When one searches for the term “migration” on facebook, an endless number of groups and pages appear that discuss the issues of migration and refugees in various ways. On the one hand pages from various organizations such as the national migration agencies can be found as well as smaller groups that discuss the outcomes of migration on a local level. Everybody who is on facebook or other social media can basically join the debate and participate in it.
However, what impact does the participation in those discussions on social media actually have on the followers of such groups and thereby on the political debate? What does participation actually mean?
Carpentier (2007) distinguishes between the “participation in the media and participation through the media. On the one hand, “participation ‘in’ the media deals with the participation of non-professionals in the production of media output (content-related participation) and in media decision-making (structural participation)” Hence, everybody who has a certain level of media literacy and who is interested in joining the debate, has the possibility to participate in the discussion.
On the other hand, “Participation ‘through’ the media deals with the opportunities for extensive participation in public debate and for self-representation in the public spheres, thus, entering the realm of enabling and facilitating macro-participation” (Couldry, 2003 cited in Carpentier 2007, p.89).
That ICTs are not only used for private people to stay in touch with each other but also for political actions is furthermore highlighted in the article “Blogs and bullets. New media in contentious politics” by Aday et. al (2010). Aday et. al (2010) argue that “new media have the potential to change how citizens think or act, mitigate or exacerbate group conflict, facilitate collective action, spur a backlash among regimes, and garner international attention toward a given country” (Aday et. al 2010, p. 3).
Also Shirky (2011) argues that political opinions of the people are formed by the media transmitting certain opinions which are then, often with the help of social media, echoed by people such as family members, friends and colleagues (Shirky 2011, p. 34). Media platforms such as faceook, Twitter and youtube can hereby be used as platforms “to promote freedom and democracy” (Aday et. al 2010, p. 3).
It can surely be argued that social media has its benefits by allowing people to participate and express their opinions. On the other hand, it can also be questioned which quality such discussions really have as everybody can provide information, without having to prove if the facts are right or wrong. For instance, when taking a deeper look into the discussions regarding migration on facebook, it becomes clear that lots of arguments are not backed up by scientific research and information is reproduced without questioning its origin and level of truth.
Therefore, as highlighted by Aday et. al (2010), in order to really understand what impact the content on social media has on the political development, a methodological framework is required. Aday et. al (2010), thereby argue for “five levels of analysis”, which involve the following aspects: “individual transformation, intergroup relations, collective action, regime politics, and external attention”.
Aday, S., Farrell, H., Lynch, M. et al. 2010: Blogs and Bullets: New Media in Contentious Politics, Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace.
Carpentier (2007). Section Two: Introduction. Participation and Media. In: Cammaerts, B. and Carpentier, N. (eds) 2007: Reclaiming the media: communication rights and democratic media roles. Intellect: Bristol, UK. Chapter 9: Activism and the Media, pg. 217-224, Chapter 11: Civil Society Media at the WSIS, pg. 243-264.
Shirky, C. 2010: The political power of social media technology, the public sphere, and political change, Foreign Affairs 90: 28-I