This Time It’s Personal: Social Networks, Viral Politics and Identity Management

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingBook chapterResearch


This chapter deals with political mobilisation and participation in social media. The main focus is on the impor¬tance of Internet-mediated social networks in providing a “media filter”, functioning as a kind of collective gatekeeper to spread news and information perceived as important, in contrast to the image of the single individual media consumer faced with an in¬surmount¬able mass of information. I argue that by investing one’s personal ethos in spreading information and encourage peers in the personal social network to political participation, vital news and calls for action spread quickly. A form of viral politics ensues that, in con¬cordance with traditional types of mediation and formation of political opinion, might provide a basis for a new type of political elite in competitive democracy. Drawing on earlier research concerning the effect of social capital created by weak ties on political participation, I argue that social networks organised online provide a new type of post-organisational weak ties, functioning as maintained social capital building institutions, encouraging to and organising actions of civic engagement. I also argue that, contrary to the common belief that various forms of Internet-mediated political mobilisation constitute a more inclusive, emancipatory and egalitarian politics, it could also be the case that the growing importance of viral politics reinforces the traditional inequality in political participation and influence in society.
More specifically, a case is made for the need for more thorough conceptualisation of new modes of participation: spontaneous, individualised, “unorganised” forms of action. Two concepts, “temporal elites” and “viral politics” are developed for describing how social network membership and density determine how people are recruited to political campaigns.
The theoretical assumptions are further illustrated by the preliminary empirical findings of an ongoing study of Swedish Facebook users and their attitudes and behaviour concerning political participation in social media.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEmerging Practices in Cyberculture and Social Networking.
EditorsDaniel Riha, Anna Maj
ISBN (Print)978-90-420-3082-4
Publication statusPublished - 2010

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Political Science

Free keywords

  • social networks
  • political participation
  • virtual mobilisation
  • Facebook
  • social capital
  • elite theory


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