Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Strong and weak ties and the Alberta election

In round two of our networked collaboration lectures perspectives from Clay Shirky and Keith Hampton shed further light into the grassroots of networked groups and in particular, the Hampton article looks at how social networks motivate people through the democratic process.

The concept of bonding and bridging is introduced by Hampton to help readers understand where the strong and weak ties lay within social network relationships. It is that relationships of strong and weak ties where Hampton believes people feel safe to discuss such hot button things like politics (sound familiar ~ safety in social networks....Kadushin).

Hampton writes that, "citizens and society benefit from individual and collective action to address issues of public concern through activities outside of elections and government" (p. 4). He goes on to discuss that the collectives that are motivated along political lines demonstrate homophilous tendencies and if there is any dissention it comes from the periphery or those with weak ties.

This article was an 'a-ha' moment for me as I further saw concepts that we've covered in Phelan, Kadushin, Shirky and Benkler solidified in this simple paper. And on the heels of the Alberta election I could see the case study that unfolded on my Twitter feed for 23 days before we headed to the polls.

When the writ was dropped immediately the voices of some of my stronger Twitter ties were the loudest - and I expected them to be quick out of the gates, throwing their support behind a candidate. Thanks to the many ways that we are networked, as Hampton iterates, "these new technologies have the potential to fundamentally change the nature of social interaction and democratic engagement" (p. 8). 

After about two weeks of constant, in-your-face campaigning on behalf of political candidates, suddenly my strong Twitter ties grew silent as each of their candidates navigated PR minefields. As election day drew closer and the panic of a potential Wildrose Party government loomed it was the weaker of my Twitter ties that began to chime in ~ those who are traditionally not comfortable talking about their political choices in a public forum. I remember being fascinated by the action leading up to April 23 as panic settled in and Alberta residents felt threatened. 

Much like the Calgary mayoral campaign this past provincial election really motivated the netizens to become involved and cast their vote. Surprisingly though, voter turnout did not hit an all-time high. Just imagine the ways people can be engaged and inspired by the time the next election rolls around?

Image courtesy of: http://www.flickr.com/photos/royography/


  1. I hope that participation does grow and that people get involved. It would be great to see robust online voting - as the lines between online and geographical reality blur and murge, the distinctions will become meaningless and I think we the people will demand it.

    The other conclusion I reach is that although voter turnout was still relatively low, and what's up with that, the election results really illustrate the power of people on the margins to effect the outcome of an election. So when people say their vote doesn't count,we need to demonstrate to them that both their vote and their voices do count.

    Thanks, Andrea.

  2. Andrea, nice summary of Hampton's article! ... and a sophisticated application to a "real world" setting... Neat how this network theory stuff has some use, hey?

  3. I think the Twitter layer of your election experience is a really interesting addition to how websites enable strategic voting to a greater degree than ever before.