Politicians and the General Public Communicating on Facebook and Messenger: Public and Private Interactions in a Two-Level Online Sphere

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


One of the early democratic promises of social networking sites concerned their potential to break down barriers between elites and citizens and facilitate two-way online interactions. More pessimist views have emphasized how inequality is present online as it is offline, with little interaction between those in power and the public taking place. This article expands these debates using online interactions in the small state of Iceland as a case study, with survey data (N = 1,264) and elite interviews (N = 93). First, Iceland is an ideal case to examine in relation to the pessimist perspective, with more interactions and less distance found there between elites and the public than in larger democracies usually studied. Second, the Icelandic case illustrates limitations with studying public aspects of online engagement. Research on the internet and social media commonly focuses on publicly available data and therefore does not examine the more private online interactions that can take place. I show that this can be especially problematic in small states like Iceland, where much of the engagement between elites and the public happens through Facebook Messenger and other more private settings. Based on my findings, I illustrate that it is helpful to use a public–private dichotomy framework to understand different types of political interactions in Iceland, other small states, and more widely. I refer to this as a “two-level online sphere.” The first level is the public version of the communication and the second level is the more private avenue.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberhttps://doi.org/10.1177/20563051231168376
Pages (from-to)1-14
Number of pages14
JournalSocial Media + Society
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 5 May 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2023.

Other keywords

  • Facebook Messenger
  • engagement
  • messaging apps
  • online interactions
  • political communication
  • small states
  • social media

Cite this