5  Challenge

All over the world, we see people using digital media to question and challenge authorities, organizations, norms and behaviors they perceive as dysfunctional or unjust. Digital media are therefore an important element in the challenge of established social institutions, sometimes even enabling these challenges in the first place.

Some of these challenges are aimed at expanding social representation and strengthening democratic participation. We find examples of this in the use of digital media by social movements, such as Black Lives Matter in the US. Other challenges aim to restrict representation and participation, as the example of the use of digital media by various right-wing populist movements and parties shows. Digital media can therefore contribute to strengthening societies and democracies as well as to weakening them.

In this chapter, we will discuss this role of digital media in politics and society in detail.

5.1 Digital media and the challenge to institutions

Three examples show how digital media enable the challenge of institutions. Journalists in the United States are responding to their experiences during Donald Trump’s presidency by calling for a new normative foundation of journalism. Instead of an objective and neutral journalism, they demand a journalism that takes a clear position on social, moral, and political issues, a journalism based on moral clarity. They use digital media to advertise their normative reorientation and to show their broad social acceptance.1

In Italy, against the backdrop of the Berlusconi years and various technocratic governments, political activists question whether representative democracy actually allows the population to control their elected representatives and to ensure that they act in the interests of voters. They use digital media to form a new party that works according to the principles of direct democracy and binds its elected officials very closely to the will of the party members – Movimento 5 Stelle, the five-star movement, is born.2

The belief that prevailing standards and conventions in science are no longer suitable for adequate quality assurance of findings is spreading among young scientists. Widespread conventions in statistical analysis, public availability of data, and the documentation of analysis steps are put to the test and the approaches of scientific luminaries and entire subfields are publicly criticized. This primarily does not happen in the channels of established journals or the conferences of umbrella organizations, which are intended for this purpose in science. But this happens via digital channels. The logic of authority is replaced by the logic of public verifiability. On the one hand, digital media serve as a public forum for discussion and criticism. At the same time, however, they also serve as an infrastructure that enables the establishment of new standards for analysis and documentation. Digital media provide the basis for open science.3

In all three cases, important social institutions - journalism, party democracy, and science - are publicly challenged with the help of digital media. The challenge comes from young people who are either already part of these institutions or who look at them from outside. Contemporary practices or functioning of these institutions are publicly criticized if they deviate from their normative legitimacy and alternatives to their normative bases or their real-existing working methods and practices are formulated.

The global accumulation of these challenges in very different countries and institutional fields is clearly related to digital media. But before we examine this mechanism in more detail, we must first ask ourselves what institutions are, what function they have for societies, and the conditions under which they are challenged or lose their legitimacy.

5.1.1 What are institutions and what do they do?

Institutions are an important and widely used concept in the social sciences. However, importance and popularity bring the disadvantage that the term is used in a variety of ways and with different meanings. So let’s start with a definition of the term institution to make sure we are actually talking about the same thing.

In his essay Political Institutions and Social Power, the sociologist and political scientist Claus Offe defines institutions as:

“(…) systems of rules that apply to the future behavior of actors. They constitute actors and pro-/prescribe their scope and mode of action. These rules can be sanctioned through mechanisms that are specified in the charter, or legal specification, of an institution. These rules are, consciously or habitually, observed and complied with by actors who are aware not only of the rules but also of the fact that these rules are being enforced and deviant courses of action sanctioned. Institutions often impose severe constraints on what actors are permitted to do.”

Offe (2006), p. 10.

In other words, institutions are systems of rules that influence people’s behavior. They have different levels of control and sanctioning options that punish misconduct. Since they have a normative character, they can be criticized and challenged for their legitimacy and effectiveness.

Of course, this is only one possible definition. However, Offe’s focus on institutions as societies’ building blocks, their normative character and possible and legitimate challenges posed by individuals and groups is very suitable for examining the impact of digital media in society and politics. Other conceptualizations and definitions of what constitutes institutions may be more suitable for other research questions and projects and are of course completely valid but shall be ignored here.

The institutions from our previous examples correspond to Offe’s definition. Take journalism as an example. Journalism can be understood as a binding set of rules for organizations and people belonging to the institution. These rules can relate, for example, to the selection of news items, the representation of political factions in a society or the quality assurance of reports. Violations of these rules are punished either within newsrooms and media houses, by professional associations or in public. Violations of rules can lead to the exclusion from newsrooms for individual journalists or to punishment by professional associations or the public for media organizations. In extreme cases, particularly intense violations of the rules and regulations can lead to a general population-wide loss of trust, which can also be associated with a general loss of legitimacy for the institution journalism.4

Institutions are not neutral elements of social or political competition. Instead, they are the expression and instrument of existing power relations in society. In the words of the sociologist Manuel Castells:

“[Societies] are contradictory social structures enacted in conflicts and negotiations among diverse and often opposing social actors. Conflicts never end; they simply pause through temporary agreements and unstable contracts that are transformed into institutions of domination by those social actors who achieve an advantageous position in the power struggle, albeit at the cost of allowing some degree of institutional representation for the plurality of interests and values that remain subordinated. So, the institutions of the state and, beyond the state, the institutions, organizations, and discourses that frame and regulate social life are (…) crystallized power relationships (…) that enable actors to exercise power over other social actors in order to have power to accomplish their goals.”

Castells (2009/2013), p. 14.

This perspective emphasizes the role of institutions as the outcome of earlier social conflicts and expressions of earlier power relations and norms.

Back to Offe:

“Social power manifests itself in a mode of action that has the effect of setting parameters for the action of other social actors, be it in favorable or unfavorable ways, as seen by those others. In either case, the exercise of power is conflictual, controversial, and contested. In this conflict, some legitimating norm of (political, social, economic) justice is invoked and appealed to. The exercise of power affects others in ways that are perceived by them to be justice-relevant, either fulfilling or violating standards of justice. Given the controversial and essentially contested nature of these standards (…) any institution can be criticized for failing to live up to some version of justice.”

Offe (2006), p. 20.

For Offe, this institutional challenge can be triggered either by a crisis:

“One way in which institutional failure may happen is through a more or less accidental change of conditions in the external world that undermines the viability of institutional patterns or limits their ability to function. If that happens, rules and institutionalized goals and power relations are rendered untenable, whether because of some emerging discrepancy between an institutional complex and its economic, demographic, or technological environment or because of an evolving lack of fit between institutional complexes (…). In either of these cases, actors who have so far complied with institutional practices will start a process of (potentially self-accelerating) defection. (…) institutions may lose their”fit” with the external context conditions on which they depend, and hence their viability.”

Offe (2006), p. 18–19.

Alternatively, a general loss of legitimacy by institutions can also lead to their challenge. This is what Offe calls conflict:

“Other cases of institutional breakdown grow out of the failure, or loss of moral plausibility, of the implicit theory of a just social order that comes with any institution. Institutions can implode because of a shortage of the moral resources and loyalties that are needed for their support.”

