TASCHA researcher Jessica Beyer has a new book out, Expect Us: Online Communities and Political Mobilization, published by Oxford University Press.
Expect Us is a result of Jessica’s PhD dissertation work, which was originally supposed to be about civil war. One day, while taking a break from her PhD work, Jessica was playing a video game and got stuck. While trying to figure out how to get unstuck, she came across the posting boards attached to IGN.com (a site for gaming reviews and information). She stumbled across their central posting board, which at the time was really highly trafficked. She had never seen anything quite so fascinating, and from that moment of fascination came all of the research that followed — including the dissertation, now the book!
More about the book
People use online social forums for all sorts of reasons, including political conversations, regardless of the site’s main purpose. But what leads some of these people to take their online political activity into the offline world of activism?
In her book, Jessica looks at political consciousness and action in four communities, each born out of chaotic online social spaces that millions of individuals enter, spend time in, and exit moment by moment: Anonymous (4chan), IGN, World of Warcraft, and The Pirate Bay. None of these sites began as places for political organization per se, but visitors to each have used them as places for political engagement to one degree or another. Jessica explains the puzzling emergence of political engagement in these disparate social spaces and offers reasons for their varied capacity to generate political activism. Her comparative ethnography of these four online communities demonstrates that the technological organization of space itself has a strong role in determining the possibility of political mobilization. Overall, she shows that political mobilization rises when a site provides high levels of anonymity, low levels of formal regulation, and minimal access to small-group interaction. Her findings reveal that young people are more politically involved than much of the civic engagement literature suggests.
Expect Us offers surprising and compelling insights for anyone interested in understanding which factors and online environments lead to the greatest amount of impact offline.