Creating and maintaining democracy requires active citizens who protest, spread political information, and act as representatives of others. Many researchers believe that those among the population who display such political commitment may be explained by their levels of education, interest, and political knowledge.
Key: social networks
But this is not entirely true nowadays, both in democratic and non-democratic countries. This is according to Elizaveta Kopacheva, a doctoral student in political science at Linnaeus University. You think that when it comes to digital political participation, individual social networks are the most decisive factor.
This is related to the rise of social media. People’s political knowledge has increased through social media, and so have the opportunities to call for awareness, boycotts, and protests.
Something for the discerning
My findings indicate that disparities in political participation grow exponentially in the digital age. People of higher socioeconomic status built beneficial networks that allowed them to participate politically. The more active they are, the more and better contacts they get. Elizaveta Kopacheva says that political participation then becomes a privilege for those who are already privileged.
Some groups were completely excluded from the process. With poor social communication networks, these groups do not have access to information and therefore do not activate themselves politically.
Important networks in Russia
The dissertation examines non-traditional online political participation—such as activism, petitions, and protests—in democratic and semi-authoritarian regimes, using Russia as an example of the latter.
Elizaveta Kopacheva says that traditional explanations for lack of political interest do not explain the lack of political participation in countries like Russia.
The level of education there is high and people often discuss politics on social media. My thesis instead shows that it is individual social networks—not time, money, or civic competence—that are the most critical characteristic behind engagement in today’s digital world.
Much protest time
Using new computer science methods in political science such as machine learning and social network analysis, Elizaveta Kubacheva developed an explanatory model of contemporary collective political participation. In the case of Russia, the model was found to be 96% accurate in predicting participation in protests.
The analyzes in the study cover the years 2018-2021, the time period when dissatisfaction peaked in Russia.
The ongoing democratic backsliding that preceded the events of February 2022 increased public opinion’s dissatisfaction with the existing political system. As expected, the size and duration of protests decreased significantly in 2022, due to higher risks to individuals and tighter controls over information shared on social media, says Elizaveta Kubacheva.
Some can take risks
Elizaveta Kupacheva says that the results of the dissertation are relevant even at the present time.
Conclusions are important not only in terms of access to information but more so in terms of having resources. The privileged can take a high risk of protest participation in Russia.
Elizaveta Kupacheva, Ph.D
“Falls down a lot. Internet fanatic. Proud analyst. Creator. Wannabe music lover. Introvert. Tv aficionado.”