How Social Media Facilitates Political Protest: Information, Motivation, and Social Networks

John T. Jost, Pablo Barberá, Richard Bonneau, Melanie Langer, Megan Metzger, Jonathan Nagler, Joanna Sterling, Joshua A. Tucker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

It is often claimed that social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are profoundly shaping political participation, especially when it comes to protest behavior. Whether or not this is the case, the analysis of “Big Data” generated by social media usage offers unprecedented opportunities to observe complex, dynamic effects associated with large-scale collective action and social movements. In this article, we summarize evidence from studies of protest movements in the United States, Spain, Turkey, and Ukraine demonstrating that: (1) Social media platforms facilitate the exchange of information that is vital to the coordination of protest activities, such as news about transportation, turnout, police presence, violence, medical services, and legal support; (2) in addition, social media platforms facilitate the exchange of emotional and motivational contents in support of and opposition to protest activity, including messages emphasizing anger, social identification, group efficacy, and concerns about fairness, justice, and deprivation as well as explicitly ideological themes; and (3) structural characteristics of online social networks, which may differ as a function of political ideology, have important implications for information exposure and the success or failure of organizational efforts. Next, we issue a brief call for future research on a topic that is understudied but fundamental to appreciating the role of social media in facilitating political participation, namely friendship. In closing, we liken the situation confronted by researchers who are harvesting vast quantities of social media data to that of systems biologists in the early days of genome sequencing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)85-118
Number of pages34
JournalPolitical Psychology
Volume39
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 1 2018

Keywords

  • collective action
  • friendship
  • group identification
  • political ideology
  • protest
  • social media
  • social networks

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Philosophy
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations

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