Nikolay Marinov
Does Social Media Promote Civic Optimism?

Workshop on "Actors, Strategies and Tactics in Contentious Direct Action", Peace Research Institute Oslo, 08. bis 09. Mai 2014

Does social media promote civic activism or merely attract activists? Many features of social media such as the ability to identify like-minded people, to spread information and to attract supporters for actions, suggest that it should be a good instrument for promoting civic activism. Casual observations, from pro-democracy protests and elsewhere, suggest this is the case. We conduct a field experiment to study the effects of social media. We select a random sample of 3000 respondents in Bulgaria through a in-person interview. A filtering question lets only respondents with Facebook account to participate (network participation is high, with 2 our of every 3 respondents having an account). We randomly assign some participants to a group receiving an encouragement to like a Facebook page devoted to the preservation of a threatened natural resource, the country's Black Sea coast. We encourage another group to sign up for an email newsletter promoting the same campaign. Our remaining respondents constitute the control group. In a survey distributed two months later, we probe respondents' attitudes about the effectiveness of civic action. We find respondents assigned to the Facebook group to be more optimistic that civic action will succeed, as compared to the control or newsletter groups. We use data from the Facebook page and survey instruments to say more about the ways in which the network appears to contribute to increased confidence in success.