Activist as Social Marketers: Fighting for limited online attention

Although the specific role of social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook in recent social movements has been heavily debated in the Communication of Social Change (CfSC) literature, it has undoubtedly become an essential tool for many movements and activists. The commodification of user generated data on these platforms is ironically tying many social movement organizations (SMOs) to the very systems they oppose. The value of these platforms lies in its ability to create “crowds of individuals” or viral flows of information between physically disparate populations (Kavada, 2010). Both private enterprise and SMOs are attempting to harness this power by extending their causes or products to new audiences through the sharing of information in hopes of ultimately influencing behavior.
Digital marketers view this potential as a competition of online space and attention. Marketing is based on the premise that a certain amount of attention is necessary before a consumer will invest in a product or service. Marketing attempts to bridge the gap between the amount of attention available and the amount of attention required for action by either entertaining consumers so that they voluntarily pay attention or by reducing the amount of attention needed to generate action (Teixeira, 2014). People are increasingly spending more time online which further justifies the online presence of marketers and activists.
Much of the CfSC literature has been critical of the use of social media activism, often referring to the falling transaction costs to engage in activism as “slacktivism”. The singing of an e-petition or the following of an online campaign should not be undervalued but instead understood as a step within a larger process. Like marketers, activist must begin to understand the steps potential supporters make before engaging in a more meaningful way. The Resource Mobilization Theory (McCarthy et al., 1977) attempted to identify the various types of supporters as either adherents or constituents. What is now missing is an analysis of how digital platforms are changing how people transition between these two fundamental types of supporters and how SMOs’ use of digital media can facilitate the growth of social resources.
Much can be learned from the private sector since companies are investing vast amounts of financial resources into exploring these relationships through targeted campaign advertisement. While social movements do not have the capital to do such campaigning, they can arguably still benefit from marketers. Marketers will be increasingly exploring low-cost digital advertising strategies as costs continue to rise. It is these projects, many of which require user-generated material, that activist should closely study for potential adoption.



Kavada, A. (2010). Activism transforms digital: The social movement perspective. In Joyce M (ed) Digital Activism Decoded. New York, NY: Idebate, pp.101-118.

McCarthy, John D. and Mayer N. Zald. (1977). “Resource Mobilization and Social Movements: A Partial Theory.” American Journal of Sociology 82: 1212- 41.

Teixeira, T. (2014). “The Rising Cost of Consumer Attention: Why You Should Care, and What You Can Do about It.” Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 14-055.


Are non-relational channels of diffusion obsolete in our digital age?

Soule (1997) explores within-movement diffusion of student protest tactics in the 1980’s through the assumption that student activists from different schools do not have direct network ties. The rise of information communication technologies (ICT) has generated digital networks that have been accredited with enabling rapid mobilization (Gerbaudo, 2012). ICTs have enabled citizen journalism to flourish which arguably makes the sharing of physical tactics available to all with access to communication technologies. One such example is of the Zapatistas’ use of global networks to diffuse information about their struggle. However, Earl (2013) makes the important point that, innovations such as protest tactics cannot simply be broadcasted but must also be learned and adopted. This adoption through online networks has led to the use of tradition protest tactics such as petitions to be used by non-political issues. Earl calls this phenomenon “disease jumping” since this epidemiological analogy describes the phenomenon of adoption by unrelated sub-populations. Taken together, there are three general diffusion processes which occur through online networks: 1) Information broadcasting is the most basic and requires no reaction from the observer; 2) the diffusion of innovations; and 3) “disease jumping.”
The #WithSyria campaign contains some examples of all three diffusion processes. #WithSyria was initiated on 14 March 2014 to commemorate the 3rd anniversary of the Syrian War and to call for an end the war. The movement began with a movie and awareness campaign. Days later the movement was launched in 35 countries through local NGOs and led to several well-attended protests in capital cities. Arguably “disease jumping” has also occurred by providing non-activist in the West with an opportunity to openly protest against the Syrian War. The red balloon from the original awareness campaign video has become an icon of the movement. This tactic has been adopted from the gay rights movement and R4BIA campaign. #withSyria

Shantytown Protests- examples in the media

After reading the Soule article about the role shantytowns are playing in protests, particularly those among university-age activists, I did some searching for recent examples. I was amazed by the global reach of “camp out” or “shantytowns” as organized protest around the globe. For example, in the UK: Also, most recently, in response to the turmoil in Ukraine:

I was also interested in how different media sources covered the protests. For example, the guardian quotes both security and protestors, which is a solid attempt at serving both sides of the spectrum. Other media outlets, for example, pro-government newspapers who get a majority of their funding from the “powers that be”, portray shantytown protests in a more negative light, making the activists look like hooligans disturbing the peace without cause. 



