Political Online-Participation of Migrants in Germany

Article excerpt

1 Introduction

What potential does the Internet possess for the political participation of migrants? This question has been disregarded in German migration and communication research. Its relevance however is evident: modern information technologies enable migrants to contact their country of origin easily and quickly and thus retain relationships where once all bridges were demolished. Therefore, migrants today lead a life between two poles: They often speak multiple languages, move between two cultures and feel part of more than one society. Therefore, they also pursue interests regarding political, economical and cultural life in two or more countries. In this context, the Internet is of special relevance, since it is both an information and communication media. Migrants can use the Internet, especially emails and chats, to establish a vivid link to their family and friends in their country of origin. Additionally, they can inform themselves through different online sources such as online journals, weblogs, newsgroups or forums and obtain detailed information on the political events and the public opinion in their country of origin.

Additionally, the Internet offers immigrants possibilities--more than traditional print and audiovisual media can--to publish their own opinions through online articles or comments and thus to contribute to the formation of public opinion. This alternative public sphere thus has the potential to influence the public opinion and to support or even initiate social change. Additionally, not only the transnational exchange of views and information is simplified through the Internet, but also the political organization of civic engagement in the form of online campaigns (see the contribution of Baringhorst in this volume), email-initiatives, lobbying, etc. can be done via the Internet. For this active individuals build networks with peers to establish interests groups or connect to existing larger organizations. This way immigrant can cost-effectively and easily contact one another to advocate their interests regarding their country of residence or their country of origin. While this might enable migrants voices to be heard where political participation is otherwise scarce, these activities are also of great importance for the country of origin. Through the Internet certain information, positions and debates, which might otherwise be censored in countries such as Iran, China or Russia, can be transmitted from abroad and reach an audience.

In this chapter the empirical data and experiences collected as part of the authors' research project at the University of Muenster in Germany will be presented. The central question of this research project was whether and if so, how the Internet is changing the political activities of migrants. Does the Internet merely facilitate the communication and information between migrants or do these activities develop and obtain a whole new quality, because new ways of influence are successfully utilized? What impact on the political events in the countries of origin and of residence can be identified, how do they occur and what consequences do they have? Exemplarily, this will be analyzed regarding immigrants from the former Soviet Union, Turkey and Kurdish areas in the Middle East.

2 Method

Our method consists of a content analysis of websites created and used by migrants for political activities (focusing on their thematic orientation, self-description and group boundaries), an analysis of the link structures of these websites (using a hyperlink analysis program to uncover virtual networks) as well as a survey of the sites' users and administrators (detecting individual interests beyond groupism).

Using a structured website search with the help of search engines and the snowball sampling method (Hawe/Webster/Shiell 2004), we studied websites created and used by migrants from the former Soviet Union, Turkey and the Kurdish areas now living in Germany, Switzerland or

Austria. …

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