57.2 Avatar politics

Wednesday, August 1, 2012: 11:05 AM
Faculty of Economics, TBA
Anne KROGSTAD , Department of Sociology and Human Geography, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway
The aim of this paper is to examine political leaders’ use of visual images in social media. More specifically, what rhetorical work do politicians’ profile pictures on Facebook perform? And how are these visual performances and projected qualities of political leaders commented upon? Firstly, the profile pictures of Jens Stoltenberg, Prime Minister of Norway, are analyzed in light of what I have coined "avatar politics." This is synthesized politics in visualized form, made possible by photographs’ special ways of creating immediacy, proximity and realism. Secondly, some common rhetorical features of avatar politics are explored by comparing the profile pictures of Stoltenberg with those of Nicolas Sarkozy, David Cameron and Barack Obama. Thirdly, the textual comments to the mentioned politicians’ profile pictures are examined both quantitatively and qualitatively. Do commentators find politicians in these profile pictures alive and "present?" It is argued that avatar politics create new platforms for contact between politicians and their voters, however weak and unstable these may be.