Recent years have been marked by the emergence of a new breed of grassroots-intensive protest phenomena that have challenged the dominance of political elites in several advanced liberal democracies. Whether it is the transnational Occupy movement, the Idle No More movement in Canada or the student-led demonstrations in Chile, these social-media-fuelled mobilization initiatives have quickly mobilized narrow segments of the public and have succeeded in forcing formal political actors to acknowledge their presence. In some cases, they have encouraged them to take some of their demands into account in their decision making. This trend is demonstrative of a growing political engagement disconnect between formal political players (for example: government agencies, political parties) and members of the citizenry. Although most of the former are still relying heavily on politicking strategies tailored for citizens adhering to the dutiful citizenship model, a growing portion of the latter are turning to informal forms of political action better suited to their personal preferences, interests and goals. Specifically, citizens’ involvement in politics is increasingly driven by short- or mid-term priorities or considerations linked to their private lives and progressively less by their adherence to a broader ideology, their party allegiances or their concern for the greater societal good. This article examines one of these protest movements: the 2012 student movement against university tuition hikes in the province of Quebec, Canada, also known as ‘Maple Spring’. Although some facets of this political mobilization phenomenon have been studied in recent years, little is known about its internal dynamic and, more importantly, social media’s role in its overall functioning. This article offers an in-depth look at the #ggi tweeting dynamic between 22 April 2012 and 31 July 2012. Specifically, a hybrid quantitative and qualitative content analysis approach is used to determine in what way, to what extent, and for what reasons different Quebec political players were involved in this protest movement. Moreover, this article explores the links between traditional media and citizens’ discourse on Twitter. The findings suggest that the former informed the latter as protesters frequently used news reports or commentary to support their positions. From a broader perspective, the findings provide a new look at political tweeting as few scholars have conducted a qualitative analysis of political tweets.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
The Millennial generation is comprised of individuals born between 1982 and 2002 (Howe and Strauss, 2000).
GGI is an acronym for ‘Grève Générale Illimitée’ (translation: ‘unlimited general strike’).
According to Sorochan (2012), this rise of university tuition fees would have brought ‘Quebec’s tuition to a similar level as that found in other Canadian provinces’.
Fifty-one per cent of the post-secondary Quebec student population belonging to two major student unions and one temporary coalition of student unions, the CLASSÉ, that was more radical.
Bill 78 suspended the 2012 Winter semester until August.
Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois was a key player during the Maple Spring as he served as co-spokesperson for the Coalition large de l’Association pour une Solidarité Syndicale Étudiante (CLASSE).
A total of 66 282 tweets with at least one #ggi hashtag were posted during this time period.
It should be noted that 14.84 per cent of the hyperlinks included in the #ggi tweets selected for this study were broken at the moment of analysis.
While the prototypical formulation of a @retweet is ‘RT @username ABC’, other syntaxes, such as ‘R/T ABC’, ‘RT: @ ABC’, ‘RT (via @) ABC’ and ‘HT @ ABC’, have gained some traction in a bottom-up fashion in the Twitterverse since 2007 (Boyd et al, 2011).
This hashtag means ‘protest in progress’.
CUTV is a web-based television network operated by Concordia University students.
Vincent Lacroix was a Quebec financial advisor who was convicted for stealing 113.5 million dollars from 9000 investors over several years. Lacroix was sentenced to 18 years of prison for fraud and other infractions. He served 3 years in prison before being released under certain condition in February 2014 (see Laprade, 2015).
A specific study about the uses of the hyperlinks during the ggi strike is part of our larger research project.
Participatory surplus can be defined as a ‘huge, and largely unused’ pool of political energy that individuals and organizations are ready to invest in order to ‘contribute to efforts and causes larger than themselves’ (Blaser et al, 2009, p. 1).
Agarwal, S.D., Barthel, M.L., Rost, C., Borning, A., Bennett, W.L. and Johnson, C.N. (2014) Grassroots organizing in the digital age: Considering values and technology in tea party and occupy wall street. Information, Communication & Society 17 (3): 326–341.
Asselin, O. (2012) Carré rouge. Le destin politique d’une forme colorée. Theory & Event 15 (3): Supplement.
Bastos, M.T., Raimundo, R.L.G. and Travitzki, R. (2013) Gatekeeping Twitter: Message diffusion in political hashtags. Media, Culture & Society 35 (2): 260–270.
Baxter, G. and Marcella, R. (2013) Online parliamentary election campaigns in Scotland. eJournal of eDemocracy & Open Government 5 (2): 107–127.
