Advocating for culture in turbulent times: Online petitions on Facebook before and during Covid-19: Invent report D5.2

Sylvia Maria Holla , Ossi Sirkka, Neta Yodovich , Geffen Ben David , Susanne Janssen , Alysa Karels, Eva Myrczik, Ratko Nikolić , Lucas Page Pereira, Jordi López-Sintas, Sebastian Weingartner, Simon Walo , Željka Zdravković

Tutkimustuotos: Työpaperi


This report describes the findings from the second phase (of three) of web data scraping exploring the multifaceted ways in which culture is discussed bottom-up online. While phase I laid out the most prominent topics and discussions in relation to culture on twitter, this phase explores a more specific phenomenon. The focus of this data scraping phase II is on e-petitions, more specifically those related to culture. We are now taking a closer look at the question “What do people talk about when they talk about culture with the intention of making a difference or achieving a defined cultural goal?”. As part of INVENT’s ethos of bottom-up approach, we chose to focus on petitions, as they hold potential for
studying digital cultural participation from such approach. The research design addressed both the discussions on the online platform Facebook, as well as the petitions mentioned in those posts. To what extent are cultural issues addressed through petitions online? To approach this question, all INVENT partner countries first collected data from public Facebook posts mentioning “petition”, then filtered those results with keywords directly relating to the concept of culture. These keywords were derived from previous data collection efforts, mainly using results from a previous INVENT survey.
These cultural petition posts were then analysed with a script in the programming language R, defining dominant topics through topic modelling, as well as the most trending posts and petitions. These trending posts were further divided into two analytical time frames: before the outbreak of the COVID-
19 pandemic (January 2018 - March 2020) and during the first two years of the pandemic (March 2020 – December 2021).
The data scraping shows that e-petitioning is a form of civil involvement that is prevalent in all investigated countries, albeit to different extents. While in many countries, governmental bodies are addressed on general e-petition platforms, where all sorts of topics, petitioners, and addressees can be found, other countries’ governments maintain their own e-petitioning platform. E-petitioning
lowers the threshold of political participation and societal engagement for many people, especially compared to the traditional form of paper petitioning. We observed several affordances of e-petitions.
Besides influencing policy and decision-making and changing a government’s course, e-petitions fulfil, amongst others, functions like the expression of dissatisfaction and frustration; forming or finding like-minded communities; or alerting others.
The analysis portrays a general overview of cultural issues being discussed through petitions in the INVENT partner countries. We identified seven themes pertaining to the most trending cultural issues discussed on Facebook through online petitions, both on supranational and national levels. (1) children
and education, (2) social equality and human rights, (3) social inequality and rifts, (4) national/international rifts, (5) climate change/sustainability, (6) COVID-19 pandemic, and (7) popular culture. The differences between the countries are mainly embodied in the particular focus each country places within each theme. All countries are concerned with similar causes, but the ways
citizens suggest tackling specific issues differ.
This report demonstrates a wide variety of themes that are linked to culture that people across nine European countries deem worth advocating for via online petitioning. The diversity of cultural themes that we found stems from an open and broad conceptualization of culture that we employ in this
research. The diversity of cultural petitions that resulted from this data collection and analysis also confirms that such a broad conceptualization of culture is required to bring all cultural interests and forms of expression into view. These findings and observations give occasion for recommendations for
the development of inclusive and contemporary cultural policies. On the overall level, employing an open and broad view on culture is necessary to achieve the imperative of inclusiveness, and thus making culture accessible to all European citizens.
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