Advances in Applied Sociology
2014. Vol.4, No.1, 1-4
Published Online January 2014 in SciRes (
Social Media and Political Participation: An Investigation of
Small Scale Activism in Greece
Alex Afouxenidis
National Centre for Social Research, Athens, Greece
Received November 3rd, 2013; revised December 3rd, 2013; accepted December 10th, 2013
Copyright © 2014 Alex Afouxenidis. This is an op en a ccess a rticle d istribu ted un der the C reative C ommons At-
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This paper discusses the possibilities and limitations of online activism. The example used to illustrate the
above point provides some evidence that, on some occasions, civil society maybe mobilized through the
use of the internet and the online public sphere, to organize more coherent and practical political demands.
At the same time, it is also shown that the capacity of individuals to fully participate depends on previous
offline experiences as well as a relatively higher degree of technical competence.
Keywords: Civil Society; Digital Activis m; Po litical Engagement; Socia l N e two rk ing
Power relations remain fundamental for the construction of
contemporary societies. Alongside these, come specific types of
institutional arrangements which exist in order to smooth the
edge to unequal forms of representation (Drake, 2010). One of
the main arguments used connected to the enhancement of lib-
eral democracies, is connected to the idea of reinvigorating the
public sphere through the use of new technology and the web.
Subsequently, the basic question of this paper is whether on-
line group formation has helped to foster political engagement
and participation among individual citizens, civil society or-
ganizations and other similar associations in contemporary
Greece, especially under the current circumstances of severe
economic crisis (Afouxenidis & Kavoulakos, 2012)1. To this
end, an internet questionnaire was used, in order to assess the
overall impact of online/offline political participation and po-
litical engagement through the use of social networking groups.
The target group of this particular research consisted of unem-
ployed university lecturers who, almost four years ago, after
being appointed by university committees to their respective
departments, were still not in employment2. The study took
place between January and February 2012. The respondents
were 159 out of a possible 350. About 65% were male and
almost 60% were between the ages of 35 to 45 years old. The
main idea was to examine the relationship between the partici-
pants to the web, as a whole, and whether they engaged in po-
litical activity offline as a result of becoming relatively active
Political Participation, Internet and
Social Media
Greece has an estimated overall number of over 5 million in-
ternet users, about 4 million facebook users3 and a significant
number of bloggers. This type of social media and internet
penetration served as a likely case to study whether social net-
working has restructured the face of political participation. The
participants in this study, are generally well-educated, young to
mid-age and relatively comfortable using the Internet. This
increased the probability of finding individuals and/or groups
engaged in digital activism, therefore gaining a more compre-
hensive understanding of the distinction between online and
offline political behaviour.
Despite the general and persisting trends regarding global
and regional digital inequality (Loader, 1998; ITU, 2012; Leon-
tidou, Afouxenidis, et al., 2013), during the first decade of the
21st century, social networks have become integrated into eve-
ryday life and practice for millions of people and organizations
around the world. A significant number of theoretical and em-
pirical studies in the social sciences are starting to form a pic-
ture of how this widely spread form of communication affects
constitutional democracy and political participation (Graham &
Martin, 1996; Gustafsson, 2012; Harlow, 2012; Hepburn, 2012;
Fuchs, 2012; Castells, 2012; Bakardjieva, Svensson, & Skoric,
2012) and possibly transforms the rules and methods of politi-
cal engagement.
Unemployment in Greece is almost 30% and youth unemployment is a
most 65%. For more information see,
and ce/financialcrisis/10230653/Greek
This figure is taken from
accessed on 14/03/2013.
An ongoing discussion in current research is concerned with
the question of whether the level of political participation in the
industrialized or post-industrial world is low. The academic
debate is split into two main arguments. Firstly, Putnam (2000)
argued that political participation is decreasing as the level of
social capital in society decreases and political apathy increases.
On the other hand, (Dalton, 2008; Dahlgren 2009) it has been
suggested that political participation is merely changing, taking
new forms, as post-materialist values (Inglehart, 1977) become
more salient, with social capital being readjusted. Consequently,
instead of, for example becoming members of political parties
and other such formal organizations, citizens are now engaged
outside of the traditional political system (Micheletti, 2003).
