How Social Media Turn Political Mobilization Upside Down

Political Turbulence author Helen Margetts spoke at the “Society Through the Lens of the Digital” conference organised by The Volkswagen Foundation at the end of May 2017. The conference website includes an audio recording of Helen’s talk, which drew upon findings presented in the book and subsequent research. Her talk was entitled “Political Turbulence: How Social Media Turn Political Mobilization Upside Down”.

In a digital world, Helen Margetts (University of Oxford) noted, platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat are where we acquire political information, discuss politics, and make decisions on whether to participate in politics and increasingly where we “do” politics”. On the whole, Margetts observed, social media stimulates very small acts of political participation, drawing new people into politics. And tiny acts can scale up–the demonstrations on Egypt’s Tahrir Square or PODEMOS in Spain began as huge numbers of very small acts. But social media as political force comes with caveats. Digital political action has destabilizing implications for traditional politics and parties. Policymakers need to develop new approaches to this turbulence. Researchers, too, need better access to data if they are to understand the phenomenon. …more

Computational Social Science Winter Symposium

Helen Margetts was a keynote at the 3rd annual Computational Social Science Winter Symposium in Cologne, Germany. Details of her talk are available on the conference website.

The Computational Social Science of Turbulent Politics

Widespread use of social media is changing politics, by allowing ‘tiny acts’ of political participation which can accumulate in large-scale mobilizations through a series of chain reactions, where each act sends a signal to other actors, influencing their decision to join. The vast majority of these political mobilizations fail, but the ones that succeed are unpredictable, unstable and often unsustainable. This talk will discuss how we can research this new ‘political turbulence’ using two key computational social science methodologies. First, the modelling of large-scale transactional data can help to understand the distribution and shape of political mobilizations. Second, experiments can be used to test the effects of two forms of social influence – social information and visibility – that abound in social media environments and act as drivers to scale up collective action. In this way, politics is becoming simultaneously more unpredictable, through the leptokurtic distribution of mobilizations and the rapid rise of those that succeed – and more comprehensible, through the generation and analysis of large-scale data and experimental methods. …More details

Podcast: Listen to Helen and Peter talk about Political Turbulence

Authors Helen Margetts and Peter John visited the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) on 27 October 2016 to talk about the unpredictability of politics and the influence of social media. A recording of the event is available below or on SoundCloud and more details are on website of the RSA.

Political Turbulence at eGoverment-eParticipation

Author Scott A. Hale presented research from Political Turbulence as the keynote of the 15th IFIP Electronic Government (EGOV) and 8th Electronic Participation (ePart) Conference 2016.

Advancing Good Governance in International Development

Peter John will speak about Political Turbulence as part of an upcoming seminar entitled Advancing Good Governance in International Development held at Rhodes House, University of Oxford, on 9 June 2016.

The annual seminar is jointly organised by Camfed International, the Oxford Department of International Development, the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at Saïd Business School, and Linklaters. It brings together thought leaders and practitioners from civil society, government, academia, and the private sector with the goal of facilitating dialogue on the topic of governance and how to make development more effective and sustainable.

Peter John speaking at ‘I Will if You Will, Too’: Conditional Commitment in Collective Action

Political Turbulence co-author Peter John will keynote at a research workshop co-organized by King’s College London, City University London, and the University of Swansea on 3 June 2016. The workshop is entitled “‘I Will if You Will, Too’: Conditional Commitment in Collective Action”, and further details are available in the call for papers (.docx)

This one day workshop convenes academics, activists and political practitioners investigating the potential and consequences of new—social and technological—participatory designs. The main focus of the meeting will be on conditional commitment, a theoretical and practical solution to the perennial collective action problem that the attainment of a collective good by otherwise autonomous individuals is most likely to happen when everyone knows that everyone else will also act. As a collective action is proposed, conditional commitments to act are made. The action only takes place once a critical mass of commitments are made. Conditional commitment represents a new digital syndicalism—citizens, organising outside the walls of the state, challenging political power via digitalised collective aggregation.

Hay Festival 2016

Author Helen Margetts discussed Political Turbulence at the 2016 Hay Festival.

As people spend increasing proportions of their daily lives using social media such as Twitter and Facebook, they are being invited to support myriad political causes by sharing, liking, endorsing or downloading. Chain reactions caused by these tiny acts of participation form a growing part of collective action today, from neighbourhood campaigns to global political movements. …Full details

Helen Margetts in Conversation with Ethan Zuckerman

Helen Margetts will speak about the research behind Political Turbulence in conversation with Ethan Zuckerman at MIT on 3 May 2016. Further details are available at the event webpage on the MIT Media Center.

How does the changing use of social media affect politics? In her recent book, Political Turbulence, Helen Margetts and colleagues Peter John, Scott Hale and Taha Yasseri show how social media are now inextricably intertwined with the political behavior of ordinary citizens, and exert an unruly influence on the political world. As people go about their daily lives, they are invited to undertake “tiny acts” of political participation (liking, sharing, tweeting, retweeting, following, uploading, viewing, signing, and so on) which extend the ladder of participation at the lower end. These micro-donations of time and effort can scale up to large mobilizations—most fail, but some succeed rapidly and dramatically through a series of chain reactions. When deciding whether to participate, people are exposed to web-based social influence, such as social information about the participation of others. Different types of people have different responses to these forms of social influence. The book uses large-scale data and data science approaches, including experimentation, to explore how such dynamics inject turbulence into the political world, with mobilization characterized by instability, unpredictability, and often unsustainability. In this talk, Professor Margetts will discuss the implications of these findings both for political science research and the future of the modern state. …Further details

Talk at Harvard University

Helen Margetts will speak about Political Turbulence at the Center for Research on Computation and Society at Harvard University on 2 May 2016. Full details are available on CRCS’s website.

How does the changing use of social media affect politics? In a recent book – Political Turbulence, Princeton University Press, 2016 – Helen Margetts and colleagues Peter John, Scott Hale and Taha Yasseri show how social media are now inextricably intertwined with the political behaviour of ordinary citizens, and exert an unruly influence on the political world. As people go about their daily lives, they are invited to undertake ‘tiny acts’ of political participation (liking, sharing, tweeting, retweeting, following, uploading, viewing, signing and so on) which extend the ladder of participation at the lower end. These micro-donations of time and effort can scale up to large mobilizations – most fail, but some succeed rapidly and dramatically through a series of chain reactions. When deciding whether to participate, people are exposed to web-based social influence, such as social information about the participation of others, and visibility. Different types of people (personality types for example) have different responses to these forms of social influence. The book uses large-scale data and data science approaches including experimentation to explore how such dynamics inject turbulence into the political world, with mobilization characterized by instability, unpredictability and often unsustainability. The talk will discuss the implications of these findings both for political science research and the future of the modern state. …Further details

Talk at CRASSH, University of Cambridge

Helen Margetts will speak about Political Turbulence on 26 April 2016 at the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences, and Humanities, University of Cambridge. The talk, entitled “Social Media and Political Turbulence,” will be from 14:30 to 16:30 in Room SG2, CRASSH, 7 West Road, Cambridge. Full details are available at the link below.

The last few years have seen increasingly frenzied speculation about the role of social media in political mobilisation. In an important recent book Helen Margetts and her colleagues report on research drawing on large-scale data generated from the Internet and real-world events to show how mobilisations that succeed are unpredictable, unstable and often unsustainable. To reach a better understanding of this unruly force in the political world, the researchers have used experiments that test how social media influence citizens when they are deciding whether or not to participate. They conclude that a new kind of “chaotic pluralism” is the model of democracy that is emerging in our networked environment. …Further details