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The coup that flopped: the role of Facebook in a grassroots political action in the Czech Republic Václav Štětka, Jaroslav Švelch Institute of Communication.

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Presentation on theme: "The coup that flopped: the role of Facebook in a grassroots political action in the Czech Republic Václav Štětka, Jaroslav Švelch Institute of Communication."— Presentation transcript:

1 The coup that flopped: the role of Facebook in a grassroots political action in the Czech Republic Václav Štětka, Jaroslav Švelch Institute of Communication Studies and Journalism, Charles University in Prague Presentation at the conference Social Media and the Transformation of Public Space, Amsterdam,

2 ICTs and changing landscape of political activism Emergence of new forms of activism – “e-protest”; “e- activism“ ; “cyberactivism” Social network sites (SNS) playing an even increasing role in political mobilization, for parties, candidates as well as social movements – vital instruments for both consensus mobilization as well as action mobilization (Klandermans 1984) “Digitally networked connective action” (Bennett & Segerberg 2013) – New organizational logic of protest movements, replacing the “collective action”; digital media as organizing agents

3 Arab Spring (2010- ) Occupy Wall Street (2011) Los indignados / M15 Movement (2011) …

4 Anti- government protests in Turkey (2013) … … or Bulgaria (2013)

5 ICTs as framing devices ICTs can be used to provide and disseminate frames for interpretation of political events and of the movement itself (Park 2002) In some protest movements, the framing primarily supposes emotional reaction rather than rational political action Emotion, affect and humor play an important and underrated role in social movements and protests

6 Emotions of protest “Social movements are affected by transitory, context-specific emotions, usually reactions to information and events, as well as by more stable affective bonds and loyalties” (Jasper 1998: 397). Among such emotions, he lists hatred, loyalty, anger, indignation, outrage and shame.

7 Humor as protest Satire and irony as modes of political communication (Milner 2013, Jungherr 2012, Shifman 2007). Movements such as Occupy or Protestival often voice their outrage about politics using humorous photoshopped images Playful messages were taken to the streets

8 Rallying for Sobotka: Case study of an anti-coup protest Aim: to explore the course of online mobilization and civic engagement in relation to the “coup” within the Czech Social Democratic Party in 2013 Research questions: What was the scope and dynamics of the online protest? What was the relationship between online and offline forms of the protest? What kind of themes were present in the communication on the Facebook profile of the protest initiative? Sample: Census of all communication (posts, comments, replies) published on the Facebook page “I want Bohuslav Sobotka, not Michal Hašek“ between (938 posts, 2518 comments/replies) Census of news articles/items reporting about the “coup” in the Czech news media in the same period (N=2703)

9 Bohuslav Sobotka, Chairman of the Czech Social Democratic Party (ČSSD) since 2011 ; Leader of the Party candidate list for the 2013 Parliamentary Elections & Party Nominee for Prime Minister Michal Hašek, Vice-Chair of the Czech Social Democratic Party (ČSSD) since 2011 Miloš Zeman, President of the Czech Republic since 2013

10 Timeline of the “coup” Election results: SocDem party wins with 20.5% votes Secret meeting of Hašek & comp. with President Zeman (evening) Party Presidium meeting, Sobotka asked to step down as Chairman The Initiative “I want Bohuslav Sobotka, not Michal Hašek“ founded on Facebook (evening) Live TV Interview, Hašek denies he had a meeting with the President Another “coup member” confesses to the meeting Hašek confesses to the meeting with the President Hašek and two other “coup members” resign from party posts

11 “I want Bohuslav Sobotka, not Michal Hašek“ cca 7,500 page likes 1332 individual contributors

12 Rise of page likes of the FB page

13 Demonstration at the Prague Castle, Demonstration in Brno, “Traitors out!”

14 “For Sobotka and democracy!”

15 Source: Factum, N= 1272,

16 Dynamics of Facebook engagement

17 News media agenda (articles/items reporting on the “coup”)

18 FB engagement vs news agenda

19 Content A preliminary qualitative probe shows 5 basic content categories: 1. mobilization messages 2. news about the progress of the initiative 3. statements of support 4. expressive evaluations of the actors and events 5. humorous messages

20 The moral dimension of the protest “Michal Hašek, you are not only a traitor, but also a LIAR in front of the whole nation. We demand that you step down from all of your party posts and suspend your membership in the party.” #1 #2

21 The moral dimension of the protest Similarly to the Slovenian anti-corruption movement, the contested event are framed as a moral failure rather than a political act Very emotional and loaded vocabulary This resonates with the comments of Facebook users who describe the coup as “filth” and “dirt” and call those responsible “moral pigs” and “swines”

22 Coup perpetrators as “pigs” and “swines”

23 Probably due to the moral framing of the coup narrative, the protest attracted wide non- partisan support 86 comments (3,5%) explicitly state that they did not vote for Social democrats The most “liked” user comment: “I didn’t vote for Social Democrats, but I’ll happily support Sobotka against the filth that is going on…” “I didn’t vote for Sobotka, but…”

24 Much of the discourse on the pages is emotionally intense People “want to puke” as a reaction to what they call a “swindle” or “betrayal” “I don’t like Social Democrats, but swindles like this get the rise out of me.” “Not to support Sobotka is the murder of all decent Social Democrat voters.” (2 nd most “liked” user comment) Emotion of protest – outrage

25 “Come to support politics that you don’t have to be ashamed of!” (mobilization message) “I have rarely felt more ashamed for my city than after reading this headline” (30 th most liked comment) “Bohuslav Sobotka should lead this government. As a voter, I feel cheated (…)” Emotion of protest – shame and indignation

26 Contextualized support for Sobotka, who had been framed as a “good guy”: “Even though I’m not a voter of Social Democrats, I definitely root for B. Sobotka.” This loyalty may relate to prior animosities against the politicans behind the coup, especially Hašek and Zeman Emotion of protest – sympathy and loyalty

27 An alternative affective expression of protest Photoshops are featured prominently among posts by users, mostly ridiculing the “liars” Humor as protest “Is there anyone here, who is sure he wasn’t at Miloš’s on Saturday?” (the most “liked” user comment)

28 Conclusions (I): reinforcing effect of online & offline branches of the protest Online protest (Facebook) Offline protest (demonstrations) Media coverage Internal party politics

29 Conclusions (II) the Facebook page offered a space for people to instantly express emotions, anger, outrage and frustration at events as they unfolded Protest succeeded (also) because of being perceived as primarily non-partisan – it helped streamline moral outrage beyond party affiliation

30 Thank you!


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