12 Papers on Social Media and Political Participation

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I just came across the website of the Social Media and Political Participation conference, which took place in Florence this May.

Below is the presentation by Henry Farrel (from the Monkey Cage) on Cognitive Democracy and the Internet, followed by links to the papers.

Cognitive Democracy and the Internet Henry Farrell, George Washington University

Politics 2.0: The Multifaceted Effect of Broadband Internet on Political Participation Francesco Sobbrio, European University Institute

Birds of the Same Feather Tweet Together: Bayesian Ideal Point Estimation Using Twitter Data Pablo Barbera, New York University

Politicians Go Social. Estimating Intra-Party Heterogeneity (and its Effects) through the Analysis of Social Media Andrea Ceron, University of Milan

Connective Action in European Mass Protest  Eva Anduiza, Autonomous University of Barcelona

The Bridges and Brokers of Global Campaigns in the Context of Social Media Sandra Gonzalez-Bailon, Oxford Internet Institute

Every Tweet Counts? How Sentiment Analysis of Social Media Can Improve our Knowledge of Citizens’ Policy Preferences: An Application to Italy and France Stefano Iacus, University of Milan

The Rise and Decline of the “Occupy Wall Street” Movement from a Digital Perspective Alessandro Flammini, University of Indiana

Is the Internet Good or Bad for Politics? Yes. Let’s talk about How and Why Zeynep Tufekci, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Follow the leader! Dynamics and Patterns of Activity among the Followers of the Main Italian Political Leaders during the 2013 General Election Campaign Cristian Vaccari, New York University and University of Bologna

Social Networks, Peer Pressure and Protest Participation Alexey Makarin, New Economic School, Moscow

Mobilizing Online Data to Understand Offline Mobilization: Two Attempts at Online Observational Research in Russia   Sam Greene, King’s College London

The Foundations of Motivation for Citizen Engagement

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Discussions about incentives to participate are increasingly common, but they are as shallow as most conversations nowadays about the subject of “feedback loops”. And very little reflection is actually dedicated to questions such as why, when and how people participate.

This is why this talk by Judd Antin, User Experience Researcher at Facebook, is one of the best I’ve heard lately. He goes a step further than making commonsensical assumptions, and examines the issue of motivations to participate in a more critical and systematic manner. When it comes to technology mediated processes, Judd is actually one of the few people looking seriously at the issue of incentives/motivations to participate.

In the talk Judd begins by arguing that “(…) the foundations of motivation in the age of social media, they are kind of the same as the foundations of motivation before the age of social media.” I cannot help but agree and sympathize with the statement. It is particularly annoying to  hear on a daily basis claims suggesting that individual and social processes are fundamentally altered by technologies, and “how new” this field is. “I don’t fool myself into thinking that this is a brand new world”, remarks Judd. Too bad so many are fooling themselves these days.

Judd’s take on incentives to participate is particularly sobering for some cheerleaders of gamification,  highlighting the limits of instrumental rewards and the need to focus on issues such as group identification, efficacy and – importantly – simplicity.

Finally, and on a more anecdotal note, it is interesting to see how some issues are similar across different spaces. At some point Judd points out that the “dislike” button is one of the features most requested by Facebook users. In a similar vein, one of the most requested features for e-Petitions platforms is the possibility to sign “against” a petition.

In both cases, these requests have been largely ignored. My feeling is that the implications for these choices of design for collective action are far from neutral, and these are issues that we should be looking at more closely.

In any case, Judd’s talk is great, and so are his articles: you can find a list of his most recent ones below.

