Mobile Activism Research - An Emerging Field

Posted by KatrinVerclas on May 18, 2007

We are pleased that there is a growing body of academic research on the use of mobile phones in civil society.  While primarily focused on mobiles as a tool for economic development (references), we are learning of a few that are explicitly focused on mobiles in activism.  

Redante Asuncion-Reed just published his Master's on the use of cell phones in activism focusing on a Fahamu, an African-based organization active in the MobileActive Network.   You can download it here.

He writes:

"This study examined the role of mobile phones and SMS technology in the work of Fahamu (, an African organization working for human rights and social justice. I studied the role of SMS and cell phones in two of their campaigns to illustrate how social media can be used as tools for social activism.  Fahamu found an innovative way of using cell phones for activist campaigns that had never been done before both in technique (gathering signatures for a petition) and scope (the entire continent of Africa). For these campaigns, Fahamu had two goals: (1) to mobilize public pressure for successful continent-wide ratification of the Protocol on African women¢s rights and; (2) to gain attention for the issue of world poverty. While the results of the two campaigns were small in the context of the population, they did accomplish the goals that Fahamu set out to reach for each campaign, primarily through press coverage/earned media.

Social media made it possible for Fahamu to tackle these projects.  Without cell phones or SMS messaging in combination with other media such as the Internet, the organization would not have accomplished what they did. Two international campaigns to gain publicity and harness public opinion would have required more resources well out of reach for an organization of its size, and modest resources using traditional methods of activism.

However, many questions remain: Are other organizations that use social media technologies also seeing a measure of success significantly beyond their capabilities in the absence of these tools? Are other organizations that use social media using them effectively and in ways that allow them to accomplish the goals they set out to do? Is access to social media allowing organizations to set goals for themselves that would be unrealistic in the absence of these tools, given their scope and budgets? And how do the track record of organizations which use social media compare with the track record of organizations which do not use these tools? Are social media-using organizations doing a better job overall?

Download Redante's thesis here.

Thesis_all___MIK_EDITED_Optimized.pdf1.13 MB

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