SOLVE magazine Issue 02 2021 | Page 12



Is social media bad for democracy ? Are people who sign e-petitions signing away their interest in being productive members of society ? How do political and campaigning organisations actually use digital platforms ? Dr James Dennis steps out into the physical world to analyse how digital politics really works .

D r James Dennis was undertaking his PhD at the time of England ’ s summer of unrest in 2011 when thousands rioted , looted , burned and fought on the streets .

For a socially aware young academic , it was instructive .
“ You had the student protests in London , you had occupations in universities around the country . And I saw how very quickly people were using digital tools to mobilise physically and have real impact .”
He was witnessing the emerging social and political side of the digital revolution and he decided there and then this would be his field of research . Almost a decade later Dr Dennis specialises in political communication , with a focus on social media and digital news . His research also explores political participation , British citizenship and identity .
His research and position as a Senior Lecturer in Political Communication and Journalism has revealed a gap in the centre of popular discussions around social media and politics : “ On one hand are people who see social media as a democratising force , transforming the way we do politics into a more direct form of democracy . On the flipside , we see dystopian accounts of how social media is potentially undermining democracy .”
Dr Dennis believes both arguments have some credibility , but he feels the real story is what is happening in everyday life – how social media impacts the way we learn about news , the way we talk about news , and the way in which we participate in political life .
“ This includes all the different ways we encounter politics online – from reading a news story to sharing a meme . All of these are political acts , and I argue they
ISSUE 02 / 2021