This chapter concerns the communicative conditions in the relation between informal practice of sakprosa and informal style in social media communication. By focusing on knowledge and interaction in authorities’ crisis communication, the objective is to discuss whether the public discourse undergoes an informalization within the framework of critical discourse analysis. The aim of this study is to shed light on communicative strategies in authorities’ prose on social media. The data consist of two corpora from the Twitter platform of the Swedish crisis authority—the first from the terror attack in Stockholm in 2017 and the second from an official false alarm for a total number of 1,951 tweets. Methodologically, the data are arranged chronologically and rest on a qualitative approach to style.
A result of this study is that boundaries within the public discourse in social media are not blending, but rather are parallel. When the authority takes the initiative to post informative tweets, they use formal written style. On the contrary, when they write responses to citizens’ tweets, they often use a personal and informal style. Another result is that when the authority does not communicate, it seems to trigger citizens to post informal and sometimes harsh comments.
- Crisis communication
- Chronical mapping
- Knowledge discourse
- Strategic communication
- Offensive praxis
- Hybrid texts
This study was made possible by funds from the Wellander Foundation.
In April 2017, Stockholm suffered a terror attack. A man highjacked a small truck and drove it at high speed down a pedestrian street. Five people were killed, and more than twenty persons were badly injured. In this situation, Twitter turned out to be the main source of official information (Krisinformation.se).Footnote 1 However, during the first six hours after the attack, all authorities lacked information and could not determine the extent of the threat. Yet, as time passed the situation became clearer and knowledge about the attack was heightened. A few months later, in July 2017, the official warning signal for war and other dangersFootnote 2 was transmitted by mistake. This caused a storm of worried questions, aggression, and derision from citizens on Krisinformation’s Twitter account.
In modern society, crisis situations are coming more into focus due to the global character of societal crises and the fact that anyone can be affected (Beck 1998). This has also increased the need for information from authorities. At the same time, there has been a development of authorities’ information in social media (Bouvier et al. 2016). Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are used to make it easier for authorities to reach the public in official matters and at the same time facilitate the public’s contacts with authorities. Social media offers immediate responses and straightforward answers in a convenient, clear, and concise way. As a result, new conditions of immediacy and conversational style have arisen. Due to social media’s demands for speed, the delivery of correct information and knowledge of solutions may be challenging. This becomes especially clear in situations such as crises in society like a terror attack. In these situations, official knowledge is often scant while citizens’ need for information is insatiable. Providing comprehensive information in the role of the authorities might, therefore, not be possible (Almström Persson 2018). In parallel, authorities turn into interlocutors due to the interactive nature of social media, something that may change the terms for language style and perhaps more importantly might change, or rather develop, a social role in relation to citizens. In social media, like Twitter, relations with given roles are frequently put out of play. Social media is based on simultaneity, and social relations can change instantaneously. In social crises, which are in focus in this study, authorities do not always have comprehensive knowledge while the citizens’ need for information is extensive. At specific occasions, citizens might even have more information than the authority itself, which is why interactions play an important role in the overall knowledge in society. At the same time, social media formats have their own logic regulated by anonymity and sometimes extreme informal and offensive praxis. This tension may be demanding for authorities, and crisis communication on social media shows communicative conditions that may shed new light on the concept of sakprosa as it takes shape in interactive media.
Authorities’ use of social media reflects a change in the discourse of public communication, which may be undergoing an informalization. The changes in linguistic characteristics in social media have drawn the attention of scholars studying neologisms, affixes, compounds, abbreviations, and emotional expressions (Chrystal 2001; Dijkman et al. 2020; Postegiullo Gómez 2003). However, the changes in communicative conditions and the possible changes in public discourse into a more informal character have not been fully discussed.
Purpose of the Study
Against this backdrop, this chapter concerns crisis communication in social media in an empirical study and pays special attention to conditions of knowledge and authoritativeness in interactions regarding the role of authorities. The discussion pays attention to the assumed development of informalization in authorities’ sakprosa by examining the Twitter communication from Krisinformation.se, which is the authority that gathers verified information on social crises from all other Swedish authorities. This study has three objectives. The first is to add new perspectives of reciprocal aspects of sakprosa understood as interactive, informal, and emotional (cf. Pipping’s discussion of style in sakprosa, 1938). The second is to investigate communicative strategies when the Swedish authority Kriskommunikation lacks knowledge. And finally, the third and possibly too wide purpose for one single study is to discuss whether the public discourse, reflected in authorities’ sakprosa, undergoes informalization or not.
