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Take connected action: exploring the role of different social media as participatory environments


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Presented at the Protest participation in variable communication ecologies conference, Alghero, Italy, 2015.

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Take connected action: exploring the role of different social media as participatory environments

  2. 2.  “Exploring the role of different social media platforms as participatory environments for protest events”  Affordances and constraints of specific platforms, as perceived by users  Scenario  Aim and methods  Results (meanings and motivations for online activism; online/offline activities; affordances and constraints of different social media platforms; “living within filter bubbles”) OUTLINE
  3. 3.  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. SCENARIO
  4. 4.  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 usage practices.  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”
  5. 5.  Aim: exploring the role of different social media platforms as participatory environments for protest events  15 in-depth interviews  Respondents: at least 2 different social media platforms; currently involved in political and/or civic mobilizations  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
  6. 6.  Age: ranging from 29 to 68 years old (average age: 39).  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, etc.  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 ISSUES
  7. 7.  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 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”. (f, 37) MEANINGS AND MOTIVATIONS FOR (ONLINE) ACTIVISM
  8. 8.  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
  9. 9.  Offline activities are still considered as more significant than exclusive online activities, but many users consider even simple online action as meaningful  “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”. (M, 34)  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. “Twittazioni”). ONLINE AND OFFLINE ACTIVITIES /2
  10. 10.  Online actions as a resource to face specific offline issues.  “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 decision making.  “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
  11. 11.  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 inappropriate.  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
  12. 12.  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
  13. 13.  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
  14. 14.  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 heterogeneous audience.  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
  15. 15.  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 (m, 29) CONCLUSION
  16. 16.  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 messages.  Signals of resistance to the implicit "discourse" of social media are rare, even among radical activists. BETWEEN PLATFORM’S ACCEPTANCE AND RESISTANCE