Does social media allow people to be more politically active, or does it actually distract people from it? To answer this question, we take a sample of Italian Twitter users during the 2013 election and find that the lower threshold to entry with social media does correlate with an increase of activities that require a higher threshold to entry off these platforms.
Vaccari, Cristian, Augusto Valeriani, Pablo Barberá, Rich Bonneau, John T. Jost, Jonathan Nagler, and Joshua A. Tucker. “Political Expression and Action on Social Media: Exploring the Relationship between Lower- and Higher-Threshold Political Activities among Twitter Users in Italy.” Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 20, no. 2 (2015): 221–39. https://doi.org/10.1111/jcc4.12108
Jan 12, 2015
Area of Study
Scholars and commentators have debated whether lower-threshold forms of political engagement on social media should be treated as being conducive to higher-threshold modes of political participation or a diversion from them. Drawing on an original survey of a representative sample of Italians who discussed the 2013 election on Twitter, we demonstrate that the more respondents acquire political information via social media and express themselves politically on these platforms, the more they are likely to contact politicians via email, campaign for parties and candidates using social media, and attend online events to which they were invited online. These results suggest that lower-threshold forms of political engagement on social media do not distract from higher-threshold activities, but are strongly associated with them.
Social media are an increasingly populated forum in which voters interact with politicians and express their views about public affairs. Scholars and commentators have debated whether lower-threshold forms of political engagement — such as accessing and sharing political information and views on social media — leads to more political participation, or if it distracts from it. Many believe that activists have a harder time making an impact on the platform because of the presence of so much information online and “slacktivism” (i.e., individuals not at the core of an issue, but rather making up the mass of users that inundate the platform with content about an issue). For the purposes of our study, we want to evaluate these competing claims.
To do so, we take a sample of Italians Twitter users who discussed the 2013 election and see if respondents who receive political information and express political views via social media are more, or less likely, to engage in more demanding political activities outside of the social media platform. These activities include contacting politicians via e-mail, campaigning for parties and candidates using social media, and attending offline events to which they were invited online.
Our results suggest that lower-threshold forms of political engagement on social media are strongly associated with higher-threshold activities outside of the social media platform. We also find that individuals who use social media to both publish and read political messages, as well as those who post high amounts of messages while reading fewer, are the most likely to also engage in higher-threshold political action. These findings suggest that by enabling individuals to express their political views and to learn political news, social media can meaningfully contribute to political action.