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Enthusiasts propose that social media promotes vertical political communication, giving citizens the opportunity to interact directly with their representatives. However, skeptics claim that politicians avoid direct engagement with constituents, using technology to present a façade of interactivity instead. This study explores if and how elected officials in three regions of the world are using Twitter to interact with the public. We examine the Twitter activity of 15 officials over a period of six months. We show that in addition to the structural features of Twitter that are designed to promote interaction, officials rely on language to foster or to avoid engagement. It also provides yet more evidence that the existence of interactive features does not guarantee interactivity.
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Tweeting Vertically?
Elected Officials’ Interactions with Citizens on Twitter
Jahna Otterbacher, Matthew A. Shapiro,
Libby Hemphill
Illinois Institute of Technology, {jotterba, mshapir2, lhemphil}
Abstract: Enthusiasts propose that social media promotes vertical political communication,
giving citizens the opportunity to interact directly with their representatives. However,
skeptics claim that politicians avoid direct engagement with constituents, using technology to
present a façade of interactivity instead. This study explores if and how elected officials in
three regions of the world are using Twitter to interact with the public. We examine the
Twitter activity of 15 officials over a period of six months. We show that in addition to the
structural features of Twitter that are designed to promote interaction, officials rely on
language to foster or to avoid engagement. It also provides yet more evidence that the
existence of interactive features does not guarantee interactivity.
Keywords: Elected officials, Interactivity, Language, Twitter, Vertical communication
ew media optimists have claimed that social technologies, such as the micro-blogging service,
Twitter, stand to change political communication in positive ways. Many hope that new
technologies can help level the playing field between political elites, who enjoy a number of
resources to their advantage including access to traditional media channels, and non-elites, who
struggle to get their messages out (e.g., Bimber, 1998; Rheingold, 1993). Likewise, there is optimism
that new technologies might be harnessed and used to reverse the trend of increasing apathy
among citizens in liberal democracies, and particularly among youth (Delli Carpini, 2000).
Currently, we explore if and how elected officials use Twitter to interact with the public. Twitter
touts itself as a technology used around the globe. Therefore, to observe a wide variety of ways in
which officials use Twitter, we conduct a study of officials in three regions with liberal democratic
governments. Particularly, we draw upon datasets used in our ongoing research (Hemphill et al.,
2013), in which we are following the tweets of Members of the European Parliament, Korean
National Assembly Members, and United States Members of Congress. The goal is to examine
qualitatively the types of vertical communication taking place between elected officials and the
citizens they represent, and to develop a framework for analysis that can facilitate future work.
Our analysis suggests that while Twitter provides the infrastructure to facilitate a high level of
interactivity between political officials and constituents, that not everyone takes advantage of these
affordances. We illustrate that Twitter is being used in a variety of ways, from an essentially one-
way channel for information provision from official to citizen, to a space in which genuine mutual
discourse takes place. In addition, we argue that despite its image as a social technology, many
officials use Twitter to engage in para-social interaction rather than human-human interaction. In
such cases, officials provide just enough interaction for citizens to respond to them as people
(Giles, 2002), while yielding little control of the communication situation to citizens. Finally, we
offer suggestions for analyzing interactivity on Twitter, which considers not only the use of
structural features, but also language tactics. Future work can exploit such measures in a large-
scale, representative study of officials’ behaviors, in order to expand on our initial findings.
1. Background and Related Literature
Twitter is “used by people in nearly every country in the world1and elected officials in many
regions have adopted it as a part of their communication strategy. One way that Twitter might
positively impact political communication is by promoting vertical communication between officials
and the citizens they represent. For instance, according to the website of the European Parliament
(EP), social media is “revolutionizing” the way that MEPs communicate with citizens2. The EP
views social media as a means to engage citizens, allowing them to “question MEPs themselves.”
1.1. A Trend toward Interactivity?
But do politicians really interact with citizens? Lilleker and Malagón (2010) point out that
politicians are simultaneously the party facing the greatest risk and the greatest potential reward
from such encounters. Interactivity can help the politician establish rapport and a sense of
connection with citizens (McMillan, 2002b), portraying her as a responsive and capable
representative with good intentions. However, the risks include losing ambiguity in the political
message, as well as a general loss of control of the communication situation (Stromer-Galley, 2000).
