Political turbulence: 21st century parties and social media



Social media do shape collective action through, for example, “micro-donations” which make it easy to join a cause, says Professor Helen Margetts, co-author of a new book, “Political Turbulence”:

As people spend increasing proportions of their daily lives using social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, they are being invited to support myriad political causes by sharing, liking, endorsing, or downloading. Chain reactions caused by these tiny acts of participation form a growing part of collective action today, from neighborhood campaigns to global political movements. ‘Political Turbulence’ reveals that, in fact, most attempts at collective action online do not succeed, but some give rise to huge mobilizations—even revolutions. Drawing on large-scale data generated from the Internet and real-world events, the book shows how mobilizations that succeed are unpredictable, unstable, and often unsustainable. 

But the failure to create sustainable political organizations, such as parties, raises questions about the effectiveness of social media campaigns, she tells Deutsche Welle:

Well that’s the downside of what we’re talking about. We’re saying that most things fail, but the ones that succeed can succeed without the normal organizational trappings of a movement or a revolution, or leadership. That’s why so many of the revolutions of the Arab Spring were disappointing, because they didn’t have leaders or nascent political parties or organizations waiting in the wings. That’s why the Muslim Brotherhood was so successful in Egypt, because it was the one organization on the civil society scene.

Political parties are essential for democracy, they offer citizens meaningful choices and opportunities to mobilize behind different visions for their society. However, around the globe political parties are consistently ranked among the least trusted democratic institutions, writes Ivan Doherty, the National Democratic Institute’s Director of Political Party Programs.

In order to address a growing disconnect between political parties and citizens across the globe, the NDI is launching a Party Renewal Initiative, which will unfold in three phases…..

  • ……. beginning as a blog where academics and experts from both the political party and party assistance fields will address various challenges affecting political parties. As the blog launches, we encourage you to read the articles and join the conversation in the comments section.  As you know, political parties are critical in any democratic government. We therefore have to incorporate as many voices as possible into this conversation to help ensure that parties continue their representative role moving forward. We are eager for activists, party members and citizens from around the globe to chime in with their experiences in party reform, including their lessons learned and best practices. Over the next two months, NDI will publish at least one blog article per week on topics such as citizen relations, the future of ideology, inclusiveness, paying for democracy, governing in a changing world and party assistance in the 21st century. The blog articles aim to be part of a series of propositions about how to enrich political party functioning and rebuild public trust in parties as institutions. Comments will be an essential part of the conversation, so we hope you will join in and post your thoughts and experiences. 
  • As the conversation on the blog moves forward, NDI plans to create an agenda for a conference in Europe in the autumn of 2016. Bringing together experts, this conference will take the online conversation one step further to better articulate how parties need to change to keep up with evolving citizen demands. 
  • After the conference we hope to compile the outcomes and lessons learned and turn them into a roadmap for political parties and party assistance organizations. This roadmap would stress the ongoing importance of political parties in democratic systems, while addressing ways to overcome the growing disconnect between parties and citizens.

As director of party programs at NDI [a core institute of the National Endowment for Democracy], I hope you will join us in this initiative and I urge you to please visit and share our blog with your network, and comment as you see appropriate.

To visit the blog and to join the conversation, please go to www.21cparties.org. For more information or if you have any questions, please respond to this email or contact Philippa Wood at pwood@ndi.org.

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