Dynamics of digitally networked leadership in #blacklivesmatter
Keywords:social movements, social media, networks, Black Lives Matter, Leadership, Twitter
Using the hashtag #blacklivesmatter, activists have given new impetus to aspirations of ‘leaderful’ organizing. Disavowing the centralization of leadership and rethinking the history of the struggle for civil rights, many have sought to develop and revamp models of decentralized leadership. Digital networking features prominently in these models, but the literature suggests its role is ambiguous: while social media provide affordances for decentralized leadership, they may also induce the centralization of leadership. To examine such leadership dynamics, we adopt a computational approach. Drawing on a dataset of roughly 18 million tweets collected over a 30-month period, we examine two aspects of leadership dynamics: the concentration of leadership (i.e., inequality in terms of centrality within networks) and the consolidation of leadership (i.e., the degree to which central figures retain prominence over time). Engaging with the measurement of network inequality by differentiating temporal aspects of concentration and consolidation, we show that leadership dynamics fluctuate strongly over time. Aside from a select few individuals, there is little consolidation of leadership: new voices can consistently rise to prominence. Beyond providing an examination of online leadership dynamics within the Movement for Black Lives, this paper shows how computational analyses can be adopted in ways that do justice to the dynamic and diverse nature of movements.
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