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Going Viral? Comparing Parties on Social Media During the 2014 Swedish Election

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While research has provided useful insights into political party use of Twitter, comparably few efforts have focused on the arguably more popular Facebook service. This paper takes both platforms into account, detailing similar functionalities and providing analyses of the social media activities undertaken by Swedish political parties during the 2014 elections. Moreover, the types of feedback received by the parties on these platforms are gauged. Findings suggest that while sizeable parties are not necessarily the most ardent at using social media, they do receive the most attention. In essence, then, party size matters -however, the role of the right-wing populist Sweden Democrats is clearly felt throughout, suggesting the apparent prowess of controversial parties in the online context.
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Going Viral?
Comparing Parties on Social Media During the 2014 Swedish
Election
Anders Olof Larsson
Department of Media and Communication, University of Oslo
a.o.larsson@media.uio.no
andersoloflarsson.se
Abstract
While research has provided useful insights into political party use of Twitter, comparably
few efforts have focused on the arguably more popular Facebook service. This paper takes
both platforms into account, detailing similar functionalities and providing analyses of the
social media activities undertaken by Swedish political parties during the 2014 elections.
Moreover, the types of feedback received by the parties on these platforms are gauged.
Findings suggest that while sizeable parties are not necessarily the most ardent at using
social media, they do receive the most attention. In essence, then, party size matters -
however, the role of the right-wing populist Sweden Democrats is clearly felt throughout,
suggesting the apparent prowess of controversial parties in the online context.
Keywords
Political Communication, Social Media, Facebook, Twitter, Sweden, Election Campaign
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Introduction
While the largely sober, perhaps even “somber assessments” (Vaccari, 2008b: 2) of previous
research would suggest largely conservative efforts on behalf of political actors online (e.g.
Larsson, 2013; Margolis and Resnick, 2000), the advent of so-called web 2.0 rationales for
web design, coupled with the emergence of a range of services often collectively understood
as social media, have yet again raised expectations regarding politician and party utilization
of platforms like Facebook or Twitter. While a range of studies are available regarding the
uses of the latter of these two services (see Jungherr, 2014 for an overview), a comparably
smaller amount of work has been performed looking into Facebook use at the hands of
political parties. Even fewer studies undertake multi-modal efforts, combining analysis of
activity on both services (as recommended by Kim et al., 2013; Vergeer and Hermans,
2013). The current study, then, makes a contribution in this regard.
Given the popularity of Facebook – especially when compared to Twitter (Bruns, 2011) -
more scholarly insights are needed concerning political uses of social media in a broader
sense. While in-depth case studies can certainly provide rich insights into the practices
associated uniquely with one specific platform, our current effort features a different
approach. Specifically, what is presented here is a study of Facebook and Twitter use at the
hands of Swedish political parties during the 2014 general elections. While previous
research has indicated the routine aspect of simply having an online presence – in the form
of web sites (Gibson, 2004; Druckman et al., 2007) or on the services discussed here
(Groshek and Al-Rawi, 2013) – further insights are needed into the actual use as undertaken
by political actors – and the types of feedback that this activity yields on both platforms
(Hansen and Kosiara-Pedersen, 2014). Indeed, such a focus on the outcome of party online
activity is seemingly suggested by Bimber (2014), who states that “new tools are broadly
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available […] scholars can learn little from comparing which candidate has more, or better,
technology” (132). With this in mind, the study at hand moves beyond what could be
described as the often employed dichotomous approach – essentially asking ‘has/has not’
type questions (e.g. Marcinkowski and Metag, 2014; Strandberg, 2013). Instead, it adopts an
approach that allows for different types of insights regarding the overarching implications of
the online actions of different types of parties – specifically differentiating between
comparably larger and smaller competitors. Employing a series of overarching quantitative
analytical efforts, the study is guided by two research questions, the first of which is phrased
as follows:
To what extent did Swedish political parties use Facebook and Twitter during the 2014
election?
Taking different types of feedback that could tentatively be received into account, the
second research question reads accordingly:
What types of feedback did Swedish political parties receive on Facebook and Twitter
during the 2014 election?
The previously suggested broad availability of novel online tools is perhaps especially valid
in our case country of Sweden. Featuring high levels of voting attendance as well as an
“avant-garde position regarding Internet access, broadband and social media penetration”
(Gustafsson, 2012: 1111), Swedish political actors have similarly been known as early
adopters and ardent users of various web technologies (Vergeer et al., 2012) – with some
variation (Larsson and Kalsnes, 2014; Larsson, 2011). As such, the selected case should
Pre-print version of paper accepted for publication in
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make for some interesting insights – especially since it is undertaken outside the often-
studied anglo-american context (as suggested by Hermans and Vergeer, 2012). With this in
mind, the subsequent section outlines the specific analytical rationale for the study at hand –
comparing political parties of varying sizes.
Size is Everything? Larger and Smaller Political Parties Online
While the influx of the Internet in general and tendencies of political professionalization in
particular led to suggestions of individual politicians gaining more power vis-à-vis their
respective party organizations (e.g. Lisi, 2013), the traditionally party-centered Swedish
parliamentary system has largely remained focused as such also in the digital age (e.g.
Oscarsson and Holmberg, 2013). While individual politicians have certainly made clear
marks of their own in various online spheres, their respective party organizations are still
important when it comes campaign initiation and overall orchestration of such activities.
The focus on parties in this regard thus appears as suitable.