Stromer-Galley (2000) not only finds that politicians are resistant to interactive, vertical
communication, but also claims that new technologies allow them to present a façade of
interactivity, reaping the benefits while minimizing risks. She distinguishes human-media
interactivity (e.g., engaging with content, such as a photo or video) from human-human
interactivity (e.g., messaging one’s representative and receiving a response). Stromer-Galley and
Foot (2002) conducted focus groups with citizens before the 2000 elections in the United States,
questioning them about candidates’ websites. They found that citizens perceive the possibility for
both types of interactivity. However, their needs for interacting with politicians are largely
satisfied by human-media interactions, and that they do not demand or expect direct interactions.
1.2. Interactivity on Twitter
Social media are often assumed to be interactive by their very nature. However, CMC
researchers consider interactivity to be a variable in any communication setting, and so it is not a
characteristic of the medium itself (Rafaeli & Sudweeks, 1997). Indeed, Twitter structures and
conventions of use can facilitate interactivity (e.g., mentioning or directly addressing someone
using “@”; the use of “RT” to rebroadcast another’s post). However, as we will show, the provision
of these features alone does not guarantee that they will be used in an interactive manner.
The following examples of recent public exchanges between MEPs and citizens illustrate not
only the potential risks and benefits to politicians using Twitter, but also the challenges for
researchers in terms of studying interactivity.
EP-communicates-with-you (accessed on 23 October 2012).
Exchange 1: Marietje Schaake (MEP, Netherlands) and Faceyet (citizen)
Marietje Schaake: Anyone looking through the #SyriaFiles who finds something that needs
political follow up, feel free to email me.
Faceyet: @MarietjeD66 Isn’t offering to help with “political follow up” on #SyriaFiles in effect an
offer of assistance to #WikiLeaks? #EU #NATO
Marietje Schaake: No, Id look into it, take parliamentary action independently on a daily basis,
but based on (multiple) info sources... #Syriafiles @faceyet
Exchange 2: Julie Girling (MEP, UK) and Hollicombe (@ToxicTorbay) (citizen)
Hollicombe: @juliegirling as our MEP could we ask you about your views on the #hollicombe
development in #Torbay, & the possible #publichealthrisk ?
Julie Girling: @ToxicTorbay Thanks for getting in touch. As this is a local planning and
development matter I urge you to contact local Cllrs and your MP.
Exchange 3: Alexander Alvaro (MEP, Germany) and Caren S Wood (citizen)
Caren S Wood: @AlexAlvaro Sorry me getting personal, but did already someone told you that
you look like Mr. George Clooney of the EP? How refreshing!! :))
AlexanderAlvaro: @CarenSWood Life could be worse, hm?
In contrast to the latter two exchanges, the official initiates the first one. She does not directly
address anyone, but instead extends a general invitation to citizens to contact her. In addition, it’s
the longest of the three exchanges. The second and third exchanges are both initiated by citizens;
the addressed officials respond with a single message, essentially ending the conversations.
In all three cases, the officials demonstrate that they are responsive to inquiries. However,
particularly in exchanges one and two, their responses show that they are simultaneously trying to
save face and preserve their political ambiguity. Schaake is put on the spot as to where she stands
on WikiLeaks. Rather than answering directly, she counters that she would rely on multiple
information sources before acting politically. Similarly, Girling is directly asked where she stands
on a particular issue. It is clear that the citizen would like to hear Girling’s view (“as our MEP…”),
however, Girling deflects the question. The third exchange, in which a fan has contacted an MEP to
flirt with him, might be considered as embarrassing or distracting from the political message or
image. However, Alvaro uses the exchange to show his sense of humor.
1.3. Evaluating Interactivity in CMC
Much research on interactivity in CMC takes one of two approaches: analyzing structures
provided by the medium or users’ perceptions of its capabilities (Van Dijk, 1999). In the first camp,
researchers have focused on the extent to which interactive features are included in politicians’
websites, and have tried to understand how communication approaches correlate to party and
demographic characteristics (e.g., Jankowski et al., 2005; Braghiroli, 2010; Lilleker et al., 2011). To
contrast, others have argued that interactivity is not only a variable in terms of the structures
provided by a medium, but is also a psychological factor (Kiousis, 2002).
McMillan and Downes (2000), taking the user-driven approach, determined that there are two
key dimensions to interactivity: the direction of communication that may take place between senders
and receivers of messages (i.e., one-way versus two-way) and the level of control that the message
receiver has. McMillan (2002a) subsequently developed a four-part model of cyber-interactivity,
which is summarized and related to the case of Twitter in Figure 1. We argue that Twitter use by
political officials might fall into any of the four quadrants and provide examples. As will be seen,
we use this framework of cyber-interactivity to guide our exploration of politicians’ interactions
with citizens via Twitter.