The following research questions are especially addressed in this study:
What interactive strategies does Krisinformation use to handle the fact that they do not have an overall picture and knowledge of a crisis? How is knowledge communicated hour by hour in examples of crisis communication on Twitter?
How does Krisinformation balance the role of being authoritative against a new relatively informal role?
Is there an informalization of discourse for sakprosa?
A social crisis can be understood as an extraordinary event that affects society at large, for example, natural disasters, fires, and toxic emissions (Vigsö 2016). A social crisis can also be a sudden event that is characterized by the fact that someone wants to hurt society or citizens badly. In a fire, authorities can make forecasts even though the fire in question was not expected. Experience over time of major fires means that society has prior knowledge and some preparation for such a crisis. A terrorist attack like the one in Stockholm, however, is unexpected and is characterized by lack of information, and the course of events is difficult to predict (Almström Persson 2018). A mistaken official warning from the authorities can cause worries and thereby a strong need for confirmation.
The theoretical approach used in this chapter is critical discourse analysis (Wodak and Meyer 2016), which entails a constructivist perspective in which linguistic acts are assumed to be shaped by social relationships and processes, while at the same time language is assumed to shape the social relationships and processes (Fairclough 1995; Wodak 2001). This study’s critical approach is connected to the tradition in the field of research to study the language in social change processes and the idea that hybrid texts arise when society changes. The social change highlighted in this chapter concerns the assumption of increased informalization of the Swedish public sphere.
When texts are described as hybrid, this refers to the boundaries between different discourses being shifted or to different discourses being blended. “Social and cultural changes very often manifest themselves discursively through a redrawing of boundaries within and between orders of discourse” (Fairclough 1995). Discourse and orders of discourse are key concepts in this study. Discourse is associated with rules, routines, and conventions that are shaped within institutional knowledge production, but it is also viewed as the ways of realizing or representing social practices as well as ideas and attitudes associated with these practices. The term “orders of discourse” is defined as a set of genres, discourses, and styles, within a social practice (Fairclough 1995).
As mentioned above, sakprosa in social media has been described as hybrid by the blending of oral and written text. Hybrid texts are to be understood as being multi-discursive or blended discursive. Sakprosa in social media is a type of communication that encompasses both the authoritative discourse and the interactive discourse. The interaction and the complexity of the text may be described as lying within the tension between, on the one hand, the professional and the formal, and on the other the everyday and the informal. Particular attention must be paid here to the boundary between the formal authority’s discourse and the informal interactive discourse and how this drawing of boundaries is realized linguistically in the Twitter communications following the ideas of Fairclough and Wodak:
Describing discourse as social practice implies a dialectic relationship between a particular discursive event and the situation(s), institution(s) and social structure(s) which frame it. (Fairclough and Wodak 1997:258)
When it comes to social media, Hagren Idevall (2016) points to three textual aspects of social media that she believes refer to an objectivity discourse: (1) statements without modification, (2) statements that lack a voice, and (3) statements that contain references, sources, and links. Her study examines interaction chains in commentary fields in news media. What has not been discussed to any significant degree is how authorities communicate within the tension between their assignment to give well-substantiated information to citizens and social media’s demand of informality.
The development towards informality in the public sphere has been associated with periods of transformation in society that have enabled new social roles. Researchers in the rhetoric field have discussed how equality ideals and changes in social hierarchies through history have altered official language in the direction of a more oral style (Öhrberg 2011). The sociologist Barbara A. Misztal draws attention to modern society when she defines formality as the impersonal sphere of formal institutions and connects informality to the personal domain of the primary group. At the same time, she asserts that the relationship in society between formal and informal is being eroded by new electronic means of communication and that this requires open, unrestricted, and reciprocal communication (Misztal 2000). Further, in contemporary Swedish society the public sphere has been more subject-oriented, partly due to what Foucault (1991 ) mentions as ‘govermentality’. This concept refers to governance as a joint project in the relation between citizens and society and has in recent years been canalized through social media (Almström Persson 2022).
