Did Social Media Help the UDC Referendum?

There is certainly much to be said about the recent Swiss vote on “immigration de masses”. Certainly much will be said in the future since the exact nature of the operationalization of the positive vote on the referendum is still very unclear. What can be said at this moment, however, is that a majority of Swiss voters felt that there were too many non-Swiss in the country. Whether it was because of housing difficulties, unemployment, lack of security or a perceived loss of national identity, 50.3% of the voters wanted more restrictions on foreigners


The Swiss are not alone. In the future, many in the United Kingdom could also vote to withdraw from the European Union or at least restrict the free movement of people within the Schengen agreement. If votes were taken in other European countries like France or Holland, we are told, similar results would happen. Unlike the free movement of goods and services, the free movement of people has not been successful with the general populations in Europe. There is an evident backlash.

One of the most perplexing questions surrounding this reality is the paradoxical relationship between social media and increased nationalism. At the same time more and more people are connected, people seem to be turning more and more inward. While we are not suggesting that those who voted for the referendum in Switzerland are necessarily those who are the most networked, we are suggesting that the dream of advancing cosmopolitanism through social networking does not seem to be working.

How can this be so?

Intellectually, it makes sense to say that social networking increases our potential to learn more about others outside our immediate environment. But, in fact, it may be that either we are afraid to learn more about others or that what we learn about others drives us back to being with those similar to us. The former Yugoslavia had signed more international treaties than any other country before it erupted into ethnic violence. Canadians, part of another multiethnic society, have recently raised serious questions about their country’s multicultural experiment.

Does social networking increase our preconceptions instead of opening up new horizons? Counterintuitively, instead of introducing different perspectives, social media may reinforce prejudices. Rather than go to different types of blogs, I can now easily streamline my sources of information to only those I agree with. I can easily ignore differing opinions.

Moreover, the vote also showed how the general population of Switzerland rejected the advice of the Federal Council as well as that of most leaders of political parties and the business community. It was a very populist vote, going against the arguments of the country’s elites. While social media has been hailed as a major step in democratization, it can also undermine authority and leadership. In this particular vote, direct democracy showed a worrying cleavage between the general population and the governing elite, not a very positive development in an advanced democracy.

While the Swiss vote has come as somewhat of a surprise, what is very surprising is how social media has not had the globalizing effect many had predicted. While we now have the possibility to be in contact with the world at large in microseconds, fundamental points of attachment still remain very close to home.  


Je ne suis pas sûr d'avoir bien compris votre propos.
Vous semblez suggérer qu'il y a une contradiction, voire un paradoxe, entre le fait qu'il est toujours plus facile de se tenir informé et donc ouvert sur le monde et la tendance observée d'un repli identitaire.

Vous vous inquiétez du décalage entre la population et ses élites quand bien même l'ensemble des médias défendait la position de ces derniers.

Enfin vous évoquez la possibilité que le lecteur choisit ses sources en fonction de ses sensibilités afin d'accroitre et confirmer une position plutôt que de la remettre en question.

Je traduis ça par une sorte de réticence à notre système de démocratie directe. Une remise en question de la sagesse populaire qui pourtant chez nous se confirme scrutin après scrutin.

Je vous encourage à vérifier que, bien souvent, un vote "émotionnel" répond à une compréhension intuitive plus profonde que la simple réflexion basée sur les tendances du moment en constantes fluctuations.
Le coeur a ses raisons que la raison ne connait pas.

Écrit par : Pierre Jenni | 25/02/2014

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