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.
Disability & Society just published a new piece by myself and Charlotte Pearson (School of Social and Political Sciences/Institute of Health and Wellbeing, University of Glasgow) entitled “Disability Activism in the New Media Ecology: Campaigning Strategies in the Digital Era“. This work, which can be downloaded online ahead of print, explores the ways in which different disability activist groups in the UK are engaging with changing media landscapes in which both “new” and “old” forms of media interact to form public opinion and influence political decision-making. The paper focuses in particular on the case of the anti-welfare reform protests at the 2012 London Paralympic Games, in which self-advocates from Disabled People Against Cuts used both online and more traditional offline tactics to foster positive coverage of protest by traditional news media organisations.