From the linguistic field, a shift from formal to informal is stated without any broader discussion. Informalization is described as a general pattern towards a more oral style in written text in English-speaking societies (Biber and Finnegan 1989; Montero-Fleta et al. 2008). Sarangi and Slembrouck (1996) argue that modern society has been commercialized with the result that even official language has elements of advertisement-like linguistic strategies such as different types of addresses and offers. Studies of company–consumer connections in social media have shown the importance of using a relationship-oriented personal voice, conversational capabilities, and prompt responsiveness (Dijkman et al. 2020). The style of sakprosa in social media has been described as a blend of oral and written text (Chrystal 2001; Dijkman et al. 2020; Postegiullo Gómez 2003) in contrast to the style in traditional authoritative communication (Nord and Sörlin 2017; Nyström Höög, 2015). Almström Persson (2018) has shown how the pragmatic function and modality of statements differs in authorities’ action tweets and response tweets. However, the description of the change of discourse concerning informality has so far not been fully investigated and described.
Data and Method
Krisinformation.se is a website run by the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (Myndigheten för samhällsskydd och beredskap, MSB). Their assignment is to compile and convey alerts and emergency information from the authorities to the public. Krisinformation is in other words the utmost authority to gather and publish verified and confirmed information by the responsible authority or actor (such as power network operators, telecommunication, the police, or health-care authorities). They publish alerts and news on their website and on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Twitter is in focus in this study since Twitter is the fastest and most interactive of the three social media platforms mentioned.Footnote 3
There are two arguments for studying crisis communication when focusing on informalization in social media. The first argument is that crisis communication demands accessibility and simultaneity, which in itself motivates the use of social media. The second argument rests on the fact that the Swedish authority Krisinformation.se was the second Swedish authority to use Twitter when it was introduced in April 2009. An assumption is they are accomplished and experienced in this modus of communication.
This study includes two corpora from Krisinformation’s Twitter account. The first corpus, Case A in this study, is the Twitter conversation during the terror attack mentioned in the beginning of the chapter. The second corpus, Case B, is a Twitter conversation from the event when the official warning signal for war and other dangers was transmitted by mistake by the authorities. The terror attack corpus has been chosen due to the fact that authorities for eight hours suffered a lack of information, and it shows the protracted process of communication and interaction between the authority and the public. In complement, the corpus from the transmission mistake is more of a punctual event when the situation was clarified after 11 minutes and then communicated to the public. The second corpus shows how citizens on a public platform discuss authorities’ mistakes. This chapter analyses the complete samples of tweets hour by hour from the terror attack in Stockholm in 2017, including a total of 139 tweets, and the complete samples from the mistake of the warning signal in 2018, including 1795 tweets. The tweets were originally in Swedish but were translated to English.
The present study is a corpus analysis of the complete samples of tweets from the two corpora. The tweets are separated into Krisinformation’s information tweets (action tweets), Kriskommunikation’s responses to the public’s tweets (response tweets), and finally tweets that are initiated by the public (citizens’ tweets). Crisis communication tends to develop into an extended process. For this reason, empirical studies of crisis communication often make use of a timeline, which also is the case in this chapter (cf. Strandberg and Vigsö 2016). The timeline supports the research question about what communicative strategies Kriskommunikation employs in a communicative channel governed by interaction. Further, the study has a qualitative approach to the data motivated by a general cultural assumption that various individuals or groups in interaction give voice to different perspectives (Marková et al. 2007). The methodological consequence of this assumption is that this study concentrates on close reading of both the content and the style in the interaction between tweets posted by Kriskommunikation and response tweets from the public. Finally, formal style is defined as writing-oriented language following the lexicon and grammar in Swedish handbooks, and informal style is defined as speech-associated language and typical social media language such as neologisms, affixes, compounds, abbreviations, and emotional expressions (cf. Chrystal 2001; Dijkman et al. 2020; Postegiullo Gómez 2003). In addition, the two persons from the editorial staff at Krisinformation gave detailed and clarifying information about the two events in interviews. The interviews concerned the editors’ reflections on their strategies as interlocutors in Twitter interactions.Footnote 4
Since the two corpora to some extent correspond to different questions in the study, the presentation of the result is divided accordingly. The first corpus, the terror attack, responds to the question about communication strategies when the authority lacks information. The second corpus, the false alarm, shows how Krisinformation deals with informal interactions. All examples are presented in Swedish after the English translated example.
