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Riots and Twitter: connective politics, social media and framing discourses in the digital public sphere

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Social media technologies like Twitter are credited with enabling a new form of connective action, in which political movements coalesce and mobilise around hashtags, memes and personalised action frames. After the UK riots in 2011, citizen ‘broom armies’ took to the streets to clear up and repair damage. Different hashtags, including #RiotCleanUp and #OperationCupOfTea, were implicated in these movements.

This paper questions connective action theory in this context. It seeks to respond to two criticisms of the connective approach, namely that connective action underplays differences between technologies and does not account sufficiently for cultural and ideological drivers of action.

The paper combines an analysis of software systems, issue publics and discourse to giver a fuller account of connective politics during the riot clean-up movements. In doing so, it develops several metrics to advance understanding of digital communication systems, drawing attention to the roles that time and account status play in assembling meaning on Twitter. This analysis suggests that the clean-up movements were complex, discursive political acts, in which celebrity accounts played an influential role in framing discourse. Furthermore, the #RiotCleanUp hashtag credited with mobilising these groups is found to provide a less compelling explanation of action when compared against the more emotive but less noted #OperationCupOfTea.
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Keywords: ICTs; Social media; Twitter; connective action; media studies; social movements

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: School of Media & Communication, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia

Publication date: January 28, 2019

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