Social Movements and Online Civic Engagement

This source preferred by Roman Gerodimos

Authors: Gerodimos, R.

Start date: 1 July 2004

This paper examines the recent literature on the use of new information and communication technologies by social movements and proposes a four-level typology for the study of online civic engagement. The model comprises of four online activities - awareness, deliberation, mobilisation and conflict - and it can enhance our understanding of civic behaviour and grassroots activism online, while also facilitating comparisons with offline civic activities. The paper also uses the recent Iraq crisis as a case study of the four-level model. In addition to secondary data on weblogs, cyberconflict and news awareness, the paper presents original data emerging from a multi-stage pilot research project conducted in Dorset in 2003. The pilot project combined quantitative (email survey of the local academic community) and qualitative (interview and observation of local anti-war activists) elements.

The findings of the primary data concur with the recent literature and observe the flexible and growing use of the Internet by the anti-war activists. Email is by far the commonest tool of awareness and mobilisation; yet the Internet is perceived as one of many tools - the new media are used in conjunction with traditional means of activism (telephone, posters, word of mouth). Furthermore, it emerges that in addition to communicating directly with the public, one of the key motivations for the activists using the internet is the opportunity to grab the attention of the (old) media and enter the news cycle.

Overall, the paper concludes that although new forms of civic engagement and activism are emerging online (and the Iraq crisis is only the first major indication of that), old media and traditional means of communication still have an important role in the life of social movements.

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