As for our specific case, the 2014 Swedish parliamentary election saw the eight-year
incumbent liberal-conservative alliance facing a series of different challengers, the largest of
which were the Social Democrats. As a result of the 2010 elections, the right-wing populist
Sweden Democrats made their way into parliament. However, throughout the four-year
period between the former and the current election, the remainder of parliamentary
representatives made clear efforts to block many of the often-controversial issues advocated
by this latter party to come to fruition. For both elections, two prominent minor candidates
also succeeded in making their voices heard – at least to some extent. Although neither the
Feminist Initiative Party nor the Pirate Party managed to gain access to parliament in the
election, they were both able to raise interest among the populace enough to be a part of pre-
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election media coverage and some of the televised debates. The weeks leading up to
Election Day in September 14th saw a close race between the liberal-conservative alliance
and their Social Democratic challengers, resulting in a shift of power, where the latter of the
two formed a minority coalition government with the Environmental Party.
Given these basic characteristics of the Swedish political system as outlined in Table One –
Two large parties, two rather small ‘outsider’ parties and one controversial party – previous
research on the topic at hand can provide us with some insights regarding what to expect in
terms of online performance as a result of party size or party ideology.
The suggestion that party size would have an influence on such activity, both by the party
itself as well as by their supposedly larger share of supporters, might seem self-evident.
However, research has shown that while comparably smaller parties proved to be more
geared towards online campaigning endeavors during the popularization of the Internet
during the mid-1990s (e.g. Sadow and James, 1999; Strandberg, 2009; Gibson, 2004), they
were eventually overtaken with regards to web site functionality, design sophistication and
overall quality by their more sizeable competitors (e.g. Lilleker et al., 2011). This
development is neatly summarized by Hansen and Kosiara-Pedersen who suggest that “even
if new technologies require fewer resources, they still require time and money” (2014: 207).
Indeed, curating a high-standard web site is associated with such costs – costs that are
arguably smaller when one considers undertaking activity on the largely ‘ready-made’
platforms of Facebook and Twitter. With such comparably low-cost alternatives in mind,
more recent research findings have suggested what could be labeled a ‘leapfrog’ or perhaps
circular tendency, where smaller parties are yet again leading the way in utilizing online
services – now for social media (Koc-Michalska et al., 2014; Gibson and McAllister, 2014).
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As Gibson et al has suggested that “party does matter, although not necessarily in terms of
size” (Gibson et al., 2008: 26), the influence of ideology on the matters at hand appears as
particularly salient in Sweden. As previous scholarship has suggested that right-wing
populist or extremist parties have been successful in gaining online feedback despite rather
low levels of activity undertaken by the parties themselves (Larsson, 2014), the presence of
the Sweden Democrats might serve as a case in point. Albeit not a major party at the time of
data collection, they emerged after the 2014 elections as the third largest party (gaining
close to thirteen percent of the vote), superseded only by the two ‘catch-all’ parties – the
Social Democrats (thirty-one percent) and the Conservatives (twenty-three percent).
Accordingly, we might expect the combination of a ‘mid-sized’ and ideologically
marginalized party to be especially potent with regards to the topic at hand.
As discussed above, while our knowledge about factors influencing the online activities
undertaken by the parties themselves might be somewhat uncertain, our insights into the
factors influencing the level of feedback received in relation to this activity are perhaps even
more limited – especially in the multi-modal setting employed in the current paper. The next
section details the conceptual design favored to facilitate a comparison between the two
different, yet also similar social media services under scrutiny.
Comparing Feedback Options on Twitter and Facebook
While Twitter and Facebook are sometimes seen as similar in terms of their usage, they are
distinctly different in terms of their respective technical infrastructures, appearance and
terminology (e.g. boyd and Ellison, 2008). Nevertheless, the argument is made here that the
user of both services is faced with a series of feedback options that are somewhat similar in
that they offer comparable modes of communication. The three suggested modes –
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Redistributing, Interacting and Acknowledging – and their distinctive counterpart on each
platform are presented in Figure One.
Twitter
Facebook
Redistribute
Retweet
Share
Interact
Mentions, @mention
(Direct Message)
Comment
(Chat)
Acknowledge
Favorite
Like
Figure One. Three types of feedback functionalities on Twitter and Facebook
First, much as Twitter users can employ the retweet functionality to Redistribute a tweet
sent by some other user, so can a Facebook user choose to share posts made by others – such
as the political parties under scrutiny here. Indeed, the potential spread and final, actual
spread of the redistributed message is dependent on a multitude of factors – individual user
settings and preferences, platform characteristics, previous selections made et. c. (e.g.
Bucher, 2012). Nevertheless, from the perspective of those actors whose messages are being
redistributed in retweets or shares, this type of feedback must be regarded as very attractive.
It allows for their dispatches to spread beyond their own networks, potentially reaching the
attractive status of ‘virality’ (Klinger and Svensson, 2014).
