2: Activists’ Quest for Information Amid Data Abundance

Chapter 2 centres on the process of finding information. It suggests that a significant aspect of activists’ daily political work includes the constant gathering, assembling, combining, collecting and storing of different types of data, which activists then seek to transform into relevant information. Chapter 2 demonstrates how activists collect data from various media devices and services, such as newspaper articles, radio programmes listened to while driving, and social media platforms accessed through smartphones and tablets. It indicates that the information they want to obtain is linked to various political actors, also including the movement organizations of the activists themselves. Chapter 2 also illustrates how activists carry out the practice of finding information by constantly monitoring their media coverage and regularly checking digital media analytics. Finally, Chapter 2 explains two difficulties that activists encounter when searching for information: the many different temporalities involved in the datastream, and the data overload that activists have to deal during their daily grassroots political work.

Kosmas works as a press agent within a Greek union. He agreed to do an interview with us and decided to meet us at his office. When we arrived in front of his desk, there was something that immediately attracted our attention: several piles of newspapers and weeklies were occupying a significant portion of his working space right next to his desktop computer. Without moving the newspapers and weeklies from his desk, Kosmas told us to sit in front of another little table next to his. The presence of the print press was so noticeable in his office that it was one of the first things we ended up covering in the interview. Kosmas explained this presence as follows: “Of course I am reading newspapers as well. If you work for a press office, it is an imperative to read newspapers … If you want to have a wider view of what is happening, you have to read some leading papers in Greece as well.”

As a press agent, Kosmas always needs to remain up-to-date on the main issues at stake within Greek political agendas, including the reactions to relevant political events of the key political actors, be they political leaders, single parliamentarians, or unionists. However, Kosmas was extremely clear to us concerning the role of legacy media such as newspapers in fulfilling this task: he cannot rely simply on Greek newspapers: “I most prefer to have a look on TV and social media as well, because social media transfer the first views of key opinion leaders about what has been said. You have a very early image of how some players absorb the key messages coming from the political arena.”

What is problematic, for Kosmas, is the timing of the print press; since newspapers are published the day after something happens, they may provide good commentaries while being unable to follow the political debate as it develops live. For Kosmas, to know what to say and when on the day of the event, but also to be able to steer the discussion within his own movement organization, means searching for information on what other political actors say as they say it. In this regard, social media are the best option; according to Kosmas, they are able to convey the very first viewpoints of key opinion leaders in Greece about political events and, additionally, about what other relevant political actors have said. Through social media, it is possible to understand – almost live – how political actors interpret what other political actors have just said. This is vital for Kosmas: when something big is at stake, like a massive demonstration, he privileges social media over more traditional news sources. However, as he reminded us several times during his interview, “the newspapers are still setting the ordinary media agenda in Greece”.

After having commented on both legacy media and social media, Kosmas showed us the private monitoring news platform through which he keeps a regular eye on the media coverage across a wide spectrum of media outlets, which are not necessarily specialized in the production of news. He commented on the platform while showing us how it works on his computer:

‘I have a privilege [in] using this platform because sometimes I am over-informed. I have a broad view of what is happening [when] using this media platform. This is a private monitoring news platform but they are not producing news, they are reproducing printed media. I’ll show you on the screen: this is the news, all the sections – industry, energy, environment, corporate governance and labor issues, finances, and so on. I click on that and this is all the previous information regarding labor issues today. This is media coverage. You also have TV, radio, and social media. And if you learn how to use this platform, you can dive deep [into] the news very quickly.’

Kosmas’s words effectively convey one of the challenges he faces on a daily basis, as do many of the other activists we interviewed in the three countries. Searching for information does not only mean knowing where to find it and having the right tools – even in the form of a digital platform – to spell it out. For research to be fruitful, one must also know how to put together not only the most relevant but also the most solid information. To do so, activists must orient themselves in a data stream in which data are abundant but scattered, hence demanding to be recombined; only thus can they constitute key information for activists, allowing them to carry out their daily grassroots political engagement at their best.

As we will see later in this chapter, both legacy and social media produce important data sequences for activists, albeit with differences. More specifically, when considering the material side of such practice, we will show that activists rely on three main configurations of data sequences. First, activists may read printed newspapers, watch television, and listen to the radio, either online or offline. When they do so, they collate a series of news sources that are relevant to them, or they employ the press review put together by someone else in their organization. Second, activists may use social media platforms to understand what people are saying and therefore gather information not on specific topics, but rather on a more general climate of opinion that is useful to fine-tune the medium-term goals of their activists’ organizations. Finally, activists may rely on automated services that combine their chosen settings and expressed preferences on what they want to be informed about with a selection of news that the service’s built-in algorithm considers relevant for that activist.

In so doing, activists alternate and combine data coming in at different paces and in different formats on a daily basis. They do not prefer one over another; they need all of them, but as we will show in this chapter, sometimes it is difficult for activists to combine them to shape meaningful information. On the one hand, activists have to take into account the existence of different data temporalities: although the data stream is generally continuous and always available to activists, not all the data sequences that activists engage in come at the same rhythm – some are extremely fast, others just fast, and still others are slow. On the other hand, activists have to deal with the fact that they enter into contact with data in a seamless way, hence dealing with data overload that makes it difficult, sometimes even impossible, to transform data into information that is meaningful to them. To cope with these two challenges, activists need to exercise agency over the data stream, and they do this in two different yet interlinked ways. First, we will show that they employ multiple temporalities to their advantage: the slowness of some data sequences, like those derived from face-to-face interactions, serves to better interpret faster data sequences, like those coming from social media, framing them in ways that resonate with the activists and their needs. Second, we will discuss the different methods through which activists engage in data filtering and data ordering activities: from the rare employment of algorithmic support via the much more common recourse to personal knowledge of different types of media to a reliance on the support of reference people, including other activists. Before proceeding with this discussion, however, we will briefly define the practice of information gathering in order to explain why it is important to activists in their day-to-day actions.

