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Keywords:

  • elections;
  • interactivity;
  • Web 2.0;
  • political communication

Abstract

Web 2.0 has heralded a networked, participatory and conversational culture reaching beyond national borders and cultures, reshaping communicational hierarchies and thus creating a new set of communicative rules. Web 2.0 offers political actors a potentially effective means of building a relationship with activists, supporters and possibly floating voters. The cost, however, is that the interactive nature of these technologies requires some loss of control of political discourse. Election campaigning tends to be synonymous with top-down, persuasive and propaganda-style communication which aims to win the support of voters crucial for the victory of a candidate or party. While this remains as the dominant paradigm for understanding campaigns, the use of Web 2.0 tools, features and platforms challenges this notion. Emerging in 2005, Web 2.0 ushered in a networked, participatory culture to be observed online with tools facilitating asynchronous or symmetrical conversations to take place within a variety of online environments. This participatory and conversational culture, like the Internet itself, reaches beyond national borders and cultures, reshaping communicational hierarchies, thus creating a new set of communicative rules. Web 2.0 applications raise significant questions for political parties and individual candidates in terms of how they might use the Internet for building relationships with activists, supporters and possibly floating voters. Through the systematic measurement of the usage of Web 2.0 tools, features and platforms—embedded within or linked to—from the websites of six UK parties we analyse the use of the Internet, and in particular Web 2.0 tools, features and platforms, during the 2010 general election in the UK. We find that differing strategies emerge between parties, with some withdrawing from interactive feature use. Where Web 2.0 features are employed they are largely within discrete areas aimed at building contact with communities of supporters, but largely these are geared towards electoral objectives and not harnessing the collective wisdom of party networks to inform policy. Election campaigning tends to be synonymous with top-down, persuasive and propaganda-style communication which aims to win the support of voters crucial for the victory of a candidate or party. While this remains as the dominant paradigm for understanding campaigns, the use of Web 2.0 tools, features and platforms challenges this notion. Emerging in 2005, Web 2.0 has heralded a networked, participatory culture to be observed online with tools facilitating asynchronous or symmetrical conversations to take place within a variety of online environments. This participatory and conversational culture, like the Internet itself, reaches beyond national borders and cultures, reshapes communicational hierarchies, so creating a new set of communicative rules. Web 2.0 applications raises significant questions for political parties and individual candidates in terms of how they might use the Internet for building relationships with activists, supporters and possibly floating voters. Through the systematic measurement of the usage of Web 2.0 tools, features and platforms embedded within or linked to from six party websites we analyse the use of the Internet, and in particular Web 2.0 tools, features and platforms, during the general election in the UK 2010. We find differing strategies emerge between parties, with some withdrawing from interactive feature use. Where Web 2.0 features are employed they are largely within discrete areas aimed at building contact with communities of supporters, but largely these are geared towards electoral objectives and not harnessing the collective wisdom of party networks to inform policy.