Projekte / Projects

Courts Under Pressure: How Social Media Change Political Discourse About the Rule of Law in Modern Democracies

Social media is fundamentally changing the nature of political discourse in modern democracies by allowing political actors to circumvent media gatekeepers. Especially right-wing populists have benefited from the changing media landscape. Given their disdain for an independent judiciary, social media has allowed populists to attack high courts in a way that was inconceivable under the conventional model of journalistic gatekeeping. On a theoretical level, our project highlights the potentially detrimental effects of elite discourses on social media, while focusing on high courts as a key pillar of liberal democracy. Showing how social media are abused to undermine the rule of law is particularly worrisome for new democracies where independent judiciaries are viewed as a last line of defence against authoritarian tendencies. The project compares elite discourses on high courts in Germany, the UK, Poland and Estonia over a ten-year period by analyzing print media content and social media use by political actors. The project makes use of large-scale web data collection and automated text analysis to systematically trace discourses on the rule of law. Based on the results, the project will seek to raise awareness among journalists about the challenges associated with an overreliance on social media in their reporting.

Principal Investigators
Prof. Dr. Christoph Hönnige, Leibniz Universität Hannover, Institut für Politikwissenschaft
Dr. Philipp Köker, Leibniz Universität Hannover, Institut für Politikwissenschaft
Prof. Dr. Dominic Nyhuis, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Duration: 2021-2024

Total sum awarded: €507,800

Sponsor: VW Stiftung / MWK Niedersachsen (Die Digitale Gesellschaft)