Information technologies are changing the nature of human labour, social connections, and the communication between people. It took less than a decade for the Internet to transform into a medium where not only interpersonal interactions are possible, but where political activity is thriving as well. Issues of telecommunication network development are discussed both at the level of state leaders and at UN special sessions and other prominent international forums.
With the emergence and development of the internet, political science and other social sciences gained a new subject area for studying the behaviour of actors in virtual space. Actors who exist in real life, when transferred to the Internet, acquire previously unexplored channels for expressing their political position and carrying out legal and illegal political actions.
With the development of the Internet the notions of online and offline are getting blurred, mutually complementing each other. Political activism takes place in a single political space, and the effectiveness of actions increases manifold when the information and technological capabilities of telecommunication networks are connected. The information potential of the internet, when effectively used in the distribution of information, can attract citizens to virtual and, most importantly, real political and civic participation. With the help of the internet, it is possible to select the right group of actors for information influence and influence on political decision-making.
Public opinion leaders play a great role in stimulating political participation, as they manage information flows at their own discretion, engaging various groups of the population in information interactions. Changes in the leaders’ «environment» inevitably introduce new types of interaction, coordination mechanisms, forms and types of communication. An analysis of the problem of struggle for power is shifting from the traditional question of power and ownership of the means of material production to a struggle for power and ownership of the means of production in public opinion.
To date, virtually all researches, connected with behavioral strategies on the Internet, have been mainly limited to cyberaddiction, hackers and study of socio-demographic aspects of Internet users. We suggest investigating online communication in the context of political-psychological aspects of information interaction on the Internet; investigating the political participation of Internet users; and examining the characteristics of individuals who influence the behaviour of other users and their political participation.
The object of our research is political participation on the Internet as a new communication environment.
The subject of our study is resources, factors, mechanism, and types as components of the model of political participation on the Internet.
The study solved a number of tasks:
1. based on an analysis of approaches to the study of political participation, describe the model of political participation;
2. analyse political participation as a two-stage communication process;
3. analyse the theoretical foundations for studying political participation in the information and communication space of the Internet, and define the concept of «political participation on the Internet»;
4. verify the described theoretical model of political participation, create and test a methodology for analysing political participation on the Internet which includes a description of the factors, the main characteristics of opinion leaders, the nature of communication between participants, mechanisms and types of political participation
5. identify features of political participation on the Internet based on its comparison with traditional political participation.
The first chapter, «Political Participation in the Context of Theoretical Research», defines the key concepts of the research: political participation, forms and types of political participation; approaches to the study of political participation are discussed.
Among current trends in the study of traditional political participation, three directions are identified: the study of the institutional context that influences voter turnout; the definition of the role of political parties in the implementation of political participation; the study of alternative organizational forms of activity associated with the development of new social movements oriented towards global interaction.
Political participation is described as a complex phenomenon (model) that includes basic resources, factors, cultural attitudes, motives, mechanisms and types, and institutional context.
The context for the research on political participation is changing in modern society. With the emergence and development of the Internet, it has become necessary to use a communicative approach to study the process of participation. We define political participation on the Internet as a multi-stage communicative process, shaped by opinion leaders who have a direct impact on their environment.
The second chapter «Political Participation in the Information and Communication Environment of the Internet» analyses theoretical foundations for studying political participation on the Internet; the definition of «political participation on the Internet» is given; the factors that influence political participation on the Internet are described; the main types of political participation on the Internet are defined and characterised.
The main components of the model of political participation on the Internet are identified and specific resources are described. A classification of political participation on the Internet is suggested; it includes four types, sorted out according to two main criteria: the quantity of participants (individual and mass participation) and the legality of the actions taken (conventional and unconventional participation).
On the basis of an analysis of foreign sources, it is concluded that the results of empirical testing of the possibilities of conventional Internet participation at the moment make it necessary to temper hopes for the use of ICT to increase political participation. Neither Internet elections nor the use of ICT by parties suggests that a significant increase in conventional participation can be expected in the near future. On the other hand, unconventional groups actively use the basic capabilities of ICT. Moreover, the use of the Internet provides a tangible boost to protest politics. In contrast to political parties, unconventional groups have almost without hesitation embraced Internet technology and have therefore increased their previously small capacity. Internet technology has strengthened protest politics.
