10.4185/RLCS-2016-1085en | ISSN 1138 - 5820 | RLCS # 71 | 2016 | |
The image use on Twitter during the 2015 municipal election campaign in Spain
R Quevedo Redondo [CV] [ORCID] [GS] Research Staff Trainee of the Journalism Department – University of Valladolid, Spain - firstname.lastname@example.org
Translated by M Portalés-Oliva (TOEFT iBT Test Score 99 year 2012) and Yuhanny Henares (Master in Applied Social Research Techniques by the Universitat de Barcelona)
The progressive protagonism of Internet as a platform that shapes new forms of interpersonal communication is rather unquestionable, to the extent that it conveys the certainty that the effectiveness of the communicative action developed on digital media only differs from the face-to-face scope by the mediation of technological tools or, in other words, through the absence of the corporeal nature that characterize relationships in the physical context.
The possibilities of interaction the Network entails have contributed to its consolidation as an alternative or complement for socialization until shaping what Echevarría called “third environment” in 1999, by understanding the fact that the natural and urban environments are positioned on the top two places. This third scenario of sociability generates the opportunity of creating public profiles, as well as establishing new bonds of unreachable access in the offline dimension, turning online proposals as part of a space favorable for the dissemination of ideas and the adequate representation of the ‘self’ in the digital plane.
Politics and the series of strategies performed in order to achieve a positive response from electorate have not remained alienated from the communicational transformation of the last years. Thus, it is rather positive to accept the assumption that the unprecedented use of technology influences both on the population as well as the art of governing (James, Khansa, Cook, and Liginlal, 2011: 20), which has opened its unassailable perimeter of action to the traditional demand of bi-directionality conveyed by citizens to induce leaders to create accounts with their image, name and surnames on the main social networks.
In this context that evokes the idea of an interconnected world, it is difficult to conceive electoral campaigns that do not consider the planed use of resources Internet offers. Its power as electoral tool encompasses a considerable number of researches in the field of science closer to politic communication every year (Selnow, 1998; Farrell, Kolodny and Medvic, 2001; Webster, 2001; Stein, 2003; Klotz, 2004; Del Rey, 2007; Hendricks and Kaid, 2010; Túñez and Sixto, 2011).
The microblogging Twitter system, with a number superior to 220 million active users around the world, is positioned among the preferred options by leader men and women of the different parties in order to reinforce their profiles in the communicative sphere, draw new sympathizers, issue messages linked to their campaign and, definitely, shape what Trivinho calls “transpolitic capital” referring to the series of texts, images and sounds that adapt their connection from the public mass scene to a more interactive scenario where action “escapes from the administration, management and control of political entities inherited from modernity” (2011: 116). In this sense, the pioneer use that President of the United States, Barack Obama, exemplified in 2008 through the use of the platform in that presidential campaign (Harfoush, 2010; Hendricks and Denton 2010; Beas, 2011), represented an anticipation of the effectiveness which social networks promote the evolution of current strategies of political communication today.
In Obama’s case, studies such as the one developed by Hendricks and Kaid in 2010 delve on the fact that the governor’s account doesn’t show hints of interaction between the president and its followers; However, confirm that the presence of the democrat representative as user was a key element for its victory on the ballot box and inspired the posterior use of Twitter in other democratic processes examined by the scientific community (Ammann, 2010; Williamson, 2010; Jungherr, 2010; Marwick and Boyd, 2010; Maarek, 2011; Holotescu, Gutu, Grosseck and Bran, 2011). Therefore, it is not surprising that a good part of research about microblogging praise the United States governor to the altar of the pioneers, just by the side of the collective imaginary that John Fitzgerald Kennedy occupies since the issuance of the first electoral debate on TV.
