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Dialogue of the Deaf: Listening on Twitter and Democratic Responsiveness during the 2015 South African State of the Nation Address

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Abstract

This chapter investigates the use of social media as a channel of communication between citizens and government. It draws on the concept of ‘listening’ in democratic communication (Couldry, N., Why Voice Matters: Culture and Politics After Neoliberalism. Los Angeles, CA: Sage, 2010; Dobson, A., Listening for Democracy: Recognition, Representation, Reconciliation. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014). In the run-up to the 2015 State of the Nation Address, the South African presidency conducted a listening exercise on Twitter, which failed on all counts. Combining quantitative and qualitative analyses of Twitter conversations, the chapter evaluates the quality of listening and identifies the reasons for the collapse of the conversation. The findings suggest that while poorly performed listening campaigns can result in spiralling frustration among citizens, social media platforms like Twitter can also provide opportunities for governments to listen in a manner that serves a more positive relationship with citizens.

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