The rules of engagement: Comparing two social protest movements on YouTube

Emily K. Vraga, Leticia Bode, Chris Wells, Kevin Driscoll, Kjerstin Thorson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Social media Web sites such as YouTube offer activists unique opportunities to reach out to new audiences through a variety of diverse appeals. Yet the rules of engagement on social media should depend on the structures, goals, and characteristics of the movements engaging in this outreach. To explore how differences in social movements translate into online activism, we employ a paired case study approach, comparing YouTube artifacts for two political mobilizations: the Occupy Movement and California's Proposition 8 ballot initiative concerning same sex marriage. Across movements, we examine the popularity of videos and their characteristics, and whether the type of video consistently predicts video engagement. We find that "social media activism" is not a unitary phenomenon; the two mobilizations produced unique YouTube ecologies. Occupy Wall Street videos tended on average to produce less engagement and focused on filmed live events and amateur content. Meanwhile, Proposition 8 videos usually produced more engagement and bridged more diverse formats: from professionalized and scripted content to live event footage and unscripted monologues to the camera. Therefore, our study suggests that social activism in online spaces such as YouTube is not easily defined, but is adapted to suit movement needs - which makes social media a popular and flexible venue for activism but also highlights the challenges for scholars studying such venues.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)133-140
Number of pages8
JournalCyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2014


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