With this study we seek to provide an understanding of the discourse and agenda setting practices of an online issue based political group, "Join the Coffee Party Movement" (JCPM) in the United States. The stated goals of JCPM are to establish a place for individuals who identify themselves as disenfranchised to discuss and take action on issues of social and economic policy in the US. JCPM is one example of hundreds of issue-based organizations emerging on Facebook worldwide. Since its inception in January 2010, over 344,000 Facebook members have become followers of the JCPM page. Our analysis of the text of the discourse and the social networks, which emerge on the JCPM page, show three surprising results. First, in contrast to prior studies, significant deliberative discourse among members emerges in this open, public space without prompting. Second, the discourse practices and structure that emerge on the JCPM Facebook page show two types of leadership: Centralized, organizational leadership, and decentralized leadership from participants. Third, we identify two structural characteristics of this virtual political organization using social network analysis of trace data: a) Organizational leaders are not central to discussions of controversial topics; b) Advocacy and dissent behavior in the discussions are reflected in the social network structure. Our findings have implications for the practices and technology designs used to engage citizens through social and participatory media. © 2011 ACM.
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