Investigating Online Activism For Social Change: Conceptual Framework, Participation, Dynamics, And Cross-Movement Coalitions
This thesis presents a research program that explores how online activism may be effective in generating social change. Online firestorms, digitally native social movements, and cross-movement coalitions emerge as new forms of public outrage and collective action on social media. While they present emerging phenomena and quintessential manifestations of today’s networked public sphere, little is known about how they occur and develop, about their nature and dynamics, and their implications for organizational fields. Established theories of social movements and collective action cannot sufficiently explain these new forms of activism and contentious activity in the realm of social media.
To address these gaps, this thesis investigates how online firestorms are triggered and evolve, how social movements harness those firestorms to advance their agendas, and how new forms of coalitions and coordination emerge between movements via social media. This thesis includes the development of an interdisciplinary conceptualization of online firestorms along with empirical in-depth studies of impactful digitally native activism and cross-movement coalitions.
This research adopts a mixed methods approach and uses large scale digital trace data generated on social media as the main source of data. The digital trace data was collected over three years using self-developed tools. Analysis of collected samples was based on a wide range of leading-edge techniques in social networks and natural language processing.
The findings of the program shed light on different aspects of online activism including emergence, organization, contentious activity, spread, participation, and field actors’ relationships. It explains how public outrage changes due to technical and social aspects of social media and what makes online activism impactful.
The study provides several important contributions to research on online activism, social movements, and cross-movement coalitions, leading to a better understanding of the nature and dynamics of these phenomena. The findings of empirical studies included in this thesis demonstrate how social movements can play an important role in countering issues of hate and disinformation found on social media, and become a driving force for changes in the governance of platforms, algorithms, and policies.