Are social media more of an opportunity or a danger for politics?
With this keyword, I first have to give the all-clear: In Germany, social media do not yet play a major role. For only seven percent of the German population, social networks are the main medium, one percent inform themselves exclusively there.
The majority are still looking for their information on other channels. Overall, this applies to most countries in Europe that have a strong public service broadcaster.
Social media is a way to motivate people to be interested in elections and politics. This has been the case for politicians who even use an SMM panel in their campaign efforts. At the same time, however, they are also a gateway for false information. At the moment, however, we have no indications that these elections in Germany are endangered by social media. The problem here is currently not just any powers from outside, but political actors who do not take the truth very seriously.
How important is social media for the parties?
They are increasingly relying on it. The parties have the feeling that citizens expect them to be present and visible there, and that is true. Even if many people still inform themselves in the classic media, so-called snack news is becoming increasingly important. This means that people want to be informed as quickly and incidentally as possible, and then in times of smartphones, headlines are often enough. Exactly this kind of short, fast information is provided by Facebook & Co. In addition, people who would otherwise not follow news and would never buy a newspaper can accidentally come into contact with news on social media. We call this “incidental news exposure”. The news randomly joins the colorful timeline on Facebook.
What power do social networks have in this context?
The algorithms of the platforms are based on the behavior of the users, as well as on that of their friends. You then provide the content that pleases. The social networks want to optimize these user experiences and this can lead to users remaining in their own ‘echo chamber’. This means that they remain among people who are not interested in politics, do not follow any news media, and are not friends with people who do so. And that’s why no corresponding content appears with them. Thus, not only the algorithms of the platforms are the problem, but rather the personal decision of who I follow or what I choose. With regard to disinformation campaigns, we must appeal to people to scrutinize the content on social networks attentively and critically. Because networks like Facebook are filled with so much content that they can hardly be controlled, neither by humans nor by machines, the networks themselves have recognized this much too late.
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Which networks are particularly important in Germany?
That always depends on the target group. The networks play a different roles in different social groups: In Germany, Facebook is the most important network because it reaches the most people. For younger people, however, platforms such as YouTube or WhatsApp are more in focus. And Twitter is being used more by people who are already interested in politics.
How good are the parties in Germany in dealing with social media?
This is very different. For right-wing populist parties, social media is the central place to recruit and get their message across. Here they can largely claim what they want with impunity and thus promote their position. With their know-how and the knowledge of how networks work, they reach many people. Their messages are also often emotional and social networks target this content. Because when emotions are aroused, people stay on it longer, that’s the goal of the platforms and we fall for it. Other parties, on the other hand, are still struggling to find this tone. You can tell it’s not their normal way of communicating.