You are not logged in. LOG IN NOW >

Study Says Social Movements "Should Never Be Called a Twitter or Facebook Revolution"

BY Jessica McKenzie | Friday, November 22 2013

A report on Digital Activism and Non-Violent Conflict was released this month by the Digital Activism Research Project. It found that the role of hacking and cybercrime in digital activism is grossly overstated by the media and that while Facebook and Twitter are the leading platforms for activism on a global scale, other tools do well on a smaller, regional scale. The study found no causation or correlation between specific tools and positive outcomes.

“Even the most technology-intensive social movement should never be called a Twitter or Facebook revolution,” authors Frank Edwards, Philip Howard and Mary Joyce write.

They define a digital activism campaign as “an organized public effort, making collective claim(s) on a target authority(s), in which civic initiators or supporters use digital media.”

Protests of injustice in which no solutions or changes were put forward were excluded from the study. Campaigns were also excluded if the intended audience was too general—“fellow citizens,” for example.

To analyze digital activism on a global scale, as opposed to a case-by-case basis, the researchers collected 1,180 coded cases of digital activism, with representation from 151 countries between the years 1982 – 2012. A second collection, of 426 cases from the years 2010 – 2012, is of much higher data quality.

One last interesting note: the research found that in the three year period, from 2010 to 2012, digital campaigns did not exhibit "a clear change in the rate of campaign success or
failure." This challenges both those who believe in a “digital activism learning curve," that activists achieve better results as digital tools become mainstream, and those who posit “cyber-pessimist hypotheses” that governments will defeat digital campaigns as they become more tech-savvy.

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network and the UN Foundation for their generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.

For a round-up of our weekly stories, subscribe to the WeGov mailing list.