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#EU09vs19 – What has changed in the EU social media sphere since 2009?

Fellow Euroblogger and friend EuroPasionaria started a blog chain to discuss what has happened in EU blogging and social media in the past decade, especially since the 2009 European Parliament elections until the 2019 European Parliament elections. After La Oreja de Europa has posted her views – in Spanish here are my five cents in English.

If you ask me what has changed since 2009, I can clearly say that the European Parliament elections of 2009, 2014 and 2019 feel fundamentally different. And they are fundamentally different when it comes to my own use of social media, my interests and focus, and the way in which myself and others use blogs, Twitter or Youtube.

Here’s the short summary:

  • In 2009, I was just a citizen blogger, following EU politics through the digital lens of my blog while living in Chisinau (Moldova) and in Potsdam (Germany). Everything was new about these elections, most of it was exciting (especially online), and some of it was disappointing. But blogging was at the heart of social media, and so I lived European politics through a medium that back then was the centre of digital discussions.
  • In 2014, I was a professional activist with Transparency International in Brussels, following the pre-electoral process from a watchdog and advocacy perspective. I did so both online and offline, because I was in Brussels and could meet people, but I knew the strength of social media. I travelled through seven EU countries for a European project to discuss with students, voters and activists; I used Twitter, blogging (incl. on Tumblr), Facebook, Youtube and traditional media work to cover our work and get our message out “to Europe”. Social media was mainly work.
  • And this year, in 2019, I’m an academic in Munich with a focus on the United Nations and on European Union politics. I’m following the EU elections process mainly via social media (mostly Twitter, some Facebook and some Youtube) and online media. I watch all this as a citizen and voter, and to some degree an academic. As an academic, I’m invited to speak at local events and media outlets about the EU. I share my expertise and my 10-year perspective and profit from watching all of this online for the past decade, but I’m far, far less involved than in the previous two elections.

Notably, however, we are also very far from where we were in 2009:

Earlier today, I sent a WhatsApp message to my grandmother to tell her to listen to a radio show tonight in which I discuss about Europe and the EU elections. I sent an email to the rest of my family with the podcast link. And I’m discussing with people on Facebook and Twitter about the show, before the recording and after. In 2009, this would have been unthinkable, both technologically but also when it comes to discussing with so many people about EU politics.

With this in mind, let me answer Europasionaria’s question about how the last 10 years have changed EU social media and how this has changed us:

Did (some of) our dreams for the EU online sphere come true? Did reality exceed expectations? Or are we old(er), bitter & disappointed?

Honestly speaking, I’m quite happy with where we are today in terms of social media and in terms of how I look at the EU.

I’m clearly not 25 anymore, but I’m definitely not bitter. Social media is light years from where it was in 2009, and only my EU enthusiasm has changed into a more realistic view of EU life and life in general. But knowing the past 10 years also makes me more optimistic about what I see (despite the multitude of crises).

Thanks – or due – to the Eurocrisis, thanks or due to the humanitarian crisis that made migration the most salient topic of the last years, and after three years of Brexit discussions, European topics are everywhere. They are online and offline, and we discuss them across borders on Twitter, Facebook, Youtube – and wherever else others are discussing them (like in WhatsApp groups, in the comments below news media articles…).

If you think back at 2009, this is way beyond what we tried to build as young – mostly idealistic – social-media savvy (or so we thought) online citizens.

Youtube videos that everyone had seen did not exist (outside the Youtuber bubble); Netflix shows that everyone would watch were not yet there, so there were no memes we could play around with; and the Eurosceptic trolls spent most of their time on EU-focused blogs in the UK, so life was mostly peaceful, but confined to a small euroblogger bubble.

At that time, we just started to become the very first truly transnational digital EU politics community. Some of us had already been around a few years (see reports by Nosemonkey, Jon Worth, A Fistful of Europe, Blogactiv/Mathew; or see Grahnlaw), some like myself had just started using blogs in the year before the 2009 EP elections. Twitter was gaining in traction in 2009, and so did the hashtags #eu09, #ep09 or #ue09, but this was not the large transnational community that it is now.

