Difficult as it may be to believe, we’re still almost three months out from the likely date of the next Australian federal election; campaigning during this time will become even more frenzied than it has been to date. A sea of speculation, controversy, and crisis surrounds the polls, and an increasing subset of the political battle is being fought online, through party Websites and social media. This is beginning to affect the balance of power in the overall media ecology: while mainstream media have historically played an important role in political campaigning and in shaping public opinions, online and social media now contribute new communicative ingredients to the public sphere.
While much attention has already been paid to the way that social media users critique and criticise the mainstream media, the opposite is less true. Conventional print and broadcast media have been instrumental in raising awareness about the political uses of social media platforms, and in doing so reflect contemporary views; so, what is the portrayal of social media in the media?
This question lies at the core of Social Media in the Media, a new report released by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation (CCI) in collaboration with the University of Oslo. In the report, we investigate how the political uses of social media are portrayed in the Australian mainstream media, in order to understand the perceptions that help shape how politicians, citizens and journalists employ new media tools to support their political objectives. Through a longitudinal comparative analysis we identify significant changes in how social media have been reported on since 2008. Overall, we are able to trace the gradual adoption and acceptance of social media as political tools, by politicians themselves as well as by journalists and everyday citizens.
For the study, we sampled Australian mainstream media articles about social media in politics from the years 2008, 2010, and 2012. Over this time, politicians’ uses of social media were covered most prominently in the mainstream media; citizen uses came a close second overall. Journalists’ uses of social media in political reporting were considered far less often, even in spite of the considerable changes to journalistic practice that have occurred with the advent of real-time social media such as Twitter.
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