Defining the practice of information gathering

Regardless of its format and pace, information is always extremely relevant for activists who need to know what is going on, how they can make their decisions, and thanks to whom; this depends on how they can coordinate the workflow within their activists’ organizations and strategize collective actions and mobilizations. Activists need information to understand what opportunities they have to act successfully so as to obtain political change or, on the contrary, when it is better to step back and wait for the right moment to mobilize. In this regard, social movement literature stresses that activists need to perceive, and gain knowledge of, the opportunities that a political system or a political conjuncture offers them in terms of mobilization (Goodwin and Jasper, 2004). Along the same lines, activists also need to understand what the best message would be to connect with the general public, and who their potential supporters and likely allies would be when they mobilize. Again, social movement scholars have pointed out the relevance of framing for activists (Cress and Snow, 2000; Ryan and Jeffreys, 2019): constructing the right message and producing a compelling worldview is not just a matter of luck. When activists engage in grassroots politics, they must know what to say and to whom, and while this may sometimes be a simple matter of intuition, most of the time they know how to reach the public because they have gathered relevant information before going public with their mobilizations. Even the specific moment in which a message should be released – for example when to launch a press release and through which channels – requires activists to gather information on how media professionals work (Ryan, 1991).

Activists find information through interactions with other people who are able to provide already filtered information and, at the same time, they also conceived the Internet, broadly speaking, as an accessible and always updated source of information (Savolainen, 2008). Additionally, the aggregation of information coming from older and newer media is one of the main praxes through which activists might ‘obtain up-to-date and accurate information from various media platforms so that they can make correct judgments about their subsequent actions’ (Lee and Chan, 2018: 5). In short, activists perform the practice of information gathering through different types of actions, in which older and newer media play opposite roles but sometimes blend, and the many services that activists employ are combined – from social media to instant messaging platforms, from institutional websites to radio programmes.

As such, there certainly are many similarities between the way in which activists handle information in the realm of grassroots politics and more common practices of information gathering that people generally perform in contemporary societies when they navigate the political realm. In this regard, people find information through different activities, ranging from active information gathering, when people consciously look for information that is relevant to them and their lives, to non-direct monitoring, when people find information in a somewhat serendipitous manner, namely in moments and situations in which they are not actively searching for information (McKenzie, 2003). In most cases, information practices are needed to manage the large amounts of data that people are confronted with. As we live in a media environment with many choices, where people have a wide range of information sources at their disposal (Prior, 2007), the ability to find better ways to manage a considerable amount of information without the need for in-depth exploration, interaction or understanding of this information (Andrejevic, 2013: 4) is what matters most to people, and certainly to political actors such as activists. In the framework of this book, we define the practice of information gathering as a practice including all those activities that activists perform in the deliberate and concrete attempt to produce information that is relevant for the aims and functioning of the grassroots political work of their movement organizations. Viewed from this perspective, the practice of information gathering can be considered to include both activities through which activists select, order, and access different types of data sources, and those through which activists collect, store, and assemble data into meaningful information for other activists.

Generally speaking, the practice of information gathering is certainly relevant for activists in times of mobilization, but for several reasons it is also crucial during times of latency, when activists routinely engage in such practice. In the remainder of this chapter we dig deeper on this topic, starting in the next section from legacy media, which are still carrying precious and unique values for activists, even in the mature stage of the digital era and at the dawn of datafication – the last wave of mediatization they have to cope with.

The centrality of legacy media for accessing the public discourse of political elites

Domenico holds an important position in an Italian national association that has anti-corruption as one of its core contentious issues. During the day, he is generally very busy, constantly immersed in the coordination of his association’s activities. Apart from a glance at the main headlines of the websites of legacy media, he does not have time to indulge in a careful reading of the daily news and related commentaries, not even online. He is even less interested in looking for more in-depth coverage of the contentious issues that interest him and his fellow activists, and he does not watch television during the day, also for lack of time. Although he typically dedicates moments to his family during dinner, it is during the night that Domenico carves out some time to go beyond the hectic daily routine that defines his political involvement. It is in those moments of tranquility that he can focus on receiving news on what is happening in the world, and he does this mostly through television programmes, which Domenico views mostly via YouTube or the online platform of the Italian national broadcaster, RaiPlay. He finds it particularly useful to watch the same programme more than once, for example when something is not clear and he wants to be sure that he has grasped what has been said, that he understands the core message conveyed by the people speaking on the TV show. Finally, on some days of the week, Domenico also buys a selection of national newspapers in their print edition, because they are accompanied by magazines that he reads to find inspiration for his activist work; after reading them, he selects the articles he finds most interesting, he cuts them out of the magazine, or the newspaper, and includes them in a paper archive that he keeps at home.

Despite the presence of both older and newer technological devices and services in Domenico’s and other activists’ activities of information gathering, legacy media are still central to retrieving relevant knowledge on what happens in the world. The sources of information that activists employ most frequently in Greece, Italy and Spain are media outlets that produce news and that are accessed either in their traditional format – like newscasts aired live on television – or in their digital counterparts, namely websites that publish news online. Overall, the Greek activists we interviewed seem to be a bit more skeptical about legacy media and more prone to search for information primarily through the Internet; more specifically, they tend to consult news websites that only exist online. The Italian and Spanish activists we interviewed, instead, seem to share a very similar way of searching for information, with television newscasts being the most relevant source, followed by national newspapers, news websites, and radio programmes on current affairs. National newspapers in their printed form, the oldest type of media device, are still considered relevant outlets where activists may find useful news for their daily political work as well as for their movement organization as a whole.

Beyond news websites that only exist online, hence without a printed counterpart, activists consult newspapers and television programmes in their digital format as well, accessing printed newspapers and their online websites through their smartphones and computers. They do this by employing a wide array of devices and a combination of services so that each activist develops a preferred way to access media content. There is, then, a strong fragmentation when it comes to how activists read newspapers and watch television to search for information, although they frequently access these media online, in their digital formats.

For instance, going back to Domenico’s statement about watching television mostly on YouTube, we need to underline that his way of accessing information is common also among the other Greek, Italian, and Spanish activists we interviewed. Television programmes do not disappear, in that activists still access their contents and use them to make sense of the contentious issues that they care about. However, they seldom access television content through the material objects that were once the only way to access these contents, like the television set located in the headquarters of a movement organization. In sum, television is still relevant, but mostly in its digital form online, as David from Spain also explains:

‘So, what do I watch on television? Normally debates, programmes where you will develop an opinion. I watch very little television and I just try to get an idea of what they think in the political debates that are usually aired. If I want to watch the news shown on television I watch it on the web page of the television channels, that is, I am already watching what TVE has, what its news is.’

