Digitalisation and Social Networks have brought forth completely new forms of communication and information. Internet users generate contents and circulate ideas themselves (“ User Generated Content”). While limitless possibilities mean, anyone can reach wide audiences, the importance of selection’s and gatekeeper’s function from journalistic media are decreasing. In our Pros and Cons checklist we are reviewing different ways of contemporary political communication.
Every Internet user can now act as a lay journalist („citizen journalist“) by means of social media. This way they are able to spread political information, opinions and comments, without barriers across the Internet community. Especially popular in that respect are social media, online forums and blogs. Through User-generated content, each internet user can position herself or himself in relation to political issues, express their opinions in social networks or online communities, participate in discussions and, in some instances, also get other people involved in political issues. Furthermore, online media, but also other communication methods provide an access to public reaction to the subjects set by journalists. Online communication plays a great role in opinion-creation and social placement of certain topics.
The weak regulations do not benefit the democratic user. Politically radical and undemocratic content and attitudes can also be spread easily over the Internet. The downfall of journalistic gatekeeping is particularly beneficial to opinion makers of hate, agitation and ‘Hate Speech’. This is easily achieved, as such opinions and speech are being spread anonymously. Compulsory registration of participants in political forums could help to increase at least the gravity and seriousness of such discussion forums. Additionally, politically disinterested people could not be so strongly influenced through digital media. Someone who doesn’t like football, will not become a football fan, simply because he is flooded by football news and discussions. This way, the silent majority will still give political issues a wide berth, despite the online media.
Direct Contact with Politicians and Institutions
Closer to the voter: professional political players (e.g. political parties, politicians or NGOs) can bypass journalistic mediation and have direct communication with their target groups, with the help of online media. This way they can set their own topics on the agenda, clarify their point of view and show proximity and readiness for dialogue through discussions. The costs of communication can be decreased and the relationship with (potential) voters can be established and strengthened.
When top politicians communicate directly with citizens over social media, it can have negative effects on the party, as it reduces the importance of its role as an organisation of members. In particular the function of the “middle man” is most strongly affected, when the prominent top executives are directly available to each citizen.
Limitless Information Range
These days it is a lot easier to gain access to political information. They come in virtually endless numbers, of any topic imaginable at our disposal. The smallest niche topic can find its place in online communication. This involves the further expansion of an even stronger, more individual, digitalized social disposition. On a wider information basis, the voters are able to decide – with a stronger sense of individuality – which party best represents their interests, from one election date to election date.
With the wide range of subjects and the use of non-journalistic, free sources, there is a danger of trivialisation and the decline of informative quality. The biggest problem therefore, is not the lack of information, but rather the choice of reliable sources. Reliable sources are more important for democracy than a mass of information.
Moreover, particularly difficult cases are topics, which attract a lot of attention in the “jungle of information” and precisely those which are regularly shared and liked. The online community determines the news value and pushes forth the topics that are particularly entertaining, shocking or presented in a funny way. This presents a danger for party voting, as their information base is then made on the same non-binding basis as is the “liking” of friends’ and acquaintances’ posts.
Portals for greater transparency, like abgeordnetenwatch, review and scrutinise parliamentary work of politicians. Citizens should have the option to ask direct question to the representatives on the platforms. This way, more transparency is achieved in politics.
The data is also available for open use outside these portals. The portals merely present this data visually and condense the information. The additional collection of individual questions and answers leads to an information overload. Because of this, the users might get annoyed and have issues gaining a clear overview.
Digital democracy has two sides. Understanding and taking advantage of these aspects, are necessary tasks for the Internet user in our digital century. Only with the right knowledge of platforms and communication forums, the digital dialogue in political operation can become prolific in the future.
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