Offe (2006), p. 19.

Here, Offe presents two mechanisms through which institutions can be weakened and publicly challenged.

In a crisis the institution loses its fit with current social events or concerns. This can happen through external shocks - for example technological change and subsequently changed social conditions. The lost fit of an institution leads to a deterioration in its functions and effects. Consequently, people no longer adhere to the institutional set of rules and the institution loses its power to sanction deviancy.

In a conflict an institution is ignored or publicly challenged if it has lost its moral legitimacy for parts of society. This can either be due to a degeneration of the institution itself – i.e. an internal decline that leads to parts of the institution no longer adhering to their own set of rules or its normative basis. However, it can also be due to a social change in values ​​outside the institution. Over time, the values ​​a society shares change. Challenges to institutions might arise once values that form the basis of its normative rules at the time of its founding become seen by parts of society as outdated. Finally, it may also be that there has been a shift in the social balance of power and that the institution is seen as an expression of old, outdated power relations and accordingly rejected.

Both of these mechanisms of institutional decline can be triggered or reinforced by digital media. At the same time, digital channels create space for articulation and coordination for people and groups who are dissatisfied with current institutional configurations. Of course, this alone does not say anything about the legitimacy, direction, or impact of such challenges. But more on that later.

5.1.2 Digital media as staging area for challenges to institutions

What is the role of digital media in the challenge to institutions? The sociologist Manuel Castells offers some helpful considerations in his book Communication Power.

In the preface to the second edition of Communication Power, Castells describes the role of digital media in the various challenges to established institutions that we encounter all over the world.

For Castells, the control of the means of communication by the state and social elites is an important element in their exercise of power. By controlling the flow of information and means of communicative coordination, social elites can prevent alternatives to their rule or the institutions that support their rule from being developed and coordinated. For Castells, new communication technology leads to the weakening of this central control and thereby enables challenges to established power relations and structures to manifest:

“Any new technology of communication, such as the printing press, has challenged authority, because the seeds of revolt existing in most individuals who are embedded in perennial unjust forms of social organization can only grow and blossom when they are connected to other individuals, breaking the barriers of individual experience to become social mobilization and alternative projects of social organization.”

Castells (2009/2013), p. xxi–xxii.

This is where digital media come in. The classic model of mass-media communication largely followed a predictable one-to-many pattern. You had one medium – be it a newspaper, a television program, or a radio program – and this medium communicated to an audience of many people. One sender – many recipients. Now, digital media shifted this model to a many-to-many pattern by allowing people to become communicators themselves. In the early days of digital technology, this process was cumbersome. People had to learn to code or host a website to be able to put their voice online. Today, this has become much easier. People can simply open up a social media account and communicate their views in text, audio, or video. These views potentially can be seen by large numbers of other internet users. Communication runs from many senders to many recipients. This makes communication much harder to control. With mass media, it is comparatively easy to control what is said by whom to which audience. With many-to-many communication, this becomes much harder.5

Back to Castells:

“Thus, multiple messages emerge and multiple meanings can be constructed by the actors, who at times agree on meaning, and at other times disagree over the construction of the meaning, but who are nonetheless largely independent of the agenda-setting strategy of the deciders in the mass communication paradigm.”

Castells (2009/2013), p. xxii.

For Castells many-to-many communication, such as digital media, allows for the emergence of a communication sphere that allows for those disappointed, discriminated against, or not represented by established institutions to voice their disappointments, find each other, and propose alternatives.

“Established institutions, in every domain of life, are challenged by those who feel dominated, devalued, exploited, humiliated, and misrepresented. These challenges need to confront the coercive capacity of institutions as well as the persuasive ability of the dominant mindset that legitimizes existing forms of power relationships. (…) Unlike the deliberative institutional sphere that is systematically biased toward existing domination, the communication sphere is shaped by the multiple inputs it receives from a diversity of sources, as well as by their interaction. The larger and broader these inputs are, and the faster the speed of their interaction, the more the communication sphere becomes a driver of social change.”

Castells (2009/2013), p. xxii.

Digital media, in so far as they open up communication for many-to-many and lessen the degree of control of established institutions over who says what to whom, provide a space in which the perceived and objective failings of institutions can be exposed, discussed, and alternatives formulated. The growing prevalence and ease of use of digital media thus renders institutions vulnerable to challenges. At the same time, this dynamic makes digital media into important elements to the widespread challenges to institutions we witness.

Still, it is important to voice two caveats at this point. First, challenging institutions can have good as well as bad consequences for societies. Challenging institutions in order for them to achieve a higher degree of inclusivity and representativeness strengthens societies. Challenging institutions in order to restrict access to others or silence voices on the other hand is much more troublesome. Challenges with either goal are prevalent and digital media plays a role in both. So digital media by themselves are neither a force for beneficial or detrimental change in societies, they simply allow for the challenge of the institutions that support the powers that be. How that challenge is phrased and in which direction change is supposed to happen lies with the challenger. We will get back to this.

The second caveat concerns that expectation that digital media are necessarily lessening the degree of control over communication. In the early days of digital media they were perceived as providing a largely horizontal communication environment in which voices and content became visible based on its merit and the interests of users. This view has been challenged importantly by researchers like Matthew Hindman who in his book The Myth of Digital Democracy pointed out that actually for information to reach a lot of people in digital environments, it had to be picked up by one of a few central information hubs that garnered a lot of attention. What had looked to early commentators, such as Castells, like a horizontal communication environment was actually dominated by a few central actors who decided where the attention of most internet users were focused on at any given time. Digital media might allow the publication of alternative voices but did not guarantee their visibility. In the words of Hindman:

“It may be easy to speak in cyberspace, but it remains difficult to be heard.”

Hindman (2009), p. 142.

Since the early days, the potential for control of digital media has only increased with the move from publishing information on individual websites to a few central platforms – such as Alphabet/Google, Amazon, Meta/Facebook, or Twitter. Those platforms provide the backbone for content publication, distribution, and access to digital media. This potentially constitutes a return to the centralized control of communication to which Castells saw digital media providing an alternative. In the light of this, the support digital media provides to the challenge of institutions might turn out to be less of a constitutive element of digital media itself but a byproduct of a specific configuration in its implementation.

5.2 How do digital media drive the challenge of institutions?

5.2.1 Intermediary institutions and the flow of information in democracies

Democracies depend on structures that connect governments, political elites, and the public. They facilitate information flows between different actors and different societal levels in democracies. Institutions like political parties, interest groups, and the news media make publics visible to elites, elites visible to publics, and publics visible to each other. They enable information flows making visible or allowing for the social construction of concerns, grievances, and interests of publics to elites and governments, while making elites and governments visible and – within bounds – transparent to the public. In this function, they provide, aggregate, and filter information.