Since the rapid spread of internet connections in the 1990s,
social science has increasingly turned its eyes towards examin-
ing the web as a mechanism of a more democratic future or, as
a process which acts as yet another catalyst in terms of concen-
trating power into the hands of the few (Hindman, 2008). The
development of applications often referred to as Web 2.0 and
social media over the past ten years, combined with evidence of
new forms of rapid networked mobilization (Castells, 2001;
Atton, 2003), created a renewed interest in the effects of tech-
nology on civic activism and overall political participation.
There is a sort of historical element throughout various analyses
which spans for a period of over 25 years at least: initially,
during the 1990s, the web was discussed primarily as a sort of
cyberspace (Featherstone & Burrows, 1995; Star, 1995; Jones,
1995; Aronowitz, Martinsons, & Menser, 1996). This was also
exposed in popular culture via movies such as the Matrix and
others, which explored this idea to the fullest and which pre-
sented a kind of post-apocalyptic dystopian future. In addition,
technological development was also critically examined by
questioning the assumptions that it will necessarily lead to bet-
ter time s (Finnegan, Salaman, & Thompson, 1987; Pacey, 1994;
Robins & Webster, 1999). During the 2000s the web was de-
scribed more as a virtual space which produces and regenerates
various sorts of virtual societies and communities. It is only
recently, that the “net” has begun to be appreciated more close-
ly to what it actually is, namely another realm of everyday real-
ity. Therefore, in our view, although the distinction offline/
online may still have some methodological validity, it is be-
coming progressively defunct as a useful analytical tool. It is
more interesting to actually examine the two realities in unison
rather than in opposition. The evidence of the research pre-
sented in this paper attempts to look at the use of the net
through the lens described above.
A Note on Theory and Research Methodology
In our view, advances in computing power increased enorm-
ously the possibilities for research within the social sciences
fields. It has also helped in gathering and exchanging informa-
tion quickly across and among different strands of research,
thus generating interesting and substantial flows of information
and hard data. Additionally, the broad range, scope and volume
of data which can be analyzed have also increased.
However, this does not necessarily mean that theorizing, or
exploring new ways to do research, has significantly changed
within the social and political sciences. More than often, espe-
cially with regards to issues such as the one we are exploring
here, substantial problems and issues of the academic research
community have remained intact. For example, with regards to,
say, political sociology and/or sociology in general, the fact that
the field has already been broken down into smaller, sometimes
highly specialized sub-fields, meant that on many occasions
research is not directly related to the basic theoretical strands of
contemporary sociological thought (Afouxenidis, 2012). In
other words, fragmenting the field coupled by the ever-in-
creasing need for quick answers and responses to various social
issues, has lead to a peculiar sort of methodological standardi-
zation: individuals or groups of scientists doing research using,
more or less, similar or the same techniques irrespective of
what is actually being researched. This type of methodological
“impoverishment” can be partly explained by the loss of vigor-
ous theoretical argumentation (Turnsek & Jankowski, 2008).
With regards, to the case of studying the net and/or social
media, a number of interesting observations can be made. In
general, research remains fragmented and highly empiricist.
Research techniques are generally based on gathering huge
volumes of data, often with no real consideration on their actual
validity, such as what sort of evidence can be usefully utilized,
or how and in what ways web data can be correlated to non-
web data. Also, comparative elements which are always perti-
nent in researching society seem to be missing. For example,
researchers and academic institutions have done a lot of work
on, say, new social media without accounting for possible si-
milarities and/or differences amongst them. Another example is
related to the fact that a lot of net research is primarily focused
on the individual actor rather than on the possible collective
impact social networking may have on individuals. Thus, issues
such as diversity, projection of identity and political behaviour,
are simply reflected by researchers rather than critically inter-
rogated. The opportunity to gather large amounts of data, does
not necessarily mean that social scientists understand or are
able to explain societal organization and behaviour more in
depth than previously, especially when adequate theorizing is
Political Participation: The Case Study
Underlying the basic research concept was the idea that de-
mocratization in the world of inter-connectedness, may reflect
new types of political participation compatible with, or even
brought about by, technological change.
The current economic and social crisis in Greece, has
brought forward elements connected to the theme of political
participation which generally involved the urban youth and
some particular collectivities, which played an active part in
popular mobilizations since the beginning of the crisis. In gen-
eral, mobilizations shared one basic characteristic: they existed
offline and they mobilized by using online technologies as well
as traditional methods.
