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Politics and the Media

5. Social Media

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In this module, we think about the many unsettling effects that the internet and social media have had on the nature of the modern news media, focusing in particular on: (i) the sheer pace of a 24/7 news environment in which breaking news unfolds in real time; (ii) the capacity of politicians to speak to us directly in the age of platforms like Twitter; (iii) social media’s amplification of the ‘reinforcement effect’ we examined in Module 3 and the notion of ‘filter bubbles’; and (iv) the polarising effects of social media and the internet.


In this course, Dr Richard Heffernan (Open University) thinks about the relationship of the modern media to British politics. We begin in the first module by thinking about the indispensability of the media in all its forms to the enactment of modern politics, using a series of metaphors to help us understand its roles. We then briefly survey the history of the modern media and consider the balance between, on the one hand its freedom to comment, and on the other its obligation to inform. In the third module, we move on to think through four key theories that political scientists have developed to try and disentangle the impact of the media on our political views, namely: (i) the ‘hyperdermic needle model,’ (ii) the ‘reinforcement model’, (iii) marginal effects, and (iv) agenda-setting/framing. We then turn in the fourth module to characterise the relationship between the media and politicians as at once symbiotic and adversarial: politicians need the media as a platform and the media needs political stories, but the media is always critical and interrogative of politicians who seek favourable coverage. Finally, in the fifth module, we think about the profound impact of social media on political communication, noting its capacity to both unite and divide us.


Richard Heffernan is a Lecturer in Politics at the Open University and Visiting Professor at the University of Notre Dame. He works in the field of comparative politics and specialises in British politics. He is presently researching the British prime minister.

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APA style

Heffernan, R. (2019, September 26). Politics and the Media - Social Media [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Heffernan, R. "Politics and the Media – Social Media." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 26 Sep 2019,

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