Hashtags, Twitter and civic engagement

Alison N. Novak, Kristine Johnson and Manuel Pontes examine how Latino communities use Twitter as a platform for civic and political engagement. Their article, ‘Latino Twitter: Discourses of Latino civic engagement in social media’, published recently in First Monday, offers a discourse analysis of the Latino population’s relationship with Twitter, focusing on the use of the #LatinoTwitter hashtag.

The research responds to the need for a greater understanding of how distinct communities use Twitter for civic engagement, given the platform’s significant role in contemporary popular and public discourse.  Novak, Johnson, and Pontes collected and analyzed Twitter data related to #LatinoTwitter, the most popular hashtag for the digital Latino community, from 2014-2016. Their study identified four discourses that emerged from the data set: racial positionality, social and civic purposes, information sharing, and promotion.

Tweets identified as a discourse of racial positionality offered expressions of identity, community, and culture, and countered mainstream representations. Posts that called for action and protest, or responded to rhetoric about the community were identified as discourse with social and civic purpose. The use of the #LatinoTwitter hashtag to circulate news and research on Latino experiences was recognized as a discourse of information sharing. The study also found a discourse of promotion, formed by user interactions or endorsements from and around celebrated Latino public figures.    

The patterns that emerge from the study demonstrate the diverse ways that members of the Latino community leverage Twitter to communicate identity, culture and politics. The responses to political systems, channels, and rhetoric in the data set point to the use of Twitter as a tool for change, participation, and strategic campaigning. Even as it calls for deeper explorations of community uses of Twitter, the study offers beginning evidence of how Twitter facilitates and contextualizes community communications – and discusses the implications for future research.  

Photo: longislandwins/Flickr/cc

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