How Political Conflict Shapes Online Spaces: A Comparison of Climate Change Hyperlink Networks in the United States and Germany
We examine how the political context in which actors are embedded relates to their online communication. We argue that the degree of contentiousness of an issue (high vs. low conflict) is a decisive factor in explaining the distinct network structures generated by the actors’ hyperlink patterns. Comparing two such networks originating in the United States and Germany in the area of clilmate change, we found systematic differences between them that result in distinct political hyperlink topologies, which reflect the underlying issue context. These differences become visible in the reciprocity of the actors’ hyperlink communication, the fragmentation of the networks along the political divide, the recognition issue opponents receive from the media, and the transnational orientation of climate advocates and skeptics. This research implies that hyperlink communication is responsive to the political context, and that countermovements, in particular, manage to reap the benefits from online communication mobilization efforts.