I published a new article in The Conversation about the online misinformation and broken media system that aided the success of populist and far-right parties in the Italian parliament election held on March 4. Here is a short excerpt from the article – click here for the full text:
“The rise of these populist and far-right parties was supported by dramatic shifts in the information diet of Italian voters. […] The problem is not simply that misinformation is readily available online, but also that a large proportion of Italians find this content credible.” And this is in no small part due to Italy’s broken media system, which has undermined the credibility of journalists. “Long-term efforts to restore trust in journalism among Italian audiences are essential. This will involve strengthening media literacy skills, boosting the independence of the public broadcasting sector, and possibly reorganizing media ownership so that it is not as tightly concentrated. Without this ambitious set of measures, online misinformation and propaganda are unlikely to go out of fashion in Italy anytime soon.”
How can we use Google Trends to map information flows in election campaigns? Andrew Hoskins (University of Glasgow), Sarah Oates (University of Maryland, College Park), Dounia Mahlouly (King’s College, London), and I addressed this question in a recently published book chapter titled: “Mapping the Search Agenda: A Citizen-Centric Approach to Electoral Information Flows.” The chapter is included in the volume (Mis)understanding Political Participation: Digital Practices, New Forms of Participation, and the Renewal of Democracy, which is edited by Jeffrey Wimmer, Cornelia Wallner, Reiner Winter, and Karoline Oelsner, and published by Routledge.
This chapter builds on a previous article and applies a new methodology that uses Google Trends data to map key information demand trends in elections in the U.S., UK, and Italy, comparing Internet search trends to the salience of key figures and issues in the news media in each country. Findings for the Italian case (which explores the 2013 general election) are particularly relevant in light of the upcoming Italian election on March 4, 2018. Italian voters demonstrated a particular inclination to looking for information about anti-establishment leaders online by going directly to websites and social media accounts run by parties and other movements, instead of the websites of established news organizations. In light of this, the chapter reflects on how low levels of trust in traditional news outlets boost the relevance of the Internet as a source of alternative news and augment opportunities for political groups, particularly anti-establishment ones, to control the agenda and steer public debate.
Sadly, other work commitments have kept me from attending the 2015 International Studies Association’s Convention in New Orleans in person this week (this is after participation to another conference in NOLA in 2012 was cancelled due to a hurricane! I start to wonder if I will ever make it to the Big Easy?!). However, my co-author Dr Paul Reilly was there to present our latest joint effort, which focused on the popularity of populist parties in Italy (Five Star Movement) and the UK (United Kingdom Independence Party) among Google users during the 2014 European Parliament election campaign.
The poster, entitled “Populist and Popular? Tracking Citizen Interest in Anti-Establishment Parties with Google Trends”, can be downloaded here.
Just got news that the paper I proposed for next year’s International Studies Association’s (ISA) Annual Convention together with Paul Reilly (University of Leicester) was accepted. The title is “Populist and Popular: Using Google Trends to Track and Conceptualize Emerging Transnational Trends in Democratic Politics.” This study continues my working paper series on blending search engine data drawn from Google Trends with established political communication methods to explore emergent global phenomena in democratic politics such as the rise of populist parties and movements. Bring on New Orleans in February then, especially considering the pouring Glasgow rain outside my office window at the moment!