Social Media and Political Participation
date: May 10, 2013
location: Villa Sassetti
 
Report
 

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In the past few years, the way that citizens communicate with one other about politics has been fundamentally altered by the emergence of social media, or what is popularly known as “Web 2.0”. These are a set of electronic tools that utilize the internet to allow information to be communicated not just to citizens from elites, but also from citizens back to elites, as well as – perhaps most importantly – among citizens while (potentially) bypassing elites entirely. In view of recent political developments as diverse as Occupy Wall Street in the United States, the rise of Indignados in Spain, protests in Moscow and Tehran, and the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, it has become increasingly clear that social media are now intertwined with political activity. And yet, despite the proclivities of journalists to throw around monikers like the “Twitter Revolution” (applied to political upheaval in Moldova), we know surprisingly little about exactly how social media affects political participation.  


We are only beginning to scratch the surface of developing theories linking social media usage to political participation and actually beginning to test causal relationships. At the same time, the data being generated by users of social media represents a completely unprecedented source of data recording how hundreds of millions of people around the globe interact with politics, the likes of which social scientists have never, ever seen; it is not too much of a stretch to say we are at a similar place to the field of biology just as the human genome was first being decoded. Thus the challenges are enormous, but the opportunities – and importance of the task – are just as important. With this in mind, we will gather a variety of international scholars working on different aspects of this topic together at NYU-Florence’s Villa La Pietra campus for one and half day conference on the subject of social media and political participation. The conference will serve to introduce cutting edge work being conducted in a field that barely existed five years ago to the public and students, to introduce the scholars participating in the conference to each other’s work, and also to play a role in building connections among the scholarly community working in this field.