PD Dr. Sebastian Haunss

Promise and Practice in Studies of Social Media and Movements

Digital social media have been widely adopted in protest mobilizations. Are social media thus the leaflets and political posters of the early 21st century? Or do they, as some authors have claimed, fundamentally alter the conditions for the emergence of protest and social movements? This chapter discusses the findings of existing studies on social movements and social media and assesses to which extent some authors’ claims about the fundamental importance of social media technologies in recent protests and uprisings can be substantiated in empirical studies of protest mobilizations or whether the results lend more support for the claim that social media did not fundamentally influence the mobilization dynamics.

It starts which a quick overview over the use of internet technologies by social movements since the 1990s, discusses then four general claims about the relationship between internet and social media on the one hand and social movements and protest on the other. It then proceeds to a closer look at recent empirical studies of protest and social media, closing with an evaluation of the current knowledge and remaining research gaps in this field. Special attention is payed to the question how current digital communication tools interact with more established elements in social movements’ repertoires of action.

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