As Andrew Chadwick said in The Hybrid Media System, political communication is now shaped by what is best described as a hybrid media system. As the hybrid media system consists of different types of emerging and traditional media, focusing on one particular type of media may be a great choice to make more in-depth studies. Moreover, political communication is only part of political participation. Shedding light on political participation, researchers can know users more comprehensively.
Therefore, many researchers will choose one type of media and try to figure out the relationship between this type of media and users’ political participation. Mobile social media is one choice with much attention. Nowadays, with the development of mobile phones, social media become more and more mobile. It is critical to study how the ongoing transition of social media to mobile devices relates to users’ political participation. In this essay, three research papers are summarised and synthesised to demonstrates different aspects of the relationship between mobile social media and political participation.
Meaner on Mobile
Groshek and Cutino researched the aspect of the tenor of communicating online, especially about contentious political topics. They explored the relationship between mobile social media and how users communicate contentious politics on sociotechnical networks which is part of political participation.
They mainly focused on Twitter and collected public content through the Boston University Twitter Collection and Analysis. After interpreting the collected data, Groshek and Cutino found that there were indeed greater percentages of uncivil and impolite tweets that originate from mobile devices compared to fixed web devices. Moreover, it was observed that not only are user mentions and generally retweets more uncivil and impolite when coupled with mobility, and these affordances are often related to a greater incidence of tweets being uncivil and impolite.
Based on these findings, Groshek and Cutino concluded that increased incivility and impoliteness might be cultivated through mobility and mobile devices, at least on these contentious political topics.
Differences exist among different regions
Chan, Chen and Lee conducted the study to examine the roles of mobile and social media in political participation with a cross-national analysis.
In this study, they collected data through paper questionnaires distributed to university students in three regions, Taiwan, Hong Kong and China. And they make use of the O-S-R-O-R model to interpreting the complicated relationships.
What this study shows at least is that mediated communication and political discussion predicted online participation, which in turn was related to offline participation.
Also, Chan, Chen and Lee also found differences among these three regions. For instance, the relationship between social media expression and online participation was significant in all samples, and it was notably weaker in China. Researchers took the differences of the pervading political systems as the main reason. Besides, civics education may also be another factor which can lead to differences among these regions.
Differences also exist among different types of mobile social media
Hopke, Gabay, Kim and Rojas shed light on one particular nation, Colombia. Moreover, they concentrated on two type of mobile social media, Twitter and Facebook and tried to figure out the differences between these two mobile social media.
They collected data through a national survey. After interpreting the data, they found that in terms of political talk, there was a main effect for weak tie political talk on online expressive communication. Individuals who show high levels of talk with neighbours and co-workers are more likely to participate in online political activities and online expressive communication.
Moreover, differences do exist between Twitter and Facebook.
Using Twitter, a form of microblogging is associated with a higher likelihood for both online and offline forms of political participation, as well as online expressive communication. Using Facebook, on the other hand, a form of social networking is associated with a higher likelihood of online expressive communication only.
What is unique about Twitter, and by extension, other forms of microblogging via mobile phones is the public nature of this type of use of what has historically been conceptualized as a private, one-to-one communication medium, the mobile phone.
These three research papers have something in common. With mobile social media, users can have access to more information and have more chance to talk with each other. As a consequence, users can have more political participation.
However, the relationships between mobile social media and political participation can be different due to many reasons. As the Chan said in the paper, the education level, the pervading political system can be the main reasons. Hopke holds the view that different types of mobile social media can lead to different relationships. Due to the complexity of this relationship, further research is needed.
Chan, Chen, & Lee. (2017). Examining the roles of mobile and social media in political participation: A cross-national analysis of three Asian societies using a communication mediation approach. Social Media + Society. 2017, Vol. 19(12) 2003–2021.
Groshek & C. Cutino. (2016). Meaner on Mobile: Incivility and Impoliteness in Communicating Contentious Politics on Sociotechnical Networks. New media & society. October-December 2016.
Jill E. Hopke et al. (2016). Mobile phones and political participation in Colombia: Mobile Twitter versus mobile Facebook. Communication and the Public. 2016, Vol. 1(2) 159–173.