Green light for interaction: Party use of social media during the 2014 Swedish election year
First Monday

Green light for interaction: Party use of social media during the 2014 Swedish election year by Anders Olof Larsson



Abstract
Assessing Swedish political party use of Twitter and Facebook during the 2014 election year, this paper traces what is defined as broadcasting (one-way communication) and interactive (two-way communication) practices on the services mentioned. While both approaches to political campaigning have been integral to party activity since the pre-digital era, the Internet — and specifically the previously mentioned services — have often been pointed to as having the potential to influence political actors to move beyond one-way practices and to instead engage in reciprocal interaction with their potential supporters. While previous scholarship has suggested a variety of influences for parties to interact with potential voters online, the results presented here suggest that in the Swedish context, parties purporting a ‘green’ agenda emerge as more active in this regard.

Contents

Introduction
What do politicians do online?
Swedish political parties in the 2014 elections
Method
Results
Discussion and conclusion

 


 

Introduction

Interaction and interactivity in various online settings have been conceptualized in a multitude of ways (Jensen, 1998; McMillan, 2002a), and such notions of a digitized move beyond more traditional sender-receiver relationships are often seen as the defining characteristic of the Internet (Kiousis, 2002). While Internet users might find different services offered online to be more or less interactive (Quiring, 2009), the concept has arguably survived a series of online developments and is currently perceived as central to the supposed “Web 2.0” paradigm of Web design (O’Reilly, 2005; Warr, 2008). In relation to these developments, services often referred to as social media — such as Facebook or Twitter — are potentially interesting as their basic architecture is funded on interaction and user contributions (Bechmann and Lomborg, 2012; Vaast and Kaganer, 2013).

Indeed, while all media can be seen as social to some extent (as suggested by Klinger and Svensson, 2015), the hype surrounding so-called social media is tangible — in academia as well as in general society. These platforms have been especially influential in politics. Building on more general suggestions — and perhaps even hopes — of the political potential of new media (Bimber, 2003; Blumler and Kavanagh, 1999; Nilsson and Carlsson, 2014), the apparently successful uses of social media during the Obama campaigns for the U.S. presidency of 2008 and 2012 elevated the rhetoric. Grand descriptions were used to convey the role of online activities in what were described as “postmodern” or “professionalized” campaigns [1]. While the role of the Internet for political campaigning should not necessarily be understated, we need to look critically at how the uses of services like Facebook and Twitter are shaped in the hands of politicians and parties up for election. This appears particularly valid with regards to the degree to which these actors employ interactive features. This is what this study seeks to do.

This paper is an attempt to assess what could be referred to as the responsiveness of party organizations to social media. The aim of this study is to gauge the degree to which political actors make use of these platforms to interact — and to what degree they engage in what is often described as the more traditional broadcasting form of campaigning and marketing.

These issues are studied in Sweden during the election year of 2014. Specifically, as the first nine months of this year featured two elections — in May for the European Parliament, and in September for the National Parliament — this should be an interesting period to study the actions of political parties. Furthermore, as Sweden features consistent high rates of Internet use as well as high levels of voting attendance (Gustafsson, 2013), and as its elected officials have previously been described as advanced in their utilization of various online platforms (Gibson, 2004; Vergeer, et al., 2013), the country at hand makes for an interesting case study. Since the focus is placed outside the often studied Anglo-American context (as discussed by Anduiza, et al., 2009; Lilleker and Malagón, 2010), this study arguably expands on our common knowledge base. Moreover, as services like Twitter and Facebook are often studied in isolation, the need for multimodal approaches, such as the one presented here, has been clearly expressed in the literature (Kim, et al., 2013; Vergeer and Hermans, 2013). Finally, while online services are often described as allowing individual politicians to establish themselves outside of their respective party organizations, (Gibson and McAllister, 2015), Swedish political culture remains largely centered on parties rather than individual candidates (Oscarsson and Holmberg, 2013). As such, a focus on the party organizations rather than on the party leaders seems feasible. Such a selection criteria would seem especially vadlid since many of those leaders did not operate accounts on one or both services at the time of data collection (Larsson, 2015).

The remainder of the paper is structured as follows. After this introduction, a section detailing previous research dealing with the uses of the Internet at the hands of politicians and the parties to which they belong. A section providing details about the Swedish political climate during the 2014 election year follows, after which the rationales for data collection and analyses are presented. Following the results section, the paper ends with some points of discussion regarding the main findings. Limitations of the work performed are presented, as are some suggestions for future research opportunities.