Both, examples of Kennedy and Obama contribute to the extension of a bet for the implicit possibilities in the new scenarios and tools for persuasion. And even though is true that in the television market case, there are numerous proof confirming the relevance of this media to condition the opinion of the citizen-elector (García-Beaudoux and D’Adamo, 2006), influence on electoral campaigns plan and favor emotivity of politics before the “homo videns" described by Giovanni Sartori (1998) in his most cited work, there are still many mysteries left unsolved on the virtual plane.
In this article, the first aspect of reflection adopted is the characteristic assumption of Sartori referring to the “supremacy of image” and the preponderance of the visible over the intelligible in the interpretation of power conveyed by the television (1998: 12). From this idea, the transcendence of the visual in the traditional media representation of politics is accepted and the objective of extrapolating said consideration to the Twitter context is introduced. Thus, it is intended an approach towards the conjunction between the visual framing and the verbal framing (Goodnow, 2013; Grabe and Bucy, 2009) of the tweets issued on the previous days to the elections of candidates that participated in the municipal electoral process of 2015 in Spain, as well as to compensate the absence of researches that, compared to the volume of works focused on analyzing the textual contents of social networks as sources of information, they barely pay attention to the message conveyed by graphic elements within those same spaces (Verser and Wicks, 2006; Schill, 2012).
Through a specific proposal, the inquiry established here, supports its justification in the innovative nature of its approach, and also on the high correlation of 95% that, according to a study performed in 2015 by the Carlos III University of Madrid , exists between the vote indecision and the volume of electors that follow the activity of those parties they consider voting for on the Internet. Therefore, the document supports the thesis that Twitter is a determining tool to mobilize the undecided electorate and, by extension, supports the relevance of stretching out the evaluation of its contents to a transcendental range in the politics-media scope: the image scope.
The main goal specified, focuses on confirming the truthfulness of a pre-established hypothesis that states the assumption that leaders grant a predominant indexical character to photographs they disseminate through tweets, so most often these are used with the intention to make evidence or notice the candidate’s movement during the electoral campaign, besides reminding about his/her presence in a space of bidirectional communication. Moreover, it is deduced that considering the careful visual strategy politicians keep during their apparitions on television programs and in graphic reports published on printed means, images used in the microblogging platforms often acquire an epithetical value in relation to what is being explicited on the textual discourse, either as a self-promotion tactic to optimize the space available in characters or either to demonstrate the management and use of a tool which is a synonym of modernity even today.
On the following pages, we explain the sample selection criteria and the methodology applied in order to, at a second phase, analyze the outcomes collected from the visual framing perspective and elucidate the communicative value of microtexts. Finally, the opportune conclusions are exposed and we suggest undertaking a reflection exercise about the potential of contents analysis to delve on the use of image that ‘twitter’ politicians demonstrate when elections are nearing.
The methodology used in this research corresponds to the quantitative contents analysis technique, inspired on the model suggested by Andréu-Abela (2002), Muñiz, Igartua and Otero (2006), and Hernández-Sampieri, Fernández and Baptista (2010), and carried out from the selection of qualitative variables collected from a thorough bibliographic review.
2.1. Strategy and sample collection
The methodological weight of the proposal supports on the action of analyzing a sample comprised of 388 photographs published between days May, 19th and May, 23rd, 2015 (reflection day of municipal and autonomic elections in Spain), on Twitter accounts of some of the candidates who participated in the electoral process. Specifically, the publications issued by 36 politicians of seven different cities were collected in a non-randomly manner, over a total of 685 candidates for 52 provinces .
Leader profiles were chosen intentionally looking after the sociodemographic aspects of electors that allowed including in this study of exploratory nature, the capitals of Provinces with a voters’ census of more than a million, understanding that these localities have a great capacity of irradiation on population and, by extension, some governors that have a significant visibility on social networks.
Table I: Provinces with higher electoral census
Source: author’s own creation derived from data of INE (2015)
Once the first selection filters were applied, the candidates for mayor among parties that, in the electoral day of May, 24th, achieved a representation in the Governments of Murcia, Malaga, Alicante, Seville, Valencia, Barcelona and Madrid were identified, in order to categorize them by cities in the corresponding identification template.
