Americanization of Web-Based Political Communication? A Comparative Analysis of Political Blogospheres in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Germany

Article excerpt

Abstract

Political blogging provides a useful testing ground for the thesis of Americanization effects of new media technology that emerged in the United States and spread internationally. This study examined the network of hypertext links to top political blogs in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Germany. The U.S. blogging network showed higher interconnectedness than did the U.K. and German networks, and was more highly fragmented along the lines of political differences. This study presents the relationships among the new communication form, its international diffusion, and the role of indigenous conditions affecting its adoption.

Keywords

comparative analysis, network analysis, new media technology, political blog, political communication culture

New media technology has generated sharp debates about its power to disrupt existing relations and structures in national and international communication. Given this transformative potential, two major themes stand out in the current discussion. First, due to its border-crossing capability, new technology is considered a driving force behind the Americanization, or global convergence, of the media, steering them toward the form and practice originating in the United States. Others oppose this homogenization scenario, arguing that the transnational diffusion of culture and media is a process of interaction between the local and the foreign. They emphasize the active role of indigenous cultures and systems in reshaping imported forms and integrating them with already existing practices to meet their own national needs.1 Second, the decentralizing features of new media technology, represented by the Internet, have raised expectations that it may undermine elite dominance in traditional communication platforms and revitalize the public sphere for citizen deliberation and participation.2

Political blogging provides a useful testing ground for these arguments because it emerged and is popularized as a citizen-based alternative to U.S.-institutionalized media, and subsequently spread internationally. Discourse about political blogs, however, is largely centered in the United States, causing theoretical concerns about either false generalizations that extend the idiosyncratic experience of an individual country to others or, conversely, false particularizations that misinterpret the common experience as particular.3 To address that limitation, this study compares the political blogging communities of the United States, the United Kingdom, and Germany.

The current research considered not only cross-national commonalities and national particularities, but also the democratizing effects of new media. Scholars have noted that actor relationships involved in the news production and circulation of traditional media represent domination and subordination in a society, which symbolically supports reproduction of the existing power structure.4 Some authors claim political blogging weakens the extant configuration by developing a collectivity of egalitarian and conversational relationships, often called the political blogosphere.5

To determine the nature of relationships formed in the political blogosphere, this study employs a social network approach. Because hypertext links, commonly shortened to hyperlinks, function as the chief instruments to signal and maintain communicative relations among bloggers,6 this research explores the network structures of hyperlinks formed in the political blogospheres of three countries. Specifically, it examined whether and to what extent the three political blogospheres constitute cohesive, egalitarian, and conversational venues for political discourse through the analysis of (1) network density (the extent to which bloggers are interconnected to each other through hyperlinks), (2) network centralization (the extent to which blogger relations are egalitarian in hyperlink exchange), and (3) network subgroup density (the extent to which bloggers are engaged in crosscutting conversations through hyperlink exchanges with politically opposing bloggers). …