How social media is changing political representation in the United Kingdom

McLoughlin, LDG ORCID: 2020, How social media is changing political representation in the United Kingdom , PhD thesis, University of Salford.

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Since the introduction of social media into everyday communication, a series of claims and counterclaims have been made about its potential to either rectify or exacerbate the so-called crisis within representative democracy. Theoretical arguments suggest that social media may increase the closeness between representatives and citizens through more direct and communicative forms of representation. Based on these assumptions, this thesis seeks to assess the ways social media has changed the conduct of political representation in the United Kingdom. It does this through an original methodological approach to answer research questions from the perspective of MPs (interviews), citizens (surveys), and social media data from three social networks. This approach goes past previous literature on the use of social media that does not provide either multi-platform analysis or encapsulate data from citizens to offer a bottom-up approach. The results show that in many ways, MPs do not fully utilise Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram to their expected potential. They seldom seek interpersonal dialogue with citizens, with only marginal increases in two-way communication attributable to social media. Instead, MPs are pursuing a strategy of broadcasting, limiting interactions to citizens who display positive sentiment towards the MP or their party: rejecting the notion that social media might foster the concept of direct representation. Concurrently, the evidence suggests citizens might not be seeking to interact with MPs, as only a limited number of participants pursued communication with them. Instead, citizens seem to follow representatives for information gathering, news, or to show support. This implies that the crisis within representative democracy cannot be overcome by interactive communication platforms alone. However, findings indicate that social media increases feelings of representation by citizens when they follow MPs. From this, social media is found not to provide representative benefits in expected ways, but as a communication platform for a process of informational convergence which shapes the way citizens interpret the MPs they follow. This highlights a new way of approaching the benefits of representative communication towards a model in which what MPs post is of greater importance than levels of interactivity. Keywords: Political Communication; Political Representation; Social Media; Deliberative Representation

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Contributors: Ward, SJ (Supervisor)
Schools: Schools > School of Arts & Media
Funders: University of Salford
Depositing User: LDG McLoughlin
Date Deposited: 08 Apr 2020 08:35
Last Modified: 27 Aug 2021 21:36

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