In political science, political parties, interest groups, and news media feature to varying degrees. But, especially with regard to the first two institutions, their role as information intermediaries is often neglected. This is somewhat surprising as their function in this role determines the sense of representation in democracies. In fact, the political scientist Jan-Werner Müller has recently characterized these intermediary institutions as critical infrastructures of democracy Müller (2021), p. 89–137. In this, he emphasizes their crucial role and focuses attention on the normative principles that should guide their work and the analysis of their actual practices and impact.

By surfacing and aggregating voices, perspectives, and grievances intermediary institutions, like political parties or the news media, provide representation for groups in society. They aggregate information. They also filter voices, perspectives, and grievances that fall outside a shared democratic framework or violate shared democratic or discursive norms. These could be extremist voices on the political left or right advocating the exclusion of others from the body politic or the restriction of their rights. Or this could be hateful or discriminatory voices trying to poison discourse and exclude or denigrate others. In this, intermediary institutions filter information.

But representation is not just aggregation - simply counting individuals or mirroring groups and attitudes according to their relative strength. Instead, representation mediated through institutions like parties, interest groups, or news media is also about the construction of identities, agendas, allegiances, and conflicts. Channeling Bourdieu (1990), Jan-Werner Müller observes:

“Here representation is not conceived as substantively or descriptively reproducing something that already exists. It is not a matter of mechanical reproduction. Rather, it is a process in which individuals offer to a possible constituency an image of themselves based on so far unrecognized ideas, interests, or aspects of their identities. As a result, citizens might perceive themselves and the politics they need in a novel light. A constituency is not so much reproduced, or even revealed, as talked into existence and, as a result, uses its political freedoms in novel ways.”

Müller (2021), p. 79–80.

For Bourdieu, this is a crucial feature of politics:

“The power of imposing a vision of divisions, that is, the power of making visible and explicit social divisions that are implicit, is the political power par excellence: it is the power to make groups, to manipulate the objective structure of society. As with constellations, the performative power of designation, of nomination, brings into existence in an instituted, constituted form (…), what existed up until then only as (…) a collection of multiple persons, a purely additive series of merely juxtaposed individuals.”

Bourdieu (1990), p. 138.

Examples for this construction of identities or the structuring of political conflict through intermediary institutions include on a large scale the forming and reproduction of national identity - what the political scientist Benedict Anderson has called “imagined communities” Anderson (2016). On a smaller level, this also includes the formation of group identities around focusing events, surfaced grievances, or campaign slogans and the structuring of political conflict along these new lines as witnessed recently on Twitter around hashtags as #blacklivesmatter, #metoo, or #fridaysforfuture, practices that Jackson et al. (2020) discuss in their recent book #HashtagActivism. The nature, inner workings, and influence of intermediary institutions structuring information flows and representation in democracies matter therefor, as they structure politics and political conflict.

Now we know that and why intermediary institutions – like parties, interest groups, or the news media – matter in democracies. But how is that connected to digital media and the current technological and political changes we are witnessing? To answer this question, we have to turn to one of the few political scientists who explicitly thought about the impact of technology on these intermediary institutions and provided a theory on how they are impact through technological change.

In his 2003 book Information and American Democracy: Technology in the Evolution of Political Power, Bruce Bimber analyzes shifts in communication technology and their effects on political organizations in their function as intermediary institutions enabling the flow of information in democracies. In his analysis, Bimber clearly shows that intermediary institutions in democracies are closely connected with the communication technology of their day.

“[…] information regimes exist in American political history as periods of stable relationships among information, organizations, and democratic structure. The features of an information regime are: (1) a set of dominant properties of political information, such as high cost; (2) a set of opportunities and constraints on the management of political information that these properties create; and (3) the appearance of characteristic political organizations and structures adapted to those opportunities and constraints.”

Bimber (2003), p. 18.

But information regimes are not necessarily stable. In fact, technological change can lead to their disruption. This is what Bimber calls an information revolution.6 Bimber provides examples for these information revolutions in the US: such as the growing availability of the postal service and newspaper during the 19th century; and subsequently, the emerging mass audience through the growing availability of first the radio and then television. These information revolutions change politics by shifting the option space available to political actors, thereby potentially shifting the balance of power. Bimber writes:

“An information revolution disrupts a prior information regime by creating new opportunities for political communication and the organization of collective action. These changes create advantages for some forms of organization and structure and disadvantages for others, leading to adaptations and change in the world of political organizations and intermediaries. This is to say that democratic power tends to be biased toward those with the best command of political information at any particular stage in history.”

Bimber (2003), p. 18.

Shifts in technology thereby can lead to shifts in the nature and inner workings of intermediary institutions shaping the flow of information in democracies. They provide new opportunities for new actors and limit opportunities of established institutions, adapted to an earlier stage of technological development.7 This is exactly what we are currently witnessing with the impact of digital technology on politics and society. Digital technologies have shifted important features of the information environment democracies face, this leads to the challenge of established intermediary institutions – such as parties, interest groups, and the news media – and the emergence of new actors and practices. The driving factors behind these challenges are digital media. They do so in three ways, by:

  • lowering the costs of information production, distribution, and access,
  • lowering the costs and opportunities in the coordination of people, and
  • providing the communication backbone for an increasingly dense network of interconnections between people all over the world.

We will now discuss the first two of these factors and their consequence for politics and democracy in greater detail.

5.2.2 Lowered costs of information production, distribution, and access

In times when information production, distribution, and access are comparatively expensive people depend on intermediary institutions that have the necessary means to provide these tasks. In times when information is comparatively cheap, people do not have to rely anymore on intermediary institutions for their information. Institutions therefor lose their monopoly on information for a specific group and are potentially weakened through this loss of function.8

In the past people belonging to a specific political faction depended on a central institution – a party – to provide them with information about their local chapter, the goings on in the capital, and how the leadership of the faction positioned itself regarding current events. Typical communication channels available to the party were regular communiques – such as letters or member magazines – or regular meetings in which the leadership informed local party members about current events. At the same time, the party also made specific members, practices, or concerns visible to the party elite and the broader base – for example by featuring them in their communications. This made the organization and its attitudes and opinions visible to itself. The cost of collecting, producing, and publishing that information gave the intermediary institution power. The institution could decide which information to publish, which elite-position to communicate to the base, and what section of the base to feature. The institution had an important gatekeeper function for the faction. This gave it power over the base.

Today, members of political factions do not have to rely on party institutions for information anymore. Instead, they can take to politically aligned but not institutionally controlled digital media to learn about current events. Or they can take to Twitter or their messenger group of choice to learn what other politically likeminded people are saying. By making information production, distribution, and access cheap, digital media have provided new informational options beside those of traditional intermediary institutions. This weakens intermediary institutions in at least two ways:

First, and most obvious, by offering alternative voices the opportunity to reach people without the explicit or at least tacit agreement of an intermediary institution, digital media enable the challenge of the power of intermediary institutions over their fields.9 As we have seen Castells diagnose, central power over information means central power over people. This central power over information is challenged. While in the past, the party leadership could use their institutional power over information flows to set the agenda or to feature or silence specific groups within the faction, today this is increasingly difficult. Many alternative media outlets are available to activists that inform them about alternative ways of seeing the world, different from those party orthodoxy or leadership favor and Twitter quickly surfaces dissident groups within factions who share a view different from the leadership.