Case A: Terror Attack
The 139 posts connected to the terror attack on Krisinformation’s Twitter account are arranged according to the time they were published, hour by hour. The attack started just before 2:50 p.m., and the first tweet from Krisinformation was published at 3:03 p.m. It turned out to be a lone perpetrator and he was arrested at 8 p.m., that is, the sixth hour in Table 1. The information on Twitter was running for 26 hours. Krisinformation’s tweets are assorted into 31 action tweets and 42 response tweets. The total posts from the public include 58 tweets, and other authorities’ contributions, like the police and transport authority, include 8 tweets. Table 1 shows the timeline during the whole process. In the top row of the table, number 1 corresponds to the first hour between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m., number 2 corresponds to the second hour between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m., and so on. From midnight until 8 a.m. (10th to 17th hours), there was no Twitter activity.
The timeline shows that Krisinformation posted 11 tweets in the first hour and most of them, 9, were action tweets. The main information is the fact that a truck has been driven down a pedestrian street. During the second hour, there is a vacuum of information. The action tweets during the first eight hours are statements in declarative clauses, links, and imperative clauses, see examples 1–3, which are typical examples of the information provided by authorities. The language style is formal written-oriented language following the lexicon and grammar in Swedish handbooks.
The Swedish Transport Administration has suspended train traffic passing through Stockholm Central Station at the request of the Police. [Trafikverket har stoppat tågtrafiken förbi Stockholms central, på uppmaning av polisen.]
Be thoughtful when using the telephone networks in Stockholm city right now. Keep in mind that many are trying to reach their relatives. [Var eftertänksam när du använder telenätet i Stockholms city just nu. Tänk på att många försöker nå sina anhöriga.]
From the third hour and ongoing the public starts to tweet, but with no responses from the authority. Primarily, they have questions concerning the attack: Is it more than one attack? Is there a shooting going on at Fridhemsplan? Can I pass the Central train station?, and so on . Only in the eighth hour does Krisinformation start responding to the public’s tweets. When citizen NN38 asks if there is more than one attack because the information in an earlier Krisinformation tweet was written in the plural, “attacks”, the editor answers in a personal way, “The editor had a slip of his fingers”, and then he thanks NN38 for pointing out the mistake. Further, when citizen MB gives credit to the work that Krisinformation does on Twitter, the editor answers saying, “Thank you”, example 5. During the 26 hours, there is a problem with Krisinformation’s application. Citizens criticize the authority for their technical problems and the answer from the editorial staff is to admit “we have to work a lot to make it work” and they do that in an informal style, calling it a “crappy app”, example 6.
@NN83 No, just one attack. The editor had a slip of his fingers. Thanks for pointing this out. Now changed. [Nej, bara ett attentat. Redaktören slant med fingrarna. Tack för påpekandet. Ändrat nu.]
@MB Thank you! [Tack!]
@SN Crappy app. No more no less. We have to work a lot more to make it work. Kim/ed [Kass app. Vare sig mer eller mindre än så. Vi får jobba en del på att få den att fungera. Kim/red]
Worth noting is that in the eighth hour, the situation around the terror attack is relatively clear, and the police have arrested a man for the attack. Thus, only when there is evident information does the authority start answering questions from the public and to respond to praise and criticism. In comparison to Krisinformation’s action tweets characterized by declarative clauses and imperatives, the response tweets have a more informal style. Linguistically, there are signals of interaction with an explicit text-voice: “No, …”, “Thanks for pointing that out”, and “We have to work a lot more to make it work”, the latter being an answer to criticism. A relationship-oriented voice is mirrored in the response tweets when an interlocutor appears by use of the pronoun “we” and in the signature “Kim/ed”. Editor’s signatures with a first name are only found in response tweets.
A day after the attack, in the 21st hour, the police are completely sure that there is no more threat against society. The crisis is over. Kriskommunikation’s Twitter communication then develops even more into interaction and the authority-voice changes from giving information in declarative clauses and imperatives to a more conversational style addressing citizens. Krisinformation turns primarily into an interlocutor. Most responses begin with a greeting phrase and first name “Hello NN!”. In these response tweets, pronouns and signatures are common. Personal feelings, such as “it warms” are also expressed, see example 7.