Source: author’s own creation
In order to monitor the activity of every subject, we used the options offered by the microblogging platform to create a follow-up list encompassed by the 36 accounts of the candidates for Partido Popular (PP), Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE), Podemos, Ciudadanos, Convergència i Unió (CiU), Esquerra Republicana de Cataluña (ERC), Candidatura de Unidad Popular (CUP), Compromís, Izquierda Unida (IU) y Unión, Progreso y Democracia (UPyD), as well as the different coalitions. This action allowed us to perform a systematic sampling where the microtexts with images associated to each politician were collected, without incorporating the analyses of retweets nor responses to other users to the task.
Finally, as a definitive step towards the completion of the Excel data base, the frequencies processing and the variable crossing using IBM SPSS Statistics Data Editor, the constitution of the sample was defined and completed manually through screenshots, which enabled collecting both textual contents of messages as well as the photographs that illustrated them. Likewise, in order to complement data extraction, Twitonomy tool was used, which enabled the compilation of additional information about every account analyzed and the incorporation to the study of data such as the typology of the device from where tweets were published, most popular hashtags, frequency of contents published and the number of followers these generated.
The design of the analysis data sheet applied in this research includes different categories and variables, of which selection is based on visual framing assumptions, that is, the visual message that a source of communication conveys –candidate, party, media or organizatio – with the purpose of influencing an audience’s perception (Chihu-Amparán, 2010).
In the specific case of this proposal, whereas every unit corresponds to a text of up to 140 characters accompanied by an image, a triple intention conditions the interpretative labor: the purpose of reviewing identification data, analyzing the contents of the textual message and paying attention to the elements that converge on the photograph.
Source: author’s own creation
The three dimensions of the fieldwork have enough weight as to enable the extraction of interesting data by themselves. However, an interpretation of results with complete meaning demand the application of other variables such as the symbolic roles (García-Beaudoux and D'Adamo, 2006), or the image-tweet consistency. Both, with recent application to works that allowed outlining a detailed analysis template.
Nevertheless, in the research presented herein, categorization has been slightly modified when request of vote was incorporated among said options (applicable when leaders explicitly asked their followers for support on the ballot boxes), and when the category “context description” was replaced by the “presence indicator”. With this innovation, it is possible to confirm whether, as one of the hypothesis in this article suggests, a great part of issued messages is impregnated of a self-referential character in order to make electors aware about the presence of politicians in the streets and its involvement on campaign’s activities. Secondly, the observation of the structured data sheet evidences how the analytical effort also comprises the application of the variable of the ideal and popular candidate, from which Goodnow compiled in 2013, the images published on Facebook by United States’ politicians Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, in order to group them into two blocks: those that represented the ideal candidate and those that represented the populist candidate.
Figure I - “Presence indicator”
The researcher inspired himself in Grabe and Bucy’s (2009) categorization, whereas each one of these structures was divided in two. In accordance with this idea, the assumption that the figure of “ideal candidate” encompasses the images illustrating the incarnation of emotions and the art of governing (“compassion” and “statesmanship”) is accepted, while the popular candidate (“populist campaigner”) refers to the action of integrating with people through allurement of masses and a representation of quotidianity that is closer to ordinary (“mass appeal” and “ordinariness”).
According to the aforementioned explanation, the authors of this proposal accept the suggested segmentation and group under the “compassion” category the gestures of leaders towards risk of social exclusion groups or in attitudes that inspire emotivity during campaign acts; in “statesmanship” the photographs that expose the subject as government model and head of State; in “mass appeal”, the representations of “huge gathering of people supporting the candidate” (Goodman, 2013: 1.586), and in “ordinariness”, the photographs that evoke the most human condition of the politician in a context apparently distant from the governmental aspect.
