Mediated Contestation in Comparative Perspective

Research question/goal: 

Mediated contestation is an important arena for the articulation of identities and interests as well as a crucial context for democratic governance and problem-solving. This project aims to identify the relevant macro-social and media-related preconditions of mediated contestation and systematically assess them from different normative perspectives.

In the first phase of the project, a standardized content analysis is employed to study the extent, structure, content, and style of mediated contestation over issues related to religion/secularism in six democracies (USA, Australia, Germany, Switzerland, Turkey, and Lebanon) and three media types (daily newspapers, news websites, and political blogs). The project tests hypotheses regarding the influence of two macro-social conditions and two important media attributes. The two macro conditions are (1) the structure of the political system (majoritarian vs. consensus democracies) and (2) the existence or non-existence of a deep cultural division (contested vs. uncontested secularism). The media attributes studied are (1) the degree of users’ opportunities to respond to media content (low for daily newspapers vs. high for news websites and political blogs) and (2) the level of opinion orientation (low for daily newspapers and news websites vs. high for political blogs).

In the second phase of the project, this investigation is supplemented by a standardized and automated content analysis of more recent user-generated forms of mediated contestation. We compare online comments on mainstream news media websites and Facebook pages, on the Facebook pages of partisan actors and alternative media, and on Twitter. The project thus acknowledges that journalists, political actors, and citizens are equally involved in mediated contestation today. In addition to the macro-social explanatory factors examined in the first phase of the project, two alternative media attributes move into the foreground in the second project phase: First, different degrees of context collapse are investigated, that is, the degree to which a discussion platform mixes public and private contexts. Second, discussion platforms are differentiated according to their primary debate function for users, that is, whether discussions evolve pluralistically around contentious issues (issue-driven discussion) or whether they bring together like-minded people (preference-driven discussion). The second phase of the project thus focusses on how context collapse and the primary debate function of discussion platforms shape the extent, structure, content, and style of mediated contestation.

Current stage: 

The first project phase has largely been completed—several research publications on methodological and substantive issues have been published or are currently being finalized. The second project phase is progressing successfully: we conducted analyses on the (in)civility and integrative complexity of user-generated mediated contestation using social media data from Australia, Germany, Switzerland, and the USA. The results have been presented at international conferences and published in renowned journals. A methodological paper on the automated measurement tool for integrated complexity has also been published in a high-ranking journal. Currently, we are studying the integration and polarization of user-generated debates.

Fact sheet

2012 to 2022
Data Sources: 
Quantitative media content data (own data gathering)
Geographic Space: 
USA, Australia, Germany, Switzerland, Turkey, Lebanon