Publication: Rapid rise and decay in petition signing

Our journal article entitled, “Rapid rise and decay in petition signing” has been published in EPJ Data Science.

Contemporary collective action, much of which involves social media and other Internet-based platforms, leaves a digital imprint which may be harvested to better understand the dynamics of mobilization. Petition signing is an example of collective action which has gained in popularity with rising use of social media and provides such data for the whole population of petition signatories for a given platform. This paper tracks the growth curves of all 20,000 petitions to the UK government petitions website (http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk) and 1,800 petitions to the US White House site (https://petitions.whitehouse.gov), analyzing the rate of growth and outreach mechanism. Previous research has suggested the importance of the first day to the ultimate success of a petition, but has not examined early growth within that day, made possible here through hourly resolution in the data. The analysis shows that the vast majority of petitions do not achieve any measure of success; over 99 percent fail to get the 10,000 signatures required for an official response and only 0.1 percent attain the 100,000 required for a parliamentary debate (0.7 percent in the US). We analyze the data through a multiplicative process model framework to explain the heterogeneous growth of signatures at the population level. We define and measure an average outreach factor for petitions and show that it decays very fast (reducing to 0.1% after 10 hours in the UK and 30 hours in the US). After a day or two, a petition’s fate is virtually set. The findings challenge conventional analyses of collective action from economics and political science, where the production function has been assumed to follow an S-shaped curve.

The article is open-access and can be read freely on the publisher’s website: EPJ Data Science (2017) 6:20.

Publication: Leadership without Leaders?

Our journal article entitled Leadership without Leaders? Starters and Followers in Online Collective Action has been published in Political Studies.

The Internet has been ascribed a prominent role in collective action, particularly with widespread use of social media. But most mobilisations fail. We investigate the characteristics of those few mobilisations that succeed and hypothesise that the presence of ‘starters’ with low thresholds for joining will determine whether a mobilisation achieves success, as suggested by threshold models. We use experimental data from public good games to identify personality types associated with willingness to start in collective action. We find a significant association between both extraversion and internal locus of control, and willingness to start, while agreeableness is associated with a tendency to follow. Rounds without at least a minimum level of extraversion among the participants are unlikely to be funded, providing some support for the hypothesis.

A free, open-access preprint of the article is available on arXiv while the official version of the article is published in Political Studies, 63(2), June 2015.

Paper: Modeling the Rise in Internet-based Petitions

See a pre-print version of our paper entitled “Modeling the Rise in Internet-based Petitions” here.

The paper’s abstract reads:

Contemporary collective action, much of which involves social media and other Internet-based platforms, leaves a digital imprint which may be harvested to better understand the dynamics of mobilization. Petition signing is an example of collective action which has gained in popularity with rising use of social media and provides such data for the whole population of petition signatories for a given platform. This paper tracks the growth curves of all 20,000 petitions to the UK government over 18 months, analyzing the rate of growth and outreach mechanism. Previous research has suggested the importance of the first day to the ultimate success of a petition, but has not examined early growth within that day, made possible here through hourly resolution in the data. The analysis shows that the vast majority of petitions do not achieve any measure of success; over 99 percent fail to get the 10,000 signatures required for an official response and only 0.1 percent attain the 100,000 required for a parliamentary debate. We analyze the data through a multiplicative process model framework to explain the heterogeneous growth of signatures at the population level. We define and measure an average outreach factor for petitions and show that it decays very fast (reducing to 0.1% after 10 hours). After 24 hours, a petition’s fate is virtually set. The findings seem to challenge conventional analyses of collective action from economics and political science, where the production function has been assumed to follow an S-shaped curve.…Read more

Publication: Growth and Success Rates on the UK No. 10 Downing Street Website

What petitions succeed and what petitions fail? This is the subject of our 2013 paper at the ACM Web Science Conference:

Now that so much of collective action takes place online, web-generated data can further understanding of the mechanics of Internet-based mobilisation. This trace data offers social science researchers the potential for new forms of analysis, using real-time transactional data based on entire populations, rather than sample-based surveys of what people think they did or might do. This paper uses a `big data’ approach to track the growth of over 8,000 petitions to the UK Government on the No. 10 Downing Street website for two years, analysing the rate of growth per day and testing the hypothesis that the distribution of daily change will be leptokurtic (rather than normal) as previous research on agenda setting would suggest. This hypothesis is confirmed, suggesting that Internet-based mobilisation is characterized by tipping points (or punctuated equilibria) and explaining some of the volatility in online collective action. We find also that most successful petitions grow quickly and that the number of signatures a petition receives on its first day is a significant factor in explaining the overall number of signatures a petition receives during its lifetime. These findings have implications for the strategies of those initiating petitions and the design of web sites with the aim of maximising citizen engagement with policy issues.

A free, open-access preprint of the article is available on arXiv while the official version (paywall) of the article is in the ACM Digital Library.