Just a quick, intermediate post on a very small part of the research going into my book on the Internet, political communication and incivility.
One of the things that some interviewees told me about their work in moderating websites and working for politicians was the difficulty presented by the sheer volume of digital communication – especially email – that comes their way. The pace and amount of communication was, for many, more of a worry than tone, even when the really abusive stuff is taken into account. Successive waves of information technologies have enormously expanded the burden on frontline workers in political and media institutions.
This is representative of a relatively unexplored and often unacknowledged dimension of political communication that has expanded rapidly in the digital era, starting long before more heralded developments in political campaigning. A lot of research in political communication has concentrated either on the relationship between media and politicians, or on one version of another of effects research – for example the persuasive effectiveness of campaign messaging or media coverage on voters. (There are many notable and noble exceptions to this, of course).
I’ve started using the term retail political communication to distinguish the area of work my interviewees have led me to think more about . Funnily enough, it’s a form of work that politicians and higher profile journalists are extensively shielded from by their staff. The workers I spoke to are the ones who have to cope with the massive amounts of material which now come back at politicians and media outlets from digitally-equipped citizens and audiences. Retail political communication is where the biggest changes (and to my mind crises) in liberal-democratic political communication systems are playing out. It’s a term which I’ll explicate further elsewhere but that gives some of the picture.