"First we go viral, then we sway the public": How Protest Affects Public Opinion in the Hybrid Media System. 01/11/2021 - 31/10/2025


How does protest affect public opinion in the hybrid media system? The past decade, social media have become a key instrument in protest movements' toolbox. To date, however, little work has thoroughly scrutinized how social media have altered movements' ability to generate attention and sway public opinion. This project asks: How do movements navigate social media to win the public's interest? To what extent and when do protests resonate on social media? And, how do protests affect individuals' perceptions via online messaging? To answer these questions, I follow a three-step approach. First, I explore movements' digital strategy to gain public support. I do so by means of in-depth interviews with movement communication strategists. Second, I compare social and mass media covering protests and examine to what extent and under which conditions protests succeed to resonate in the hybrid media system. I do so by means of a content analysis covering a large number of Belgian protests across a multitude of issues over a longer period of time (2017-2022). Third, I use vignette experiments to understand how both 'physical' and 'digital' features of protest affect individuals' beliefs, attitudes and behavior. The project breaks new ground in three particular ways. It (1) redefines the public opinion concept by studying audience analytics, (2) systematically compares mass and social media resonance, and (3) examines how movements play the "public opinion game" online.


Research team(s)

Project type(s)

  • Research Project