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Uses of Political Blogging in the 2010 Swedish Election

The next speaker at CeDEM 2011 is Jakob Svensson, who shifts our attention towards the individual in political participation. He does this against the background of the 2010 Swedish elections, which for the first time used social media in a significant way. Jakob focussed on Nina Larsson, a politician of the conservative Liberal’s Party, who used two blogs during her campaign.

Jakob notes the different forms of rationalities (deliberative, but especially also expressive) which are on display in such uses; beyond this, there is also a more instrumental use of social media to influence election outcomes, of course (at worst, this simply refers to naked political spin). All of this needs to be considered in a wider theoretical context of digital late modernity and networked individualism, of course. The process of individualisation opens up other spheres for participation, too – life politics, for example. Blogs and other social networking sites are sometimes seen as saviours for this, but there are strong critiques of such perspectives, too.

Jakob’s study takes a (n)ethnographic approach, then. Larsson has run her own blog since 2006, as well as a second blog on the Website of a (generally left-wing) newspaper. She took communicative-rational and expressive-rational approaches in her blogging; she herself says that she is blogging to come in contact with and engage with her voters, in her words, rather than to simply push out PR, but in practice there also is a strong desire to attract voters and use the blogs instrumentally as PR tools, of unsurprisingly. Posts don’t tend to attract a large number of comments (except for one post which attacked veganism, and generated 12 sometimes very heated responses). Debate on the blogs was not generally maintained in any significant way.

Mainly, then, the blogs are also simply an important tool for Larsson to put forward her own points of view; at the same time, most of her posts are reactive rather than proactive, responding to issues already in the media rather than setting an agenda of her own. To some extent, blog posts simply add to and amplify her appearances in other media, or respond to how she ion iswas portrayed elsewhere (also linking to such material in order to enable her readers to find them).

Up to 60% of posts linked to newspapers or broadcast media, in fact – not only to Larsson’s own appearances, but also to the appearances of other Liberal politicians. The blog thereby almost becomes a Liberal support club, Jakob says. So, the blogs monitor and maintain Larsson’s own political persona, as well as those of likeminded politicians; the negotiation of Larsson’s public identity is at the forefront here. But this is not a purely individual activity; Larsson was also dependent on her political party for backing. (Larsson was not directly re-elected, by the way, but entered parliament through an adjustment mandate.)