In a similar way, many of the activists we spoke to told us that they constantly read newspapers during the day, but not their printed versions: they prefer the newspapers’ websites. This is the case of Riccardo, who told us that “I always have the newspapers open, I leaf through them several times a day.” Another frequent way of accessing the content of the print press is, once again, through online press reviews that are compiled and published online, as Emilia explains when speaking about her daily habits related to her work as an anti-corruption activist in Italy:

‘I buy the newspapers before coming here, to my office. … and I immediately look for the issues that concern us. At the newsstand I essentially buy La Repubblica, Il Corriere and Il Fatto Quotidiano. But then we have access to a press review where I look for news on crime, mafia, and corruption.’

In this example, the press review includes the same articles that have been published in the newspaper’s print edition albeit in a digital format, which recalls the private monitoring news platform we referred to when we summarized our interview with Kosmas at the beginning of this chapter.

In other cases, although this rarely emerged in the interviews, activists gathered legacy media contents through social media platforms because they followed the profiles of specific outlets, as Gianluca told us:

‘I [get information] through the social pages of the newspapers as well. From the Huffington Post I always get the sponsored thing: for example, if the latest news about a politician appears in the Huffington Post, I take a look at it. I follow The Guardian on Facebook and then its articles appear. And the same for many newspapers: I follow them on Facebook and when an article comes out I take a look at it, through the social media pages of the various media.’

Interestingly, in this case, the dividing line between information gathering in an active as opposed to a more passive manner (through Facebook advertising) is rather thin. Gianluca gets information via a social media platform through both sponsored and unsponsored posts. When it comes to the former, activists passively receive information from news media outlets. In the case of the latter, instead, activists actively decided to follow certain media outlets so as to receive their posts. As we will see later in this chapter and also in Chapter 4 devoted to algorithmic visibility, managing contacts is an action that is strictly linked to the practice of information gathering: having a solidly trusted pool of contacts enables activists to receive the information that is most interesting for them ‘by proxy’ (McKenzie, 2003), without having to search for it each time from scratch.

Contrary to what happens in the case of newspapers and television, radio is more linked to specific locations and less accessed in its digitalized forms (for example podcasts). Those interviewees who mentioned radio as a means of searching for information listen to radio programmes early in the morning, while having breakfast at home. For some of them, this is a very strong habit that allows them to obtain an encompassing view of the main news of the day, especially when they listen to press review programmes, as Diego points out when speaking about his and his activist organization’s needs in Catalonia:

‘Since we are multimedia [actors], the radio is the essential instrument early in the morning, in my case. Some people also watch television. But in my case, radio is fundamental, because it allows me to do other activities … In my case, early in the morning, I listen to the radio, and to more than one station to contrast [different news] … So the radio is essential to know the top news stories. And it coexists with the rest, with Internet, with the mobile phone, with newspapers.’

While newspapers, television, and radio seem to be equally important for the practice of information gathering, the main difference between the former two and the latter is their relationship with the physical space in which activists are situated. This holds particularly true for Italy, where newspapers and televisions are ubiquitous since activists access their digital versions virtually anywhere, while the radio is accessed more in specific locations (for example at home, in the car) and not much listened to in its digital format or through mobile devices.

Despite such differences, interviewees from all three countries under examination declared experiencing legacy media in a similar way when it comes to their reliability. On the one side, activists acknowledged that these media have an authoritative role: the news that they publish really matters to the ruling political elites as opposed to the noise that can be found on social media platforms (Langer and Gruber, 2021). On the other side, activists were also aware of the intrinsic bias that characterizes political reporting in television newscasts, radio programmes, and newspaper articles. In countries where the political parallelism of the press is still strong, for example in Southern European countries (Mattoni and Ceccobelli, 2018), activists are well aware of the political interests that guide mainstream media, which are therefore almost considered as political actors. The perception of news media as biased among activists is certainly not a novelty (Gitlin, 1980; Couldry, 2000; McCurdy, 2011; Mattoni, 2012). Our empirical investigation conducted in Greece, Italy, and Spain shows that this is still the case.

In Greece, especially after the economic crisis and the related protests of 2011 (Sotirakopoulos and Sotiropoulos, 2013), activists became even more skeptical about the ability of mainstream media to provide valuable information, as Kosta suggests:

‘The field of newspapers has changed very very much. I used to check the newspapers very often, but nowadays there is no newspaper that I really trust. I only buy [a] newspaper [that is close to] the government or … the party that is going to govern next if I want to see [what] their political views [are] directly.’

Activists consider newspapers in Southern Europe are (still) as biased when providing information, and they may read them just to learn the viewpoint of their political counterparts. In other words, according to activists, newspapers are the de facto voice of an institutional political actor, whether it is the ruling party coalition or the opposition. The mainstream press is therefore also the means through which the ruling elites speak to each other, as Mauro points out when speaking about Italy: “I don’t underestimate television stations or printed newspapers, because they are full of coded messages to the members of the ruling class; they are almost always a mouthpiece for the capitalists.”

By describing Italian printed newspapers and television newscasts in this way, Mauro highlights their opacity: because the messages are encrypted, they are not immediately clear, neither to the broader public nor to the activists themselves.

Conversely, activists consider social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter as somehow transparent platforms through which messages are exchanged in a fairly transparent way not just among those who count most in the political realm, but also among their challengers at the grassroots level. Furthermore, they have the potential to convey not just national voices, but also international ones. Regardless of the fact that these platforms are apparently regulated through proprietary algorithms and hence not transparent at all (Sloan and Warner, 2018; Shin, 2019), when activists compare them with older media (that is those deeply linked to institutional political actors), Facebook and Twitter seem more straightforward in giving activists the information they are trying to obtain. Indeed, while the mainstream press includes a few voices and selects only a limited amount of topics to be covered daily, social media give back a huge amount of information on any possible issue. In this regard, then, activists consider mainstream media as actors that give prominence to certain issues and put many others in the background. A platform like Twitter, instead, is not able to do so. What we are dealing with here is one of the tensions that we will discuss in relation to different practices presented in this volume: that between the immediacy and the quality of the data that activists encounter through the data stream. In this specific case, it is the tension between the activists’ need to have immediate access to information, on the one hand, and the equally important need to have access to quality information, on the other. In short, news on television may be partial, but at least it is salient. What social media platforms circulate is a richness of content that comes from a variety of actors; yet, it would be difficult for activists to give prominence to the information that they obtain through Facebook and Twitter. This aspect of social media is extremely relevant for activists, as we will see in the next section.

