Silicon Valley Notebook


Bowen Shi


This research explored how the structures of digital activist movements (movement causes, target audience, and duration) and the strategic use of media applications affected their final outcomes. Survey data from the 2013 Global Digital Activism Data Set (Digital Activism Research Project) were supplemented with insights from four professional interviewees who had experience and knowledge about activism in both offline and digital fora as well as several case studies of successful and unsuccessful digital movements. The mixed methods analyses offered three insights. Digital activism about human right and political issues was less likely to succeed than ones about civic development concerns. Activism that targeted governments was also less likely to succeed than if the targets were informal groups/individuals or institutions/organizations. These findings were supported by the structural inequality axiom. In addition, as predicted by the value-added proposition in social movement theory, the strategic use of media applications (using public media applications for collaboration purposes) as well as multiple fora (combining online and offline) increased the possibility of activism’s success. Sample case studies were used to illustrate the broad contours of the survey findings.