Digital media have grown in the past three to four years to become a central research theme at the institute. This has been driven by an ever-increasing need for knowledge on the importance of digital media for politics, democracy and public debate, both nationally and locally.
How do political parties and politicians use social media? Does the population’s political engagement change as a result of social media? What effect does online public debate have on us? Who dominates, who is excluded, and what are the democratic implications of this development?
Research on digital media is well embedded in the long-term research interests and competence of the institute. Our ambition is to shed light on digital media from a political and democratic viewpoint and to be able to understand the consequences of the changes we see, for example taking into account the conditions for freedom of expression.
In 2014 we complete a three-year project on the consequence of social media for democracy and citizenship. This is a broadly-based project that has given us the opportunity to examine the consequences of social media for local electoral campaigns and local candidates, the use of social media by local voluntary organisations, and the changes in how political parties communicate. We have also had our own sub-project on the importance of social media in maintaining and establishing political and social identity among asylum seekers.
In this project we have also studied changes in social participation in light of social media – in public debate, demonstrations and campaigns and in traditional voluntary organisations. In the book “Liker liker ikke” [Like ‒don’t like] we argue that the growth of social media has resulted in a democratisation of political participation in Norway. Young people and those with less education participate more, both in debates and demonstrations, when social media are used as communication channels.
In 2013 we also conducted a study which concluded that Twitter altered the balance of power between the parties and party leaders during the parliamentary election campaign in 2013. For this we analysed large quantities of digital data, which marked an important new step and a new methodological departure for us within this field.
In the partnership project “The Freedom of Expression Foundation’s (Fritt Ord) monitoring project on the status of freedom of expression in Norway” we are researching the culture of expression in digital media, how minorities experience freedom of expression in (and outside of) the digital public space, as well as attitudes to privacy, censorship and surveillance. In 2014 we will complete this project, the results of which will be published both as a comprehensive report and an anthology. We will implement a new round of the questionnaire survey on participation and digital media. This will allow us to study the importance of social media for politics and democracy in a more long-term perspective. Within the framework of the Centre for Research on Civil Society and the Voluntary Sector (2013‒2017) we will focus particular attention on local and national mobilisation through digital media.