Leetocracy : Political participation, social network sites and inequality

Abstract: This dissertation is about whether social network sites have the potential to bring about more equal participation. It deals with a phenomenon that has changed the underlying infrastructure of how millions of people communicate. It studies the way the use of social network sites affects communication within existing political organisations in addition to networked campaigns. And it goes beyond digital content analysis to use a broad range of methods in order to capture behaviour and attitudes offline as well as online in a contextual setting. Social network sites have not brought about any greater equality in political participation. Using social network sites does not in itself lower the thresholds for participation, as increased accessibility does not outweigh the underlying factors of participation and political interest. Political participation is changing, but what is changing is not related to equality of participation. Instead, the existing system is put under pressure by what is referred to in this dissertation as viral politics and the emergence of temporal elites. Rather than resulting in egalitarian democracy, what we actually have is a leetocracy of sorts, where existing hierarchies are supplemented with new ones. This is shown in six distinct articles, each with its own empirical focus, and an introductory essay summarising the articles and presenting the core argument of the dissertation. An additional goal of this dissertation is to show how the development of political participation in relation to social network sites can be better understood through the framework of competitive elitist democracy than through that of deliberative democratic theory. A methodological goal is to show how a combination of quantitative and several different qualitative methods applied on a set of different empirical cases can be used to yield a fuller illumination of the overarching research aim. This dissertation is an ambitious attempt to study the effects of social network site use on several different forms of political participation. It contains the first representative study of political participation in social media in Sweden and the first study of intra-party use of social network sites in parliamentary parties in the world.