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Friday, 28 April 2017

Mining language and network data for understanding online political networks: the case of the far right and the far left in Greece

This was Lamprini Rori’s inaugural presentation as AG Leventis Fellow at SEESOX. It focused on the online dynamics of radical and extremist political actors on Greek Twitter, and the interactions between and among them, during the turbulent political period of 2014-2016. Lamprini described the decline in levels of trust in mainstream media over time in Greece, especially since the beginning of the crisis, the drastic fall in readership of newspapers, and the closure of a series of important media outlets (TV and press). A clear shift to social media took place between 2015 and 2016. Greek Twitter offered an important arena of political information, communication and socialization, not only mirroring political change, but to a certain extent producing it.

Lamprini presented her interdisciplinary research work on online political networks, including relevant political phenomena, such as to what extent discussions on social media took place inside echo chambers. She suggested that the rise of new issues during the financial crisis, like opposition to austerity and to the EU, had produced new alignments which cut across/went beyond the historic Left/Right division, without however dissolving it. She further introduced the term “interactive extremism” in order to describe the exchanges between the edges of the political system. She also proposed an innovative method of identifying party advocates online, based on the premise that when individuals retweet political candidates, their action implied a level of endorsement. Through this method of mapping political networks, she examined a series of hypotheses, relating to the cohesion and structure of political networks on Twitter. She explored interactions inside and between political networks on Twitter in the run up to the elections of three different ballots: the parliamentary election of 25 January, the bailout referendum of 5 July, and the snap election of 20 September.Overall, Lamprini demonstrated that political networks are not static; they change over time not only in terms of size and political context, but also in terms of the nature of their interactions. The echo chamber thesis was partly confirmed, mainly for networks embracing totalitarian ideologies, like the right-wing extremist Golden Dawn and the orthodox communist KKE. Interactions of political networks took place mainly with ideological neighbours, but also with allies in the bailout/anti-bailout coalitions. Convergence was not only strategic – mirroring decisions of the party elites - but also reflected proximity in terms of ideas. Parts of the political networks overlapped, allowing ideas to travel through among political spaces. In the three periods examined, she showed that polarization decreased cohesion of political networks and increased their external interactions. The most cohesive parties were the ones which also displayed higher levels of issue-ownership, like Golden Dawn on immigration.

David Madden, St Antony's College

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