Author Archives: Jennifer Earl

Will the Media Play Victor Frankenstein on Election Night?

BY Jennifer Earl and Jessica Maves Braithwaite

Any journalist will tell you: report the story, but don’t be a part of it. But, without a concerted effort to avoid “business as usual” on November 3rd, American journalism will be one of the most consequential characters in the story of the 2020 Election. In this election, the horserace has been weaponized.

Elections equal horse races to the media. Even if “decision desks”—the set of people who help “call” elections—have proclaimed their patience, their news desks and opinion desks, and the companies that own them, may not be so patient. For business, the more drama, the more viewers, readers, and/or likes, the better. But, the 2020 election is highly unlikely to be decided on Election Night itself.

When drama-hungry media howl for a winner on Election Night and/or dramatically cover a horserace, instead of a democracy, in the days, or weeks, after November 3rd, it will create a needless sense of urgency that those willing to subvert democratic institutions are counting on. For instance, an important justification for Supreme Court intervention in the election could come from pretending that the American people can’t wait for our votes to be counted, even while so many people (disproportionately people of color) are willing to wait for hours to vote in hopes they will be counted. A key way to legitimize state governments casting aside ballots and deciding on their own electors is to cite the media’s rush as an indicator that voters lack patience.

To be sure, we are not claiming that situation we are in is the result of the media. We are in an elaborate Rube Goldberg machine that was set in motion years ago, and everyone looks on amazed and surprised while the pieces continue to fall as researchers anticipated. But, the media’s part in this Goldberg machine is critical for the machine reaching its conclusion in a failed democracy. All that has to happen for the media to play Victor Frankenstein to our democracy on election night is for journalists and reporters to ignore the warning signs and continue with a horserace as usual, ignoring its weaponization.

What can the media do to avoid this and how can social movements help? The media-related steps are easy to identify but require significant discipline.

Step 1: The media must practice patience. Media broadly—decision desks, news desks, and opinion desks—need to commit now to practices that will facilitate patience on election night and afterwards. The decision desk’s patience must not be undermined: having one part of your organization committed to patience and the rest fanning the flames of impatience is making your media organization very much part of the story. Committing to patience isn’t going to get easier as we get closer to Election Day. The likelihood that media that don’t commit to organization-wide patience before Election Day will embrace patience afterwards is vanishingly small.

Step 2. Media should follow evidence-based guides on reporting like these from the Election Coverage and Democracy Network. Practices like “distinguish[ing] between legitimate, evidence-based challenges to vote counts and illegitimate ones that are intended to delay or call into question accepted procedures” and “don’t use social media to fill gaps in institutionally credible and reliable election information” are critical to maintaining patience and to starving the fire that may well burn on Election night, threatening to engulf our democracy.

Step 3. The media can use their reporting to help communities “Hold the Line” on defending democracy. Social movements are already trying to address key concerns about the Election. For instance, organizers are already working to preserve our democracy by protecting three basic principles: all votes must be counted; allegations of voter suppression and election irregularities must be impartially investigated and redressed; and the final result must be peacefully respected. Not only do we need media to refuse to spread chaos, we need prior reporting that helps their audience understand local voting practices and protections and evaluate how well their community is doing at ensuring that all voters are able to freely vote and have their votes counted.

Is the media up to the test? On the one hand, the willingness of journalists to be assaulted to tell the story of protests this summer says yes. But, on the other hand, media have been unwittingly weaponized before, delivering Trump $2 billion dollars in free media coverage, 2.5 times more than Clinton in 2016. Social movement organizers around the country are working right now to encourage the media, and other key actors, to ensure the integrity of the American election. In the days that follow it, it is possible that non-violent collective action will be necessary to have Election results fairly counted and/or honored. Movements need to remember during the weeks surrounding the Election that they may achieve their short-term election goals by encouraging the media to follow the steps above.

We will find out over the next 2-3 weeks whether journalists are going to be the story, pretending that normal practices in abnormal times are neutral. We hope the media will indeed rise to serve as the Fourth Estate.


Note: The opinions represented in this piece are our own views and do not represent the views or positions of our institutions or organizations.

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Key Findings in Youth Political Participation

BY Jennifer Earl

I recently participated in a closing event for an exciting European project examining youth participation in politics, with a special focus on inequalities. My involvement in that project as an External Advisor built on prior participation in a MacArthur Foundation funded research network, Youth and Participatory Politics. At the closing event, I was asked to assemble a list of a handful of findings from research on youth political engagement that I considered important. I decided to share those notes here. In the interest of getting this posted quickly, I have not (yet) embedded citations for the points below, but if you want citations to any specific point, feel free to reach out and as people do, I will amend the post by adding citations.

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New Resource on Social Movement Outcomes

I am pleased to announce the launch of a website containing a bibliographic database on social movement outcomes. The site was created and is maintained by the Youth Activism Project, which is a part of the MacArthur Research Network on Youth and Participatory Politics. It features a searchable database on research on social movement outcomes where books, chapters, and articles on social movement outcomes are classified by the broad type of outcome (e.g., political, biographical), the specific type of outcome (e.g. legislation passed), mechanisms discussed (e.g., disruptive tactics; mobilization levels), time period, location, and data used. The homepage for the database also showcases helpful review articles.

The database can be downloaded in whole or searched live on the site. It currently features 160 citations plus 12 review articles.

