Twitter & Networked Social Movements

From Occupy Wall Street (OWS) to the recent Hong Kong protest, we are witnessing a rise of what is called “networked social movements”.

Technology such as Twitter plays an interesting role. People debate the value Twitter brings to social movements as it does not take much to like a tweet and become part of a “movement” (some call it slacktivism). What interests me is what kind of information on social media is more likely to go viral, and how that information is shared to start a movement. 

In the past few years, I have published several articles in this area. See my work about OWS on Online Information Review from 2016. But, what I truly want to share with you is a paper about the #freebassel movement. This article was published in 2017 on Convergence

Behind this article was a sad story. Bassel Khartabil, also known as Bassel Safadi, was a Palestinian Syrian open-source software developer. Bassel was also a leader of the Syrian Creative Commons program. On 15 March 2012, the one-year anniversary of the Syrian uprising, he was detained by the Syrian government at Adra Prison in Damascus.

Shortly after his arrest, an advocacy campaign known as ‘Free Bassel’ was created to call for his release. The data for this project consisted of all the 3,636 tweets containing ‘#freebassel’ from 29 June 2012 to 20 March 2013. Through network analysis, we looked at the main twitter accounts behind the campaign and how information was shared. 

What we found from the analysis was more of a lesson we learned. The tweeting network of #freebassel showed that participants located in the same region tended to share information with each other. To better mobilize support, Twitter activists utilized strategies to draw attention from citizen news media organizations, nonprofit advocacy organizations, public figures, and corporations. However, the movement itself failed to have these influential accounts reciprocate the attention. 

And, in August 2018 we found out that Bassel was executed in October 2017 in a secret location. His legacy remains strong with us. As some of Bassel’s closest friends stated: “My friend may no longer be with us, but his dream of spreading open culture to the Middle East will live on through those it inspires and enables.”



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