Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Online Tools, Offline Action: Social Media in American Presidency and Protest
by Robertson, Allison Brooke, M.A., The American University of Paris (France), 2012, 55; 10305743
Abstract (Summary)

Social media have been praised as an expedient resource for individuals to rapidly circulate information across networks, and thus circumvent traditional, mass media control of information flow. However, scholars continue to argue the merits of social media and how much power should be attributed to it. In light of this power dynamic debate, I investigate how social media, as "online tools", are used to mobilize individuals into "offline action"—and what influences its effectiveness. ("Offline action" I define broadly as a physical activity in support of a political cause.) I selected two case studies that illustrate two different examples of political movement in America, to see how social media's ability to mobilize depends on the context in which it is used. Specifically, I selected a presidential campaign, and an ongoing protest movement. Presidential campaigns are highly structured movements run by individuals already in positions of power. Presidential campaigns possess a single leader, specific calls to action from that leader, and a finite timeframe for action. Presidential campaigns are largely founded on traditional top-down flows of information: from the leader to the citizens. Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign has been credited with successful leveraging of social media. My analysis of his campaign shows how social media's network reach was effectively exploited to acquire a large volume of donations and votes. (Glimpsing at social media's role in governance, I also analyze Obama's social media use as president, revealing social media's contextual limitations.) Protest movements challenge those in power, relying on bottom-up flow of information: demands from the citizens to the leader(s). Unlike presidential campaigns, protests can be more loosely organized: they can have multiple leaders, varying calls to action, and undetermined timeframes. The Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement is such an example: a leaderless movement with various demands and widespread participants. Social media have played a critical role for OWS by spreading critical information online, coordinating crowds offline, and maintaining momentum as traditional media coverage wanes. My research has shown that—in both election and protest contexts—social media can provide individuals important political content online, and inspire those individuals into offline action. This is achieved through social media's network architecture, integration of multimedia (i.e., text, images, and video), and circumvention of traditional media outlets.

America, Barack Obama, Occupy Wall Street, politics, social media

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Fraser, Matthew
Commitee: Harsin, Jason
School: The American University of Paris (France)
Department: Global Communications
School Location: France
Source: MAI 56/02M(E), Masters Abstracts International
Subjects: Multimedia Communications, Political science, Web Studies
Keywords: Obama, Barack, Occupy Wall Street, Political campaigns, Social media
Publication Number: 10305743
ISBN: 978-1-369-49307-8
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