I participated in the Nordmedia 2017 conference last week with a paper titled "Online lurking and offline action: young people, social media, and (non-)participation." coming from the project "Political participation among young people – from party democrats to social media activists?" where I am cooperating with political scientists Hanna Bäck and Malena Rosén Sundström of Lund university and psychologist Emma Bäck of University of Gothenburg. The project is now in its third and last year and we are in the output phase, so to speak. I presented the paper in the Temporary Working Group Onlife: Digital Media Sociology in a Digital Cross-Platform World and got some excellent comments from Jacob Ørmen of the University of Copenhagen as well as from the audience.
I also had the pleasure of chairing the Political Communication division together with Christina Neumayer of the IT University of Copenhagen, where we had a set of really great papers and discussions. Christina and myself are staying on as chairs over the next Nordmedia conference, which will be held in August 2019 at Malmö university, and we hope that we'll get as good proposals for that conference as we got for this one.
Online lurking and offline action: young people, social media, and (non-)participation.
Research has described political participation as becoming ever more individualised (eg Bennett & Segerberg, 2013). This has been argued to be connected to the general individualisation of society, but also to affordances made possible by new media. One line of research explains political participation combining selective benefits (Olson, 1965), psychological factors (Klandermans & van Stekelburg, 2013) and social incentives (Cialdini, 2009). However, it is not clear how social media and its effects on information, discussion, and peer pressure influences the socialisation of young people and decisions to participate on a micro level.
This paper uses focus group interviews to uncover mechanisms underpinning (non-)participation in relation to social media use and social incentives. It is based on eight focus group interviews with 59 Swedish participants aged 16-25. The design includes four focus groups comprised by high school students; two groups with university students, one group with students in a post-secondary non-university education programme, and one group with people enrolled in a labour market initiative. The choice of method allows for young people to discuss things with peers in a safe setting, teasing out issues that would perhaps not come out in a one-on-one meeting with an adult researcher, or in a survey with pre-formulated questions. In contrast to digital methods, it also allows for the collection of information on cross-platform behaviour and lurking, as well as information on offline conversations. The focus group discussions evolve around the political content in social media, news, peer pressure, and (non-)participation). One focal point is news, discussions and (non-)participation in relation to the 2015 European refugee crisis, which saw a high level of mobilisation as well as news coverage and public discussion among the Swedish population.
The interviews are transcribed and analysed using micro-interlocutor analysis (Onwuegbuzie et al, 2009), thereby placing a higher focus on the dynamic aspects of the focus group interview than is usually done.
A preliminary analysis of the material reveals a complex situation regarding the interaction between social media use, peer pressure, offline discussions and participation. Participants have in general a negative view of young people as uninformed, volatile, and highly impressable. Political discussions in social media are generally avoided as they are deemed to be pointless and overly aggressive (cf. Gustafsson, 2012). Instead, political discussions are preferably held offline with close peers. News are to a very high degree consumed through social media (in complex interaction with the discussions framing topics and stories), and there is a large insecurity concerning what is fake news and what is proper journalisms and trustable facts. Active participation is heavily connected to personal influences by close friends.
Bennett, L. W. & Segerberg, A. (2013). The Logic of Connective Action: Digital Media and the Personalization of Contentious Politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Cialdini, R. B. (2009). Influence: Science and Practice, 5th ed. Boston: Pearson Education.
Gustafsson, Nils, 2012. The Subtle Nature of Facebook Politics. Swedish Social Media Users and Political Participation, New Media & Society, 14(2): 1111-1127.
Klandermans, B., & van Stekelenburg, J. (2013). ‘Social movements and the dynamics of collective action’ in Huddy, L. – Sears D. O. – Levy, J. S. (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Political Psychology, 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press.
Olson, M. (1965). The Logic of Collective Action. Public Goods and the Theory of Groups. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Onwuegbuzie, A., Dickinson, W, Leech, N. & Zoran, A., 2009. A Qualitative Framework for Collecting and Analyzing Data in Focus Group Research. International Journal of Qualitative Methods 8(3): 1-21.