This makes intermediary institutions more difficult to lead. Internal differences can surface quickly and gain traction through the instant visibility on digital media. Examples include, fringe positions in political groups gaining visibility on social media and in turn being amplified through media coverage. This can hamper the opportunities for parties to establish comprise with other political groups or even empower extremists allowing them to publicly speak for a faction instead of more moderate representatives.

At the same time, this opens intermediary institutions up to outside influence. For example, by funding politically but not institutionally aligned digital news sites, outside interests, such as business or interest groups, can challenge the power of central intermediary institutions. By establishing cheap alternatives to institutionally vetted information sources, outsiders can shift the agenda within factions and feature selected groups or individuals that challenge the central authority of the institutions.10

Now, these challenges of intermediary institutions can be empowering. We have seen above, how institutions can deteriorate with regard to their central functions. By enabling challenges, digital media might thus point the way to helpful reform by empowering alternative approaches to gain visibility and power. At the same time, digital media can also be used by challengers who are not interested in a broadening of access to intermediary institutions but instead try to narrow it to benefit their own specific political creed. These challenges are also enabled through digital media.

5.2.3 Lowered coordination costs

Digital media have also lowered the costs for people to coordinate.11 In the past, this was another function that intermediary institutions held for political factions or social movements. In technology regimes where coordination is costly, people need intermediary institutions to carry the cost and run the logistics. This could mean collecting, maintaining, and updating lists with contact information with organization members and sympathizers. Or this could be the collection of funds to tide over members who faced income loss through strike or protest action, or to cover legal costs members face due to actions for the group.

In technology regimes with high costs of coordination, political activists need to go through existing intermediary institutions – existing groups, non-governmental organizations, or parties – for collective action or to get their voice heard. This gave these institutions power over which type of position or group to support and which to ignore. This had beneficial effects for discourse and politics by filtering out radical positions or groups and being able to coordinate around central causes and focus public attention and participatory energies. On the other hand, if intermediary institutions fail in their selection function, this can deteriorate into exclusionism, allowing insiders of the institutions to pursue their interests and topics and exclude those by outsiders.

The lowering of coordination costs through digital media allows the challenge of these institutions. By providing low costs digital tools that allow interested people to find each other, organize, and provide tactical support during collective action digital media offer alternatives for activism and participation to established intermediary institutions, such a parties, activist groups, or non-governmental organizations.

This has both good and bad consequences. For one by using digital tools new groups of people with shared but unrecognized grievances can find each other and coordinate collective action. They do not depend on existing intermediary institutions validating and picking up their cause in order to achieve visibility in the public arena or get access to the resources necessary to organize large-scale collective action events. Instead, they can find supporters and sympathizers on existing digital media infrastructures, there they can also get the word out and document their cause and actions, as well as collecting the resources necessary to pursue them.

Free services like Google Mail or Google Docs provide any group with the resources to run a powerful distributed co-working environment without any costs. Meta/Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and TikTok allow to get the word out and to document activities. Crowdfunding platforms allow to collect financial resources from a broad base of supporters. And petition platforms allow groups to quickly visualize the supposed size of supporters behind their cause.

These opportunities enable groups not recognized or represented by established intermediary organizations to coordinate around their cause and gain public visibility. These opportunities lie behind public successes of groups like Occupy Wallstreet, Me Too, Black Lives Matter, and Fridays for Future.12 In enabling these groups, digital media provide opportunities for the empowering of unrecognized groups and causes in society and discourse and thereby are strengthening democracy.

But there is no guarantee that digital media will be used by challengers of intermediary institutions to empower democracy by extending participatory rights or representation. Instead, they can also be used by challengers bent on restricting participatory rights or denying representation to others. Examples for this abound among the uses of digital media by extremist and far right groups in Western democracies. Enabling a challenge of intermediary institutions therefor by itself is neither good nor bad for democracy, instead each challenge needs to be interrogated on its own merits or demerits.

There is another detrimental effect of this challenge, we should discuss. The new opportunities for the coordination of people around causes has raised the expectation of some, that political organizations would lose their general necessity for activists and thereby over time be displaced by temporal cause-based alliances of people that once causes were achieved would dissolve with people free to find new alliances around new causes at another day. While at the face of it promising, after all who would not want to do away with the often stuffy and slow structures of political organizations, this stance ignores the importance of political organizations beyond information and coordination functions. Political organizations also provide the link between political activism and political structures, such as governments or parliaments. This link is important to allow for grievances, concerns, and collective energies to constructively shape policy instead of remaining on the street or social media. Various digitally powered – or at least enabled – movements suffered from exactly this missing transmission. Think of Occupy Wallstreet or Fridays for Future. Organizations therefor remain necessary for political activism. But by losing their monopolies on both information and coordination, they may end up weakened in others ways. This overall weakening of political organizations might also end up limiting their ability to function as transmission belts between political activism and political institutions – such as parties, governments, or parliaments. This would weaken democracy.13

5.3 Crisis, conflict, and the digital challenge to parties

We see parties being challenged all over Western democracies. The analytical tools discussed above help us in charting and analyzing these challenges. These tools are:

  • crisis and conflict in intermediary institutions, and
  • emergence of new parties or factions within parties adapted to the new opportunities provided by lowered information and coordination costs.

So, let’s first start by looking for signs of what Offe (2006) calls crisis and conflict within institutions.

5.3.1 Signs of crisis and conflict of parties as institutions

Let’s quickly recap. As we have seen, Offe (2006) identifies two reason for the decline and public challenge of institutions: crisis and conflict. With crisis Offe describes an institution losing step with external conditions it operates within and through this faces decline. This leads to defections and challenges. With conflict Offe describes a loss of moral fit. If the social order, sense of justice, or morality shifts around and institution. That institution might find itself in conflict with society. Again, defections and challenges may result from this development. Now, do these diagnoses apply to political parties as institutions?

In most Western democracies, the discussion about the decline of parties goes back decades. We find public critiques in the popular press, in academic work, but also in the declarations of political challengers of the status quo. Diagnoses of decline vary somewhat between different countries and party systems but they tend to share a common set of claims.

Various studies show that on a foundational level parties lose their representative function for broad sections of populations in Western democracies.14 Party membership declines, while members grow older, and large sections of the population find no – or choose not to seek – access to parties. Similarly, the socio-economic backgrounds of party members do not tend to represent the whole population anymore but only specific subgroups. Specific findings vary between countries, but the central tendency seems to hold. On a fundamental level, this tendency might lead to a loss of representation for specific groups in society who might end up with no spokespersons in parties or parliament anymore. At least, it points to a weakening of the function of parties as information transmitter between publics and political elites in order to make them visible to each other. A function for which Müller (2021) has labeled parties intermediary institutions in democracy.

