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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.



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