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Leaders and Followers in Online Activism

Leaders and Followers in Online Activism


Where do political and policy-oriented mobilizations (such as e-petitions, mass email campaigns or organized protests) start and how are they sustained? Use of the Internet clearly reduces the costs of collective action, but most online mobilizations fail; 95% of petitions submitted to the No.10 Downing Street website, for example, fail to get even the 500 signatures required for an official response.

Previous research from the same OII team suggests that the early days of some instances of collective action, like online petitions, are vital to their success, with those that are successful reaching a critical mass in the first day if at all; online mobilizations, on the other hand, take more time to evolve but also show bursts of activity that concentrate most of the action in short time spans (see paper: The Dynamics of Protest Recruitment through an Online Network). Social influence plays a role in both processes: people have varying thresholds for joining a mobilization, with some willing to join when numbers of other participants are very low (the leaders), while others will only join when there are large numbers already participating (the followers). Do people (particularly the ‘leaders’ whose thresholds are low) search for opportunities to mobilize or do they respond to messages virally spread through their online social networks? And how do these different routes into a mobilization affect propensity to join and hence, the mobilization’s chance of success?


This project is supported by Google.


Key Information

  • Google
  • Project dates:
    January 2012 - December 2012

    All Publications


    Working papers