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Saturday, October 13 • 11:00am - 12:30pm
Digital Activism and Politics

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THE KNOWLEDGE OF PROTEST: AN ASSESSMENT OF TOPICAL SOCIAL MEDIA USAGE IN CONTENTIOUS POLITICS
Dan Mercea
This article leverages social media and survey data to probe the scope and depth of political knowledge possessed by participants in the Romanian 2017 #rezist protests. For several months, demonstrators gathered in town squares around the country to oppose a project law intended to water down penalties for corruption in high office. Against the backdrop of well-founded scepticism regarding exposure to and engagement with political knowledge on social media, we scrutinize the social media usage of protestors with an interest in the formulation and circulation of political knowledge. We find evidence of applied political knowledge as a prominent component of public activist communication on Facebook. An examination of the network structure further revealed bottlenecks in the circulation and brokerage of knowledge, a result that helps qualify the aforementioned scepticism.

FROM AD HOC ISSUE PUBLICS TO DISCOURSE COMMUNITIES: A YEAR OF PUBLIC DEBATE ON TWITTER
Ehsan Dehghan
This paper presents an empirical investigation of the concept of ad hoc issue publics, through a mixed-methods analysis of a year of debate over a contentious topic in the Australian public sphere. Following two controversial racial discrimination cases in 2016, a number of Australian conservative politicians called for amendments to a specific section of the Racial Discrimination Act (Section 18C), which they claimed restricted freedom of speech. Similar proposals had been put forward and shelved in 2013. The issue was discussed widely on Twitter and other social media platforms. Eventually, the Australian Senate voted down changes to section 18C. Using a range of network analyses, examining the various network structures created by Twitter’s affordances, this study identifies the publics and communities involved in the debate. The discourses of these communities are then qualitatively analysed. The findings show that different—and sometimes antagonistic—discourse communities are involved in the debate, and while all of these use the same hashtags and keywords, they have contrasting discursive positions. This paper argues that in this case, the publics created as a result of the affordances of Twitter cannot be regarded as ad hoc issue publics, since the discourse communities involved were formed as a result of a priori ideological affinities. Broadly, the findings of this study help in the theorisation of online publics and communities, particularly the necessary elements involved in the formation of ad hoc issue publics and/or online discourse communities.

PURSUANCE AND THE PRACTICE OF DE-INSTITUTIONALIZED DEMOCRACY
Robert Tynes, Claire Peters
The internet offers the possibility of forming de-institutionalized, organizational structures that engage in the democratic process in ways that go far beyond volunteering, protesting, or voting. The digital space enables people to collaborate and communicate with one another more effectively, even if they have never met in real life (Shirky 2009). Formations such as Telecomix and Project PM show that this capability can be harnessed in the service of meaningful collective political and social actions. Journalist and activist Barrett Brown's latest venture, $2 , hopes to further that potential. Pursuance looks to empower political actors via "process democracy" (Brown 2018), offering participants a platform in which they can organize, build, and act on social justice endeavors. Pursuance is important because it provides a means for individuals to rapidly and effectively assemble, disassemble, and reassemble into mission-driven teams. This lessens the need for stable institutions to direct civic or political activism, thus reducing the problems that often follow, e.g. the Iron Law of Oligarchy (Michels 2015). We explore the potential of Brown's endeavor, asking: How can Pursuance most effectively further the practice of deinstitutionalized democracy? What can be learned from past groups that have engaged in the kind of activity Pursuance aims to facilitate?

DIGITALISATION AND DEMOCRATIC CHANGE: IN SEARCH OF A BIRD'S EYE PERSPECTIVE
Jeanette Hofmann
The relationship between digitalization and democracy is a topic of growing public and academic interest. However, what seems striking about the emerging literature on this topic is its tendency to reify either the concept of democracy and or that of digital technologies or both. Most of the nuanced observations to be found in works addressing either the evolution of democracy or that of the Internet seem to vanish once the relationship of the two phenomena are explored. This article addresses the problem of how to avoid the traps of technical determinism that pave the path towards a better understanding of the relationship between digitalization and democracy. Its assumption is that we need to establish a viewpoint that allows telling a story of the evolution of digital technologies in concert with other long-term social and political changes.

The viewpoint suggested combines two lines of theories: a philosophy of technology's approach to the co-evolution of technical systems and societies, and social theories on late modernity, which help to situate the evolution of digitalisation as part of long-term structural changes of modern societies. From this perspective, the Internet emerges as a space of possibility for experimenting with the new political, cultural and economic freedoms gained by the weakening of the institutional apparatus once characteristic of organised modernity. Digital technologies provide a material form for articulating old ideas of democratic organisation in new ways. Civic technologies such as cloud and blockchain-based citizenship models serve as a case for demonstrating the fruitfulness of this approach.

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avatar for Ehsan Dehghan

Ehsan Dehghan

PhD Candidate, Queensland University of Technology


Saturday October 13, 2018 11:00am - 12:30pm
Sheraton - Ballroom East

Attendees (37)