The reconstruction of grassroots political debates via social media and algorithms

While legacy media gives activists important data to reconstruct the debate developed by institutional political actors, social media allows them to understand what opinions are circulating most within the movement networks that they belong or relate to. Our interviews show that activists also want to understand what other people think about current political events that are related to their daily political work. It is important for them to know how other people interpret the world in which they also act, mainly concerning the facts that are more directly linked to the specific contentious issue that they are working on. Activists want to know what other activists – among others – think about current affairs, how they comment on the latest events, and what their viewpoint on them is.

In order to do so, they read posts on social media platforms, in particular Facebook. While activists employ Facebook in all three countries that we investigated, Italian activists spoke about this social media platform most frequently, with regard to the practice of gathering information about what other people say on current affairs. Gianluca and Domenico, for instance, mainly employ Facebook for this reason:

‘Facebook is more to understand what is going on, what issues are being discussed, and even among people who are not part of my affinity group in the strict sense, but I follow [them] and I look at what they have written.’

‘I also use social networks to observe what happens in the world and in the world of anti-Mafia, so I see the anti-Mafia that takes decisions with its gut, I see the anti-Mafia of the fans, I see the more meditative anti-Mafia.’

It is through Facebook, then, that the activists try to reconstruct the grassroots political debates about the contentious issues that they focus on during their daily political engagement. Moreover, some of them may use this social media platform to reconstruct how the different souls of the social movements that they belong to differ, interact, and dispute. Other activists, instead, highlight that Facebook is useful to know what people think about certain contentious issues. In this regard, Domenico explains that “Facebook is useful to understand the way the wind is blowing”, while Federico says the following: “I frankly believe that around twenty per cent of the total public opinion is here on Facebook, which is composed of the angriest people. I need to look at Facebook to understand this minority part of public opinion.”

While the activists consider a social media platform like Facebook as the place to understand people’s attitudes and opinions on current affairs, there are also other digital media that the Southern European activists mentioned during our interviews. Together with Facebook, Twitter is the other social media platform that they referred to most, while others – such as Instagram, YouTube, Reddit, or even TikTok – were at the very margin of their practice of information gathering, at least in the specific moment of the interview. Regarding Facebook and Twitter, the activists regularly assigned very different tasks and symbolic meanings to them. If the former makes them feel that they can enter more into contact with strong-tie networks, such as their peers and the very personal circle of friends and acquaintances, it is mainly the latter that helps them to extend their views to the broad array of media, political and social actors involved in the contentious issue that they care about, as studies on this subject matter have observed (Valenzuela et al, 2018).

Gathering information on activists’ audiences is just as relevant as looking for the latest opinion leaders’ viewpoints on the facts of the day. As we will see in Chapter 3 related to the practice of visibility, the online presence of activists and their movement organizations is relevant to ensure a constant visibility in the public space even in moments of latency, when they are not engaged in collective actions that are meant to get the media attention. Such online presence is obtained mostly through the use of websites and social media platforms, like Twitter and Facebook, which constantly produce information about the audiences that interact with the activists’ organizations online. It is not just a matter of understanding when people are accessing these online contents, but also from which devices they do so, and with what reactions. David, for instance, explains that his organization knows from which devices its audiences look at the content that it publishes on its website:

‘The first thing we did is an analysis of when people watch us, the devices in which they watch us. So, we discovered that in our federation people very much like to see us on the computer: most of them have [saved] us [among their] favourites and we have already discovered at what times and from where they watch us. We have fewer people who watch us from Android devices, for example from mobile phones, than from computers. That is one thing that we have to keep changing because for a long time our page had some problems and it was not on the Web, that is, it did not load well on the Android system. So what happened? That it looked the same as on the web page. Now it looks different, because we have had to evolve, obviously, and change. … That’s why people watch us less on mobile devices than on computers. What is our audience, then? There is one part of our audience that watches us on the computer, and that watches the web page. Then we have another [part of our audience] that begins to be increasingly important, which is when you send news and see how that news suddenly goes like wildfire on WhatsApp [and] you start to see that this news has many more visits. Then, we began to realize that we must put some news on WhatsApp and Facebook and Twitter to fly more.’

Having this information is vital for David’s organization, which adjusts its online communication strategy to be more effective. Additionally, observing an increase in the website traffic related to certain news items once they had been circulated on WhatsApp, David’s organization decided to invest more in social media, using it as a vehicle to increase the number of readers on its website. In this case, the practice of information gathering passes through the use of data analytics related to the website, to discover when and from which device people access the organizations’ online content, but also through careful observation of the more multifaceted data stream that involves not just one but several online services and platforms.

While data analytics represents a relevant source of information, our interviewees did not use it systematically. Those who mostly used it either had the skills to understand data analytics or were able to do so because their organizations had invested resources toward this activity. For instance, Carlos – who works for a trade union organization in Spain – tells us the following:

‘Every week we prepare a report on social networks, [and] once a month we prepare a report on our reach, both in traditional media and social networks, [with] a more in-depth analysis. But every week we analyze not only how we are doing but also how concrete actions that we have developed have worked. … We do this through analytics … we have also hired the services of specialized agencies and one of them is specialized in media analysis, impacts, and social networks.’

Carlos’s organization believes in the power of data analytics, which is systematically embedded in the practice of information gathering when it comes to knowing more about the organization’s audiences and how they interact with its various online services. It does not do this by itself, though: rather, it outsources this service to an external agency that is specialized in data analytics. However, only a few interviewees have their organizations invest money in this type of service. While in many cases we are dealing with resource-constrained organizations, others that may have had a budget to invest in data analytics decided to do otherwise. This means that having the material resources to pay for these services is not a sufficient condition: the organization first needs to recognize the relevance of professionals in data analytics as well as the importance of data analytics for their organization.

When this does not happen, as was usually the case with the movement organizations that we considered for this study, the practice of information gathering in relation to one’s audience is developed starting from activists’ observations of what occurs in their information channels. We found examples of this in all three countries, as the following extracts from our interviews with Enrique, Fabio, and Delphina demonstrate:

‘We have a platform on which we can check the activities of our Facebook and Twitter profiles. And we watch them, but we do not do it on a daily basis. [We notice that] “we have gained followers”, or that “there are more people”, or that “this article has had more follow-ups in recent months”. Things like that, but not obsessively, not on a daily basis … no.’

‘I’m gonna go on Twitter and see what kind of reply we got. There you can see … When we published our book on [basic] income, we published it for free and had an infinite number of downloads. Every night I went to see the Tweets with this news. Late in the evening, I check what has happened on Twitter. If there are 40 retweets, I try to figure out which of our Tweets people have retweeted.’

