best-run new media (horizontal) campaign adn the best-run traditional (vertical) campaign in recent history. On the other hand, the election would likely have been won by the Democratic Party candidate in any case.

Why did Obama do better with new media than his opponents?

New media were used for two things: to mobilize; and to raise money that was spent in traditional media to dominate them. New media were used to contribute winning in the traditional media arena. McCain did not integrate both media.

Obama supporters used new media better in general, as measured by MySpace “friends”, Facebook supporters, etc.

Obama’s was really a much candidate-centered phenomenon.

Has Obama created a model for new-media campaigns by others?

Not really.

  • We do not know which new media technologies were more important and for what. Is there a core technology (the website, as Rachel Gibson states) or is there a swarm of tools? In general, parties tried everything that was at hand.
  • We’re not sure which organizational structures are best suited for which functions.
  • We do not know how public interest in a cause or campaign can be sustained over time.
  • We do not understand how the inflationary effects of new media on communication work. How much information is good and how much is saturating the audience? Will less be more?
  • Where are the limits of online organizing? How much face-to-face will it be necessary?

Some conclusions or what we know about horizontal politics and new media

  • Collapse of boundaries between news, political talk, campaigning, political action, gaming
  • Network effects are very large: network-style growth, social preferences, virality
  • Impetus toward hybrid organizational structures
  • Micro-targeting of communication works
  • Media appeal interacts with candidate/cause


Mayo Fuster: what kind of hybr