Figure 1: Twitter activity in relation to McMillan’s (2002b) model of cyber-interactivity
2. Goals and Research Questions
While much previous research considered political officials’ use of interactive features in their
websites, we are not aware of studies that seek to examine interactivity between political elites and
citizens on Twitter. Therefore, our exploratory study seeks to characterize the types of interactivity
that politicians are engaging in using this new medium. Inspired by the review of related
literature, we propose two research questions:
RQ1: What is the level of cyber-interactivity of politicians on Twitter?
RQ2: Do they engage in mutual discourse or do they avoid it?
3. Data and Method
We consulted our datasets of public officials who use Twitter in their communication strategy.
For each region (Europe, South Korea, and the US), we identified five officials3 who had been
active on Twitter from 1 January 2012 to 1 July 2012. We also considered diversity with respect to
gender and political party. Details on the officials selected for the study are provided in Table 1.
The dataset comprises nearly all4 of the officials’ tweets during the six-month timeframe.
Obviously, this is a multi-lingual dataset. The American officials tweeted exclusively in English
and Korean officials in Korean. In contrast, four of the EU MEPs we studied tweeted in at least two
languages, with English being used as a lingua franca. All non-English tweets were translated to
English using Google Translate5, and were verified by a speaker of the source language to ensure
the appropriateness of the translations.
3 We note that while some of the officials have since left their positions, all are still active in politics.
4 All Tweets that were being publically displayed by Twitter on 1 July 2012 were captured.
Table 1: Public officials, party, gender and lifetime Twitter activity statistics
Name (Handle) / Party / Country
Alexander Alvaro (@AlexAlvaro), Alliance of Liberals and Democrats
for Europe, Germany
Julie Girling (@juliegirling), European Conservatives and Reformists,
Rodi Kratsa (@Rodi_Kratsa), European People’s Party, Greece
Niccolò Rinaldi (@NiccoloRinaldi), Alliance of Liberals and
Democrats for Europe, Italy
Marietje Schaake (@marietjed66), Alliance of Liberals and Democrats
for Europe, Netherlands
Seung-Kyu Kang (@kangara), Grand National Party, Korea
Kim Jin Pyo (@jinpyokim), Democrat United Party, Korea
Yu-Jung Kim (@KimYoojung), Democrat United Party, Korea
Young-Gil Kwon (@KwonYoungGhil), Democratic Labor Party,
Young-A Park (@youngahPark), Grand National Party, Korea
Virginia Foxx (@virginiafoxx), Republican , US House of
Kirsten Gillibrand (@SenGillibrand), Democrat, US Senate
Claire McCaskill (@clairecmc), Democrat, US Senate
Thaddeus McCotter (@ThadMcCotter), Republican, US House of
Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders), Independent Senator
First, we analyzed the official’s activity and use of Twitter’s structures that enable interactivity:
How many tweets did the official post during the six-month period?
How often did the official mention others?
How often did the official reply to others’ tweets?
How often did the official retweet?
We also considered the posting of additional content (photos and videos) that fosters human-
media interaction. Finally, we read through official’s tweets to find illustrative examples of how
officials interact with citizens. In particular, we considered the official’s use of direct reply, in an
effort to understand whether or not these replies are to citizens, and if so, what they concern.
4. Analysis
For each group of officials, we first present their activity (i.e., number of tweets posted during
the first six months of 2012). We also summarize their use of structures: mentioning another user
using “@,” retweeting, and direct reply to another user6. As a measure of human-human
interactivity, we also compute the percent of tweets that are replies. Finally, we characterize each
official’s interactions with citizens, providing illustrative examples of typical behaviors.
4.1. Members of Parliament (European Union)
Table 2: EP officials’ use of structural features supporting interactivity
% Replies
4.1.1. @AlexAlvaro
@AlexAlvaro, a German MEP who tweets in both English and German, is very responsive to
citizens. As shown in Table 2, he focuses more on engaging directly with others, rather than
posting content. We observed many cases where he invited citizens to discuss with him, engaging
in mutual discourse, such as the following:
@AlexAlvaro : Why do you need to stay anonymous to be able to express yourself? Must admit
that I don't understand that concept... #eurodig
@ronpatz : @AlexAlvaro because blowing the whistle can get you in jail or just because your
opinion is valid without a name, too. #eurodig
@AlexAlvaro: @ronpatz I would disagree about the value of a nameless opinion and...not
everyone is a whistleblower (for those I understand) #eurodig
4.1.2. @juliegirling
@juliegirling’s interactivity is mainly feedback, with rare direct exchanges. She frequently posts
links to content including her monthly newsletter or pictures of events she attended. Even her
direct interactions with citizens focus on information provision rather than critical discussion:
@treiziemeetoile : @juliegirling quick question if I may: is Mrs Girling participating in the EP
ASEAN delegation to Burma this week, meeting Aung San Suu Kyi?