Figure II - “Ordinariness”
Regarding the symbolic role variable, located in the third section of the table, it is based on the use given by García-Beaudoux and D'Adamo in 2006 when carrying out an exhaustive study of electoral spots. The usefulness of the resource, grounded on the association of concepts and images with leadership forms, was approved through the application of different categories corresponding to identities stablished by Roberts (1993), among which were selected for the development of this article, the role of “the great communicator”, which shows the candidate for mayor offering discourses, interviews, press conferences or talking with voters; “the hero”, where the multitudes acclaim the subject in massive events and, the “the prime manager”, focusing on the candidate who talks about economy, taxes, inflation and social plans (García-Beaudoux and D'Adamo, 2006: 97-98).
On this classification, where alternatives such as the “fatherly figure” were also originally included, the role of “protector” is added to this work so to refer to the subject from a more inclusive perspective and study him/her as guardian of values that stimulate the personalization of politics and make known a less professional profile.
Figure III - “The protector”
Finally, once the relevance of identifying the protagonist and the secondary elements appearing in each photograph was specified on the template design, we use a variable of reason to respond to the consistency with text (image-tweet) and the subject issue. Regarding the later, since the limits of research are restricted by timing and characteristics of elections, the interest is circumscribed to finding out whether the theme impregnating each message is located in the category of “direct request of vote”, in the “campaign acts” (where the presentation of electoral programs is included, as well as the participation in mass media and activities of similar characteristics), or in “other subjects”.
Filling the data sheet comprising all these variables and collecting data corresponding to every analysis unit will enable the interpretation of results as following and definitive step to complete researches such as the one detailed herein.
Within the epigraph corresponding to the data interpretation, the fieldwork performed allowed processing a series of considerations supported in an essentially quantitative methodology. Therefore, among the multiple percentages collected from a sample comprised by 388 analysis units, there outstands the fact that 25.8% of tweets were issued by candidates of coalitions that emerged from Podemos  party, 20.9% by representatives of Partido Popular, 20.1% by local leaders of Partido Socialista Obrero Español and 13.7% from Twitter accounts linked to Ciudadanos.
Graphic I: Relation of tweets published by candidate and party
Curiously, the names of the politicians who published the most shared contents do not coincide with the most active ones, hence Ada Colau (Barcelona en Comú), Manuela Carmena (Ahora Madrid), Esperanza Aguirre (PP for Madrid), Carina Mejías (Ciudadanos for Barcelona) and Begoña Villacís (Ciudadanos for Madrid) achieved the greatest amount of retweets and favorites accumulated between May, 19th and May, 23rd.
Table IV: Tweets with most popular images
Source: author’s own creation
From a gender perspective, this last appreciation evidences that comments and proposals in 140 characters that showed a greater impact on May 2015 were those published by women leaders, although the activity of their men counterparts on the social network demonstrated a fluid practice of online communication by the male group.
Likewise, the use of contents managers such as Hootsuite, TweetDeck or Echofon unveiled that in multiple occasions the texts and photographs gathered were part of a well-defined strategy, whereas the publication did not depend on the latest news or the information demands manifested by followers in real time, but instead the contents were written and programmed beforehand to the moment of their publication. This trend would explain the reason why the candidates that do not use management tools had and have a percentage of publications considerably inferior to the rest.
Table V: Correlation between quantity, popularity and publication device
Source: own author’s creation
The use of referred tools when it comes to managing the exercise on Twitter furthermore entails an allusion to the falseness of the authorship of some of those tweets, expressed as part of a party strategy to favor the leader’s image. Therefore, it is evidenced in this way the already commented trend to personalize political formations, which grant a complete protagonism to people that leader them and with whom the electors identify them, similarly, they explain the degree of virality reached by the messages agglutinated under the surname Colau, Carmena or Aguirre. No wonder that the later even turned to her pet, the dog Pecas (@SoyPecas), in order to create a message that, even though it was the only one registered in that account during the previous days to the elections, it had a huge impact on the Twitter community: “Mi rubia castiza se ha merendado a Manuela. ¡Guau! (My pure blonde snacked Manuela. Guau!)#EspeAlcaldesa#DebateTM” (@SoyPecas, 2015).
