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Measuring social media participants' commitment to social protests

Updated: Sep 28, 2019

Social media participation in the sunflower movement


Social media participants in digitally enabled protests have long been criticized for their lack of commitment. Many bypassed this issue and argued that social media’s positive impact on protests does not require high commitment. We empirically test the lack of commitment claim in the case of the 2014 Sunflower Movement in Taiwan. Using survey data from a sample of 801 participants, we find a group of highly active social media participants – what we described as the ‘cloud activists’ – who operated exclusively online during the movement. We find that the commitment of the ‘cloud activists’, in terms of both identification and sense of efficacy, is at least in par with, if not always necessarily higher than, most offline participants. Furthermore, contrasting previous findings on the positive linear relationship between social media use and offline participation, we find the effect of social media can be either positive or negative, depending on the level of social media activity. We suggest that production in virtual space of contentious politics may consist of different processes – peer production by the online crowd and connective leadership by the ‘cloud activists’ who shoulder extra responsibilities. Identifying ‘cloud activists’ may help us achieve a better understanding of these two interrelated processes as well as the way in which digitally enabled protests persist and transform over time.


Hsiao, Y., & Yang, Y. (2018). Commitment in the cloud? Social media participation in the sunflower movement. Information, Communication & Society, 21(7), 996-1013.


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