Media’s Role in Organizing the Occupy Gezi Movement

I. Case: The “Occupy Gezi” movement in Turkey during the summer of 2013.


II. Question: What roles did the media (both civic and mass media) play in the Occupy Gezi movements in Turkey, and in what way did the media positively contribute to, and negatively dilute the aims and organization of the movement?


III. Abstract:

                  The project will look to examine multiple media outlets that played a formative role during the Gezi movements in Turkey during the summer of 2013. The movements were widely a response to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s attempts to enact legislation that encroached on the rights of the Turkish people in multiple areas of public life, as well as demolish a historic park in the center of Istanbul, known as Gezi Park. Mediums to examine will include Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and the comment threads on web forums of news channels. However, the project will also look to prove that while social media was the most important platform for organized protest and collectively voiced dissent, it also worked against protestors, in that it became a haven for faulty information, contra-involvement (debatably supported by the reigning AKP regime), and ultimately, led to the dissolution of the Gezi movement. Additionally, I will analyze media sources to examine the effect government pressure and bias on the mass media had on the Gezi movement at different stages. Finally, the project will look the identify and discuss the implications of the Gezi movement’s evolution in regards to the current restrictions the Turkish government is trying to place on the mass media, and activists who voice their dissent both online and on foot.  



IV. Methods:


  1. Ethnography: I will be going to Istanbul over spring break, and I will have the opportunity to talk to students who were involved in the Gezi protest (Bertug Baloglu, Nikki Falay, and Aylin Yardimci).
  2. Content analysis: Analyzing tweets by protestors, by looking into specifics tags: #OccupyGezi, for example; Analyzing content of YouTube videos of police response to protests, especially the comments section both in Turkish and English; Analyze parody/meme accounts: there was an influx of Facebook and Twitter accounts that parodied members of the Turkish government, in regards to how they responded to the protest.
  3. Mass media analysis: news shows like “Shefaf Oda” as well as Turkish talk show culture. Some shows were permitted to cover the protests, others blatantly ignored them; discuss why/how the mass media was influenced. Also, YouTube videos of mainstream news coverage (channels like Kanal D and ATV).


V. Tools:


  1. PageOneX: This will enable me to track how many times the Gezi movement made the front page of major newspapers both in Turkey and the rest of the world. This is an important comparison to make, because of the restrictions placed on Turkish media coverage of the protests; I want to use this tool to see how much the Turkish media was stifled, compared to the freedom other world newspapers enjoyed in covering the protests. Also, the content differences are important to my research as well (how much detail Turkish papers were permitted to cover, versus other papers, for example)
  2. Tweetbinder: This tool is useful from both a content and statistical analysis perspective. It presents data about number of tweets, “influence” the hash tag searched has on the site in general, and reach, each of which I will examine independently; for example, the “reach” tool is useful to analyze when discussing the start of the movement, and the “influence” tool is useful to identify main players in the movement at different stages- has there been a shift in most vocal accounts throughout the movement? What could be the reason for such a change?
  3. twXplorer: Firstly, this tool allows for a multi-lingual search, and I will be using both Turkish and English for this project, because I’m interested in seeing how the movement was perceived at different stages both in Turkey, and in the English-speaking world. Also, many Turkish bloggers encouraged activists to tweet/post in English so as to attract more attention, and I’d like to look into how successful this movement was. TwXplorer also links to popular news stories that were associated with each hashtag, and this will help with my content analysis.
  4. ProQuest: I can use this to look at newspaper coverage of the movements from an American perspective
  5. Turkish newspaper archive (all info is in Turkish).
  6. **Instagram: I want to find a method to help me look into Instagram, especially because both photoshopped and real images were shared (with hashtags) on this medium throughout the protests, and today.


