DO DISCUSSION CATALYSTS FUEL POLITICAL ACTIVISM ONLINE?

Gleave, E. and Smith, M. (2009). Discussion catalysts in online political discussions: Content importers and conversation starters. Athens, GA: University of Georgia.

(EC Opportunity)

This article explains the important role “Discussion Catalysts” play in importing content and creating large threads. It also goes a bit beyond that in implying that the same people are in fact feeding political activism online. While I will not attempt to provide a firm answer to this question for various restrictions and limitations, I will however attempt to investigate the reality of this claim and reflect along the way on one of the theories we discussed in class regarding technology as well as on personal experiences.

 At its basis, Uses and Gratifications is a theory where we look at active audiences who use goal-directed media to fulfill gratifications and how they interact with technology to make sense of the varied messages. At the core, it explains how individuals with a void seek to fill this void by looking for alternate sources in similar environments. In the case of political activism, these individuals are looking for discussion leaders who are able to answer the many questions they have, drive healthy debate, and kick things into motion.

This doesn’t surprise me at all because I am experiencing it on a personal level as we speak. After the revolution ignited in Syria on March 25th of 2011, I was on the hunt for a leading figure on Facebook or Twitter to follow; basically anyone with the right amount of postings/tweets while demonstrating leadership qualities and communication competencies. There was a gap I couldn’t fill however without listening to every word these guys had to say on the matter, and gradually their online contribution started  evoking vigorous discussion and fueling collective consensus.

Naturally, I started wondering why I am following those individuals closely. After all, we both go back to the same news sources for information! But it is more than just information sharing, which is a crucial point the authors make in these pages. It is the filtering of information, the credibility of the sources, the mediation of information flow between media and the public, and most important, it is the the leader’s personal voice that makes discussion catalysts so effective and so loudly heard.

So in some ways, their activity fills a void I am clearly unable to fulfill on my own, however, with time it has fueled my participation and enabled my activism. On a side note, this can be both addicting and blinding because discussion leaders stimulate our curiosity and keep us hanging for more. I can see how this behavior could swiftly slip into a to a form of stalking, especially among young teens who are easily obsessed with certain public figures in the Entertainment or Fashion industries. 

That’s not to say however, that online political activism is only driven by discussion catalysts.  Indeed, there is a set of predetermined conditions that must be present first in order to achieve online political activism. One of which is diffusion of innovations; which in this case revolves around the people’s awareness and willingness to adopt online platform as an arena for political activism.

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1 Comment

  1. […] posts last week: Jackie (blogging and cancer), Madeline (Kodak), Mandy (IM and email), Ruba (U&G and “discussion catalysts”), Thor (on Facebook), Zanna (age of […]


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