 

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What do politicians do online?

The introduction and continued popularization of the Internet is often though to have had a significant influence on political activity such as campaigning or marketing (Lilleker and Lees-Marshment, 2005; Lees-Marshment, 2014). Our current interests are geared towards assessing the degree to which what has been described as the defining character of the Internet — its potential for interactivity — is employed by political actors in the aforementioned context.

The concept of interactivity is a multifaceted one and can as such be conceptualized in different ways for employment in different contexts (Bucy, 2004; Downes and McMillan, 2000; Jensen, 1998; Koolstra and Bos, 2009). Moving beyond what could be described as more technical definitions of the concept (Gerpott and Wanke, 2004; Larsson, 2012; Song and Zinkhan, 2008), we focus here on a definition closer to what is sometimes labeled as user-to-user (McMillan, 2002b) or human (Stromer-Galley, 2000) interactivity. In the context of social media use by political parties, such a conceptual delimitation suggests for our analyses to be directed towards the degree to which these actors send directed or undirected messages to their audiences through services like Twitter and Facebook. Expressed differently, we are interested in gauging the interacting or broadcasting frequencies of the studied parties.

The broadcasting mode of sending out suitably themed messages in a marketing fashion has been a tried and true political campaigning practice for decades. As the label suggests, this variety essentially suggests a one-way rationale of communicating with potential voters — sending out campaign messages, policy statements etc. Given the sometimes rather conservative tendencies found among politicians of all ideological persuasions to try novel modes of communication (Marcinkowski and Meitag, 2014), such actors are sometimes reported as seeing other modes of campaigning as challenging (Larsson, 2013a). Nevertheless, technological change has always been thought of having the potential to usher in more communicative practices at the hands of such actors (Jones, 1964). Indeed, many of the hopes held regarding these issues in conjunction with the spread of Internet (Gibson, 2004; Larsson, 2011; Stromer-Galley, 2000) use are felt also in the supposed current era of ‘Web 2.0’ with its focus on participation and reciprocity (Chadwick, 2008; Lilleker and Jackson, 2010; O’Reilly, 2005).

Often discussed in conjunction with the 2008 and 2012 Obama campaigns for the U.S. presidency, the use of social media to move beyond a broadcasting rationale and to more clearly interact with voters and similar stakeholders have of course spread to other contexts and elections. While the specific nature of interacting practices will vary depending on what platform or service is being used, they entail two-way practices. In our example, we can point to politicians interacting with potential voters on Facebook or Twitter through commenting or sending messages. The bulk of the literature available suggests that while the potential such interacting certainly is in place, services like Twitter and Facebook are most often put to work in a more broadcasting fashion as discussed above. Political actors have used these services for practices like impression management (Jackson and Lilleker, 2011), information dissemination (Small, 2011; Sæbø, 2011), party mobilization (Dang-Xuan, et al., 2013) and self-promotion (Golbeck, et al., 2010). Comparably earlier results from the broader Scandinavian context have suggested largely one-way broadcasting uses at the hands of politicians (Larsson and Moe, 2013), while studies on more recent elections appears to present a somewhat different picture. Enli and Skogerbø (2013) report on the Norwegian context, suggesting that the politicians they interviewed saw Facebook as the preferred online platform for broadcasting purposes, while Twitter was perceived as suitable for communicating with others. The authors also found that 44 percent of the tweets sampled during the 2011 Norwegian regional elections included mentions of other users, signaling an increase with regards to this particular type of interaction when compared to previous elections. Also for Norway, a study of the employment of Twitter by the main party leaders during the 2013 national elections suggested a similar tendency of increasing interactive practices (Larsson and Ihlen, 2015). The use of such communicative features on the studied platform was found to be the dominant mode of Twitter use for four out of the seven studied party leaders. As such, the claim made by Honeycutt and Herring in 2009 that Twitter use has become “more conversational” [2] — more geared towards interaction as discussed here — would appear to hold some merit in the broader context studied here. Nevertheless, research suggests that we should expect some variation between different types of parties, based on party size, incumbency status or ideological factors (Graham, et al., 2013; Larsson and Kalsnes, 2014).

