Does Social Media Promote Civic Activism? Evidence from a Field Experiment
This article presents interesting results from a field experiment investigating the contribution of social media to the promotion of civic activism. Overall it found that social media can support activism by instilling a greater feeling of community and optimism about the success of a cause.
In their 2015 article Nikolay Marinov and Frank Schimmelfennig attempt to answer the question if social media really contribute to the mobilisation of civic activism. Drawing on theories on social movement, networks and communications and psychology they are testing three hypothesis on social media: That they help to provide necessary information (1), that they foster engagement by increasing individuals’ benefit (2) and that they decrease marginal costs of collective action (3). To test these hypothesis, the two authors designed a field experiment in Bulgaria. They are comparing three groups of survey respondents, one of which is encouraged to social activism using Facebook, one using an email list and a third one receiving no particular encouragement.
Using initial survey results and results from a second survey conducted eight weeks later, Marinov and Schimmelfennig found significant differences between the groups. Overall they found their hypotheses to be confirmed. In particular they found that liking a facebook page can increase optimism among activists and a feeling of community, an effect that could not be observed in the other groups. While the paper clearly is still in form of a draft, it nevertheless shows some interesting results. It suggests that social media can promote civic activism by appealing to people’s desire to belong to a group and that they instil optimism. It does not, however, settle the question whether using social media is key to mobilise activists in the 21st century.
Marinov, N. and Schimmelfennig, F. (2015), ‘Does Social Media Promote Civic Activism? Evidence from a Field Experiment’, Center for Comparative and International Studies, ETH Zürich.