Spanish Indignados and the evolution of the 15M movement on Twitter: towards networked para-institutions

25 Aug


20140824_pena-lopez_congosto_aragon_spanish_indignados_twitterMy colleagues Ismael Peña-López, Mariluz Congosto and I just got a paper published. It is the final, improved version of a research that had already been presented thus:

This one paper has been published at the Journal of Spanish Cultural Studies as Spanish Indignados and the evolution of the 15M movement on Twitter: towards networked para-institutions. The paper explains how is it possible that a movement can actually work with a distributed (and ever changing) leadership, and how it ends up looking like an institution on the outside, but as a network on the inside — which we call a para-institution.


The Arab Spring, the Spanish Indignados, the Occupy Wall Street movement, the #YoSoy132 movement, the protests in Istanbul’s Taksim Gezi Park, the Brazilian Spring (#jan25, #arabspring, #15M, #ows, #YoSoy132, #occupyGezi, #vemprarua): in the last three years the world has witnessed the emergence of networked citizen politics. These movements are not institutions, but oftentimes mimic their nature. At the same time, they are unlike traditional citizens’ movements, but very much alike in their decentralized structure. Networked citizen politics, characterized by decentralization, swarm-like action and an intensive use of information and communication technologies have been playing an increasing role in worldwide protests and movements, often overtaking and circumventing the actions of governments, parliaments, political parties, labour unions, non-governmental organizations, mass media and all kinds of formal democratic institutions. Taking the case of Spanish Indignados, we analyse the nature of networked citizen politics as an extra-representational kind of political participation – for instance, the pervasiveness of Twitter’s use in the 15M movement. We begin by characterizing users, including a description of how movements propagate from one to another. Next we explore the bonds between networked citizen movements and formal democratic institutions and how they relate to each other, especially the movements with political parties and mass media. We also examine how networked citizen politics may use tools similar to those of the so-called Politics 2.0 but with very different purposes and, accordingly, the result is of the two conflicting approaches. Our analysis shows that different movements – that is, 15M and 25S – act as a continuum for networked citizen politics that use the Internet as the support for new institutionalisms, and despite the lack of traditional organizations, people, practices and ideas are shared and used as foundations for further action. Nevertheless, there is almost no inter-institutional dialogue, with exceptions being individuals belonging to minor and left-wing parties.

EINS: Plenary meeting & Workshop

13 Jun

IMG_20140613_101732This week, I have attended the 4th plenary meeting of the Network of Excellence in Internet Sciences (EINS), which has taken place at the School of Engineering of Bologna. My relation with this network started in 2012 when I participated in its 1st Summer School. Since then, I became an affiliate of EINS and I’m currently involved in the collaborative project Contropedia, funded by the EINS call “Disruptive ideas for an Internet Science”.

The event also included a workshop where the following topics where discussed:

  • Measuring the Internet
  • Net neutrality
  • Internet governance and IETF protocols after Snowden
  • Virtual community building for privacy
  • How do future/upcoming Internet technologies and Internet based applications affect the way the global society/economy is taking shape?
  • To what extent can/will Internet based technologies and applications reduce the limitations of human sociality traits (of evolutionary origins)
  • Interdisciplinarity in Internet Science: interdisciplinary influences, research methods, and network models and architectures.

Additionally, besides the academic value of the event, it was a perfect scenario to reunite with good friends and colleagues.

#DaTactic2 workshop

23 May

Yesterday, I participated in the #DaTactic2 workshop which took place simultaneously in Barcelona (Col·legi de Periodistes de Catalunya) and Madrid. The workshop was an initiative launched to boost voter awareness in upcoming EU Election due to the expected abstention caused by the disaffection towards European institutions. To this purpose, the event gathered professionals from diverse fields such as social media, data journalism and programming.

The session, similar to a hackaton, included both the preparation and launch of an awareness action on Twitter with the hashtag #occupyEP2014 (Trending Topic in Spain for 5h 25′).


I participated as an instructor giving two lectures in Barcelona:

In the end, I explained, step by step, how to visualize the network of interactions during the action on Twitter (see next figure) and attendants were able to learn how to implement similar interactive visualizations in the future.



EMAPS: Oxford Sprint

29 Apr

Last week, I attended to the third in the series of four EMAPS sprints mapping climate change controversies. The focus of the sprint was on local adaptation projects: how they are defined, what they are, and where funding goes at the local level. This workshop, which took place at the School of Geography and the Environment at the University of Oxford, was based on the model of ‘hackathons’ organized by communities of programmers gather:

  • coders
  • designers
  • issue experts of the climate debate
  • specialists of digital methods

in small interdisciplinary groups to respond to the mapping needs of the alpha-users.


The group I was part of focused on how is the private sector helping fight climate change impacts. We first generated databases from reports and lists of projects recorded by the:

Then we explored the data to visualize them in different templates. The following world map describes the coverage of drought/water scarcity hazard by the public sector (blue) and the insurance industry (green).

The following network explains who is talking about insurance themes within the adaptation online community showing that skeptics are more picking up on insurance themes.


Finally, I should also mention the delightful experience of being in Oxford again (3 times in the last 2 years), hosted in the impressive Keble College.