In the Swedish context, tendencies towards comparably lesser known actors to be especially active with regards to interaction on social media were found in a study of political hashtags used on Twitter during the 2010 national elections (Larsson and Moe, 2012). The authors found representatives for non-incumbent actors like the Feminist Initiative and the Pirate Party to be especially active in this regard — as well as comparably well-known individual politicians. Similarly, for Norway, a study comparing Twitter use during the aforementioned 2011 regional elections with use undertaken during the 2013 national events suggested that the Environmental Party — often considered a rather small party in the Norwegian context — to have been especially active with regards to interacting (Larsson and Moe, 2015).

This example of a highly active environmental party is interesting given the historical role of such parties when it comes to pushing the boundaries for online campaigning. Indeed, green or environmental parties were early adopters of novel communication technologies and practices in a series of contexts — perhaps due to their often comparably younger supporters (Gibson and McAllister, 2015; Koc-Michalska, et al., 2014; Strandberg, 2009; Vergeer, et al., 2011). As such parties “are often viewed as having a stronger, participatory grass roots organization culture said to be consistent with the interactive capacities of the Internet” [3], we might expect the results from the Swedish context to emerge in a similar fashion. Moreover, far right-wing parties have been seen as making clear strides in employing the Internet in order to communicate with their supporters, as it allows them to bypass established media outlets and present what they perceive as an unbiased message to the public (Gibson and McAllister, 2015). With this in mind, then, we might also expect the dominant right-wing party — the Sweden Democrats — to make a mark with regards to the interactive practices studied here.

Finally, as the bulk of previous research has been undertaken primarily with Twitter in mind, the degree to which such tendencies are feasible also on Facebook remains largely unknown. While many of the findings presented above are not directly comparable with our current approach, they nevertheless point to some tendencies of interest with regards to development of political social media use in Scandinavia — tendencies that can come in handy when our results are to be analyzed.

 

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Swedish political parties in the 2014 elections

The Swedish political system is based on the principle of proportional representation. Parties must reach at least four percent of the popular vote to enter the national parliament. The system can be seen as analogue to what Sartori (1990) labels moderate pluralism, featuring multiple parties and few centrifugal forces. The recent growth of the right-wing populist Sweden Democrats has, however, started to challenge this largely consensual, yet differing roster of political voices.

While Internet use in Sweden is generally high (Gustafsson, 2013), usage levels of Twitter and Facebook vary considerably. For the former, studies have suggested that between four and six percent of Swedes engaged on a daily basis, while the latter was reported as being used daily by 45 percent of the online population (Findahl, 2013; Nordicom, 2013). Socio-demographic issues also come into play when discussing social media use in Sweden. Twitter users are often described as an urban, highly educated and media-savvy segment of the population (Christensen, 2013; Larsson, 2013b) — a tendency also found elsewhere in Scandinavia (Enjolras, et al., 2013).

While the current study essentially takes two elections into account, the latter of the two events — the election to the European Parliament (which took place on 25 May 2014) and the election to the national parliament (which took place on 14 September 2014) — raises more voter interest. Specifically, while the former of the elections saw 51 percent of eligible voters take to the polls, that same statistic for the latter election reached 86 percent. Parties considered as key players in the national context and European electoral contexts were selected for further scrutiny. Table 1 features some basic information on these parties.

 

Table 1: Characteristics of Swedish political parties.
Note: *N of followers and fans at one month before the national elections (14 August 2014)
Party
(abbreviation)
2010 national vote percentageTwitter followers*Facebook fans*Incumbent after 2010 national elections?Ideology
Large (>10%)     
Social Democrats (S)30.738,72879,866NoLeft
Conservative Party (M)30.132,13340,374YesRight
Medium (4–9.9%)     
Environmental Party (Mp)7.318,09045,295NoGreen
Liberal Party (Fp)7.117,6669,881YesCentre
Centre Party (C)6.617,74612,327YesCentre (Green)
Sweden Democrats (Sd)5.713,00885,250NoPopulist Right
Left Party (V)5.630,48340,456NoLeft
Christian Democrats (Kd)5.614,7046,158YesRight
Small (<4%)     
Pirate Party (Pp)0.6538,79584,218NoCentre
Feminist Initiative (Fi)0.4025,537108,270NoLeft

 

Table 1 features the parties up for election during both featured events, sorted in descending order based on their vote share during the national election of 2010. With regards to the previous discussion about green parties, it is worth noticing that the Swedish political context features two parties that self-identify as prioritizing a green agenda. While the Environmental Party is often understood as a left-leaning political organization, the Centre Party has branded itself as the ‘green voice of the right’.