However, the group of unemployed/underemployed univer-
sity lecturers, presented an interesting differentiation to the
above: it became organized mainly because of the creation of
an internet platform via which news, ideas and methods of mo-
bilization could be rapidly exchanged.
The main narrative behind the study is connected to the fact
that because of the severity of the economic crisis the govern-
ment decided to freeze all newcomer lecturers from entering the
This platform is still a ctive at
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university system. These people, spread all over the country,
had very little contact with one another and great difficulty in
getting together in terms of collectively becoming organized.
This study utilized their online platform4 to ask them a series of
questions via an internet questionnaire in order to examine two
basic issues: firstly, whether they are active online and, se-
condly, whether their level of political participation and activity
grew because of using the net. This is a target group oriented
study which looks at people who have a rather high educational
background and who use the net on a, more or less, daily basis.
In order to correlate our online evidence we also conducted a
series of offline interviews with people who played a major role
behind organizing the whole group.
The interviews indicated that individuals who had no pre-
vious experience of collective action, came together almost by
chance, via looking up information over the net primarily fo-
cusing on the legal aspects of the government’s actions. In oth-
er words, the net was the instrument that brought them together
and it was over the net that they exchanged e-mails and person-
al info. They, very quickly, decided to meet offline and organ-
ize as a collective group. They subsequently decided to build up
a net site which in turn, became the major tool for disseminat-
ing info, exchanging ideas and organizing various offline
events. After the site was created membership grew rapidly
demanding their rights from the government in a more substan-
tial and organized manner. Evidence from the questionnaire
shows clearly that a huge majority (almost 95%) say that the
group would not have existed without the net site. In terms of
everyday organizational functioning of the group, almost eve-
rything is done online: informing the members, exchanging
ideas via the blog and the forum and holding virtual meetings to
decide on future activities.
The main quantitative findings of the research briefly indi-
cate the following:
Individuals are in the net every day, mostly for professional
reasons. Only 9% used the net for connecting to social me-
dia. Therefore, net penetration is high but that is not re-
flected onto social media penetration.
They use the net mostly as consumers rather than as crea-
tors of their own material. For example, 76% stated that
they never post messages relating to political content.
They also seem to participate more in activities such as
online petition signing.
A significant number of people (42%) became informed
about the creation of the group via the net.
Almost 87% said that they remain “ordinary members” of
the group.
About 74% stated that they never belonged to any political
party or such similar organization.
About 46% said that they never belonged to any other sort
of collective organization, such as an environmental or po-
litica l mo vement, etc.
Almost 70% said tha t they ha ve never been members of any
civil society organizations, NGO’s, etc.
The above evidence show that in general, people have had a
relatively low level of offline political participation and activity
which did not substantially improve because of net use. How-
ever an interesting point arose when we asked whether their
participation in the group increased the time they spend on the
net and by default whether it has improved their knowledge on
political and current affairs. About 22% responded positively to
the first question, and interestingly enough, almost 47% said
that they feel more informed via their participation in the group.
A number of respondents were positive when prompted to
indicate whether they feel more positively inclined to partici-
pate in public activities which have a political context. These
are people who used to be active in the past and who became
interested in political participation again due to the existence of
the group’s site. Their four main characteristics are as follows:
Individuals who post political messages over the net and
social me dia.
Individuals who participate in mailing lists.
Individuals who write in forums.
Individuals who regularly visit web pages of various social
In general, it seems that people who had experience in col-
lective action and/or direct political participation in the past and
who for various reasons were inactive, became interested again
because of the use of the group’s net site.
Evidence is unclear on whether the use of the net and/or so-
cial media with respect to political participation actually en-
hances activity and generates new forms of democratic en-
gagement. While it is highly noteworthy that online participa-
tion is the major cause for the generation of an offline collec-
tive organizational form, evidence also points to the fact that
use of the net is ephemeral and does not alter significantly the
basic political discourseof individuals. Although, for exam-
ple, it may slightly increase political knowledge, this does not
mean increased levels of participation which strongly correlate
to net use. Social movements and active individuals have exi sted
before the era of mass communication just as they do today. In
addition, a number of significant issues have come to the fore-
front such as whether community engagement and participation
changes because of digital transformation and whether political
communities actually become more active through the use of
social media. Therefore, what precisely it means to be politi-
cally active on or off the net, and whether democratic processes
are enhanced because of the net are questions for further re-
search and investigation.
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