Social media, professional media and mobilisation in contemporary Britain: explaining the strengths and weaknesses of the citizens’ movement 38 degrees

2017-11-15T14:23:12Z (GMT) by Andrew Chadwick James Dennis
Digital media continue to reshape political activism in unexpected ways. Within a period of a few years, the internet-enabled UK citizens’ movement 38 Degrees has amassed a membership of 3 million and now sits alongside similar entities such as America’s MoveOn, Australia’s GetUp! and the transnational movement Avaaz. In this article, we contribute to current thinking about digital media and mobilisation by addressing some of the limitations of existing research on these movements and on digital activism more generally. We show how 38 Degrees’ digital network repertoires coexist interdependently with its strategy of gaining professional news media coverage. We explain how the oscillations between choreographic leadership and member influence and between digital media horizontalism and elite media-centric work constitute the space of interdependencies in which 38 Degrees acts. These delicately balanced relations can quickly dissolve and be replaced by simpler relations of dependence on professional media. Yet despite its fragility, we theorise about how 38 Degrees may boost individuals’ political efficacy, irrespective of the outcome of individual campaigns. Our conceptual framework can be used to guide research on similar movements.