VI. Workplan:

                 I want to split my work into four different stages, each of which will enable me to use the methods and tools stated above to examine what prompted Gezi, how the movement developed, dissolved, and what this process means in context of what the Turkish government is currently doing in regards to the movement and its implications.

 Stage I: What prompted Gezi?

  1. Legislation proposed by AKP
  2. Gezi Park: historical significance, details of plan to demolish
  3. Background of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, President Abdullah Gul (pre-existing public perceptions, reputation as portrayed by the media up until Gezi)
  4. Timeline of Gezi: Dates in which initial movements cropped up, locations, types of movements. Early voices both online and on foot.

Stage II: Gezi Is a Movement. How Did It Progress?

  1. Initial movements; Taksim, university movements (Istanbul Technical University, Istanbul University, Koc University, Bogazici University)
  2. The first leakage onto the Internet: who were the initial “tweeters” and voices of this movement? Use TwXplorer.
  3. Interview students from universities mentioned above, try to find people who were involved at different stages of the conflict.
  4. Early signs of government intervention: ProQuest, JSTOR, similar literature review sources (newspaper archives of publications like Hurriyet and Cummhuriyet

Stage III: How did Gezi Get Disorganized?

  1. Government intervention cracks down; YouTube videos of Prime Minister Erdogan’s inflammatory speeches against Gezi and its participants
  2. Examples of “contra-media”; bloggers/accounts spreading falsified accounts of the protests and their locations, meant to inflame the public without cause/for the wrong causes. Focus on photoshopped images, defamed Tweeters and bloggers.
  3. What happened to the park? Accounts (YouTube interviews) of some protestors who didn’t even realize the movement was about Gezi Park; indicative of how much focus the movement had lost.

Stage IV: Implications of Gezi; Gezi Today

  1. What has the government seemed to learn from Gezi? Has the administration changed its behavior in any way to pacify the protestors?
  2. Current motions by the government to limit social media outlets like Facebook and YouTube; responses to the continued oppression imposed by AKP
  3. Interviews/speeches Erdogan has given since summer 2013: what do they suggest for Turkey’s future, in terms of tolerating protest/organized dissent?




The Motivation and Process Behind the Formation of Social Movement Coalitions


When confronted with issues that are both broad enough to draw opposition along a spectrum of ideologies and so significant that social movement organizations (SMOs) feel that their resources alone would be insufficient to affect meaningful change SMOs form coalitions. Coalitions are groups of SMOs that normally operate independently and have a variety of differing ideologies, tactics, and identities which cooperate for a short time to effect change on a grander scale than any individually would have been able to accomplish. To better grasp the process by which SMO coalitions form I will undergo a case study of The Day We Fight Back protests, analyzing the links between SMOs in the form of shared identities and shared significant individuals. I will also compare the SMOs and NGOs that participated in The Day We Fight Back protests to the SMOs and NGOs that participated in the


Research Question(s)

What broad set of factors allow for the emergence of SMO coalitions and by what process are they created? (Are there any similarities in ideology/identity/tactics between SMOs? If so, which ones are important/common between the most SMOs in the coalition? Which individuals within each SMO have the formal or informal task of coordinating with other SMOs? Why these people?)


Case Selection

On February 11, 2014 a coalition of Social Movement Organizations held a worldwide day of activism to protest the NSA’s continued use of mass surveillance against citizens of the United States and other countries globally. Dubbed ‘The Day We Fight Back,’ this protest was the product of cooperation between SMOs and non government organizations (NGOs) such as Access, Demand Progress, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Fight for the Future, Free Press, BoingBoing, Reddit, Mozilla, ThoughtWorks, and others. The result of this coordinated action: Near 90,000 phone calls and 500,000 emails sent to Congress as well as over 300,000 signatures on petitions demanding the right to privacy. This yield represents greater results than simultaneous individual action by each of the SMOs which joined ‘The Day We Fight Back’ protests.



  • Data Collection

    • I plan to scrape Twitter to collect tweets during and about the TDWFB protests. This will give me information about which actors on Twitter were most active in promoting the protests, which were most retweeted (i.e. which had the most impact in informing the public), which actors were central to the network of people tweeting about TDWFB, and other such concrete data.

