Politicians as communicators of delegitimizing criticism towards epistemic authorities : A study of political hostility towards news media and science in Sweden

University essay from Uppsala universitet/Medier och kommunikation

Abstract: It is seemingly accepted that a democracy functions better with a reasonably informed citizenry. As we cannot acquire knowledge about a complex reality on our own, democratic societies operate through a set of institutions of which two are attributed the explicit task to assist citizensa legitimate pathway to knowledge. These institutions include news media and science. Evidence from recent years indicates that more and more elected politicians across the democratic world engage in attacks towards these institutions, with the deliberate aim to undermine their legitimacy. Because the functionality of news media and science essentially relies on their legitimacy, this trend has raised societal concerns in parallel with scholarly interest. While recent research has made important contributions to better understand political attacks towards institutional knowledge providers, several dimensions are still understudied. This thesis addresses such dimensions. Using quantitative content analysis, the research conducted in this thesis explores prevalence, party distribution and expressions of delegitimizing criticism (characterized by a presence of incivility and/or absence of reasoning) towards news media and science(conceptualized as epistemic authorities) among tweeting Members of Parliament (MP) in Sweden. The study analyzes single tweets by all Swedish MPs represented in the national parliament (and on Twitter) over a one-year study period (31st of October 2020 - 31st of October 2021) (N = 1828). Results from the exploration show that Swedish politicians engage in delegitimizing evaluations of epistemic authorities in a small and concentrated scale. Findings are several; Swedish politicians are remarkably more hostile towards the news media than towards science;one party affiliation contribute to more than half of all delegitimizing evaluations; delegitimizing criticism takes on several expressive forms but addresses to a large extent dimensions surrounding poor quality and partiality. The conducted study contributes to research about political hostility towards institutional knowledge providers in empirical and theoretical regards and provide entrances for further discoveries. A special request for futureresearch is to engage in more in-depth and detailed assessments of dimensions having been explored, for example by mixing in qualitative methods. 

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