Building Power Online: Alice Marwick

“Social media has opened up ways for us to participate in politics.”

Alice Marwick is Associate Professor of Communication and a Principal Researcher at the Center for Information Technology and Public Life at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. We discuss whether social media can build and sustain political movements, help politicians win elections, and how it has changed the way we interact with politics.

Alice Marwick is Associate Professor of Communication and a Principal Researcher at the Center for Information Technology and Public Life at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. We discuss whether social media can build and sustain political movements, help politicians win elections, and how it has changed the way we interact with politics.

Hashtag Activism

Black Lives Matter is the epitome of ‘hashtag activism.’ #BLM is a native social media activist movement that started on the internet and builds support for itself there. #BLM combines traditional protest with online activism, allowing people to express support on social media without necessarily going to a protest. This has proven to reveal wide-spread support for #BLM, amplifying and mainstreaming the group’s cause. Low overhead actions like retweets, Instagram stories, and Facebook posts helped the movement grow meaningfully. 

Politicians on Social Media

Lawmakers are increasingly turning to social media as a campaign strategy. The most successful congressmembers, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, are able to humanize themselves, put forth policies, connect with constituents, and build a broader base of support. Others, such as Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, have struggled to gain a solid footing online. The COVID-19 pandemic has intensified the need for a powerful social media presence, which has been challenging for new candidates who cannot capitalize on in-person events to grow their online following.

Social Media and Politics

Social media has opened up new ways to participate in politics. Previously, gate-keeping legacy media controlled most of the coverage surrounding politics. Users can now directly analyze and interpret world events, policies, and politics. Unfortunately, social media also accounts for a vast array of misinformation, disinformation, and hyper partisanship. While social media can make us feel more involved and optimistic about what’s possible in demanding accountability and good governance, it can also feel overwhelming to be inundated with an endless stream of bad news.

Find out more:

Alice E. Marwick is an Associate Professor of Communication and a Principal Researcher at the Center for Information Technology and Public Life at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she researches the social, political, and cultural implications of popular social media technologies. Marwick is also a Faculty Advisor to the Media Manipulation project at the Data & Society Research Institute, which studies far-right online subcultures and their use of social media to spread misinformation.

Her first book, Status Update: Celebrity, Publicity and Branding in the Social Media Age (Yale 2013), draws from ethnographic fieldwork in the San Francisco tech scene to examine how people seek social status through attention and visibility online. Marwick was formerly Director of the McGannon Communication Research Center and Assistant Professor of Communication and Media Studies at Fordham University, and a postdoctoral researcher in the Social Media Collective at Microsoft Research New England.

You can follow her on Twitter @alicetiara.

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