Skip to main content
  1. Life
  2. Health & Fitness
  3. Healthcare

Online activism and desensitization in social media

See also

Raising an army of armchair activists? A new study suggests that social-network support for causes might be only a click deep. Researchers analyzed fundraising and recruitment behavior among members of the Save Darfur Cause on Facebook. They found that the majority gave no money and recruited no one. Social media may fuel unprecedented civic engagement. Digital networks might make possible mass protest and revolution – think "Arab Spring." But sometimes and maybe even most of the time, a new study suggests, the accomplishments of online activism are much more modest.

Think of a typical social-network cluster in the Save Darfur Cause on Facebook. There's an original seed recruiter. Of the 1,021 members, only four donated money to the cause, and the majority (71 percent) recruited no one, says a graphic image illustration of the study included in the news release. The research paper shows the structure of online activism.

Published in the journal Sociological Science, the paper was co-authored by Kevin Lewis, of the University of California - San Diego's department of sociology, with Kurt Gray, department of psychology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and Jens Meierhenrich, department of international relations, London School of Economics and Political Science. You can check out online the abstract of the paper, "The Structure of Online Activism."

The researchers focused their attention on the "Save Darfur Cause" on Facebook

Causes.com is a free online platform for activism and philanthropy, and its Facebook application allows users to create, join and donate to a variety of causes, from helping survivors of natural disasters to aiding specific nonprofits more generally. At its height, the Save Darfur Cause – by the Save Darfur Coalition, seeking to end genocide in Sudan – was one of the largest on the social network.

Lewis and colleagues analyzed the donation and recruitment activity of more than 1 million members of the Save Darfur Cause between May 2007 and January 2010. About 80 percent of the members had been recruited by other members and about 20 percent had joined independently.

Of these 1 million-plus members, 99.76 percent never donated any money and 72.19 percent never recruited anyone else

The Save Darfur Cause on Facebook raised only about $100,000. While the average donation amounts were similar to more traditional fundraising methods ($29.06), the donation rate was much smaller: 0.24 percent. Compare that to mail solicitations which typically yield donation rates of 2 to 8 percent. The larger Save Darfur campaign, the researchers note, raised more than $1 million through direct-mail contributions in fiscal year 2008 alone.

Interestingly, those that had joined the Facebook cause independently were both more likely to donate and to recruit. Social and financial contributions, though rare on both counts, also tended to go hand-in-hand. Those individuals that did recruit were nearly four times as likely as non-recruiters to donate. And donors were more than twice as likely as non-donors to recruit.

The data contained no demographic information on the cause's members

Nor, the researchers write, could they estimate "the personal significance of [the joining] gesture to participants or the symbolic impact of the movement to onlookers. "It is possible," they add, "that the individuals in our data set contributed to Save Darfur in other meaningful but unobserved ways," according to the March 4, 2014 news release, "Raising an army of armchair activists?" Still, Lewis and colleagues believe the study gives some valuable insights into collective action in a digital age.

"The study is an important counter-balance to unbridled enthusiasm for the powers of social media," says UC San Diego's Lewis, according to the news release. "There's no inherent magic. Social media can activate interpersonal ties but won't necessarily turn ordinary citizens into hyper-activists."

In the case of the Save Darfur campaign, the Causes Facebook app appears to have been "more marketing than mobilization," Lewis says in the news release. It seems to have failed to convert the initial act of joining into a more sustained set of behaviors. For the vast majority of the members, he says, "the commitment might have been only as deep as a click."

Desensitization in social media could influence your health

Amid times of crisis, citizens often turn to social media as a method to share information, make observations and vent. But as a Georgia Tech professor's research into social media use amid the Mexican drug war shows, posts can reveal growing numbness, or desensitization, during times of protracted violence and stress, says a new study by different researchers at another university.

Amid times of crisis, citizens often turn to social media as a method to share information, make observations and vent. But as a Georgia Tech professor’s research into social media use amid the Mexican drug war shows, posts can reveal growing numbness, or desensitization, during times of protracted violence and stress.

Munmun De Choudhury, formerly of Microsoft Research and now an assistant professor in the School of Interactive Computing at Georgia Tech, led the research. Her team’s paper, “‘Narco’ Emotions: Affect and Desensitization in Social Media during the Mexican Drug War,” will be presented at CHI 2014, the leading conference on human-computer interaction. The presentation of the paper, which also earned Best Paper honors, comes soon after the capture of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera, considered to be the world’s most powerful drug lord, in Mexico.

The researchers declined to infer an actual causal relationship between drug war violence and social media numbness. But De Choudhury says, according to the news release, that the results do show a significant correlation between exposure to violence due to the ongoing urban warfare in Mexico and anxiety and post-traumatic stress symptoms gleaned from social media.

“General psychological research has demonstrated that prolonged exposure to violence, whether directly or word of mouth or through media reports, can have lasting and detrimental impacts including emotional numbness or desensitization,” says De Choudhury, according to the news release. “And our research finds that this holds true with social media. Strong psychological markers of desensitization followed rises of violence in the Mexican drug war.”

