Social Networks and Protest Participation: Evidence from 93 Million Twitter Users

Paper by Jennifer Larson et al for Political Networks Workshops & Conference 2016: “Pinning down the role of social ties in the decision to protest has been notoriously elusive, largely due to data limitations. The era of social media and its global use by protesters offers an unprecedented opportunity to observe real-time social ties and online behavior, though often without an attendant measure of real-world behavior. We collect data on Twitter activity during the 2015 Charlie Hebdo protests in Paris which, unusually, record both real-world protest attendance and high-resolution network structure. We specify a theory of participation in which an individual’s decision depends on her exposure to others’ intentions, and network position determines exposure. Our findings are strong and consistent with this theory, showing that, relative to comparable Twitter users, protesters are significantly more connected to one another via direct, indirect, triadic, and reciprocated ties. These results offer the first large-scale empirical support for the claim that social network structure influences protest participation….(More)’