Canadian political blogs: online opinion leaders or opinionated followers?
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Self-published web diaries called blogs are one manifestation of the Internet’s potential to create new discursive and dialogic spaces for citizens. Blogs are described by their authors and others in the news media (as well as some academic commentators) as a medium that potentially fosters political dialogue in the spirit of Habermas’ conceptual “public sphere.” Blogs also serve as potential competitors to mass media outlets in political debates in two distinct ways: first, by acting as agenda-setters and framers of issues, events and figures and second, by challenging journalistic norms such as the principles of fairness, neutrality and non-partisanship. In spite of these claims, however, very little empirical evidence exists to date on whether political blogs perform the roles of agenda-setters, gatekeepers or framers, or whether they are actually seen as a challenge or potential replacement to mass media outlets by themselves, by journalists or by those who could utilize blogs to transmit messages to the public. This thesis examines these questions as they pertain to Canadian politics, focusing on the interaction between journalists, partisan bloggers and political communications practitioners to assess whether blogs written by explicitly partisan authors actually: 1) create unique discursive spaces for discussion of Canadian political issues, 2) set agendas for political discussion and set issues and 3) serve as an occupational threat/potential replacement to media outlets for disseminating political information. Using surveys and content analysis, this thesis contends that partisan blogs largely mimic political discussion already occurring in media-produced content and are perceived as a potential, though not completely credible, replacement for shaping political agendas and disseminating information.