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Twitter users play important role in social movements


New York :  People who use Twitter play a critical role in extending the reach of social movements – even doubling them, a new study that analysed millions of tweets surrounding social protests has found.

Those who casually like or retweet activist content on social media are often criticised as ‘slacktivists.’

Researchers found that in fact, these peripheral players actually play a critical role in extending the reach of social movements – even doubling them.

The study conducted by researchers at University of Pennsylvania and New York University analysed tens of millions of tweets surrounding a few specific social protests – the 2013 Gezi Park protests in Turkey, and the 2012 United for Global Change campaign, which was led by the Indignados (Spain) and the Occupy movements.

Using location data embedded in the tweets, the researchers were able to differentiate between the people who were physically at a protest site versus those who were spreading the message from afar.

They also looked at the senders’ networks to construct a model of how information flowed and spread during the protest.

The study helps advance our understanding of the role of Twitter in protests, something that has been hotly debated, researchers said.

“Some critics have been passionately against the idea that Twitter plays any substantial role in social movements,” said Gonzalez-Bailon from the University of Pennsylvania.

When the Arab Spring protests began, it became quite clear that Twitter in fact does play a significant role in modern protests, with some observers even seeing it as the key instrument for organising any modern protest, researchers said.

“Of course social media doesn’t push you to risk your life and take to the streets, but it helps the actions of those who take the risk to gain international visibility,” Gonzalez-Bailon said.

“Peripheral users are not ‘slacktivists.’ They are quintessential to understand why products go viral or protests go big,” she added.

The research was published in the journal PLOS One.

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