The final paper in our ECREA 2012 panel is presented by Jennifer Wladarsch, who focusses on the recent resignation of the German federal president following a corruption scandal. Scandals represent a specific constellation of actors – the scandalised actor themselves, the scandalising actors who point out and report the scandal, and the general public who respond (with outrage) to the scandal.
Online communication broadens the range of potential participants in this process; audiences can participate in the scandalising by providing or reacting to information, for example. Jennifer and her colleagues examined this in the context of a scandal which revealed how President Christian Wulff's home loan had been provided under highly favourable conditions; this began with an article in the tabloid Bild, and continued with an angry (recorded) call to the paper's editor, and finally concluded with Wulff's resignation.
The research investigated the online debate around the scandal by tracking the keyword 'wulff' on Twitter, on blogs, and on the Tagesschau news site's associated commentary site; this resulted in nearly 300,000 articles and posts. Activities are distributed across the scandal timeframe, and connected to key revelations during this time. The total number of posts on Twitter was substantially greater than on other platforms, due to its short message format, of course.
Key Twitter commenters form a relatively heterogeneous group: they are frequent political tweeters with no specific expertise relating to the Wulff case. Most retweeted tweets were largely humorous in tone. Prominent blogs and blog posts were largely by journalists and other established political commentators. Some one third of such posts follow on from key events in the scandal, and at times engage in meta commentary. Generally, posts across all platforms reflect a strongly negative view on Wulff and his actions, and this negative view becomes more negative as time goes on; there is also some strong criticism of mainstream media coverage, however (perhaps reflecting the standard position of leading blogs and Twitter users).
An analysis of what sites are being linked to reveals the importance of quality mainstream media as information sources; there are also clear preferences for specific social media actors participating in the process. Popular links pointed especially to satirical commentary and strong criticism by well-known authors, less to more general process information such as juridical information. How this specific scandal unfolded also needs to be compared with other scandals, of course.