Over the last decade European citizens have gained a digital voice. Close to 350 million people in Europe currently use social networking sites, with more of us signing into a social media platform at least once a day than voted in the last European elections. EU citizens have transferred many aspects of their lives onto these social media platforms, including politics and activism. Taken together, social media represent a new digital commons where people join their social and political lives to those around them.
This paper examines the potential of listening to these digital voices on Twitter, and the consequences for how EU leaders apprehend, respond to and thereby represent their citizens. It looks at how European citizens use Twitter to discuss issues related to the EU and how their digital attitudes and views evolve in response to political and economic crises. It also addresses the many formidable challenges that this new method faces: how far it can be trusted, when it can be used, the value such use could bring and how its use can be publicly acceptable and ethical.
We have never before had access to the millions of voices that together form society’s constant political debate, nor the possibility of understanding them. This report demonstrates how capturing and understanding these citizen voices potentially offers a new way of listening to people, a transformative opportunity to understand what they think, and a crucial opportunity to close the democratic deficit.
The report is the result of a project conducted by The Centre for the Analysis of Social Media, a collaboration between Demos and the Text Analytics Group at the University of Sussex, that produces new political, social and policy insight and understanding through social media research.
The methodological reflections in the executive summary are a worthwhile read for any qualitative researcher, including those working in the corporate realm.