Using Twitter to Mobilise Protest Action: Comparing protests in Spain, Greece and US

I was surprised to read this paper. It is by four econs:  Yannis Theocharis, Will Lowe and Jan W. Van Deth (University of and Gema M García Albacete (Universidad Autónoma de Madrid).

One would imagine twotter played a large role in mobilising protests in each of these regions in 2011. The paper shows this was not the case:

The extensive use of Social Network Sites (SNS) for protests purposes was a distinctive feature of the protest events in Spain, Greece and the US. Like the Occupy protesters, the Indignant activists of Spain and Greece protested different manifestations of unjust, unequal and corrupted political and economic institutions marked by the arrogance of those in power. But how did the networking capacities offered by the internet were utilised to diffuse cross-national solidarity and allow high-threshold, old-fashioned social movement tactics, such as occupations, to become a tactic that surpassed borders?

A closer comparison of the content of the information exchange in SNS reveals not just similarities but also differences among the three movements, some clearly emerging due to the different national contexts. How common were the demands, practices, goals or political actions promoted by the three movements? We tackle these questions studying the communication patterns of people who tweeted about the movements.

This paper presents the findings of a comparative content analysis that focuses on how Twitter was used by Spanish, Greek, and American citizens for exchanging information, organising protest events, mobilising participants and creating new, or supporting old, repertoires of engagement. Contrary to much of the recent theorising about the potential of social media, the results of our study indicate that, despite the observed intense use of Twitter for information diffusion, calls for participation are not predominant, while only a very small minority of tweets refer to organisation and coordination issues.

 They basically have several qs before going into the study:

  • RQ1a To what extent was Twitter used to call for participation in protest events? Were there any differences between the three countries?
  • RQ1b Did organisations, bloggers or regular citizens make heavier use of Twitter for political participation?
  • RQ2a To what extent was Twitter used for logistical coordination of political action? Were there  any differences in the three countries?
  • RQ2b Did formal organisations or regular citizens make heavier use of Twitter for organisation? 
  • RQ3a To what extent was Twitter used for political conversation and information distribution? Were there differences in the three countries and in the issues communicated?
  • RQ3b Did bloggers and formal organisations make heavier use of Twitter for information distribution and political discussion than regular citizens? 
  • RQ4 Was Twitter used most extensively for spreading calls for political participation, logistical organisation and coordination, or political conversation and information distribution?

They find Twitter was mainly used for political conversation and information distribution:

Starting with participation (questions RQ1a and b), our findings are mostly disappointing. A constant feature of Twitter use in all three countries is that a very small number of tweets refer to explicit calls for participation in protest action; references to a diverse repertoire of online and offline actions is not all that impressive given that tweets were captured under protest event hashtags. Moreover, even when calls for action were there, it was not protest-inspired, ordinary citizens or motivated online denizens who led these calls but rather movement organisations.

Our findings regarding the use of Twitter for logistical organisation and coordination of protest action are by no means more encouraging (questions RQ2a and b). Tweets diffusing content with instructions for organising (such as requests for protest material like banners or food supplies for the occupiers) and coordinating (such as calls for changes in the pre-scheduled format of the protest march or rescheduling of a general assembly) protest action was spectacularly low, regardless of the country or the type of twitterer.

More positive findings are obtained by exploring the use of Twitter as a facilitator of protest information diffusion (questions RQ3a and b). These results also provide a clear response to our fourth and overriding research question about the relative uses of Twitters for participation, organisation and communication. Citizens but also news agencies – especially in Greece – are increasingly using these media for live-updates and information spreading. This finding corroborates the results of a number of previous studies (see e.g. Chadwick, 2011; Anstead & O’Loughlin, 2011; Lotan et al., 2011).

Interesting paper..

 

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