Individuals intensively make use of digital media to contest power and ask for social transformation: mass self-communication (Castells, 2012).
Gershon: “people figure out together how to use different media and often agree on the appropriate social uses”, ibid., p. 6)
Task: segnalare prcessi significativi per l’utente e osservare I processi di sense giving delle azioni già svolte dalla piattaforma (Thinking aloud)
alternative mobility options (e.g. biking)
Spectrum of engagement: informative, mobilization, coordination, community building (trovare reference)
Twitter and Facebook (esempi non sono rappresentativi ma illustrano differenti immagini mentali degli utenti
daily me/daily us
Identity and culture - Images produces identification and knowledge about the world.
Take connected action: exploring the role of different social media as participatory environments
PROTEST PARTICIPATION IN VARIABLE COMMUNICATION
ECOLOGIES- ALGHERO 23-25/07/2015
‘TAKE (CONNECTED) ACTION’
EXPLORING THE ROLE OF
DIFFERENT SOCIAL MEDIA AS
FOR PROTEST EVENTS
“Exploring the role of different social media
platforms as participatory environments for protest
Affordances and constraints of specific platforms, as
perceived by users
Aim and methods
Results (meanings and motivations for online activism;
online/offline activities; affordances and constraints of
different social media platforms; “living within filter
Framework of “connective action” (Bennett &
Segerberg, 2012): participatory audiences make use
of social media to publicly to organize ‘collective’
actions taking place within online and offline realms.
Rising of single-issue protests.
Autonomous individualized activism.
Ecological approach (Jenkins et al., 2009) considering
the wide variety of arenas where people (momentarily)
decide to express their protest-related content.
Social media platforms as “environments” (Baym,
2010): affordances and constraints; social norms and
We also consider specific media “ideologies” (“people’s
beliefs about how a medium communicates and
structures communication”, Gershon, 2010, p. 21) and
“idioms of practice” people follow when selecting the
platforms where to pursue specific purposes.
SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORMS AS “ENVIRONMENTS”
AND MEDIA “IDEOLOGIES”
Aim: exploring the role of different social media
platforms as participatory environments for
15 in-depth interviews
Respondents: at least 2 different social media
platforms; currently involved in political and/or
Cognitive walkthrough. A usability inspection
method focusing on the cognitive activities of
users. It links task-oriented users’ activities on
a specific platform with users’ inner cognitive
processes (Lewis et al. 1997; Mahatody et al.
2010); “thinking aloud”.
AIM AND METHOD
Age: ranging from 29 to 68 years old (average age:
They are locally and globally involved in promoting:
right to housing; workers’ rights; civil and human
rights; welfare state; environmental sustainability;
alternative mobility options; homeless helping;
consumers’ rights; ethical banking; urban gardening,
They protest against: governmental policies and
reforms; job insecurity and labor market deregulation;
real estate speculation; mafia; racist political parties;
gambling; global economic deregulation; exploitation
of immigrants labor, etc.
USERS CHARACTERISTICS AND PROTEST
The majority of the interviewees defines their activism as civic
engagement. Most of them also believe that their participation
expresses political values and can produce political effects (but
they are normally distant from political parties).
“I want to give voice to those people that support my same ideas. I can’t
do it in another way, so I’m supporting those issues through a like and a
retweet” (f, 40).
Influence decision makers, public agenda and media coverage.
“We made a campaign, videos and a petition on change.org and we
used Twitter with the hashtag (#perunoradamore). When this trend
became established you (sic) “take-off” and then you go on the
“L’Espresso” website, on “La Repubblica” photo gallery. It seems
that mainstream media only care about grassroots news when they
“break a wall of participation”. Otherwise, newspapers don’t care”.
MEANINGS AND MOTIVATIONS FOR
A majority of the respondents declares to be involved in
online actions, while a considerable part of them takes
action both online and offline.
While all respondents mention online environments as
information sources, those who are not involved in civic
engagement activities on a professional basis seem to
rely more systematically on a variety of digital platforms
(both for information gathering and sharing).
“(I’ve got this email), which also included a blog article,
suggesting to read and share the article, which I did (…) both
trough the Mailing List and on Facebook. Then I also checked
the related website (…) in order to check every detail related to
the demonstrations, I’ve also shared it again on FB, I don’t
remember if I shared it on Twitter” (f, 67).
ONLINE AND OFFLINE ACTIVITIES
Offline activities are still considered as more
significant than exclusive online activities, but many
users consider even simple online action as
“Well…I use social media to share information…it is more like a
showcase…I always prefer [face-to-face] meetings”. (f, 65)
”Even saving the link on Delicious in a proper way is an act of care”.
Traditional demonstrations and sit-ins are still
perceived as effective, but they coexist with hybrid
actions which bring together voluntarism and
traditional demonstrations or online actions as a new
form of demonstration: e.g. Twitter bombing (e.g.
ONLINE AND OFFLINE ACTIVITIES /2
Online actions as a resource to face specific offline
“I bought a chocolate Easter egg and I did not know its country of origin. I, as a
consumer, want to know where it has been produced, but the label was unclear. I
posted a pic of the label on Twitter and a consumers' Association contacted me.
They told me that the label was legally right even if it was impossible to get the
origin of the chocolate” (f, 40).
Online actions as capable of affecting traditional
“As soon as the news broke (out), we, together with other “no slot” communities,
took the list of the senators who approved the law and we shared it (…) they
received so many tweets... As son as the newspapers reported on this … the day
after, the bill was withdrawn, a senator even (…) visited the “slot mob” (FB) page
(…) there was a popular outrage, we were trending topic (sic) for an entire day, at
the end we understood that it is the only way… you know, politicians are rightfully
(rightfully?) interested in not loosing votes (…) if people get angry, if they get angry
on Fb, on Twitter, on the newspaper, politicians are concerned about this” (m, 29)
ONLINE AND OFFLINE ACTIVITIES /3
Users are aware of being networked publics (boyd): they
gather information and share it within a public, adopting a
platform sensitive approach.