For the research, the team focused on four cities: Monterrey, Reynosa, Saltillo and Veracruz

The team used official homicide statistics as well as unofficial data from social media and a prominent “narco” blog to establish patterns of ongoing violence in those cities. Using Twitter’s Firehouse stream, they gathered all Spanish-language postings with hashtagged mentions of these cities, disregarding retweets and non-drug related posts.

The team employed data from Twitter, because of that medium’s considerable use in Mexico. At the time of the research, about 35 percent of Mexicans were online, of which 82 percent used social media. Of the Mexican social media users, 58 percent used Twitter.

“In Mexico, Twitter has acted as a unique platform allowing affected people to express their emotions, be it their frustrations or grievances or anger, about their circumstances as well as feelings of terror,” De Choudhury says in the news release. “This not only expands the narrative of how citizens are dealing with the drug war, but our findings can also help researchers build theories about socio-psychological responses to crises.”

After a period of chronic exposure to drug-related violence, the researchers found lowered affective responses in Twitter posts of citizens experiencing the violence

While the number of posts may have remained stable or increased, the levels of negative affect, which measures the level of displeasure of an emotion, decreased significantly. The paper, “‘Narco’ Emotions: Affect and Desensitization in Social Media during the Mexican Drug War,” was written by De Choudhury, along with Andres Monroy-Hernandez of Microsoft Research and Gloria Mark from the University of California, Irvine and is available here.

The research earned Best Paper honors for CHI 2014, the leading conference on human-computer interaction, which will run from April 26 to May 1, 2014 in Toronto. The presentation of the paper, which also earned Best Paper honors, comes soon after the capture of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera, considered to be the world’s most powerful drug lord, in Mexico. Munmun De Choudhury, formerly of Microsoft Research and now an assistant professor in the School of Interactive Computing at Georgia Institute of Technology, led the research.

As a Georgia Tech professor’s research into social media use amid the Mexican drug war shows, posts can reveal growing numbness, or desensitization, during times of protracted violence and stress

Amid times of crisis, citizens often turn to social media as a method to share information, make observations and vent. The researchers declined to infer an actual causal relationship between drug war violence and social media numbness. But De Choudhury says, according to the news release, that the results do show a significant correlation between exposure to violence due to the ongoing urban warfare in Mexico and anxiety and post-traumatic stress symptoms gleaned from social media.

“General psychological research has demonstrated that prolonged exposure to violence, whether directly or word of mouth or through media reports, can have lasting and detrimental impacts including emotional numbness or desensitization,” says De Choudhury, according to the March 4, 2014 news release, Research connects drug war violence in Mexico with desensitization in social media. “And our research finds that this holds true with social media. Strong psychological markers of desensitization followed rises of violence in the Mexican drug war.”

For the research, the team focused on four cities: Monterrey, Reynosa, Saltillo and Veracruz. The team used official homicide statistics as well as unofficial data from social media and a prominent “narco” blog to establish patterns of ongoing violence in those cities. Using Twitter’s Firehouse stream, they gathered all Spanish-language postings with hashtagged mentions of these cities, disregarding retweets and non-drug related posts.

The team employed data from Twitter, because of that medium’s considerable use in Mexico

At the time of the research, about 35 percent of Mexicans were online, of which 82 percent used social media. Of the Mexican social media users, 58 percent used Twitter. “In Mexico, Twitter has acted as a unique platform allowing affected people to express their emotions, be it their frustrations or grievances or anger, about their circumstances as well as feelings of terror,” De Choudhury says, according to the news release. “This not only expands the narrative of how citizens are dealing with the drug war, but our findings can also help researchers build theories about socio-psychological responses to crises.”

After a period of chronic exposure to drug-related violence, the researchers found lowered affective responses in Twitter posts of citizens experiencing the violence. While the number of posts may have remained stable or increased, the levels of negative affect, which measures the level of displeasure of an emotion, decreased significantly.

Advertisement

Related Videos:

  • Scary Adventure
    <div class="video-info" data-id="518259265" data-param-name="playList" data-provider="5min" data-url="http://pshared.5min.com/Scripts/PlayerSeed.js?sid=1304&width=480&height=401&playList=518259265&autoStart=true"></div>
  • Crest to remove microbeads in toothpaste that may cause periodontal disease
    <div class="video-info" data-id="518419903" data-param-name="playList" data-provider="5min" data-url="http://pshared.5min.com/Scripts/PlayerSeed.js?sid=1304&width=480&height=401&playList=518419903&autoStart=true"></div>
  •  The Family Cooks: 100+ Recipes to Get Your Family Craving Food That’s Simple, Tasty, and Incredibly Good
    <div class="video-info" data-id="518198350" data-param-name="playList" data-provider="5min" data-url="http://pshared.5min.com/Scripts/PlayerSeed.js?sid=1304&width=480&height=401&playList=518198350&autoStart=true"></div>