This will be the first Danish election where Facebook serves as a supplementary public sphere for political discussion, mobilization and ridicule of the politicians.
The other day I was contacted by a Danish journalism student who wanted to interview me about the role of social media in the upcoming Danish election. She said she contacted me because; ”you’re the only media expert who has talked positively about the role of Facebook in the upcoming election.”
This surprises me. I don’t think Facebook will be more important than TV, or that it will eliminate other means of communication. Candidates should still put up lamp post posters, though research suggest (in Danish) they have an insignificant impact. And candidates shoild still eagerly hand out flyers in front of busy train stations or supermarkets. So in comparison, what does a Facebook page actually matter? In my opinion, it all matters.
New methods don’t necessary supersede old methods and vice versa. It’s not a matter of for or against Facebook, but about finding the right ways to connect with and convince different parts of the electorate.
Look at the numbers
In a recent guest blog post at PdF Europe I summarize why the role of Facebook in Danish politics should be taken seriously in the press and academia:
It shows a dedication to connect politicians and the members more directly with the electorate, and it shows a willingness to experiment with new and time-consuming campaign methods, like canvassing and direct dialogue, which is unprecedented in Danish politics. (continue reading)
The eight Danish Party leaders have in sum over 275.000 ”likes” (March 2011). To this should be added the fans of all the other political candidates and political groups on Facebook. There are 2,6 mio. Danish profiles on Facebook.
Only 5% of all Danes are official party members. The main difference between being a party member and a Facebook-fan is that as a fan you don’t necessarily support the party economically and it seems less binding than to sign up as a party member. On the other hand your political support is publicly visible, whereas most party members in Denmark don’t flag their political support.
Mobilization and ridicule
Though traditional media like TV and print still plays the dominating role in the 2011 election, this will be the first election where Facebook serves as a supplementary public sphere for political discussion, mobilization and ridicule of the politicians. And by ridicule I mean citizen driven campaigns like “Assimilate Søren Pind– change your profile picture” – where Danes protest against the newly appointed Minister of Integration who last week proclaimed that he wanted immigrants to assimilate.
Picture from http://www.kristiantilsted.venstre.dk/