The Policy Sciences of Social Media

Policy Studies Journal, Vol. 39, No. 4, pp. 709-736, 2011

28 Pages Posted: 18 Dec 2011

Date Written: July 17, 2011


Twitter, Facebook, and other social media are increasingly touted as platforms not merely for networks of friends and for private diversion, but as vehicles that allow ordinary people to enter and influence the many arenas of public life. On the surface, the disparate and shapeless population of “i-reporters,” policy “tweeters,” and anonymous news web site “commentators” would appear to challenge the comparatively well-defined cast of professional diplomats, journalists, and propagandists that Harold D. Lasswell identified as policy-oriented communicators. However, to illuminate the roles and impacts of social media in politics and policymaking, insights from Lasswell’s “science of communication” must be embedded in Lasswell’s broader lessons on value assets and outcomes. A closer look at the so-called democratizing functions of social media in politics reveals the influence of powerful intermediaries who filter and shape electronic communications. Lasswell’s insights on the likelihood of increased collaboration among political elites and skilled, “modernizing intellectuals” anticipates contemporary instances of state actors who recruit skilled creators and users of social media — collaborations that may or may not advance experiments in democracy. Lasswell’s decision process concept is deployed to discover social media’s strengths and weaknesses for the practicing policy scientist.

Keywords: policy sciences, social process, decision process, Harold D. Lasswell, social media, tag clouds, e-communication

JEL Classification: Z00

Suggested Citation

Auer, Matthew Robert, The Policy Sciences of Social Media (July 17, 2011). Policy Studies Journal, Vol. 39, No. 4, pp. 709-736, 2011, Available at SSRN:

Matthew Robert Auer (Contact Author)

University of Georgia ( email )

204 Candler Hall
Athens, GA 30602
United States

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