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Transformations of the Political Communication in Social Media Era – from Mediatization to Decentralization

Article (PDF Available)  · July 2014 with 333 Reads

Tănase Tasenţe
6.22 · University of Bucharest

Abstract

The political communication in media era performs on two dimensions: the horizontal dimension – between political actors and
journalists – and on vertical dimension – the media product is decentralized to the consumer public. In Social Media Era, the
horizontal dimension completely disappears and the communication is routed by the online opinion leaders in the social groups.
Thus, in the new public space, the main communication actors are not journalists and politicians, but publicreceptor, which plays the
role of opinion leaders. In Social Media, we can talk a lot about “the power of the receptor”, that is decentralizing, without
intermediaries, the political message to discuss it in the social groups to which they belong.

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COMMUNICATIO

Transformations of the Political Communication in Social Media


Era – from Mediatization to Decentralization

Tănase Tasente1

Abstract: The political communication in media era performs on two dimensions: the horizontal
dimension – b etween political actors and journalists – and on vertical dimension – the media product
is decentralized to the consumer public. In Social Media Era, the horizontal dimension completely
disappears and the communication is routed by the online opinion leaders in the social groups. Thus,
in the new public space, the main communication actors are not journalists an d politicians, but public-
receptor, which plays the role of opinion leaders. In Social Media, we can talk a lot about “the power
of the recepto r“, that is decentralizing, without intermediaries, the politi cal message to discuss it in
h l h h h b l
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10/9/2018 (PDF) Transformations of the Political Communication in Social Media Era – from Mediatization to Decentralization
the social groups to which they belong.
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13 References 2 Figures
Keywords: political communication; social media; mediatization; decentralization

1. The Concept of Political Communication. Definitions


One of the most renowned researchers of the political communication, Jacques
Gerstle, admits that this domain is “difficult to define, since it relies on concepts
already overloaded sense, whose relationship can only be problematic and whose
manifestations are multidimensional“ (Gerstle, 2002, p. 21). This confusion about
the definition of political communication is closely related to conceptual
uncertainty “about communication, on the one hand and politics on the other,
leaving much space for semantic maneuver in action of combining them into
action“. (Gerstle, 2002, p. 21)

However, looking at several reference definitions of the concept of political


communication, we have identified a number of keywords found in most
definitions, such as “intention to influence the political broadcasters“ (Denton,
Woodward, 1990, p. 11), “heterogeneity that contribute to its occurrence“ and

1
Xi’an International University, China 408 North Zhangba Road, X i’an, Shaanxi 710077, Tel: +86-
29-88751314, +86-29-88751484, Fax: +86-29-88751030, Corresponding author:
ruiqingdu@yahoo.com.

AUDC, Vol 8, no 1, pp. 17-15

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ACTA UNIVERSITATIS DANUBIUS Vol. 8, No. 1/2014

“interaction“ Even so Camelia Beciu (2009 p 125) points out that we can not
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interaction . Even so, Camelia Beciu (2009, p. 125) points out that we can not
See all › See all › summarize political communication through the prism of “intentionality“ of the
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political actor, political “message“ and the strategies of persuasion. Analyzing this
field only through these components leads to a partial or speculative understanding
of this phenomenon.
Political communication, defined in terms of “intentionality“, was characterized as
“an oriented programed action, projected for certain political purposes“ (Beciu,
2000, p. 27). Axford believes that the political message can not be considered as an
autonomous object, since it involves the way in which the social and political
actors are relating to communication systems or by the exercise of the power. Thus,
he defined the political communication as an “intentional, explicit and implicit of
some messages with political, initiated by the actors who are acting under an
exercise of power“ (Browning @ Turner, 2002, p. 416).
In a broader approach, Denton and Woodward (1990, p. 20) pointed out three most
important aspects of the intentional character of political communication, as
follows: (1) all forms of communication in which political actors undertake in
order to accomplish the specific objectives, (2) communication between political
actors and apolitical people, category in which we can include voters, journalists
etc. (3) referential form of communication in which political actors and their
activities are topics of discussion in the media space.
Several authors, among which we can mention Joseph Tuman (2007), Dominique
Wolton (1998), Pippa Norris (2000) and others have focused on the definition of
the political communication through “interaction“. Thus, Dominique Wolton
(Beciu, 2011, p. 227) stated in his book, “Penser in communication“, an interaction
field of the political communication between actors and/or institutions with

different statutes, as politicians, media outlets and public opinion. Pippa Norris
(Beciu, 2011, p. 227) characterizes the political communication process as an
interactive one on two levels: vertically (from institutions to citizens) and
horizontally (among same tier - politicians and institutions). Joseph S. Tuman, in
the definition of political communication, also puts emphasis on the interaction
between political actors and the public, describing the political communication as a
“discursive process through which political information is distributed and promote
awareness, ignorance, manipulation, consensus, disagreement, action or passivity“
(Tudor, 2008, p. 29).

