Serious Activism

The serious activism project is an attempt to understand how social media is changing grassroots movements. We believe that political activism has changed significantly from a representative, hierarchical, and party-based system towards a decentralized, horizontal, and network-based system.

While political activism has changed dramatically in the past years, politics continues to be played out at the institutional level. As researchers, we are fascinated by the ways people can be politically active without engaging or supporting multi-party democracy. This interest has been stoked by social movements like the Indignados, Occupy, and Gezi.

We started this project to investigate the number and diversity of Twitter users that participated in multiple political hashtags in the past five years (2009-2013). We looked at a group of 150 political hashtags to examine the activity levels and the overlapping of users across multiple protests.

Political activists rely on word of mouth to spread their messages. Traditionally, these were channelled through personal relationships. By contrast, we are finding that the number of retweets between users that do not follow each other is consistently higher than retweets between reciprocally connected users.

We also found a growing number of Twitter users engaging in multiple political events. In fact, 17% of users that tweeted messages with the hashtag #freeiran, 3% with the hashtag #freevenezuela, 15% with the hashtag #jan25, and 6% with the hashtag #spanishrevolution also tweeted messages with the hashtag #occupywallstreet.

This shows a considerable level of cross-participation of users dedicated to political activism around the world. With that in mind, we set up this project to interview users that actively participate or comment on political movements happening around the globe in a number of different languages.

In the next months, we will be inviting Twitter users that are very active to join us in this project. We see that the underlying network of activism is very diverse and international, with users coming from countries like the US, UK, France, Germany, Brazil, Portugal, Palestine and Tibet. But our findings to date raise many questions about this apparent sea-change in political activism. Answers to these questions can only come from the activists themselves.

The serious activism project is led by researchers Marco Toledo Bastos and Dan Mercea. This is an academic, non-profit, non-governmental, and non-partisan project dedicated to understanding the shifting dynamics of politics. We plan to interview key political activists willing to share their thoughts on some of the questions our project is throwing up.

If you arrived at this page, chances are you have been invited to this pilot project. We hope you are as excited as we are about the prospects of understanding the networked architecture of politics. In due course, we will share our results with you. If you have any questions, please mail us at mtabastos,dan.mercea{}. We hope we get to talk to you soon.

All the best,
Marco & Dan

Timeline of Events