  • Actor Type Classification

    • I then plan to classify the significant actors that I found via the data collection stage using a similar classification scheme to the one used by Lotan, Graeff, Ananny, Gaffney, Pearce, and Boyd. Examples include organizations, individuals, and bots with organizations and individuals differentiated into several subtypes based on occupation, identity, and influence on Twitter.

  • Interviews with Significant Actors

    • I plan to interview two sets of significant actors. First I will contact and attempt to interview as many of the organizers listed on the Reddit AMA posted by the TDWFB organizers on February 11 since I know already that they were involved in organizing the protest and coordinating between SMOs. (They all set up the AMA together, were involved in the organization of TDWFB, and belong to separate SMOs/NGOs). Second I will contact and attempt to interview significant individuals that belong to SMOs/NGOs involved in TDWFB who were revealed by my Twitter data collection and are not members of the set of previously contacted people.

The Public Spheres of Contemporary Movements: An analysis of the relationship between the media culture and protest practices of the Ultras in Egypt and Spain


Virtual and spatial relationships have become the defining factors of recent popular movements throughout the world as new communication technologies become widely embraced. The relationship of these two dimensions of ‘public space’ has been highly debated. Theories range from ideologies of networked, unstructured digital movements capable of sparking spontaneous social unrest, to theories of choreographed popular uprisings (Castells, 2009; Gerbaudo, 2012). This semester’s term project will compare the media cultures of two youth groups: the Cairo al-Ahly Ultras and the Catalan Barcelona FC Ultras as they mobilize for local popular movements. The aim of this project will be to understand the relationship between their strategic use of social media and the occupation of physical public space as they fight for deep socio-political structural changes.

Although soccer fans have traditionally been viewed by academics and politicians as ‘hooligans’ who physically act upon ‘social anxieties’, a rising number of clubs have undoubtedly become influential social actors in the most pressing political issues despite state oppression (Guilianotti, 2013). These bottom-up youth subcultures will be analyzed based on their online media-making practices and their strategic use of urban space for socio-political issues that extend beyond the stadium. Ultimately this analysis seeks to explain how social media and physical protest are being utilized as mechanisms within the larger process of social movements in two strikingly different contexts. Specific interest will be played to cultural differences, values, identities, and narratives of the movements at hand.

Through the use of Gerbaudo’s theoretical framework, known as the Choreography of Assembly, I expect to find implications of emotional priming or ‘scripting’ through popular social media outlets in order to mobilize their followers. A strong attempt will be made to identify the media creators in hopes of providing insights to these horizontal yet highly organized clubs.

Book Report

ImageThe Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture

By Manuel Castells (2010)


Manuel Castells’ The Power of Identity, first published in 2007 sets the premise that socioeconomic globalization has sparked the need to develop conflicting identities in order to reestablish meaning in light of the major shortcomings of the neoliberal world order. Castells takes a hybrid social and ethnographic approach to analyze social movements (SMs) through observation with the occasional empirical data to support it. The result is a compilation of definitions, theories, and detailed analysis of various movements to explain the changing social and political orders that are characterizing our era. The first half of the book aims to explain how communes are coping with the demise of patriarchies, new structures of wealth and power, techno-economic globalization, and multiculturalism. The second half reverts to a macro analysis of the greater implications of these processes on existing social and political orders to support the hypothesis that the notion of states opposes globalization.

Chapter 1 begins the discussion with a framework for categorizing and discerning the different processes for identity development. Castells defines identities as people’s source of meaning and experiences which are constructed through social processes that distinguish institutional roles from derived meaning (p.3).  This need for meaning creates a collective identity that creates cultural communes that are based on one of three types of identities: (i) Legitimizing identities are those introduced by dominant institutions to rationalize their dominance and is an essential tool of civil society to force change on the state. (ii) Resistance identities are developed from the need of surviving in the face of pressing social devaluation. This pressure most often leads the creation of new identities known as project identities (iii).