@DD Hello Linn! Thank you for your message, it warms our hearts. We will take your point of view further; many people agree with you and your point is important. /Jess, ed. [Hej Linn! Tack för dina ord, det värmer. Vi kommer att ta med oss din synpunkt, många håller med dig och den är viktig. /Jess, red.]
With the beginning phrase “In fact”, example 8 has the form of an excerpt from a dialogue about the technical problems that occurred. The tweet also has the informal wording “nutty code”.
@X1 In fact, the error was not due to congestion, but to nutty code in an update release. A technician may develop this more understandably in the future. /UJ [Faktum är att felet inte berodde på överbelastning, utan knasig kod i en nyhet. En tekniker får utveckla detta mer begripligt framöver. /UJ
Interestingly, the authorities’ lack of knowledge is verbalized. The editor appears as an ordinary person by stating that another person, a technician, must make the method more understandable. The understanding of this verbalization of the deficiency can be interpreted as a signal that the editor and citizen X1 are social equals; a ‘we’ is created in the conversation, ‘we’ against ‘them’, them understood as the technicians. By showing a lack of knowledge, the editor can be said to apply to a feeling of affinity between herself and the citizen in question. The power balance between authorities and the public is thereby eliminated.
A consequence of Krisinformation’s assignment to collect and convey other authorities’ information is that many of the tweets have references in the form of links to other authorities’ websites and Twitter accounts. These references may indicate an objectivity discourse similar to what Hagren Idevall (2016) points out in her study.
The empirical study of action tweets in the terror attack corpus has pointed out references to the objectivity discourse such as links, declarative clauses, and signatures of the professional function. The style throughout is formal written Swedish. I understand these linguistic characteristics as ways of representing the social practice of authorities as we know it, and I claim that objectivity is also a practice that is expected from the public. That being said, I do not see a change in the authorities’ discourse on social media concerning action tweets.
Case B: False Alarm
The timeline of the mistaken transmission of the warning signal in July 2017 is arranged differently in Table 2 in comparison to Table 1. This is due to the difference in how the communication on Krisinformation’s platform developed. In this situation, interaction between the authority and the public is scant. At 10 p.m. sharp, the official warning signal for war and other dangers was transmitted by mistake. One minute later the public starts to ask questions on Krisinformation’s Twitter account about the warning signal. It takes the authority 11 minutes to communicate that the alarm was transmitted by mistake, that is, at 10:11 p.m. Table 2 shows that citizens posted 330 tweets during the first 11 minutes. Krisinformation posts two more action tweets that day, at 10:35 p.m. and at 11:22 p.m. The day after they post two more, at 9:57 a.m. and at 4:40 p.m., for a total of five action tweets. In comparison, the public posted a total of 1790 tweets during the five days from 9 to 14 July.
The first 10 minutes, citizens’ tweets are mostly questions about why the alarm went off: “Why is there an alarm right now?”, “What is going on?”, “Is this a test?”, and “Why air raid warning now?” There is no interaction between authority and the public during these 10 minutes. Instead Krisinformation posts their first tweet at 10:11 p.m., example 9.
The alarm went off at 10 p.m. all over the Stockholm Region. It is a fault and not a real alarm, according to SOS Alarm/Editor on duty [Hesa Fredrik gick vid 22-tiden igång över hela Stokholms län. Det är ett fel och inget riktigt larm, enligt SOS Alarm. /Vakthavande red.]
In an interview with the editorial staff, they explain that it took them 10 minutes to confirm the information about the mistake. However, they did not communicate or respond to the 330 questions while they were waiting to get the information confirmed. Their choice was instead to remain silent without interaction. Concerning language style, it is worth noting that they use a formal written language and the signature is not a first name but a professional functional title, “Editor on duty”.
After the first action tweet from Krisinformation, the account explodes with tweets from citizens, including 594 tweets in 24 minutes. Many of these are informal, like examples 10 and 11, and use emojis to show their emotions. Others are in responses to other citizens on the platform, like examples 12 and 13.
