Does Social Media Promote Civic Activism?

Evidence from a Field Experiment in Bulgaria

Promoting democracy has also become more personal, by seeing me advocate for civic causes in my birth-country of Bulgaria. An award-winning campaign to save a park on social media generated a target of opportunity: a field experiment. The ink is still fresh on the resultant paper.

The paper is firstview in Political Science Research and Methods.  An ungated copy can be fetched from SSRN here.


We develop a set of theoretical expectations about the utility of social media as a tool for recruiting participants in a civic campaign, and as a medium capable of changing the views and knowledge of those recruited. We test our hypothesized relationships in a randomized field experiment deployed in Bulgaria. We find that online campaigns draw a sample of the population that distrust traditional institutions and believe in the leading role of civic society for social change. We also find more limited evidence that, only for those who distrust traditional institutions, being enrolled in the campaign changes expectations of success in a positive way. Our hypotheses and findings speak to a wide variety of citizen campaigns coordinated with social media, and have special relevance for countries between facade democracy and hybrid regime type where civic activity by necessity lives on the social network.

Earlier versions of this project were presented at the “Actors, Strategies and Tactics in Contentious Direct Action” workshop, PRIO, Oslo (May 8, 2014), at the SFB 884 Seminar Series at the University of Mannheim (February 9th, 2015), at the Research Seminar of the Center for International and Comparative Studies, ETH and Universitat Zuich (Feb. 19, 2015), at the V-Dem Project Speaker Series at the University of Gothenburg (March 31, 2015), seminars at Koc University and Sabanci Universities (Oct 21-22, 2015) and at the panel “Social Media and Political Participation” at the Annual Convention of the American Political Science Association, San Francisco (September 3-6, 2015). We thank participants for their comments. We are also grateful to Donald Green, Anna De La O, Peter Aronow, Andreas Landmann, Jamie Settle, Bjorn Vollan for helpful feedback. This project would not have been possible without the cooperation of the NGO-community in Bulgaria, fighting to preserve the environment. We thank Alpha Research for their professional and dedicated polling services. We thank Kaloyan Petrov (Designolog), head of our IT team, together with Nina Dyakova, research assistant, for being committed and tenacious throughout. We thank Moritz Marbach for assistance with R. We thank the Cooper Fund, ETH Zuich, for financial support of the project.  Usual disclaimer applies.  Names in alphabetical order, email contacts:,,,