Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2439

Article | Open Access

The Limits of Social Media Mobilization: How Protest Movements Adapt to Social Media Logic

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Abstract:  The emergence of social networking sites offers protest movements new ways to mobilize for action and draw attention to their issues. However, relying on social media also creates challenges, as social media follow their own principles. If protest movements want to be visible in news feeds, they have to adapt to so-called social media logic, as originally postulated in mediatization research. The principles of social media have been conceptualized. However, there is a lack of empirical research on how political actors perceive and orient to this logic, how they learn about it, and the consequences for mobilization (i.e., communicating protest issues as well as taking protest action). As protest movements are an integral part of modern democracies, use social media somewhat intensively, and usually build on a fluid network structure that allows us to examine adaptation processes in greater detail, they are particularly suitable for addressing these questions. Semi-structured interviews with activists organizing protest actions or managing social media accounts from 29 movement organizations in Germany (N = 33) revealed that protest movements have internalized social media logic and paid attention to not only the design but also the timing of posts to suit algorithms. The protest organizations generally built on their experience with social media. The degree to which they followed these principles was based on available resources. Limits of this adaptation arose, for example, if sensitive or negative content rarely produced likes or, increasingly, personalization evoked a presumed hierarchy within the movements.

Keywords:  activism; mediatization; mobilization; protest movements; social media


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© Marlene Schaaf, Oliver Quiring. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.