Activist Networks online- Methodological experiments - New Trends in eHumanities

Iina Hellsten, VU Free University Amsterdam


October 4, 2012

Activist Networks online: Methodological experiments

Rapid rise of web-based media for communication poses new theoretical and methodological challenges for organization sciences, for instance the tactical repertoires of activist groups are broadening and the Internet offers an instant platform for debate over firm – activist group relationship. We will use data available in the Internet to study the way activist group networks try to target companies on issues of corporate social responsibility (CSR) on the Web. We focus on activist networks around SOMO, the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations ( (de Bakker & Hellsten, 2011).

The way networks of activist groups operate online versus firms on issues of CSR is an emerging field of research. What is the virtual presence of complex networks of activist groups? To what extent do they use the web to frame certain issues? What could these websites teach us in terms of activists’ institutional change efforts? Answers to these questions require collaboration between computer sciences (tools and software for tracking and modelling online activism networks) and social scientists (providing theoretical research questions and interpreting the resulting networks).

In the KNAW Academy Assistant project “Mapping Online Activist Networks” MONA (lead by  Frank de Bakker, Iina Hellsten in the Faculty of Social Sciences & Lora Aroyo in the Faculty of Computer sciences, at the VU Amsterdam, the Network Institute), we focus on developing new, semi-automated tools for mapping the virtual presence of activist networks on the Web, the content they communicate online and the tactics they use in this communication. These three steps are analysed with different methods: virtual presence is mapped using hyperlink networks, the content of communications with semantic co-word maps and the tactics using event-centered model, called ACTEVE (ACTivist EVEnts) model. In the eHumanities presentation results of using these three methods will be presented and further avenues of methodological experimenting will be discussed.


Dr. Iina Hellsten is Associate Professor at the VU University Amsterdam, Department of Organization Sciences and affiliated to the Network Institute at the VU. Her research has focused on the politics of metaphors, the dynamics of social avalanches in communication networks, and the development of new methods for the analysis of Web based texts. Her current research interests focus on the dynamics of social avalanches – tracking networks of communication, see

She is leading the research projects on Climate change as a complex social issue (funded by the NWO and ESRC in the ORA scheme, 2011-2014),  Inter-organizational dynamics of economic crisis (funded by NWO-Aspasia, 2011-2015), Mapping online activist networks (KNAW-assistants project (programme led by Prof. Groenewegen), together with Dr. Frank de Bakker and Dr. Lora Aroyo, 2011-2013) and Spreading of metaphors and key-phrases on the Web (KNAW-assistants project together with prof. Vossen and Prof. Steen, 2012-2013).

(Presentation slides)