In Germany, a few anti-TTIP groups are waging a resolute battle against TTIP in online media.
Compared to both German industry associations and labour unions, which are the traditional bodies debating trade and defining the trade agenda, 85 per cent of all TTIP-related positions in German online media are originally authored and spread by anti-TTIP groups.
Similarly, for the period July-December 2014, anti-TTIP groups’ announcements in Germany amounted to 83 per cent of total online media reporting on average, going up to 93 per cent in peak times. Peak time media reporting is around the TTIP negotiations rounds, and it is obvious that there are coordinated multi-online-media campaigns with high success rates then.
Furthermore, 90 per cent of anti-TTIP online media penetration happens on Facebook and Twitter. Some 5 per cent goes to blogs and forum sites. New online portals represent a comparatively small fraction of anti-TTIP groups’ positions.
TTIP-related positions emerging from German labour unions and business associations are largely absorbed by the classical online news sites. By contrast, modern social media online barely plays a role for the traditional stakeholders of trade policy.
Another interesting feature of the campaign in online media is the fact that a high share, 20 per cent, of all anti-TTIP announcements of dominant anti-TTIP NGO’s have been authored and spread by Attac. 26 per cent of Attac’s penetration takes place on Facebook, 53 per cent on Twitter and 8 per cent on blogs and forums.
Given the mission of Attac, which is to oppose ‘neo-liberal globalisation’, it is no a great surprise that they are using cost-effective means to diffuse the message.
However, there is an interesting imbalance in online media penetration, with anti-TTIP campaign groups dominating that scene. With its small number of members in Germany, which was 27,402 in 2014, Attac’s anti-TTIP activities in Germany are indeed formidable. Compare that, for instance to, VERDI, the dominant German labour union for the services sectors, representing 2 million workers. Attac’s TTIP-related online media activities exceed VERDI’s by factor 1,000 (one thousand). Compared to the umbrella organisation of German labour unions, DGB, Attac’s activities exceed those of DGB by factor 3,000 (three thousand, see figure above).
The numbers also show that German business associations are barely engaged in the online media debate. Undeniably, it is always difficult for industry bodies to develop coordinated positions reflecting a common interest of all the industry. Sometimes, industry stakeholders, especially in German SME’s, are unwilling to engage in the debate, or cannot move beyond empty statements that are always difficult to generate interest for.
But what do these findings tell us about public discourse and public opinion about TTIP in a modern democracy?
Sure, the numbers do not measure the impact of anti-TTIP campaigning. Nor do they indicate the perception of TTIP in the broader public. Anti-TTIP online media activities do, however, shape public opinion and feed back into traditional print and audio-visual media.
The numbers also suggest that public opinion is, perhaps more than ever before, a matter of participation. In today’s online debate about TTIP, populist left-wing and anti-globalisation groups express minority views – but views that get traction. Pro-market activists are hardly, if at all, visible.
Empirical research indicates that people tend to be hesitant to voice a minority view when their friends, family or colleagues feel differently. It is called the “spiral of silence” and it holds true for both the offline and the online media. The asymmetry in the current online media discourse bears the risk that ‘praising TTIP’ becomes a widespread minority view, and it may even create a lasting impact on the zeitgeist of globalisation. Therefore, it is time for the advocates of TTIP – not only in Germany – to make their voice heard beyond conferences and official hearings in order to prevent the spiral of silence to put an end to a promising trade agreement.