Is there a definite relationship between online and offline (political) activism? Two recent papers reply with a firm “maybe.”
More precisely, Leung, in his 2009 article, tested whether a penchant for online content generation correlates with psychological empowerment – a state of mind characterized by feelings of self-efficacy, perceived competence and desire for control. This in fact seems to be the case:
“While cause and effect cannot be determined from this research, it does suggest that if one is interested in identifying […] empowered individuals, they may be found among those most actively participating in internet content creation.”
– which is important, given that psychologically empowered individuals also seem to be, unsurprisingly, among those most active politically (offline).
In other words, there is at least a possibility that “online activism” – in the form of content creation – enhances individuals’ feelings of empowerment, and thus catalyzes (offline) political participation.
Mercea (2011) approaches the question from another angle, introducing the concept of “digital prefigurative participation (DPP): interaction with either content or individuals through CMC which precedes engagement in offline protest.”
It makes sense to distinguish this kind of online activism from other genres (which are not designed as a prelude to offline protest events), because qualities of the “real” act are likely to influence online patterns of participation. In simpler words: different kinds of online activism are expected to precede different kinds of offline acts – the absence of an “offline act” in the end being a special case of this general principle.
More specifically, Mercea followed the tradition of distinguishing between DPP preceding low-, and high-risk events. His analysis then concludes that DPP is likely to be:
– extensive among previously unaffiliated participants at a low-risk event, and
– extensive among the already affiliated participants at a high-risk one.
Leung, Louis (2009): “User-generated content on the internet: an examination of gratifications, civic engagement and psychological empowerment” in New Media and Society 11(8).
Mercea, Dan (2012): “Digital prefigurative participation: The entwinement of online communication and offline participation in protest events” in New Media & Society 17(1).