Bekkers, V., Moody, R. and Edwards, A. (2011) Micro‐mobilization, social media and coping strategies: Some Dutch experiences. Policy & Internet 3 (4): 1–29.
Bennett, W.L. and Tolf, A. (2010) Identity, technology, and narratives. Transnational activism and social networks. In: A. Chadwick and P.N. Howard (eds.) The Routledge Handbook of Internet Politics. New York: Routledge, pp. 246–260.
Bennett, W.L. and Segerberg, A. (2011) Digital media and the personalization of collective action: Social technology and the organization of protests against the global economic crisis. Information, Communication & Society 14 (6): 770–799.
Bimber, B., Flanagin, A. and Stohl, C. (2012) Collective Action in Organizations: Interaction and Engagement in an Era of Technological Change. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.
Blanchet-Cohen, N., Warner, A., Di Mambro, G. and Bedeaux, C. (2013) ‘Du carré rouge aux casseroles’: A context for youth-adult partnership in the Québec student movement. International Journal of Child, Youth and Family Studies 4 (3.1): 444–463.
Blaser, B., Weinberger, D. and Trippi, J. (2009) Digital government through social networks: How citizens can aggregate their money and votes to define digital government. In: S. Ae Chun, R. Sandoval and P. Regan (eds.) Proceedings of the 10th Annual Digital Government Society of North America. California: Digital Government Society of North America, pp. 19–24.
Bode, L. and Dalrymple, K.E. (2014) Politics in 140 characters or less: Campaign communication, network interaction, and political participation on Twitter. Journal of Political Marketing (ahead-of-print online published article).
Bonenfant, M. (2013) Le printemps québécois: Une anthologie. Montréal, Canada: Écosociété.
Boulianne, S. (2015) Social media use and participation: A meta-analysis of current research. Information, Communication & Society 18 (5): 524–538.
Boyd, D., Golder, S. and Lotan, G. (2011) Tweet, tweet, retweet: Conversational aspects of retweeting on Twitter. Paper presented at the 43rd Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences; Hawaii.
Carr, D. (2012) Hashtag activism, and its limits. The New York Times.http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/26/business/media/hashtag-activism-and-its-limits.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0, accessed 24 August 2015.
Catalano, T. and Creswell, J.W. (2013) Understanding the language of the occupy movement: A cognitive linguistic analysis. Qualitative Inquiry 19 (9): 664–673.
Chadwick, A. (2013) The Hybrid Media System: Politics and Power. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Cipriana, J.-P. (2012) Crise étudiante: la sève a coulé au printemps 2012. Le Huffington Post Québec. http://quebec.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/12/06/je-me-souviens-crise-etudiante-quebec_n_2245608.html, accessed 24 August 2015.
Copeland, L. and Römmele, A. (2014) Beyond the base? Political parties, citizen activists, and digital media use in the 2009 German federal election campaign. Journal of Information Technology & Politics 11 (2): 169–185.
Croeser, S. and Highfield, T. (2014) Occupy Oakland and# oo: Uses of twitter within the occupy movement. First Monday, 19(3). http://ojphi.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/4827/3846, accessed 24 August 2015.
Cyr, M.A. (2012) La dignité contre l’État: récit d’une lutte étudiante au Québec. Variations. Revue internationale de théorie critique (17). http://variations.revues.org/413, accessed 24 August 2015.
DeLuca, K.M., Lawson, S. and et Sun, Y. (2013) Occupy wall street on the public screens of social media: The many framings of the birth of a protest movement. Communication, Culture & Critique 5 (4): 483–509.
Duchaine, G. (2012) De la rue à l’urne. La Presse 11 August, http://www.lapresse.ca/actualites/elections-quebec-2012/201208/11/01-4564226-de-la-rue-a-lurne.php, accessed 24 August 2015.
Ems, L. (2014) Twitter’s place in the tussle: How old power struggles play out a new stage. Media, Culture & Society 36 (5): 720–731.
Evans, H.K., Cordova, V. and Sipole, S. (2014) Twitter style: An analysis of how house candidates used twitter in their 2012 campaigns. PS: Political Science & Politics 47 (2): 454–462.
Francoli, M., Greenberg, J. and Waddell, C. (2011) The campaign in the digital media. In: J. Pammett and C. Dornan (eds.) The Canadian Federal Election of 2011. Toronto, Canada: Dundurn Press Ltd, pp. 219–246.
