New Article on Social Media, Disability, and Mental Health in Elections

SM+S coverI’m delighted to share my latest open access article ‘Do you want to be a well-informed citizen, or do you want to be sane?’ Social Media, Disability, Mental Health and Political Marginality, which was published earlier this month in Social Media + Society. The article reviews evidence from focus groups with voters with disabilities to explore their experience with Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter during the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. From this, social media platforms emerge as both empowering tools and sources of mental health problems for this traditionally marginalized group in an increasingly polarized political context such as the U.S.

This article is part of a forthcoming special issue on Social Media and Marginality expertly edited by Katy Pearce, Amy Gonzales, and Brooke Focault-Welles.

Here is a copy of the abstract, for the full open access article click here.

This article examines the experiences of people with disabilities, a traditionally marginalized group in US politics, with social media platforms during the 2016 presidential election. Using focus groups with participants with a wide range of disabilities, the significance of YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook is discussed. Results highlight ambivalent experiences with these platforms, which support some elements of political inclusion (more accessible and more relevant election information) but at the same time also exacerbate aspects of marginality (stress, anxiety, isolation). Four coping strategies devised by participants to address digital stress (self-censorship, unfollowing/unfriending social media contacts, signing off, and taking medication) are illustrated. The relationship between these contrasting findings, social media design and affordances, as well as potential strategies to eliminate an emerging trade-off between discussing politics online and preserving mental health and social connectedness for people with disabilities are discussed.

New Article on ‘Story Banks’ in Grassroots Advocacy

4.HERO-size-2-1024x252“Mobilizing Personal Narratives: The Rise of Digital ‘Story Banking’ in U.S. Grassroots Advocacy” is a brand new article by myself, Bryan Bello (American University), Michael Vaughan (Weizenbaum Institute) and Ariadne Vromen (University of Sydney) that was recently published in the Journal of Information Technology and Politics. In this piece, which is part of a larger project on the recent evolution of digital storytelling in grassroots advocacy in both the U.S. and Australia, we offer the first definition and critical evaluation of digital story banking techniques that are increasingly popular with advocacy groups in the U.S. For a brief summary and little teaser on the full article, check out this post on the AU Center for Media and Social Impact’s blog.

Here is a copy of the abstract; for a full copy of the article click here or, if you need an open access pre-print copy, please get in touch directly:

This article interrogates digital “story banking,” a storytelling practice that has become increasingly popular among U.S. grassroots advocacy organizations. Through the examination of LinkedIn data and in-depth interviews with story banking professionals, this technique emerges as the centerpiece of the growing institutionalization, professionalization, and datafication of storytelling in progressive advocacy. Following the 2016 election, political crisis and an increasing awareness of changing information consumption patterns promoted story banking diffusion. Story banking ushers in the era of stories as data and political story on demand. Yet, political constraints currently limit story banking to a reactive approach based on news monitoring, algorithmic shortlisting of stories, and audience testing. Furthermore, an unresolved tension has emerged between the growing centralization of storytelling functions and the participatory potential of crowd-sourced story banks. The implications of these trends for progressive advocacy organizations and the groups they aim to represent are considered.

 

Google Trends: Instructions for Use on the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage

Last week, I published a piece on the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog about what Google Trends can tell us about televised debates and other important election moments (spoiler: not as much as some news coverage suggests). With insights from my research with Google Trends in the U.S., UK, and Italy, this article provides a useful resource on how to correctly interpret Google Trends data for journalists, campaign staff, and voters interested in knowing more about digital information flows related to the 2020 election campaigns.

New Open Access Article in International Journal of Communication

homeHeaderLogoImage_en_USMy latest article “Using the Internet to Mobilize Marginalized Groups: People with Disabilities and Digital Campaign Strategies in the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election” was recently published in the International Journal of Communication. This article discusses how the 2016 campaigns – particularly Hillary Clinton’s – tried to engage with the disability community online and draws key lessons about the inclusion of people with disabilities and other minority groups in digital election strategy planning. The full paper can be accessed freely here.

