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Tuesday, July 12 • 14:46 - 16:36
Mapping Resistance in the Digital Public Sphere: Counter-Surveillance on Social Media

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Location: PSH (Professor Stuart Hall Building) - LG01, 
Goldsmiths, University of London, Building 2
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Contributor: Wil Chivers, WISERD, Cardiff University, United Kingdom


New networked forms of ordering challenge how we conceive of democracy, political participation and policy-making. Social media are but one facet of how networked forms of communication and organisation are increasingly important and influential in our societies. Platforms such as Twitter are a popular and increasingly vital social space for civil society organisations to promote campaigns and mobilise members. Equally they enable individuals to connect with these groups and one another and voice their own opinions on social issues. This ‘new public sphere’ (Castells 2008), thus offers enormous potential for interaction between citizens and public, private and third sector organisations but, consequently, challenges our traditional understanding of collective action. 

This paper reports on on-going empirical research examining patterns of communication and organisation on social media. Specifically, it explores these patterns in the context of resistance to proposed reforms to UK surveillance legislation (the Investigatory Powers Bill). Drawing on data gathered from Twitter, the paper employs a social network analysis approach to identifying key participants to the online debate about surveillance reform and examines the unique structural features of this conversation. The paper concludes by offering critical reflection on the implications of these patterns for understanding collective and ‘connective’ (Bennett and Segerberg 2012) action. 


There are three overarching objectives of this project: first, to examine how resistance to surveillance happens on social media; second, to theorise the impact of social media on civil society organisations and collective action more broadly, and; third, to begin developing a methodological toolkit for researching ‘digital civil society’. 


The data for this project were collected and analysed using NodeXL. Twitter data were retrieved at different intervals by searching for the hashtag ‘#InvestigatoryPowersBill’. The data were subject to social network analysis techniques and preliminary content analysis of tweets has also been carried out. 


 The results for this project are currently undergoing analysis. Early findings indicate that the conversation about the Investigatory Powers Bill on Twitter has a distinct structure and the analysis seeks to relate to this to the broader social context of resistance to surveillance. There are also indications, drawn from parallels with other similar work being conducted by the researcher, that similar debates on Twitter (i.e. resistance to legislative reform in the UK from civil society actors and connected individuals) generate conversational patterns that both resemble but differ in significant ways from the contours of the debate concerning surveillance reform. 

Future Work:

 This project seeks to contribute to on-going research as part of the Wales Institute for Social & Economic Research, Data & Methods (WISERD) Civil Society programme. 


Bennett, W. L. and Segerberg, A. (2012). The Logic of Connective Action. Information, Communication and Society, 15 (5), 739-768 
Castells, M. (2008). The New Public Sphere: Global Civil Society, Communication Networks and Global Governance. ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 616 (1), 78-93  

Tuesday July 12, 2016 14:46 - 16:36 UTC
PSH (Professor Stuart Hall Building) - LG01 Goldsmiths University, Building 2