Social media and the transnationalization of mass activism: Twitter and the labour movement

  • Michael Dahlberg-Grundberg UmeÃ¥ University, Sweden
  • Ragnar Lundström UmeÃ¥ University, Sweden
  • Simon Lindgren UmeÃ¥ University, Sweden
Keywords: LabourStart, Twitter, social media, digital activism, union activism, union transnationalism

Abstract

This paper explores the labour movement organization LabourStart, a digital initiative that, by various means such as e-mail campaigns and social media use, seeks to promote workers’ rights and to strengthen the labour movement on a global scale. The main aim of this study is to analyse a) how LabourStart employs Twitter for communication and organisation and b) how the Twitter-sphere that LabourStart constitutes — and is constituted by — is geographically structured. Our dataset consisted of all tweets containing the word “labourstart” and all tweets coming from or addressing any LabourStart–related account during the period 2008–2015. As theoretical points of departure, the notions of transnationalization/translocalism were used, in part together with the concept of connective action, to conceptualise the research. In terms of methodology, network analysis was the main approach employed to obtain and visualise the findings. Our results indicate that LabourStart’s Twitter use does not seem to have had any effects in terms of creating a decentralised transnational movement with translocal traits, thus suggesting that LabourStart has failed to fully make use of the connective features of Twitter and to establish a decentralized, transnational union movement. This, we suggest, is to some extent caused by LabourStart’s centralized organizational — and thus communicational — structure. In the concluding section, we interpret our findings in broader terms relating to the context and history of labour movements, and we discuss LabourStart’s work in relation to local and global worker issues.

Author Biographies

Michael Dahlberg-Grundberg, Umeå University, Sweden

Michael Dahlberg-Grundberg (PhD) is a Lecturer of Sociology at Umeå University, Sweden. His research has focused on political activism, social movements and the political use of digital media.

Ragnar Lundström, UmeÃ¥ University, Sweden

Ragnar Lundström is Lecturer of Sociology at Umeå University, Sweden. His previous publications have primarily focused on public discourse about welfare cheating, and news media portrayals of crime victims. His current research interests relate mainly to the topics of labour movement activism, and self-organisation online.

Simon Lindgren, Umeå University, Sweden

Simon Lindgren is Professor of Sociology and director of the Digital Social Research Unit (DIGSUM) at Umeå University, Sweden. His research is about social interaction, participation, power, and self-organisation in networked online media. He also works with developing methodological tools and strategies for analysing discursive and social network aspects of the evolving digital media landscape. He is the author of New Noise: A Cultural Sociology of Digital Disruption (2013) and the editor of Hybrid Media Culture: Sensing Place in a World of Flows (2013). More information can be found at www.simonlindgren.com.

Published
2016-07-22
How to Cite
Dahlberg-Grundberg, M., Lundström, R., & Lindgren, S. (2016). Social media and the transnationalization of mass activism: Twitter and the labour movement. First Monday, 21(8). https://doi.org/10.5210/fm.v21i8.6729