WiP: Mediocracy or Politocracy? The Case of Social Media in Georgia. Tbilisi, Georgia, May 22 – Lia Tsuladze

CRRC, American Councils and ARISC are proud to present the 15th talk of the Works-in-Progress Series for the Spring 2013 Season!

Lia Tsuladze, Tbilisi State University

“Mediocracy or Politocracy? The Case of Social Media in Georgia”
Wednesday, May 22, 2013 at 6:15pm

ISET/CRRC Georgia, Zandukeli St. 16, Tbilisi, GEORGIA 

Abstract: This project describes how the fields of politics and social media intertwine in Georgia, and raises the question of whether politics governs the media or the media govern politics in the Georgian reality.
It is often conjectured that given the current social media boom and the accompanying emergence of citizen journalism, social media possess a real potential to influence politics. Moreover, scholars speak of the epoch of Mediocracy that is the “colonization of politics by the logic of the media” (Meyer, 2002). It is also suggested that the media, and especially social media, have become such an important agent in political games that we are experiencing a “rationalization of persuasion” (Mayhew, 1997), implying that political actors try to find and utilize effective means of persuasion using the media. But what is the situation in Georgia? Based on in-depth interviews with media-experts in Georgia, it appears that here we encounter a colonization of the media, including the social media, by politics and not the other way around. However, this colonization is accomplished not in an aggressive way, such as through direct censorship, but rather in a “soft” manner, such as through co-opting bloggers. One oft-cited example is the organization of informal meetings with bloggers by the prime-minister or other government ministers. As a result, it seems that after such meetings politicians divide cyber space in two camps: “ours” and “theirs,” inviting the “friendly” bloggers to subsequent meetings to write indulgent rather than critical posts for their readers.

In this context, the concept of “media-framing” (based on E. Goffman’s conceptualization) becomes crucial, as it highlights how the media, in this case social media, represent politics and how politicians respond to it. Based on media-experts’ evaluations, in Georgia the politicians use their power to prevent social media from moving from the “front region” to the “back region” (Goffman, 1955), which appears to be one of the ways in which the interaction of politics and media in Georgia differs from that in Western democracies.

Lia Tsuladze is Associate Professor of Sociology in the Faculty of Social and Political Sciences of Tbilisi State University. She is Director of the Program of Applied Social Research at the Center for Social Sciences (CSS). Her research interest involves youth culture in modern Georgia, focusing on the construction of youth identities in the context of “glocalization.” Her recent comparative research (supported by the Volkswagen Foundation and New Europe College) deals with youth perceptions of Westernization-Europeanization in the New European countries (the cases of Romania and Poland) and the margins of Europe (the case of Georgia). Currently she is leading a project on social media development trends in Georgia supported by the Academic Swiss Caucasus Net (ASCN), in the context of which the present research project has been undertaken.
W-i-P is an ongoing academic discussion series based in Tbilisi, Georgia, that takes place at the International School of Economics (ISET) building (16 Zandukeli Street). It is co-organized by the Caucasus Research Resource Centers (CRRC), the American Councils for International Education: ACTR/ACCELS, and the American Research Institute of the South Caucasus (ARISC). All of the talks are free and open to the public.The purpose of the W-i-P series is to provide support and productive criticism to those researching and developing academic projects pertaining the Caucasus region.Would you like to present at one of the W-i-P sessions? Send an e-mail to natia@crrccenters.org.