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

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This paper deals with new forms of political mobilisation and participation in social media, such as blogs, social network sites and the likes. The main focus is on the impor-tance of 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 one’s peers in the personal social network to civic engagement and direct action, vital news and calls for action spread quickly across nations and cultures. A form of viral politics ensues that, in con¬cordance with traditional types of mediation and formation of political opinion, pro¬vides an important civic power that might help balancing the biases and failures of ethnocentrism and localism. Drawing on earlier research concerning the effect of social capital created by weak ties on civic engagement, 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 in a cosmopolitan civic culture, it is not important that each and every individual must act with the same amount of time and work effort on each and every worthy social and poli¬tical cause brought to one’ attention, and I point to the necessity of temporal elites based on voluntarism, taking responsibility for different cases of cosmopolitan acti¬vism. The aim is not only to describe an existing media situation, but also to point out some possible developments that, if nurtured in a proper way, could spur a common cosmopolitan identity and, in coordination with efforts made by exi-sting formal political structures, enable global political problem solving.

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
Publication statusUnpublished - 2009
Event4th Global Conference: Cybercultures - Exploring Critical issues - Salzburg, Austria
Duration: 2009 Mar 132009 Mar 15


Conference4th Global Conference: Cybercultures - Exploring Critical issues

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Political Science

Free keywords

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


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