15 July, 2013
MA Thesis in Communication and Information Sciences, disserted at the University of Tilburg
In what terms can social media be used to increase the diffusion of open government data (OGD) and promote civic engagement? There is a substantial literature that backs media and technologies’ emancipatory aspects, however few studies have investigated this in relation to OGD and social media platforms. My thesis contributes to this area of investigation by providing an analysis on a significant case study. The chosen case study is a platform that helps users engage in collective fact-checking on news that appears on both mainstream and non-mainstream media outlets. The purpose of this is to explore the assumption that social media can be used to foster civic engagement through OGD, if their design takes into account the “social needs” that rise from the specific activity that takes place in the platform.
While talks about an “open data revolution” raise expectations on the democratic outcomes of open data, the sole release of open government data is not enough to fulfill those aims of transparency, accountability and citizens’ empowerment that democracies seek to achieve. In this thesis I analyze how social media can be used to widen the potentiality of open government data, in order to favor the emergence of an active citizenship. This inquiry is carried out through the qualitative study of an exemplar case: a platform for crowd-sourced fact-checking developed by the Italian Fondazione ahref. Fondazione ahref was founded in 2010 and its activity in centered mainly on media and quality of information, Internet technologies, and citizens’ participation. In 2012 it launched the Civic Links project, formed by three different social media platforms, among which the one for crowd-sourced fact-checking addressed in this research. While the project is still in its infancy, its evolution so far offers insights on the characteristics and challenges facing the emerging field of civic social media.
The research is conducted through a triangulation of methods, specifically content analysis of a digital entity (the social media platform); semi-structured interviews with members of Fondazione ahref; and a survey of the users of the platform. The outcome is a broad overview on the concept of civic social media and on the characteristics of a social media that promotes civic engagement and citizens’ empowerment.