Transnational issue networks in real and virtual space: the case of women, peace and security



To what extent do online issue networks serve as a proxy for their real-space counterparts in structure and substance? This question is significant because a number of scholars have begun to study transnational advocacy networks through their representations online. We explored whether this assumption is valid by comparing the network composition and agenda composition of the advocacy network around ‘women, peace and security’, as operationalized through a web-based survey of actual activists, and the network's online representations of itself, as measured through advocacy websites. Two specific concerns drove the study. First, how closely does the structure of issue networks, as represented on the World Wide Web, correspond with actual advocates' understanding of the players within a specific issue domain? Second, to what extent does the online issue agenda correlate with the most prominent issues described by real-space advocates within a transnational network? Our findings yielded a high correlation between the online issue agenda and activists’ interpretations of the agenda. However, we found that while hyperlink analysis is an effective tool for identifying the ‘hubs’ or ‘gatekeepers’ within a specific issue network, the nature of the World Wide Web makes it is a blunt tool with which to capture the broader network. This suggests that while the web poses important opportunities as a data source, scholars of transnational networks must pay closer attention to the methodological assumptions implicit in their reliance on this and other new media.