D-CENT: The Spanish Lean Inception Workshop

17 Feb


On the 8th – 14th of February D-CENT partners travelled to Barcelona, Spain, for a workshop organized by the partner University of Catalunya (UOC). The six-day session involved intensive meetings with local communities, drawing tech visions and sharing experiences.

In Spain, our goal was to understand the local context better and explore overlaps and common user needs that came up in Reykjavik. We also wanted to create hypotheses and use-case scenarios for the Spanish context and begin testing these hypotheses to arrive at an initial MVP (“Minimal Viable Product”), meaning a feature or application which would instantly benefit the communities.

Getting acquainted

The first day in Barcelona consisted of introductions and setting of the workshop objectives. At the second day, we had a meeting with representatives from a large number of relevant user communities, such as 15M nodes, national campaign group PAH and other activist groups and citizens.

The local Spanish groups explained their main activities and objectives, and shared their stories and experiences of frustrations experienced with existing digital tools.


Tech design and interviews

During the third day, the team discussed D-CENT architecture and design. We also started the in-depth interviews with the local communities. The day four followed with more technical discussion, especially in relation to the MVPs. User hypotheses were developed and further interviews took place, feeding directly into a simultaneous discussion and decision-making on an initial MVP for the Spanish context.

Drawing conclusions

With local alternative currency groups, it was decided to set up online questionnaires to be put to their wider communities. These will be used to gather data related to the concrete practices and frustrations people might be experiencing. It will also tap into communities’ ability to use, distribute or employ resources and find out the broader outlook on the role of money in their practices.

The fifth day consisted of collating and drawing conclusions from interviews, refining hypotheses and further developing user-profiles and use-case scenarios. A set of metrics was agreed on in order to test the MVP. There was also final round of in-depth interviews. When reaching the final day, the Barcelona workshop was closed with an overall discussion and (re)creating a shared vision together.


D-CENT: Kick-off meeting

19 Nov

From November 10 to 12, I went to London to the kick-off meeting of D-CENT project, selected under the first FP7 call of Collective Awareness Platforms for Sustainability and Social Innovation.

The agenda included a meeting where the partners explained the corresponding work packages. In my case, as researcher of Barcelona Media, I explained, with my colleagues Arnau Monterde and David Laniado, the data analysis techniques that we will provide due to our experience in DatAnalysis15M research network.


In the other two days, there was held a very interesting workshop about Lean UX, the agile methodology that will be used in this project.  The workshop was given by Jeff Gothelf, principal at Neo NYC (partner of the consortium) and author of “Lean UX: Applying lean principles to improve user experience“.


D-CENT will accelerate innovation in the use of the Internet to help communities share data and collaborate to address major societal challenges. Despite its huge potential to transform everyday democratic decision making or to enable citizens to shape their own economic destiny, today’s Internet is becoming highly centralised. D-CENT will create a bottom-up, decentralised, open platform for collective awareness based on integrating already successful open-source codebases. Its practical experiments will address:

  • Democratic engagement, building on Europe’s largest experiments in direct democracy – the Open Ministry linked into parliament in Finland, and the involvement of the whole population in shaping a new wiki-constitution in Iceland – as well as one of Europe’s most dynamic social movements, in Spain. These will show how millions of citizens can become engaged in day-to-day deliberation, and decision-making.
  • The connection of these new approaches to empowerment to economic platforms. Freecoin, a new disruptive digital social currency based on Bitcoin, will be deployed in Finland, Iceland and Spain to encourage the sharing economy and to extend, scale and link up community currencies. Our aim is that these tools will then be spread to currencies currently being implemented in France, the Netherlands, and the UK, creating the building blocks for an economy that links exchange to trust, deliberation, and collective awareness.

D-CENT will provide civil society with immediately useable digital tools for social innovation and sustainability. But it will also grow longer-term alternatives to today’s highly centralised platforms and power structures

The reinvention of democracy in the network society

11 Oct

reinvention-democracyIn May and June 2012 Arnau Monterde, coordinator of the program “Communication and Civil Society” at the Internet Interdisciplinary Institute (Open University of Catalonia) organized two workgroups:

I was invited to the first one to discuss with very valuable people as Gala Pin, Carlos Tomás Moro, Javier Toret, Débora Lanzeni, Carlos S. Almeida, Adrià Rodríguez and Cristina Cullell March. Our discussion has been recently synthesized and documented by Arnau, Adrià and the professor Ismael Peña-López as part of the following working paper which has been recently released:

The reinvention of democracy in the network society (in Spanish)


From the Arab Spring, through movement occupywallstreet or 15M it has been opened a new cycle of political network movements which propose many new elements regarding the political use of new technologies and the Internet to collective action. These new movements see the network not only as a tool or battlefield, but also as an organizational form, establishing a relationship that commonly has been linked to ethics and ways to do of hacker communities.

Moreover, the financial crisis in Europe is deepening blocking political institutions that have been building since the beginning of modernity. This crisis is expressed not only in the inability of these institutions to tackle the current economic, social and political, but also in its complicity with the mechanisms of financial dispossession. Such institutional crisis determines the need to exercise both a critical and process of invention and construction work that starts from the new technological possibilities and lessons of network movements, hacker culture and free software, which enable reinventing institutional and constitutional forms, and therefore also of democracy itself.


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