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Is the Personalisation of Politics Increasing with Social Media?

The next session at ECREA 2016 starts with Eli Skogerbø, whose interest is in the personalisation of political campaigning through social media. But what do we mean by this term? What are the dynamics of personalisation across different party-political systems?


Social media give politicians an independent, unedited arena for communicating politics. Individual politicians can use such platforms for getting more direct attention, at the expense of their groups or parties. The same is true in political journalism, however, where there is also a growing focus on individual politicians over their parties – so the idea of personalisation has been around for a very long time, and certainly predates the rise of social media itself.

So, what is it that we see now, in a social media environment, that was less present some years ago? Some of this is linked with the hybridisation of the media, and the attendant crisis of journalism; there is also a decline in trust, an increase in populism, a weakening of conventional parties, and an increase in inequalities and class differences in many nations. This aids the popularity of some politicians, at the expense of others.

What have social media added to this? Politicians are posting issue-related and campaigning content, and in doing so to some extent engage in business as usual: information, communication, marketisation, mobilisation, and agenda-setting. But in doing so they also personalise the messages by centralising personal images, engaging (somewhat) more directly with citizens, engage in branding, and seek to influence of bypass the media gatekeepers.

These new tools increase personal visibility all the time, then, and in doing so benefit those politicians who are most adept (and best-resourced) most strongly. But there is no strong trend towards a greater intimisation from such communicative activities, in spite of the individualisation.