Big Data, Social Media, and Protest: Foundations for a Research Agenda

Very little is known about how social media influences behavior offline, especially in reference to protests, and protest mobilization. To better understand this, we analyze data from the 2013 Turkish Gezi Park protests and the 2013-14 Ukrainian EuroMaidan protests. We find that social media is affecting protest behavior and development abroad.


In the past decade, social media use has risen globally and political scientists are working to better understand it. Many have claimed that social media is profoundly shaping social movements, and as time has passed, it has become increasingly difficult to sustain the idea that social media use is completely unrelated to mass protests as we observe politicians flocking to Twitter to rally supporters. In truth, the research community knows remarkably little about whether (and especially how) the use of social media systematically affects political participation.


The use of social media has been linked to the spread of political protests in cities around the world. It is a novel phenomenon that potential protest participants (as well as geographically removed observers) can access real-time accounts of protest behavior documented and archived through micro-blogging (e.g., Twitter) and social media (e.g., Facebook). For political scientists, the question of how these activities on social media actually affect the decision of individuals to participate in protests would seem to be a subject ripe for research (as too is the macro question): How has social media changed the nature of protest itself?


As we dive into all these questions regarding social media and its use in organizing, and prompting social protest movements in the real world, we first want to identify patterns of social media usage that would be inconsistent with social media usage being related to protest participation. We do this by using already publicly available data to assess some of these criteria from the 2013 Turkish Gezi Park protests and the 2013-14 Ukrainian EuroMaidan protests. Ultimately, we find a wealth of evidence suggesting a potentially important role for social media in affecting protest behavior and development in both Turkey and Ukraine.