Title / Author Year
J Antin, EF Churchill, DA Shamma, M De Sa
US Patent 20,130,086,484
Social desirability bias and self-reports of motivation: a study of amazon mechanical turk in the US and India
J Antin, A Shaw
Proceedings of the 2012 ACM annual conference on Human Factors in Computing …
Profanity use in online communities
S Sood, J Antin, E Churchill
Proceedings of the 2012 ACM annual conference on Human Factors in Computing …
Using Crowdsourcing to Improve Profanity Detection
SO Sood, J Antin, E Churchill
AAAI Spring Symposium Series, 69-74
Local experts and online review sites
J Antin, M de Sa, EF Churchill
Proceedings of the acm 2012 conference on computer supported cooperative …
Some of all human knowledge: gender and participation in peer production
A Forte, J Antin, S Bardzell, L Honeywell, J Riedl, S Stierch
Proceedings of the ACM 2012 conference on Computer Supported Cooperative …
Apples to Oranges?: Comparing across studies of open collaboration/peer production
J Antin, EH Chi, J Howison, S Paul, A Shaw, J Yew
Proceedings of the 7th International Symposium on Wikis and Open …
Gender differences in Wikipedia editing
J Antin, R Yee, C Cheshire, O Nov
Proceedings of the 7th International Symposium on Wikis and Open …
Mobile augmented reality: video prototyping
M de Sá, J Antin, D Shamma, EF Churchill
Proceedings of the 2011 annual conference extended abstracts on Human …
My kind of people?: perceptions about wikipedia contributors and their motivations
J Antin
Proceedings of the 2011 annual conference on Human factors in computing …
Workshop on online reputation: context, privacy, and reputation management
J Antin, EF Churchill, BC Chen
Proceedings of the 20th international conference companion on World wide web …
Technology-Mediated Contributions: Editing Behaviors Among New Wikipedians
J Antin, C Cheshire, O Nov
Automatic identification of personal insults on social news sites
SO Sood, EF Churchill, J Antin
Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology
Badges in social media: A social psychological perspective
J Antin, E Churchill
Human Factors, 1-4
Toy Psychology-Using gaming tactics to shape our online behavior may not be as effective as some have hoped.
J Antin
Technology Review-Massachussets Institute ofTechnology-English Edition, 11
General and Familiar Trust in Websites
C Cheshire, J Antin, KS Cook, E Churchill
Knowledge, Technology & Policy, 1-21
Everyday favors: A case study of a local online gift exchange system
E Suhonen, A Lampinen, C Cheshire, J Antin
Proceedings of the 16th ACM international conference on Supporting group …
Behaviors, adverse events, and dispositions: An empirical study of online discretion and information control
C Cheshire, J Antin, E Churchill
Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 61 (7 …
C Cheshire, J Antin
Information, Communication & Society 13 (4), 537-555
With a little help from my friends: Self‐interested and prosocial behavior on MySpace Music
J Antin, M Earp
Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 61 (5 …

Diamond’s Course on Democratic Development

I just found out that on April 3rd Coursera started offering a new series of lectures on Democratic Development with Larry Diamond. Here’s a brief description of the course:

This course is intended as a broad, introductory survey of the political, social, cultural, economic, institutional, and international factors that foster and obstruct the development and consolidation of democracy. Each factor will be examined in historical and comparative perspective, with reference to a variety of different national experiences. Students are encouraged to relate the historical development and contemporary situation of particular countries and regions (especially their own) to the various theories about democratic development, and to evaluate those theories in light of country experience. It is also hoped that students in developing or prospective democracies can use the theories, ideas, and lessons in the class to help build or improve democracy in their own countries.

Although it seems that Larry will not approach the issue of participatory democracy, there is little doubt that it is something worth following if one looks at the syllabus. The reading schedule [PDF] is – as one would expect – impeccable, and it is in itself a valuable list of resources for those who would like to move beyond a simplistic understanding of democracy.To set the tone, one of the first suggested readings is the brilliant “What Democracy Is…and Is Not”, a classic by Philippe Schmitter and Terry Karl, who together form probably one of the most brilliant (and charming) couples ever. The list of excellent readings goes on forever, with major scholars (beyond Larry himself) such as Lipset, O’Donnel, Lijphart, Carothers and Horowitz.Touching upon issues like ethnic conflict, accountability, rule of law and control of corruption, this course might also be of interest to many development practitioners working in related fields. Personally – and despite the sometimes tiring hype – I look forward to hearing more from Diamond about his take on the role of technologies in democratic transitions (see for instance, this paper of his “Liberation Technology” [PDF]).

Albeit free, this course is priceless.

You can sign up here.

My Reading Suggestions (Part One)

Fundação Biblioteca Nacional

Tom Steinberg asked me for a list of my favorite recent reads. So here’s the first part of a rather disorganized list of readings and other resources, with sporadic comments on why I like some of them. The list is heterogeneous in terms of subject, method and quality. In my opinion, the common denominator among the different resources is their relevance for those working at the intersection of participation and technology.


