Challenges for Europe

Funding period:

9/2020 - 8/2023

Value Conflicts in a Differentiated Europe: The Impact of Digital Media on Value Polarisation in Europe (ValCon)

Research Goals and Questions

The project will examine the role of digital social and news media in creating political value polarization among citizens and in promoting the rise of populism in Europe. It includes a comparative survey in 6 countries and qualitative analysis of debates conducted through social media. The overall aim of our research is to explain the growing tendency in and across Europe to contest the core values that anchor the European project, and clarify how this new trend relates to digital media usage. At a broader level, ValCon addresses the challenges posed by a deep crisis of liberal democracy in Europe and the world. This crisis, we assume, is a manifestation of increasing conflicts over liberal values, which—we further argue—social media both drives and amplifies.

ValCon asks the following core question: To what extent can value conflicts, as expressed in polarized opinions and extremist political views among the public, be attributed to patterns of social media communication? To answer this question, we analyse the dynamics of online value conflicts and how they affect the legitimacy of political order. Is the EU as a community of value drifting apart? And if so, how is this "drifting apart" related to the erosion of value consensus at national level? In this context, our proposed project addresses two major challenges to European societies today: digital media’s rapidly increasing contribution to political polarisation, and the emergence of new social cleavages within and across European societies.

ValCon’s main hypothesis is that one key factor to explain these new observable social cleavages within European societies lies in a mediatized logic of value contestation. To investigate this mediatized logic of value contestation, ValCon designs an innovative research methodology that bridges the fields of media framing and public opinion analysis. This allows us to analyse how values contestation engages political actors, the media, and audiences in new ways. Beyond simply focusing on top-down mobilisation efforts by new populist parties and their impact on political preferences and attitudes, we further explore how broader audiences and the media engage in values contestation through a bottom-up dynamic of political mobilisation.

Research Design

This mediatisation perspective helps us to understand how value conflicts are not only channelled through the media, but also constituted by the media. Moving beyond a standard country comparison by asking for trans- and cross-national trends in value contestation, the study combines and synthesizes public opinion surveys and media content analysis for three core value conflicts (freedom of speech; independence of judiciary; gender equality) in six EU member states (Ireland, France, Germany, Poland, Italy, and Spain).


ValCon is coordinated by Prof. Monika Eigmüller (EUF, Flensburg), Prof. Hans-Jörg Trenz (UniFI, Florence), and Prof. Juan Díez Medrano (UC3M, Madrid). More on teams here.

Lockdown of the Public Sphere? Value Contestation and Digital Mobilization during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Focusing on the emergent social and political conflicts surrounding COVID-19 and the role of social media in creating, disseminating and shaping conflict, this project analyses the dynamics of value contestation and political mobilization in European social media during the COVID-19 pandemic. It aims to understand the appeal of anti-lockdown protests and to propose (counter-)action scenarios that can strengthen the resilience of democratic public space. Using an innovative visual analysis approach, we carry out an in-depth study of a single social media platform (Instagram) for six countries across time, expecting the study to obtain new insights and methodological tools for tracking the patterns and resonance of digital mobilization patterns. More on teams here.