Given our current efforts, the statistics detailing the online popularity of the studied political parties are of specific importance. These are expressed in Table 1 as the number of Twitter followers and Facebook fans gauged at one month before the national elections. The selected time point could be expected to represent the peak of voter interest during elections (Enli and Skogerbø, 2013). While Table 1 clearly shows that all parties were indeed present on the studied services, party popularity appears to have varied considerably. First, as Facebook appears to be the preferred social media of Swedes more generally, the parties generally enjoy more popularity on this platform. Second, this user base appears as skewed when compared to party popularity as expressed through vote percentage from the 2010 national elections. Among the more notable such divergences would be the comparably sizeable Facebook popularity of smaller parties like the Pirate Party and the Feminist Initiative. While large amounts of supporters in this regard does not necessarily translate to similarly substantial visibility on the platforms (Larsson, 2015), the incongruities between the measurements presented in Table 1 still says something about the apparent appeal of niche parties in an online setting.

 

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Method

Data gathering was facilitated differently for Twitter and Facebook. While content posted to Twitter is generally considered to be of a public nature (Bruns and Highfield, 2013), and while ethical discretion needs to be undertaken when researchers deal with sensitive topics in this regard (Moe and Larsson, 2012), our current aggregated focus on the activities undertaken by political parties make such considerations largely redundant. Data from all political party accounts were collected by means of a version of YourTwapperKeeper installed on a university server. The service provides access to Twitter’s Search and Stream APIs (application programming interfaces). While such free approaches could entail limitations when dealing with large-scale projects, the Swedish context features comparably limited amounts of Twitter use (Larsson and Moe, 2013; Nordicom, 2013). As the scope of the current project was further narrowed by means of delimiting keywords (i.e., searching for messages sent from @PARTYACCOUNT; see Morstatter, et al., 2013), we can remain confident in having procured a full sample of tweets sent by the party accounts (for a more detailed account of the service used, please refer to Bruns and Stieglitz, 2012).

As for Facebook, focus was placed on official sanctioned party pages, employing a Facebook data retrieval application developed by the author in collaboration with technical staff at the University of Oslo. Similar to the Netvizz application (Rieder, 2013), the service allows for the extraction of post content as well as various metadata pertaining to each post. The service also allows for the differentiation between posts made in response to some other users activity (interacting), and those posts made in a presumed one-way communicative effort (broadcasting).

Data for both services were collected from 1 January 2014 to 17 September 2014. This allowed for continuous scrutiny of activities undertaken during both elections. With election day for the national parliament taking place on 14 September, the time period studied allows for a comprehensive examination of the social media practices of political parties during the “long campaign” [4] of 2014, while also capturing some of the election aftermath.

While Twitter and Facebook differ considerably as services, they can nevertheless be considered similar in that they allow for users to communicate in comparable ways. Given our current focus on the tendencies of interaction shown by parties on both services, such practices are possible on Twitter through so-called @mentions. On Facebook, we can point to the practice of commenting as a similar mode of communicating. In sum, then, our current interest in the responsiveness of political parties on social media makes it feasible to focus specifically on how frequently such modes of use — @mentions for Twitter, comments for Facebook — are employed in comparison to other types of behaviors, understood here collectively according to the broadcasting rationale discussed above. With these conceptual delimitations in mind, we now move on to the results section.

 

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Results

We turn to first to assessing the overall use of Twitter and Facebook for all political parties during the studied time period. Figure 1 presents a timeline graph outlining the month-by-month activity undertaken by each party on Twitter.

 

Twitter activity undertaken by Swedish political parties
 
Figure 1: Twitter activity undertaken by Swedish political parties, 1 January–17 September 2014.
Note: Larger version of figure available here.