A key feature of the internet is its ability to facilitate any type of political participation by providing unique channels for communication and information distribution. This new medium is used by both ordinary users and online opinion leaders, who are now able to ignore physical limitations and influence the vast numbers of people online with whom they interact.
The third chapter, «Political Participation in the Russian Internet», identifies the characteristics of leadership in information interaction on the Internet, using the author’s methodology of identifying opinion leaders on the Internet, describing the features of political participation of citizens in the Russian segment of the Internet and identifying differences in the participation of opinion leaders, identifying the features of political participation on the Internet based on the previously described theoretical model of traditional participation.
The study of political participation on the Internet is one of the new areas of contemporary political and political-psychological research. The authors would be grateful to colleagues working in this research field for comments and feedback on the work: Kiselev Aleksey Aleksandrovich email@example.com (PhD in Political Sciences, Director of Agency for Academic, Social and Enlightening Initiatives «Ethnica» NGO, Krasnodar), Samarkina Irina Vladimirovna firstname.lastname@example.org (full time professor, Doctor of Political Sciences, Dean of the Faculty of Management and Psychology, Kuban State University, Krasnodar).
1. Political participation In the context of theoretical
1.1. Theories of political participation
The tradition of studying political participation dates back to the mid-1950s. Studies compare the ways in which citizens participate, the processes that promote participation and the consequences of actions taken. The classic paradigm of the study of political participation was outlined in the works of G.A. Almond, S. Verba The Civic Culture: Political Attitudes and Democracy in Five Nations, S.Verba, N.H. Nie Participation in America: political democracy and social equality, S. Verba, N.H. Nie., J. Kim Participation and Political Equality: A Seven-Nation Comparison, S. Barnes, M. Kaase Political action: mass participation in five western democracies. They studied participation in individual countries and described different types of political action: participation in elections, illegal activities, and party activities.
The main conclusions of the traditional approach were related to the forms, resources and context of political participation.
The only form of political participation in modern democracies that involves the majority of citizens is voting. Other forms (campaigning and working in a party, contact with elected representatives, organising a community) are more costly and involve only a small fraction of people. A special form of participation was considered protest participation (demonstrations, petitions, political strikes), which also attracts a small fraction of people.
According to S. Verba, N.H. Nie, structural resources (education, income, professional status, along with other factors — gender, age and ethnicity) determine personal political participation.
Cultural attitudes closely linked to socio-economic status and education are also important in motivating political participation. People who are more informed, interested, confident that their position affects the politics take a more active political stance.
Traditionalists also view political participation as influenced by the institutional and social context.
It was structural resources and cultural attitudes that traditionalists think were the most important determinants of political participation in the 1960s and until late 1980s. In the second half of the 20th century, a lot of empirical material was accumulated to study political participation, and mass surveys were the main data collection method.
Critics of the traditional approach — spokesmen for the theory of rational choice — argued that political participation is based on an individual’s conscious calculation of the «costs» and «benefits» of their political behaviour. These concepts were described by A. Downs in An Economic Theory of Democracy and M. Olson in The Logic of collective Action. «Costs» and «benefits» as factors determining political participation are attributed by us to the value orientations of the individual.
Another subject for academic discussion that divided theorists into realists and idealists was an assessment of the importance of civic participation in building democracy. The school of realists, led by J.A. Schumpeter, believes that limited public participation is sufficient for stable and responsible government in representative democracies with periodic, free and fair elections, and with competing parties and politicians. Realists believe that voters play a decisive role in elections, through the right and opportunity to drive away the cheaters, but not to participate in the day-to-day political decision-making process. The main challenge for politicians, from this perspective, is to ensure the sustainability of effective political institutions by promoting party competition and increasing the accountability of party leaders, especially in transitional and consolidating democracies.