@juliegirling : @treiziemeetoile yes that's correct. Information about the visit to follow in the
coming weeks. via
6 We note that if users did not use the features provided by Twitter to engage in these activities (e.g., marking a tweet with “MT” but
not using the retweet function) then they will not be captured in our statistics.
4.1.3. @Rodi_Kratsa
@Rodi_Kratsa’s use of Twitter includes monologue and mutual discourse and she tweets in both
Greek and English. She often positions herself on current issues, and does not post much
additional content. More than 20% of her tweets are direct replies, and we observed several
exchanges in which citizens ask her to do something:
@billhicks6 : @Rodi_Kratsa Could you bring up the case of the suicides in the EP, and ask that
they be investigated as a case of murder by negligence or intention? [Referring to the increasing
rate of suicide in Greece, during the financial crisis.]
@Rodi_Kratsa : @billhicks6 Soon, I will be taking other initiatives on the matter of the suicides.
4.1.4. @NiccoloRinaldi
@NiccoloRinaldi tweets primarily in Italian with an occasional English tweet. He typically
tweets in the feedback mode, posting content to engage constituents, such as photos and videos.
Almost 10% of his tweets are replies, in the mutual discourse mode. Of interest was his interaction
with citizens during the recent ACTA vote in the EP, such as this exchange with a student:
@antodicarlo @NiccoloRinaldi #ACTA . What is this?
@NiccoloRinaldi @antodicarlo See for more information. It’s an
anti-counterfeiting agreement that would affect Internet freedom as well as access to medicines.
4.1.5. @marietjed66
@marietjed66 is the most active and interactive official we observed. She tweets in both English
and Dutch using feedback and mutual discourse. As previously noted, she often poses questions and
invitations to engage citizens. She is also responsive to unsolicited inquiries, such as the following:
@AmQamar : Hello! May I ask what you are doing at the european level to solve the problems
of the persecutd ahmadiyya community? @MarietjeD66
@MarietjeD66 : @AmQamar we highlight it in our human rights work on Pakistan etc [con’t]
@AmQamar : @MarietjeD66 Dont want to hold u up, but just to inform u that I have also visited
your website and seen ur work. I appreciate your work.
@MarietjeD66 : @AmQamar thankyou
While many officials post quick, one-off responses to citizens’ questions, @marietjed66
frequently has extended exchanges. In interactions such as this one, it is obvious that citizens
appreciate the time officials take in responding to their questions.
4.2. National Assembly Members (Korea)
Table 3: Korean officials’ use of structural features supporting interactivity
% Replies
4.2.1. @kangnara
Citizens often initiated interaction with @kangnara, and he always responded politely. That
said, we noted that he frequently responded with generic replies, such as the following:
@kangnara: Thank you for your encouraging words. I’ll do my best to lead.
This is not surprising given that direct interaction with constituents is time consuming (Stromer-
Galley, 2000). Another characteristic of @kangnara is that he often posted pictures; we counted a
total of 100 photos. Typical photos included him attending official and family events and sports.
We characterize @kangnara’s use of Twitter as featuring both mutual discourse and feedback.
4.2.2. @jinpyokim
@jinpyokim is very open to answering questions from constituents; nearly a third of his posts
are replies. Citizens often want information from him, as illustrated in the following exchange:
@sununiv_in : @jinpyokim The Yeongtong subway construction is often taking too long. Do
you care to comment?
@jinpyokim: @sununiv_in: By the end of this year, the train line should be constructed all the
way to Mangpo Station. Announced in 2000 with construction not beginning until 2006 for
various reasons, with no budget problems, there’s been progress. Please be patient for just a
little while longer.
We also observed him interacting with students, who asked him to complete a survey, and he
quickly responded to their request. @jinpyokim spends a good deal of his time in mutual discourse,
and engages in the feedback mode of interactivity as well.
4.2.3. @KimYoojung
@KimYoojung is very prolific, typically posting several tweets each day. In addition to
professional activities, she often mentions day-to-day details, which add a personal touch:
I’ve got to have a strong, sugary cup of coffee! Even when there’s a lot going on, a strong cup
starts the day!
