Researching Online Activism Using a Mixed-Methods Approach: Youth Activists on Twitter

Abstract

Information and communication technologies are having a tremendous impact on all aspects of social life, allowing anyone to be an active participant in the acquisition, interpretation, and production of knowledge. This has significantly affected activism and social movements, particularly among young people, as digital media offers new opportunities for participation. The research upon which this case study is based examines how the online medium shapes the work of youth social movements and explores how these media are constructed and appropriated by users. Taking a mixed-methods approach, the lead author collected data from direct interviews and Twitter feeds of youth activists involved in the international climate change and the American gun control movements. Qualitative and quantitative analyses were conducted in response to the research questions, which was both effective and challenging as findings revealed both alignment and contradictions between the data sources. This case provides direction on how to reconcile such inconsistencies when taking a mixed-methods approach to study virtual networks. Readers will follow the lead author’s process of conducting the study online, conceptualizing, and using Twitter as an ethnographic field and methodological tool. Specific attention will be paid to Netlytic, a cloud-based text and social network analysis tool, which was used to manage and closely examine the connections and relationships among users in the activists’ online communities. A discussion of the challenges that accompanied this research design and the steps taken to overcome these will provide guidance to future researchers who are studying online communities and networks.

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