Using the global female Muslim blogosphere, this research aims to understand the complexity of cyber-collective action and factors contributing to its success or failure. Despite the exponential growth of Internet users in Muslim countries, there is a lack of empirical study of socio-political uses of the technology for expressing opinions and mobilizing individuals in these countries. The female Muslim blogosphere was selected as a test-bed for two reasons: First, while research shows that three of four females online are active social media users, very little research attempts to understand social, cultural and political roles of female bloggers and collectivity among female social groups. Second, the domain epitomizes an important contrast deserving attention, between socio-political systems where women are frequently denied freedom of expression and active political uses of social media by female Internet users. Female Muslim bloggers find the blogosphere as a digital recourse to exercise their freedom of speech if compared to their physical and repressively controlled spaces.

This longitudinal study will develop the theoretical underpinnings and experimental tools to examine the factors that govern the success and failure of cyber-collective movements more generally. It will develop novel algorithms modeling cyber-collective movements by utilizing existing social theories on collective action and computational social network analysis and basing the analysis upon three central tenets of individual, community, and transnational perspectives. Essential questions to be addressed in this study are: What transforms individual sentiments into collective sentiments? What are the dynamics of various socio-cultural dimensions in the evolution of opinion leaders? What social or organizational factors help transcend the nation-state barriers? Several independent validation strategies will be investigated, including monitoring the manifestation of cyber-collective movements as physical social movements, human evaluation, and crowdsourcing initiatives to bridge the gap between qualitative and quantitative evaluation measures.

The lessons learned from this research will create greater synergies between social science and computational science. Data collected from this research will be made publicly available due to its efficacy for various interdisciplinary research endeavors, especially in human-computer interaction, game theory, political communication, social network analysis and mining, and social computing, among others. Members of underrepresented groups, especially female bloggers will play an essential role in the project, lending insights into the idiosyncrasies of their socio-technical behavior advancing our understanding of the female demographics, thus making a significant impact on society at large. Educational impacts include the creation of much-needed interdisciplinary courses and training undergraduate, graduate and doctoral students by involving them at all stages of the research.

Project Report

Contemporary collective actions, from the 2011 Egyptian Tahrir uprising to the 2014 Occupy Central protests in Hong Kong, cannot be separated from the uses of social media. In various recent protests, social media are described as important tools for the disparate crowd to communicate, coordinate, organize and mobilize itself. "Online collective action"--a new social community that emerges in an online environment that undertakes an action to promote a shared goal and improve the group’s conditions--has become an important phenomenon of our contemporary world. In recent years, there has been a surge in research devoted to deepening our understanding of online collective action. Due to its novelty and complexity, however, more research is needed to further our understanding of the many aspects of online collective action. Our research project addresses the gap in the current collective action literature by exploring both methodological and theoretical underpinnings in the new Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) landscape, bringing together qualitative and quantitative studies from computational and social sciences focusing on online collective actions, and promoting a symbiotic and synergistic advancement of the multiple, interconnected disciplines in studying online collective actions. More specifically, the project is intended to illuminate several fundamental and powerful yet theoretically undeveloped and largely unexplored aspects of collective action in social media. The developed theories will be valuable and comprehensive references for those interested in examining the role of ICTs not only in collective action but also in decision and policy making, understanding the dynamics of interaction, collaboration, cooperation, communication, as well as information flow and propagation, and social network research for years to come. The resulting publications from the project discuss our contributions and findings; and share methodological and technical knowledge with the research community.Further, the research project database also serves as an extensive repository of data sets and tools that can be used by researchers leading to a continuous and synergistic advancement of the disciplines.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Information and Intelligent Systems (IIS)
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William Bainbridge
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Arizona State University
United States
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