There is definitely a lot of bad reading out there about collective intelligence.   Indeed, many of the discussions and papers out there are nothing more than half-baked re-readings of ideas and concepts well established in the field of epistemic democracy. But there are a few exceptions. Acquainting myself with Hélène’s awesome work in the domain was one of the highlights for me in 2012. Here’s a sample:

Landemore, Hélène E., Democratic Reason: The Mechanisms of Collective Intelligence in Politics (April 1, 2011). COLLECTIVE WISDOM: PRINCIPLES AND MECHANISMS, Hélène Landemore and Jon Elster, eds., Cambridge University Press, Spring 2012.

You can find more of Hélène’s work here http://www.helenelandemore.com/.

Also, if you are interested in high-level talks and discussions about collective intelligence, the videos of conferences below are some of the best things out there:

Collective Intelligence Conference (Video)

College de France – Collective Intelligence (Video) 

Epistemic Democracy Conference (Video) 


Miller, J & Page, S 2004, ‘The Standing Ovation Problem’, COMPLEXITY, vol. 9, no. 5, pp. 8-16.

Bond, R. M., C. J. Fariss, J. J. Jones, A. D. I. Kramer, C. Marlow, J. E. Settle, and J. H. Fowler.  2012. “A 61-Million-Person Experiment in Social Influence and Political Mobilization.”  Nature 489: 295–298.

S. Gonzalez-Bailon, J. Borge-Holthoefer, A. Rivero, and Y. Moreno. The Dynamics of Protest Recruitment through an Online Network. Nature, December 2011.

Margetts, Helen Zerlina, John, Peter, Reissfelder, Stephane and Hale, Scott A., Social Influence and Collective Action: An Experiment Investigating the Effects of Visibility and Social Information Moderated by Personality (April 18, 2012).  

Hale, Scott A. and Margetts, Helen Zerlina, Understanding the Mechanics of Online Collective Action Using ‘Big Data’ (March 22, 2012).


David Lazer is the co-author of two of these papers. If you don’t know it already, Stuart Shulman’s work is definitely worth checking out. Thamy Pogrebinschi is probably one of the people to look out for in the coming years in the field of participatory democracy.

Lazer, David, Sokhey, Anand E., Neblo, Michael A. and Esterling, Kevin M., Deliberative Ripples: The Network Effects of Political Events (August 10, 2010).

Neblo, Michael A., Esterling, Kevin M., Kennedy, Ryan, Lazer, David and Sokhey, Anand E., Who Wants to Deliberate – and Why? (September 15, 2009). HKS Working Paper No. RWP09-027.

Stuart W. Shulman, 2009. “The case against mass e–mails: Perverse incentives and low quality public participation in U.S. federal rulemaking,” Policy & Internet, volume 1, number 1, article 2.

Pogrebinschi, Thamy, The Squared Circle of Participatory Democracy: Scaling-up Deliberation to the National Level (2012). APSA 2012 Annual Meeting Paper. 


Largely unknown even among the most enthusiastic participation advocates, there is a growing body of literature in the field of tax morale that links citizen engagement to reduced tax evasion: one of the best cases for the ROI of Open Government.  Below is one of the best papers in the field.

Frey, Bruno S., and Lars P. Feld (2002) “Deterrence and Morale in Taxation: An Empirical Analysis.” CESifo Working Paper no. 760, August 2002

You can find more references about tax morale here. Alex Howard gives a good account of how this might be happening in the DR Congo, helped by mobile phones (a project I’m part of).

And if the subject is the ROI of open government, here’s a paper that links participatory budgeting to reduced infant mortality (and there’s more to be published on that front soon).


If I were to make any predictions for 2013, I would say we will start to see a growing number of studies using randomized controlled trials (RCTs) to assess the validity of claims for transparency and participation. Indeed, some donors in the open government space have already started to ask for RCT evaluations as a project component. Here are a couple of examples of how good studies on the subject would look (IMHO):

Olken, B. 2010. Direct Democracy and Local Public Goods: Evidence from a Field Experiment in Indonesia. American Political Science Review, 104, pp 243-267

Zhang, K. 2012. “Increasing Citizen Demand for Good Government in Kenya”. Stanford University. 

Of course, scholars, practitioners and donors should take claims about the awesomeness of RCTs with a good grain of salt (and pepper):

Deaton, A. 2008. Instruments of development? Randomization in the tropics, and the hunt for the keys to development. Princeton University mimeo.

Cartwright, N. 2007. “Are RCTs the gold standard?” Biosocieties, 2, 11–20.


Rothschild, David and Justin Wolfers. 2011. “Forecasting Elections: Voter Intentions versus Expectations.” Working paper, University of Pennsylvania.

