Political Protest and Social Integration. the Role of Online Brokerage and Offline Activity in the Formation of Facebook Friendship Ties: The Case of Russia 2011

Thursday, July 17, 2014
Room: 511
Sofia DOKUKA , ICS / Department of Sociology, University of Groningen, Groningen, Netherlands
Christian STEGLICH , ICS / Department of Sociology, University of Groningen, Groningen, Netherlands
Marijtje VAN DUIJN , ICS/Sociology Department, University of Groningen, Groningen, Netherlands
Despite their different political agendas, recent protest movements in the Arab World, Europe as well as North and South America share a strong reliance on social media.  The use of Facebook or Twitter for recruitment, information dissemination and coordination also was common during the protests emerging during the Russian parliamentary elections in 2011. A striking feature of these protests is that a large group of citizens from competing political camps endorsed the opposition’s general agenda. We suggest that political protest increased social integration among participants by fostering friendship ties between political opponents. We elaborate two alternative mechanisms of the link between political protest and the formation and stability of friendship ties: “offline activity” during protest events (e.g. demonstrations) and “online brokers” (individuals with many online contacts) facilitating the creation of friendship ties between political opponents. The effect of offline activity is inferred indirectly, by comparing structural changes in the online group during demonstration periods and demonstration free periods. The effect of online brokers is inferred directly as the tendency towards closing structural holes in the contact network. Longitudinal data extracted from one of the largest Russian protest groups on Facebook is used to test both hypotheses. The dataset consists of about 3000 participants and more than 35000 friendship links, measured at four time points. Two types of data were collected. First, attribute data (e.g. gender, place of living) and friendship choices were drawn from Facebook pages. Second, political opinions (socialist, liberal) were determined based on content and discourse analysis of users’ pages. Stochastic actor-oriented modeling is applied for testing the hypotheses.