Why do some people decide to attend a protest, while others decide not to? Using the Charlie Hebdo protests in Paris in 2015, we found that this decision depends on whether members of that person’s social network are motivated to attend.
Larson, Jennifer M., Jonathan Nagler, Jonathan Ronen, and Joshua A. Tucker. “Social Networks and Protest Participation: Evidence from 130 Million Twitter Users.” American Journal of Political Science 63, no. 3 (2019): 690–705. https://doi.org/10.1111/ajps.12436
Jul 01, 2019
Area of Study
Pinning down the role of social ties in the decision to protest has been notoriously elusive largely due to data limitations. Social media and their global use by protesters offer an unprecedented opportunity to observe real-time social ties and online behavior, though often without an attendant measure of real-world behavior. We collect data on Twitter activity during the 2015 Charlie Hebdo protest in Paris, which, unusually, record real-world protest attendance and network structure measured beyond egocentric networks. We devise a test of social theories of protest that hold that participation depends on exposure to others' intentions and network position determines exposure. Our findings are strongly consistent with these theories, showing that protesters are significantly more connected to one another via direct, indirect, triadic, and reciprocated ties than comparable nonprotesters. These results offer the first large-scale empirical support for the claim that social network structure has consequences for protest participation.
In 2015, the mass killing at the Charlie Hebdo satirical-French magazine offices led to protests throughout Paris. These in-person protests were organized using online platforms, which provide a rich data source that overcomes the traditional problem of little data on social ties and real-world protest participation. We devised a test of social theories tailored to data collected from Twitter to determine whether peers influence one another in their decision to participate in protests. Ultimately, we answer the question: Why do some decide to attend a protest while others do not?
Social media, and its use in protests, offers an unprecedented opportunity to observe, in real-time, social ties and online behavior. Instead of asking protestors why they came, we track on Twitter, an observable record of social ties, which is complete and unfiltered by the memory of a respondent. We posit that a person is more likely to attend a protest if she is exposed to close social contacts who are also likely to attend the protest. Interpreted in the context of Twitter: A person is more likely to attend a protest if she follows people who are motivated to attend; follows people who follow people who are motivated; follows a member of a small clique who is motivated; or follows motivated people who mutually follow the user in return
Using the Charlie Hebdo protests, we find that protestors are significantly more connected to one another via direct, indirect, triadic, and reciprocated ties than comparable non-protestors. In essence, social network structures have consequences for real-life protest participation.