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The role of twitter in political agenda-setting during elections: findings from the 2012 elections in Belgium

Pieter Verdegem (UGent) and Evelien D'heer (UGent)
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Abstract
Mass media have traditionally functioned as an intermediary system between society and political institutions. The rise of social media – such as Twitter – offers the potential for both politicians and citizens to circumvent the media, and directly influence each other within the networked media ecology. This is based on understandings of the interactive and participatory nature of social media, which contribute to a social space where “citizens can travel upward from civil society to the political public sphere”. The main research question of this paper examines how and to what extent Twitter has an impact on communication flows and power relationships between political elites, journalists, and the public. We have harvested all tweets (N=50.496) concerned with the 2012 elections in Belgium, which allows us to create a catalogue of topics central to the election discourse and identify the main voices contributing to the debate. In this paper we employ a multimodal content analysis approach to examine the topics and tone of the contributions, but we also focus on aspects that are specific to the Twitter platform, e.g. the inclusion of hyperlinks and meaningful self-created hashtags. The content analysis will be combined with social network analysis to identify opinion leaders and map their relationships with other participants in the Twittersphere. Agenda-setting theory, often applied in election campaign research, provides a useful framework to investigate the shifting and dynamic power relationships between the three main actors, political elites, media, and citizens, who each have their own issue agenda. While agenda-setting studies traditionally concentrate on the effects of political elites on mass media and public opinion, applying a social network approach to agenda-setting allows us to analyze the complex and multidirectional interplay between political agendas, media agendas, and public opinion, in the construction of deliberative debate in the public sphere. The research presented in this paper draws on the 2012 local elections in Belgium. We will both report on our data and analysis, and also where possible compare our results with recent Twitter election research in other countries. With this comparative analysis, we will be able to assess the potential of social media to serve as a networked public sphere in different contexts with different political systems and media systems.

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Chicago
Verdegem, Pieter, and Evelien D’heer. 2013. “The Role of Twitter in Political Agenda-setting During Elections: Findings from the 2012 Elections in Belgium.” In Twitter and Microblogging : Political, Professional and Personal Practices, Abstracts.
APA
Verdegem, P., & D’heer, E. (2013). The role of twitter in political agenda-setting during elections: findings from the 2012 elections in Belgium. Twitter and Microblogging : Political, Professional and Personal Practices, Abstracts. Presented at the Twitter and Microblogging : Political, Professional and Personal Practices.
Vancouver
1.
Verdegem P, D’heer E. The role of twitter in political agenda-setting during elections: findings from the 2012 elections in Belgium. Twitter and Microblogging : Political, Professional and Personal Practices, Abstracts. 2013.
MLA
Verdegem, Pieter, and Evelien D’heer. “The Role of Twitter in Political Agenda-setting During Elections: Findings from the 2012 Elections in Belgium.” Twitter and Microblogging : Political, Professional and Personal Practices, Abstracts. 2013. Print.
@inproceedings{3200218,
  abstract     = {Mass media have traditionally functioned as an intermediary system between society and political institutions. The rise of social media -- such as Twitter -- offers the potential for both politicians and citizens to circumvent the media, and directly influence each other within the networked media ecology. This is based on understandings of the interactive and participatory nature of social media, which contribute to a social space where {\textquotedblleft}citizens can travel upward from civil society to the political public sphere{\textquotedblright}. The main research question of this paper examines how and to what extent Twitter has an impact on communication flows and power relationships between political elites, journalists, and the public. We have harvested all tweets (N=50.496) concerned with the 2012 elections in Belgium, which allows us to create a catalogue of topics central to the election discourse and identify the main voices contributing to the debate. In this paper we employ a multimodal content analysis approach to examine the topics and tone of the contributions, but we also focus on aspects that are specific to the Twitter platform, e.g. the inclusion of hyperlinks and meaningful self-created hashtags. The content analysis will be combined with social network analysis to identify opinion leaders and map their relationships with other participants in the Twittersphere. Agenda-setting theory, often applied in election campaign research, provides a useful framework to investigate the shifting and dynamic power relationships between the three main actors, political elites, media, and citizens, who each have their own issue agenda. While agenda-setting studies traditionally concentrate on the effects of political elites on mass media and public opinion, applying a social network approach to agenda-setting allows us to analyze the complex and multidirectional interplay between political agendas, media agendas, and public opinion, in the construction of deliberative debate in the public sphere. The research presented in this paper draws on the 2012 local elections in Belgium. We will both report on our data and analysis, and also where possible compare our results with recent Twitter election research in other countries. With this comparative analysis, we will be able to assess the potential of social media to serve as a networked public sphere in different contexts with different political systems and media systems.},
  author       = {Verdegem, Pieter and D'heer, Evelien},
  booktitle    = {Twitter and Microblogging : Political, Professional and Personal Practices, Abstracts},
  language     = {eng},
  location     = {Lancaster, UK},
  title        = {The role of twitter in political agenda-setting during elections: findings from the 2012 elections in Belgium},
  url          = {http://lanyrd.com/2013/lutwit13/scdygb/},
  year         = {2013},
}