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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.

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

Keynote at ACM Web Science Conference

Helen Margetts will speak about Political Turbulence in her keynote at the 2016 ACM Conference on Web Science in Hannover, Germany.

The keynote is entitled “Understanding Political Turbulence: The Data Science of Politics,” and the abstract is available in full at the link below.

Social media are now inextricably intertwined with the political behaviour of ordinary citizens. As people go about their daily lives on an ever-changing cast of web-based platforms, they are invited to make ‘micro-donations’ of time and effort to political causes: liking, sharing, tweeting, retweeting, following, uploading, downloading, signing petitions and so on, which extend the ladder of participation at the lower end and draw new people into politics, particularly in younger age groups. These ‘tiny acts’ of political participation can scale up to large mobilizations. The overwhelming majority fail, but some succeed rapidly and dramatically through a series of chain reactions and tipping points. …Read more (.pdf)

Oxford Literary Festival

Helen Margetts spoke about Political Turbulence at the 2016 Oxford Literary Festival on 3 April 2016.

[The authors] demonstrate how most attempts at collective action online fail but some give rise to huge mobilisations and even revolution. Those that succeed are unpredictable, unstable and often unsustainable. They argue that a new form of pluralistic democracy is emerging but one that is chaotic and turbulent. …Further details

The Economist: A new kind of weather

A special report on technology and politics in The Economist examines questions of democracy, data, politics, and social media referencing the findings reported in Political Turbulence:

A new book entitled “Political Turbulence” come[s] to an intriguing conclusion: social media are making democracies more “pluralistic”, but not in the conventional sense of the word, involving diverse but stable groups. Instead, the authors see the emergence of a “chaotic pluralism”, in which mobilisations spring from the bottom up, often reacting to events. Online mobilisation can develop explosively and seemingly at random. …
Politics in the age of social media, the authors conclude, is better described by chaos theory than by conventional social science: “Tiny acts of political participation that take place via social media are the units of analysis, the equivalent of particles and atoms in a natural system, manifesting themselves in political turbulence.” One day, say the authors, it [might] be possible to predict and trigger such surges, in the same way that meteorologists have become good at forecasting the weather. …Read more (paywall).

Science: “Important series of creatively and rigorously researched insights”

Arnout van de Rijt reviewed Political Turbulence in Science Magazine. The review, entitled “The social revolution,” states that the book

… contributes an important series of creatively and rigorously researched insights into the social mechanics of Internet-based collective action, handing researchers a new toolbox of methods and techniques in the process. …Read more (paywall)

Referenced in The Guardian

John Naughton referenced Political Turbulence in his column in The Guardian entitled, “#Twitter crisis? Not if it decides that it can be a smaller, smarter platform.”

The Guardian Bookshop is also selling Political Turbulence for £17 with free UK shipping!

In a thought-provoking new book, Political Turbulence: How Social Media Shape Collective Action, Professor Helen Margetts and her colleagues at the Oxford Internet Institute provide empirical evidence that social media are starting to change our politics in ways not yet appreciated or understood. Platforms such as Twitter, they write, are providing “zero-touch co-ordination for micro-donations of time, effort, and money and are replacing organisations and institutions in some areas of political life. Indeed, organisations increasingly resemble social media platforms in the way they present themselves to the public, with facilities for commenting and encouraging the sharing of content.” …Read more

Reviewed in openDemocracyUK

Stuart Weir has reviewed Political Turbulence in openDemocracyUK.

A few years back I was intrigued and captivated, as a largely analogue political animal, by Paul Mason’s Why It’s Kicking Off Everywhere on the revolutionary part that social media were playing in the Arab Spring and global politics. But for all the enthusiasm, anecdotes and insights, it was ultimately unsatisfying. Here now is a revelatory study, Political Turbulence, which looks more closely and systematically at why “it” – that is, significant collective action – “is kicking off”, and why, much more frequently, it doesn’t. …Read more