 

The timelines in Figure 1 fluctuate, indicating periods of heightened activity — as well as low periods. The European Parliamentary election at the end of May sees an increase, as does the Almedalen week at the beginning of July. This event, held yearly on the island of Gotland on the southeast coast of Sweden, features political and societal decision-makers engaged in what can be described as a ‘who’s who’ of Swedish domestic policy (Wendt, 2012). For party organizations, such an event is an obligatory stomping ground, especially during an election year. The activity surrounding the election itself is clearly visible as all trends climb (with varying degrees, one might add) come the final stretch leading up to election day.

While activity undertaken by the parties on Twitter certainly varies, Figure 1 largely illustrates a homogenous pattern of use. Most parties tend to form what could be referred to as activity clusters, where they all move at the same time — often in relation to some off-line event. Figure 1 clearly shows how one party in particular — the Feminist Initiative — standing out. Specifically, the grey line representing the party indicates that this account emerged not only as more active in relation to previously suggested activity clusters — but also that party activity was undertaken to a comparably large extent also outside of these clusters. As an example, we can point to the upsurge visible at the beginning of April, a period characterized by limited activity from the competing parties. Looking more closely at the type of content being provided from the @feministerna account, the increase appears to be the result of the launch of the Feminist Initiative election funding campaign.

Next, Figure 2 provides a similar outline for party activity on Facebook.

 

Facebook activity undertaken by Swedish political parties
 
Figure 2: Facebook activity undertaken by Swedish political parties, 1 January–17 September 2014.
Note: Larger version of figure available here.

 

While many of the peaks found in Figure 2 resemble those found in Figure 1 in terms of temporal placement, two key differences between the figures can be distinguished. First, while several peaks, apparently led by different parties, could be found relative to Twitter activity, the graph in Figure 2 details fewer periods of heightened activity for Facebook Pages operated by the parties. This lack of peaks contributes to what could be described as a ‘flatter’ characteristic visible in Figure 2. This difference suggests that Twitter was employed a higher degree by the parties in comparison to Facebook. As an example, we can point to election day. While the lines visible in Figure 1 suggest that all parties did indeed make use of Twitter during the build-up to this particular day, such tendencies of increased usage are arguably not as tangible when one considers Figure 2. While the differences between the two services cannot be said to be sizeable, we can nevertheless distinguish what appears to be differing rationales for employment at the hands of the parties — Twitter appears as more important than Facebook.

Second, while the Feminist Initiative Party made their mark with regards to party Twitter activity as presented in Figure 1, a competing party appears to have undertaken a similar role with regards to Facebook activity. Specifically, the black line, representing the activity created by the Green Party, emerges as dominating the majority of peaks visible in Figure 2. While these Green Party peaks generally appear in conjunction with key electoral events as exemplified previously, the results presented in Figure 2 also suggest one upsurge — visible at the beginning of August — that appears to take place outside of such events. Here, a post made by the Green Party dealing with a forest fire in the Västmanland region of Sweden results in plenty of feedback — which is subsequently responded to by the party account [5]. This identification of high degrees of interaction by one particular party leads to our next section, where Figures 3 and 4 detail the degree to which interacting rationales were employed by the parties.

 

Interactive (marked in grey) and Broadcasting (marked in black) practices by Swedish political parties on Twitter
 
Figure 3: Interactive (marked in grey) and Broadcasting (marked in black) practices by Swedish political parties on Twitter, 1 January–17 September 2014. Presented in alphabetical order.

 

Reflecting the findings presented in Figure 1, the bar chart visible in Figure 3 further reinforces the importance of Twitter to the Feminist Initiative Party. Specifically, @Feministerna were active to the sum of 10,533 tweets during the studied time period, while the runner-up Centre Party offered 3,444 messages. Further down the vertical axis, the Green Party sent 3,012 tweets, while the Social Democrats distributed 2,906 such messages. The Feminist Initiative party proved to be a clear leader with regards to quantity of activity undertaken, with a series of parties following comparably far behind.

In terms of absolute numbers, the grey bars in the Figure @Feministerna account was indeed highly utilized also in terms of interacting on Twitter through sending @mentions. However, the percentages reported tell us a somewhat different story. The relative numbers presented suggest that the previously mentioned Centre Party appeared to prioritize interacting practices on Twitter more so then their competitors — 81 percent of the communication emanating from the @Centerpartiet account were @mentions. This signals an unparalleled willingness to interact on the platform at hand, at least expressed as relative numbers. Similarly, the Christian Democrats appeared as comparably active in this fashion (57 percent of tweets sent were @mentions), while the Green Party made use of this practice in 50 percent of their tweets. The instances of interaction were typically associated with the periods just before either of the elections that took place during the studied period.

