As America awakes to the morning after protests in Ferguson and across the country, much will be made of the role played by social media in those protests.
At NYU's Social Media and Political Participation (SMaPP) laboratory, we've been spending a lot of time over the past year thinking about the ways in which social media can impact the decision of an individual to join a protests (primarily examining data from Ukraine and Turkey). When political scientists think about protest, we often use the framework of collective action problem: a group has a goal it would like to achieve, but individual participation in that group activity is costly. So even though the group would benefit from coordinating and carrying out an action, it often does not take place. This framework points to the importance of information: about the protest, about what the costs of participating in the protest are likely to be, about the possible benefits of participating, all of which, crucially, is in part based on expectations about what other people will do.
Social media, therefore, can play an important role in facilitating protest by making it easier for individuals to acquire information.