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Democracy – Participation – Public Sphere

Digitalisation poses many challenges to political life: On one hand, political actors and citizens are the target of hate comments, lies and manipulation. On the other hand, the Internet is indispensable when it comes to political information and participation in the public discourse. How does digital technology change norms, mediation processes and participation in liberal democracies?

This research area dealt with the question of how participation processes in contemporary democracies change fundamentally and in the long term under the influence of digital technologies and how this development affects the formation of public opinion and discourse.

The problems and consequences of digitisation for political life in Germany are manifold. They concern, for example, the role of social media and their use in election campaigns; the way information is consumed by internet savvy groups or groups which are not politicallly inclined; the description of swarm intelligence in political scandals; the dynamics of political mobilisation through clicktivism; the role of digital networks in political protest; the consequences of propaganda and extremism on the Internet; the dissemination and use of political content on the Internet in connection with depoliticisation, radicalisation and mobilisation processes.

Criticism, hate comments, lies and manipulation target both, political actors and citizens on digital platforms, blogs and on social networks. However, both actors cannot do without online media, websites and social media in order to inform themselves, observe the public and participate in the public discourse.


Research Groups

Democracy and Digitalization

Developing a better understanding of the interplay between digitalisation and democratic self-governance was the aim of this research group. We examined how liberal societies form and make use of digital technologies, as well as how democracies are shaped by digitalisation. The research focused on three areas of interest: political participation, the digital transformation of the democratic public sphere and the reconfiguration of rule in the digital constellation (law and domination).

Digital Citizenship

The research group investigated how people today see and shape their role in democracy. We payed special attention to how this relationship is shaped by online communication on an individual level. In this context, changing or newly emerging attitudes and expectations regarding political engagement in democracy - so-called emergent citizen norms - were identified on the basis of quantitative and qualitative methods and their consequences for individual political participation were analysed.

News, Campaigns and the Rationality of Public Discourse

This research group theoretically and empirically investigated the contents and processes of political communication in digital publics with respect to the spread of extremist views, rumours, and lies. The hybridity of media systems, the constellation of actors, and the dynamics of the discourses promote fleeting and fragmented thematic public spheres. An important question is which conditions and context factors influence the mechanisms and dynamics of “postfactual” news and defamation campaigns.

Digitalization and the Transnational Public Sphere

The research group investigated the impact of digital technologies and media in the formation of transnational and national online issue publics, communication infrastructures and processes of political mobilization. We focused on right-wing and populist-right communication ecologies which develop around critical issues such as migration, asylum, anti-feminism, xenophobia or anti-Islamism in various European countries and the US. The research group took a comparative perspective on right-wing communication and applied computational social science methods including data scraping, topic modelling, and network analysis.