‘As for Facebook, I’m also interested in the number of likes. If there is a positive or negative interest. I’m also interested in comments. I did some research and saw that more engagement is triggered when there is an image. When there is an image, there are more likes. When there is a video, it depends on the content.’

In other cases, activists engaged in an even more in-depth analysis of their audiences’ reactions when they publish something online. It is not a matter of data analytics and the big numbers that come with it, but rather of a fine-grained analysis of the comments that people leave on posts and tweets on Facebook and Twitter, respectively. In the following extract, for instance, Daniela explains that two people in her organization systematically read all the comments that they received on Facebook to moderate them, and also to check for interesting and useful reactions:

‘Obviously, we have two people who moderate the comments, so if something is interesting they will report it to us. This activity of responding to comments is essential because it is part of establishing boundaries. One thing is what we communicate, then it is essential to know how we are perceived, of course, from the outside. So the comments make us do a reality check in relation to the proposition, the idea that we have of ourselves. So they are very important, we take them into account for this [reason], to adjust our approach. For example, a video is not very clear and the comments show that our argument is not so clear, and then we react, we respond, we have reactive lines in the most critical situations; we have recorded a series of recurring comments, so we are putting together a FAQ section and every time we receive a comment that might be replied through them, we reply to the comment by sending the link to our FAQ section.’

So far, we have seen how activists employ a combination of basic amateur data analytics and fine-grained reading of comments in their social media profiles to understand what their audiences think about their organizations. In this case, algorithms remain in the background of the practice of information gathering, but there are other cases in which they have a more prominent role. This happens with pervasive services like Google News and similar platforms, and also with Google, which is often the first point of access to the vast world of online information. Activists are aware of this and they may try to act upon the algorithm, as Eustratios explains: “You can personalize Google news. For example, I have interests in tourists, hotels, restaurants and that sort of thing, so I get, every day, at least 10 emails from Google news. This is my primary information source.”

In other cases, activists acknowledge the impact of algorithms and their opacity on the process of selecting information, as Mauro from Italy and Julia from Spain observe, speaking about Google:

‘My first act to find information is in the Google search engine … it is clear that by using Google I have a greater “efficiency”. Given that I am a user, I do not know the algorithms put in place by Google. Maybe it makes me find links that are only a tenth of what I was looking for.’

‘Nowadays, whoever does not want to be informed does so out of choice, because with Google and the Internet you have access to web pages of labor organizations, you have access to laws, press articles, you have access to a lot of things, so we can consult all that and we can discuss it among ourselves.’

While Mauro told us that Google is the very first service that he employs to find information, the role of algorithms in the practice of information gathering can be even more multifaceted when activists combine a number of web services to look for whatever interests them online. A telling example of this is the following observation by Ruben, a Spanish activist: “In the morning I wake up … and open Reddit, I open Menéame, I open the RSS and look at the interesting contents of the last 24 hours. And I open like about 200 tabs, 200 links that I review.”

The combined use of Reddit, Menéame, and RSS to find “interesting contents” reveals a combination of ranking algorithms – as in the case of the social news aggregators Reddit and Menéame – with RSS feeds, which do not rely on ranking algorithms.

Algorithms, then, are not alone in determining the kind of information that activists can find about the facts of the day; in most cases, they are embedded in the practice of information gathering, together with other media services that could counterbalance them. This is because activists think that being able to obtain the right information at the right time is also a matter of navigating a multifaceted ensemble of media devices and services, in which they can contrast news and pick up the facts that seem more accurate. The Greek labor rights activist Kosmas, for instance, says that “of course, if you want to have a broad [base of] information it’s imperative to use different devices, different resources”; Agata, an Italian activist who works on anti-corruption issues, explains that her organization engages in “an overall mapping of media, not only of social media; and it is from such general mapping that all starts, knowing that each media [outlet] has its own function”. Algorithms are therefore not to be seen as working in isolation when it comes to the practice of information gathering because activists select and combine a variety of tools to learn what they need to know about the world around them. This seems to mitigate their weight in determining, in a linear way, what activists decide is worth noticing – and trusting – when it comes to information related to their daily political engagement.

The multiple temporalities of data for activists

So far we have seen how activists include various types of media and devices in their practice of information gathering to obtain data about various types of actors, be they political or not. In this and the next section, we will instead explore how the practice of information gathering necessarily comes into contact with three key qualities of the data stream as a whole: its heterogeneity, its ubiquity, and its perpetuity. In particular, the interviews conducted in the three countries clearly demonstrate that the heterogeneity of the data stream leads them to experience the presence of multiple temporalities. In fact, activists strongly link their perception of fast or slow media to the ability of the media themselves to publish and disseminate news in a given time, which can be instantaneous, as in the case of social media platforms, or deferred, as in the case of the print press. It is precisely the switching between instantaneous and deferred time within the practice of information gathering that shapes the activists’ formulation of a general understanding of digital media as information media. What is also interesting to note is that activists also identify differences within the simultaneous timeframe that normally characterizes social media platforms. There are, in fact, social media platforms that are able to produce data more simultaneously than others, as recounted by Vicente, the co-founder – together with other media practitioners – of a small grassroots collective of video makers in Spain.

For him and the other members of the collective, it is highly relevant to be constantly up to date on what is going on in their city, but also at the national level. One thing he spoke of at length during our interview was the huge difference between Facebook and Twitter. He is rather annoyed by the former, which he only accesses through the group profile of his collective; he seldom uses his private one, having even uninstalled the platform’s app from his smartphone. He thinks that Facebook is not very fast in providing the required information, especially when he needs to track the most recent posts of his collective. Moreover, Facebook is full of older people, and there are so many of them that Vicente can no longer find any interesting posts. This is why he infinitely prefers Twitter: with its 140-character posts, the micro-blogging platform is quick and light. Also, its population is vibrant and able to point out the most stimulating contents. Twitter, he says, is “there, right what you need”.

When contrasting Facebook with Twitter, Vicente makes a difference between those social media platforms that are slow in giving the information he needs and others, which are instead very fast. While many scholars have pointed to digital media – and social media platforms more specifically – as being able to support an almost live exchange of information among its users (Van Dijck and Poell, 2013), Vicente’s short account suggests that, for activists, the wide array of media devices and services, and their combinations, is much more nuanced. Moreover, when looking at our data as a whole, it is clear that such nuances actually depend on the context in which the practice of information gathering takes place. On the one hand, what counts considerably is the whole ensemble of media devices and services that activists employ to look for the required information and that contribute to shaping the meanings assigned to each of them. On the other hand, and related to this, it also depends on the country in which activists engage in grassroots politics, which to some extent renders certain media devices and services more popular and others less central in the daily lives of activists.

