Distribution of Activism on Facebook


'Facebook activism' is often said to be a form of 'slacktivsm'. Critics of activist efforts on Facebook argue that due to the low cost of a click to like a page or join a group, the level of 'actual' engagement of any one user with an issue topic is opaque - and more than likely to be low. Another critique is mentioned in a survey done by Digiactive.org. In 'A DigiActive introduction to Facebook Activism' (Schulz 2008), one of the conclusions is that 'Facebook isn't designed for activism'. According to the research, Facebook's functionality doesn't always match what activists need. Leaving aside the question of the extent to which other settings would be better designed to stimulate 'actual' engagement (bars, salons, mailinglists), this investigation tries to reverse these claims: In stead of applying a predetermined definition of activism to Facebook, or compare the functionalities of Facebook to the expectations of its users, we try to learn the language of Facebook in order to understand what kind of engagement Facebook does enable. More specifically this research aims to get a better understanding of what kind of action is suggested by Facebook groups.

Team Members

Lonneke van der Velden & Clare Lee

Research question

What kind of activism is enabled by Facebook?


- which issues do well on Facebook?

- what kind of language or pracices do they exhibit?

- what kind of action is advocated?

note: We explored two ways to answer the first question and we finished the project with the second. For a summary of the whole project: presentation Clare & Lonneke at the DMI Summer School, 9 July 2010. For a selection of the second part: presentation Lonneke 23 sept. 2010

Method project 2

Which issues do well on Facebook?

Issue search by querying stance language

Querying stance words as away to get closer to activistic pages.
Data gathering by using Google Scraper
  • Stance words in groups and pages: “anti ” OR “anti-” | against | stop | protest | opposition | oppose | resistance | resist | halt | refuse | “object to” | objection | “pro ” OR “pro-” | support | help. Results.
  • Google scraper results for the top 100 groups for “anti”, “pro”, “stop”, and “support” in the title. Focus on group pages.
  • Query the top 35 for member count with “of * members”, to see which groups are the biggest.
    Note: remove artifacts!
What kind of language or pracices do they exhibit? What kind of action is advocated?

In order to develop a framework of analysis which doesn't overrule the research object with pre-established categories, we stayed as close as possible to the language of the Facebook groups.
  • Manual analysis by asking questions about the actor position, Facebook category, topic of concern and action of the group.
  • Construct of meta-categories indicating similar or overlapping topics of concern.
  • Count the amount of recurrent Facebook categories, topical meta-categories and action terms
  • Make clouds with Google Scraper in order to visualise relative sizes.

Question Data
Actor position: To what or whom is the group directed Title/info keyword following 'anti', 'pro', 'stop', 'support'
Facebook behaviour: What kind of category does the group submit itself to? The group's category in response to Facebook's settings (can be more than one)
Infra-language: What kind of 'category' can we assign to the group? Intuitively compose meta-categories, based on key words on the group pages (What is the group 'about'? Environment, human rights, self-determination, open access, ect.)
Issue-language: What kind of engagement or action format does the group suggest?

The group's response to 'how to anti/pro/stop/support'


Examples data management ("copy-paste decoding")

Copy paste decoding stop groups

Copy paste decoding support groups

(<a target="_blank" href="http://spreadsheets.google.com/ccc?key=0Amv6UO8S5qbHdDRsc3l5TDM2QU9seUFzS2NOSGNhSEE&hl=en#gid=0">total results copy paste decoding, google docs</a>)


Biggest groups (pro-, anti-, stop, support)

Facebook_categories (pro-, anti-, stop, support)

Meta-categories; Infra-language (pro-, anti-, stop, support)

Action_formats; Issue-language (pro-, anti-, stop, support)

Action formats; Bubble line: (including total count of action formats)


Overall, tending towards lightweight engagement and network spread features of Facebook (learn, join, awareness).

Anti: more action oriented, position of protest

Pro: awareness, spreading

Stop: joining & petitions - specific protests, short term, explicit need for names on paper.