Over half of her tweets are responses to others in mutual discourse. Many of these interactions are,
similar to those of her colleagues, words of encouragement and “thank you’s.” For example:
@lafe12: @KimYoojung: Senator, the last four years have been difficult and filled with anxiety.
Thank you for your hard work.
@KimYoojung: @lafe12: Thanks~^^ We’ve missed you! How have you been?
4.2.4. @KwonYoungGhil
While @KwonYoungGhil is quite prolific, he exchanges very few messages with others. He
fosters human-media engagement by occasionally posting photos and videos. He tweets about
strikes and economic injustices, positioning himself in relation to the events or issues, as follows:
@KwonYoungGhil : Children are often referred to as the treasures of our country”. Where to
spend money if not on them? Free childcare should not be interrupted.
@KwonYoungGhil’s use of Twitter falls mainly into two modes: monologue and feedback.
4.2.5. @YoungahPark
@YoungahPark is the least prolific of the Korean officials we studied. Her tweets often focus on
issues of education and her own views, without prompting a reply from citizens:
@YoungahPark : Teacher evaluation in the Teacher Evaluation Bill is now being discussed at the
curriculum general meeting. It’s a shame that it was unanimously supported three years ago at
the meeting, but it still has not been passed. The situation is very frustrating. Sorry to the people
who are waiting for this bill to pass.
We observed @YoungahPark using monologue, feedback and to a lesser extent, mutual discourse.
4.3. Members of Congress (United States)
Table 4: US officials’ use of structural features supporting interactivity
% Replies
4.3.1. @virginiafoxx
@virginiafoxx exhibits a press agency style of use rather than an effort to interact directly with
citizens. For instance, we observed the following message multiple times:
@virginiafoxx: Help me reach 2,000 likes on Facebook! If you follow me on Twitter, be sure to
check out & like my Facebook page! [URL]
She had no direct exchanges with anyone. She often mentions and retweets other political elites,
however, we were unable to find a single mention or retweet of a citizen. @virginiafoxx tweeted
several photos, which often depicted visits to companies and other organizations. It is clear that
@virginafoxx avoids mutual discourse; her primary mode is feedback with limited responsive dialog.
4.3.2. @SenGillibrand
@SenGillibrand’s activity takes a personal tone, but still primarily is in feedback mode. Her tweets
are generally written in the first person, and she often posts photos of professional and family
activities, as in the following:
@SenGillibrand: Last night, I took Henry, Theo & a friend to Congressional Night at the Natl
@AirandSpace Museum. They loved it!
While @SenGillibrand does avoid mutual discourse, she often uses mentions to give kudos to civic
groups and individuals involved in work and causes that she supports:
@SenGillibrand: Congrats @ReshmaSaujani on the amazing @GirlsWhoCode project in #NYC
& its new partnership w/@Twitter #offthesidelines
4.3.3. @clairecmc
Similar to @SenGillibrand, @clairecmc’s tweets have a personal tone, generally written in the
first person voice. She occasionally posts photos, often with family members. While @clairecmc
had relatively few replies to others (6.2% of her posts), we did observe some interesting
interactions with citizens. For example, in one, she defends herself against a citizen’s criticism:
@mrsdeedum:“@FSMidwest: @clairecmc Got her GAME 6 ticket signed [URL] but who paid 4
it? You or lobbyist?
@clairecmc : @mrsdeedum I paid for my own ticket. Always do.
In summary, @claircmc is primarily tweeting in the feedback mode, with some mutual discourse.
4.3.4. @ThadMcCotter
While @ThadMcCotter interacts primarily with other politicians and the media, he does engage
in exchanges with citizens, which he often initiates, such as the following example:
@ThadMcCotter: Lunch with one of Michigan's finest at USAG-Yongsan. #TM12 [URL]
@AndrewHemingway: @ThadMcCotter killer bow tie! If @repschock will stop hogging GQ I
think you have a chance
Similar to @SenGillibrand and @clairecmc, @ThadMcCotter tweets about both professional and
personal interests. However, whereas the former often tweet about their families, @ThadMcCotter
often had exchanges about TV shows or his home sports teams. His tweets are primarily written in
the first person voice. He makes extensive use of both mutual discourse and feedback.