Going further, some have diagnosed for parties in Western democracies a loss touch with their core constituency. As this is seen to be true for all major parties, those established parties stop actually competing for power but share it in a form of cartel, with government power shifting between members of said cartel. This makes public control of peoples’ representatives, political parties, and governments untenable and – in the words of Peter Mair – hollows out democracy.15

Others have diagnosed rot that reaches even further to the core of democracy. In countries where parties and their representatives depend on large donations to run competitive elections, such as the US, parties are seen as more beholden to their financial benefactors than their constituents. This raises the challenge that parties simply represent the rich donor class and large companies that finance campaigns, instead of the public.16

As said before, the details of these diagnoses and their severity vary between countries and party systems. But we encounter variations of them across a wide set of Western democracies. Now, can we connect these diagnoses to the terms crisis and conflict as understood by Offe? For this, we have to examine potential drivers and consequences of these phenomena.

Parties are location-based membership organizations. They connect members who share given places. Their structure starts with local chapters, moves up to counties, from the on to states, and ends on the national level. Local party members have local, regional, and state representatives for whom they vote and who are, at least in principle, answerable to them. Like all location-based membership organizations, parties thrived in a time when people were comparatively immobile through their live and changed jobs and places where they lived comparatively seldom. With greater mobility between jobs and places parties, like other location-based membership organizations, suffered. Many people tend to be less connected to the places they live, since they either recently moved there or are on the jump to move somewhere else. Why spend time and money on a location-based membership organization, when there are other opportunities to get rid of both? This might explain the attractiveness of cause- instead of party-based political participation for many young and highly educated people.

In this sense, parties as institutions might indeed face a crisis. The institution party started in the context of given societal structures – rather immobile people who were open to participate in location-based membership organizations – and developed institutional structures that were optimized for this context – local representation and party hierarchies that followed geographical units of greater magnitude – local, regional, state, national. Once these underlying social structures shifted – many people being much more mobile over the course of their lives – parties struggled to adapt and lost access to those people.17 The often diagnosed loss of parties’ representational abilities and functions could thus be driven – at least partially – from an increasing mismatch between institutional structure and societal context.

But we also clearly see signs of conflict. The role of parties as intermediary institutions is to connect publics with political elites and the government. This depends on them – as a set – being able to reach all groups and sections of society and provide them with access points to the political system. Once this is seen to fail, or even objectively is failing, parties lose the moral justification for their role and the associated privileges. Lack of actual, or perceived, representation of sections of the public through parties thereby provides the basis for the challenge of their legitimacy. This then provides the seeds either for the emergence of new challenger parties with greater claims of representing the supposedly unrepresented or is channeled into attempts at political mobilization and participation outside the established party-political system. This is only acerbated once the role of outside money starts to feature strongly in accounts of whose requests parties tend to respond to.

Already this quick and cursory look has shown that parties as institutions face challenges connected with both, their fit to current societal conditions and structures and their moral justification. This provides the basis for the challenge of parties as intermediary institutions in democracies. Now, how do digital media feature in these challenges?

5.3.2 Challenge through information

The sinking costs of information production, publication, and distribution through digital media provides an important tool for the challenge of parties, be it from the outside or inside.

In their role as information providers and conduits parties interact with news media. Parties provide news media with speakers, topics, and positions for them to cover and feature. In this they are subject to selection decisions of editorial desks or news organizations. Accordingly, parties adjust topics, positions, and speakers to what plays in news media. In party systems with strong centrally controlled parties, this might be a conscious choice by leadership. In systems with weak parties, this is probably best understood as an emergent phenomenon. This provides the media power over which speakers and positions feature often in their coverage and in turn come to dominate the public image of a party or faction.18

In the past, this interdependence has been criticized strongly. For one, this collusion between gatekeepers to the public – news media – and powerful institutions of the status quo – political parties – was seen as a feature to restrict access to the general public for challengers to the status quo and alternative view points. Also, the adjustment to selection criteria of the media by politicians and parties was seen as a detriment leading to a dumbing down of political debate, sensationalization, and politics as entertainment.19

With the digital extension of communication environments by new channels and new sources, we can see challenges to parties manifest that undercut this mechanism. This can lead to a healthy and more pluralistic extension of the types of information and opinions represented in the public area but also to the challenge of the status quo through extremist or exclusionary actors, which previously would have found themselves excluded from the public arena by mass media exercising their gatekeeping power.20

An example for this is the way Donald Trump used his Twitter account to drive media coverage to his primary bid in 2015 for the Republican nomination as Presidential candidate in the 2016 US US presidential election. When reality TV personality Donald Trump announced his candidacy in the Republican primaries on June 16, 2015 it was difficult for commentators and the party establishment to know what to make of this. With Trump, there were 12 primary candidates. Some of whom were heavy weights within the party, with five former governors and four current air former Senators in the race. Accordingly, it was easy to chalk Trump’s candidacy off as a publicity stunt to rekindle the embers of his celebrity.

But the size of the field and the number of candidates well connected to the party establishment turned out to support Trump’s bid. Since the party establishment could not settle on one candidate to throw their full weight behind, no obvious front runner emerged early on with media coverage rotating from one to the other. The only fixture in the media coverage of the primaries was Trump, who managed to scandalize and enrage the public regularly by tweeting a constant barrage of provocations destined to keep him in the media limelight consistently. This and his consistent challenge of the Republican establishment help him establish consistent coverage and over time support among the Republican primary voters. Trump used Twitter to give the media a story too good to refuse, after all outrage and scandal bring clicks and viewers. His use of digital media allowed him to circumvent the gatekeepers of the Republican Party and mount a challenge to established party creeds and personell. In fact, this challenge turned out to remodel the Republican Party well beyond his candidacy and Presidency.21

While Trump’s success in this regard is still unique, many fringe groups or politicians within parties use digital media regularly to gain media and public attention and position themselves as de-facto spokespersons for the supposedly disaffected party base. This makes parties harder to govern and contributes to their image in public appearing as fractured and torn between extremes. This loss of control of what constitutes the party line is acerbated by parties also losing the monopoly on making the party visible to itself. By checking their social media or messenger groups, party members are nor longer dependent on the party in order to find out what other members like them are thinking or doing. Again, this makes it harder for the leadership to establish a coherent line on controversial topics and control challenges or insurrections from within.