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Second, while Interaction has been pointed to as the defining character of the Internet,
uptake of such practices among politicians and parties has been mostly slow and hesitant
(e.g. Stromer-Galley, 2000; 2014), indicative of the risk of exposure and embarrassment
taken when interacting as a politician (Marcinkowski and Metag, 2014). Be that as it may,
the functionalities for contacting and commenting are by now a commonplace feature on
each platform. For Twitter, the practice of mentioning another user by including their user
name somewhere in the body of a tweet (often called an @mention) signals willingness to
interact - perhaps especially so when the user addressed is mentioned at the beginning of the
tweet (for more, see Twitter, 2014). Morover, both studied platforms offer more private
settings for interaction in the form of Twitter’s Direct Messages and the Chat functionality
available on Facebook. These are shown in parantheses in Figure One so as to indicate their
less than public nature. Finally for this category, while citizens might not choose to engage
in discussion with political actors in these ways, leaving room instead for the established
“Twitterati” (Bruns and Highfield, 2013), gaining comments and @mentions can be seen as
indicative of having an interesting (or controversial, or both) message to convey – a message
yielding reactions in terms of attempted interaction initiated by social media users.
Third, features such as favorite marking a tweet or liking a Facebook post are seen here as a
way for users to show appreciation or to Acknowledge the message sent. The exact role of
these measurements in deciding the influence of a specific user or post on either studied
platform remains somewhat unclear. While the sharing or retweeting of posts and tweets are
arguably more important for the coveted viral effects to occur (Socialbakers, 2013), the
tracking of likes and favorites are nevertheless of interest for our current purposes as they
allow us to track the different ways that Twitter and Facebook is employed for feedback in
the current thematic setting. With these issues in mind, the forthcoming analyses will take
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all these measurements into account, but will focus especially on the Redistributive
feedback gained by the parties under scrutiny.
Based on the above reasoning, Figure One provides an overview of the empirical focus of
the study at hand. While tracking these measurements will provide useful insights into the
effects of online political communication, the adopted study design nevertheless misses out
on other aspects of Twitter and Facebook use. First, while @mentions and comments are
open in the sense that other users can potentially take part of them, both platforms offer
‘hidden’ or more private of interacting as well. For ethical as well as for methodological
reasons, this direct communication could not be included in the present work. Second, while
the procedural definitions of the terms associated with each service might be clear, the
current study cannot make any inroads with regards to what these practices entail to each
specific, individual user. For example, a retweet might indicate an expression of support for
one user, while others may have ascribed different or even fluctuating meaning to this or any
of the other practices discussed above (for further discussion of these issues, please refer to
Lomborg and Bechmann, 2014; Driscoll and Walker, 2014). Admittedly, the aggregated
view championed here is not able to delve into these intricacies. The approach employed is
nevertheless useful, as it provides an overview of the feedback given – feedback that can
play important an important part in determining online ‘virality’ and thus increased
attention. These delimitations aside, the argument is made here that the suggested multi-
modal view on feedback options can help in securing future analytical efforts involving
comparisons with those inevitably impending platforms bound to follow after Twitter and
Facebook. As pointed out by Bekafigo and McBride (2013), “while SNS [social network
services], even Twitter, may come and go, Internet technology is here to stay” (13). The
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proposed typology, then, suggests a focus on the basic functionalities of the services in
vogue today – and perhaps also characteristic of those yet to be seen.
Method
The online presences of political actors will most certainly change and evolve during the
course of an election campaign (see Foot and Schneider, 2006 - although Gibson et al.,
2008: appear to disagree on this point), thereby suggesting interesting analytical
opportunities of such “platforms that are by design or dysfunction constantly in flux”
(Elmer, 2012: 18). Nevertheless, the final stretch of such a quest for votes – the “short
campaign” (Aardal et al., 2004) - often defined as the month-long period leading up to
election day, is still interesting to study, as it can be assumed to offer up the parties,
politicians and perhaps also their respective supporters at the very height of their online
abilities (e.g. Vaccari, 2008a; Enli and Skogerbø, 2013). Along this line of reasoning, our
analytical efforts are focused on the time period of August 14, 2014 to September 17, 2014.
As Election Day took place on September 14th, the prescribed analytical setup allows us to
gauge not only the build-up to election, but also some of the electoral aftermath. Given the
adopted multi-modal approach, data collection for the previously mentioned time period was
undertaken for both Twitter and Facebook. As each platform is characterized by specific
characteristics with regards to these endeavors, the subsequent two sections detail the
actions taken in both cases.
Twitter is often pointed to as a social media platform of a “generally public nature” (Bruns
and Highfield, 2013: 671), and while data collection from said service is generally
considered to be unproblematic from a purely technical point of view, ethical issues often
ensue when the object of study concerns political issues, or other themes that could be
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considered as sensitive (Moe and Larsson, 2012). While one could argue that those citizens
who choose to interact in some way with political actors on a public web service such as
Twitter are not necessarily in need of privacy protection, our current efforts are not directed
towards such identification of especially active citizens. As such, the data collected
regarding all other actors than the parties were anonymized with precautionary measures in
mind.
Twitter data were collected by entering suitable keywords tracking the official accounts of
parties into a localized installation of YourTwapperKeeper (Bruns and Highfield, 2013).
The service queries the Search and Stream APIs (application programming interface) of
Twitter, and while such a non-commercial approach to data collection has potential
limitations (Driscoll and Walker, 2014), the comparably limited amount of Twitter use in
the Swedish context (Nordicom, 2013; Larsson and Moe, 2013) coupled with our use of
delimiting keywords (Morstatter et al., 2013) provides confidence regarding the procuration
of a full sample of tweets sent in relation to the parties.
For Facebook, the Netvizz service was employed to facilitate data gathering (Rieder, 2013).
The service allows for extraction of post content as well as metadata (such as the date the
post was made, number of likes, shares and comments at the time of archiving) regarding
eact post. Moreover, Netvizz features automatic anonymization – an especially useful
feature for our current purposes. With this in mind, the officially endorsed Facebook Pages
were gauged for activity (for further discussion regarding the study of Pages, see Gulati and
Williams, 2013).
