Norwegian Parties and Web 2.0: Alpha-testing without a sandbox?

Presentation for Politics: Web 2.0: An International Conference Royal Holloway, University of London, April 17.18., 2008 Øyvind Kalnes, Lillehammer University College, 2626 Lillehammer, NORWAY

How did Norwegian political parties handle the appearance of Web 2.0? (alpha-testing..)
Focusing on the campaign for the local elections Sept.2007 (…without a sandbox!)
– – – All seven parliamentary parties, plus four non-parliamentary parties (11 in all) Samples from activity in blogosphere, on Facebook and YouTube Semi-structured interviews with party informants

Variations in party strategies towards Web 2.0? Whether the use of Web 2.0 might:
– – Enhance participatory democracy by lowering the threshold for involvement of party grassroots and –sympathisers? Enhance the competitive aspects of democracy by increasing the visibility of parties that attract little attention from the mass media and lack the resources to advertise?

POLITICAL CONTEXT
Political advertising on TV is illegal Parliamentary democracy ca. 1900  Unitary state (i.e. non-federal)

Local assemblies since 1848

Electoral system
Proportional representation Multimember constituencies Vote for party lists

Shifting minority governments, mostly Labour or CentreRight coalitions

Multiparty system (5-30% of votes)
2 right wing (Conservatives and Progress) 3 center (Center, Liberals, Christian Democrats) 2 left wing (Labour, Socialist Left)

Parliamentary and local elections alternating every second year

Web 2.0 Two models of democracy
Pluralist (or competitive) democracy: Provide meaningful political alternatives for voters in free elections held at regular intervals (Joseph Schumpeter)

Unilateral communication:

Web 2.0 as levelling the field of the political game?

Participative (or discourse) democracy: Provide means for involvement in the public discussion and formulation of policies. (Jürgen Habermas)

Multilateral communication:

Web 2.0 as more open for participation?

But….«I have little or no interest in politics»

Source: European Social Survey

Weaker party loyalty

2007: E-Readiness
Used internet on a daily basis Age groups (%) All 2000 27 2007 66 16-24 25-44 45-66 38 83 34 77 21 59 67-79 04 21

Top 25 Web sites October 2007
Rank 01 03 04 13. 17. Web site Facebook YouTube Nettby.no Wikipedia Piczo.com Biip.no Blogger.com MySpace

…. and Web 2.0 readiness?

19. 21. 25.

Web 1.0. Party web sites
Informants Satisfied with party leadership priority of internet, but … Internet is not regarded as changing the party, only making it more effective and professional • Open discussion forums in the past, but closed due to low quality of discussion. “Need constant monitoring / moderating” / avoid “public shame”. • Few opportunities for individual politicians to participate • Local and district party branches supported and integrated on the web, but symbolic “top-down” initiative more than vitalization of party grassroot  Convergence around unilateralism  The average net surfer do not use the internet for political purposes

Left: Red Electoral Alliance Socialist Left Party Environmental Party Labour Party Centre: Centre Party Christian People's Party Liberal Party Coast Party Pensioners' Party Right Conservative Party Progress Party Democrats

Votes
01.9 06.2 00.3 29.6 08.0 06.4 05.9 00.2 00.9 19.3 17.5 00.2

Activities of the political parties as organizations on Web 2.0:
• • • Links from the official party web sites to sites Scan of the Web 2.0 sites in the Norwegian top 100 for party names, in abbreviated and full form Party informants (not that well informed!)

 Facebook and YouTube most relevant sites to study, plus ..  Survey of the ambitious attempts of Norwegian newspaper VG to establish common forums for blogging at VG-blog

Web 2.0 as challenge to parties
• Lacked clear strategy on Web 2.0, due to
– Sceptisism (“media hype”) – Lack of extra resources (Web 1.0 priority) – Happened quickly

• But rush of grassroot initiatives to use Web 2.0 during a few months in spring 2007 … a nightmare … It will pass.. People don’t go there for the politics…. …. new places appear every day, using our name and even our logo. A lot of the people behind this are probably (party) members with good intentions, but the result is that we have no control.

1. The Blogosphere
• A demanding genre, fear of media stigma as ”blog flops” • Personal and “private” nature • Opportunities elsewhere outside the party web site
hesitant or negative parties, no coherent strategy, blog technology not implemented on party web sites (one exception; the Liberals) Some top politicians’ blogs scattered around the internet, but only one party leader blogged on a permanent basis (Erna Solberg, leader of the Conservatives)

A different type of channel
I think blogging is a good opportunity to communicate with people and get responses from all camps. It is a very nice way to express and test opinions in a simple and less formal manner. It is less formal than for instance go through the newspapers ... Usually it is the last thing I do before I go to bed ... Its themes are politics, Brann and the world. (Heikki Holmås a leading young Social Left Party parliamentarian).

