Casting a wider net: comprehensive, multi-platform study will examine online social movements

Online social movements have played an increasingly important role in contentious politics, from toppling regimes in Egypt and Tunisia to the Black Lives Matter movement in the US. This new form of communication is here to stay and has attracted the attention of computer and social science researchers. However, most studies of online social movements focus on a single case study or use data from a single social media platform. 

As a result, it is almost impossible to determine the extent to which these findings can be applied to social movements and media platforms generally, or whether they are unique to the specific movement or platform studied. 

The National Science Foundation has awarded UMSI assistant professor Ceren Budak a $225,020 grant in order to address these shortcomings. Her project “Systematic Comparative and Historical Analysis Framework for Social Movements" will collect data on various online social movements from various platforms using a number of different data collection methods. 

The project will propose methods for optimizing data collection strategies;  present methods for optimizing data labeling; analyze the development, coordination, and success for social movements of varying scales under different data collection and labeling schemes; and model determinants of protest participation and movement success using curated data.

In doing so, says Budak, this project will improve the understanding of how online movements are formed, how they evolve over time, how the participants coordinate, and how movements change their participants and the broader public. Groups who can benefit from this information include community organizers, designers of online platforms that aim to support civic engagement, and journalists interested in providing accurate narratives of online social movements. 

The first phase of the project has been funded from September 1, 2018 to August 31, 2019. The NSF expects to provide additional funding up to $495,942 for the overall project period through August 31, 2021. 

Posted October 19, 2018