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Neil Benn

Many scholars at the intersection of democratic theory, political communication and information technology have continually made the case for using information and communication technology (ICT) to improve our democracy, governance, and political culture. Such scholars have suggested that there is a need for radical new digital technologies and techniques to address one particular challenge of the political process: helping citizens to be better informed about the key political issues of the day and to make better sense of the inherent conflict of opinion in political debate. To this end, these scholars have recently turned to research and development in the area of argumentation technology – particularly computer-supported argument visualization (CSAV) technology _ for new software tools to address this challenge. This chapter briefly surveys current research on the use of argumentation technology to enhance the political process. Based on this brief survey and critical analysis of current work, the chapter identifies possible areas of future research and the priority research questions that should be the basis of this future research.

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Ross Petchler and Sandra González-Bailon

Content analysis has a long tradition in the social sciences: it is central to the study of policy preferences, propaganda and mass media, and the framing of social movements. New computational tools and the increasing availability of digitized documents promise to push forward this line of inquiry by reducing the costs of manual annotation and enabling the analysis of large-scale corpora. In particular, the automated analysis of online political communication may yield insights into political sentiment which offline opinion analysis instruments (such as polls) fail to capture; for instance, we are now in a better position to analyze the temporal dimension of opinion formation because of higher-resolution data. Several linguistic peculiarities, however, distinguish online political communication from traditional political texts; for a start, it is less formal and structured. Automated content analysis techniques are also not always as reliable or as valid as manual annotation, which makes measurements potentially noisy or misleading. We provide an overview of techniques suited to two common content analysis tasks: classifying documents into known categories, and discovering unknown categories from documents. This second task is more exploratory in nature: it helps to identify topic domains when there are no clear preconceptions of the topics that are discussed in a certain communication environment; the first task, on the other hand, can help to label a large volume of text in a more efficient manner than manual annotation. This chapter focuses on the application of these automated techniques to online political communication, and suggests directions for future research in this important domain.

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Dhavan V. Shah, Kathleen Bartzen Culver, Alexander Hanna, Timothy Macafee and JungHwan Yang

Conversation has long held a place at the center of sociological inquiry. Beginning with Gabriel Tarde’s The Laws of Imitation and extending to work on the two-step flow and opinion leadership, talk among citizens has been understood as a key consequence of news exposure and a critical antecedent of opinion formation and political action. Digital media now shifts political talk to online settings, with email, messaging services and social media increasingly central to communication among citizens. To study everyday political talk online, this chapter advances computational social science approaches that combine natural language processing with social network mapping. It illustrates this approach with two case studies of online political talk in response to current events: (1) the verbal attack on Sandra Fluke, a women’s rights activist, by Rush Limbaugh on his radio show; and (2) the killing of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed African-American teen, by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman.

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Christopher Birchall and Stephen Coleman

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Daniel Kreiss

Focusing on the thoroughly documented United States context, this chapter details the major findings of the literature on digital campaigning, traces the broad contours of scholarly disagreement, and discusses the limitations of the literature. It outlines an approach to analyzing campaigning and offers some directions for future research, focusing on: exogenous shifts in digital platforms and applications that take shape outside of, but effect, the political field; the strategic action of political actors within particular technological contexts; and infrastructure building by campaigns, parties and other actors such as consultants that shape the capacities and contexts for digital campaigning. It concludes by offering additional readings for students of digital campaigning.

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Scott Wright

This chapter provides a comparative analysis of e-petitioning platforms, including Downing Street e-petitions, We the People and Scottish e-petitions. The chapter focuses on policy impacts, patterns of political participation and the nature of political communication facilitated. It argues that the institutionalization of e-petitioning systems is crucial to their success.

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Todd Graham

Ever since the advent of the Internet, political communication scholars have debated its potential to facilitate and support public deliberation as a means of revitalizing and extending the public sphere. Much of the debate has focused on the medium’s potential in offering communicative spaces that transcend the limitations of time, space and access (and the traditional mass media)m whereby open communication, deliberation and exchange of information among the public can prosper. Following the initial enthusiasm over the possibilities of a more interactive and deliberative electorate, along with the cyber-pessimist response, a growing body of rich empirical research into online deliberation has arisen in its wake. In search of online deliberation, scholars have conducted a broad range of investigations, developing several prominent directions in the field. One popular line of research has been the study of informal political talk through the lens of public sphere ideals.The aim of this chapter is to detail and discuss this growing body of research and its significance. I begin by discussing what scholars mean by political talk and why it is thought to be essential for (a more deliberative) democracy. Following this, the major findings to date are set out, focusing specifically on three of the most common features of political talk investigated by scholars in the field. I discuss scholarly disagreement and offer my thoughts and critical reflection on the topic. Finally, the chapter ends with several recommendations for future research into informal political talk in the Internet-based public sphere.

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William H. Dutton and Elizabeth Dubois

This chapter provides a fresh perspective on the role of the Internet in politics, enabling the most realistic potential for enhancing democratic governance in the digital age. Researchers who are focused on digital politics and democracy are most often addressing the Internet as a tool for supporting traditional democratic institutions, such as consultation, and political campaigns. However, the Internet is enabling networked individuals to develop a new form of social and political accountability – the Fifth Estate – comparable to the Fourth Estate of an earlier era. The chapter defines the Fifth Estate, its foundations in the behaviour of networked individuals, and its future in the face of challenges from the other estates of the Internet realm.

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Axel Bruns and Tim Highfield

This chapter explores the role of news blogs as a second tier of news coverage and commentary that engages in gatewatching and critiquing the mainstream news, and demonstrates the close interconnections between news bloggers and independent journalists. It also traces the current transition of news gatewatching from independent blogs to shared social media spaces, and outlines the potential consequences of this transformation.

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Edited by Stephen Coleman and Deen Freelon

It would be difficult to imagine how a development as world-changing as the emergence of the Internet could have taken place without having some impact upon the ways in which politics is expressed, conducted, depicted and reflected upon. The Handbook of Digital Politics explores this impact in a series of chapters written by some of the world's leading Internet researchers. This volume is a must-read for students, researchers and practitioners interested in the changing landscape of political communication.