In a somewhat different sense, data derived from analytical labor confirm the existence of a correlation between the higher number of contents illustrated by images and the variety of devices used for their publication (computers, tablets and mobile phones, among others), although not between that diversity and awareness achieved. As a result, it is deduced that the popularity of the microblogging platform not only depends on the group of community managers a politician might have and its constant movement on social networks, but also on originality and personalization of every action is quite decisive.
The personification techniques are precisely the answer to the cause by which most tweets have the argumental function of indicating action and location of a candidate in the form suggested by the main hypothesis of this research. Specifically, in 40.2% of analyzed cases there was the use of some image either to announce or inform about the participation of local leaders in events related to the promotion of their candidacy, in order to show most of users that the candidate for mayor had presence in the neighborhood, that attended to acts with young volunteers and that he/she listened to citizens nearing him/her to show interest about their problems.
Graphic II: Argumental function of analyzed tweets
Source: author’s own creation
The mentioned percentage is followed in frequency, although reduced to half, by the analysis units that identify with proposals, because 19.3% of them match with plans and promises claimed on electoral programs. Consequently, it is understandable that a good part of illustrations accompanying these kind of messages are infographics or extracts of programs, whereas they are not photographs taken during signature of agreements, establishing of pacts or while holding meetings with different collectives.
Finally, the remaining percentage of the classified sample according to the argumental function was distributed among requests of vote (often formulated through images or explicited through labels or hashtags), acknowledgments, general statements and attacks to other parties, in contrast to the number of messages focused on manifesting positions of defense against critics.
Regarding publication dates, when crossing the theme variable with the moment of publication of every tweet it is possible to determine that the day of greater activity was May, 21st and that in twenty-four hours the amount of comments destined to request for vote was very superior to what was registered during the rest of the week.
Graphic III: Correlation between the publication date and the message theme
Source: author’s own creation
Likewise, even though day 23rd has been marked on the Calendar as a reflection day, nine candidates used different communicative strategies on Twitter, highlighting for example the acknowledgment statements towards volunteers, mass media and citizens in general, the demand of support in order to achieve victory in elections and, in a closer field to politics humanization, expressions of a quotidianity of someone who enjoys a moment of rest and family life after their working schedule. In total, 21 programmed microtexts with image, of which nine were issued by PSOE politicians, nine by coalitions with Podemos, four by Ciudadanos, three by PP and one by CiU.
Once the elemental data was interpreted, the observation of photographic material enabled inferring that 63.1% of analyzed units had a photograph where the candidate was the protagonist; 18% where the main element were infographics, or screenshots with texts and slogans; 7.5% with party members on first plane, although with a participation of the local leader as secondary component in 14.4% of occasions; a 7% of landscape or unanimated objects photographs, and lastly, a scarce 3.6% dedicated to evoking the relevance of citizens who, nevertheless, did appear in a second plane on 16% of cases.
Within the list of secondary visual resources, mass media, considered essential for the development of any campaign, occupied the third position as its presence was identified in 14.2% of sample. However, mentions to the journalist collective where more than those of other group of professionals who only occupied jointly a 10.8% of fieldwork, besides obtaining a great amount of references very superior to youth, elderly and women, who in total did not exceed 3%.
Regarding ideal and popular candidate variable, the representation of candidates for mayor as government men and women (statesman frame) was 35.6%, while in 17.8% of situations the use of images that appealed to the emotional aspect was registered, another 17.8% where the summoning of the electorate mass was evident and a 9.3% that showed facets of daily life, aligned with the growing trend to make the most of “the personal is political”, already worked by feminist Carol Hanisch in an essay on 1970.
