Unpacking Dynamics in Political Blogging during #elxn42

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Political News Wednesday, November 25, 2015 View Count = 2299

Unpacking Dynamics in Political Blogging during #elxn42

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“The Blog is Dead, Long Live the (Micro)Blog! Unpacking Dynamics in Political Blogging during #elxn42” is written by Vincent Raynauld from Emerson College. 

W
ithin just 96 hours of October's federal election, Vincent Raynauld and 65 other leading thinkers and political scientists in Canada each wrote a short, snappy analysis of the election. Never before have Canadian experts collaborated to produce such a complete—and fast—response to an election. Together with UBC Press, Samara is proud to bring you all 57 articles as part of the "Election 2015" blog series, the definitive look at all angles of the 42nd general election.  

Watch this space to get all the analyses. For a complete list of academics involved, click here

During the 2006 federal election, blogs emerged as influential components of the political media environment in Canada. While political parties and candidates turned to these social media outlets for voter outreach and mobilization, traditional media and journalists used them for newsgathering, reporting, as well as commentary, and members of the public used them for self-expression and political engagement.

Close to a decade later, the situation is radically different. The 2015 federal election has been marked by a generalized slowdown of long-form political blogging, which has manifested itself through the shortening of blog posts, the reduction of blogging frequency (a phenomenon known as “slow blogging”), and high levels of inactivity on many political blogs. Conversely, microblogging platforms, such as Twitter, have gained traction among the public and become popular tools for political communication and participation. There are three interconnected factors that are contributing to reshaping political blogging in Canada: brevity, instantaneity, and connectivity.

Unlike blogs, which can accommodate longer and more elaborate publications, the format of microblogs has caused their users to express themselves in a brief and condensed fashion. This was prevalent during the 2015 Canadian federal campaign. Formal and informal political players used microblogging channels to circulate large volumes of short-form political information and opinion as well as to engage in various forms of political action (e.g., fundraising, promoting mobilization events). While better suited for sharing “one-liners” and simplified ideas than for engaging in nuanced deliberation due in part to the short nature of posts, these media platforms have nonetheless enabled users to be active politically in ways requiring less time and effort. This trend is intensifying as Internet-enabled mobile devices (e.g. tablets, smartphones) become an integral part of the daily life of a large and growing number of Canadians. These technologies, which are well adapted for short-form politics, could expand uses of Twitter and comparable social media tools for political communication, mobilization, and engagement, in and outside elections.

Over the last seven years, several studies have shown that political blogs have facilitated the quick diffusion of digital material that, in some cases, becomes viral. Microblogs further accelerated this dynamic in ways particularly noticeable during the 2015 elections. On one hand, they provided an outlet for Internet users to quickly broadcast digital content to a mass audience as well as to engage in real-time interactions with other users, especially during politically sensitive moments such as leaders’ debates and on election night. Specifically, a number of Canadians used Twitter to provide instant commentary during the French- and English-language televised debates, a practice known as live-tweeting. Even Green Party leader Elizabeth May, who was not invited to the Munk debate, posted a string of tweets in which she shared her views on different policy issues, such as security, foreign policy, and the environment, as the debate unfolded on stage. On the other hand, microblogs enable Canadians to access to a wealth of election-related information and opinion through monitoring live microblogging feeds based on different criteria, including keywords, hashtags, or accounts of specific ­users.

Finally, while political blogs are part of “discrete [hyperlinked and constantly-evolving] ecosystems, the broadest of which is the ‘political blogosphere,’” the structural and functional properties of microblogging sites have further boosted levels of content and social connectivity in digital politics. First, hashtags were instrumental in organizing flows of information and social interactions during the 2015 election. For example, Canadians used hashtags referring to a wide range of election-related matters, including policy issues (e.g., #C51, #economy), geographical locations (e.g., #yyc, #QC), events (e.g., #PeeGate, #DuffyTrial), or emotions often expressed in a humorous or sarcastic way (e.g., #GlibandMale, #sohappy), to tailor their information intake based on frequently narrow interests or objectives. Second, and to a lesser degree, microblogs’ internal social interaction functionalities, such as @ mentions and retweets, and the direct messaging tool in the case of Twitter, provided individuals and organizations with the opportunity to interact with other users in the context of the campaign, a dynamic that has the potential to yield political engagement dividends.

The practice of political blogging has evolved significantly since first making its mark on the Canadian electoral landscape in 2006. This trend is likely to continue in the future. More immediately, the rise of image and short video-based social media outlets, such as Instagram and SnapChat, as well as the popularization of more visual forms of digital expression (e.g., memes, emojis) will further transform the ways in which formal and informal political players take part in different facets of the electoral process.

VincentRaynauldVincent Raynauld serves as research associate in the Groupe de recherche en communication politique (GRCP) at Université Laval, as academic adviser for the non-profit research organization Samara, Canada, and as member of the France-based research network Réseau Démocratie Électronique. His areas of research interest and publication include political communication, social media, research methods, e-politics, and journalism.

You can also find this article in the e-book Canadian Election Analysis 2015: Communication, Strategy, and Democracy, which is available for download on UBC Press's website

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