While these rationales for data collection allow for careful scrutiny of activity at the hands
of politicians, as well as the reactions to this activity, the results derived from these data
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must nevertheless be considered a ‘snapshot’ of the studied accounts as they appeared at the
time of data collection (Brugger, 2012). For example, it is entirely possible that parties have
removed their posts since these were first offered, or that their supporters have similarly
deleted their shares or retweets of posts made. As such, what is presented here is essentially
an aggregated view of the Facebook and Twitter experiences of leading political actors (e.g.
Lomborg and Bechmann, 2014). The need to “freeze the flow” (Karlsson and Strömbäck,
2010) of online data in order to make it suitable for analysis is nonetheless obvious, but
should be assessed with the aforementioned caveats in mind.
With regard to the parties under scrutiny, their characteristics of specific importance for the
current study are available in Table One. The table features the parties in descending order
based on their share of the votes during the last election prior the one studied here – held in
September of 2010.
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Party
(abbreviation)
2010
Vote %
Twitter
Followers*
Facebook
Fans*
Incumbent
after 2010
elections?
Ideology
Large (>10%)
Social Democrats
(S)
30.7
38 728
79 866
No
Left
Conservative Party
(M)
30.1
32 133
40 374
Yes
Right
Medium (4-9.9%)
Environmental
Party
(Mp)
7.3
18 090
45 295
No
Environmentalist
Liberal Party
(Fp)
7.1
17 666
9 881
Yes
Centre
Centre Party
(C)
6.6
17 746
12 327
Yes
Centre
Sweden
Democrats (Sd)
5.7
13 008
85 250
No
Populist Right
Left Party
(V)
5.6
30 483
40 456
No
Left
Christian
Democrats (Kd)
5.6
14 704
6 158
Yes
Right
Small (<4%)
Pirate Party (Pp)
0.65
38 795
84 218
No
Centre
Feminist Initiative
(Fi)
0.40
25 537
108 270
No
Left
Table One. Characteristics of Swedish political parties and their social media presences.
* Followers and Fans at the start of the studied time period, august 14th, 2014
** New party leader since last election
While all political parties are indeed present on both services, their base of fans and
followers vary considerably. With our current focus on party size in mind, it is worth
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noticing that the two of the smallest parties in terms of vote percentage from the 2010
elections are in the lead when it comes to Twitter followers (Pirate Party) and Facebook
Fans (Feminist Initiative). These characteristics, then, serve as backdrops for the results as
presented in the subsequent section.
Results
The first research question concerned the activities undertaken by the political parties
themselves. In order to provide an overarching view of these practices, Figure Two presents
a clustered bar chart detailing the activities undertaken by the party accounts on Facebook
and Twitter respectively.
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Figure Two. Total amount of posts and tweets provided by parties on Facebook (black bars)
and Twitter (white bars) during the studied period.
Presented in order based on votes received during the 2010 elections (see Table One).
The predominance of white bars in Figure Two suggest the prevalence of Twitter use over
Facebook use at the hands of those supposedly responsible for the party accounts on both
services. Interestingly, this pattern of use appears to hold true also for all parties, while the
reported differences must be considered rather small in a few cases. Consider, for example,
the results provided regarding the activity undertaken by the Pirate Party (Pp; N of Facebook
posts = 167, N of tweets = 169) or the Sweden Democrats (Sd; N of Facebook posts = 46, N
of tweets = 83) – both parties featured in Figure Two with bars indicating lower degrees of
activity.
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Conversely, for those parties exhibiting high degrees of activity, two such actors emerge as
particularly fervent. First, the data presented in the Figure suggest especially high level of
activity for the Feminist Initiative Party (Fi), who at the time of election – as well as after
the election, one might add – were not seated in parliament. The results indicate that this
party took the lead in terms of activity on both platforms (N of Facebook posts = 251, N of
tweets = 1610). The second most active party – at least in terms of Twitter use - are the
Social Democrats (S; N of Facebook posts = 63, N of tweets = 1043). While their presence
on Facebook is diminished by several other actors identified in Figure Two (e.g. Fp = 246 or
Pp = 167), the activity on Twitter undertaken by the Social Democrats is surpassed only by
the Feminist Initiative.
Looking a bit more closely at the Twitter activity of these two parties, they appear to share a
similar approach to this particular service. To a certain extent, their adamant employment of
Twitter can be explained by their tendency to utilize content provided by their respective
supporters to higher degrees than their competitors. In accordance with the terminology
provided previously, it would appear that Fi and S alike are more willing to redistribute
content originally tweeted by others. However, some differences can be discerned in the
apparent strategy employed by each of these two party for retweeting practices. For the
Feminist Initiative Party, these redistributed messages tend to carry themes of user-
generated support, such as first-time voters airing their encouragement for the party, after
which they are often retweeted by the party account itself – and sometimes also approached
with an @mention of thanks penned by on of the party spokespersons. While such
tendencies can be perceived also in the tweets sent from the Social Democratic Twitter
account, the overall picture here is one of followers reacting to content provided by the party
account – after which the party account then performs what could be labeled to as a
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‘looping’ of this reaction by retweeting it. While this type of tweeting behavior is indeed
criticized by some of the followers through @mentions along the lines of ‘spamming the
feed’, this does not appear to have had an impact on those operating the account at hand.
