Why Facebook matters in the 2011 election

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.

Read an analysis of the Socialdemocrats’ use of Facebook and of the Liberals’ use of Facebook (in Danish).

Picture from http://www.kristiantilsted.venstre.dk/

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4 Responses to “Why Facebook matters in the 2011 election”

  1. Jon Worth marts 27, 2011 at 23:43 #

    I’m not (yet) following this election closely, but is the questioner right that Facebook campaigning is viewed negatively?

    Look at the numbers of comments on Helle Thorning-Schmidt’s wall – tens of comments and hundreds of likes each time, and 100k fans. For a country with an electorate of less than 5 million these are really good numbers! This is 1/4 of the number of fans of Nichi Vendola on Facebook, and he’s from a country many times the size of Denmark.

    • Astrid Haug marts 28, 2011 at 18:00 #

      @Jon it hasn’t begon for real yet, as the prime minister is hesitating to call it – the deadline is November 2011.
      The student is right that the usual political commentators haven’t seen the light in Facebook, as TV will dominate the next election (like it did in UK, I believe). But I agree with you – the numbers are quite high, and also much higher than for the prime minister, Lars Løkke Rasmussen.
      Why the comparison with Nichi Vendola? ☺

      • Jon Worth april 14, 2011 at 15:28 #

        Nichi Vendola is the most ‘Liked’ European politician on Facebook as far as I am aware… But Italy is many times the size of Denmark…

        As for the election being called, or not – strikes me everyone is looking at this their own way, as an excuse for action or inaction, as they see fit. There are 6 months to go, no excuse for complete inaction!

        • Astrid Haug april 18, 2011 at 11:40 #

          I see :-) Right now there is still a chance that the election will be called right after Easter, but most probably not until the fall. The election campaign has indeed begon though – with door-knocking, Facebook apps and ad campaigns in printed newspapers.

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