This article explores the symbolic construction of civic engagement mediated by social media in Canadian newspapers. The integration of social media in politics has created a discursive opening for reimagining engagement, partly as a result of enthusiastic accounts of the impact of digital technologies upon democracy. By means of a qualitative content analysis of Canadian newspaper articles between 2005 and 2014, we identify several discursive articulations of engagement: First, the articles offer the picture of a wide range of objects of engagement, suggesting a civic body actively involved in governance processes. Second, engagement appears to take place only reactively, after decisions are made. Finally, social media become the new social glue, bringing isolated individuals together and thus enabling them to pressure decision-making institutions. We argue that, collectively, these stories construct engagement as a deeply personal gesture that is nevertheless turned into a communal experience by the affordances of technology. The conclusion unpacks what we deem as the ambiguity at the heart of this discourse, considering its implications for democratic politics and suggesting avenues for the further monitoring of the technologically enabled personalization of engagement.

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Keywords Canada, civic action, civic engagement, discursive articulation, grassroots mobilization, media coverage, qualitative content analysis, social media
Sponsor The research for this articles was supported by an Insight Grant from the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.
Persistent URL dx.doi.org/10.1177/0163443717734406, hdl.handle.net/1765/103885
Journal Media Culture & Society (online)
Citation
Dumitrica, D, & Bakardjieva, M. (2017). The personalization of engagement: the symbolic construction of social media and grassroots mobilization in Canadian newspapers. Media Culture & Society (online), 1–21. doi:10.1177/0163443717734406