I choked on my evening tea!!: O [Satte kvällsteet i halsen!!: O]
And I ran down to the basement:-) [Å jag som sprang ned i källaren:-)]
Apparently a false alarm [Tydligen falskt larm]
I am glad that people are reacting so quickly [Det glädjer mig dock att folk reagerar så snabbt]
Thirty-five minutes later Krisinformation posts their second tweet shortly declaring, “False alarm in Stockholm”. After this the public partly changes tone and starts to either criticize the authority, see examples 14 and 15, or makes ironic jokes about how Krisinformation handles the incident, examples 16 and 17.
It is damn not approved that it takes 10 minutes to come out with that info [Det är fan inte godkänt att det tar 10 minuter att komma ut med den infon]
Exactly. If they have fucked up, they can at least tell us the story [Precis. Om de ändå har “fuckat upp” så kan de väl åtminstone fortsätta hela linan ut]
False alarm but Putin invades then [Falskt larm Putin invaderade då]
The wood has run out … there were no smoke signals [Nä veden var slut … kom inga röksignaler]
The informal, emotional, critical, and ironic posts from citizens are never answered by the authority. The tweet corpus from the false alarm shows how Krisinformation avoids being a part of the content and style exemplified in examples 14–17 above. Instead, they remain silent and communicate as little as possible. They do not interact. When they post their third tweet one and a half hour after the false alarm, they use a formal style and quite simply state that they have seen the reactions and the questions but will stick to informative posts, example 18.
We have received many questions and reactions on the false alarm that went off in the Stockholm area at 10 p.m. We will return with more info. [Vi har fått många frågor och reaktioner på det felaktiga VMA-larm som gick ut I Stockholmsområdet vid 22-tiden. Vi återkommer med mer info.]
The day after at 9:57 a.m., Krisinformation publishes their fourth post informing that they read all tweets on their platform and give feedback due to capacity, example 19.
Thank you for your questions and comments regarding the incorrect warning alarm that was transmitted from SOS Alarm yesterday. We read everything and give feedback according to our capacity to so! [Tack för frågor och synpunkter angående det felaktiga VMA-larm som gick ut från SOS Alarm igår. Vi läser allt och återkopplar efter förmåga!]
After this tweet, Krisinformation posts 12 response tweets with the main message that they will start an investigation to find out why the alarm was transmitted by mistake. In other words, they still do not respond to the over one thousand tweets from the public. Finally, in the afternoon, they post their fifth and last action tweet with a link to their own website, example 20.
Regarding Sunday’s incorrect alarm in the Stockholm area. We have collected information from the authorities about the warning signal here: krisinformation.se/nyheter/ [Angående söndagens felaktiga VMA-larm i Stockholmsområdet. Här har vi samlat info från myndigheter och om VMA: krisinformation.se/nyheter/]
In summary, Krisinformation communicates in a formal written language in all their tweets. The information posts are short and clear. The signature in the first action tweet has a formal reference to the organisation when the alarm is stated to be a mistake and that there is no social crisis, no danger, and no cause for concern. In this corpus, there is a huge number of tweets from the public. During the first 10 minutes citizens ask for information. Again, similar to the terror attack corpus, when the authority does not have information they do not communicate. In addition, they do not respond to emotional, ironic, or informal tweets from the public. Instead, Krisinformation comments on the number of public comments, and confirms that they read everything, but in practice their Twitter account lacks true reciprocity.
Conclusion and Discussion
Does an informal practice of sakprosa such as the use of greeting phrases and first names indicate that there is an informalization of public discourse going on? Not necessarily, or rather both yes and no. The development of authorities’ communication on social media entails new communicative conditions. This study of crisis communication on social media give prominence to not only new conditions but also parallel conditions that affect the discourse. The parallel conditions are sometimes also contradictory, which I will discuss further in the following.
The overall aim of authorities’ communication is to give information by presenting confirmed facts to the public. Hence this study shows that by linguistic means there are references to both an objectivity discourse and a knowledge discourse. The survey of action tweets in the terror attack corpus and the mistaken signal corpus points out references to the objectivity discourse such as links, declarative clauses, and signatures of the professional functionaries. In addition, the style throughout is formal written Swedish in the action tweets. I understand these linguistic characteristics as ways of representing the social practice of authorities as we know it, and at the same time an expected practice from the public. That being said, authorities still communicate on social media in association to a formal authoritative discourse.
