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.
My latest article is just out in the Australian Journal of Political Science. “Connective Action Mechanisms in a Time of Political Turmoil: Virtual Disability Protest at Donald Trump’s Inauguration” examines the forces that underpin the rapid formation of online counter-publics in the wake of disruptive political events such as Donald Trump’s election. Both the advantages and disadvantages of connective action as a response to this type of political upheaval among traditionally marginalized populations are discussed through a case study of virtual disability protest at Donald Trump’s inauguration (the “Disability March“). This article is part of a forthcoming special issue edited by Ariadne Vromen (University of Sydney) and Andrea Carson (University of Melbourne) for the Australian Political Science Association’s POP Politics Aus Group. Please contact me if you need a link to a free copy of this article. Here is the abstract:
This paper explores the connective action mechanisms that underpin the rapid formation of online counter-publics in the wake of disruptive political events through a case study of crowd-sourced disability protest launched in response to Donald Trump’s election as U.S. President. Coverage of this protest in U.S. news media is reviewed also as a first step towards assessing the ability of this initiative to influence public discourse. Findings suggest that controversial election results can spur mobilisation, but by themselves do not appear to be sufficient for connective action to really flourish and succeed. Personal action frames that typically are central to connective action struggled to emerge in crowd-sourced contributions that focused on Trump and his politics. The reasons behind these outcomes and their implications for the potential effectiveness of crowd-sourced protest are discussed.
I was delighted to contribute one short article about the digitalization of disability rights advocacy to “Politics, Protest, Emotions: Interdisciplinary Perspectives.” This book, which is edited by Paul Reilly (University of Sheffield), Anastasia Veneti (Bournemouth University) and Dimitrinka Atanasova (Queen Mary, University of London), was published earlier this week and includes contributions by 37 academics around the globe who study the nexus between emotions, grassroots activism, and information technology. Students of political science and strategic communication who are interested in grassroots mobilization dynamics, online advocacy and organizing will find the case studies reviewed in this book to be both accessible and highly relevant to their work. The book can be accessed freely here and downloaded as a in pdf format here. My article (#32) can be found here.
Earlier this month, the journal Information, Communication & Society published the paper “The Google Voter: Search Engines and Elections in the New Media Ecology,” of which I am the lead author. This article, which can be accessed freely on the journal’s website, discusses some of the main research findings from the VoterEcology project, on which I collaborated with Profs. Andrew Hoskins (University of Glasgow) and Sarah Oates (University of Maryland, College Park), as well as Dr. Dounia Mahlouly (King’s College, London). The paper fills an important gap in our understanding of contemporary information-gathering practices and media environments that surround elections, focusing on the use of search engines by voters in the U.S. and the UK. While search engines remain the primary channel for citizens in these and other democratic countries to engage with election-related information online, there is a dearth of research about the implications of this practice. This paper combines Google Trends data with the analysis of news media coverage to shed light on the opportunities and drawbacks generated by search engine use in elections and reflects on the need to develop innovative methodologies capable of exploring the new media ecologies that are emerging from the interaction of novel and more established forms of media.
Colleagues at Bournemouth University’s Centre for the Study of Journalism, Culture and Community put together an amazing report about the 2016 U.S. Presidential election with 83 short contributions from 90 leading scholars in political communication, digital media, journalism, and strategic communication. I contributed one article to this report, which was released last Friday just ten days after the election. My paper (in Section 4: Diversity and division) discusses the implications of the election results for the American disability movement and for grassroots political organizing among minorities and under-represented communities more generally. This is the third report of this type to which I am able to contribute following previous ones about the 2015 UK general election and 2016 EU membership referendum. These innovative publications are available freely both online and in PDF, providing a wonderful teaching resource.
A new article I co-authored together with colleagues at the University of Glasgow/MRC’s Social and Public Health Sciences Unit was just published in the journal BMJ Open. This work discusses perceptions and experiences of e-cigarettes among UK teenagers. E-cigarettes have emerged as a potential safer alternative to smoking traditional tobacco cigarettes and have become popular among young people, as well as older smokers, in a number of countries in very recent years. Anti-smoking groups and public health scholars are divided on the potential benefits and dangers of e-cigarettes, and this paper seeks to inform the policy debate by shedding light on the awareness and impressions of 14-17 year olds, a key target market for e-cigarette makers as well as tobacco manufacturers. The full paper can be accessed freely here.
I’m excited to announce that my book “Disability Rights Advocacy Online: Voice, Empowerment and Global Connectivity” was released in October 2016. Both hard back and e-book versions are available from the Routledge website, as well as on Amazon and other online vendors (where it’s cheaper!).
Book cover: Disability Rights Advocacy Online
This book charts the recent digitalization of disability rights advocacy in the U.K. and the U.S., and discusses the implications of this transformation for disabled citizens and other traditionally under-represented groups. In just a few short years, disability rights groups have gone from using the Internet much less than other advocacy organizations to pioneering new uses of social media to foster a deep sense of agency and unify a very diverse community. To read a full book synopsis, click here.
On June 23rd, 2016, a majority of Britons voted to leave the European Union (EU). In this brief analysis piece, I reflect on how news media in the United States covered this unexpected result. While American journalists sought to apply familiar templates to communicate the upcoming EU referendum to domestic audiences, they may find it difficult to do so going forward as the UK-EU negotiations move into unchartered territory. This article is part of a large report on the EU referendum, media, and voters edited by Dan Jackson, Einar Thorsen, and Dominic Wring and published by the Political Studies Association, Bournemouth University, and the University of Loughborough. You can access the full report for free here.
Paul Reilly (Information School – University of Sheffield) and I continue our collaboration on ethical challenges in online research with a new article about studying Facebook groups in post-conflict Northern Ireland in the journal Information, Communication and Society. In this article, we discuss the development of an ethical stance for the study of Facebook pages associated with the 2012 Belfast flag protests.
To access a copy of the article, click here.