They are aware of their online visibility, they consciously
express opinions and adopt a well-judged tone, aiming at
communicating in an effective way.
Users try to tune their expressions according to several
elements: context, interlocutors, the tone of the
conversation, etc. In some cases, they prefer not to fully
express their opinions when they are perceived as
I carefully choose the words I use, and the ways in which I use them… I’m really
careful about the ways in which I express my opinions, how others can receive
them (…) so I think through (f., 35)
I try not to do too many (posts), well, no, I don’t send (sic) many posts,
sometimes I’m also careful not to “spoil” specific content with other posts, so I
wait a bit before doing another post (…) I only publish what I believe is crucial
and sometimes I publish such content several times (f, 68)
PUBLICLY EXPRESS OPINIONS IN SNS
Respondents act following a nuanced representations of the
peculiarities of different communication environments.
Usage norms appear as constantly negotiated, and seem to
vary in relation to different social networks (interlocutors)
Users mainly address the differences between Facebook and
Twitter relying on platforms’ perceived affordances and
constraints, often using Twitter as benchmark
“(Twitter and FB) I believe they are quite different, because the very nature of Twitter is
more related to content, to topics, but, as I mentioned earlier, everything is dealt with
in a superficial way” (m, 29)
Facebook posts are more pondered, on Twitter (I) also (post) silly things, yes, because
Twitter is instantaneous, is more focused on speed than on content itself (…) Facebook
allows you to write longer texts, therefore you can articulate your opinion (m, 36 )
I’m not able to write smart jokes, I’m not a “Twitter-person”, I’ve never understood the
whole hashtag stuff, such add-ons you have to write in order to target one person or
another (f, 68)
AFFORDANCES AND CONSTRAINTS OF
DIFFERENT SOCIAL MEDIA /1
Perceived or imagined differences among social
media platforms, as well as networking strategies,
are related to different usage patterns (tone of voice,
content, targeting strategies etc.).
I use Facebook and Twitter in a different way. On FB I’m more concerned
about my privacy, my Facebook friends are exclusively people I personally
know (also offline). I perceive Twitter as more “public”, Facebook is more
“private”, I don’t know if it’s (just) my opinion. I’ve made such a (f, 40)
[Twitter] So, the fact that there is no personal relation… this pushes me to
feel more free to reply (even in a polemical way) if I feel like to (…) (On
Facebook, if I personally know the person) this could maybe generate
personal consequences on a personal level. On Twitter I feel more free exactly
because there is no personal relation in real life (37, f).
In my opinion, the difference is that on Facebook you talk with “your world”,
which is paradoxically a “narrow circle”, isn’t it? On Twitter, on the other hand,
you can broaden your circle and address the “outside world” (m, 36)
AFFORDANCES AND CONSTRAINTS OF
DIFFERENT SOCIAL MEDIA /1
Users are becoming aware of the debate surrounding Facebook
filtering algorithms, and they spontaneously refer they opinions
about this topic. Therefore, they actively differentiate their
messages according to the “imagined audience” and the goals of
their communicative protest actions.
“One surrounds oneself with the people they want to, I you go too far... If there is a
person that exalts Mussolini all the time, he could even be my best childhood friend,
but sooner or later I remove him from my homepage (sic) Why should I make myself ill
over it? I activate some filters that only allow news about museums, culture, History
Channel and so on… That’s my Facebook” (f, 36)
As a result, some users explicitly refer to seek for network
homogeneity; a few of them, on the other hand, look for network
diversity as a mean for better spreading political messages to a
On Twitter (…) it often happens to me to reply to politicians, for instance, I just wrote a tweet
to Alemanno (a right wing politician)… sometimes I’ve been insulted by Gasparri (another
right wing politician) (…) then he blocked me (m, 36)
LIVING WITHIN ‘FILTER BUBBLES’:
OPPORTUNITIES AND LIMITS
Protest representations on social media are affected by
users’ perceived platform affordances and constraints.
Users are aware of these dynamics therefore they spread
the protest message both at a micro level:
(on Facebook) I try to use a style that can attract also people that are not
interested in politics, I’m always very ironic. I figure myself as the reader of my
status and I know what could engage me. Therefore, I need to write a surprising
lead (…). I tend to “catch” people, even dissimulating what I’m about to say, I want
my posts to be shared (f, 34)
and a more structural level:
The social network has been used to spread the voice, to explain our point of view (...).
Then, from the network we got to the square, and from the square we went back to the
network; then, mainstream media arrived (…) we make events, we physically move on
the streets, people send us pictures and videos, they send us feedback, other people
see them, the voice spreads, likes increase and other people want to come on board
Following Cammaerts (2015), the affordances and constraints
approach to digital technologies can be read through Foucalt's analysis
of Stoic technologies of the self (1997). In this perspective, each
communication tool (not only digital platforms) give to the users a set
of opportunities and limitations which, in Foucalt's analysis, potentially
tend to act on users' identities in terms of power. More recent analysis
of the relationship between platform (media) and users tend to
highlights users strategy of resistance toward the implicit limitation of
specific technologies and their active role in using them.
Even if the majority of our respondents are aware of affordances and
constraint of social media platform, they overestimate an instrumental
use of social media platform focused on particular action strategically
performed in order to foster the spreadability of their political
Signals of resistance to the implicit "discourse" of social media are
rare, even among radical activists.
BETWEEN PLATFORM’S ACCEPTANCE AND