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COMMUNICATIO

According to Camelia Beciu, the political communication involves a “strategic


interaction governed by legal rules, rituals, values, symbols, technologies,
organizations, networks and practices“ (Beciu, 2009, p. 126). More than that, the
strategy reveals the intentionality and the action of the political communication, the
frame of the interaction refers to the relations between politicians, between
politicians and the electorate, between politicians and political parties and between
politicians and the media. The interaction can be achieved through performance,
i.e. the science and art of staging the political message (“the political theater“) and
through deliberative communication, specific to the democratic practices.
The definition of political communication must take into account the political
marketing and the expression of a public agenda. Nevertheless Camelia Beciu
states that we can not reduce the political communication only to production and
circulation of the political message (speech), to political marketing and to
communication campaign (the campaign strategies of political communication and
election). In defining the political communication, beyond the discursive and
strategic dimension, we must take into account the definition of the institutional or
systemic dimension. Camelia Beciu in her book, Communication and media
discourse (Beciu, 2009, p. 125), describes the institutional dimension in terms of
three aspects, as: (1) the typology of the political actors (institutions that they
represent - eg. Government, parliament, city halls, local and county councils, etc.
.), (2) the specific of the system of exercising political power (legislative and
electoral system, standards of the parties, media activities etc.), (3) public culture
(practices and conventions accumulated in time regarding the media and public
debating formats, ways of protest and participation in public space, political and
national rituals, symbols, value systems, etc.).

Robert Entman and Lance Bennett (2001, p. 471) identified two approaches to
political communication studies: an approach emphasizes the communication
process through which political messages and information are constructed by the
political actors and the mass-media (producing political communication) and other
approach refers to public reactions to persuasive messages and individual choices
(the perception of political communication). If we relate strictly to classical
communication or media elements, we find that in the process of production
political communication, the focusing is more on building the political messages,
the selection and operation of media channels and the identifying or creating a
context, in which the political actor’s image is growing. On the other hand, the
perception of political communication focuses strictly on receptors attitudes, on
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ACTA UNIVERSITATIS DANUBIUS Vol. 8, No. 1/2014

collecting and centralizing the feedback and on finding some solutions which will
optimize an answers both quantitatively and especially qualitatively from the
target-audience.

2. Mediatization and Decentralization of the Political Communication


In the context of developing the mass-media, the political communication has
experienced significant changes, that can be understood in terms of two
dimensions, apparently distinct but interdependent: the horizontal dimension (the
mediatization) and the vertical dimension (the decentralization) (Brants & Voltmer,
2011, p. 3). The horizontal dimension refers to the relationship between media
outlets institutions and the politicians, as leaders of political communication, and
the vertical dimension involves sending the political message from main actors of
the political communication - journalists and politicians - to ordinary citizens.
Together, the actors of the two dimensions of the political communication form a
triangle through which the political message flows, initially horizontally - between
political actors and the media - as a final, the media message will reach
decentralized the public consumer. The feedback from the public is reflected in
audience for media outlets and in votes for political institutions or politicians
(Figure 1).

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Figure 1 – Changes in Political Communication (Bra nts & Voltmer, 2011, p. 4)

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COMMUNICATIO

2.1. The Mediatization of the Political Communication


By the horizontal dimension of the political communication we can understand the
relationship between the political actors and the journalists, as vectors of the
political message. The relationship between the two entities is competitive, but
their common goal is to create and disseminate political messages for mass
consumption. With other words, the relationship between politicians and the media
was characterized by a “high degree of ambivalence that oscillates between
complicity and open struggle for power“ (Brants, Voltmer, 2011, pp. 3-4). The
competition between the two actors involves also negotiating the political agenda,
in the sense that journalists want to impose their own media agenda and the
political actors are seeking to impose their own agenda.
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See all › See all › In the literature there are three different views about the relationship between
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politicians and journalists to impose political agenda: (1) balanced relationship, (2)
media require political agenda and (3) the media are topics defined by the political
actors as important for public opinion.
According to Blumler and Gurevitch, as soon as both protagonists of the horizontal
dimension use their resources to each other for achieving their goals - politicians
and parties need media advertising and the journalists need politicians as
authoritative sources of information - they “shall assumes the balanced power
relationship.“ (Brants, Voltmer, 2001, p. 4).
However, some recent studies, among which we can mention Strömbäck Jesper's
research from 2008, there are opinions that contradict the assertions of Blumler and
Gurevitch, arguing that “the balance of power is increasingly facing to situations
where media have the last control of the public agenda“. (Strömbäck, 2008, p. 228)

