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Recent years have witnessed multiple international protest movements which have purportedly been greatly affected by the use of Twitter, a micro-blogging platform. Social movement actors in Iran, Moldova, Kyrgyzstan, Egypt and Thailand are thought to have utilized Twitter to spread information, co-ordinate protest activities, evade government censorship and, in some cases, to spread misinformation.  I propose a framework for conceptualizing and analyzing Twitter data related to contentious collective action crises. My primary research goal is to delineate a framework informed with a social movements lens and to demonstrate the framework by means of Twitter usage data related to the Thailand protests of 2010. The proposed framework concerns itself with three aspects of protest activities and Twitter usage, namely, the structure and nature of Twitter messages regarding collective action events, and the construct of Twitter „protest waves‟.I also present preliminary results from a follow-up study which explores the notion of message granularity. In the final section, I describe the status quo and challenges of incorporating new media data in scholarship, and discuss notions of narrativity in the analysis of new media datasets, in general, and data concerned with collective action, in particular.




The most elemental definition of collective action conceptualizes it as a group of people involved in a goal directed activity. While this barebones definition includes a vast multitude of behaviors, such as the economic focus on collective goods and the philosophical focus on individuals acting in a collective fashion, this thesis concernsitself with a specific subset of collective action, commonly grouped under the „social movements‟ label in the sociological literature. The broader characteristics of the contentious collective action associated with social movements are the use of noninstitutional channels, collective identities, clearly delineated oppositional camps and collective socio-political goals (Della Porta et al. 1999a; Snow et al. 2005).Developments in Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) are often leveraged by social movement actors and can take the targets of their contentious activity, usually the State,  by surprise (Ganley 1992; Garrett 2006). ICTs have been posited to have been instrumental to various movements, such as the use of faxes and video recording technologies during the Protests in China in 1989 and the use of copy machines, video cassettes and direct dialing systems in the Iranian Revolution of 1979 (Ganley 1992). The most widely cited instances of earlyinternet-based activism by movement actors are the cases of the anti-globalization activists at the WTO Conference of 1999 and the Zaptista movement (Kahn 2004).


In recent years, Twitter, a micro-blogging service, has been widely associated with social movement activity in the popular imagination and media in diverse geo-political contexts such as Iran, Moldova, Kyrgyzstan, Tunisia, Egypt and Lebanon. “Twitter Revolution” has become common parlance in the media discourse on recent social movement events. Conversely, skeptics such as Malcolm Gladwell (Gladwell 2010), have questioned the efficacy of the weak ties that are the basis of the Twitter medium in effecting actual protest events. However, despite the abundance of dialogue, there is currently a marked absence of theoretically informed frameworks which can be utilized to qualitatively evaluate the various claims attributed to the Twitter platform in the context of protest events. The use of Twitter has not gone unnoticed by the research community at large, however, currently certain domains of inquiry appear to have been accorded greater import, for example, while disaster relief contexts have been the focus of methodological innovation, such as the in-depth analysis of the Red River Floods and Oklahoma Grassfires (Starbird et al. 2010; Vieweg et al. 2010), currently, social movements and protest activities, the most human of crises, have not been the beneficiaries of similar attention.


The case of protest events provides an interesting contrast to the extantwork focused on utilizing Twitter data for emergency response purposes, which involvesthe collective action of relief and response agents after an event such as a natural disaster.In protest events, collective action is the cause of the event, as well as constituting the response. Hence, unlike conventional emergency response situations where the focus of inquiry is directed to the corpus created after the event occurs, in protest events, the build-up of collective action itself has a manifest effect on both scholarship and efforts to provide crisis response. In effect, new media data generated leading uptoand during the protest event is important in understanding the phenomena at play. In addition, recent work on the analysis of protest event related activity on online mediums such as Twitter has been restricted largely to quantitative analysis. Protest is essentially a human event, and the richness of such events cannot be gauged only by the numbers. I believe that Twitter as a medium provides opportunities for both quantitative and qualitative analysis, as the scale of datasets both enrich and constrain research efforts

Research Question


The work presented in this thesis focuses on the following research question:


(i)        What is the nature of messaging on the Twitter medium during contentious collective action events?

  1. What are the practices, patterns and tactical conventions of protest related

Twitter usage?

  1. What is the intent of protest related messages on the Twitter medium? (i.e. information versus mobilization)
  2. Based on protest data from new mediums, how can we fashion newer methodological assemblages which can provide a more nuanced examination of protest activity in virtual environments?


Accordingly, I propose an analytical framework for qualitatively exploring Twitter data related to protest events using a social movements lens. The framework attempts to explore the nature and structure of messages on the medium, at various points,during a period of contentious collective action. In addition, Iintroduce the construct of Twitter

„protest waves‟. I utilize Twitter data collected during the Thai protests of 2010 to demonstrate the framework and discuss the implications and future research avenues in terms of studying contentious collective action eventsvia online mediums. I believe that this framework provides a hybrid model with its methods of analysis which are rooted in

„manual curation‟(Gaffney 2010),applied to automatic collection contexts. Subsequently, I present preliminary results from a follow-up study which explored the notion of message granularity in relation to three aspects of the framework.Lastly, I discuss the implications of the findings with regards to the extant discourse on protest activity in virtual environments, as well as, the scholarship investigating these phenomena.



The remainder of the thesis is organized as follows:


  • Chapter 2 details the background for the Twitter medium, Twitter-protests, the protests in Thailand, and the theoretical antecedents of this thesis.
  • Chapter 3 describes the data collection, sample construction, social network analysis and coding schema, which comprise the framework.
  • Chapter 4 presents the results of the analytical framework applied to the dataset described in the previous chapter.
  • Chapter 5 details the preliminary results from a follow-up study which examined message granularity for three aspects of the framework.
  • Chapter 6 provides a discussion of the findings in relation to the larger scholarly efforts which investigate social movements and new mediums.
  • Chapter 7 describes a preliminary future research agenda.
  • Chapter 8 provides a concluding summary of the thesis and its salient findings.



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