November 12th, 2019
"Internet, Social Media, and the Behavior of Politicians: Evidence from Facebook in Brazil"
Recent years have witnessed the remarkable diffusion of social media in tandem with the spread of mobile phones that are, in many places, the key tool for accessing those media. We ask whether this has affected the communication and responsiveness of politicians towards voters. Using data on the spread of the 3G mobile phone network in Brazil, and self-collected data on the universe of Facebook activities by federal legislators, we examine how legislators respond when municipalities that are part of their electoral base obtain access to the 3G technology. We find that politicians increase their online engagement with voters that gain 3G mobile access but decrease their offline engagement measured by speeches and earmarked transfers towards connected localities where they have a large pre-existing vote share. Our results suggests that instead of increasing responsiveness, social media may enable politicians to solidify their position with core supporters using communication strategies while shifting resources away towards localities that lack 3G Internet access.