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Uses of WhatsApp for Political Debate in Israel

The next AoIR 2016 speaker is Neta Kligler-Vilenchik, who shifts our focus to the use of WhatsApp groups for informal political talk, especially in an Israeli context. In Israel there is a comparatively more open environment for online political talk, but also a greater propensity to violent, inciting, or racist discussion, especially in the context of major political, military, and terrorist events.

Political talk that is beneficial to democracy cuts across dissimilar political perspectives, but remains civil if robust in doing so. Such civility may be platform-dependent, however; there are distinctions between the major social media platforms and their roles in political discussions, for instance. The present paper focusses on WhatsApp, which is very popular in Israel especially for its free group messaging and its always-on, comparatively intimate nature.

There are two major WhatsApp groups for informal political talk, created for the discussion of the 2015 Knesset election, which are paid for by a nominal monthly fee, are widely heterogeneous in their membership, and serve to establish extremely active, bounded groups for conversation. The present study examined group conversations, conducted in-depth interviews, and connected this with offline events.

Mechanisms for managing disagreement include role-playing that explores political choices and unfolds over multiple conversational turns between key members, with interjections by others, which builds on the sense of comradery and shared norms within the group in spite of diverging political views. This may also represent too much political talk for some participants, however.