Graphic IV: Percentages corresponding to the variable “Ideal and Popular Candidate”
Source: author’s own creation
Finally, after analyzing the type of symbolic roles incarnated by candidates for mayor through the huge denotation power of photography (Barthes, 1992), it was determined that 32% of published contents pursued an identification of the user with the figure of great communicator, a 25% with the protector figure, 10.8% with the prime manager and 8.2% with the hero’s.
4. Discussion and conclusions
In this proposal, contents analysis has been conditioned by an approach that addressed the verbal and visual framework of messages as elements inherent to it. In this way, a trend of study of the image has been carried out which, in contrast with the constant evolution of political communication, it has been restricted to the press and television media almost exclusively for many years.
The inclusion of Twitter as new scenario for the observation of photographic resources enabled the enrichment of the analytical task and its application for interpreting tweets published by 36 of candidates that participated in the municipal electoral process of 2015. In this sense, however, the first conclusions that the authors of this research have elaborated, refer to the fact that these accounts on the microblogging platform were not managed by most of the politicians that named them and put a face on them, or at least, not totally. The deduction is supported on the data corresponding to the microtexts’ programing that candidates for mayor shared with their followers on the previous days to elections, the diversity of devices used for publication and the existence of numerous photographs focusing on reflecting the leader movements in real time during his/her campaign acts.
Nonetheless, doubts about the authorship of tweets are not extendable to all reviewed profiles. Likewise, an increase in publications is not always translated into a greater popularity for the user. The consideration of this last value on fieldwork confirmed that the originality of contents, personalization and the previous awareness of the character (usually acquired through other means) are decisive in order to increase the number of favorites and followers on social network, as Aguirre, Carmena and Colau cases demonstrate.
Moreover, personification techniques are the reason why politicians are protagonists of most part of photographs they disseminate, and in which they try to appear accompanied by anonymous citizens, volunteer youth and large groups of sympathizers. As a result, the most human profile of the candidate is reinforced and a feeling of closeness, commitment, availability and people skills that might clear doubts in undecided electors is created.
The potential voter that goes to Twitter in order to better know those who aspire for command, find proposals, promises, support requests and critics to different political formations on the Net but, above all, a complete record of activities that comprise the agenda of candidates for mayor, with special reference to their press and television interviews. Therefore, not only the initial hypothesis of this study is confirmed, based on the idea that leaders attribute a predominant indexical character to visual elements in order to evoke the figure of the professional that is in contact with the street and permanently at the service of a common good, but also the eagerness to channel the followers’ interest towards traditional mass communication spaces is observed.
Many of the images selected to redirect citizen’s curiosity towards printed and audiovisual means show an identical message to the specified discourse in less than 140 characters, which often turns them into mere epithets. Nevertheless, in other occasions photographs with a meaning independent from the text they accompany are found, hence it is not reproachable to use the reflection day to elaborate some acknowledgements to young volunteers, without it exempting the practice of a kind of publicity through photography, that is personalized and undoubtedly oriented to attract vote.
Finally, on the previous day to the electorate mobilization, the efforts on the digital plane are focused on stimulating the emotional aspects, while the role of great communicator hands over protagonism to the roles of protector and hero. A few hours later, the execution plan during the campaign will be over and the completion of this exploration will allow deducing that there is still possible to achieve a better use of graphic resources on Twitter, suggest new strategies to optimize the efficacy of the tool in political communication and achieve new studies that deepen on the preponderance of the visible over intelligible (for example, on Instagram). Future researches should consider whether it is really feasible to extrapolate the traditional interest for political image on the television field to one as ever changing as the social networks.
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How to cite this article in bibliographies / References
R Quevedo Redondo, M Portalés-Oliva, S Berrocal Gonzalo (2016): “The image use on Twitter during the 2015 municipal election campaign in Spain”. Revista Latina de Comunicación Social, 71, pp. 85 to 107.
Article received on 2 December 2015. Accepted on 12 January.