Support: solidarity, letter writing


Latour, B. Reassembling the Social: An introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005. 87-123

Shultz, D. A DigiActive Guide to Facebook Activism.

Further Explorations

How active are these activist groups/pages?

After removing issues that return no results, randomly select 10 topics. Looking at the top 100 results, to verify our results first discern which are actually concerned with the matter at hand, and which are false-positives. After rejecting the false-positives, examine the top 20 groups returned for number of members. If the group is currently active (wall posts made within the past week), tally the number of wall posts within the past week to show the level of activity; if the group is currently inactive, count the number of wall posts in the week proceeding the date of the most recent post.

Question: do we need to do this manually and how to deal with 'causes' and 'likes'

Is Facebook for the lovers or the haters?

Another option is to query terms like 'against', 'opposing', 'apologize', 'stop', 'support', 'love', 'hate' in Facebook groups. To create a comprehensive list of these terms, one could take a list of known controversial topics and editorially create a list of terms that indicate distancing practices on Facebook. These terms are subsequently queried to find Facebook groups.

Method project 1

(moved because of problems problems with the links)

Which issues do well on Facebook?

Issue search on the basis of keywords defined by NGO's

On the basis of an expert keyword lists of important 'issues' we searched for any Facebook groups or pages with any of these phrases in their title, by using Google Scraper.

Issuelists put forward by:
  • Human Rights NGO's (list of issues from Rogers' research Amnesty, Choike, UN)
  • Digital rights issues (Public Knowledge; Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)
  • Issues according to the G20 Toronto Mobilization Network (issues are listed under 'Tools')
We examined the results for any misjudged keywords and attempt to remedy with something more precise and/or suitable.


What Issues do well on Facebook?

Preliminary findings after some test queries on the basis of expert list. Google Scraper results:

Issues according to :

Human Rights NGO's:
  • First crawl: Biggest is 'Peace'. <a target="_blank" href="http://tools.issuecrawler.net/beta/scrapeGoogle/prevResultsTagCloud.php?prevResult=../results/google/fbissues_absense-presence_Jun062010.txt" title="Cloud Human Rights">Cloud Human rights </a>
  • Extended (somewhat):
    • <a target="_blank" href="http://www.wordle.net/show/wrdl/2212474/fbissue_groups" title="Cloud extended human rights groups">Extended search group cloud</a>
    • <a target="_blank" href="http://www.wordle.net/show/wrdl/2212482/fbissues_pages" title="Cloud extended human rights pages">Extended search pages cloud</a>
Digital Rights groups:
  • Public Knowledge: Biggest: Copyright, Broadband, Trademark. <a target="_blank" href="http://tools.issuecrawler.net/beta/scrapeGoogle/prevResultsTagCloud.php?prevResult=../results/google/result05Jul20101543.txt">Cloud Public Knowledge's Issues in Facebook</a>
  • EFF: Biggest on groups: Innovation, Privacy, Free Speech, Social Networks. Biggest on pages: Innovation, Privacy, Printers, Digital Video, Transparency. Small: Bloggers' rights, Coders' rights (Do they have their own podium or is this due to the quotation mark in the key word?), EFF Europe, and more. <a target="_blank" href="http://tools.issuecrawler.net/beta/scrapeGoogle/prevResultsTagCloud.php?prevResult=../results/google/fbissues_digirights-eff1_Jun06.txt" title="Cloud EFF">Cloud EFF.</a>
G20 activists: <a target="_blank" href="http://tools.issuecrawler.net/beta/scrapeGoogle/prevResultsTagCloud.php?prevResult=../results/google/G20_TorontoMobNetwork_07-07-2010.txt">no results</a>


Human Rights

Human Rights extended version


Digital Rights EFF ('<a target="_blank" href="http://www.eff.org/work">our issues</a>')

Would this be a possible issue list? FBIssues_keywords.xls

Old summary project plan July 4

Step 1. What issues are carried by Facebook? How to find distancing issues on Facebook?

