Social Movement Organizations in Online Movements

10 Pages Posted: 16 Nov 2017

See all articles by Lia Bozarth

Lia Bozarth

University of Michigan School Of Information

Ceren Budak

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor

Date Written: November 9, 2017


In the era of Web 2.0, social media based Internet activism is slowly replacing traditional civic engagements such as sit-ins, strikes, rallies, etc. Proponents of online activism postulate that low participation and coordination costs, and the decentralized structure of these platforms will render the services and functionalities provided by Social Movement Organizations (SMOs) nonessential. Yet, such claims currently lack empirical evidence since many existing studies do not distinguish the participation of SMOs from individuals, and are therefore unable to determine the value of SMOs in online protest movements. This paper aims to fill that knowledge gap.

First, we use large-scale crowdsourcing platforms in combination with nested supervised learning models and identify more than 50 thousand SMOs participating in 2 distinct Twitter hashtag movements; next, by characterizing their primary objectives, we further assign each SMO to a specific social movement industry (SMI). We explore the attributes of these SMOs from five different perspectives: commitment, knowledge sharing, community building, structural significance and recruitment. We find that SMOs utilize a more diverse knowledge base, are more consistent and committed in their participation, apply more community-building efforts, possess more favorable positions within online protest networks, and contributed substantially to the recruitment of new participants compared to nonsocial movement organizations and individuals. We further compare and contrast behavior differences of SMOs from different SMIs. In summary, our findings show that the role of SMOs in social movements is far from over, even when focusing on online movements. In fact, social media affordances are allowing SMOs to participate together in a scope that is unattainable by traditional protesting methods.

Keywords: social media activism, social movement organization, collective action

Suggested Citation

Bozarth, Lia and Budak, Ceren, Social Movement Organizations in Online Movements (November 9, 2017). Available at SSRN: or

Lia Bozarth (Contact Author)

University of Michigan School Of Information ( email )

304 West Hall
550 East University
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1092
United States

Ceren Budak

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor ( email )

110 Tappan Hall
855 S. University Ave
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
United States

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