The Role of Social Media in the Spread of a New Ethnic Concept. Inclusion and Exclusion Processes in Transition

    • Cover Photo
    • Presentation speakers
      • Anni-Siiri Länsman, University of Oulu, Finland
      • Terttu Kortelainen, University of Oulu, Finland


    The focus of this paper is on social media spreading new conceptual innovations across civic society and political decision-making institutions. We study the process of spreading the originally academic concept, adopted from Canadian legislation, Non-Status Saami that was launched in 2012 at the University of Lapland, Finland. In order to find out how it was spread we must study those who spread it, how it has spread and received attention in the media and on social media, and how it was used in national political discussion. It is estimated that there are about 100,000 Saami people in four countries, Finland, Norway, Sweden and Russia and about 10,000 in Finland. In Finland the legal and societal status of the Saami people proceeded remarkably in the 1990s by recognizing the Saami as indigenous people in the Finnish constitution. It states that the Saami have linguistic and cultural autonomy within their homeland. The improvement of the position of the Saami people in legislation has led to a lively debate about who belongs to the indigenous group in Finland. The ethnic boundaries between the Saami and the Finns have been heavily problematized and politicized. As a consequence, there are different views in Finland about how an indigenous people, belonging to it and the definition of the Saami should be understood. Our research material consists of 288 web publications by 120 authors, representing altogether 32 different publication formats, complemented by 1,197 comments on postings and 2,832 shares on Facebook. Attention data consists of comments on blog postings and web discussions, recommendations, sharing items on Facebook or Twitter and viewings on YouTube. We made a qualitative frame analysis and the IBM SPSS statistics program was used to produce diagrams and tables from the quantitative research material. The study reveals that the awareness of the Non-Status Saami concept and the political agenda contained in it has diffused both in academia and in several sectors and levels of society, usually connected to political writings. Social media, especially political blogs, played a prominent role in spreading the concept and its circulation to the traditional media and to institutions linked to legislative processes in the Parliament of Finland. The concept turned out to be abstract enough to challenge and complement earlier concepts. Discussion concerning Non-Status Saami was at its highest in the years 2014-2015 when the Saami issues were on political agenda of the Finnish parliament. The Saami dispute has generally been represented as a controversy between the Saami and the Finnish state and the Saami were seen as being discriminated against by the state. The Saami question was successfully reframed by the Non-Status Saami concept on social media, in the traditional media and in scientific writings. In the new frame, the dispute is represented as existing between the Saami themselves and the self-governing body Saami, the Saami Parliament is seen as an oppressor of the Non-Status Saami. Social media, with its interplay with traditional media and its ability to construct and maintain networks and issue publics with political agendas, and to provide attention data cannot be overlooked when attempting to understand how scientific knowledge is circulated, framed and reframed in society.