Another opinion about the relationship between journalists and the political actors
to set the media agenda is given by “the indexing theory“, presented in 1990 by
WL Bennett, in “Towards a theory of press-state relations in the United States“
(Brants & Voltmer, 2011, p. 4), that the media is following the way in which the
government defines political issues that need to be highlighted in the media space.
Different opinions of experts on changes balance of the power between politicians
and the media to impose political agenda do not comply with unidirectional model,
but are influenced by several factors, namely: the nature of the problem, events that
could favor or damage credibility or authority of one of the two entities, changes in

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ACTA UNIVERSITATIS DANUBIUS Vol. 8, No. 1/2014
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institutional power, changes of opinions, using new media and cultural and
political context in which the communication is processing.
Moreover, the transition to the third stage of evolution of the political
communication is closely linked to the concept of mediation. However, there must
be a conceptual separation between “mediation“ and “mediatization“, the
distinction that was made first in 1999 by Gianpietro Mazzoleni and Winfried
Schulz, in “Coverage policy: A challenge for democracy?“ (1999, pp. 247-261).
While the mediation refers to the simple dissemination of the information through
mass media, the mediatization passes at a higher level than the mediation and
presents a situation “in which political institutions are depending more and more
and are shaped by the media “ (Mazzoleni, Schulz, 1999, p. 247). Thomas Meyer
(2002) even speaks about media power, calling it “mediacracy“, the political
process is “colonized“ by the media outlets institutions.

2.2. The Decentralization of the Political Communication


The vertical dimension refers to the interaction between the elite political
communication - politicians and the media - and ordinary people, playing the role
of citizens, voters or audience, as recipients of the political messages coming from
political actors and the media. This communication process, conducted vertically,
is called decentralization of political communication.
The citizens play an important role in the mechanism of communication, they have
the power to question the legitimacy and credibility of the institutional policy and
the traditional media outlets institutions and they can influence the communication
process from important issues in politicians and media’s opinion, to alternative

topics, even outside the political sphere. Moreover, a very important aspect which
is challenging the political supremacy in the vertical dimension is partial
disappearance of the citizen participation in democratic act. Is evidence that the
participation in the elections dropped drastically in the world, as it fell and
engagement of the ordinary people as members of political parties or trade union
groups.
However, we can not necessarily sustain that people gave up political information,
but that they have migrated to other media, other newly created public spaces.
Thus, new forums of public debate emerged in virtual environments, different from
the government political processes that attract specific segments of the population.

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COMMUNICATIO

The new style of communication offered by new public spaces for debate and
focusing the communication on an alternative set of problems, helps citizens to
receive information that they consider more relevant to their daily lives than the
information provided by news reports or even those offered by the political actors.
On this aspect, Pippa Norris believes that while the political parties are losing
members, a substantial number of citizens, especially the younger generation, is
engaged in “political action on the subject of specific issues, ranging from local
concerns to anti-globalization movement“ (Brants & Voltmer, 2011, pp. 8-9).
Thus, we find that, whether living in an era of globalization, where spatial and
temporal proximity is no longer a decider factor in the communication process,
evens so the citizens are still debating in virtual environments, issues concerning
them directly, both them and the community they belong to, and less concern with
issues on people from other geographical regions, distant or less distant.
Moreover, the political engagement has transformed in to political consumption,
which can be described as the transfer of citizens’ orientations from “stable
ideologies that have values and policies, as coherent packages, to individual
problems and pragmatic solutions“. (Brants & Voltmer, 2011, p. 9). In this regard,
several researchers, among which we can mention Bennett (2003, p. 137), Lewis,
Inthorn and Wahl-Jorgensen (2005) believes that people are seeing the parties more
as “service providers who provide health care, education, public transport etc, but
they are no longer attracted of loyalties and passions to long-term“ (Brants,
Voltmer, 2011, p. 9). Thus, consumer daily activities (purchasing some products
and denialing others) are used by people as models for events targeting political
preferences.
Toward with the development of the Internet and online communication, the

decentralization of the political communication has intensified, becoming a


powerful tool for mobilization, in which the political events - spontaneous or
organized demonstrations - have been initiated in a short period of time and were
able to get not only large national, but international. Because its opening, its
interactive structure and its flexibility, the Internet has radically changed the
position of the public from ordinary final consumers of the political
communication to active, creative and vocal citizens. Taking this context into
account, Kees Brants and Katrin Voltmeters (2011, p. 9) have assumed that online
information and communication, could accelerate the marginalization of
institutionalized policy Thus it could be possible to create a new model of
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institutionalized policy. Thus, it could be possible to create a new model of
See all › See all › mediated political communication, “the communication from the bottom up“,
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ACTA UNIVERSITATIS DANUBIUS Vol. 8, No. 1/2014