When it comes to conditions that are specific for crisis communication on social media, this study presents a new aspect concerning the knowledge discourse. Both the terror attack and the false alarm are situations that entail a need for constant information. The chronological mappings of both corpora show that the practice of giving information and being authoritative collide with the demands of the media itself of being fast and thereby continuously producing solid and confirmed knowledge. The strategy that Krisinformation follows is to refrain from giving information if they do not have new and updated information. This practice is confirmed by the editorial staff at Krisinformation who declare that their policy is to communicate only when they have new verified information. When other authorities such as the Police and the Security services do not have information, Krisinformation have simply nothing to tweet.Footnote 5 The “silence” strategy challenges the public’s demands on authorities as active interlocutors on social media. The reciprocal character of Twitter encourages an informal tone and more or less demands quick responses. As a consequence, pointed out in the study of the false alarm, the public expresses dissatisfaction with the non-appearance of interaction. Lack of response in the false alarm study opens for the public to post criticism, jokes, and emotional expressions. A result of not giving information or simply explaining that authorities do not have new or confirmed information is that Krisinformation may contribute to disrespectful social and linguistic practice on their platforms and may thereby contradictorily contribute to an informalization of their own social media channels. This finding needs to be further investigated.
In an interview with the editorial staff of Krisinformation they express a wish that their presence on social media would make their communication more open and more clear in order to reduce the distance between the authority and the public. The hour-by-hour study of the false alarm shows that when Krisinformation did not tweet and respond to citizens’ questions, citizens started to interact with each other. Hence, authorities’ social media platforms can turn into forums open for public communication out of authorities control. This can be desirable because citizens may have more information than the authority. In the terror attack corpus, for example, there is some advice in a tweet from a citizen concerning overloading of the telephone network. But opening for the publics’ internal communication may possibly also pose a risk that the authority cannot control the information on their own platform and thereby open for, on the one hand, informal and harsh language and content, and on the other hand develop a discourse of disrespectfulness for authorities and other citizens.
I would say that the question of authorities’ social media platforms as open agoras is a core issue with respect to sakprosa on social media. Barbara A. Misztal argues that only societies that achieve an appropriate balance between the informality and formality of interaction will find themselves in a position to move forward to further democratization and an improved quality of life (Misztal 2000). However, this chapter give prominence to the strategy of not communicating when the public expects interaction can be devasting. The role of being authoritative is obviously still very important. The harsh and ironic expressions from the public in the false alarm study should be understood against expectations on authorities as giving information and being open. But the informal discourse of personal emotions forms a contradiction when this does not happen. The yearly attitude survey at Gothenburg University underline the deeply rooted tradition of high confidence in Swedish authorities and their communication (Martinsson and Andersson 2020). An interesting result of the terror attack study is the clear tendency that both the objective discourse and the knowledge discourse are fully connected to action tweets, that is, when Krisinformation takes the initiative to post information on Twitter. On the contrary, in authorities’ response tweets interactive and informal style associated to an informal discourse is in use. In the response tweets, interactive qualities like explicit text-voice, pronouns, addressing formulations, editor’s first names, and emotional language with a personal voice that is relationship-oriented are to be found. The interaction reveals a change in linguistic practice into a more personal and informal discourse only when there is no longer a threat to society. This shows that editors of authorities’ sakprosa use formal practice in acute situations such as a social crisis and then use informal practice when they interact. On Twitter, the authority sometimes appears as an authority, and sometimes as a person. In social media, boundaries within the public discourse are yet not blending and are rather parallel. This study shows that the editorial staff at Krisinformation make conscious choices about when to act in the formal authoritative discourse and when to act as an interlocutor in an informal discourse.
For a broader description of the Swedish authority Krisinformation.se, see Section “Data and Method”.
Previously referred to as Sweden’s Air Raid signal.
Interview with editor Jeanna Ullén, editor at Kriskommunikation, 15 March 2021.
The interviewed editors were Anna Toss and Jeanna Ullén.
Since 2017 and 2018, this practice is undergoing a change.
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Almström Persson, G. (2023). Crisis Communication on Social Media: Informalization in the Hour-by-Hour Struggle for Information. In: Nyström Höög, C., Rahm, H., Thomassen Hammerstad, G. (eds) Nordic Perspectives on the Discourse of Things. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-33122-0_6
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