Being slow or fast is a contextual quality, which is always relevant because it points to the preferred media devices and services that activists employ when looking for content that matters to them in the framework of their daily political work. For instance, Facebook could be considered slow, but there are other means of receiving information whose slowness in providing data necessarily couples with information that is already old. This is the case with television newscasts and printed newspapers. Related to this, David says that he knows that people usually watch newscasts on television to get information about what is going on. However, he explains that he and his fellow activists consider television news too slow for them:

‘The newscast at 8 in the morning already comes with news that happened the night before. If you want to know what is currently happening, web pages are the ones covering live what is going on. And Twitter is always much faster than television … Therefore, television is useful to get opinions on facts, but informatively it does not have the level of update that we constantly need, because the newscast is at 8 am, then at 3 pm, and then at 9 pm. The web pages and Twitter are running all day. I know that a lot of people stand in front of the television, but we actually do not need to know what information the television is covering and talking about.’

Twitter is always operative and therefore accessible whenever someone wants to access it; television news comes at fixed times of the day. The former is fluid and provides a stream of live information that never stops; the latter is more like a provider of information that is regulated top-down, following a rhythm of political communication that is not in tune with the activists’ needs when it comes to obtaining relevant information there and then, as it is often the case with those who engage in politics from a grassroots position and with limited material resources. In this regard, Agata suggests that Twitter resembles a “news press agency” that points to the relevant contents, which can subsequently be explored independently from the platform, by looking for information on the Internet more broadly.

At the same time, Twitter can also be perceived as slow in comparison to yet other platforms, as we will also see in the following chapter. In Ruben’s words, Reddit is – together with 4Chan – the place where viral content first spreads, at an extremely fast pace, before reaching Twitter. Of course, it is a matter of some hours, and the delay may not be very significant for many of the interviewees who do not use 4Chan or Reddit to obtain information. What is interesting, though, is that for some activists it may be determining if they receive information even only a few hours after it has been circulated for the first time, hence demonstrating the incredible acceleration of the time of politics even in periods of latency when people are not engaged in any relevant form of collective action.

Activists amid data abundance

Many of the activists we interviewed told us that they access information about what is going on in the world first thing in the morning. Emilia, for instance, says that she takes her smartphone and searches for news when she is still in bed; later on, when she is having breakfast, she checks her emails as well. When they are working toward their political goals, then, activists constantly perform the practice of information gathering. Martino, from Italy, says that “every five to ten minutes I check the home page of Repubblica and Corriere della Sera. I refresh their homepages. I always have them on”. Carlos, from Spain, goes along the same line when he explains that “during the whole day, we are doing an analysis and diagnostic work: for example, we are continuously testing what appears in the digital media, in the information agencies … This is constant.” Moreover, activists search for information not only when they are devoting time to their grassroots political engagement, for example when they are in the headquarters of their civil society organizations; they also do this when they are somewhere else and doing something that is not related to their political engagement in the first place.

This continuous access to a wide variety of news sources allows activists to gather a large array of data about who is saying what about the issues that matter most to them. Indeed, the practice of information gathering implies a constant connection, through various types of media, with what is happening inside and outside the world of movement organizations and the networks in which they are engaged. This seamless connection is entirely in line with one of the qualities that characterize the data stream, namely its ubiquity: the data that activists need are always there, and all they have to do is reach for their smartphone to access them. The result is that activists have immense amounts of data at their disposal, and in the most varied formats: from the prime minister’s statements on Twitter to the analysis of the political phase that fellow activists post on Facebook; from a politician’s opinion piece on the leading national newspaper to the WhatsApp comments they received from their supporters. Nevertheless, while activists can access sequences of data that are continuous and heterogeneous, they risk not being truly informed, not understanding how the political debate of their interest is developing, and failing to be in tune with what the people who might support them are experiencing and saying. In short, activists risk dealing with cacophonous, ever-changing sequences of data that they cannot control and may potentially overwhelm them. The possibility of this risk emerged from many of the interviews we collected in the three countries, and is well summarized by Fabio:

‘Speed sometimes also means superficiality, because you have a communication that in some cases dizzies you. At a certain point, you can’t do it anymore, because there is so much communication, as communication channels and communication actors have increased. If I had to think about all the networks on income that exist around the world, if each of them already sends ten Tweets a day … except that you would not have time to read, but it becomes just a quantity of information that you no longer process.’

Fabio also mentions the speed with which he comes into contact with large amounts of information, an aspect he shares with many of our interviewees, like Kosmas:

‘We are over-informed, and the information coming from [the] Internet sometimes is very stressful, the velocity of feeding news media demonstrates is stressing to everyone who wants to be part of this movement. Too much information: you have to react, you cannot absorb all the information, and many times you don’t even understand what you are reading.’

The result is a general understanding of the information environment that presents too many stimuli happening all at once, which activists cannot process. As a further consequence, activists try to escape this continuous and incomprehensible cacophony of data. This is why the practice of information gathering also includes activities through which activists act more decisively on the data stream, by filtering and ordering data to make sense of them: in fact, to turn them into information. These activities are also a necessary consequence of the transformation of the journalistic profession and the newspapers’ impact on people’s ability to inform themselves, as Stefano argues:

‘In the past we did not have direct access to the news; what we perceived were those [events] of which we were either direct witnesses or [indirect witnesses] because they were told to us by communication professionals who made a selection of the news. We were sufficiently guaranteed that those [events] were true, real, because there had been the mediation of a professional. They were listed to us according to priorities, defined by communication professionals, which we accepted. We had no access to other news, so that was our perception. Now we have indistinct access. Some news items are mediated by professionals, others are news items that … we do not always have the ability or time to assess, [to] verify.’

Stefano refers to the process of disintermediation, according to which media professionals like journalists no longer have a monopoly on mediating between news sources and the broader public. Like politicians, news sources increasingly speak by themselves and let their voices be heard through their own communication channels, including social media platforms. At the same time, the broader public knows how to access relevant news sources, follow their communication activities online, and avoid altogether the mediating role of journalists in explaining what the situation is with a certain contentious issue. Disintermediation in the realm of political communication has been studied with regard to the general tendency of contemporary political actors to speak ‘directly’ to both their fellow citizens, in particular via social media (Engesser et al, 2017), and more specific sets of political actors, such as populist leaders (Bracciale and Martella, 2017).