Indeed, this conduct on behalf of the Social Democratic account appears to permeate
throughout the studied period – especially in conjunction with releases of party
commercials.
While the results presented in Figure Two provide us with important information regarding
the use levels of Swedish political parties, they convey very little detail about the types of
feedback received resulting from these activities. With our second research question in
mind, Figures Three and Four details the averages of the different types of feedback options
described earlier for Facebook and Twitter respectively. For these Figures, means and
standard deviations are reported rather than medians in order to provide what was deemed a
more suitable representation of the sometimes rather small levels of engagement.
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Figure Three. Average feedback received per post on Facebook.
Horizontal axis indicates M of Comments/post; Vertical line indicates M of Shares/Post;
Node size and label indicate M of Likes/Post.
The results presented in Figure Three suggest a linear tendency among the represented
parties – meaning here that as the average statistic for the redistributive type of feedback for
Facebook (shares) increase, so does also that same statistic for interactive feedback
(comments). Given the sizes of the nodes and their corresponding labels, this tendency of
increasing averages as we move diagonally from the downward left corner to the upward
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right can be discerned also here. Indeed, correlation analyses using Spearman’s Rho proved
correlations between all three involved variables to be significant (p =<.000 for all
correlations) and comparably strong with Rho varying between .779 and .871 for all
correlations (interpretative guidelines for correlation strength suggested by Hair, 2010).
With this in mind, it would appear that while the Social Democrats – marked as ‘S’ in the
Figure – only amassed the fourth highest amount of ‘Facebook fans’ on the service at hand
(see Table One), these fans appear to have put in quite an effort to make the specified
account visible. This seems especially true in terms of Shares (M = 547, Std. dev. = 442)
and Likes (M = 6162, Std. dev. = 5128), where high standard deviations nevertheless
suggest a considerable spread around the reported means. Similar claims appear as valid for
the average number of comments received (M = 368, Std. dev = 323). Focusing on the
content provided through the account, the most Liked (N of Likes = 28810) post offered by
the Social Democrats is coincidentally also the most commented (N of Comments = 2361).
This post, penned late election night, features party leader Stefan Löfven giving thanks to
party supporters and staffers after the party had been declared victorious1. The most shared
content from the Social Democratic account is posted on August 27th – the very same day
that advance voting possibilities opened for the upcoming election. Consequently, this post
urges supporters to vote in advance and to share the post itself in order to spread the
message about this possibility2.
This tendency of popularity of posts that encourage supporters to vote and to share this
encouragement using the redistributive functionality of Facebook is visible also for other
parties, such as the Conservatives (M) and the Environmental Party (Mp), although not for
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1 Available at https://www.facebook.com/8040892957/posts/10152754279777958 - accessed October 5, 2014.
2 Available at https://www.facebook.com/8040892957/posts/10152708740332958 - accessed October 5, 2014.
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the other stand-out party as visible in Figure Three – the right-wing populist Sweden
Democrats. Here, the most shared as well as the most commented post is offered on
September 4th and features sneak premiere of an election commercial to be broadcast on
Swedish commercial television the following day3. Their most successful post in terms of
Likes (N of Likes = 9648) was made available on August 20th and deals with the
controversy started when the party wanted to place their admittedly polarizing political
advertisements on Stockholm public transport buses4.
As for those parties who did not emerge as comparably successful in gaining traction on
Facebook, a particularly interesting case to focus on here could be the Feminist Initiative. As
shown in Table One, while Fi had succeeded to amass the largest quantity of Facebook fans
at the beginning of the studied period, the party did not reach a similar level of success in
activating these as well as other users – given the comparably limited levels of feedback
received by the party as shown in Figure Three. Looking more closely at the posts provided
by the party at hand that did reach a larger audience through Facebook sharing, these are
largely focused on voting mobilization efforts centering on their tentative role in the balance
of parliamentary power between the left- and right hand side in Swedish government5.
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3 Available at https://www.facebook.com/173749254520/posts/10152687022019521 - accessed October 5,
2014.
4 Available at https://www.facebook.com/173749254520/posts/10152645966179521 - accessed October 4,
2014.
5 Examples available at https://www.facebook.com/112513375470294/posts/687675861287373 and
https://www.facebook.com/112513375470294/posts/692318634156429 - accessed October 5, 2014
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Figure Four. Average feedback received per tweet on Twitter.
Horizontal axis indicates M of @mentions/post; Vertical line indicates M of Retweets/Post;
Node size and label indicate M of Favorites/Post.
Moving on to consider the feedback received on Twitter, while the axes and nodes in Figure
Four indicate the same features as those in Figure Three, the scales have shifted to the
diminutive – a reflection of the comparably large spread and popularity of Facebook in
comparison to the service at hand. With these changes in mind, we can nevertheless
compare the relative placements and sizes of the visible nodes in order to say something
Pre-print version of paper accepted for publication in
Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies
!
about what parties appeared as more or less successful in the Swedish ‘Twittersphere’
leading up to the 2014 elections. In further comparison with Figure Three, the linear
tendency detailed earlier is visible also here. However, Correlation analyses for the three
variables involved resulted in significant, but comparably weaker Spearman’s Rho values
than reported for the previous Figure (p=<.000, Rho between .408 and .721 for all
correlations). While these results indicate a similar ‘rich-get-richer’-type effect to the one
seen in Figure Three, this relationship must be considered as weaker for Twitter than for
Facebook.
