Abstract

http://ssrn.com/abstract=2295953
 


 



Social Mobilization and the Networked Public Sphere: Mapping the SOPA-PIPA Debate


Yochai Benkler


Harvard University

Hal Roberts


Harvard University - Berkman Center for Internet & Society

Robert Faris


Harvard University - Berkman Center for Internet & Society

Alicia Solow-Niederman


Harvard University - Berkman Center for Internet & Society

Bruce Etling


Harvard University - Berkman Center for Internet & Society

July 19, 2013

Berkman Center Research Publication No. 2013-16

Abstract:     
This paper uses a new set of online research tools to develop a detailed study of the public debate over proposed legislation in the United States designed to give prosecutors and copyright holders new tools to pursue suspected online copyright violations. For this study, we compiled, mapped, and analyzed a set of 9,757 stories relevant to the COICA-SOPA-PIPA debate from September 2010 through the end of January 2012 using Media Cloud, an open source tool created at the Berkman Center to allow quantitative analysis of a large number of online media sources. This study applies a mixed-methods approach by combining text and link analysis with human coding and informal interviews to map the evolution of the controversy over time and to analyze the mobilization, roles, and interactions of various actors.

This novel, data-driven perspective on the dynamics of the networked public sphere supports an optimistic view of the potential for networked democratic participation, and offers a view of a vibrant, diverse, and decentralized networked public sphere that exhibited broad participation, leveraged topical expertise, and focused public sentiment to shape national public policy. We find that the fourth estate function was fulfilled by a network of small-scale commercial tech media, standing non-media NGOs, and individuals, whose work was then amplified by traditional media. Mobilization was effective, and involved substantial experimentation and rapid development. We observe the rise to public awareness of an agenda originating in the networked public sphere and its framing in the teeth of substantial sums of money spent to shape the mass media narrative in favor of the legislation. Moreover, we witness what we call an attention backbone, in which more trafficked sites amplify less-visible individual voices on specific subjects. Some aspects of the events suggest that they may be particularly susceptible to these kinds of democratic features, and may not be generalizable. Nonetheless, the data suggest that, at least in this case, the networked public sphere enabled a dynamic public discourse that involved both individual and organizational participants and offered substantive discussion of complex issues contributing to affirmative political action.

Find more information about the paper, including raw data available for download and an interactive visualization of the maps included in this paper, on the Berkman Center website.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 54

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Date posted: July 23, 2013  

Suggested Citation

Benkler, Yochai and Roberts, Hal and Faris, Robert and Solow-Niederman, Alicia and Etling, Bruce, Social Mobilization and the Networked Public Sphere: Mapping the SOPA-PIPA Debate (July 19, 2013). Berkman Center Research Publication No. 2013-16. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2295953 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2295953

Contact Information

Yochai Benkler (Contact Author)
Harvard University ( email )
1875 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
Hal Roberts
Harvard University - Berkman Center for Internet & Society ( email )
Harvard Law School
23 Everett, 2nd Floor
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
HOME PAGE: http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/hroberts
Robert Faris
Harvard University - Berkman Center for Internet & Society ( email )
Harvard Law School
23 Everett, 2nd Floor
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
Alicia Solow-Niederman
Harvard University - Berkman Center for Internet & Society ( email )
Harvard Law School
23 Everett, 2nd Floor
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
HOME PAGE: http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/people/aliciasn
Bruce Etling
Harvard University - Berkman Center for Internet & Society ( email )
Harvard Law School
23 Everett, 2nd Floor
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
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