Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Business Administration

First Advisor's Name

Karlene C. Cousins

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee chair

Second Advisor's Name

Richard E. Klein Jr

Second Advisor's Committee Title

Committee member

Third Advisor's Name

Manjul Gupta

Third Advisor's Committee Title

Committee member

Fourth Advisor's Name

William Newburry

Fourth Advisor's Committee Title

Committee member


social media, public discourse, democracy, authoritarian country, empowerment, IS affordance, IS affordance actualization

Date of Defense



This dissertation investigates citizens' use of social media to participate in public discourse (i.e., access, share, and comment on socio-political content) in restrictive environments: societies ruled by a hegemonic government where users face economic and infrastructure barriers to using digital technologies. Theoretical propositions are built inductively from an interpretive case study of how Cuban citizens use Twitter to participate in socio-political conversations. The case study resulted in the identification of nine affordances (i.e., action potentials) for participating in public discourse that Cubans perceive on Twitter. The findings also showed that the identified affordances enabled Cubans to achieve citizen goals: positive outcomes that made them more effective to counteract the government's hegemonic ruling. The case study also resulted in the identification of six obstacle-circumvention use strategies that Cubans apply to realize Twitter’s affordances and the conditions informing these strategies. The case findings were abstracted into a conceptual framework to explain social media-enabled participation in public discourse as a mechanism of empowerment in restrictive environments. One research contribution is the proposition that social media empowers citizens in restrictive spaces by allowing them to take, in the virtual world, actions related to participating in socio-political conversations that they cannot take in offline settings. Moreover, this work advances that social media empowers citizens in restrictive environments because it increases their self-efficacy and motivation to counteract the government and the knowledge and access to valuable resources needed to be more effective while pursuing this goal. Another contribution was highlighting that media use in restrictive environments is an involved process requiring users to devise optimization strategies that usually involve the use of supportive technologies in addition to the social media app. The use strategies are informed by limiting societal, individual user-level, and circumstantial conditions. One of this work’s practical contributions is offering pro-democracy advocates in restrictive environments a clearer understanding of the effects of using social media. This dissertation reaffirms that social media-mediated participation in public discourse empowers citizens because it provides the emotional fuel and the knowledge that they need to engage in the tiring battle of pushing back against the government’s domination.





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