Networked Apathy: Georgian Party Politics and the Role of Social Media

Article excerpt

Abstract: This article examines the way in which Georgia's political parties use social media. Overall, of available social media, politicians and parties prefer to use Facebook, but they do not take advantage of its various interactive features. Politicians point out that the internet audience in Georgia is not yet large enough for them to pay much attention to on-line campaigning. In fact, the main consequence of social media in Georgia seems to be improved communications between the political opposition and Western partners, who exert a powerful influence on Georgian politics.

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Digital and internet technologies are increasingly recognized as prominent tools for social and political mobilization. (1) The 2008 election victory of U.S. President Barack Obama appeared to signal a watershed moment as internet technologies--particularly social media--likely played a uniquely pivotal role in marshaling citizen support and financial contributions. (2) The so-called "Arab Spring," a wave of people-power revolutions that swept across the Middle East and North Africa in 2010-2011, is often credited as another case study for the potentially powerful role of social media in social and political organization. (3) This notion is echoed in recent literature showing the potentially significant role that internet technology played in the outcome of multiparty democratic elections in Australia. (4)

Studies of social media and political mobilization in post-communist Eurasia suggest that, in spite of levels of regional internet penetration at least generally comparable to those in the Middle East and North Africa, there is less evidence that internet technologies can currently play as significant a role as in the Middle East and North Africa or in liberal democratic societies. While the use of social media in the 2011 Russia protests highlights social media's ability to amplify discontent, the lack of apparent direct or indirect results undercuts hopes that the "Arab Spring" model of social media-based political mobilization is readily replicable. (5) In fact, internet technologies in some regimes appear to be increasingly as much a means of repression as liberation. "Networked authoritarianism," to borrow Rebecca MacKinnon's description of social media-based repression in China, (6) is observed as an aspect of regime control, for example, in post-communist Azerbaijan. (7)

However, party politics in Georgia offers an altogether different type of test case. While it is a post-communist state with a profoundly personalized political system, Georgia has also historically inhabited the "middle ground" of regime typologies. Though there are indications that Georgia may be moving again toward democratization, it has generally fit the "competitive authoritarian" hybrid model proposed by Stephen Levitsky and Lucan Way. (8) And while post-independence Georgian regimes have consistently exhibited authoritarian tendencies to varying degrees, the country has also featured a degree of political competitiveness and pluralism that has set it apart from "classical" authoritarian regimes. Accordingly, Georgia would seem to offer an interesting milieu for the employment of internet technologies and social media as tools for political mobilization.

This article considers the role of digital technology in Georgian party politics by examining social media activity related to the October 2012 Georgian parliamentary elections. The analysis focuses on the role of social media campaigns in the outcome of the election and how they contributed to the success of new actors emerging in the party system.

The methodology is primarily qualitative. We identified eleven prominent political parties in Georgia based on their political activities and successful electoral campaigns. We then analyzed and scored the parties' website and social media content for comparative purposes. Researchers examined information published on party websites regarding: ideology; internal management; strategies for recruiting new members; human resource management and career development policies; public relations strategies; capacity for political analysis; and the way in which political parties registered members, supporters, and their interaction with online users. …

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