I study the Internet and politics, particularly the relationships between online social spaces and state-society relations. My research is explicitly interdisciplinary, inductive, and qualitative.

Some of the cross-cutting themes of my research are:

  • Online communities and social networking sites as the starting point for understanding the social and political implications of the ever deepening immersive nature of digital technology.
  • Ideas that arise and are shaped by the medium of the Internet itself—in particular, online rhetoric about the potential of information and the Internet to transform societies.
  • Online culture that focuses on influential social spaces.
  • Boundaries of all kinds, such as community boundaries, legal boundaries, national boundaries, social boundaries, metaphorical boundaries, and online geography.
  • Technology policy that influences and impacts the nature of online space

The Internet and the state

Fenwick McKelvey and I are working on a research project examining the emergence of a political challenge to state power from online spaces. We began this project in 2014.

Publications from this project:

Beyer , J. and McKelvey, F. (2015) “You Are Not Welcome Among Us: Pirates and the State,” International Journal of Communication, 9.

Expect Us: Online Communities & Political Mobilization

The project that resulted in the book Expect Us began as my dissertation–Youth and the Generation of Political Consciousness Online.

The research project examined political consciousness and action in four communities, each born out of chaotic online social spaces that millions of individuals enter, spend time in, and exit moment by moment: Anonymous (4chan), IGN, World of Warcraft, and The Pirate Bay. None of these sites began as places for political organization per se, but visitors to each have used them as places for political engagement to one degree or another. I look to explain the puzzling emergence of political engagement in these disparate social spaces and offer reasons for their varied capacity to generate political activism. My comparative ethnography of these four online communities demonstrates that the technological organization of space itself has a strong role in determining the possibility of political mobilization. Overall, I show that political mobilization rises when a site provides high levels of anonymity, low levels of formal regulation, and minimal access to small-group interaction. Furthermore, my findings reveal that young people are more politically involved than much of the civic engagement literature suggests.

Publications from this project:

Beyer, J. (2014) Expect Us: Online Communities and Political Mobilization. Oxford University Press.

Earl, J. and Beyer, J. (2014). “The Dynamics of Backlash Online: Anonymous and the Battle for WikiLeaks” in Research in Social Movements, Conflicts, and Change.

Beyer, J. (2014) “The Emergence of a Freedom of Information Movement? Anonymous, WikiLeaks, the Pirate Party, and Iceland,” Journal of Computer Mediated Communication, 19(2): 141-154.

Beyer, J. (2013) “Anonymous and Authoritarian Regimes,” book chapter in State Power 2.0, Muzammil M. Hussain and Philip N. Howard (eds.).

Beyer, J. (2011) “Women’s Engagement with Male-dominated Online Communities,” chapter in Cyberfeminism 2.0, edited by Radhika Gajjala and Yeon Ju Oh. New York: Peter Lang Publishing.

Blog posts:

In Defense of Cyberspace,” March 6, 2013

Imagine Communally: Role-playing and Collective Imagination,” February 15, 2013

What does Anonymity Mean? Reddit, Activism, and “Creepshots,” December 6, 2012

Drawing Lines: Trolling and Concept Formation,” August 9, 2012

Anonymous: Because None of us are as Cruel as All of Us?” July 8, 2012 (Cross-posted on Culture Digitally)

Online Community, Real ID, and the Brilliance of Blizzard,” July 6, 2012

Pride Parades and Public Speech Online,” June 27, 2011 

Religious authority and fatwa producing websites

Iza Hussin and I are working on a project focused on Islam, technology, law, and society. Together we are examining websites producing Islamic legal opinions (fatwa) and the effect of new media on the relationships between state authority and religious authority as well as new media’s effects on transnational and local communities.