In the framework of our study, it is clear that disintermediation may also have a disorienting effect on activists: when so many of their potential interlocutors produce news by themselves, constantly spreading their viewpoints on this and that matter, activists like Stefano face the problem of understanding where to find useful data on a subject matter.

Filtering activities

The previous section shows that searching for information is not enough. Better still, it reveals that the practice of information gathering is not as linear as it may initially seem. In a world in which everyone makes themselves heard through social media platforms, and professional journalism has lost its monopoly on providing news, activists need to filter the data they find in the course of their research. In this section, we will demonstrate that they do this in different ways.

In the rare cases of activists who belong to movement organizations that have a good deal of material resources at their disposal, they may relegate the activities of filtering and ordering information to ad hoc platforms, as we have seen in the opening section of this chapter, when Kosmas showed us the platform he uses to filter all the information related to a given topic. However, this does not seem to be a common activity among the activists we interviewed in the three countries: in fact, almost all of them exercise their agency in more direct ways, without resorting to specialized filtering platforms.

Some interviewees start from themselves and their knowledge of the subject matter to critically discern what information they can trust – and hence retain as relevant for their political work – and what information they should dismiss because part of the more general noise that characterizes the overload of information. Relying on one’s own knowledge of the context in which the daily political work is performed is relevant both when applying these filtering activities to newer and older media. As for the latter, Delphina, an anti-corruption activist from Greece, confirms this when reflecting on how she deals with television:

‘You have to choose because in the media you see everything, you can receive a lot of information that is garbage. Then you need a criterion, a critical spirit to take what you need. That’s how I do it: I take what I need. I sift through the information and take only what remains.’

Activists rely less on television news, newspaper articles, and social media posts than they do on their personal contacts if they want to understand whether a news item is truly relevant in comparison to others and – even more importantly – if it can be trusted. Personal contacts are therefore important in activities that allow activists not only to filter but also to order the large amount of data that they regularly come into contact with. These personal contacts may certainly involve direct interactions, as Eulalia, another anti-corruption activist from Greece, explains:

‘If I find something interesting [on television] I will use my phone to call my colleagues or to call journalists that might be involved, call people that I can ask … what is going on … I see [it] on television and I look for it to see if any journalists have written about it in a journalistic kind of online media and writing so that I can post it also.’

In this case, watching the news on television is not enough; Delphina uses her personal and trusted contacts in the world of media professionals to check not just if something happened for real, but – especially – if it happened the way in which it was explained on television. As we have also seen earlier, in Greece there is a mixed interpretation of legacy media, which activists struggle to trust completely even if they assign an importance to them. Constructing a trusting relationship with specific journalists, then, is a way to order the data that activists receive from other media.

In any case, activists also consider other types of personal relationships useful to gather information that is crucial for their daily political work. Eustratios (a grassroots unionist from Greece), Daniela (an Italian anti-corruption activist), and Miguel (a Spanish unionist in the field of media workers) all highlight the importance of speaking with specific actors in a direct and unmediated way:

‘I prefer to go there [to the workplace] and say “Stef, sit down, give me a picture, what are the people saying?” If I want to make the best decision, choose the best thing, I must first listen. If I have a face-to-face conversation, I can do a lot of things. With the phone, instead, I have fewer possibilities to do my work in the best way. I prefer face-to-face contact.’

‘The great problem, the great challenge of an activist organization, is that it is external to the decision-making centers, to the centers of power. Its access to information is therefore limited. If you become a campaigner within a party, you have more access to information. You know when discussions on a law proposal are scheduled. This way, you can, for example, intervene in the legislation phase, not just in the amendment phase. [You can] intervene in a transparent way. As an activist organization, we face the challenge of accessing information. The more we cultivate relationships with those who can give us this information, the better we can do our job.’

‘I get the information I need face-to-face. Starting early in the morning here in my office, there are meetings that I hold periodically with people who work here with me, from the Documentation Center, the Training Center, [people] with whom we meet almost once a week. [We have] different kinds of meetings. Up to [a] few minutes ago, for example, I was in a meeting with an association of lawyers.’

When discussing the relevance of trusted personal contacts, the three activists do not refer to the direct need of validating information that is already circulating in the public space. Rather, they are considering the impact, on their daily grassroots political work, of data that would remain unknown to them were it not for the personal relationships they have managed to build with key figures in the policy world. In this way, filtering activities in relation to the data stream are performed somewhat upstream. All three activists, in fact, decided to distance themselves – to various degrees – from the vast amount of data that various types of media would have provided them, and instead devoted their attention to face-to-face interactions, over time cultivating stable and trusting relationships with various types of political actors, both inside and outside their movement networks.

In these particular cases, the practice of information gathering acquires a peculiar meaning, connecting the activists’ daily work to their potential allies. Thus, Eustratios considers his ability to make sound decisions concerning the workplace of which he is a union reference; Daniela, instead, reflects on her organization’s ability to shape the lawmaking process; Miguel speaks of incessant face-to-face meetings in order not to miss potential pieces of information coming from different and heterogeneous media, political figures, and even social actors. In all three cases, the activists reveal yet another nuance of the practice of information gathering: while media may well be relevant when activists need to understand the official viewpoints of other political actors, they are less so when what is at stake is information that is not usually shared and spread publicly. In this case, face-to-face communication plays an extremely relevant role in filtering the most needed information, leaving aside the noise that other political actors make through their disintermediated use of media. Additionally, it is clear that these activists exploit the multiple temporalities that characterize the production and diffusion of data in the data stream; they rely on the slow pace of face-to-face contacts either to interpret or to bypass those data that are delivered at a much faster pace through social media platforms and other digital media.

While in the case of Eulalia and the other activists we are dealing with direct interactions that happen through phone calls or even face-to-face meetings, yet another media service is employed in the practice of filtering information. When it comes to social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, activists often complain about the noise caused by the relentless flow of data in their profiles. Many of them have told us that it is simply impossible to make sense of all the data they receive by reading their feeds on social media. In this case, filtering the abundant data that activists gather in the data stream becomes an even more relevant practice. Beyond simply filtering information through the use of hashtags, activists already put in place filters when selecting the actors they decide to follow on Twitter, as Agata explains:

‘Social media are important not only for what we communicate through them, but for the information we get from them. See what people say on Twitter, see what the positions of parliamentarians are … you often have to go and find them on Twitter. We use Twitter to map, so much so that when we make a selection of stakeholders, even just journalists, their Twitter profile is crucial. Stakeholder mapping would be much more difficult to do because it would be difficult to go and retrieve what this or that political subject has said without Twitter.’

