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Facebook comments challenge the Danish Parliament

Comments and interactions on social media platforms contain invaluable data that politicians can use to investigate the masses and find out what the voters think. However, they are actually not as easy to decipher as one might think. A researcher from Roskilde University is trying to make heads and tails of it.
Overrasket emoji - Shutterstock
Graphics: Shutterstock

 

Politicians are increasingly using social media channels as platforms for political communication. This is where they can test their ideas and also where you can really be “one of the people” and meet your voters on an equal footing. This is especially seen during elections, where politicians are particularly active.

However, the politicians’ focus on communications via social media platforms are not just about getting your messages out to the voters via one-way communication - the real benefits are in the comments that the users generate as feedback and here the communication immediately becomes harder to decode. This is because the users act as a continual focus group for politicians, but the problem is simply that politicians and the social media managers still have a hard time of finding out precisely how to handle the feedback in the comment section.

So explains Sander Schwartz, Assistant Professor at the Department of Communication and Art at Roskilde University.

Unstructured data

Sander Schwartz is one of the lucky few who can feel completely at ease browsing Facebook even if the boss walks past the glass walls of the office. As a researcher in social media and political communication, he has decided to focus on exploring what precisely happens as politicians go on Facebook and Twitter to win the favour of the voters.

»Every party has scaled up their operations on social media platforms, and I think they will continue to scale up as long as many citizens are active

And it is actually not quite so simple:

“The political parties spend a lot of time monitoring the various numbers and metrics they receive from social media platforms, but it’s more complicated and more time-intensive to manage the great amounts of unstructured data in the form of comments that they receive on social media platforms during an election. There is great disagreement inside the parties on how to use these comments, how to respond to people, and whether, when all is said and done, these debates represent a widespread attitude in the rest of the nation,” explains Sander Schwartz.

Strategy or participation

He has interviewed the social media managers from all of the political parties that are represented in the Danish Parliament about how they use social media, and namely, how they use the interaction with citizens - i.e., comments and interactions relating to the ongoing political work. And even if social media is an area of huge interest, and even if there is a host of study programmes and consultants who can help the politician’s social media managers decode and navigate through the huge amounts of data that is available to them under each post, then the picture that forms of their strategies and methods of working is actually quite foggy:

“There are all kinds of obstacles to this. In a perfect world the internet and social media platforms would challenge the traditional centres of power and make society more democratic, but we see many challenges in real life: for example, it is difficult to know whether comments are any indication of the views of the public at large or if it is just some trolls or political party foot soldiers who are writing. The parties are also in a conflicting situation because they want to appear democratic and participatory on one hand, while on the other hand they want to implement a focused campaign strategy, particularly during the election, where the political strategy of the party is planned out and not as such up for debate,” says Sander Schwartz. In his research he experienced that the political parties agrees that Facebook is important in an election campaign as a tool to reach voters - but the direct relationships with citizens also leads to a lot of new challenges.

 

Three sites that Sander Schwartz is following

theconversation.com
Lots of good articles based on the world of science

newsroom.fb.com
The place where Facebook presents new updates and discusses its own challenges.

helt.digital
The site is in Norwegian, but the newsletter in particular provides a comprehensive overview of news, reports and studies that are relevant to social media.