DFG Research Unit "Political Communication in the Online-World"

We watch spectacular events, in which the Internet helps develop driving political forces, with fascination: how the opposition in Tunisia and Egypt was organized through social networks, how Wikileaks became a bridge between whistleblowers and mass media and how, in the “Causa Guttenberg”, the Internet first made the discovery of plagiarism possible at all and then turned the indignation of the academic world into a storm.

All these cases are milestones of the changes in political communication that the diffusion of the Internet entails. The Internet, in its triumph, has not only changed communication in business and social contexts, but also political communication. These changes in political communication caused by the Internet and the politically relevant questions arising from this change form the subject field of the research group “Political Communication in the Online World”, which is financed through funds from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Research Foundation). After three years of preparation, the group has started its work in April 2011.

Profile of the Research Unit

The working group is made up of German and Swiss communication scholars and examines the question in what way the public communication between the general public, political organizations and the media is altered through the impact of the now ubiquitous online media. Online media include, among others, online newspapers, search engines, video portals, social networks and blogs. A question that is closely related to this is what consequences arise from this change in political communication for the world of politics – does it affect the political preferences of voters or the structures political organizations? In how far is it politically relevant that people watch less TV and more YouTube? Does it have any consequences on politics if a government spokesperson twitters more and faxes less? Do environmental policies change when NGOs present their issues and views on the Internet?

The aim of this research group is to empirically examine such questions, to test new analytical methods for this kind of research and to derive a general theory about the relationship between politics and communication from the individual findings. The research group is divided into seven subprojects, each of which takes a different angle on the overall question. They have three years for their studies – then their results will be assessed and a decision will be made whether the project should be continued.

Subprojects located in Düsseldorf

Causes and Consequences of the Perception of Political Influences through Online Media. Project leaders: Prof. Dr. Gerhard Vowe and Dr. Marco Dohle

The basic questions in this subproject are: who ascribes what influence on politics to which kind of online media, what are the reasons for this and which consequences does this have on political ideas, opinions and behaviour? This subproject aims at making a contribution to a theory of the subjective side of the change in political communication by investigating the significance that is ascribed to online media as compared to traditional media and the impact that this could have on politics. The contribution will take the form of an explanatory model and an appropriate methodological approach. The theoretical basis for this will mainly be made up of approaches on indirect media effects (Third-Person-Effect and Influence-of-Presumed-Media-Influence).

Influence of the Use of Blogs on the Perception of Public Opinion and People’s Willingness to Express. Project leader: Prof. Dr. Christiane Eilders

This subproject is concerned with the influence that the use of blogs has on the perception of public opinion and the behaviour that is relevant for the discourse resulting from these perceptions. The objective is to analyze the consequences that a public fragmented by online communication has on people’s participation in the political discourse and thus linking micro and macro-levels. The theoretical basis for this is the forum model on the macro level and the spiral of silence theory and the audience perception approach on the micro level. The basic assumption here is that images of public opinion are defined by media use patterns. It will be examined to what extent media use consisting mainly of weblogs results in insecurity in judging situations or misjudgements.

Website of the professorship of Christiane Eilders

Further Information

Website of the Research Unit:

Contact Persons

Prof. Dr. Gerhard Vowe, Speaker of the Research Unit

Philipp Henn, Coordinator of the Research Unit