Javnost - The Public, Vol. 15 - 2008, No. 2
Political communication research is increasingly concerned with the study of political life in online environments. Some recent investigations make use of Internet-based tools for the research process: for project management, for data collection and analysis, and for the preparation and publication of findings. In these respects, political communication research reflects methodological transformations underway across the social sciences, often known as e-Science and e-Research. This article explores aspects of that transformation through examination of a range of studies concerned with political discourse, political participation, and election campaigns in which the online environment is accentuated. We reflect on four study features: project management, research designs, sampling, and data visualisation. In a series of illustrative studies, we consider challenges in undertaking political communication research in network environments utilising Internetbased tools. Finally, we introduce the contributions to this journal theme issue, placing the articles within an overall framework of concern regarding Internet-based political communication research.
Needles in a haystack: A new approach for identifying and assessing political talk in nonpolitical discussion forums
Talking politics online is not exclusively reserved for politically-orientated discussion forums, particularly the everyday political talk crucial to the public sphere. People talk politics just about anywhere online from reality TV discussion forums to numerous other forum genres. Thus, the need to tap into those discussions is important if our aim is to provide a more comprehensive overview of the online discursive landscape. However, widening our scope of analysis presents us with a new set of diffi culties, namely, how do we identify political talk within the vast pool of threads and postings, and how do we assess such talk in light of the public sphere, while at the same time, taking into account its informal nature. The aim of this article is to tackle these questions by presenting a methodological approach, which attempts to detect, describe, and assess political talk in non-political discussion forums.
Online political discussions are thought to lead to more political engagement and empowerment of peripheral groups in society and thereby contributing to deliberative citizenship. Because people have increased opportunities to voice their political opinions and publish these for a potentially large audience to read, the involved level of interactivity can mobilise people who would otherwise not have been in political life. Since Web 2.0 applications (i.e. blogs, social networking sites) have become popular, online discussions have taken a great fl ight on the web. This article discusses the advantages and diffi culties of studying online discussions applying a mixed method approach of content analysis, social network analysis and longitudinal analysis. The additional value of using a combination of research methods simultaneously is that it does justice to the complex object of study because a more in-depth and triangulated measurement of political communications can be established. The methodological implications will be illustrated on data from the online political discussion group, nl.politiek, one of the most active discussion groups during the Dutch national elections in 2006.
Citizen participation may become more deeply integrated into political environments as digital communication technologies such as the Internet and mobile phone are increasingly embedded in everyday life during the coming decade. In the Asian context, there is already an important role for digital media in the political arena as participatory communication channels in high-tech countries, such as South Korea, as well as in technologically less developed countries like the Philippines. In particular, the political use of blogs has been increasing due to the possibility to publish material online quickly and to distribute content with other bloggers. Because of these characteristics, blogs are perceived as both personal and collaborative media. The relational aspects of blogs, however, have not been suffi ciently explored. That is the objective of this article and, based on data collected in July and August 2005, two analyses are presented. First, we examine citizen blogs that politicians frequently visit. Second, we analyse the co-inlinks to citizen blogs and attempt to ascertain the relation between these co-inlinks and the inter-linkage patterns among citizens. The fi ndings indicate that the preferred target of politicians’ blogs is more likely to be those blogs maintained by citizens who explicitly express a political stance. In addition, the co-inlinks from a politician’s list of neighbours to citizen blogs is associated¸with the inter-linkage network structure.
The Internet is often praised for its ability to provide a space to enable every person to present her or his view, thus (potentially) allowing for more inclusion and participation in the public discussion. This potential has led many scholars to examine online discussions and see what these can contribute to democracy and the public sphere. These investigations, however, often focus on a single aspect of online discourse: the actual content. It is important to realise that discourse is not constructed in a vacuum: in addition to the text, there is the environment in which the text is produced and consumed as well as the wider social practice to which it belongs. Every instance of language use, including that of online political communication, is a communicative event that consists of three dimensions: the text; the “discursive practice which involves the production and consumption of texts”; and the social practice (Jřrgensen & Philips 2002, 68). Though important, the discursive and social practices are often neglected in studies of online political communication. The potential of the Internet for opening up public discourse cannot be fully evaluated if the context in which it is produced is ignored and if issues of power involved in this context are not addressed. In this article I introduce an integrated approach that looks at all three of the aforementioned dimensions of online public discourse from a critical discourse analytical perspective. The proposed mixed method approach allows for an examination and evaluation of the discourse in context, thus broadening the scope of explorations.
This paper addresses the methodological issue of how to quantify and measure seemingly chaotic, crude and impulsive online interactions in Chinese Internet forums, which have played an increasingly important role in shaping the country’s political spectrum. It introduces an integrated research methodology, designed and developed specifi cally in a four-year project conducted by this author on the Chinese Internet forums, the fi rst of its kind which scrutinises the interactive content of 14 major political forums in China and overseas over a one-year period, consisting of over 450,000 postings. Using commercial and self-developed online content analysis tools, this methodology features a series of computer-assisted data collection, quantitative analysis, and qualitative approaches. It investigates fi rst from a wide range of mega data extracted online to capture the general dynamics of the Chinese Forum. It then focuses on the selected categories of text data to delineate the linkage of global connectivity among forum networks and reveal the spectrum of discourse and pattern of deliberation. The paper, which conceptualises Chinese Internet forums as discursive public spaces mediated by the new online conversational media, aims to establish a series of applicable methods to study the publicly accessed interactive content of online political talk in the global network of the Chinese Internet.