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Hashtag Publics

The Power and Politics of Discursive Networks

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Edited By Nathan Rambukkana

This collection investigates the publics of the hashtag. Taking cues from critical public sphere theory, contributors are interested in publics that break beyond the mainstream – in other publics. They are interested in the kinds of publics that do politics in a way that is rough and emergent, flawed and messy, and ones in which new forms of collective power are being forged on the fly and in the shadow of loftier mainstream spheres.
Hashtags are deictic, indexical – yet what they point to is themselves, their own dual role in ongoing discourse. Focusing on hashtags used for topics from Ferguson, Missouri, to Australian politics, from online quilting communities to labour protests, from feminist outrage to drag pop culture, this collection follows hashtag publics as they trend beyond Twitter into other spaces of social networking such as Facebook, Instagram, and Tumblr as well as other media spaces such as television, print, and graffiti.
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Chapter Six: Come Together, Right Now: Retweeting in the Social Model of Protest Mobilization

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CHAPTER SIX

Come Together, Right Now: Retweeting in the Social Model of Protest Mobilization

AARON S. VEENSTRA, NARAYANAN IYER, WENJING XIE, BENJAMIN A. LYONS, CHANG SUP PARK, AND YANG FENG

Collective action associated with social movement organizations has often been modeled as a top-down group behavior (Oberschall, 1973). Formal organizations mobilize membership and sympathetic individuals to protest by taking advantage of formal organizational ties and communicating from the organization to the public (Oliver & Marwell, 1992). This model has held true for both physical protest gatherings and other types of activist behavior organized by social movement organizations (Oliver, 1983).

This formal model is challenged by the low-cost, informal networking potential of the Internet, particularly social media platforms. These technologies allow informal groups to form and mobilize apart from formal organizations, with no continued movement structure. They also afford greater incidental participation, such as information redistribution, lobbying of public and private interests, and network bridging.

The possibilities afforded by these technologies have been most dramatically put on display in recent uprisings in several Middle Eastern countries where formal social movement organizations play a restricted role. While there is no consensus about social media’s impact on these events, it is clear that the speed and distributed informality of social media allowed for quick, secret mobilization. As such, examining communication patterns within these new, sometimes ephemeral networks is a key part of reassessing our understanding of how protest movements...

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