One option is to query a lists of issues in Facebook groups and see whether there are groups positioning themselves in a program/anti-program type of way. The question is, what issue lists to use. The aim is to find good issue lists and query them in Facebook to see whether the issues are carries by Facebook. One could think of NGO issues, or issues from other Web spaces (e.g. trending topics, search trends, Wikipedia controversial articles).

Another option is to query terms like 'against', 'opposing', 'apologize', 'stop', 'support', 'love', 'hate' in Facebook groups. To create a comprehensive list of these terms, one could take a list of known controversial topics and editorially create a list of terms that indicate distancing practices on Facebook. These terms are subsequently queried to find Facebook groups.

Where to query the distancing terms to find Facebook groups? Facebook doesn't allow searching for these terms in their group search. Google.com, however, does. Test query: against site:facebook.com/group. Or intitle:against site:facebook.com/group. To keep in mind with this method, is that Google only returns the top 1000 results. Google has index approximately 1,710,000 results for the query against site:facebook.com/group, but it allows you to only see 1000.

Step 2. Can we distill different types of Facebook activism?

Types might include: Facebook activism 1: Trying to change Facebook. Facebook activism 2: Political.

I Attachment Action Size Date Who Comment
FBIssues_keywords.xlsxls FBIssues_keywords.xls manage 31 K 06 Jul 2010 - 20:00 LonnekeVanDerVelden  
FB_presentation.pptxpptx FB_presentation.pptx manage 2 MB 18 Jan 2011 - 00:52 LonnekeVanDerVelden Facebook Activism presentation summer school
Facebook_Activism-Groups_sized_by_members.pdfpdf Facebook_Activism-Groups_sized_by_members.pdf manage 192 K 18 Jan 2011 - 00:36 LonnekeVanDerVelden  
Facebook_Activism-Meta-categories_Infra_language.pdfpdf Facebook_Activism-Meta-categories_Infra_language.pdf manage 132 K 18 Jan 2011 - 00:37 LonnekeVanDerVelden  
Facebook_Activism_Action_Formats.pdfpdf Facebook_Activism_Action_Formats.pdf manage 131 K 18 Jan 2011 - 00:38 LonnekeVanDerVelden  
Facebook_Activism_Facebook_Categories.pdfpdf Facebook_Activism_Facebook_Categories.pdf manage 133 K 18 Jan 2011 - 00:37 LonnekeVanDerVelden  
Facebook_Activism_stop.pdfpdf Facebook_Activism_stop.pdf manage 657 K 08 Oct 2010 - 14:02 LonnekeVanDerVelden  
Facebook_Activism_support.pdfpdf Facebook_Activism_support.pdf manage 696 K 08 Oct 2010 - 14:02 LonnekeVanDerVelden  
NGO_group_DATAJune_2010.xlsxxlsx NGO_group_DATAJune_2010.xlsx manage 40 K 06 Jul 2010 - 20:02 LonnekeVanDerVelden  
fb_keywords_wip.xlsxxlsx fb_keywords_wip.xlsx manage 93 K 07 Jul 2010 - 08:15 ClareLee  
fig_5_formats_of_action.pdfpdf fig_5_formats_of_action.pdf manage 685 K 17 Jan 2011 - 23:58 LonnekeVanDerVelden Facebook activism action formats corrected version Jan.2010
presentation_FB_Activism_23_september_2010.pdfpdf presentation_FB_Activism_23_september_2010.pdf manage 1 MB 18 Jan 2011 - 00:57 LonnekeVanDerVelden presentation Lonneke for Seemingly Intractable Issues, 23 september 2010
Topic revision: r20 - 20 Jan 2011, LonnekeVanDerVelden
This site is powered by FoswikiCopyright © by the contributing authors. All material on this collaboration platform is the property of the contributing authors.
Ideas, requests, problems regarding Foswiki? Send feedback