Gomez, Brad T., Thomas G. Hansford, and George A. Krause. 2007. “The Republicans Should Pray for Rain: Weather, Turnout, and Voting in U.S. Presidential Elections.” Journal of Politics 69 (August): 649–63.

This is just the first part of a longer list. I hope to finish a second part soon, focusing – among other things – on the (uneasy) intersection of behavioural economics and participatory democracy.

Happy reading.

On Political Efficacy and Occupy Wall Street’s Postage Paid Protest

One of the strongest predictors of participation is what political scientists call “political efficacy”. Broadly speaking, one of the components of political efficacy refers to an individual’s perception of his/her impact through his/her political actions. In other words, all other things equal, the greater your perception that your actions are likely to have an impact, the greater your political efficacy. And the greater this sense of efficacy, the more likely you are to engage. Furthermore, political scientists often refer to the generation of a virtuous cycle in which participation leads to more participation.

A while ago, through a post on techPresident by Micah Sifry I came across this brilliant story about an alternative form of protest in the context of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Below is an excerpt from Micah’s article that summarizes the idea put forward by Artie Moffa, a “part–time poet and SAT tutor”:

“His idea,which he described in a short YouTube video that has had more than 400,000views in just six days, steals a page from both Saul Alinsky and Abbie Hoffman.You know all those credit card solicitations banks send you all the time, he asks, sitting at his couch in a shirt and striped tie. Take the business reply envelope and stuff it with a message back to the bank, or if you’re feeling like it, add a wood shim or something firm to add to the cost of the return mail. “Every hour banks spend responding to us is an hour banks don’t spend lobbying Congress figuring out how to screw us,” he notes. “If you can’t occupy Wall Street, you can at least keep Wall Street occupied.”

The post includes an interesting and entertaining interview with Moffa. Both the story and the interview present two interesting (although anecdotal) illustrations of how political efficacy can operate.

The first one refers to the action in itself. My hunch is that the reasonable popularity of the idea is a result of the fact that it generates an immediate sense of political efficacy. Although one can question how efficient the practice may be in terms of furthering the causes of the movement, by sending back the envelope individuals know that their action will have a tangible impact: the return mail will have to be paid for by the sender of the correspondence. Making a rough – and maybe unfair – comparison, by sending back the mail with a message or a wood shim inside the envelope gives citizens a stronger – or more immediate – sense of political efficacy than signing an online petition.

The second element corresponds to the virtuous cycle, in which participation, resulting in increased political efficacy, will lead to even more participation. As Artie Moffa puts it it:

“About a month ago, I wrote a letter to the editors of The Economist, teasing them about a bad layout decision they made with the cover for their “Hunting the Rich”issue (Sep 24). I couldn’t believe they printed my letter. I guess that experience itched the bug bite. I wanted to say a little more.”

That bug bite, that made Artie want to say more, was political efficacy.

David Karpf on Netroots and the MoveOn Effect

David Karpf lecture at the American University on the impact of technologies on political activism.


A brief description of the talk from the Center for Social Media website:

Karpf walked his audience through an examination of internet age advocacy organizations: examining their effectiveness in running campaigns; how they run campaigns as compared to legacy advocacy groups such as the Sierra Club (an organization that predates the internet by nearly 100 years); and what the future of the netroots movements means for the future of all who are involved in advocacy work. Karpf, who served on the Sierra Club board of directors in graduate school, came equipped with a perspective that combines the physical experience of his grassroots campaign work and the intellectual experience of meticulously mapping the behavior and patterns of online groups such as DailyKos and MoveOn.

Cyberactivism through Social Media: Twitter, YouTube, and the Mexican Political Movement “I’m Number 132”

By Sandoval-Almazan & Gil-Garcia (2012)

Social media is increasingly important for political and social activism in Mexico. In particular, Twitter has played a significant role in influencing government decision making and shaping the relationships between governments, citizens, politicians, and other stakeholders. Within the last few months, some commentators even argue that Mexican politics has a new influential actor: “I’m Number 132” (a studentbased social movement using Twitter and YouTube). After the Arab Spring and the uprisings that have led to significant political changes in Egypt, Tunisia, and Iran, the Mexican case could provide new insights to understand these social movements. Understanding the students’ political mobilization “I’m Number 132” in the context of the 2012 presidential election in Mexico, and how they have been using social media tools to communicate their concerns and organize protests across the country, could help us to explain why and how these social meda-enabled political movements emerge and evolve.

Download the full paper here [PDF].