#idlenomore and social media: A first study

May 31, 2015

The First Nations protest movement differs from other similar movements

OTTAWA, May 31, 2015 — A new study says the issue of identity was front and centre in social media at the height of the Idle No More movement. In that respect, Idle No More differs from other recent large-scale grassroots protest movements, and in particular Occupy Wall Street and the Québec student protests of 2012, where economic and political issues dominated the social media debate.

The study is one of the first to ever provide a glimpse into the use of social media by an ethnocultural minority in Canada to promote its interests, drum up support and attempt to influence the political agenda. It will be presented at the 2015 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences in Ottawa. The study was conducted by Vincent Raynauld, an assistant professor in the Department of Communications Studies at Emerson College in Boston; Emmanuelle Richez, an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Windsor; and Derek Antoine, a doctoral student at Carleton University’s School of Journalism and Communications.

Idle No More is a protest movement against federal government policies on Canada’s First Nations. Launched in late 2012, it was at its strongest in 2013.

The study analyzed the content of 17,482 tweets with the hashtag #idlenomore between July 3 and August 2, 2013. The authors grouped the tweets into four categories: those offering information, those giving an opinion, those aimed at generating political action and those that criticize something. Raynauld says that in every category, a significant number of tweets with the hashtag #idlenomore included a cultural reference tied to the First Nations.

“The Idle No More movement is one of a series of grassroots movements that uses social media,” he says. “Social media played an important role in the growth of the movement and in its popularization. What interest us in this movement – and what make it unique—is its identity aspect.” He explains that during the Québec student strike in 2012—the so-called “Maple Spring”—the demands were mostly political and economic, and political and economic issues dominated in social media exchanges. But with Idle No More, identity issues dominated, and as a result references to this history and culture of First Nations were an important part of the social media postings—and this was the case even though many of the people who supported the movement were not from the First Nations.

In the next phase of the work, the researchers will look into what the predominance of the identity issue in social media really means.

Vincent Raynauld, Emmanuelle Richez and Derek Antoine will be presenting their research on June 2 at the 2015 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences in Ottawa. This presentation is called “The Idlenomore Effect: Unpacking Aboriginals' Use of Social Media for Identity-Based Civic and Policy Engagement” and will take place at 8:45 am on the University of Ottawa campus in the FSS building, in room 10003.

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