One-step, two-step, network-step?

Complementary perspectives on communication flows in Twittered citizen protests
Hilbert, M., Vasquez, J., Halpern, D., Valenzuela, S., & Arriagada, E. (2016). One Step, Two Step, Network Step? Complementary Perspectives on Communication Flows in Twittered Citizen Protests. Social Science Computer Review.


The article analyzes the nature of communication flows during social conflicts via the digital platform Twitter. We gathered over 150,000 Tweets from citizen protests for nine environmental social movements in Chile, and use a mixed-methods approach to show that longstanding paradigms for social mobilization and participation are neither replicated nor replaced, but reshaped. In digital platforms, long standing communication theories, like the 1955 two-step flow model, are still valid, while direct one-step flows and more complex network flows are also present. For example, we show that it is no contradiction that participants mainly refer to intermediating amplifiers (39 % of the mentions from participants go through this two-step flow), while at the same time traditional media outlets and official protest voices receive 80-90 % of their mentions directly through a direct one-step flow from the same participants. While non-intuitive at first sight, Bayes’ theorem allows to detangle the different perspectives in the arising communication channel. We identify the strategic importance of a group of amplifying intermediaries in local positions of the networks, who coexist with specialized voices and professional media outlets at the center of the global network. We also show that direct personalized messages represent merely 20 % of the total communication. This shows that the fine-grained digital footprint from social media enable us to go beyond simplistic views of a single all-encompassing step-flow model for social communication. The resulting research agenda builds on longstanding theories with a new set of tools.

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