On the other hand, idealists — supporters of J.N. Rosenau, J.S. Mill, B. Barber, support ideas of participatory democracy and consider civic participation as a basis for democracy. Political participation contributes to the cognitive orientation of individuals, enhances awareness, promotes interest in public issues and supports tolerance and trust, and facilitates the emergence of legitimate authorities. The main challenge for politicians, from this perspective, is to initiate public debate and to involve society in decision-making, for example by activating non-governmental organisations, through referendums and civic initiatives.
Despite this heated debate by supporters of the normative approach, most empirical work in the 1980s was written in the traditional approach of S. Verba and N.H. Nie.. For example, G. Parry, G. Moyser, N. Day used the approach and the classical model to analyse political participation in Britain.
The behaviourist revolution has had a significant impact on the study of political participation. Many researchers of political participation have been influenced by the behaviourist approach of J. Nagel, H. McCloskey. Followers of J. Nagel pay attention first of all to the actions of ordinary members of the political system aimed at its improvement. In the 1990s, researchers improved the traditional socio-psychological model of political participation.
Currently, there is no unified interpretation of the concept of «political participation». In foreign and domestic literature there are various approaches to understanding of this phenomenon. S. Verba, N.H. Nie and J. Kim define political participation as «lawful actions of ordinary citizens who more or less directly want to influence the choice of government cadres and/or actions they take». Researchers point out that participation should influence the selection of government personnel or influence their actions.
In the wording of L. Marsh and M. Kaase, participation is aimed at taking some options or alternatives of political activity. Therefore, if in the first case we are talking about personal influence, in the second — about influence on decision-making. According to M. Kaase, political participation is "...any activity that is voluntarily carried out by citizens in order to influence decision making at different levels of the political system; political participation is understood first of all as a special deliberate activity».
From the point of view of M. and R. Quate, political participation is a way of realising the interests, desires and demands of ordinary citizens.
The same point of view is held by G.T. Tavadov. Russian researchers A. Kovler, and V. Smirnov, talk about different forms of participation. Their interpretation of political participation is broader. They believe that the purpose of political participation is not only to influence the process of political decision-making, but also to participate in the governance process as a whole. V.P. Pugachev and A.I. Soloviev emphasise such specifics of the purpose of political participation as influence on the content and nature of political decisions of public authorities and institutions at the national or local level. The evolution in the understanding of the purpose of political participation can be noted in this regard. It is not just about decision making, but also its implementation at different levels of power and the quality of decisions made.
In our opinion, the most elaborated concepts of political participation in russian literature are given by D.V. Goncharov and I.B. Goptareva, who understand political participation as «instrumental activity, through which citizens try to influence the government so that it would take the actions they want».. Political participation is seen as influencing the political decision-making process on the one hand, and on the other hand, as influencing the nature and implementation of those practical programmes adopted by public authorities.
Political participation is therefore a means for people to express their interests and is an essential condition for the functioning of a democratic state.
There are many classifications of political participation on various grounds. English scientist A. Marsh distinguishes two main types of political participation: orthodox and unorthodox.
Orthodox participation ensures the functioning of the political system, its stability. It allows citizens to formulate demands in legal forms.
Unorthodox participation provokes dysfunctions of the political system, destabilises it. Demands expressed by citizens through unorthodox political participation are directed against the existing political system (protest behaviour). They are usually not sanctioned. A separate type is political crime, i.e. political activity that uses illegitimate violence.
Milbrath divides political participation into conventional (legal and regulated by law) and unconventional (illegal — rejected by most of society on moral, religious or other grounds).
The first includes voting, participation in parties and election campaigns, participation in the political life of society and contacts with officials.
The second type includes participation in demonstrations, revolts, violent protests against the authorities, participation in rallies, refusal to obey unjust laws and policies. Unconventional participation, in turn, can have active non-violent forms (demonstrations, pickets, rallies) and violent forms of political participation (terrorism, riots).
N.H. Nie. and S. Verba speak about the necessity of legal and legitimate character of participation, as it is found that a number of forms of participation have a legal, but not legitimate character.