Similarly to the activity charted on Facebook, the Sweden Democrats (Sd) emerge as
particularly successful on Twitter as well - in terms of gaining comparably high average
amounts of retweets (M = 24, Std. dev. = 29), @mentions (M = 9, Std. dev. = 8) as well as
favorites (M = 33, Std. dev. = 41) per tweet sent. Again, we must pay attention to the
sizeable standard deviations, indicating considerable spread around the reported means.
Nevertheless, the popularity of the Twitter account under scrutiny cannot be denied. As for
the content provided by the party, their most popular tweets in terms of redistribution are
seemingly authored by the party leader, Jimmie Åkesson, and centered on utterances of
critique: for instance against the tabloid newspaper Expressen (N of Shares = 157) or, more
generally, against the immigration policies favored by their political competitors6.
While the Sweden Democrats were paired with the Social Democrats as being the two most
successful parties on Facebook, for Twitter the latter party has a new competitor,
specifically the other ‘catch-all’ party in Swedish politics – the Conservatives (M). This
account featured statistics largely on par with the aforementioned; retweets (M = 29, Std.
!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
6 Available at https://twitter.com/jimmieakesson/status/511141050392776704 or
https://twitter.com/jimmieakesson/status/502024122717962240 - both accessed October 4, 2014.
Pre-print version of paper accepted for publication in
Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies
!
dev. = 39), @mentions (M = 6, Std. dev. = 6) and favorites (M = 27, Std. dev. = 48). As for
the types of tweets sent by this party that gained the most traction in terms of Redistribution,
these involve a retweet that was originally sent by well-known Swedish comedian Jonas
Gardell, suggesting that some of the recruitment choices of the Social Democrats were less
than original (N of retweets = 430). Another example is taken from Election Day, where the
party calls on supporters to retweet the message at hand if they had voted for the
Conservatives – supposedly a last-minute attempt to rally the forces (N of retweets = 229)7.
As shown in Table One, the Social Democrats and the Pirate Party had managed to leverage
the highest amount of Twitter followers going into the final month-long stretch leading up to
September 14th (38728 and 38795 followers respectively). However, such comparably large
followings appear to have had limited effects on the popularity of the parties as detailed in
Figure Four. While the Pirate Party appears as slightly more successful in terms of gaining
feedback on Twitter rather than on Facebook, the Social Democrats and the Conservatives
almost appear to have switched places when we compare Figures Three and Four. While
these Figures are arguably measuring these tendencies at different scales, the differences
regarding the ways in which the two main parties in Swedish politics fare on the services
under scrutiny here are nevertheless interesting. These, and other issues that emerged from
the analyses are discussed in the following and final section of the paper.
Discussion
While large amount of followers or fans on the services studied might be considered a
prerequisite for viral success, the results presented in this study indicates that amassing a
comparably large fan base does not necessarily translate to attention gained on Facebook or
!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
7 Available at https://twitter.com/Jonas_Gardell/status/500667463680688128 - accessed October 4, 2014.
Pre-print version of paper accepted for publication in
Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies
!
Twitter respectively. This becomes clear when comparing the data regarding party fans and
followers (as provided in Table One) to the spread each party enjoyed on both services. As
such, while size – in terms of vote percentage – appears as important, other factors emerge
as relevant as well.
Perhaps such factors can be assessed further by focusing first on the results presented in
Figure Two. The dominance of Twitter over Facebook as employed by the parties is clearly
felt here. This result could be seen as a reflection of supposedly different publishing logics
for the two platforms, or based on prioritizations internal to the party organizations beyond
the grasp of the current approach. However, given the popularity of Facebook over Twitter
in the population at larger, this finding could also be interpreted as suggesting a
communicative ‘mismatch’ of sorts between citizens and those elected to govern them
(Larsson and Kalsnes, 2014). Indeed, Swedish Twitter users have been pointed to as societal
elites – a classification that might make these users especially attractive for political parties
on the campaign trail to relate to (Larsson and Moe, 2013). While there are discrepancies,
the results presented here suggest the priorities of Swedish political parties appear to lie on
reaching out societal elites on Twitter rather than to the more ‘Average Joe’ type citizen one
would find on Facebook.
Moreover for Twitter, while both the Social Democrats and the Feminist Initiative make
extensive use of content originally provided by their respective supporters, the former of
these parties does so in what was previously described as a ‘looping’ fashion. Essentially,
the people operating the Social Democrat account engage in retweeting the retweets sent by
other users carrying their original content. In comparison, the Feminist Initiative Party
appears as more encompassing of user content – retweeting the messages sent by supporters
Pre-print version of paper accepted for publication in
Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies
!
to a higher degree than any other party, largely avoiding the aforementioned ‘looping’ tactic.
For the Feminist Initiative Party, this could be taken as signaling trust in their supporters,
and a willingness to move beyond a supposed catalogue of ready-made messages and
narratives to be distributed through a variety of communication channels at specified times.
Moreover, this rhymes well the general ‘social movement’-type framing that the party
maintains in popular media coverage, and which to some extent forms the basis of the party
organization. By allowing supporter content to be broadcast as official party messages, The
Feminist Initiative Party could be said to strengthen the bonds with their Twitter followers.