4.3.5. @SenSanders
@SenSanders notes that his staff tweet for him. We counted 65 tweets that were noted as being
written by Senator Sanders himself (7.9%). Like @virginiafoxx, @SenSanders does not use direct
replies. The dominant voice of the posts is the third person. @SenSanders is also fond of posting
questions that provoke citizens to think about an issue, and engages them with additional content:
@SenSanders: The CEOs of 15 top U.S. and European banks got an average raise of 12% last
year. Did you get a raise last year? [URL]
@SenSanders extensively uses the feedback mode of interacting, however, he also makes use of
responsive dialog, as in the following examples in which citizens are invited to participate in polls:
@SenSanders: Should the US continue to subsidize the fossil fuel industry? Let Bernie know
here: [URL] #Energy #Oil #Gas
5. Discussion
Twitter provides a number of features designed to facilitate interaction. Some promote human-
media interaction (e.g., posting a URL or photo) while others enable direct, human-human
interaction (e.g., mentioning, which often leads to a reply). Structurally, Twitter has the capacity to
put citizens in direct contact with their representatives. However, the provision of the functionality
alone does not guarantee that the medium will be fully exploited.
We identified several officials who regularly engaged in mutual discourse with citizens. Many of
them exhibit a willingness to answer inquiries in a polite and timely fashion. Even more
encouraging, some, in particular @AlexAlvaro and @marietjed66, explicitly invited citizens to
discuss issues with them, and engaged in more than simple, one-off exchanges.
5.1. Para-social interaction
On the other hand, we observed those who remained in the feedback and responsive dialog modes.
For instance, @virginiafoxx and @SenSanders had no direct exchanges with others. Both promoted
their Web presences elsewhere in order to drive traffic there (e.g., Foxx’s Facebook) or to collect
feedback from the public (e.g., Sanders’ polling site). Many also used Twitter in monologue mode,
simply posting updates and views on current events and issues.
It may be that many politicians, despite having adopted Twitter, have no desire to engage in
mutual discourse. What do these officials gain by using social technologies in ways that are less than
fully interactive? McMillan (2002a) explains a possible effect of the “lesser” forms of interactivity.
She describes how para-social interaction can occur as a result of human-content interaction. She
claims that even when there is limited ability for human-to-human interaction, that message
receivers can develop a feeling of being close to message senders. Thus, some politicians interact
just enough to get constituents to identify with them, without having to yield much control in the
exchange, and without having to invest the energy necessary to sustain mutual discourse.
5.2. Analyzing Interactivity
We examined the extent to which officials use interactive features of Twitter. Our qualitative
analysis revealed something that needs to be addressed how officials use language in
conjunction with Twitter’s structures. We observed how @MarietjeD66 and @AlexAlvaro posed
provocative questions or invitations to encourage constituents to interact. Likewise, we saw the
importance of “thank you’s” issued promptly in response to citizens’ inquiries. Hyland (2005)
explains that writers use linguistic tactics to engage readers, highlighting features such as
pronouns (e.g., the use of “you” to directly address readers, or “we” to create a sense of in-group
belonging). In future, we will consider how officials use such tactics. It may be that using engaging
language, along with Twitter’s structures, is key to its use in direct interaction with citizens.
6. Conclusion
Politicians’ Twitter use varies in terms of how interactive they are. We observed interesting
cultural differences that warrant further study; American officials were significantly less
interactive as compared to Europeans and Koreans. We plan to conduct a large-scale study to see if
the patterns observed are representative of the way politicians are using Twitter.
In conclusion, Twitter has much potential for promoting interactive, vertical communication. Of
course, it’s unrealistic to expect that all or even most officials will use Twitter in a highly
interactive way, and we observed officials who did not exploit its interactive potential. We are
most disturbed by researchers’ claims that citizens, who are aware of the interactive potential of
new technologies, do not demand interaction with their representatives (Stromer-Galley & Foot,
2002). We hope that further work might show positive examples of interactive communication that
will at the very least encourage citizens to try to engage officials via new media such as Twitter.
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About the Author/s
Jahna Otterbacher
Jahna (Ph.D., University of Michigan - Ann Arbor, USA) is a communication and information scientist. Her
endeavor is to discover patterns in the use of language and other communicative devices in order to
better facilitate technology-mediated interactions, enhancing access to information.
Matthew A. Shapiro
Matthew (Ph.D., University of Southern California Los Angeles, USA) is a trained political economist. His
overarching goal is to understand problems associated with the sharing and receipt of information, both of
which have implications for the policy-making process. He examines information sharing in the context of
R&D collaboration, and he studies the receipt of information in the context of how it is framed.
Libby Hemphill
Libby (Ph.D., University of Michigan - Ann Arbor, USA) is a communication and information scientist. Her
research focuses on collaboration and social media. She is especially interested in understanding and
designing social media tools to facilitate collaborations both at work and at play.