Gallant, N., Latzo-Toth, G. and Pastinelli, M. (2015) Circulation de l’information sur les médias sociaux pendant la grève étudiante de 2012 au Québec, Centre d’études sur les médias. http://cem.ulaval.ca/pdf/CirculationInformation.pdf, accessed 24 August 2015.
Garcia, C., Parraguez, P., Barahona, M. and Gloor, P. (2012) Tracking the 2011 student-led collective movement in Chile through social media use. In: M. Bernstein (ed.) Proceedings Chair. Boston, MIT.
Giasson, T., Greffet, F. and Chacon, G. (2014) Digital campaigning in a comparative perspective: Online strategies in the 2012 elections in France and Québec. Paper presented at the Biennial congress of the international political science association; montreal, July.
Giasson, T., Le Bars, G., Bastien, F. and Verville, M. (2013) #Qc2012: l’utilisation de Twitter par les partis. In: F. Bastien, E. Bélanger and F. Gélineau (eds.) Les Québécois aux urnes. Les partis, les médias et les citoyens en campagne. Montréal, Canada: Presses de l'Université de Montréal, pp. 133–146.
Gibson, R.K. (2015) Party change, social media and the rise of ‘citizen-initiated’ campaigning. Party politics 21 (2): 183–197.
Gil de Zúñiga, H., Copeland, L. and Bimber, B. (2014) Political consumerism: Civic engagement and the social media connection. New Media & Society 16 (3): 488–506.
Giroux, D. and Charlton, S. (2014a) Les médias et la crise étudiante: traitement du conflit par la presse quotidienne montréalaise. Centre d’études sur les médias.
Giroux, D. and Charlton, S. (2014b) Les médias et la crise étudiante: traitement du conflit par les réseaux de télévision. Centre d’études sur les médias.
Giroux, H.A. (2013) The Quebec student protest movement in the age of neoliberal terror. Social Identities 19 (5): 515–535.
Gruzd, A. and Roy, J. (2014) Investigating political polarization on twitter: A Canadian perspective. Policy & Internet 6 (1): 28–45.
Harlow, S. (2012) Social media and social movements: Facebook and an online Guatemalan justice movement that moved offline. New Media & Society 14 (2): 225–243.
Howe, N. and Strauss, W. (2000) Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation. New York: Vintage.
Jensen, M.J. and Bang, H.P. (2013) Occupy wall street: A new political form of movement and community? Journal of Information Technology & Politics 10 (4): 444–461.
Jochems, S., Millette, M. and Millette, J. (2013) Hybridization of engagement practices: Use of communications technology during the Quebec red square movement. Networking Knowledge: Journal of the MeCCSA-PGN 6 (3): 38–56.
Julien, F. (2013) Le printemps érable comme choc idéologique. Cultures & Conflits 3 (87): 152–159.
Karpf, D. (2012) The MoveOn Effect. The Unexpected Transformation of American Political Advocacy. London: Oxford.
Kavada, A. (2015) Creating the collective: social media, the Occupy Movement and its constitution as a collective actor. Information, Communication & Society 18 (8): 872–886.
Kiousis, S., Kim, J.Y., Carnifax, A.C. and Kochhar, S. (2014) Exploring the role of the senate majority leader’s political public relations efforts. Public Relations Review 40 (3): 615–617.
Kwak, H., Lee, C., Park, H. and Moon, S. (2010) What is twitter, a social network or a news media? In Proceedings of the 19th International Conference on World Wide Web. New York: Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), pp. 591–600.
Lacombe, S. (2013) Les enfants gâtés d’une province parasite: Perception du printemps québécois dans trois quotidiens anglo-canadiens à grand tirage. Recherches Sociographiques 54 (3): 553–575.
Lalancette, M. (2013) Not quite a biopic: les web – mises en scène des candidats aux élections québécoises de 2012. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Canadian Political Science Association; Victoria, Canada.
Laprade, S. (2015) Norbourg, 10 ans plus tard. La Presse 23 August. http://affaires.lapresse.ca/dossiers/litiges-economiques/201508/23/01-4894703-norbourg-10-ans-plus-tard.php, accessed 24 August 2015.
Larsson, A.O. (2014) Everyday elites, citizens or extremists? Assessing the use and users of non-election political hashtags. MedieKultur. Journal of Media and Communication Research 30 (56): 61–78.
Lempert, D. (2014) The future of social movement research: Dynamics, mechanisms, and processes. New Political Science 36 (2): 284–287.