The same mechanism is also in play when we look not at the challenge of parties from within but from without. As shown above, challenges not only address specific parties but the established party system as a whole. This challenge does not attack one party as having lost its way or left its supporters behind, this challenge extends these claims to all established parties in a given system. In the past, these system challengers would have had to rely on friendly news media to feature their challenge and give it viability for voters. Today, these system challengers can rely on alternative digital news sources to feature them and use digital media as distribution channel to reach interested people and to connect supporters. The informational opportunities provided by digital media allow them to – at least in part – substitute for exclusion or moderation through established gatekeepers. These system level challenges are put forward by movements on both the far left and the far right. But recently, the use of digital media to circumvent institutional gatekeepers to pose a system-wide challenge has featured most prominently with far-right populism.22

5.3.3 Challenge through coordination

The sinking costs of coordination provide another mechanism through which digital media enable the challenge of political parties. Digital media and the organizational opportunities they provide are an important element in the work of party organizations, established and new.23

Established parties integrate digital media in their existing structures be it on the national or the local level. These are important developments that receive ample academic attention and that can teach us a lot about the adaptability of parties and innovation within political organizations. But for our purposes it is more important to examine the way that digital media enable new political parties or organizations challenging political parties in their political function.24

Already early in the political uses of digital media, scholars pointed to the opportunities of digital media in the creation of alternative forms of political organization – sometimes called cyber-, digital-, or platform-parties. Digital media provide people and movements with tools allowing them to coordinate, elicit feedback, mobilize, organize, and create public visibility allowing new organizations to emerge.25

By now there are many cases of new political parties emerging in multi-party systems. Examples include parties on the political left, such as Pirate Parties in multiple European countries, the Spanish Unidas Podemos, or the Italian Movimento 5 Stelle, the 5 Star Movement. More recently, a growing count of new parties and movements on the political right rely on digital media as well, such as Germany’s Alternative für Deutschland (AfD). These cases warrant further study. Especially since the uses of digital media vary strongly between different parties: from using existing publicly available digital tools for office work and administrative duties of an organization to the development of dedicated software for internal coordination and voting, as with tools like Liquid Feedback or Rousseau.26

In political systems that make it harder for small parties to enter parliament, digital media are used by challenger groups within established parties to form and coordinate. This includes the use of digital media in the US by insurgent campaigns competing for the Presidential nomination of their party, such as Howard Dean, Barack Obama, or Bernie Sanders. But this also includes uses of digital media by factions within parties, trying to shift the balance of power, such as Momentum within the UK Labor party.27

The uses of digital media for these organizations vary. They start with support in mundane but important office or organizational work, such as keeping in touch through email or keeping supporter lists current through publicly available digital tools. Digital media have also come to play a very important role in parties in political campaigns as channels for the collection of political donations. This is especially crucial in the US. Beyond this, digital media are also a very important element in the mobilization and coordination of volunteers. Various U.S. insurgency campaigns from Howard Dean, through Barack Obama, to Bernie Sanders have used digital media actively to generate and channel enthusiasm among supporters into the party organization and translate it into volunteer work, such as telephone or door-to-door canvassing. At the same time, channeling the enthusiasm of activists into a more structured campaign organization can prove to be challenging as activists and volunteers often can pursue politically more pure or extreme goals than the campaigns feels comfortable in pursuing with the general electorate in mind.28

What we see here then is that digital media provide challengers to the status quo with tools that serve fundamental coordination functions out of the box. They provide them with a communication hub for their organization, tools for identifying, binding, and coordinating volunteers, collecting and distributing resources, and internal distributed decision making and voting in the form of dedicated software solutions. To achieve either of these functions in the past, challengers would have to go through established political organizations and marshal their resources. This in turn would have forced them to adjust their challenge in ways to make it palatable to the organization. Today this is not necessary anymore. As we have seen above, this mechanism can support challenges to the status quo aimed at making the system more representative and more responsive. But it can also enable challenges that try to achieve the opposite.

We played through this analysis of digital media’s role in challenges to institutions with the case of political parties. But other institutions might have provided similarly instructive cases: think of the challenge to news media through digital-born and alternative media, think of the challenge to governments – democratic and authoritarian – through digitally enabled activism, or the digitally enabled open science movement for more transparency and replicability in scientific studies.

Diagnoses of crises or conflicts of specific institutions might vary, so might the specific digitally enabled challenges to the status quo, and our normative assessment of their justification. But thinking in terms of opportunities provided to challengers through lowered costs of information and coordination, offers a promising lens through which to analyze and discuss these challenges as well.

Go ahead and give it a try! Choose a case along your lines of interest and see how far this framework takes you, or where it stops being useful.

5.4 Challenges reexamined

We have now talked extensively about how digital media enable challenges to institutions. But of course this alone does not guarantee their success. Yes, digital media might help identify and document the weaknesses of institutions, their crises and conflicts. They might help challenges to form, being brought forward, and reach a broad public. But success of challenges is of course not determined by these opportunities alone. Instead, success relies on various context conditions and their specific structural embeddedness.

The other question, we repeatedly ran into was how to assess challenges. As we have seen, some challenges might be judged as strengthening democracy and empowering people, while others might achieve the opposite. Now, how can we as researchers address this question? Without of course attributing the challenges we happen to sympathize with strengthening effects and those we dislike detrimental effects.

We will focus on these two questions in the final part of this chapter.

5.4.1 How challenges fail

Discussing the different ways in which digital media enable challenges to established institutions can one leave with the not uncertain feeling that these challenges are bound to succeed and that the days of established institutions are over. But just cast a glance left and right and you will see established institutions apparently doing just fine. How do these observations go together.

While digital media have enabled challengers, they also have provided new opportunities for social control. We see this most clearly with digital challenges to autocracies. One of the strongest tales about the transformative potential of digital media is connected to their role during the so called Arab Spring. From December 2010 to 2012, a number of Arab countries were swept by local revolts of citizens demanding for more democracy and greater accountability of their rulers. Digital media featured strongly in these revolts as tools for coordination, tactical support, documentation of the events, and establishment of connections with the international community. The early success of these protests and their public uses of digital media contributed to the public impression of digital media as powerful technologies with the potential to destabilize even strong authoritarian regimes.29 Subsequent events indicate that both the hopes for sustained change through these revolts as well the diagnosis of the contribution of digital media to their short lived success were overblown.

But not only the West was watching, authoritarian regimes all over the world payed attention to the events and determined not to go down the same route. As a consequence, they started to increase their efforts to control digital communication infrastructures and companies based in their countries. While these attempts at first seemed to Western leaders and commentators futile, subsequent efforts by Chinese and Russian governments showed that state control of digital communication was possible. Especially the Chinese efforts stand out in this, with the Great Firewall cutting off Chinese users from Western digital media and allowing the government to censor content. Going beyond access to information, the Chinese Social Credit System is an even more powerful attempt at monitoring, incentivizing, and punishing behavior of citizens through the state. While its actual workings and effects are still ill documented, it stands as powerful marker of what degrees of digital control are available to authoritarian governments. Under these conditions, digital media provide only limited – if any – opportunities for challenges to the status quo to form through information or coordination.30

Let’s look at events closer to home. Since the early days of digital media, digital structures have become continuously more centralized. When in the past challengers of the status quo could publish a website on their own server today most people use central hubs – like Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube – to publish or access information. The companies running these platforms therefor have potentially the opportunity to elevate or hide information that they see in conflict with their business. Recently, voices have been raised asking for greater responsibility of companies running these services to identify and censor harmful and incendiary content around politics. The most visible of those was Twitter’s decision to suspend the account of then US President Donald Trump after him inciting rioters at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021. While the decision was highly contested at the time, after losing access to Twitter and other social media platforms, Donald Trump never achieved the same power to dominate the media agenda that he wielded during his time on Twitter. While, arguable the discourse on Twitter did not lose much through the forced exit of Donald Trump, this episode shows the power companies wield that run central digital infrastructures.31 By deciding whom and what topics to allow access to their users, these companies are central hubs with the ability to control public discourse, if they exercise this power or not.

