Online monitoring & political behaviour


I popped along to give the keynote speech at a symposium on measuring online political behaviour yesterday organised by Royal Holloway University‘s New Political Communications Unit.

In keeping with true keynote style I only managed to get along to the afternoon sessions at the event, but I still managed to catch a couple of interesting presentations: one from Rob Pearson at the UK’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office examining the evaluation of its G20 London Summit web presence; the second from Simon Bergman from strategic communications outfit, Information Options.

I was presenting findings from some research I’ve been conducting into the use of online monitoring by the UK’s three main political parties: The Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats which is an area without any in-depth study to date.

I’ve embedded my presentation above, but be warned – it’s text heavy (hey, it’s tricky articulating research findings using fancy images) – but here are some of my main findings:

My presentation also tried to force these findings into a critical framework based on the work Manuel Castells has completed in mapping and analysing the Network Society.

I started from the position that political parties monitor online networks to ensure they can engage effectively with the aim being to exert influence influence in the network.

One of the most important measures of influence – or more accurately – power in networks is defined by Castells as “networking-making power” = that is the ability to establish and control particular networks.

This ability is further categorised into two processes: programmers and switchers.

  1. Programmers have “the ability to constitute network(s), and to program/reprogram the network(s) in terms of goals assigned to the network”
  2. Switchers have “the ability to connect and ensure cooperation of different networks by sharing common goals and combining resources, while fending off competition from other networks by setting up strategic cooperation”

Based on my findings I hypothesise that the Tories are Programmers while Labour are Switchers:

Anyway. Those are my main findings. Feel free to challenge, share, agree with, etc. As always, they open up more questions for further examination than they answer. But that’s the beauty of research.