Research / BFI Working PaperJan 06, 2022

Profiling Insurrection: Characterizing Collective Action Using Mobile Device Data

David Van Dijcke, Austin Wright

We develop a novel approach for estimating spatially dispersed community-level participation in mass protest. This methodology is used to investigate factors associated with participation in the `March to Save America’ event in Washington, D.C. on January 6, 2021. This study combines granular location data from more than 40 million mobile devices with novel measures of community-level voting patterns, the location of organized hate groups, and the entire georeferenced digital archive of the social media platform Parler. We find evidence that partisanship, socio-political isolation, proximity to chapters of the Proud Boys organization, and the local activity on Parler are robustly associated with protest participation. Evidence from communities with close election outcomes in 2020 suggests narrow losses by Trump triggered a spike in participation. Our research fills a prominent gap in the study of collective action: identifying and studying communities involved in mass-scale events that escalate into violent insurrection.

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