... Taking differing levels of interactivity into account, the present study uses a coding scheme based on McMillan's (2002) four-level model of cyber-interactivity and adapted for Twitter by Otterbacher, Shapiro, and Hemphill (2012) and Parmelee and Deeley (2017) to analyze tweets from US political reporters at traditional newspapers, online-only news sites, and television networks during the 2016 US presidential election. The content analysis examines gender and generational differences in how political reporters engaged in four types of interactivity with politicians, fellow journalists, organizations, and the general public. ...
... To capture the nuance in how Twitter's features are used for differing levels of interactivity, a coding system has been developed based on McMillan's (2002) four-part model of cyber-interactivity. Otterbacher, Shapiro, and Hemphill (2012) (2012) by creating a four-level model of journalistic interactivity that includes @mentions and distinguishes between @replies that are back-and-forth conversations and @replies that are mere acknowledgments. The four-part model of journalistic interactivity is shown in Figure 1. ...
A content analysis of US political reporters examines how journalists' age and gender influence their interactivity on Twitter with citizens, politicians, organizations, and fellow journalists. Findings contribute to the concept of normalization, which suggests that journalists do not take advantage of new technology's engagement opportunities. Male political reporters were nearly twice as likely as female reporters to engage in the most genuine form of interactivity, and Generation X reporters were far more involved than Millennials in having back-and-forth conversations with citizens. The results show the degree to which journalistic normalization of Twitter depends on the gender and generation of the reporters involved.
... This could be partially due to professional journalists' skepticism concerning the quality and credibility of information generated by anonymous social media users (Hermida 2010). In a similar vein, Otterbacher, Shapiro, and Hemphill (2012) conducted a qualitative analysis of interactions between politicians and citizens on Twitter and found that although some politicians engaged in direct interaction, others used the platform to broadcast information ...
The internet and social media have led to a change in the structure of the public sphere in comparison to traditional mass media. On the internet, private actors have the possibility to participate in public discourse and bypass news media to directly interact with each other as well as with public actors such as political representatives. The questions of the type of interaction, the degree of influence, and possible topic-specific differences, however, remain unclear. We conducted a content analysis of the user types, forms of interaction, and practices of retweeting and linking in 17,629 tweets on five topics and found topic-specific differences in the interaction between news media, public actors, and private actors. Overall, news media still hold an important role in information flow and are linked to and retweeted most often by all user types. However, in crisis situations, the messages of private actors also find uptake.
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Although the public regularly attempts to interact with reporters on Twitter, it is not clear to what extent reporters at various types of news outlets engage with citizens, politicians, and other users on the microblog. To find out, a content analysis was conducted on 4,500 tweets during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign from political reporters at TV networks/cable news, online-only news websites, and large newspapers. Findings indicate significant differences in Twitter interactivity by news outlet type, with TV political reporters most likely to interact with politicians and online-only political reporters most likely to interact with citizens. However, interactivity was generally low except with fellow journalists, which supports the normalization hypothesis.
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This study reports on incorporation of the Web during the 2004 European Parliament election as played out in 11 EU Member States. Based on an analysis of Web site features related to a conceptualization of political engagement, the study examines,utilization of features reflecting information provision and opportunities for discussion and political action. The findings reflect the low level of importance historically ascribed to European Parliament elections. The study also illustrates the diversity in how the Web was incorporated into this election campaign across the 11 EU Member States, which may be a consequence,of the broad range of political cultural and contextual aspects shaping this pan-European event. Keywords: European Parliament election, Web sphere analysis, Web feature analysis, political communication, political en-
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Amid many discussions of disengagement between the public and political sphere, the Internet is offered as a potential solution capable of bridging the gap between elected and elector. E-communication tools have been increasingly prominent during recent election campaigns, and much attention was given to the 2007 French presidential candidates’ use of the Internet. It was suggested they had moved beyond simply providing information and were opening up a dialogue with the electorate. This interactivity has the capacity to reduce disengagement and revitalize democracy. However, in defining interactivity, the trend online is to think of participatory open dialogue as opposed to closed sender—receiver feedback loops. In order to assess the role interactivity played within this contest, and to gain some sense of the future use of interactive tools, this study tested a sample of pages from the websites of Nicolas Sarkozy and Ségolène Royal, the two main challengers in the contest, against a six-part interactivity model, and analysed the discourse and language in terms of its encouraging interaction. While some shifts in behaviour were found, the campaign retained the caution that is normal for electoral candidates, which reduced the extent to which participatory interactivity took place.
