Platforms, Power, and Politics

Ulrike Klinger, Daniel Kreiss, Bruce Mutsvairo


Digital Infrastructures

(Summary by Katherine Furl) 

How does the recent proliferation of digital media shape our approach to political communication? How should we consider this shifting approach to political communication in increasingly digital media ecosystems alongside broader, longstanding power structures influencing communication and politics? In their new textbook Platforms, Power, and Politics: An Introduction to Political Communication in the Digital Age, Ulrike Klinger, Daniel Kreiss, and Bruce Mutsvairo trace the transformation of political communication in the aftermath of digital technology’s explosive development and widespread adoption, in a text accessible to a wide-ranging audience. 

Klinger, Kreiss, and Mutsvairo take a broad approach to the term “technology,” considering the term inclusive of all “knowledge, skills, processes, methods, and tools.” In this broad sense, technology has shaped both communication and political systems for the bulk of human history, leaving its mark through everything from the first bound volumes (the codex) to the printing press. More recently, the increasing ubiquity of the internet and related digital technologies have revolutionized societal approaches to political communications, though not always in the ways we might expect. As one example, the supposed existence of closed-off, like-minded social media “filter bubbles” or “echo chambers” has not held up to empirical scrutiny, yet filter bubbles and echo chambers have received undue academic and media attention.  

Both political and media systems are capable of generating social progress and backsliding, often simultaneously. Just as digital technologies can bring attention to organizing efforts in pursuit of liberal democratic ideals, so too can digital platforms fan the flames of illiberalism, authoritarianism, and racism. Though digital media platforms can theoretically serve as democratizing forces in political systems, the democratizing power of social media is not always achieved in practice. In Klinger, Kreiss, and Mutsvairo’s words, “Democracy – like any political system – must be continually performed, legitimated, and protected by many institutions and political actors.” Democracy must be repeatedly achieved, and the work to sustain democracy continues even in an increasingly digital society.  

In 13 chapters designed to be read together or alone, and interspersed with compelling cases illustrating important concepts, Klinger, Kreiss, and Mutsvairo’s text provides important insight into how we can understand the digitization of political communication while remaining cognizant that it remains embedded in broader systems of power. In doing so, the authors provide a valuable resource for students, researchers, journalists, and other stakeholders—as well as anyone interested in understanding the connections between politics, communication, and an ever-more digital world.