Castells argues that religious fundamentalism, nationalism, ethnic identification, and territorial identification are four key communal processes that are proliferating in our modern society from the need to develop resistance identities to hegemonic institutions. Islamic Salafi Fundamentalism and American Christian Fundamentalism are analyzed separately for their reactive and selective adoption of history and religious text to reinforce their identity and propel a physical movement. Because of this choice selection, it is near impossible to rationalize with people who don’t commit to the same authority (p.13). Both Islamic and Christian extremist subscribe to the belief that the people must return to principle morals but Islamic extremist have mobilized their members if a far more dramatic way.

Nationalism however, was derived by the elite in order to have the masses fight for the nation and in turn has create a bottom-up proto nationalism. Castells is careful to discern the difference between nations and states and calls on readers to recognize that states are a western concept which has been subjected on much of the world. Similarly nationalism is a reactive identity which arises when the state needs defense and must be based on a community of history, destiny, memories, and quasi-familial bonds. Nations are defined as, “cultural communes constructed in people’s minds and collective memory.”  The relationship between states and nations has a number of combinations to include: nations without a state (i.e. Quebec), states without a nation (i.e. Taiwan), pluri-national states (i.e. UK), uni-national states (i.e. Japan), shared nation states (i.e. North and South Korea), and nation sharing states (i.e. the Irish in the UK and Ireland). Castells stresses that language is a powerful element that links private and public life and generates automatic self-recognition of a primitive nation.

Castells views ethnicity to be a less crucial source of meaning and identification in comparison to other cultural elements such as religion, nation, and gender (p. 57). He argues that although race matters it must have other cultural and environmental elements in order to create a meaning from it and gives the example of how African Americans are incapable of creating a comprehensive identity despite facing racism across all socio-economic classes.

Similar to the creation of a national identity, the rise of local spatial identities is also a reactionary response. Castells argues that economic exploitation, cultural domination, and political oppression in light of globalization is sparking unprecedented local identity development in order of protecting dignity at the community level.  

Chapter 2 focuses on five reactionary and resistance movements that have evolved in protest to the modern abstraction of power. Despite having a diverse range of ideologies based on specific cultural, economic, and institutional contexts the five movements of the Zapatistas, the American militia, Aum Shinrikyo, al-Qaeda, the Pro-Justice all successfully created electronic and spatial networks that propagated necessary information. Castells asserts that successful movements act on processes of information sharing to shape the public mind. The two basic channels to do this from include mainstream media and alternative media systems. Each group used information and communications technology (ICTs) to share information to justify their cause and build links across other causes and movements. Once a movement becomes spatial, network consists of the local geography of experience as well as the geography of power.

The following two chapters highlight two of the most prominent proactive, project-based SMs, environmentalism and feminism, in order to define the numerous identities which have formed and evolved in order to enact institutional change. Arguably the strength of both movements has been their flexibility in adapting to the discourse of the time and place which has allowed them to propel other complimentary movements such as social justice movement and the gay and lesbian liberation movements. The environmental movement at its most fundamental level, is data-focused SM that requires the dissemination of scientific information to the masses. Women’s rights on the other hand, is a socio-economic SM which ultimately aims to end patriarchalism.

The end of the patriarchal family is discussed to great length for its role in destabilizing the modern family. Castells highlights the need for a new egalitarian family structure in order to reduce individual anxiety (p. 301). Although new networks of support have developed to support singly parent households, it is still not certain how all role definitions are adapting to the changes and the long-term consequences if communities are unable to find meanings within their new roles.  

The final two chapters focus on the changing nature of sovereignty within the networked society. Castells claims that the trans-national nature of communications, crime, social protest, economics, and terrorism significantly decreases the sovereignty of states as these issues supersede their dominion. The result is that we now have networked states who must share sovereignty for supranational macro-processes but deal with internal stresses and micro-processes at the subnational level. Enhance citizen participation through ICTs has created a new world order of information politics which is generating better informed citizens. Castells proposes the rise of electronic democracy in order to bypass the need for political representatives.

Taken together, Castell’s work presents a seemingly comprehensive analysis of the major sociopolitical changes occurring to the sovereignty of the state, family structure, and individual identity formation. The networked society’s embracement of ICTs has allowed for the success of numerous SMs which are forcing unprecedented change. While these movements cannot be summarized as having a negative or positive impact on society without some level bias, it can be stated that the major changes facing our society will undoubtedly write a new era for humanity.