Closing the gap? Twitter as an instrument for connected representation TODD G RAHAM , MARC E L BROER SMA A ND KARIN HAZE LHO F F
Questions over the potential of the Internet in opening up new opportunities for online campaigning and citizen engagement in the political process have been the focus of much research in political communication. Early studies into this phenomenon simply indicated that official online campaigns tended to replicate the oneway communicative patterns that we have become familiar with in offline campaigning; i.e. they offered few real opportunities for citizen engagement (Coleman 2001; Gibson et al. 2003; Jackson 2007). The successful use of social media and the Internet during the 2008 Obama US election campaign, however, has seemed to breathe new life back into the debate. Findings suggest that social media are providing new opportunities for citizen engagement in politics (Smith 2009). Indeed, social media have increasingly become a prominent tool for parties and candidates to provide information, mobilize their base and connect to the public directly (Jackson and Lilleker 2011; Lilleker and Jackson 2010). As such, politicians avoid being dependent on traditional communication channels like news media, thus in some ways remaining in control over their political messages (Broersma and Graham 2012). More positively, we can interpret this shift as a response to the growing disconnect between citizens and politicians. As Flickinger and Studlar (2007) maintain, in many Western democracies, traditional politics increasingly suffers from a decline in interest and participation. Coleman’s (2005) survey, for example, found close to three-quarters of British citizens felt disconnected from parliament (cf. Committee on Standards in Public Life 2011). Consequently, governments, parties and politicians have been increasingly turning to social media as a means of closing the gap. As Ed Miliband, Labour Party leader, states on his blog:
This blog is my attempt to help bridge the gap – the growing and potentially dangerous gap – between politicians and the public. It will show what I’m doing, what I’m thinking about, and what I’ve read, heard or seen for myself which has sparked interest or influenced my ideas.