Online and offline engagement in new social movements: two sides of the same coin.

Independence supporters wave the Catalan Estelada flag with Basque flags during a rally in Bilbao, northern Spain, on September 16, 2017

On the 1st of October 2017, Catalonia’s independence referendum took place. Despite the Government opposition and the suspension by the Constitutional Court, the Catalonian independence movement reached his objective: people’s votes confirmed the major sentiment of dissociation of the region from Spain. Despite the result, oppositional forces protested in mass, both online and offline.

The web was already polluted with high Twitter rates calling for #CatalanReferendum , and news and posts mostly shared on Facebook handled the event as the “new Brexit”, constantly referring to the past UK’s downfall: the tension was high and the web fuelled it even more.

Does the Internet help in extending political and civic engagement ? If so, can sharing “what is on trend” be considered a form of participation?

Most influential moments on Twitter in 2015

The Internet surely became a vital platform for the birth of new social movements and interest groups such as Blacklivesmatter, also enlarging the opportunities for older organisations to open up spaces for new ways of communication and strategies. The internet has not just enabled the sharing of information via social media, but it has most fundamentally been used as a stand for advocating freedom of information and transparency, open data and further accessibility for citizens to participate and be engaged. The Internet helps in coordinating, creating platforms of discussion inside movements, operating as an interconnecting tool for better-quality administration.

One clear example is Obama’s use of his “Web 2.0” successful political campaign in 2008, both via social media and through the interface of the “MyBo” website, which connected partisans on its online-platform, it fostered volunteers’ action in spreading the online campaign to other non-members, enlarging the public visibility of the party.

However, can this result be equally achieved by social movements that have not achieved the same granted public as large parties offline? It seems to me that emerging online social movements usually obtain two main features through the use of the web: strong coordination while fostering pre-existed affiliation and growth of their online members because “on trend”.

The online platform of social movements helps foster people already engaged and people that have a political orientation that matches the movement’s core ideals. The web helps coordinating messages, protests, and connection both on the websites and via social media. It helps already interested individuals to be even more involved, more participant (Van Laer, 2010). People that are already affiliated with the movement will then probably feel more safeguarded in finding a strong online community, contributing consequently to the development of the movement even more.

The other feature I noticed in new movements in order to get more attention has been being “on trend”: movements, because of particular situations or events, enlarges their sphere of influence thanks to world’s priority agenda. Being on trend does not just relate to the online platform, but it is rather strictly connected to the offline-world: the online reality of sharing posts/news/hashtags in order to foster new movements mirrors the offline sentiment of official media, people’s pre-existent affiliation, public opinion sentiments.

Online engagement then seems to increase because of numbers and statistics on the online sphere via sharing, but it still highly dependent on the offline trends already in place: online movements possibilities mirror the offline ones and vice versa. Sharing online often does not translate into thoughtful affiliation, rather it could be seen just a way to be part of something or to be informed about trends.

The internet mainly reinforces, does not heavily impact offline mobilization: Catalonia referendum’s result is to find in people’s pre-existing interests.

Van Laer, J. (2010) “Activists Online and Offline: The Internet as an Information Channel for Protest Demonstrations”, Mobilization: An International Quarterly, 15(3), pp. 347–366


Key challenging concepts/words in the core readings: Open government data, Open source software, Source code, Computational shift, Civic hacker.

Definition of the term “Open source software “: Highly coordinated software created by several developers based on the value of freedom of information. The freedom of coding materials within the software is intended as the liberty to access, learn and modify information as it is legally protected by the right to free speech.

Question for the seminar: Is actual mobilization the only relevant achievement for a social movement to be seen as successful? Is online fame or reputation enough?