Protest social media insights

Summary

  • Protest social media is a great source of information to learn about where and when protest may occur
  • For people to individually gather, analyse and sort this information is expensive and slow
  • New technologies offer are a fast and high value solution to this problem
Protest Social Media Insights

Introduction

From the beginning it was easy to see the internet would change our lives. Whether it’s documents arriving instantly or goods purchased remotely, the internet was set to transform habits.

Today, this process of change continues, particularly in the world of media.

Media goldrush

Around fifteen years ago, with large amounts of information online a new media goldrush begun: social media. Over this period companies have rushed to capture citizen reporting on individual platforms, collectively known as social media. 

Protest and Social media

Citizen reporting can include the unimportant (cat updates) to the critical (crime evidence). It’s value for protest was first seen in the 2012 Tahrir Square protests. Here members of the public used social media to organise wide scale protest. However, adoption of technology is not new for protest:

  • For centuries word-of-mouth was the best way to spread awareness of protest.  
  • Then conventional media (TV, radio and print media) arrived to amplify or quieten word-of-mouth. As a result, favoured activists could reach a wider audience and gain sympathy from unrelated parties. For example, some TV and radio outlets covered the civil rights movement. As a result, Martin Luther King Jr’s speech was recorded and relayed into million’s of people’s homes.
  • Then social media arrived. It offers something different to conventional media. Whereas conventional media decides what gets airtime and how a message is relayed, social media is free from this control structure*. As a result, protest has a new, free way to organise. (*Controls do exist, see protest algorithm article here).

Measure protest through social media 

If you are interested in protest activity you probably follow social media because it offers unique insights. For example the 2018 UK Donald Trump protests are a great case study. More than 100,000 protestors attended, including the unforgettable ‘orange baby’ balloon.

Donald Trump 2018 UK Protest -Blimp Trump Orange Baby Balloon

Because the protest was vast, its organisation was clear weeks in advance. However, obtaining information during the protest was difficult. Because by the time conventional media reviewed and edited its content it was out of date.

This is where social media shines: thousands of people openly publishing real-time updates. For example, the below graph shows the number of ‘tweets‘ containing the words ‘Trump’ and ‘protest’ in July 2018.

On 13 July 2018, nearly 35,000 tweets were posted. While not all were from protesters, there remains a very large amount of data to work with.

Number of Donald Trump protest tweets in July 2018.

Graph - Donald Trump protests 2018 UK Tweets

Protest social media: Conclusion

Protest social media is an inexpensive opportunity to view protest activity in real-time. All it needs is someone to make sense of it all.

By Calum Doran

 

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