By-passing the Fourth Estate


‘Bypassing the Fourth Estate’ examines the extent to which Irish and Australian politicians bypass the scrutiny of journalists by publishing directly to online and social media. The use of social media by populist politicians, such as US President Donald Trump, has led to concern about the breakdown of the traditional relationship between the news media and politicians. During the US presidential election campaign Donald Trump repeatedly criticized the news media and masterfully used social media, primarily Twitter, to spread his messages to the public unchecked. This ability to bypass the news media is a phenomenon called ‘disintermediation’ (Coleman, 2005; Steiner, 2009), which is also referred to as ‘direct representation’ (Coleman 2005) or ‘self-representation’ (Lilleker & Koc-Michalska, 2013).

While politicians’ ability to bypass journalistic scrutiny via social media is noted in the research literature there are few empirical studies on the phenomenon. In this context, this pilot project will examine the extent to which Australian and Irish politicians are adopting this strategy and why, and the whether the public prefers unfiltered political spin to reports by the news media.

The project has three components:
(1) a content analysis of news media and political social media account to examine if and when politicians are choosing to bypass the scrutiny of journalists and publish directly to their target audiences via social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter and YouTube).
(2) survey analysis, using the annual Reuters Digital News Report, to identify and assess trends regarding how media consumers prefer to access political information including
subscribing to, or following, the social media feeds (YouTube, Facebook, Twitter) of politicians as well as correlation
(3) qualitative interviewing with political media advisers to identify the strategic thinking that lies behind the targeted use of specific platforms and to assess perceptions of value and trust associated with mainstream and social media platforms.