Interesting research project out of the University of Bonn, Germany: Political Deliberation on the Internet: Forms and Functions of Digital Discourse Based on the Microblogging System Twitter

From the project outline:

Partly driven by social media applications such as the microblogging platform Twitter, the far reaching process of mediatisation of society has ushered in new forms of political participation in the public sphere. The evaluation of this development, however, is ambivalent: New media apologetics on the one hand postulate new modes of political participation put forward by ‘heterarchical’ digital media. A more critical perspective on the other hand doubts that the internet and social media are able to integrate and mobilize a wider circle of citizens. Instead, fragmentation is strengthened and deliberative democracy is still a theoretical ideal. More recent approaches are more diversified and focus on the contextual conditions and relations on a social, technical and political level. This research project aims at examining digital forms of participation and political involvement by proposing a model of how the ongoing mediatisation of politics might indeed lead to digital deliberation.

The material basis consists of the communicative actions performed on Twitter (tweets) by politicians (electoral candidates), citizens and media accounts during German state elections. With the help of a tweet analysis (content analysis, speech act analysis and argumentation analysis) it will be examined how political issues are discussed and argumented for in this digital environment. First results show that it is mostly the topics carrying potential for conflict that lead to users’ deliberation and argumentative participation on Twitter.

The project’s first research period (2010-2012) produced a model that “systematises the structural specifics and functionalities of Twitter communication”. During the second phase (2012-2014), the goal is to feed the model with more data and produce a “comparison between the national and the state level

[that] will offer insights into the different ways of digital political participation, interaction, and tweeting styles.”

The project is part of the German Research Foundation (DFG) Priority Programme 1505 „Mediatized Worlds“, which is “funded by the DFG and combines different research projects through a global concept.”

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