Combining two parameters of forms of participation (acceptable — unacceptable) and degree of activity (active — passive), G. Altynbekova defines four types of political participation:
• active acceptable participation (participation in elected bodies, lobbyist activity, participation in political parties and organisations, participation in political demonstrations and other political actions);
• passive acceptable participation (voting, obeying the law);
• active unacceptable participation (violence, bribery);
• Passive unacceptable participation (disregard for the law, violation of the law).
M.A. Vasilik divides political participation into autonomous and mobilisation participation. Autonomous participation is a free voluntary activity of individuals pursuing personal and group interests. In contrast, mobilisation participation is coercive in nature. Fear, administrative coercion, tradition, etc. are the incentives for political activism. Typically, mobilisation participation is aimed exclusively at supporting the political system and aims at demonstrating loyalty to the ruling elite, popular unity and approval of policy. Such participation is by no means a means of realizing group interests.
Of course, both types are ideal in the sense that in any society, in any political system there are elements of both. Totalitarian and authoritarian regimes are dominated by the mobilisation type of participation. Democracy is more of an autonomous type, although even in a democratic regime there are elements of mobilising behaviour of individuals.
The participation model does not at all imply constant mass activity in the same forms. According to G. Almond and S. Verba, it is a combination of «balanced political culture in which political activity or political engagement and rationality are balanced by passivity, traditionalism and commitment to local values».
The concept of political participation is related to the concepts of «political attitude» and «political behaviour». Political position means a permanent emotional state concerning political problems, phenomena and events. Political position implies certain knowledge, beliefs and aspirations to express self, to behave in a certain way. Political behaviour is understood as a set of reactions of social subjects to activities of political system. Political behaviour takes the form of political participation and absence.
Scientific researches of political participation, as a whole, reflect tendencies of development of this phenomenon. In the broadest sense, the development and study of political participation was conducted as a comprehension of electoral participation, and its institutional context was analyzed first of all. The development of electoral participation stimulated the study of party participation, its dynamics and citizens’ motivation. The expansion of the sphere of civil society facilitated the emergence of new forms of participation and the study of this phenomenon in terms of network theory. The changing context of political participation in the information society leads to the need to consider political participation in terms of communication studies.
The classical model of participation through voting, developed by S. Verba and N.H. Nie., considers the role of a broad institutional context, which is made up of the influence of electoral systems and administrative procedures. The possibilities of comparative studies of turnout were enhanced with the release of an electronic database compiled by the international group IDEA (Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance) recording voter participation around the world in national, parliamentary and presidential elections since 1945.
Data from national electoral commissions and other public institutions provided more precise information about the administrative and legal procedures of elections in the various countries, including voter registration processes, eligibility requirements, use of compulsory voting, one day of voting, public funding of party campaigns. This data is now being supplemented by monitoring the impact of new information and computer technology on election administration, balloting and voting (e.g., the use of electronic voting in Switzerland, Estonia, Austria, and the United Kingdom).
Much of the recent research on voter turnout has focused on assessing procedural effects: the impact of forced voting or the introduction of postal voting on voter turnout. To date, a large body of research has accumulated that confirms the importance of the institutional context (voter registration and turnout). For example, G.B. Powell compared turnout in twenty-nine democracies on the parameters of socio-economic environment, constitutional regulation and party system. It found that forced voting, automatic registration procedures and the strength of party regulation increased turnout, while participation was reduced in one-party dominant systems that did not allow rotation among ruling parties.
R.W. Jackman, R.A. Miller studied electoral participation in twenty-two industrialized democracies during the 1980s, and confirmed that political institutions and electoral laws were significant factors in changes in turnout. Based on these results, A. Blais and A. Dobrzynska made a broader comparison analysing the number of voters between 1972 and 1995 as a proportion of the registered electorate in parliamentary elections in ninety-one electoral democracies. They concluded that turnout was influenced by many factors: the use of forced voting, the age qualification, the type of electoral system, the speed of election results, the number of parties, and the level of socio-economic development and size of the country. Later, M.N. Franklin, C. van der Eijk, E. Oppenhuis compared turnout in direct elections to the European Parliament and found that changes in citizen participation among the fifteen EU Member States could be attributed largely to systemic institutional differences (use of forced voting, proportional electoral system, propensity for European participation in national elections).
