56 | 30, pp. 55-77 | doxa.comunicación

January-June of 2020

Social network sites and political protest: an analysis of the moderating role of socioeconomic status...

ISSN: 1696-019X / e-ISSN: 2386-3978

1. Introduction

The democratic development of countries has been characterized by the inclusion of protest as a normal component of the repertoire of non-electoral political actions available to citizens (DiGrazia, 2014; Schussman & Soule, 2005). Over the past decade, political protest events around the world such as the indignados movement and the 15-M in Spain, the Ocuppy Wall Street movement in the United States, student protests in Chile, #yosoy132 in Mexico, or the recent demonstrations of yellow vests in France have demonstrated the growing prominence of social media in contemporary political life. In the offline domain, political protest is distinguished from conventional activism for operating outside the institutional channels of participation (Ekman & Amnå, 2012), its defiant nature with the political system (Dalton, 2008), the expression of nonconformity (Norris, Walgrave & Van Aelst, 2005) and the centrality of the organizational factor for the effective mobilization of collective actions (Anduiza, Cristancho & Sabucedo, 2014). In addition, protest actions are often classified as soft and strong, depending on the potential for violence and its degree of departure from established legal limits (Dubrow, Slomczynski & Tomescu-Dubrow, 2008). Considering these particularities, specialized literature provides increasing empirical evidence compatible with the existence of a relationship between the use of social media and protest behaviour at the individual level (Boulianne, 2015; Chan, 2016; Cristancho & Anduiza, 2013; Lee, Chen & Chan, 2017; Scherman, Arriagada & Valenzuela, 2015).

More specifically, the political use of platforms such as Facebook or Twitter can foster political protest dynamics through two mutually complementary mechanisms: the promotion of favourable predispositions in users and the strengthening of the organizational performance of political groups. The use of social network sites for the consumption and dissemination of political information, the expression of opinions or the involvement in informal discussions on issues of public interest stimulates political learning in individuals, which contributes to the strengthening of political commitment, attitudes and knowledge (Eveland, 2001; Eveland, 2004; Lenzi et al., 2015; Pingree, 2007). On the other hand, digital platforms reduce the costs of organizing and coordinating political organizations and social movements, while the scope of their recruitment efforts is greatly enhanced (Micó & Casero-Ripollés, 2014; Theocharis et al., 2015).

Deeper research has focused on identifying factors that weaken or intensify the effect of social media, and its political uses, on participation in offline political activities. In addressing political protest, initial empirical findings indicate that the use of these digital platforms produces different mobilizing effects according to the sociodemographic and attitudinal profile of citizens (Valenzuela et al., 2016). Added to this are the interactions explored between individual predictors of protest behaviour and contextual factors such as economic development, social inequality or democratic maturity (Dalton, Van Sickle & Weldon, 2010). In this sense, this study aims to investigate the relationship between the political use of social network sites and participation in protest actions by emphasizing the moderating role that individual variables such as political group membership and socioeconomic status can exercise. Likewise, this research takes place in the Ecuadorian context, which since 2017 is going through a process of political transition resulting from the end of Rafael Correa’s term of office (2007 2017). A decade marked by low government tolerance in the face of political opposition (Melendez & Moncagatta, 2017). Despite this, episodes of social protest were still present, being associated with issues