This paper has been published as: Darren G. Lilleker and Nigel A. Jackson (2010) Towards a More Participatory Style of Election Campaigning: The Impact of Web 2.0 on the UK 2010 General Election. Policy and Internet 2 (3) 69-98.
Election campaigning tends to be synonymous with top-down, persuasive and propaganda-style communication. This aims to win the support of voters crucial for the victory, either in local or national contests, of a candidate or party. While this remains as the dominant paradigm for understanding campaigns, the use of the Internet as a communication tool challenges this notion and in particular with the availability of Web 2.0 tools, features and platforms for campaigning purposes. Emerging in 2005, Web 2.0 has heralded a networked, participatory culture to be observed online with tools being introduced to facilitate real-time or staggered 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. The existence of Web 2.0 applications raises significant questions for political parties and individual candidates in terms of how they might use the Internet. 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. Our question is regarding the extent to which these rules have permeated election campaigning.
This paper analyses the use of the Internet, and in particular Web 2.0 tools, features and platforms, during the general election in the UK 2010. Through the systematic measurement of the usage of Web 2.0 tools, features and platforms embedded within or linked to from party websites we assess the extent to which there is a more participatory culture being encouraged by election campaign’s online modes. The analysis follows the conceptual tradition of MacMillan (2002); Ferber, Foltz & Pugiliese (2007) as operationalised by Lilleker & Malagon (2010). This allows us to not only detect feature use but to analyse whether the inclusion of Web 2.0 into election campaigning actually potentiates the participation of voters and so permits conversations between voters and political actors as well as intra-voter discussion.
Our early hypotheses are that parties will adopt a wider array of Web 2.0 tools, and migrate onto a range of Web 2.0 platforms that allow interactivity, however as was the case in France (2007) and Germany (2009) the organisations will attempt to control their messages. However, as a product of using these features we suggest that parties will be drawn into a more interactive mode of communication due to them using these tools to bypass the media and reach out to harder to reach audiences. Thus we expect to detect some impact as a result of parties adopting Web 2.0 as a tool of election campaigning.