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Europe in Blogs and Social Networks – Further thoughts ahead of the academic workshop #ViaEU

Hard EU politics – in particular EU law-making – is not made in social media, it is not or almost not influenced by social media communication, but it becomes more accessible through social media as political and institutional activities and conflicts are more frequently visible at the time they occur.

That’s the main statement I’ve decided to begin with for my talk tomorrow. Whether we are EU citizen, EU-focussed academics or policy-specialists whose policies of interest are influenced by EU-level decisions, social media allows us to observe more in detail and more “in time” when and where there are relevant developments, not just in Brussels but also in the dozens of other locations EU politics are shaped at (e.g. on Malta).

Social media, and that’s where “social” comes into play, then also allow (in principle) the interaction of the different groups among each other but also with other groups, especially at the time when things happen.

Simplified scheme on intra- & inter-group interaction

While it is already nice to have timely interactions within all kinds of people within the different groups at a time this communication matters, it become most interesting when we manage to blur the lines between formerly “gated communities”.

This can happen for example when an EU policy specialist starts interacting with an academic doing research in her/his focal area or when an EU official realises that she or he has become the object of harsh criticism by a citizen directly affected by a policy or a statement made by the official.

It may also happen when somebody planning the EU Parliament election campaign for 2014 is made aware through social media that research on the EU election campaigns 2004 and 2009 is indeed useful and in return sharing her/his experiences with academics, helping to improve research on the next campaign.

Blurring the lines means contesting pre-existing argumentations that may only function well as long one is communicating among one’s peers and it means bringing together people who may not have interacted in real-life fora. Regularly communicating with other groups can help you to understand on what kind of signals they react best and to frame one’s own communication to reach out to these other groups at the right moment.

As EU-focused academics, following social media passively (‘observation’) can allow us to provide expertise at the time it is needed and/or to those we have known to be very likely interested in our or our colleagues fields of study. As EU-focused academics, we can use social media to make our research and lines of thoughts accessible in a style that is more appealing to policy-makers or more readable for interested EU-citizens. As EU-focused academics, we can comment on what others have to say on EU politics, contesting claims with scientific findings or enriching the debate with a different perspective.

Leaving the “gated communities” of academic conferences and journals dealing with EU politics or policy and putting our nose into the sometimes warm and sometimes cold wind of social media can make that we realise in which ways what we do matters to others and in which ways it doesn’t. It can help to move beyond a theoretical or methodological perspective and also take into account a real-life perspective, one that is shaped by other relevance criteria and time rhythms than the academic production of knowledge.

As I’ve said in the previous post, using social media is definitely not the ultimate and only tool to study developments at EU level, to blur lines and to make steps towards others in our own and in other communities. In some cases, it may even (re)create previously existing or newly forming bubbles and thereby hide what is really important.

However, social media has proven to me as an EU-focused academic and EU-interested citizen to be a very useful tool and I’ll try to show this through some concrete examples tomorrow at 4 pm at the Viadrina University.

PS.: Feel free to comment ahead of or during the workshop. I’ll use the Twitter hashtag #ViaEU.

5 Responses to Europe in Blogs and Social Networks – Further thoughts ahead of the academic workshop #ViaEU

  1. avatar Jon Worth says:

    I think the opening statement is largely fair – at least as far as the drafting of legislation goes. But what about during the stages of the Codecision process? Surely there social media can be used by enterprising campaigners to apply pressure to the European Parliament? Things such as ACTA, SWIFT etc.

  2. avatar Ronny Patz says:

    I don’t say EU politics can’t be shaped, but I doubt that you can really show that an policy outcomes have been significantly shaped by or through social media.

    SWIFT may appear to be a good example at first sight, but imagine somebody else than Jan-Philipp Albrecht who was already very sensitive on the matter would have been the rapporteur on the topic…

    ACTA in return is the perfect counter-example, as years of intensive and critical social media communication have not really had a significant influence on the outcomes of the EU institutions’ – Commission, Council, Parliament – stance on the subject as far as I can see.

  3. avatar NvOndarza says:

    Very interesting Graph indeed, which makes me look forward to our discussion tomorrow even more. As a think-tank researcher probably located somewhere between EU-academic and EU-policy specialist, I personally use social media primarily to get a good overview on current events and discussions within the ‘EU bubble’. For instance during #EUCO or the recent Euro summits, I could get much more specialised infos on social media with the people I choose to follow.

    In the same vain, I increasingly hear from (albeit generally low-level) policy-makers who use social media for the same information gathering and do notice research results on their area of expertise if discussed online. So I would ask the question whether social can be tool to publicise research findings to a more targeted audience.

  4. avatar Ronny Patz says:


    The short answer to your question is another question: Is your target audience on social media or, more precisely, on which social media is your target audience and what is it doing there?

    The longer answer is that I think the target audience concept is a little problematic with most of the social media channels we have today.

    Your de-facto-target audience is those who read/follow/like/[whatever the term is on other platforms] you and your content. This may overlap with your preferred target audience if you’ve chosen to communicate in a way that your target audience wants to listen to on a platform your target audience is actually present, but this doesn’t need to be the case.

    What this means is that if you look at social media as a means to get your content (sp)read, you don’t just need to identify your target audience but you have to understand where and how this target audience communicates, which messages spread how and when on different platforms etc.

    In theory, it is then possible to push content in a more targeted way to others on social media, but if you do so you need to find the fine line between pointing someone towards something this person/group may actually find interesting and spamming others. If people feel they are spammed, they will start ignoring you, whether on a mailing list, on Twitter or Facebook.

    Pushing content is rarely successful in social media is what I’ve realised.

    In practice, social media means building social relations with others and through these social relations one will learn what the other(s) like and what they don’t like, what they are interested in and what they are fed up with. It’s about valuing the work/opinions/interests of these others and helping them to find what they find interesting. In the end, this may help with getting your own stuff spread, but if one does social media just because one expects 100% reciprocity one is ignoring that most social relations don’t function like this.

    As I’ve written in the post above: Reaching out to other communities means building communication bridges. For me, building bridges is not so much about thinking how you can best get your stuff on the other side but more about what makes the bridge being constructed and what keeps it maintained over time.

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