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Petitioners versus activists: The case of Zwarte Piet and Facebook

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Zwarte Piet, literally translated as Black Pete, has created growing controversy for its racist undertones in the Dutch celebration of Sinterklaas. This paper looks at how Facebook users engage with the debate by quantitatively examining two Facebook pages: “Zwarte Piet is Racisme” (Black Piet is Racism, or ZPIR) and the pro-Zwarte Piet page called “Pietitie.” Analysis shows that ZPIR is a page oriented towards longer-term engagement. User engagement on ZPIR is also more intensive compared to Pietitie, which is very much an incident-based page. We argue that in this case, interpersonal discussion is more developed on a page designed to protest an issue, which may promote both civic participation and political activity of its users.

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Petitioners versus activists: The case of Zwarte Piet and Facebook

  1. 1. Petitioners versus activists: The case of Zwarte Piet and Facebook Janelle Ward Department of Media and Communication Erasmus Research Centre for Media, Communication and Culture Erasmus University Rotterdam Co-­‐authors: Damian Trilling, Anne Brons, and Koen Leurs
  2. 2. The Zwarte Piet controversy • Background (clip) • Zwarte Piet: Is 'Black Pete' a racist Dutch custom? (BBC) • Black Pete exposes the Netherlands' problem with race (The Guardian)
  3. 3. Two Facebook pages • In 2011, the organiza1on Zwarte Piet is Racisme (Black Piet is Racism, or ZPIR) began campaigning to change the tradi1on • In 2013 the Facebook page Pie11e was started to support the tradi1on
  4. 4. Zwarte Piet is Racisme “The Zwarte Piet is Racism campaign aims to create a Sinterklaas fes1val that celebrates togetherness, without racist overtones and without exclusion.”
  5. 5. Two Facebook pages • Pie11e: “Pie11e.nl is against the aboli1on of the Sinterklaas fes1val. In a simple manner we want to collect as many ‘likes’ as possible.”
  6. 6. Key question • How are Facebook users engaging with the Zwarte Piet debate?
  7. 7. Key concepts • Classic media theory (from 1940’s): two-­‐step process in forming poli1cal opinions (Lazarsfeld, Berelson, & Gaudet, 1948) • Interpersonal discussion on these sites fosters both civic par1cipa1on and poli1cal ac1vity (Zhang, Johnson, Seltzer, and Bichard, 2010). • Those with similar poli1cal views tend to s1ck together on social media (Himelboim, McCreery, & Smith, 2013)
  8. 8. How we did the research • Using the Facebook applica1on Netvizz, we retrieved posts and user comments on the Facebook pages ZPIR and Pie11e between October 22, 2013 and January 15, 2014. All analyses were performed with a Python-­‐script.
  9. 9. Results • Pie11e: of 2,112,570 million user likes, only 29 % of users further engaged with the site by liking, sharing, or commen1ng. • ZPIR: 70 % of users were engaged – 9,733 users out of 13,895 total user likes
  10. 10. Results • Pie11e: 40 posts. There were very few comments that were replies to other comments • ZPIR: 151 posts. Compared to Pie11e, interac1on between users was much higher: Every second comment was a reply to another comment
  11. 11. Results • The discussion on ZPIR was more substan1al than on Pie11e • Many comments on Pie11e consisted of the pure repe11on of some slogan rather than a discussion
  12. 12. Results
  13. 13. Conclusion • ZPIR is a page oriented towards longer-­‐term engagement • Interpersonal discussion is more developed on a page designed to protest an issue • But…numbers speak loudly • Results show how Facebook pages can be used in remarkably different ways
  14. 14. Thank you • Email: janelle.ward@gmail.com • Twitter: @janelle_ward

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