Using the international IDEA database, R. Rose found that differences in electoral turnout in post-war European national elections can be explained by: the length of time in which free elections were held, the proportional representation of electoral systems, the use of forced voting; the holding of elections on a weekend, the average size of the electoral district. M. Franklin’s study also emphasises the importance of the institutional context in explaining differences in turnout in stable democracies, in particular in explaining the types of electoral competition, as well as the effects that arise from lowering the age limit for active suffrage.
Consequently, the first stage in the analysis of political participation allowed us to describe in some detail one of the most important components of the model of political participation — the institutional context.
Further development of the institute of political participation in the context of functioning of political parties caused the necessity to analyse this aspect of political activity. The study of political participation in party activity allows us to go further in describing the political participation model. Political parties are an important element of a democratic state. Through their elected representatives, citizens are able to influence political decision-making indirectly and to express their interests. The lack of a developed party system indicates the low legitimacy of representative authorities.
Stable democracies are facing serious problems with rising anti-party sentiment and declining membership of parties since the ’golden age’ of mass parties in the late 1950s. This problem is particularly serious in Western Europe, where parties continue to play a crucial intermediary role between citizens and the state. A study conducted by an international group of scholars led by R. S. Katz and P. Mair revealed new aspects of the internal organization of parties, while R. J. Dalton and M. P. Wattenberg collected and systematized data on party trends in post-industrial society. The researchers believe that parties remain an important link between governments and do not lose any of their functions in co-functioning with the executive and legislative branches of government.
However, many researchers point to signs of party decline that are evident at the organisational and electoral level. Polling data in stable democracies shows that there has been a blurring of party identification within the electorate, a reduction in the proportion of followers who support their party in all circumstances. In addition, studies by P. Mair, I. van Biesen and S. Scarrow, based on official documents, indicate that since the 1950s many parties in stable democracies have experienced a decline in the number of new members, although significant differences in party membership levels remain, even within relatively similar Western European democracies.
In order to investigate the reasons for the decline in membership, surveys have been conducted with British party supporters. The British studies have found that lack of time has had a negative impact on party activity, while at the same time parties now have less need for volunteers to raise money and take an active part in campaigns.
The decreasing role of political parties in political participation can be seen as part of a broader change affecting many civil society organisations and affecting the political activity of citizens. Like parties, public organisations generally supported the most important social institutions for civic mobilisation in post-war Western Europe — the churches that joined the Christian Democratic parties; the trade unions and associations that mobilised the left working class; and a variety of interest groups in civil society, such as social clubs, professional and business organisations, agricultural cooperatives and philanthropic groups. Interest in the role of such social organisations emerged following a flood of literature on social capital.
Political participation in the context of civil society was studied by the founders of social capital theory, P. Bourdieu and J.S. Coleman. R. D. Putnam’s «Making Democracy Work» (1993) and «Bowling Alone (2000) illustrate the impact of social capital on political participation (primarily through the activities of various civic associations). R.D. Putnam defines social capital as «ties among individuals — social networks and norms of reciprocity, and the trust that results from them». Note that R.D. Putnam interprets social capital as both a structural phenomenon (social networks) and a cultural phenomenon (social norms). Putnam states that horizontal networks are embedded in civil society, while norms and values support these connections and have important consequences for people in social networks and society as a whole, providing private and public benefits.
Finally, in Bowling Alone, R.D. Putnam provides the most extensive evidence to suggest that civil society in general, and social capital in particular, has undergone considerable erosion in the post-war years in America. R.D. Putnam discusses a number of reasons that contributed to this (e.g. lack of time and money). In addition, social capital is being changed by technology and media, especially with the development of entertainment television as the main source of leisure time in America. It is in him that R.D. Putnam sees the main culprit in the destruction of social ties in the United States, with the deepest impact on the postwar generation.
