As part of the Integrated Project ‘Reconstituting Democracy in Europe (RECON)’, Online Euroscepticism aims to investigate how and to what extent prominent internet platforms across Europe function to facilitate debate about European integration. Procedurally, we investigate to what extent news websites and frequently visited blogs feature debate about Europe and how these websites function to facilitate or inhibit participation of political elites and citizens, publicity of main European topics and public opinion formation concerning key questions about European integration. These topics include the desirability of intense and institutionalized cooperation among European nation states, the way the process of European integration is currently institutionalized within the European Union (EU) and possible future steps in integration in the form of further empowerment of EU institutions, alterations in decision-making procedures and enlargement to include more member states.
In the first stage of the project, we analyze online debates during the campaigns of the 2009 European Parliament elections. The second phase of the project investigates online coverage of EU crisis politics surrounding the bailout of Greece between 2010 and 2012. For both periods, our research interest is twofold. On the one hand, we aim to discover the substance and rationale of preferences voiced in online media by journalists, political elites and citizens alike. This includes different combinations of positions actors articulate regarding European integration and the European Union and the justifications they give for these positions. On the other hand, we aim to discover the way online platforms facilitate or inhibit different aspects of political debate on such a complex topic as European integration. Here, we relate our findings to the alleged changes the internet means for news making and public spheres. Firstly, we relate our findings to the hopes of cyber optimists that the internet brings new participation by giving citizens a direct voice in news making and transnational or cosmopolitan debates by allowing communication across borders. Secondly, we relate our findings to the fears of cyber pessimists that the internet leads to a fragmentation of audiences into small niche publics of likeminded people and that professional standards of journalism – such as separating fact from opinion – are lost in online debates.