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A primary definer online: the construction and propagation of a think tank’s authority on social media

Anstead, Nick ORCID: 0000-0002-1090-5271 and Chadwick, Andrew (2018) A primary definer online: the construction and propagation of a think tank’s authority on social media. Media, Culture and Society, 40 (2). pp. 246-266. ISSN 0163-4437

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Identification Number: 10.1177/0163443717707341


Who has power in the construction of economic news in the UK? Are social media reshaping how this power is enabled? We examine the public Twitter interactions between journalists, political elites, and what is arguably the UK’s most important think tank, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), during the 2015 UK general election campaign. Combining human-coded content analysis and network analysis of Twitter discourse about the IFS during a 38-day period, we explain how and why the authority of this think tank is being translated to social media. We develop a new, social media theory of ‘primary definers’ and show how the political authority on which such roles rest is co-constructed and propagated by professional journalists and political elites. Central to this process is a behaviour we conceptualize and measure: authority signalling. Our findings call into question some of the more sanguine generalizations about social media’s contribution to pluralist democracy. Given the dominance of public service broadcasters in the processes we identify, we argue that, despite the growth of social media, there can be surprising limits on the extent to which contemporary media systems help citizens gain information about the assumptions underlying economic policy.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2017 The Authors
Divisions: Media and Communications
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
H Social Sciences > HC Economic History and Conditions
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN1990 Broadcasting
Date Deposited: 02 Mar 2017 14:53
Last Modified: 20 Oct 2021 01:21

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