Public Deliberation or Deliberate Promotion? The European Parliament’s Communication with Citizens on Facebook

Svenja Scholz ORCID logo

Published on 17 August 2022

ABSTRACT: During the last decade, the question of whether social media can connect ordinary citizens and European Union institutions and help create a digital deliberative European public sphere has attracted considerable research interest. While several empirical studies have explored discursive exchanges taking place on the European Parliament’s Facebook page, only a few have taken into account the institutional perspective: Is the communication really aiming to facilitate politically impactful dialogue about European integration with the public? Or, does it instead attempt to shape public opinion through traditional top-down communication? This article uses data collected through participant observation and semi-structured expert interviews and discursive text analysis to investigate the rationale behind the Parliament’s Facebook communication. The findings show that, contrary to common assumptions, the Parliament’s Facebook communication is not driven by deliberative ideals. Rather, the central objectives are to inform about and promote the Parliament and European elections and foster pro-European attitudes. While the highly professionalised campaign can raise awareness about European integration, it does not utilise social media’s interactive features to facilitate a digital deliberative space. This reiterates previous findings that governments’ social media communication differs from the normative use scholars imply and raises theoretical and regulatory questions about the increasingly promotional character of publicly funded communication.

KEY WORDS: European public sphere, communication deficit, democratic deficit, government communication, Facebook.