An Under-the-Hood Look at Social Media-Fueled Protest: Defining Interactions Between News Media Organizations, Activists, and Citizens on Twitter
This paper explores the relationship between media elites, activists, and ordinary citizens during the Quebec Maple Spring student strike, also known as Maple Spring. The studentled protest movement began in a fairly conventional manner with students from two large universities voting in favor of a strike against tuition hikes in the province of Quebec, Canada on February 13, 2012. Over the following weeks, this mobilization initiative morphed into a grassroots-intensive protest movement. This article drills down on uses of Twitter by Maple Spring activists and ordinary citizens for information dispersion, advocacy, and mobilization. Specifically, it examines how and to what degree the narrative associated to the student strike was influenced by content produced by news media organizations and individual reporters. In order to do so, a qualitative and quantitative discourse analysis of a sample of 66,282 tweets comprising the hashtag #ggi (including hyperlinks and their content) that appeared on Twitter’s public timeline between April 22 and July 31, 2012 was conducted. Contrary to expectations Twitter was seldom used as a way to stir controversy about the strike. In fact, individuals and organizations tweeting about the Maple Spring
relied heavily on journalistic organizations and individual journalists to circulate information, share their views on strike-related issues and events, and express themselves on other matters. As traditional media offered an often-sensationalistic coverage of the Maple Spring, the activity on social media was geared more towards analyzing, legitimizing protest, and offering opinions as events unfolded. Individuals and organizations turned to Twitter to express themselves, offer new ways of seeing the strike, and present narratives differing from the mainstream media narrative. Finally, the findings of this study are discussed in light of the “protest paradigm,” which helps to characterize news media organizations and reporters’ role in shaping the Maple Spring narrative on Twitter. More
generally, this article provides a renewed look at politicking in the social mediascape and contributes to the growing body of academic literature on citizen participation, protest, and activists’ uses of Web 2.0 for political action and advocacy in the digital age.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.