Loader, B.D. and Mercea, D. (2011) Networking democracy? Social media innovations and participatory politics. Information, Communication & Society 14 (6): 757–769.
Loader, B.D., Vromen, A. and Xenos, M.A. (2014) The networked young citizen: Social media, political participation and civic engagement. Information, Communication & Society 17 (2): 143–150.
Maireder, A. and Schwarzenegger, C. (2012) A movement of connected individuals: Social media in the Austrian student protests 2009. Information, Communication & Society 15 (2): 171–195.
Mascaro, C.M. and Goggins, S.P. (2011) Brewing up citizen engagement: the coffee party on facebook. Proceedings of the 5th International Conference on Communities and Technologies. New York: Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), pp. 11–20.
Mascaro, C.M., Novak, A.N. and Goggins, S.P. (2012) The daily brew: The structural evolution of the coffee party on facebook during the 2010 United States midterm election season. Journal of Information Technology & Politics 9 (3): 234–253.
McKelvey, K., DiGrazia, J. and Rojas, F. (2014) Twitter publics: How online political communities signaled electoral outcomes in the 2010 US house election. Information, Communication & Society 17 (4): 436–450.
Mediastyle.ca, Abacus Data and Full Duplex (2013) How do Canadians engage politically with social media? http://abacusinsider.com/politics-public-affairs/canadians-engage-politically-social-media/, accessed 24 August 2015.
Milkman, R., Luce, S. and Lewis, P. (2012) Changing the subject: A bottom-up account of Occupy Wall Street in New York City. Report from the Joseph F. Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies at the City University of New York. http://sps.cuny.edu/filestore/1/5/7/1_a05051d2117901d/1571_92f562221b8041e.pdf, accessed 24 August 2015.
Millette, M., Milette, J. and Proulx, S. (2012) Hashtags et casseroles: de l’auto-organisation du mouvement social étudiant. Special Issue Out of The Mouths of the ‘casseroles’: textes qui bougent au rythme du carré rouge. WI Journal of Mobile Media 6 (2): 1–8.
Morozov, E. (2011) The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom, 1st edn. New York: Public Affairs.
Nadeau-Dubois, G. (2013) Tenir tête. Montréal, Canada: Lux.
Neuman, W.R., Bimber, B. and Hindman, M. (2011) The internet and four dimensions of citizenship. In: R.Y. Shapiro and L.R. Jacobs (eds.) The Oxford Handbook of American Public Opinion and the Media. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, pp. 22–42.
Papacharissi, Z. (2010) A Private Sphere. Democracy in a Digital Age. London: Polity.
Pis, E. (2012) #Printempsétable: Digital media and mobilization in Quebec’s mobilization movement. Anuari Del Conflicte Social: 467–486.
Raynauld, V. (2013) The perfect political storm? The Tea Party movement, the redefinition of the digital political mediascape, and the birth of online politicking 3.0. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Carleton University, Ottawa.
Raynauld, V. and Greenberg, J. (2014) Tweet, click, vote: Twitter and the 2010 Ottawa municipal election. Journal of Information Technology & Politics 11 (4): 412–434.
Rocheleau, S. (2012) Tactiques de communication et retombées médiatiques de la manifestation «Colère générale contre le gouvernement libéral. Commposite 15 (1–2): 33–47.
Roebuck, N.K.E. and Beange, P. (2013) The 2011 Canadian federal election: have Canadian political parties finally made the jump to social media? Paper presented at the meeting of the Canadian Political Science Association; Victoria, Canada.
Samara (2013) Lightweights? Political participation beyond the ballot box. Samara Democracy Report #6.
Sauvageau, F. and Thibault, S. (2013) Tout voir et tout entendre, mais sans comprendre! Le conflit étudiant et les défaillances des médias. Recherches sociographiques 54 (3): 531–552.
Sawchuk, K. (2012) La grève est étudiant/e, la lutte est populaire: the Québec student strike. Canadian Journal of Communication 37 (3): 449–504.
Scherman, A., Arriagada, A. and Valenzuela, S. (2015) Student and environmental protests in Chile: The role of social media. Politics 35 (2): 151–171.
Segerberg, A. and Bennett, W.L. (2011) Social media and the organization of collective action: Using twitter to explore the ecologies of two climate change protests. The Communication Review 14 (3): 197–215.
Shirky, C. (2008) Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations. New York, NY: Penguin.
