Media & Politics

Affective Polarization of a Protest and a Counterprotest: Million MAGA March v. Million Moron March
Saif Shahin
American Behavioral Scientist

Protest movements around the world have become increasingly likely to incite counterprotests that adopt an opposing stance. This study examines how a protest and a counterprotest interact with and shape each other as digitally networked connective action. My empirical focus is the so-called Million MAGA March—in which supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump protested the “stealing” of the November 2020 election by his rival, Joe Biden—and a counterprotest that erupted simultaneously. Drawing on a computational mixed-methods approach to examine two corpora of tweets featuring hashtags used by protesters and counterprotesters respectively, the study identifies three mutually reinforcing dimensions of protest-counterprotest interaction: affective repertoires, discursive strategies, and network structures. It argues that “affective polarization”—or negative partisanship driven by hostility toward an outgroup—offers a useful conceptual means of understanding the significance of affect and collective identity in digital social movements, especially protest-counterprotest interactions. In doing so, the study also addresses concerns that “big data” methods are insensitive to the role of identity and expressive communication in social movements. Finally, the study demonstrates how online and offline political action are mutually constitutive aspects of contemporary contentious politics.

All the President’s Media: How News Coverage of Sanctions Props Up the Power Elite and Legitimizes U.S. Hegemony
Junki Nakahara and Saif Shahin
Sanctions as War

A substantial body of scholarship, emerging over decades, links U.S. media coverage of international affairs to foreign policy objectives. This is disturbing because it not only brings into question the supposed independence of the media as an institution—a basic normative expectation in a democracy—but also because people depend primarily upon the media for learning and forming opinions about foreign affairs. In this study, we look at 10 years of news coverage of U.S.-led economic sanctions against three adversaries—Iran, North Korea, and Venezuela—in major print and broadcast media. We contend that the coverage not only serves the interests of what Mills (2000/1956) called the power elite—the country’s political, corporate, and military brass—but also reinforces the legitimacy of U.S. hegemony in global politics.

The Disinformed Election
Saif Shahin
U.S. Election Analysis 2020: Media, Voters and the Campaign

Hiding behind anecdotes and statistics is a deeper truth about disinformation: its acceptance relies less upon the content of a campaign itself and more upon how closely it coheres with an individual’s beliefs about the world they live in—beliefs that are increasingly built around partisan boundaries. Discrete pieces of disinformation do not carry any meaning on their own. They have to fit within larger partisan narratives about social reality, narratives that feature good and evil, heroes and villains, victims and oppressors, before they “make sense” to an individual.

Peripheral Elaboration Model: The Impact of Incidental News Exposure on Political Participation
Saif Shahin, Magdalena Saldaña and Homero Gil de Zúñiga
Journal of Information Technology & Politics

This study places the “cognitive elaboration model” on news gathering and political behavior within the dual-processing “elaboration likelihood model” to derive hypotheses about the effects of incidental news exposure and tests them using two-wave panel data. Results indicate incidental news exposure predicts online participation but not offline participation – underlining the importance of differentiating between political behaviors in the two environments. The key finding, however, is that news elaboration mediates the positive relationship between incidental exposure and political participation, which is theorized as taking place through the peripheral route of elaboration – as opposed to intentional exposure, which engages the central route.

Ideological Parallelism: Toward a Transnational Understanding of the Protest Paradigm
Kisun Kim and Saif Shahin
Social Movement Studies

This study advances the protest paradigm as a transnational theory by examining how ideological affiliations within and across national borders influence the framing of a protest movement. Our empirical focus is the coverage of the 2016-17 South Korean “candlelight” protests to oust conservative President Park Gyun-hye in Korean and U.S. newspapers. Content analysis of six months of coverage suggests that liberal publications in both nations (Kyunghyang Shinmun and New York Times) were supportive of the movement, framing the protests as large yet peaceful and relying on protesters for information. In contrast, the conservative press in the U.S. (Wall Street Journal) was closer in its coverage to Korea’s conservative publication (Chosun Ilbo), which was defensive of Park and her supporters. We argue that ideological affinities can operate beyond national boundaries — what we term “ideological parallelism” — to make news organizations sympathetic or hostile toward a social movement. But nationalist sentiments also remain significant to the extent that a foreign (Korean) social movement affects a nation’s (U.S.) foreign policy. We identify a novel framing device — Gaze — under which the coverage of both U.S. newspapers converged and considered the adverse implications of candlelight protests for America’s relations with South Korea and its containment of North Korea and China. We also show how the U.S. media’s Gaze recursively shapes South Korean press coverage, indicating that transnational protest frames impact local perceptions of social movements and can potentially influence their legitimacy and outcome.

