In this dissertation, I assess interaction in social media as a novel mode of political participation and ask how are party politics extended within the social media public sphere in Finland during the 2010s. In this research, I evaluate the formation of the social media political sphere by analyzing the party–political, demographic, and ideological standings from which the sphere is produced and accessed, and how these factors are reconstructing social structures and orders on social media platforms. This dissertation concentrates on the six largest parties in Finland, namely the Social Democratic Party, the Finns Party, the National Coalition Party, the Center Party, the Green League, and the Left Alliance. By combining theoretical perspectives from a variety of academic fields, such as sociology, political science, social psychology, and economic sociology, the dissertation attempts to produce nuanced understandings of social, ideological, and party-political origins of digital participation and other topical phenomena, such as political polarization and spread of hate speech, in the Finnish political context.
In addition to a theoretical introduction, the dissertation comprises five research articles that cross-expose the party-related political actions on social media platforms from different perspectives. Articles I and II form temporal and structural frames for understanding the evolution of the social media political sphere in Finland. In Article I, we investigate the current state of and recent changes in access to social media, as well as the utilization of social media platforms for various purposes by the Finnish population. The social mechanisms that guide the formation of the social structure of the social media sphere are evaluated in Article II. In the following articles, we provide a more nuanced understanding of the formation of the social media political sphere. In Article III, we evaluate the state of the social media political sphere by assessing social media participation among party supporter groups in the Finnish political field and contribute to the discussion on the effects of party supporters’ sociodemographic background and value-based premises on social media participation. In Articles IV and V, social media participation is understood as an explanatory mechanism associated with party supporters’ behavioral tendencies on social media and affective aspects of party members’ commitment to their parties.
The research contributes novel knowledge related to political participation in social media and the formation of the political sphere in Finland during the 2010s. In the dissertation, I propose that political discussions in social media could be understood as a political activity through which participants can modify the public opinion by raising ideological aims and desires within the public sphere. The research illuminates how social structures and ideological aims both accelerate and attenuate political activity in the social media political sphere. In addition, the research shows how social structures and ideological stances are reflected in the structures of social media networks. Results of the dissertation also indicate that the social media political sphere emphasizes the visibility of the new identity parties, namely the Finns Party, the Green League, and the Left Alliance. Accordingly, the results infer that political discussions related to post-material and neo-conservative issues are highlighted on social media, which is especially reflected in the pronounced activity of the new identity parties’ supporters and members within both the social media sphere and political parties.