According to Agata, this careful selection is necessary to get an idea of what relevant actors are saying about the topics that interest them at the national level; elected MPs, but also other stakeholders and journalists, share their viewpoints through Twitter, and in this way activists can have access to their public declarations live, without waiting for a journalistic account on this. All this is possible only because the accounts of the activists’ organizations on Twitter have been set up to avoid noise and decrease the risk of information overload. The role that the specific digital platform plays in the practice of information gathering is therefore not irrelevant. On the contrary, when activists decide to strategically exploit some of the affordances of these platforms, thus interacting with them on a material level as well, they succeed in exercising their agency over the data stream in a more effective way.

Conclusion

In this chapter, we have presented and discussed the practice of information gathering, which seems to be of primary importance to the Italian, Greek, and Spanish activists we interviewed. Part of their daily work as activists is devoted precisely to the numerous activities through which they search for, process, and transform various types of data into information that is relevant to them. From this point of view, we have shown that there is not one single type of media through which activists perform such activities. On the contrary, while it is acknowledged that social media platforms are relevant in this sense, legacy media also continue to play an important role when activists want to get informed about something. Activists engage in the practice of information gathering through digital media, but most of the time a Twitter profile on a smartphone is just not enough. Information seems to be everywhere, and activists know this. For this reason, they value face-to-face contacts as much as those happening online. Likewise, they may listen to the radio news first thing in the morning, but then they complement this activity with a quick look at the print press during the day and a glimpse of television news before having dinner. In so doing, they are immersed in an ongoing data stream where the news of the day lives side by side with tweets by politicians and other stakeholders, followers’ comments on posts published on the activists’ Facebook profiles, and accounts gathered through face-to-face encounters with collaborators, journalists, and other experts.

Nonetheless, in this chapter, we have also argued that there is a division of labor between legacy media and digital media. Activists resort to the former in order to access news items that describe what is going on in terms of specific subject matters, offer in-depth commentaries, and – in the case of talk shows and similar programmes – present the official viewpoints of more institutional actors. With regard to the latter, activists consider social media platforms not just as news sources that anticipate legacy media news, but – more importantly – as sources of information in the broadest sense possible. In fact, social media are relevant to activists because they allow them to understand the political debate within the movement networks that they adhere to. Activists follow the profiles and pages of fellow activists on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms. They watch what they share and read what they say, using this content as data through which to reconstruct the public debate outside the sphere of institutional politics. At the same time, social media platforms serve as a way for activists to connect with all those people who already are or may become their supporters, engaging in their future protest or advocacy campaigns. In this case, it is not only what these people say that matters to activists, but also how they interact with the social profiles of the activists’ movement organizations and other digital media through which the latter distribute their content, such as websites run directly by activists on behalf of their movement organizations. In other words, activists sometimes also perform data analytics related to the meta-data produced by the people who come into contact with them, especially in the case of social media platforms.

However, in this chapter, we have also shown that engaging in data analytics is an uncommon activity. Activists undoubtedly try to leverage algorithms and data analytics techniques to learn more about their audiences, but they do so episodically and mostly rudimentarily. For this reason, it seems difficult to speak about the existence of a wide-ranging algorithmic literacy in Southern European movement organizations. There might certainly be exceptions, but among the broad range of activists whom we interviewed for our research only those from movement organizations in Spain seem to be more at ease with algorithms as a means of enhancing the practice of information gathering. In short, if it is true that Spanish activists are perhaps the only ones to have gained an awareness of the power and usefulness of both algorithms and data analytics to perform, at best, the practice of information gathering, they share with Italian and Greek activists the fact that all are still very far from handling these tools professionally. When reflecting on algorithms, though, it is also interesting to note that activists produce knowledge about the way their different audiences think and act by combining algorithms with other activities that are not algorithm-based. In this chapter, we have thus begun to address one of the recurring themes of this book: the need to examine activists’ use of and encounter with algorithms in their practices by contextualizing them within the diverse set of other activities in which digital media are used alongside non-digital media.

Another relevant point that we have made in this chapter is related to the data stream in its overall complexity, concerning both the challenges of searching for the right data to then produce information and the agency that activists exercise over the data stream, using some of its qualities in their favour. We have thus described the activists’ construction of different temporalities within the data stream. In some cases, the data reach the activists extremely fast, other times just fast, and on other occasions at a slower pace. This difference is due precisely to the use of different types of media – digital and otherwise – for the activities that activists perform to find the required information. The materiality of the media intertwines almost imperceptibly with the activists’ perceptions of different times in the data stream. However, the coexistence of different timelines, some subject to strong accelerations while others are characterized by a very slow pace, seems to play into the hands of the activists. The slower pace of data collected through face-to-face interactions allows activists to better interpret the data that arrive at a very high speed – or to avoid them by moving beyond these data.

Finally, we have observed that activists often find themselves dealing not only with data that come in at high speeds but also with very abundant data. For clarity, we are not talking about big data in the classic sense: we are talking about large masses of data in the most diverse formats that activists often struggle to manage. These include, for example, newspaper articles and television newscasts, the comments under the latest Facebook post, and the Twitter threads related to the activities of the movement organization with which the activists collaborate. Being disparate from one another, these data are too many for activists to handle in a useful way. The abundance of data thus risks not translating into relevant information. However, in this chapter we have shown how activists are able, or at least try, to exercise some form of agency over this overabundant data stream. More precisely, we have argued that the practice of information gathering heavily depends on activists’ ability to filter the data they receive.

Activists do this in many ways, often privileging their long experience in grassroots politics, which allows them precisely to evaluate and sort the data that create contacts. However, they also do so by using their personal contacts to understand what information is actually worth considering and what can be safely ignored. If, on the one hand, an almost artisanal approach to the use of algorithms can be attributed to activists in Italy, Greece, and Spain, on the other hand, they show that they have developed a sophisticated use of face-to-face interactions to exercise their agency over the data stream. In the course of this book, we will see more often how, in a world characterized by the strong interconnection between digitalization and datafication, activists assign a central role to face-to-face interactions with various kinds of actors.

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