Contemporary civic associations are undergoing significant changes. Today they include women’s movements, anti-globalisation movements, anti-war coalitions, environmental movements and various non-governmental organisations. They have flexible borders, loose network coalitions and decentralised organisational structures. The main objective of new social movements is to achieve social change through strategies of direct action and community building; changing ways of life and social identity by influencing policy-making and law-making.
The mobility of public organisations and associations and their ability to transcend national borders is also evidence of an emerging global civil society that mobilises people around issues of globalisation, human rights and global trade. These agencies are characterised by decentralised, networked communication with other actors, «horizontal» rather than «vertical» organisational structures, little formalised belonging, and a shared concern with diverse political issues. People can temporarily engage in solving specific problems and move freely across organisational boundaries, instead of formally joining an association when paying membership fees.
New social movements have become an important channel for political participation, an alternative means of political mobilisation, protest and civic expression.
The development of alternative organisational forms of civic engagement is linked to the growth of forms of activity that in Western literature have been called “cause-oriented politics”. Therefore, much of the research on political participation is devoted to the study of various mechanisms of civic engagement. Civic engagement, in turn, influences electoral participation, citizens’ engagement in contacts with public authorities, and participation in party activities. S. Verba and his colleagues established this when they looked at different modes of political participation, which differed systematically in their costs and benefits. herefore, two mechanisms of political participation have been described in contemporary literature. The first relates to the individual activity of citizens (party or electoral participation). The second is collective action to address a specific problem (boycotts of goods, petitions, demonstrations and protests).
New social movements often adopt mixed activism strategies that combine traditional methods (such as lobbying elected representatives and media contacts), combining them with a variety of alternative forms of political expression (online actions, street protests and consumer boycotts). Compared to individual citizen participation, cause-oriented political participation aims at goals that are both within and outside the electoral arena.
Cause-oriented political participation includes participation in so-called «consumer politics» and a particular «way of life» where there is a dividing line between the «social» and the «political». Examples of this participation are many: assisting victims of domestic violence, collecting money for local school needs, protesting at logging sites, boycotting goods produced by companies using «sweatshop» production, buying cosmetic products that are not tested on animals. This participation, despite its very important socio-economic implications, is outside the realm of the strictly «political».
Another characteristic of problem-oriented actions is that they are not only directed at public authorities, but at all public actors, the non-profit and private sectors. International human rights organisations, women’s NGOs, environmental organisations, «anti-sweatshop» movements, anti-personnel mine action, peace movements, anti-globalisation, etc. have this characteristic.
The changing purpose and mechanisms of civic participation reflect the process of globalisation and the diminishing autonomy of nation states, including the main institutions of executive power. It can be said that power has shifted simultaneously upwards to intergovernmental organisations like the UN and WTO, and downwards to regional and local assemblies. To some extent, decision-making has migrated from purely national bodies — which were directly accountable to their elected representatives — to non-profit and private agencies operating at local, national and international levels. It became more difficult for citizens to use national elections, national political parties and national legislatures as a forum for articulating political concerns, and there was a need for alternative ways of expressing civic and political positions and political mobilisation.
Thus, the tradition of studying political activism dates back to the mid-1950s. Studies have looked at the types and forms of citizen participation, the processes that facilitate activism and the consequences of actions taken. In general, from the 1960s to the late 1980s, traditional studies of political participation emphasised the importance of structural resources and cultural attitudes as determinants of types of participation.
Of all the various interpretations of the concept «political participation», the definition of M. Kaase is the closest to ours, who interprets political participation as «any activity voluntarily undertaken by individuals in order to influence decision making at different levels of the political system; political participation is primarily understood as a conscious, goal-oriented activity».
Political participation can be described as a complex phenomenon (model) that includes factors influencing political participation, key resources relevant for participation, cultural attitudes, individual motivations, forms and institutional context (Figure 1).
The factors determining political participation include socio-demographic characteristics of the individual: gender and age.
The resources of political participation are: the level and nature of education, income level, professional status. Changes in the amount and quality of resources, for example, higher education, increase in income, changes in professional status — lead to a change in the nature and forms of political participation.
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