Political protest 2.0: Social media and the 2012 student strike in the province of Quebec, Canada

Abstract

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.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The Millennial generation is comprised of individuals born between 1982 and 2002 (Howe and Strauss, 2000).

  2. 2.

    GGI is an acronym for ‘Grève Générale Illimitée’ (translation:unlimited general strike’).

  3. 3.

    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’.

  4. 4.

    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.

  5. 5.

    Bill 78 suspended the 2012 Winter semester until August.

  6. 6.

    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).

  7. 7.

    A total of 66 282 tweets with at least one #ggi hashtag were posted during this time period.

  8. 8.

    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.

  9. 9.

    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).

  10. 10.

    This hashtag means ‘protest in progress’.

  11. 11.

    CUTV is a web-based television network operated by Concordia University students.

  12. 12.

    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).

  13. 13.

    A specific study about the uses of the hyperlinks during the ggi strike is part of our larger research project.

  14. 14.

    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).

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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

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Keywords

  • social media
  • web politics
  • Twitter
  • Quebec
  • social movement
  • political protest