Affective publics and windows of opportunity

Social media and the potential for social change

Authored by: Zizi Papacharissi , Meggan Taylor Trevey

The Routledge Companion To Media And Activism

Print publication date:  March  2018
Online publication date:  March  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138202030
eBook ISBN: 9781315475059
Adobe ISBN:


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Think of technology and politics as two uneasy buddies. On the one hand, politicians and the public hope that technology will somehow revive democracies or bring about revolutions in non-democratic regimes. On the other, technology is rarely created to serve political purposes, and doing so frequently undermines its potential (e.g. Papacharissi 2010; Curran, Fenton & Freedman 2012). The relationship between the two naturally conjures up questions about how one impacts the other. Yet decades of political communication and political science scholarship dismiss such claims of technological determinism. Still, people are compelled to ascribe some form of political agency to technology. Do social media make or break movements, enhance or entrap publics, bring about or stall social change? More recently, does the manner of disseminating and sharing information through social media influence our understanding of contemporary questions and, ultimately, how we vote on important referenda and elections? (Here, the authors refer to recent events that include the Brexit referendum, the 2016 Austrian elections and the 2016 US elections.) Political institutions and technological systems are not designed to work together, yet somehow we expect them to. This chapter focuses on the relationship between technology and politics in the contemporary context. That being a broad question, we focus specifically on contemporary social media that have led to a platformization of the web (e.g. van Dijck 2013; Hellmond 2015), and on the current political context. Explicitly, we examine the conditions under which opportunities for change may emerge as people come together and engage with technology and politics.

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