Live Tweeting Live Debates: How Twitter Reflects and Refracts the US Political Climate in a Campaign Season
Pei Zheng and Saif Shahin
Information, Communication & Society

Political campaigns mostly run parallel to each other during an election cycle, but intersect when the main candidates face off for televised debates. They offer supporters of these candidates a chance to engage with each other while being exposed to views and opinions different from their own. This study uses a combination of social network analysis and machine learning to examine how the three US presidential debates of 2016 were live tweeted (N = ∼300,000). We find that despite cross-cutting exposure across the ideological divide, people remain highly partisan in terms of who they engage with on Twitter. The issue agendas of Twitter posts during the US presidential debates is set well in advance of the debates themselves; it is highly negative and focused on personality traits of the opposition candidate rather than policy matters. We also detect a shift in the nature of online opinion leadership, with grassroots activists and internet personalities sharing the space with traditional elites such as political leaders and journalists. This shift coincides with the broader anti-establishment turn in the US political climate, as reflected in the early success of Bernie Sanders and the eventual victory of a political outsider like Donald Trump over the seasoned Hillary Clinton.

Protesting the Paradigm: A Comparative Study of News Coverage of Protests in Brazil, China, and India
Saif Shahin, Pei Zheng, Heloisa Aruth Sturm, and Deepa Fadnis
The International Journal of Press/Politics

This study assesses the scope and applicability of the “protest paradigm” in non-Western contexts by examining the news coverage of Brazilian, Chinese, and Indian protests in their domestic media. Two publications from each nation, one conservative and one progressive, are content analyzed for adherence to a series of marginalization devices that have often been used by the U.S. media to ridicule protest movements and portray them as violent. The Indian media emerge as the least likely to follow the protest paradigm, while Brazilian and Chinese media conform to it in moderate levels. Comparative analysis suggests the historical legitimacy of informal power negotiations in a political culture makes news media more willing to take protesters seriously and limits adherence to the protest paradigm. In contrast, a news organization’s ideological affiliation with the government of the day, rather than any ideology per se, makes it relatively more likely to conform to the protest paradigm. Marginalization devices such as circus, appearance, and eyewitness accounts are rarely used in any of these nations. But disparity of sources, (non)reference to protesters’ causes and violence, and violence blame appear to be abiding features of news coverage of protests everywhere.

Mediated Modernities: (Meta)Narratives of Modern Nationhood in Indian and Pakistani Media, 1947-2007
Saif Shahin
Global Media and Communication

This article proposes a theoretical framework for understanding modernity as lying at the intersection of two dimensions: (1) the narrative of modernity as interpreted variously in particular nations and (2) the metanarrative of modernity as a universal goal that nations tend to share. It demonstrates that interpretations of modernity vary among nations, and even within nations over time. But modernity in former European colonies is nonetheless an ideological construct that seeks validation from the West. News media, this article shows, constitute a vital mechanism through which both the narratives and the metanarrative of modernity become collective. The media naturalize particular interpretations of modernity while also making ‘becoming modern’ a necessary objective of nationhood in non-Western societies. Empirical evidence comes from the comparative study of India’s Hindustan Times and Pakistan’s Dawn newspapers over a 60-year period (1947–2007) after the two nations gained freedom from British colonialism, using Derrida’s method of deconstruction.

Controlled Chaos: Iran’s Hot Peace with Afghanistan
Saif Shahin
L’Iran et les grands acteurs regionaux et globaux

While Iran does not have an easy relationship with any of its neighbours, ties with Afghanistan are by far the most complex. The two countries share deep cultural, ethnic and linguistic bonds, but Iranian security concerns and strategic interests don’t always align with Afghanistan’s search for political and social stability. On the one hand, Iran has eagerly participated in Afghanistan’s reconstruction since the US-led invasion in 2001 and developed extensive links with the Hamid Karzai government in Kabul. On the other hand, it allegedly arms sections of its old enemy, the Taliban, in their insurgency against government forces and uses its control over oil flow into Afghanistan and refugees as a handle to armtwist Kabul. Even the Shiites of Afghanistan, whose cause Iran claims to champion, don’t always view the influence of Iran-educated ayatollahs favourably. This paper argues that Iran’s ostensibly paradoxical policy formulations, while reflecting ruptures in its political establishment, also point out that it is willing to endure or even encourage instability in the short term to weaken US military might in its neighbourhood and gain an upper-hand in its rivalry for regional clout with Saudi Arabia.

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