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“Divergent realities” – social media experts and young citizens on politics 2.0

Anne Kaun
Södertörn University
Carina Guyard
Södertörn University
Anne Kaun
Södertörn University
Open Panel

Abstract

Political election campaigns are test sites for new communication programs and technologies. In line with that, practitioners and professionals often celebrate new possibilities of transmitting political programs to the audience and creating links with the targeted interest groups. One strand of this celebratory discourse is praising the inclusive potential of new media through its participatory modes of communication. Structural constraints of participation in (new) media and politics are however not changing to the same degree as celebrated. Rather than being more inclusive and engaging, social media are sometimes claimed to have fragmenting or excluding consequences. Additionally it is often argued that Western democracies are in crisis, namely decreasing voter turnouts and a political withdrawal of the citizenry. These seemingly contradictory developments – celebration of more participatory modes of communication and the democratic crisis – are addressed in this paper by “confronting” the perception of the social media’s potentialities for democracy held by communication professionals and practitioners with one segment of their audience, namely young adults in higher education. Firstly we derive main arguments for celebrating new media in election campaigns from current communication handbooks being published in the run-up to parliamentary elections in Sweden in 2010. Secondly we present attitudes towards social media and so-called campaigning 2.0 from a survey among students in Stockholm. Thirdly we examine the “divergent realities” of how potentialities of new media for democracy are perceived by the two groups. The title of our article divergent realities refers to distinct perceptions of social media potentialities for democracy.