This paper addresses social media platforms and their promise of deliberation. Based on a (n)ethnograpic inspired case study of middle class activists in southern Stockholm, the question this paper seeks to discuss is whether the activists in my study used social media platforms for deliberation, dialogue or for something else. The aim is to understand and discuss contemporary practices of activist political participation online. In this paper it will be argued that rather than deliberation, or dialogue for that matter, activists were engaging in practices of online updating. Such practices will be understood in light of late modern theories of reflexivity, identity negotiation and maintenance.
Social media platforms are defined as different from other sites because they allow users to articulate their social networks while making them visible to other users (for one definition see Ellison and boyd, 2007, p. 2). The social media platforms used in southern Stockholm (Facebook, Twitter and Ning) provided activists with a new set of opportunities and different modes of processing information, networking and interacting with each other as well as the outside world. Social media platforms are no doubt altering the way we live and socialize, shaping the way things get done, providing access to information and giving us new tools that allow us to arrange and take part in all sorts of activities and encounters (Dahlgren, 2009; Leaning, 2009; Rheingold, 2002). In this paper I will argue that one practice emerging as dominant among contemporary activists is updating, often misleadingly labelled as sharing or interacting which in turn sometimes is confused with dialogue (which in turn is confused for deliberation).
The paper starts with a brief look at the role of deliberation in Western and connected societies. This section will be followed by a description of the setting in southern Stockholm and the methods used to study the activists there. The analysis begins with an evaluation of the empirical findings in southern Stockholm against theories of deliberation. This will be followed by an argument making the case for updating being the appropriate concept to describe the activists' practices on the social media platforms they used. The paper continues with an analysis about how to understand such practices. Finally, I will end with a discussion on the implications of updating on political participation. Even though they cannot be considered dialogue or deliberation, practices of updating have certain consequences for participation and representative systems that could be considered positive and encouraging for democracy.