For myself, the road to the European Parliament elections 2009 was the main reason to start Euroblogging. My alter ego published 120 blog posts between July  2008 until June 2009 about the process leading up to the European Parliament elections, including a failed Spitzenkandidaten process that would only come to life in 2014 (and is rather unimportant this time around again).

It was the period in which I got to know many of my later fellow Bloggingportal.eu editors, most of them just online, but some like Jon Worth and Kosmopolit also offline. This was thanks to the Th!nk About It blogging competition organised by the European Journalism Centre, that brought together European bloggers from around the EU who blogged about the elections. I wasn’t in the competition, but I got invited and for the first time in my life did see what it meant when a community that had formed only online materialised in real life.

This online-goes-offline seems so normal today in a world where people communicate for months and years on Youtube or Twitter or Instagram before they might ever meet in real life. 10 years ago this was still a novelty (at least for me and for an EU-focused sphere), and I felt privileged to be part of this.

Thanks to us Eurobloggers speaking at re:publica 2010, I got in touch with the EU transparency and open data scene. (I would return to re:publica in 2012 to talk about the “Euroblogsphere”, which by then had already passed its peak.)

Thanks to these contacts, I became a volunteer activist with Transparency International in Brussels in mid-2010. I helped set up their blogging activities and I started their Twitter account. The account @TI_EU today has almost 19k followers – so my early experience in the digital EU sphere was useful in helping to spread the ideas of a more transparent and ethical EU.

What this means is that being part of this early community of EU bloggers was helpful beyond myself. I hope.

Thanks to my blogging, I became part of the group of people who started to bring European civil society online. From 2012 to 2014, I would do this professionally while working in the EU office of Transparency International.

This did not feel the same as blogging and tweeting in private about the EU, but it was nonetheless important and necessary. In a world where the EU institutions and politicians also started to become more professional online, they needed the counterbalance of an active civil society online! So while I still used social media “in private” (outside my professional activism) – as the hundreds of posts on this blog demonstrate – I started to see EU social media through professional glasses. But EU glasses nonetheless.

Fast forward to today: Social media is so much more for me than the EU bubble that I used to be part of between 2008-2014.

Today, I’m using social media to talk about my work as an academic (mainly on Twitter and this blog). I listen to what’s happening around the world (on Facebook, Youtube, Twitter). I communicate with UN and EU officials, I discuss with people here in Munich about what’s going on in Bavaria. I argue with others in Australia or Poland or Mexico about recent developments, in changing communities depending on the topic. Most of these people do neither care about the EU nor about the UN, so using social media today feels much less bubbly than I felt as a Euroblogger.

In this way I agree with La Oreja de Europa:

Nuestro resumen sobre lo que ha cambiado desde las elecciones de 2009 a 2019 es que quizás ya no hay ese sentimiento de orgullo que nos hacía escribir sobre la Unión Europea para poder mostrar a los ciudadanos europeos lo que está hacía por nosotros.

*machine translated* [this also did not exist 10 years ago!]

Like her, I don’t feel the urge anymore to write about EU issues just because nobody writes about them. Everything is written about today, EU-related or not, so mostly it’s enough to just share what others are writing (or vlogging), you don’t have to write about it just for the sake of it.

And despite all of this, I still do feel connected to the community of fellow EU bloggers that we were back in 2009.

Ten years after the first digital European elections – at a time when we were part of a small group of early social media users focused on EU affairs – I still appreciate what we did when EU social media was still comparatively small and nerdy.

Some of you fellow bloggers have become and stayed friends, even if we meet less frequently today. Some of us have died way too early, but are not forgotten!

So thank you, European Parliament elections 2019, as dull as you may be (in some ways like 2009, in others totally different), for bringing us together again, and do what nobody does anymore: a European blog chain!

The post has been slightly edited after the first version.

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