Beyond increased opportunities for central control, challenges to the status quo also have to content with the persistence of structures. Even if challengers are enabled through new opportunities provided by digital media, their challenge still has to engage existing structures.32 Overturning, or changing, the status quo depends on more than putting out sharply worded tweets or coordinating protests. Structures are deeply embedded in society and many people support the status quo. This can be a relief – if we think of challenges intend on weakening democracy or attacking the rights of others – or this can be depressing – if we think of challenges trying to deepen democracy and increase true representation.

In our expectations for the impact of digitally enabled challenges, we always have to consider the contextual conditions these challenges are facing.33 Sometimes, the opportunities provided by digital media will shift the balance toward challengers. Sometimes they won’t. But in any case, digital media will increase the repertoire of available actions to challengers of the status quo.

5.4.2 How to judge the legitimacy of challenges?

Over the course of this chapter, we have encounter a wide variety of digitally enabled challenges. We have encountered challenges intent on shifting the political agenda in order to address the interests and needs of future generations, such as Fridays for Future. We also have encountered challenges intend on foregrounding the ways societies fail many of their citizens by disregarding their rights and bodily safety, such as Black Lives Matters or Me Too. But we have also encountered challenges intend on limiting the rights of political participation for many groups in society, such as far right extremism or far right populism.

Looking at the diversity of goals digitally media is used to achieve, it is clearly not possible to state that digital media is either exclusively enabling those aiming to strengthen democracy or those bend on weakening it. In the early days, writers like Castells seemed to assume that any challenge of the status quo was a good one and that digital media therefore decisively would weaken hegemonic and patriarchal structures and empower citizens. In light of todays challenges by populist far right actors, this seems premature and maybe even wishful thinking. Instead of cheering on any challenge to the status quo, we need to look closely and be explicit in our normative evaluation in why we assess it either as a positive or negative challenge. For this, let us quickly recap what democracy is all about and based on that develop categories that help us in assessing digitally enabled challenges with regard to their impact on democracy.

In the chapter about artificial intelligence, we already have talked about constitutive features of democracy and how they can be touched by technological change. These features also allow us to assess the impact of challenges to the status quo and come to normative assessments of their justification.

As we already have encountered, the discussion of and literature on democracy is vast and multifaceted. Discussions range from the philosophical foundations, normative ideals, historical expressions, empirical variations, to legal and procedural questions. But three important characteristics of democracy consistently feature in theses discussions:34

  • Free and fair elections as a process to establish the basis for collectively binding decision making;
  • Belief in the ability of people to make decisions for themselves about societal and political questions;
  • Equality of people with regard to representation and rights.

Each of these characteristics allows us to assess challenges to the status quo. First, how does the challenge impact the representation and rights of groups. Is the goal the extension of political representation and rights of marginalized groups, or is the goal restricting representation and rights to groups somehow conceived as the true electorate. While any hard and fast rule is bound to fail, right of the bat, challenges aiming to extend representation and citizen rights have a better case for strengthening democracy than those aiming to restrict representation and citizen rights.

Second, are we dealing with challenges that accept the results of free and fair elections or do they, for whatever reason, reject the binding power of elections. The rejection of free and fair elections as a binding process of collective decision making is a crucial warning sign for anti-democratic tendencies in challenges of the status quo. This being said, if challenges can bring forward specific and credible evidence for how elections in practice are neither free nor fair but do not, in principle, reject election results, this can be seen as supporting and strengthening democracy.

Finally, do challenges attack the ability of people to make decisions for themselves or do they aim to empower them broadly. We currently experience a series of challenges of democratic decision making in favor of expert rule. Often these challenges are based on the implicit or explicit claim that people would be unable to decide on important issues. Either they are not rational enough, lack foresight, or only act in their own narrow self interest. These challenges often suggest some sort of expert rule or to remove selected important topics from democratic decision making. In this, these challenges are inherently weakening democracy, even if they might be well-intentioned on moving society along on selected progressive paths.

Of course, challenges encountered in the wild might not fit these questions neatly. There might be dominant and radical factions deviating in the extend of their challenge. Or challenges might vary in their impact on democracy across these questions. Some might fight for the extension of citizen rights but feel that this is not an issue the public should decide democratically and elections not recognizing an extension of the electorate are accordingly not binding. Or there might be challenges aiming to restrict the rights of selected groups in society but otherwise adhere to the bindingness of elections. As with any framework, these questions have to be assessed carefully and diligently in each examined case and results have to be weighted carefully.

But if in this process one question would have to suffice, then my money would be on the question whether a challenge aims to extend representation and rights or whether it aims to restrict them. After all, democracy is about the self-rule of empowered citizens, without equal rights and representation across groups within a society, this remains an elusive goal. Challenges moving societies along a path toward greater equality of rights and representation therefor have a crucial function in strengthening and improving democracy.

5.5 Understanding the role of digital media in the challenge to institutions

In this chapter, we have discussed the ways digital media enable challenges to institutions. We have also seen that this enabling does not guarantee success. It is also important to note that digital media enable both challenges that arguably can be seen as aiming to strengthen democracy as well as those aimed at weakening it.

These observations point to a set of important take aways for the scientific work on digital media. First, we need to improve our understanding of how digital media are actually used in support of challenges of the status quo. This includes work focusing on the uses of digital media in organizations and associated adaption process. But this also includes work that focuses on digital artifacts of challenges, such as content posted on social media. Especially the second type of work invites contributions using methods from computational social science.35

Going further, the varying fates of digitally enabled challenges to the status quo also show that we need to increase our understanding of the contextual conditions for successful challenges. Some of those might be connected to digital media directly, others might not. Still, getting a better grasp of the necessary conditions for successful challenges of the status quo will also allow us to get a better understanding of the contribution of digital media to these successes.

This future work will also have to extend our analyses to include long-term fates of challenges. For example, for a few months it seemed like the events of the Arab Spring were successful in sustainably changing the balance of power in the countries concerned. A few years later, though, these changes proved to be short lived and often illusory. Work on the political effects of digital media can sometimes appear rather short of breath, with a strong focus on the short term and select cases of apparently successful uses. These studies can be highly instructive but often fail to fully account for the long-term effects of the use of digital media described. From these studies then it is easy to get the impression of the power of digital media while a longer term view might indicate their limits.