We hope that other scholars will consider adding content to the database, making it a living resource. To suggest additions, just follow the classification system embedded in the dataset and send a row of data representing a single citation to Becka Alper (multiple citations can be sent in the same worksheet, just make sure it’s one citation per row). We hope that through the efforts of our colleagues, this database can grow and become an enduring resource for scholars and activists interested in social movement outcomes.

Please feel free to forward this announcement, post about it, and tweet about it. The more people who use the database, and the more people who contribute new entries to it, the better!


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For any Stata folks out there…

I wanted to let people know about a set of Stata resources that a graduate class of mine and I are putting together online: I am teaching a graduate class on data management in Stata (so, no analytical stuff like a regular stats class, but rather how to program in Stata). The website linked above has the topics and readings from my syllabus and then student produced “resources” for the equivalent of each class day. These will continue to be posted across the semester so that someone could potentially use these materials to learn Stata programming where no course exists for them. Or, maybe you just want to brush up on a particular topic (e.g., regular expressions, post, loops) and want some help doing it. Or, maybe you wish your research assistant or students were better programmers and you encourage them to check this out. There are lots of ways to use these resources.

The resources a pretty awesome—my students have been doing an excellent job. There is a great YouTube video, some really great blog entries with examples, etc. If you are interested in brushing up on your Stata skills, check it out. If you wish this was about R, produce some materials and I will add them in. If you know about other cool links for a particular topic, send them my way and I will add them up!

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Please submit work on media and protest to the CITASA pre-ASA Symposium

I am writing to invite you to submit a paper to the ASA pre-conference symposium, [New] Media Cultures. I know there is a lot of great work out there looking at political communication, social movements in the media and/or new media, and using media-based data. All of that work would be appropriate for this workshop and I hope you will consider submitting.

CITASA Symposium-page-001For a downloadable version of this flyer, go to: CITASA Symposium

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by | January 29, 2014 · 10:45 AM

Feb 1 deadline for Internet Data CFP

I wanted to let people know/remind folks of an upcoming submission deadline that might be of interest to people.

From 2006-2012, I had a NSF CAREER Award to collect data on online protest across 20 different issue areas. That effort produced two time-series datasets: a panel dataset tracking about 1,200 websites across 5 years, and a cross-sectional dataset tracking new samples of websites each year for five years. Each of these datasets is really two nested sets: one on the overall websites and one on all protest actions that were hosted or linked to from study websites. Continue reading

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Learning Something New in the Desert this January

I think one of the truly great things about being academic is that we are always learning. But, one thing that has surprised me about this is how inefficient learning new areas and tools can be once you are out of graduate school. With the exception of a few well-known, but often pricey, statistical workshops, and an occasional ASA preconference workshops, there are not a lot of structured courses for faculty to take to efficiently learn new areas or tools.

Arizona Sociology has been working to change that. We have hosted the Arizona Methods Workshop for the past three years, and will hold the Fourth Annual Arizona Methods Workshop from Jan 9-11, 2014. We hold it in early January before most folks are back in classes to make it convenient and also to make Tucson an attractive refuge for folks from colder climates. I took two of the seminars last year (one on R and one on theoretical simulations) and both were excellent and really efficient ways to learn new material.

I am writing to invite you to consider registering and attending this year. Continue reading

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Be 1 of the Final 34 People to Help CITASA Cross the 400 Member Mark!

As Chair of the Communication and Information Technologies section of the ASA (CITASA), I am happy to announce that we are within 34 new members of earning an additional ASA session in 2014. I am blogging in hopes that some Mobilizing Ideas folks, who realize the technology is increasingly important to activism, will take this as opportunity to get involved in the section.

If you are already an ASA member, which you are if you went to the this year’s ASAs in NYC, the cost of joining the section is nominal and you can do it easily by visiting your member profile at: But, we need you to act today—we only have until September 29th to generate new memberships to earn this additional session. September 30 is the final census date for the section and our tally day will determine if we stay at 3 sessions for the 2014 ASAs or move up to 4! (BTW, as Chair of the section, I have committed that if we earn that additional session by enlarging our membership, I will dedicate it to Media Sociology, so if you are interested in media sociology, this is an easy way to increase meeting time devoted to the topic next year). Continue reading

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CFP for Use of Internet, Activism, and Social Movements Datasets

From 2006-2012, I had a NSF CAREER Award to collect data on online protest across 20 different issue areas. That effort produced two time-series datasets: a panel dataset tracking about 1,200 websites across 5 years, and a cross-sectional dataset tracking new samples of websites each year for five years. Each of these datasets is really two nested sets: one on the overall websites and one on all protest actions that were hosted or linked to from study websites.

After discussions with potential users at the CBSM pre-conference in Las Vegas, several data collection team members and I designed a data release process based directly on potential user input that is engineered to develop a strong and informed user base and reviewing community for the dataset. Continue reading


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Memorial Session for Mayer Zald at ASAs

For the many people who wish to honor the memory of Mayer Zald, who passed last year, there will be a memorial session at this year’s ASA. The session will be held in the Beekman room of the Hilton New York Midtown Hotel from 8-10 PM on Monday, August 12th. A number of scholars, friends, and family will be making remarks. I encourage anyone who misses the powerful force for good that Mayer was to come remember and honor him at this event.

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