When algorithms shape collective action: Social media and the dynamics of cloud protesting

Milan, S. (2015)

When algorithms shape collective action: Social media and the dynamics of cloud protesting

Stefania Milan

This article can be read here.

Abstract

How does the algorithmically mediated environment of social media restructure social action? This article combines social movement studies and science and technology studies to explore the role of social media in the organization, unfolding, and diffusion of contemporary protests. In particular, it examines how activists leverage the technical properties of social media to develop a joint narrative and a collective identity. To this end, it offers the notion of cloud protesting as a theoretical approach and framework for empirical analysis. Cloud protesting indicates a specific type of mobilization that is grounded on, modeled around, and enabled by social media platforms and mobile devices and the virtual universes they identify. The notion emphasizes both the productive mediation of social and mobile media and the importance of activists’ sense-making activities. It also acknowledges that social media set in motion a process that is sociotechnical in nature rather than merely sociological or communicative, and thus can be understood only by intersecting the material and the symbolic dimensions of contemporary digitally mediated collective action. The article shows how the specific materiality of social media intervenes in the actors’ meaning work by fostering four mechanisms—namely performance, interpellation, temporality, and reproducibility—which concur to create a “politics of visibility” that alters traditional identity dynamics. In addition, it exposes the connection between organizational patterns and the role of individuals, explaining how the politics of visibility is the result of a process that originates and ends within the individual—which ultimately creates individuals-in-the-group rather than groups.

Cite as

Milan, S. (2015). “When algorithms shape collective action: Social media and the dynamics of cloud protesting”, Social Media + Society, 1(2). DOI: 10.1177/2056305115622481.

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