Given the multiplicity of challenges to the status quo, we currently experience, we need to deploy a clear normative framework in their discussion. Some challenges to the status quo are justified and their success might arguably end up strengthening democracy or even the very institution they challenge. Others, might end up weakening institutions and democracy. In discussing these challenges, our normative assessments must follow clear criteria in order for us not to end up celebrating challenges we happen to support and critiquing those we do not. In this chapter, I introduced one such framework.

The intermediary institutions democracies rely on are far from perfect. For years, the social sciences have pointed out the various ways these institutions fall short, fail to represent all people, or perpetuate injustices. To find these institutions challenged comes therefor as no surprise. Clearly, digital media play a role in enabling the current wave of challenges. Especially, the current prevalence of digitally enabled reactionary challenges from the extreme or populist right makes it tempting to write of digital media as a tool for political expression or coordination. But this would be a mistake. While some digitally enabled challenges are aimed at rolling back citizen representation and rights, so are many challenges that try to increase both. So instead of damning digital media in support of the first, or celebrating it for their support of the second type of challenge, we need to develop a better understanding of the underlying mechanisms and subsequent conditions for success. Only this will ensure that we are able to use digital media to strengthen democracies and better societies instead of falling prey to those using them to weaken both. Here, there clearly remains much to do for social science.

5.6 Review questions

  1. Please define the term institution following Offe (2006).

  2. Please define the term crisis in the context of institutions following Offe (2006).

  3. Please define the term conflict in the context of institutions following Offe (2006).

  4. Please discuss the way that political parties are intermediary institutions following Müller (2021).

  5. Please discuss the way that news media are intermediary institutions following Müller (2021).

  6. Please discuss how digital media lower information costs.

  7. Please discuss how digital media lower coordination costs.

  8. Please discuss the way how information costs impact the challenge to institutions.

  9. Please discuss the way how coordination costs impact the challenge to institutions.

  10. Please discuss the challenge of Fridays for Future along the normative questions suggested in this chapter.

  1. For moral clarity in journalism, see Gessen (2020); Lowery (2020); Wiedeman (2020).↩︎

  2. For more on the five-star movement see Deseriis (2020).↩︎

  3. For open science see Christensen et al. (2019); M. Nielsen (2012), Wuttke (2019).↩︎

  4. For journalism as an institution, see Kiefer (2010).↩︎

  5. For an early discussion of different characteristics of one-to-many and many-to-manny communication environments and their consequence for strategic communication see Hoffman & Novak (1996).↩︎

  6. For a detailed discussion of these information revolutions, the underlying technological changes, and their subsequent effect on democratic institutions see Bimber (2003), p. 34–88.↩︎

  7. For more on this reasoning see Jungherr et al. (2019).↩︎

  8. For a broader discussion of lowered information costs and new communication environments see Jungherr et al. (2020), p. 69–131.↩︎

  9. See for this reasoning Jungherr et al. (2019).↩︎

  10. See Popkin (2021).↩︎

  11. For a broader discussion of the opportunities of digital media for political coordination see Jungherr et al. (2020), p. 132–157.↩︎

  12. See Jackson et al. (2020).↩︎

  13. For a popular argument of organizing without organization see Shirky (2008). For a rejoinder best characterized organizing with different organizations see Karpf (2012). For the dangers of political nihilism see Gurri (2018).↩︎

  14. For more on the loss of loss of representation in politics see Schäfer & Zürn (2021).↩︎

  15. For more on the cartelization of parties see Mair (2013); Katz & Mair (2018).↩︎

  16. For more the loss of central power of party organizations to outside donors see Popkin (2021).↩︎

  17. Of course, not everybody is moving around. For an emergent divide between people on the move with little ties to a given place and those deeply rooted see Goodhart (2017).↩︎

  18. For news selection see Shoemaker & Reese (2014). For accounts of the media-institution nexus see Bennett (1983/2016).↩︎

  19. For an influential critique of the close connection between established institutions and the media see Bennett (1990). For critiques of the adjustment of political parties and politicians to media see Bennett (2005).↩︎

  20. For a discussion of shifts in information environments through digital media see Jungherr et al. (2020), p. 30–68. For adjustments of parties to these shifts see Jungherr et al. (2020), p. 69–102. For how this enables challengers see Jungherr et al. (2019).↩︎

  21. For Trump and the digital media news media connection see Boczkowski & Papacharissi (2018); Jungherr et al. (2019); Schroeder (2018); Carlson et al. (2021). For the weakening of Republican party structures see Popkin (2021).↩︎

  22. For populism and digital media see Schroeder (2019); Schroeder (2021).↩︎

  23. For a broader discussion of the uses of digital media in political organizations see Jungherr et al. (2020), p. 158–178. For campaigning see Jungherr (2023).↩︎

  24. For use of digital media by German parties see Jungherr (2016). For UK see Dommett et al. (2021); Dommett (2020). For US see Kreiss (2012); Kreiss (2016); Stromer-Galley (2019); Pearlman (2012).↩︎

  25. For cyber parties see Margetts (2001); Margetts (2006). For digital parties see Gerbaudo (2019).↩︎

  26. For the European Pirate Parties see Almqvist (2016); Deseriis (2020). For the Spanish Unidas Podemos see Casero-Ripollés et al. (2016). For the Italian Movimento 5 Stelle see Deseriis (2020); Natale & Ballatore (2014).↩︎

  27. For the use of digital media by Howard Dean see Trippi (2004); Hindman (2005). For Obama see Kreiss (2012); Kreiss (2016). For Bernie Sanders see Bond & Exley (2016); Kreiss (2019). For Momentum see Dennis (2020).↩︎

  28. For mundane uses see R. K. Nielsen (2011); Epstein & Broxmeyer (2020). For donations see Hindman (2005); Kreiss (2012); Kreiss (2016). For volunteer work and coordination see Han (2014); McKenna & Han (2014); Cogburn & Espinoza-Vasquez (2011); R. K. Nielsen (2012). For the difficulty of keeping volunteers ideologically aligned see Enos & Hersh (2015); Jungherr (2012); Trippi (2004).↩︎

  29. For the mutual dance between challenge and control see Tucker et al. (2017).↩︎

  30. For China see Creemers (2017); Jiang & Fu (2018); Roberts (2018); Mozur et al. (2022).↩︎

  31. For the deplatforming of Donald Trump see@Douek:2021tz; Holmberg (2021). For the effects of deplattforming see Rauchfleisch & Kaiser (2021).↩︎

  32. For the limits of digitally enabled challenges see Gurri (2018).↩︎

  33. For the need for context-aware analysis see Jungherr et al. (2020).↩︎

  34. For foundational discussions of democracy see Calhoun et al. (2022); Dahl (1998); Guttman (2007); Tilly (2007); Landemore (2012); Przeworski (2018).↩︎

  35. For research opportunities for computational methods to map action repertoire of challengers see Teo & Fu (2021).↩︎