University of Massachusetts-Amherst
Many observers have argued that social media such as Facebook and Twitter will help opposition activists coordinate and overcome authoritarian regimes; others believe that such tools will have little impact. Evidence from the “Arab Spring” is inconclusive, with advocates for each position finding support in the events in Tunisia, Egypt, and elsewhere. When does social media help political movements succeed? Motivated by an experience serving as a “campaign manager” for a colleague’s bid to become the Washington Posfs “Next Great Pundit,” I argue that relying on Internet-based social networking tools (such as Facebook and Twitter) may lead campaigns to perform more poorly when the regime is able to change the election’s rules in mid-campaign. Consequently, researchers observing only the messages broadcast by social media will miss the true coordination taking place, which happens through channels unobservable to the regime. Examples from Middle Eastern politics Suggest that real-world political activists recognize these distinctions and adjust their messaging accordingly.
Date of Publication
Musgrave, Paul. “The Making of the Pundit, 2010: When Strong Ties Trump Weak Ones.” PS: Political Science and Politics, vol. 45, no. 2, 2012, pp. 265–269.