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The Digital Media Landscape and the 2018 Local Election

How does the rapidly changing media landscape's affect local and regional elections? This was the subject of a study conducted by Medier & demokrati together with Mid Sweden University and Södertörn University in the unique research project called 'The Digital Media Landscape and the 2018 Local Election'. The project ran from May 2018 to the end of September 2019.

There has been some recent research on the effects of the digital media landscape on Swedish elections, but only on a national level. The effects on a local and regional level had not been investigated since 2006 - before smartphones and social media.

The research project, which is financed by the Anne-Marie and Gustaf Anders Foundation for Media Research with a donation of SEK 1,458,000, stressed the following questions:

  • How has traditional media coverage changed?
  • What is the importance of the new hyperlocal media?
  • What difference can we see between various types of municipalities/county councils/regions? 
  • What does social media mean in relation to traditional media with professional journalism?
  • How is traditional media related to social media's platforms?
  • Where do members of society base their views in the local/regional elections?

On 20 May 2019, the results of the project were presented. This took place initially during a conclusive seminar in Stockholm, followed by a 150-page book called 'Media and Local Elections' and lastly in a debate article on Dagens Nyheters debate page, DN Debatt.

The project demonstrates that social media and mobile platforms have changed fundamentally as media use has changed. The researchers and authors of the report - Lars Nord at Mid Sweden University and Gunnar Nygren and Sanna Volny at Södertörn University - determined that the local media has lost its previously obvious position with respect to coverage of local elections.

However, the news media has not been replaced by social media, it has been complemented by it. News is still gotten from traditional media to a high degree, where information from the political parties is communicated, distributed and debated.

The study also shows that it is decisive for the debate and involvement in social media that there are hot political issues in election. A clear example is the hospital dispute in Sollefteå, where the local Facebook page called Framtidens sjukhus with over 14,000 members became a driving force in opinion-building and thus strengthened the local political debate.

Even if social media - primarily Facebook - has led to a more complex and divided media consumption, there is also democratic benefit when more people can share the media's content and the parties' messages.
'We still live in a world where local news has value, but the what that it reaches people has changed,' says Lars Nord, professor of media and communications.