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Representation and social media: How online participation affects representation practices and political branding

Ioannis Zisis

Empirical evidence suggest that representatives demonstrate an increasing interest to communicate with citizens through social media for policy discussion. A few years back,policy formulation was considered a process entrenched within layers of partisan control,securely preserved from non-member interference. Today, a growing volume of online interactions during a routine time-frame refers to policy suggestions directed towards representatives in the form of messages, tweets and comments. The volume of interactions related to activity promotion, behaviour justification or simple networking is also growing mostly during campaigning periods. More and more, politicians follow the pathway of electronic communication, diminishing the distance from their voters. MEPs in particular, are faced with an ever growing demand for responsiveness and accountability from their constituents within a framework of European scepticism. Having a dispersed presence between their constituencies and the European Parliament headquarters, they may have a greater incentive to bridge the geographical and physical gap through social networking. In fact, what may have started as online campaigning or advertising activity has now developed into an interactional trend with consequences for representation practices and political participation. So far, the issue of direct online citizen involvement in the definition of policies has not been adequately addressed in line with the rapid expansion of Web 2.0 applications.This paper tries to critically evaluate and identify a theoretical framework of unmediated online participation and the implications for preference formulation and political branding,focusing upon MEP-constituent interactions through Twitter.

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