Simard, M. (2013) Histoire du mouvement étudiant québécois 1956-2013. Des Trois Braves aux carrés rouges. Québec. Québec, Canada: Presses de l’Université Laval.
Small, T. (2010) Canadian politics in 140 characters: Party politics in the Twitterverse. Canadian Parliamentary Review 33 (3): 39–45.
Small, T.A. (2011) What the hashtag? A content analysis of Canadian politics on twitter. Information, Communication & Society 14 (6): 872–895.
Small, T.A. (2012a) E‐government in the age of social media: An analysis of the Canadian government’s use of twitter. Policy & Internet 4 (3-4): 91–111.
Small, T.A. (2012b) The not‐so social network: The use of Twitter by Canada’s party leaders. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Canadian Political Science Association; Edmonton, Canada.
Small, T.A. (2014) Tone on twitter: online negativity in Canadian elections. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Canadian Political Science Association; St. Catharines, Canada.
Smith, A. (2013) Civic engagement in the digital age. Pew Research Center research report.
Solow-Niederman, A.G. (2010) The power of 140 characters? #IranElection and social movements in web 2.0. Intersect 3 (1): 30–39.
Sorochan, C. (2012) The quebec student strike – A chronology. Theory & Event 15 (3):Online supplement.
Strandberg, K. (2013) A social media revolution or just a case of history repeating itself? The use of social media in the 2011 finnish parliamentary elections. New Media & Society 15 (8): 1329–1347.
Theocharis, Y., Lowe, W., van Deth, J.W. and García-Albacete, G. (2015) Using twitter to mobilize protest action: Online mobilization patterns and action repertoires in the occupy wall street, Indignados, and Aganaktismenoi movements. Information, Communication & Society 18 (2): 202–220.
Turcotte, A. and Raynauld, V. (2014) Boutique populism: The emergence of the tea party movement in the age of digital politics. In: J. Lees-Marshment, B. Conley and K. Cosgrove (eds.) Political Marketing in the US. New York: Routledge, pp. 61–84.
Tumasjan, A., Sprenger, T.O., Sandner, P.G. and Welpe, I.M. (2010) Election forecasts with twitter: How 140 characters reflect the political landscape. Social Science Computer Review 29 (4): 402–418.
Valenzuela, S. (2013) Unpacking the use of social media for protest behavior: The roles of information, opinion expression, and activism. American Behavioral Scientist 57 (7): 920–942.
Valenzuela, S., Arriagada, A. and Scherman, A. (2012) The social media basis of youth protest behavior: The case of Chile. Journal of Communication 62 (2): 299–314.
Van Dijck, J. and Poell, T. (2013) Understanding social media logic. Media and Communication 1 (1): 2–14.
Van Laer, J. and Van Aelst, P. (2010) Internet and social movement action repertoires: Opportunities and limitations. Information, Communication & Society 13 (8): 1146–1171.
Vegh, S. (2003) Classifying forms of online activism: The case of cyberprotests against the world bank. In: M. McCaughey and M.D. Ayers (eds.) Cyberactivism: Online Activism in Theory and Practice. New York: Routledge, pp. 71–95.
Vissers, S. and Stolle, D. (2013) How do I change politics? Evaluating the effectiveness of political participation modes. Paper presented at the annual Meeting of the Canadian Political Science Association; Victoria, Canada.
Webster, J.G. and Ksiazek, T.B. (2012) The dynamics of audience fragmentation: Public attention in an age of digital media. Journal of communication 62 (1): 39–56.
Weinstock, D. (2012) Occupy, indignados, et le printemps étable: vers un agenda de recherche. McGill Law Journal 58 (2): 243–262.
Wilson, J. (2011) Playing with politics: Political fans and twitter faking in post-broadcast democracy. Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies 17 (4): 445–461.
Xenos, M., Vromen, A. and Loader, B.D. (2014) The great equalizer? Patterns of social media use and youth political engagement in three advanced democracies. Information, Communication & Society 17 (2): 151–167.
Yamamoto, M., Kushin, M.J. and Dalisay, F. (2015) Social media and mobiles as political mobilization forces for young adults: Examining the moderating role of online political expression in political participation. New Media & Society 17 (6): 880–898.
About this article
Cite this article
Raynauld, V., Lalancette, M. & Tourigny-Koné, S. Political protest 2.0: Social media and the 2012 student strike in the province of Quebec, Canada. Fr Polit 14, 1–29 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1057/fp.2015.22
- social media
- web politics
- social movement
- political protest