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How the Internet Impacts Political Protest

Street rallies more often consist of those who get the information from the internet rather than TV.

Authors:

Eleonora Kirkizh, master’s student at the University of Mannheim, Germany; Research Intern at the HSE Internet Studies Lab in St. Petersburg (2013-2015).
Olessia Koltsova, Head of the HSE Internet Studies Lab in St. Petersburg.

People interested in politics, those having leftist views and those interested in postmaterialistic values are more inclined to participate in protest rallies. People who get the news from the internet are more likely to participate in these rallies. These are the findings of a study by Olessia Koltsova and Eleonora Kirkizh.

The researchers analyzed how the internet impacts protest behavior. Their study was based on data from the sixth wave of World Values Survey carried out in 2010 – 2014. The sample included Russia and 48 other countries. The results of the study were published in Politeia journal, No 1, 2016, Impact of the Internet on Participation in Protests.

From the internet to the barricades

The research focused on the most popular type of protests, peaceful rallies. The internet was considered not as an ‘organizer’, but as a source of information on the protests, so reading the news online became the main impact factor.

Reading the news on the internet increases the probability of participation in peaceful rallies, the researchers concluded. This is characteristic for various countries, but doesn’t manifest itself in the same way everywhere. The trend is weakest in Peru, Russia, and Kazakhstan, and strongest in Pakistan, Egypt and Thailand. The researchers haven’t yet studied the reasons for these intercountry differences of the internet’s impact on protests.

The rallies are also promoted by information from friends and colleagues (when the internet is unavailable, person-to-person communication becomes the main media for protest mobilization). And it makes absolutely no difference whether an individual watches TV or not. According to the researchers, this is no surprise: TV is mainly controlled by political elites.

Politically active people having leftist views and postmaterialistic values (self-expression, quality of life etc) are more inclined to protest. In other words, ‘not the oppressed victims, but rather those who want to improve their lives and their society, go on protests’. These are the values that force people to look for resources (including the online news) to solve important problems. These problems, which are also incentives to protest, may be both individual and state-wide, from a specific protester’s job loss, to the high level of unemployment and lack of freedom of speech in the country.

Hallmarks of protesters

The study revealed the following:

  • Individuals who use the internet as a source of news will be more likely to participate in peaceful protests;
  • Not merely consumers of internet news are inclined to participate, but consumers having certain characteristics, such as reasons for discontentment (lack of job and earnings matter); resources (reading online news and getting information from other sources, including TV, friends, and education); values (political views, interest in politics, self-expression etc);
  • Individuals with these characteristics who use the internet as the main source of information are more inclined to participate in protests than consumers of internet news without these characteristics, or people with these characteristics who don’t read the online news. This means that an individual interest in politics and reading online news will go on street rallies rather than one who is interested in politics but ignores information from the internet.
October 31, 2016