In sum, two comparably small — yet incumbent — parties emerged as prominent with regards to employing the interactive potential of Twitter. Next, Figure 4 details the results for Facebook in a manner similar to the analysis provided previously.

 

Interactive (marked in grey) and Broadcasting (marked in black) practices by Swedish political parties on Facebook
 
Figure 4: Interactive (marked in grey) and Broadcasting (marked in black) practices by Swedish political parties on Facebook, 1 January–17 September 2014. Presented in alphabetical order.

 

While the values reported in Figure 4 do not reach the levels of those found in Figure 3, the scale featured on the horizontal axis of the latter Figure is nevertheless based on the previous one in order to facilitate comparison between the results.

The results detailing the Facebook activities of the parties provide a somewhat different picture than the one provided in the previous figure. As for the overall uses of Facebook, the Green Party (N = 3,175) and the Feminist Initiative Party (N = 2,498) emerge as particularly zealous. However, with the interactive uses of the service at hand in mind, the percentages reported in Figure 4 provide somewhat contrasting results. Much as The Green Party took the lead when assessing overall usage, they remain at the top when one considers the degree of interaction undertaken by means of the party accounts. Ninety-three percent (N = 2,945) of their Facebook activity was devoted to comments, indicating an unparalleled focus on interaction with other users of this particular platform. The Green Party is followed in this regard by the Social Democrats, who devoted 77 percent (N = 1,142) of their Facebook activity to interacting, with the Feminist Initiative Party (63 percent, N = 1,580) and the Centre Party (56 percent, N = 720) following with descending percentages. The dominance of the Green Party in this regard is to some extent related to the previously discussed forest fire, as their linking of this incident to more overarching climate issues yielded a particularly large amount of activity from other Facebook users — which in turn prompted the party to respond. That being said, the results suggest that the Green Party account appear to be especially active in this regard also beyond this specific post. Examples include a ‘Facebook Q&A’ session hosted by party officials on the day before the national election day [6] and a similar event taking place on the day before the election to the European Parliament — both examples of occasions where the Green Party apparently excelled in interacting with Facebook users [7].

For Facebook, then, while the overall activity of parties was more evenly distributed than for Twitter, the degree to which the party accounts engaged in interaction differed in what must be considered as a larger extent on Facebook than on Twitter. The results suggest that the dominance of the Green Party cannot be overstated in this regard, with close to all of their undertaken Facebook activity devoted to interaction through commenting, this stands out as a unique commitment to such practices.

 

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Discussion and conclusion

While some form of online presence has long been considered a necessity for political campaigning in western democracies (Druckman, et al., 2007; Williams and Gulati, 2013), the ways in which such online endeavors have been fashioned has varied from “extended advertisements” [8] or “brochure-like, controlled information provision” [9] to varieties of what could be considered as more progressive, interactive utilizations of the medium at hand (Blumler and Kavanagh, 1999; Coleman, 2004). While studies detailing adoption of social media by political actors can provide useful understandings (Gulati and Williams, 2013; Marcinkowski and Metag, 2014), the broader field of political communication arguably needs further insights into the actual uses of platforms like Twitter and Facebook. This is where the present study makes a contribution, especially considering its comparative outset: are we seeing traditional tendencies of political marketing manifest themselves in the supposed 2.0 era of professional use, or are other emerging uses of these established tools discernable?

The results presented in Figures 1 and 2 were mainly in line with previous scholarship, suggesting that the activity undertaken by the parties was clearly related to events taking place in the election coverage featured by established media — primarily television (Bruns and Burgess, 2011; Larsson and Moe, 2013). While such tendencies are indeed visible for both Twitter and Facebook, the figures also show that the former of these two services was employed to higher degrees than the latter. Although the present paper cannot provide any precise assessment regarding the self-professed communication priorities of the studied party organizations, it can provide insights into the actual communication work undertaken by them. With this in mind, it is noteworthy that almost all parties put a clear emphasis on utilizing Twitter over Facebook.