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This paper considers the phenomenon of parasocial interaction (PSI) used by media researchers to describe the relationship between media users and media figures (from celebrities to fictional characters). Although the concept has been used consistently across the past two decades in media research, it is argued here that it has not been sufficiently developed at a theoretical level to be taken up by psychologists. A number of key issues have not been addressed: firstly, how PSI might, as its originators put it, be "integrated into the matrix of usual social activity" (Horton & Wohl, 1956); secondly, how PSI might vary according to different types of media figure; and thirdly, what processes over time and media use bind user and figure into a "parasocial relationship." In this paper the existing literature on PSI is extensively reviewed, and an original model of PSI is developed for use in future social psychological research, which places PSI within the realm of ordinary social interaction and suggests ways in which different media use and different types of media figure interact to produce different styles of relationship. Finally, some applications of more detailed research into PSI are suggested.
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The literature on interactivity includes many assumptions and some definitions but few tools for operationalizing the concept of interactivity in computer-mediated environments. This article takes an early step in filling that gap. In-depth interviews with 10 individuals who work and teach in the field of interactive communication led to a conceptual definition of interactivity based on six dimensions: direction of communication, time flexibility, sense of place, level of control, responsiveness, and perceived purpose of communication. Suggestions are made for applying these dimensions to multiple forms of computer-mediated communication. Future research should empirically test the existence and application of these dimensions.
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The use of interactivity as a variable in empirical investigations has dramatically increased with the emergence of new communication channels such as the world wide web. Though many scholars have employed the concept in analyses, theoretical and operational definitions are exceedingly scattered and incoherent. Accordingly, the purpose of this project is to engender a detailed explication of interactivity that could bring some consensus to how the concept should be theoretically and operationally defined. Following Chaffee’s (1991) framework for concept explication, we generate new theoretical and operational definitions that may be central to future work in this area. In particular, we suggest that interactivity is both a media and psychological factor that varies across communication technologies, communication contexts, and people’s perceptions.
Conference Paper
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As Twitter becomes a more common means for officials to communicate with their constituents, it becomes more important that we understand how officials use these communication tools. Using data from 380 members of Congress' Twitter activity during the winter of 2012, we find that officials frequently use Twitter to advertise their political positions and to provide information but rarely to request political action from their constituents or to recognize the good work of others. We highlight a number of differences in communication frequency between men and women, Senators and Representatives, Republicans and Democrats. We provide groundwork for future research examining the behavior of public officials online and testing the predictive power of officials' social media behavior.
This study presents data from content analyses of the websites of all parties that stood in the 2009 European parliamentary elections in France, Germany, Great Britain and Poland. It cross-nationally examines the main functions of the websites, the adoption of Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 features, and the political and cultural factors that determine parties’ online communication. The findings show that while the main website function varies across countries, Web 1.0 is still the dominant mode of campaigning. Moreover, offline inequalities within and between nations determine differences in parties’ individual online strategies: specifically, major parties in states with long histories of democracy and EU membership lead the way and offer more interactive and innovative modes of campaigning. On the other hand, minor parties, particularly in Poland, remain in a more Web 1.0, information-heavy mode of communication. This supports the so-called normalization thesis on both the meso and the macro level.
This article examines the extent of Internet-based political mobilization during the 1996 election season. Using a sample of politically engaged Internet users from an online survey, along with data from random-digit-dial phone surveys, the article analyzes the extent of political use of the Internet and the nature of contacts with citizens made by eight categories of organization during the campaigns. It compares the extent of contacts made through electronic mail with contacts by phone, by mail, and in person. The article suggests that traditionally influential, national political organizations were apparently the most active in using the Internet for contacting voters and potential voters, but also that nontraditional, alternative mobilizers were comparatively more reliant on electronic mail and used it to reach a proportionately larger fraction of people not otherwise contacted.
A great deal of research has now established that written texts embody interactions between writers and readers. A range of linguistic features have been identified as contributing to the writer's projection of a stance to the material referenced by the text, and, to a lesser extent, the strategies employed to presuppose the active role of an addressee. As yet, however, there is no overall typology of the resources writers employ to express their positions and connect with readers. Based on an analysis of 240 published research articles from eight disciplines and insider informant interviews, I attempt to address this gap and consolidate much of my earlier work to offer a framework for analysing the linguistic resources of intersubjective positioning. Attending to both stance and engagement, the model provides a comprehensive and integrated way of examining the means by which interaction is achieved in academic argument and how the discoursal preferences of disciplinary communities construct both writers and readers.