opposite to the mechanism where the elite of media communication - media


institutions and political actors – were transmitted, top-down, unidirectional, the
message to the consuming public.
Another significant change in the mediated political communication system, in the
vertical dimension, was spreading the populism. Thus, the candidates without great
chances in election campaigns resorted to populist speeches, extremist rhetoric,
emotional appeals and other techniques from the area of populism, designed to fit
in to the context of developing a commercial press.

3. Transformations of the Political Communication in Social Media


Along with the development of the Social Media, also the principles of the media
communication have changed. If in traditional media the feedback was delayed or
absent, the entire communication focusing on “broadcast“ or “unidirectional
communication“, in Social Media Era, the social networks are working on
principles such as “social interaction“, “multidirectional communication“ and “the
public impose the media agenda“.
Thus, the scheme of communication mediated by the social networks underwent
significant changes from the one shown in the so-called “third phase of
development of political communication systems“ or “postmodernism“.
The novelty of this communication mechanism can be described by decentralizing
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The novelty of this communication mechanism can be described by decentralizing
See all › See all › the communication to social groups of online opinion leaders and eliminating the
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horizontal dimension, in which mass-media and political actors played fundamental
roles in disseminating the political message to the public. In Social Media, the

message is decentralized from source (political actor's Facebook page) by some


ordinary users, which in time become influential leaders in the online environment.
The political message is discussed in social groups of the “online political citizens“
(Institute for Politics, Democracy and Internet, 2004, p. 6) and there are created
through interpersonal communication, standard opinions, to which each social
groups’ members will join. After the deliberation of the political message in social
groups, some users choose to become members (fans) of the source message
(political actor's Facebook page), and thus the database of the potential users like
“online political citizens“ (online opinion leaders), who will redistribute political
message to still unreached social groups, will increase. (Figure 2)

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COMMUNICATIO

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Figure 2 - The scheme of decentralized communicat ion in social groups (O.P.C. =


Online Political Citizens)

4. Conclusion
The revolution of the political communication mediated by the social networks is
given by great power of influence that they have got the regular user, in their role
as receptors. If in case of the traditional media, the whole debate was going in the
horizontal dimension, the mediatization one, in which the political actors and
journalists faced their opinions, to transmit them later, in a decentralized way, to
the public, in Social Media, the horizontal dimension completely disappears and
the communication is routed by the online opinion leaders in the social groups.
Thus, in the new public space, the main communication actors are not journalists
and politicians, but public-receptor, which plays the role of opinion leaders. In

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ACTA UNIVERSITATIS DANUBIUS Vol. 8, No. 1/2014

Social Media, we can talk a lot about “the power of the receptor“, that is
decentralizing, without intermediaries, the political message to discuss it in the
social groups to which they belong.

5. References
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Comunicare.ro.
Beciu, C. (2000). Politica discursivă. Practici politice într-o campanie electoral/ Policy discourse.
Political practices in electoral campaign. Iaşi: Polirom.
Axford, B., Browning, G., Turner, J. (2002). Politics. An introduction. Londra: Routledge.
Beciu, C. (2011). Sociologia comunicării şi a spaţiului public/ Sociology of Communication and
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Brants, K. & Voltmer, K. (2011). Political communication in Postmodern Democracy. Challenging
the Primacy of Politics. Londra: Palgrave Macmillan.
Strömbäck, J. (2008). Fou r Phases of Mediatization: An Analysis of the Mediatization of Politics.
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Political Action in Late Modern Society. Media and the Restyling of Po litics. Consumerism, Celebrity
and Cynicism. Londra: Sage.
Lewis, J.; Inthorn, S. & Wahl-Jorgensen, K. (2005). Citizens or Consumers? The Media and the
Decline of Political Participation. Maidenhead: Open University Press.
*** Institute for Politics, Democracy and Internet. (2004). Political Influentials Online in the 2004
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Citations (0) References (13)

Political Communication in Postmodern Democracy: Challenging the Primacy of Politics


Book Full-text available
Jan 2011
Kees Brants · Katrin Voltmer

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Four Phases of Mediatization: An Analysis of the Mediatization of Politics


Article Full-text available
Jul 2008 · INT J PRESS/POLIT
Jesper Strömbäck

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Politica discursivă. Practici politice într-o campanie electoral/ Policy discourse. Political
practices in electoral campaign
Jan 2000
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