Here’s the abstract:

It is important to understand the implications of online election campaigning for groups that have been marginalized in politics. To this end, this article discusses a focus group study on digital campaigning in the 2016 U.S. presidential election with voters with a wide range of physical, mental, and communication disabilities. Digital campaigns can deepen or curtail opportunities for people with disabilities to be active citizens. Participants in this study had high expectations to learn about the candidates through new media platforms, particularly Google and YouTube. However, the 2016 campaigns seemed to struggle to understand Americans with disabilities as an emerging online constituency. This mismatch between demand and supply in online election communication is discussed with a view to illuminating the sociotechnical foundations of digital campaigning and its effect on political participation among citizens with disabilities. There are important opportunities for digital mobilization and inclusion here, but their realization is dependent on a cultural shift that values people with disabilities as full citizens.

Advocacy and Personal Stories in Australia and the U.S. – Seminar at Melbourne University

I’m currently in Australia on a fieldwork trip for a new project and will present some preliminary insights at the University of Melbourne on Wednesday February 13 together with my colleague and collaborator Ariadne Vromen of the University of Sydney. This new work explores recent changes in how advocacy organizations approach storytelling and reviews the role of digital technology in the ‘datafication’ of storytelling techniques. The seminar will take place between 1:00-2:00pm in the Arts West North Wing building, room 253. We’re grateful to the Media and Communication Program and particularly Scott Wright for giving us this opportunity to discuss some of this new work.

New Book Chapter: “Mapping the Search Agenda” – Election case studies from Italy, the UK and the U.S.

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.

Connective Action Mechanisms in a Time of Political Turmoil: Virtual Disability Protest at Donald Trump’s Inauguration – New article

 

AusJPS coverMy 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.

On “Disability and Digital Citizenship” Panel at ANZCA 2017

Third and final talk of this Australian trip – I am excited to join a pioneering panel on “Disability and Digital Citizenship” at the 2017 Australia-New Zealand Communication Association’s conference later today at the University of Sydney. The panel will start at 2:30pm in New Law 106.

This panel brings together a number of scholars doing work on disability, technology and different aspects of participation and inclusion, from economics, to media, to politics. I will present some new research on how Americans with disabilities used the Internet to participate in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Thanks to my colleagues Prof. Gerard Goggin (of the conference organizing team) and Prof. Haiqing Yu for inviting me to this panel.

Presenting at ISA 2017 in Baltimore

I look forward to presenting my latest research at the International Studies Association’s Annual Convention 2017 in Baltimore this week.

Panel: Social media and activism – Power and resistance in the 21st Century

When: Thursday, February 23rd, 8:15am – Where: Marriott, Stadium 4 room

This paper, which I wrote together with Paul Reilly (Information School, University of Sheffield) and Mariana Leyton-Escobar (School of Communication, American University), compares online crowd-sourced advocacy efforts that use personal stories of disabilities to affect key public debates in the UK and the U.S., including recent virtual protests that followed the inauguration of U.S. president Donald Trump as part of the Women’s March on Washington (January 2017). Here is a copy of the abstract:

Storytelling transcends cultures. It can speak to global audiences, change public attitudes, serve as policy evidence, and challenge dominant media narratives on sensitive social issues. Thus, advocacy organizations and activist networks increasingly use social media to crowd-source, co-create, and distribute personal stories, which originate in the private sphere and become public narratives online. Yet, story-based advocacy is also controversial as sharing the intimate accounts of groups that have been discriminated against may foster further stigmatization. Communication scholars have yet to discuss the implications of this global advocacy trend for digital citizenship. Whose voices do we really hear in online stories? How are they collected, edited, and re-mediated? Ultimately, who is empowered by this approach? To address these questions, this paper compares the use of personal stories in online disability rights campaigns in the UK and the United States. By combining the analysis of blog posts and YouTube videos featuring stories of disability with interviews with leading advocates in both countries, different digital storytelling practices are revealed. In particular, a trade-off between maintaining spontaneity and editing personal accounts to achieve policy effectiveness is identified and discussed in the context of different political cultures, media systems, ethical principles, and policy-making traditions.

On February 21st, I also discussed my recent book “Disability Rights Advocacy Online: Voice, Empowerment and Global Connectivity” (Routledge 2016) as part of the ISA working group on Accelerating Change in Global Governance: Enhancing the Participation of Excluded and Marginalized Voices Through Information and Communication Technology.

New Chapter in “Protest, Politics, Emotion” Book of Blogs

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.