The Social Media-State Relationship: A Blended Conceptual Framework.

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Social media are an increasingly important factor in societies worldwide. Platforms have had a democratising effect on information sharing, in turn changing how individuals interact with one another across all facets of society. Resultingly, the fundamental political economy of power within societies has incorporated social media into the dynamic struggle for hegemony. To encapsulate this dynamic, the social media-state relationship framework and Order Index proposed in this thesis present an approach to understanding and modelling these dynamics.

Contemporary social media scholarship is invaluable in highlighting social media’s impact on societies in varying phenomena – organising social movements, cultivating influencer capitalism, and the rise of Twitter diplomacy. Beyond these cases, social media has catalysed the broader data economy and surveillance capitalism – another saturated area in the literature. A gap in the literature emerges in attempting to tie the disparate threads of varying perspectives on social media together to present a unified, normative framework of the social media-state relationship.

To fill this gap, I draw upon Siebert et al.’s (1956) Four theories of the Press as an initial conceptualisation of global media-state relationships. Antonio Gramsci’s (1971) Prison Notebooks and Robert Cox’s (1981) Neo-Gramscian perspectives on hegemonic competition in societies provide insight into how those relationships emerged historically and have been changed by social media. With the broad framework constructed, I present four models of the social media-state relationship: Free Market, Social Consciousness, Strongman, and Big Brother. Each model characterises a different social media-state relationship, inspired by Siebert et al.’s original four models, and is presented alongside a relevant case study.

The Order Index was created as an evaluative survey instrument to measure varying social media-state relationships. An experimental 2x4 quantitative study that recruited 239 Australians was conducted to validate this instrument and validate the four models. The study’s findings validated the instrument and each model’s efficacy for observing and measuring the social media-state relationship in differing conditions.

Thus, this thesis contributes to the literature with a characterisation of the social media-state relationship as presented in a blended conceptual framework measured by the Order Index, which has achieved initial external validation. The thesis provides several paths for future research. Further, this framework offers a normative lens for understanding varying social media-state relationships worldwide through four models. Additionally, through the framework, insights into social media’s societal impacts can be quickly illustrated to academic and non-academic stakeholders. Thus, taking a step toward closing the gap between theory and practice.
Date of Award16 Feb 2023
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorJeffrey Brand (Supervisor) & Jonathan Ping (Supervisor)

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