Online Platforms Yield New Mobilizing Opportunities

In the post-Trump era, tools like Resistbot and Countable seek to make political engagement easier and more readily accessible to broader audiences. These tools predetermine which political stakeholders users should contact and ensure that collective action efforts to reach elected officials become automated. Recently, I presented in a course alongside a professor and founder of a new kind of tool that hopes to centralize and simplify many of the processes of collective action. Betsy Sinclair, a political scientist at Washington University in St. Louis, developed an online platform she hopes will allow any citizens to start a “micro social movement.” Magnify Your Voice is described as “…the solutions platform for civic, environmental, and political initiatives near you. Create a new project, or join one to help make change in your neighborhood and beyond.” With Magnify, anyone can create a profile and post a project. Take for instance asking faculty to make election day “A Day Off For Democracy.” This particular project seeks to mobilize university members to cancel class and pressure their university president to make election day a holiday.  The project has 49 members who support the initiative and 11 who have already taken an action such as cancelling class on election day or emailing their university president. Several are also part of related growing efforts through https://www.educatorpledge.com/ and http://www.adayofffordemocracy.com/.

This approach to collective action is certainly worth exploring both empirically and theoretically. The creators of the app are doing some of the work to analyze questions of interest to social scientists. For instance, they explored the importance of being asked to participate by strong and weak network ties and found that strong ties mobilize. But, there are many more questions to be asked and answered. Can the use of an app-based tool that allows anyone to become a leader and organize interested parties replace a more resource-rich approach to mobilizing? Does the point system Magnify uses to reward participation and denote top organizers serve as a strong enough selective incentive to create committed users? Can the expectation that this online tool fosters offline activism redefine the relationship between online and offline participation? Either way, this tool has already successfully influenced mobilization around local issues and has the potential to provide new pathways forward for “micro social movements.”

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