Preconference: Political Communication in the Online World: Empirical Findings and Theoretical Perspectives

– 2017 Annual Conference of the International Communication Association (San Diego, USA) –

May 25, 09:00-17:00

What will the preconference be about?

The preconference is intended to be a forum for drawing a conclusion: How has political communication changed in the wake of the diffusion of online media? What are the politically relevant consequences of this diffusion? Which progress has research made to describe and explain the changes of political communication? This conclusion will form the basis for an outlook on how future research can investigate changes of political communication. There are three relevant aspects of the conclusion and outlook:

Conclusion and outlook with respect to empirical research

The present state of knowledge for all components of the processes of political communication will be depicted: Setting of issues and position by actors, distribution of media content through the interaction of traditional mass media and social media, individual and collective reception, effects on the individual level, the organizational level and the societal level.

Conclusion and outlook with respect to theories

How do the traditional theories of political communication research hold up in the new media environment? For example, can the theory of agenda building explain how challengers establish their issues and interpretations? Those questions will be addressed by the preconference. It will also be discussed if the changes of political communication lead to changes of policies and politics.

Conclusion and outlook with respect to methods

Did we succeed in using the potential of online media for the collection and analysis of data, for example by reconstructing networks of political communication? Costs and benefits of new methods will be discussed, based on the experience made in the last years of communication research. We will also look at methodological challenges that are brought along by the accelerated changes of the media environment and by fundamental innovations like individualized services in political communication.


The preconference topic is timely and relevant. The rapid spread of Internet-based communication poses challenges for all parts of society. Recently, several financial crises, threats posed by international terrorism, and the immigration crisis determined the global agenda. Through online communication, these crises are underlined and become more acute. Of course, dramatic social and political changes, such as increasing migration, cannot be explained by the rise of the Internet alone. However, their impact and dynamics are not conceivable without the Internet. In fact, these challenges are likely to increase – an acceleration of societal and political change is clearly observable.

Then again, the development of Internet-based communication provides us with opportunities to tackle these challenges socially and politically. Hence, the Internet is both: part of the problem and part of the solution.

Participants can expect four workshops of 90 minutes each as well as one opening and one closing presentation. The workshops consist of four brief presentations of 10-12 minutes each, and give the opportunity for detailed feedback and extensive discussion. The presenters are invited speakers from different nations (see program). Thus, there is no call for papers.  The preconference will take place in the conference hotel of the ICA conference from 9 am to 5 pm on Mai 25th and will be organized by Patrick Rössler (University of Erfurt, Germany), Barbara Pfetsch (Free University of Berlin, Germany), and Gerhard Vowe (University of Düsseldorf, Germany).

The preconference wants to foster the relevance of online media in political communication research. Specifically, as online media are often only considered as a tool for information, the preconference aims to offer a more nuanced view of various functions of online media for political communication. New developments of established theories that are transferred and reviewed in the context of the online world will be presented. Moreover, the preconference wants to illustrate how to use methods in political communication practices that are related to online media (e.g., data mining). Finally, the Internet has questioned our standardized research methods. The contributions of the preconference want to present new and more accurate methods.

For further information contact Ole Kelm (