How do social media change the conditions for civic and political mobilization?
Bernard Enjolras, Kari Steen-Johnsen and Dag Wollebæk
Paper presented at the 3rd International Conference on Democracy as Idea and Practice University of Oslo January 12-13, 2012.
This paper examines how the expansion of online social media affects offline civic and political mobilization. Based on individual web survey data on participation in demonstrations and on social media use in Norway, we ask whether social media transform individual level and structural level conditions for mobilization. Our results show that social media impacts on individual agency in relation to demonstrations, in particular on the access to information and the interest in participating. Further, being connected to information structures through social media has a strong and independent effect on mobilization, and must be conceived as a supplement both to established organizational society and to mainstream media. Finally, our analysis shows that there are significant differences between those who are mobilized to demonstrations through social media and those who are mobilized through established civil society and political organizations, since participants mobilized through social media are characterized by lower socio-economic status and younger age. A similar pattern occurs when social media mobilization is compared to mobilization through mainstream and other media. Based on our findings we therefore argue that a transformation of civic and political mobilization may be underway. Social media seem to represent an alternative structure alongside mainstream media and established political and civil society that recruits in different ways and that reaches different types of people. If so, this is a different finding from what has been concluded in relation to the impact of the Internet (web 1.0.) on political engagement, where the re-enforcement thesis has so far received quite substantial support.