Be that as it may – when one compares how the parties fared in terms of gaining
redistributive, interactive and acknowledging feedback on the two services under scrutiny,
the right-wing populist Sweden Democrats emerge as comparably successful on both
Facebook and Twitter. This result aligns itself with previous indicators of online prowess at
the hands of right-wing parties, suggesting a tendency for ideologically marginalized parties
to gain more traction in novel media spheres than in the coverage curated by established
media actors (Lorentzen, 2014, Larsson, 2014). As suggested by Gil de Zúñiga et al (2010),
“the politically cynical or disenfranchised may be using the Internet to express their
concerns” (2010: 46) – a claim that – with these results in mind – seems particularly valid in
the Swedish context as studied here. However, the Sweden Democrats do face competition
in this regard – by the two largest parties in the Swedish political system. For Facebook, the
Social Democrats emerge as the most successful in terms of gaining feedback. For Twitter,
the Conservatives are clearly giving the Sweden Democrats a match and appear as more
successful in relation to two out of the three types of feedback detailed previously. Indeed,
sizeable parties prevail over their smaller competitors, and as the results of the 2014 election
found the Sweden Democrats to emerge as the third largest party, following the two
Pre-print version of paper accepted for publication in
Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies
!
previously mentioned parties, this holds true also in an ‘after-the-fact’ sense.
Again, size does matter, but the differences discerned between the two largest parties are
interesting beyond the factor of vote percentage. As the Conservatives appear to have
performed better on Twitter, it is tempting to relate this to the aforementioned elite user
profile that is often used to describe the service at hand. Conversely, the Social Democrats
fared better on Facebook – a social media platform with a broader, less urban user base.
Indeed, based on the results presented here, we cannot make any firm claims regarding such
socio-demographic matters of user profiles and preferences. We can, however, note a
tendency for social media success at the hands of these two parties in particular to be
structured in a way that would appear to suggest such demarcations. Ideally, the findings
presented here can serve as a starting point for future research, providing further insights
into these matters by looking into the demographics of those active in providing feedback on
the platforms at hand.
Beyond discussions of party size and the apparent consequences thereof, it is important to
note that not all feedback received is of the pleasant variety. While the study at hand has
shown what political parties succeeded in gaining attention on Twitter and Facebook, the
purpose of the study and the research design employed allows us to say very little about the
specific contents of the tweets and posts placed under scrutiny – save for the examples
provided earlier. With regards to content, consider, for example, the redistributive type of
feedback as described in Figure One. From a technical point of view, a share on Facebook or
a retweet on Twitter does indeed help leverage the amount of attention given to the actor on
the receiving end of the redistribution, so to speak. However, those active in redistributing
the messages originally provided by the parties can annotate or amend their retweets or
Pre-print version of paper accepted for publication in
Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies
!
shares to contain not necessarily support, but criticism, and in some cases ad hominem
attacks or hate speech. For the Feminist Initiative Party, a closer look at the data suggests
that this sometimes takes the form of what must be considered as vicious misogynic
utterances. As for the Sweden Democrats, while they are certainly attacked – often in the
form of accusations of racist policy suggestions – scrutiny of the conversations taking place
indicate that they appear to enjoy a veritable army of digital foot soldiers that are ready to
question or even counterattack those who provide criticism of the party. This again falls in
line with the aforementioned tendency for right-wing parties to enjoy online popularity.
Regardless of critical framings or not, we can expect the act of redistributing on the
platforms studied to have a certain impact on visibility – and virality.
On a concluding note, we might find it suitable to return to the question posed in a previous
chapter. Does size matter? The sizeable parties – the Social Democrats and the
Conservatives – might not be at the very top of actual use of the services, but they certainly
enjoy that type of privileged position when it comes to the amount of feedback received in
relation to their messages as sent on both services. On the other hand, controversial parties –
such as the Sweden Democrats – can be described as marginalized not in terms of size, but
in terms of ideology – their perspectives on immigration policy have largely made it difficult
for them to exercise message control when appearing in established news media. In this
situation, the results presented here suggest that parties marginalized in this way might find
it fruitful to provide information and to rally their forces through a channel they themselves
control – for example, in the way that the Sweden Democrats provided a link to their
political advertisement on the day before its television premiere. This gives them control –
but it is uncertain to what degree this activity actually has an effect on the established media
agenda, or on the minds of the undecided voter. In sum, then, this study found that larger
Pre-print version of paper accepted for publication in
Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies
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parties see their size reflected also in their online success. Controversial parties – like the
Sweden Democrats – also gain attention in this regard. However, because of their status as
the third largest party in terms of vote share after the 2014 election, it is tempting to side
with those who claim that party size is indeed of the utmost importance not only for success
at the ballots – but also for gaining attention on social media platforms like Facebook and
Twitter.
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Social media platforms are increasingly becoming an important tool to mobilize populist right-wing issues and movements. This study provides comparative insights into the activity and engagement of right-wing populist parties on three social media platforms (Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter) in four Nordic countries (Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Finland). Based on a quantitative analysis of social media data, we conclude that Facebook is the most successful platform for right-wing populists across all four countries and that the right-wing populists in Sweden have the strongest position across platforms. Furthermore, we explore the content of the most engaging status updates qualitatively to identify a potential set of populist platform strategies. We conclude that the right-wing populist platform strategies are not radically different from other parties though the populist agenda and anger-based style of communication may cater particularly well to the network media logics of each platform. This could explain the relative success of right-wing populist parties that we identify in all four Nordic countries, even though it is important to note that the success is only moderate in some cases with notable national variation.