Organizations in an individual sphere
• Harvesting strategies, through highly visible linking to successful blogs • Took on a quasi-institutional and ad-hoc character, as the parties were pushed to take part in temporary blogging foras set up by the media. • A special election blog section in the web edition of the leading newspaper VG for party leaders, as well as local candidates and branches • High (unrealistic) ambitions

A party leder on VG blogg

VG Blog – Activity during last five weeks before elections on party leader's blog
PARTY POSTINGS COMMENTS* RATIO

Conservatives Progress Party Socialist Left Party Labour Party Liberals Christian People's Party Centre Party Red Electoral Alliance Average

18 04 24 09 19 14 05 10 12,9

121 032 608 171 385 281 10 191 224,9

6,7 8,0 25,3 19,0 20,3 20,1 2,0 19,1 17,5

2. Facebook
• Since January 2007 grew at an average of 250 000 new registrations per day, reaching the 20 million mark in April 2007 and 67 million today (more now?) • Unique popularity in Norway, a population of 4.5 million but is a global number 8, in terms of active users. • Norwegian parties caught off guard

Challenges for Norwegian politics on Facebook • • • • Commercial (advertising, user information) Networking site for individual users Parties had to establish themselves as “groups” More for the American than the Norwegian political landscape? (language, political views in 2007..) • Unofficial “party” groups, appearing to be the genuine article

Grassroot steals the initiative (and the party identity)
• Top politicians had no profiles on Facebook, but lots of local candidates and party officers • Several groups for the national party organizations (minus Pensioners’ party), but only 2 (Labour and Conservatives) genuine from the start and one more (Centre Party) validated through link from party web site • Some semi-official national groups recognized by (but not authorized) party, and lots of unofficial

Stealing the party identity

Local (Labour) on Facebook

Open fractionalism on Facebook

Most significant “national party groups” established on Facebook 2007
Party
Official groups Conservatives Labour Party Centre Party Semi-official groups Socialist Left Party Liberals Christian People's Party Coast Party Unofficial groups Progress Party Red Electoral Alliance Democrats March 21st April 6th May 7th 2209 532 50 April 12th May 10th April 25th May 20th 453 461 138 32 May 23rd June 4th April 9th 732 836 324

Established

Members

The Progress Party group, largest and no party candidates or -officers involved

Overheard in one of the “party groups”
• First contributor: To everyone as unattentive as myself, who has joined the Facebook-group <party acronym>; this is not serious. Get out (not from this group - but the "fake" one). Second contributor: The other <party acronym>group almost appeared a bit sick... Third contributor: I think it's better to talk with people rather than just run. Of course problematic that anyone can establish Facebook-groups and appear to be established by <party acronym>, but they do not seem to have any bad intensions. ..

• •

3.
• To upload videos and establish a "Channel", a personal user account is necessary, although not a public personal profile • Breakthrough of YouTube at the same time as the start of the campaign ( no 3 in Norway) • Regarded by parties as “hype”, (like Facebook) • Five of the national parties in the sample decided to use the opportunity to established channels on YouTube before the election.

Norwegian national party channels on YouTube in 2007
PARTY Conservatives Labour Party Liberals Centre Party Red Alliance JOINED April 26th April 14th April 11th April 25th VIDEO S 26 110 114 8 10 VIEW SUBSS CRIBERS 286 87675 1827 858 838 1 17 17 3 15

Electoral July 9th

Plus a number of channels established by local parties and local activists. But less chaotic than Facebook and often embedded on party web site, although party name is not protected for channels. Liberals’ name already taken, and have to use another name. Conservatives establish channel to secure the name. Established WebTV by 2005  prefer this to YouTube

A (very) preliminary discussion
• Web 2.0 in a hype cycle now, like “Web 1.0” before 2001 (dot com bubble)? • Will not deliver as expected?
– Less political activity – Irrational (uncontrollable) element for parties – Whose expectations?

• Isomorphism  No standards yet, but might explain flock mentality

Web technology and the hype Cycle

Parties are institutions  Type of approach to Web 2.0
• Embody norms and values, established routines and relations, which may make them more or less resistant to any change or reform • Web 2.0 as individualist, non-hierarchical networking may have a variable fit for various parties • Norwegian parties still ”mass parties”, especially Labour, Christian People’s Pary and Centre Party • New Politics Parties (especially left-libertarian) more individual, open and non-hierarchical. Archetype: Socialis Left Party, besides Red Electoral Alliance and Venstre

Party resources  “Volume of the activity” on Web 2.0,
• Web 2.0 a new field of activity – on top of eveything else. Demands new resources or new priorities
– Norwegian parties “relatively” well off, due to generous government grants according to electoral success. But still has to prioritize – Small parties without representatives fall below threshold

• Party organization resources:
– Financial, expertise and staff – Members and activists who contribute without salary – Number of members/activists tend to correlate with votes, which  size of grants

Most active parties
• Labour Party – a mass party with much resources  an active institutional approach to Web 2.0

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