Social Media as the New Public Address System
Pablo Barberá and Thomas Zeitzoff just published a new paper that documents how quickly governments/leaders have started adopting social media. They find that "the end of 2014, more than 76 percent of world leaders had an active presence on social media".
While leaders in democracies have started signing up for Facebook and Twitter sooner (there could be many reasons for this empirical pattern), the speed of adoption of social media has been similar in non-democracies in recent years:
Source: Pablo Barberá, Thomas Zeitzoff; The New Public Address System: Why Do World Leaders Adopt Social Media?, International Studies Quarterly, URL: https://doi.org/10.1093/isq/sqx047
From the conclusion:
democratic leaders are more likely to adopt social media. This effect proves strongest for personal accounts and Facebook, which is a more personal medium compared to Twitter. One potential explanation of this result is that democratic leaders face greater pressure to promote their political activities in order to remain popular. Democratic leaders may find social media attractive as it provides a relatively cheap and easy form of media to broadcast targeted messages to audiences.
Barberá and Zeitzoff:
future work should do more to tease out how social media influences international opinion amid domestic or foreign policy crises. For example, how do autocratic governments respond to the use of these platforms by protestors and insurgent groups in order to garner support and distribute their message (Tufekci and Wilson 2012; Theocharis, Lowe, van Deth, and García-Albacete 2015; Berger and Morgan 2015)? If leaders are adopting social media platforms as a response to social unrest, are their strategies effective? For instance, are they able to disrupt mass protests or to become a leading voice in countering violent extremism? Tracing out how social media is being used in the context of (non-)contentious politics remains an important next step.