While there might be technical or practical reasons for such a prioritization — Facebook Pages arguably needs curation and moderation of potentially unpalatable material posted by others — the previously mentioned tendency for Twitter to attract societal elites might be expected to play a part here as well. From a political marketing point of view, prioritizing reaching out to potential opinion leaders could prove fruitful — especially if those users would then make the choice to redistribute the content provided by means of retweets (Larsson, 2015). On Twitter, then, parties can potentially reach opinion leaders of various origin, who would supposedly help spread the message to their respective audiences (González-Bailón, 2013; Stieglitz and Dang-Xuan, 2013). Facebook, by contrast, offers a broader spectrum of the general public, going beyond the urban clique of Twitter users.

Looking at the results presented in Figure 1 and 2 from a more normative democratic perspective yields different interpretations. As politicians and parties are elected to represent citizens, we accordingly expect politicians to pay attention to citizens (West, 2005). Of course, such attention does not necessarily have to be undertaken in the channels under scrutiny in this paper, but the apparent communicative mismatch (see also Larsson and Kalsnes, 2014) between parties and citizens found here suggests that other motives than interacting with citizens were at play when Swedish parties approached social media during the 2014 election year.

We turn now to assess the uses of Twitter and Facebook for broadcasting or interacting as defined previously. Indeed, while the percentages reported in Figures 3 and 4 would suggest a more even distribution of these practices, the absolute numbers rather strengthens the apparent priority placed on Twitter also in this regard. Expressed differently, with the total amount messages — of either broadcasting or interactive variety — sent by parties on both platforms amounting to 40,344, 18 percent (N = 7,359) of these were devoted to interaction on Facebook, while that same statistic for Twitter was reported at 29 percent (N = 11,670). Of course, such more overarching calculations do not take into account the individual differences between the included parties as discussed earlier.

Comparing parties especially prone to interact on both platforms, we see that two stand out in particular. As shown in Figures 3 and 4, both green parties — the Environmental Party and Centre Party — made clear marks on the results in this regard. In conclusion, while the latter of the two enjoyed incumbency at the time of the national election, the former did not. Moreover, as both parties enjoy a similar amount of the vote share (see Table 1), they could be considered to have been equals in terms of size — another factor often discussed when gauging party activity. Finally, both parties are often understood as placed on each side of the ideological left-right border. As both parties emerged as particularly active in terms of engaging in interactivity on both Twitter and Facebook, perhaps the results presented here could be understood in terms of a ‘green party effect’ — mirroring previous research efforts suggesting similar progressive employment by parties like these on comparable services (Gibson and McAllister, 2015; Koc-Michalska, et al., 2014; Strandberg, 2009; Vergeer, et al., 2013). Such a supposed effect would arguably need to be assessed beyond the more overarching approach favored here. Suitable ways forward could include policy analyses or interview studies focused on communication professionals working within the party organizations. Moreover, comparative designs, looking at parties in several electoral contexts, should help the field move forward. End of article

 

About the author

Anders Olof Larsson is Associate Professor at the Westerdals Oslo School of Arts, Communication and Technology, Faculty of Management. Larsson received his Ph.D. from Uppsala University in 2012, and subsequently worked as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Oslo. His research interests include the use of online interactivity and social media by societal institutions and their audiences, online political communication and methodology, especially quantitative methods.
Web: http://www.andersoloflarsson.se.
E-mail: anders [dot] larsson [at] westerdals [dot] no

 

Notes

1. Zittel, 2009, p. 298.

2. Honeycutt and Herring, 2009, p. 10.

3. Chen and Smith, 2010, p. 8.

4. Kalnes, 2009, p. 251.

5. The post is available at https://www.facebook.com/34780126150/posts/10152630965471151, accessed 13 March 2015.

6. The post is available at https://www.facebook.com/34780126150/posts/10152715723201151, accessed 13 March 2015.

7. The post is available at https://www.facebook.com/34780126150/posts/10152455873506151, accessed 13 March 2015.

8. Stromer-Galley, 2000, p. 128.

9. Jackson and Lilleker, 2009, p. 236.

 

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Editorial history

Received 15 April 2015; revised 18 September 2015; accepted 24 September 2015.


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“Green light for interaction: Party use of social media during the 2014 Swedish election year” by Anders Olof Larsson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Green light for interaction: Party use of social media during the 2014 Swedish election year by Anders Olof Larsson.
First Monday, Volume 20, Number 12 - 7 December 2015
http://www.firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/5966/5162
doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.5210/fm.v20i12.5966





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