This research examines the usage of online social networking sites (SNS) by the Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in Nepal. The focus is on the long-term usage of SNS rather than around the usage pattern around some specific period of time. To have some idea whether the case of Nepali CSOs completely differs from elsewhere, we also perform a comparative analysis with SNS usage by the Indian CSOs. In this research, we have used a novel methodology of classifying tweets by the CSOs. This methodology itself is one of the contributions of this article to the research literature.
We now precisely define the term CSO as used in this article. Although non-government and non-profit organizations do not represent civil society in its entirety, such organizations nonetheless are its important elements (Carothers & Barndt, 1999). Therefore, for the purpose of this article, we consider non-profit and non-government organizations as equivalent to CSOs. Throughout the following discussion, we shall use the term CSOs as a short form for ‘non-profit and non-government organizations’.
This research considers Twitter as a representative of SNS. There are two main reasons for this focus on Twitter. First, tweets are by default public, which allows us to analyze their content without formalities like permissions from the account holders. Second, for other popular social media like Facebook, users’ posts are not available for free. On the other hand, Twitter provides a sufficiently large number of tweets freely for academic purposes. These reasons make Twitter more accessible for academic research. One could claim that, in Nepal, Facebook is more popular as a social networking site in comparison to Twitter. To avoid this criticism, we would refrain from generalizing our findings to other social networking sites beyond Twitter. However, we contend that the methodology developed in this paper is extendable to social networking sites in general.
The usage of SNS by CSOs has not yet been the mainstream research question. It would be more appropriate to locate this question as a special theme under the broader research stream of social networking sites and civic engagement. Research on social networking sites and civic engagement could be classified into three separate themes (Skoric et al., 2016). The first theme examines the relation between SNS and social capital. Here, the term ‘social capital’ refers to the bonding between individuals in the real world. The second theme analyzes the links between SNS and civic engagement. The term ‘civic engagement’ here refers to the activities of people in response to issues of collective interests. The third theme examines the nexus between SNS and political participation. As per this classification by Skoric et al., our research falls under the first category. However, in our case, the users of SNS are limited to the CSOs who own Twitter handle, their followers and other users who read their tweets.
This study centers around the long-term usage of SNS. It is more likely that the usage of SNS could have different long-term pattern compared to instant and interactive messaging observed during specific periods like natural disasters or political unrests. In the same vein, knowledge of both short- and long-term patterns of SNS usage could both provide how the technology could be better utilized, during emergency as well as during normal periods. But the existing research literature is more focused towards usage of SNS during specific periods. Our study will attempt to fulfill this gap by examining long term Twitter usage of Nepali and Indian CSOs.
Kelly Garret had listed some important research question regarding the nexus of information technology and political protests (Kelly Garrett, 2006). An interesting question in that list was to characterize the circumstances under which information technology helps to sustain political protests for long periods. While the question of identifying such circumstances could be difficult to formulate precisely, explicating the long-term SNS usage pattern is a much more unambiguous research topic. However, analysis of long-term behavior is less seen in the literature. A large majority of research focuses on time periods around events of public interests, like protests and disasters. Specifically, the question whether the ‘social capital’ created via SNS is long-lasting is an important question on its own (Pointer et al., 2016). Our study will aid in making the debate of SNS-social capital nexus more factual. But we do not attempt to quantify whether SNS, specifically Twitter, has aided in increasing the social capital of the CSOs or not. This is because an assessment of social capital is only possible by observing the real-world relationship between the CSOs and tweet-readers. On the other hand, our analysis is based only on information that are available online. Therefore, this paper will not argue whether Twitter has been helpful for Nepali and Indian CSOs for building their social capital. Our findings nonetheless could help in inferring the real-world effects of long-term Twitter usage by these CSOs.
The analysis presented in this paper is mostly Nepal specific. To have a clearer understanding of the results, we nonetheless compare the tweet pattern of Nepali CSOs with that for Indian CSOs. There has been only a few studies of SNS in Nepal, specifically, around the period of the devastating earthquake of April 2015. For example, (Radianti et al., 2016) have examined the public concerns raised in Twitter during the earthquake. Similarly, (Subba & Bui, 2017) have studied the usage of Twitter by Nepal Police during the crisis. As most of the research on SNS, these studies also have focus on short-term tweet patterns. The novel contribution of our study is the focus on long term usage and consideration of all Twitter-using CSOs in the analysis.
This study has two main objectives. First is to identify the varieties of CSOs according to their tweet pattern. The second objective is to ascertain whether the institutions have been effective in strengthening their relation with other users who read their tweets. We expect the findings will offer newer understanding in the broad research domain of SNS and civic-engagement. Since ours is the first study on the question of SNS usage by Nepali CSOs in general, we would raise some important questions, but would not answer them due to the lack of additional data. These questions could be topics for further research.