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This chapter addresses a neglected issue within the field of social media and political communication. It focuses on interaction processes on Instagram asking how political parties used Instagram—a platform that is centered around images—when engaging in interaction with their followers on the platform. The focus is on political parties' use of Instagram in the 2014 Swedish national election campaign. This gives an impression of the first attempts of political parties' use of this communication platform. The quantitative content analysis focuses on Instagram images including their captions and comments (posts) that Swedish parties published four weeks prior to Election Day. The results suggest that not much changes on Instagram compared to other social media platforms: Swedish political parties hardly used Instagram to interact with their followers, and the very few interactions taking place did not contribute to the exchange of relevant and substantive information about politics. Interaction and deliberation are also not enhanced by the images.
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Se ha descrito cómo los partidos denominados “emergentes” han venido desplegando una actividad digital más eficaz que la de los partidos “tradicionales”. El principal objetivo de esta investigación fue analizar la evolución de las interacciones que recibieron las páginas de Facebook de Podemos, Ciudadanos y Vox durante la campaña de las elecciones generales de 2015, 2016 y 2019, comparativamente con las de los partidos tradicionales PSOE y PP. Para ello, se capturaron automatizadamente todos los mensajes publicados por estas cinco formaciones durante estas tres campañas electorales, siendo después analizados estadísticamente. Se detectó un engagement notablemente superior de los usuarios de las redes de los nuevos partidos respecto a los tradicionales, describiéndose cómo el número de interacciones con las nuevas formaciones políticas fue máximo en las elecciones en las que consiguieron representación nacional por primera vez, para descender escalonadamente después. Se comprobó así una transitoria consistencia del compromiso digital que manifiestan los seguidores de partidos emergentes en redes sociales, ligada a su periodo de irrupción en el tablero político.
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This article analyses the use of social media by both candidates and citizens in the 2011 Finnish parliamentary election campaign. Utilizing data on the candidates' use of various social media sites, survey data from the 2011 Finnish election study, and survey data from a Finnish panel, the analyses reveal that the significance of social media was generally modest in the election campaign. The findings show that although candidates did use social media extensively, the on-line electoral patterns were found to be mostly normalized. The citizens' use of social media in the campaign was also very low and its impact on their voting decision even smaller. However, the irrelevance of political interest in explaining extensive social media use, found in the analyses, break established patterns explaining political participation.
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While plenty of research has provided important insights into the uses of the Internet by politicians during elections, a relatively scarce amount of work has looked into these uses outside of such parliamentary events. This article seeks to remedy this lack of research by presenting a study on the ‘routine’ uses of two of the currently most popular social media services – Facebook and Twitter. Focusing on politicians elected to the national parliaments of Norway and Sweden, the article employs novel methodologies for data collection and statistical analyses in order to provide an overarching, structural view of the day-to-day social media practices of Scandinavian politicians. Findings indicate that use levels are rather low for both services – the median amount of tweets sent and messages posted on Facebook is close to one per day. Further analyses reveal that the most active politicians could be labelled as ‘underdogs’, as they are more likely to be younger, in opposition and out of the political limelight.
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This essay provides a descriptive interpretation of the role of digital media in the campaigns of Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 with a focus on two themes: personalized political communication and the commodification of digital media as tools. The essay covers campaign finance strategy, voter mobilization on the ground, innovation in social media, and data analytics, and why the Obama organizations were more innovative than those of his opponents. The essay provides a point of contrast for the other articles in this special issue, which describe sometimes quite different campaign practices in recent elections across Europe.
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The 2 × 3 experimental design study was conducted with 300 undergraduate participants during Florida's 2010 gubernatorial election. Participants were randomly assigned to one of six different conditions based on type of online site (campaign Web site vs. social network sites) and level of interactivity (user-to-system, user-to-document, and user-to-user), and emotional and evaluative responses to online campaign information were examined. Interaction effects in one campaign notwithstanding, the emotions and evaluations elicited by the other campaign were positively associated with public agenda-building. Thus, those responding favorably to the winner's campaign considered the election more important and were more likely to vote.
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This literature review covers some 115 studies on the use of Twitter in politics. For this discussion, studies are grouped in three topical categories: studies addressing the use of Twitter by politicians and campaigns; studies addressing the use of Twitter by various publics during election and issue campaigns; and comments on Twitter during campaign events -- such as televised debates, party conventions, and election day coverage. I will start the review with a discussion of the theories, research designs, methods of data collection and data selection that were most common in the literature included in this review. Following this, I will provide short synopses of the included studies. I will close this working paper with a discussion of perspectives on further research.
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We set out to analyze the application and effect of cyber-campaigning among candidates at the 2011 Danish general election campaign in order to provide hard evidence on whether new technologies are electorally decisive, or whether traditional offline campaigning still makes sense. First, both Web sites and Facebook sites are popular among candidates, but other features such as blogs, feeds, newsletters, video uploads, SMS, and Twitter are used by less than half the candidates. Second, only age and possibly education seem to matter when explaining the uptake of cyber-campaigning. The prominent candidates are not significantly more likely to use cyber-campaigning tools and activities. Third, the analysis of the effect of cyber-campaigning shows that the online score has an effect on the interparty competition for personal votes, but it does not have a significant effect when controlling for other relevant variables. The online rank of candidates within party and constituency is more important for intraparty competition; in fact, it has a significant effect: it matters to be more online than fellow candidates. In sum, the effect of cyber-campaigning is limited, but it matters more to the contest among same-party candidates than among parties in an open list, multimember constituency electoral system like the Danish have.