Social Movements

Understanding Social Movements


University of California, San Diego

Grant Title: Online and Offline Activism in the Arab Spring
Grant Period: July 2014 – February 2015
Principal Investigators:

The UCSD research team examined how activists in Bahrain and Egypt engaged, inspired, and organized their constituencies during the peak of the 2011 protest period in each country. The researchers examined how these activists used and combined social media tools and more traditional community organizing techniques to assist USAID in learning how best to support formal and informal activists and groups working for democratic transition within fluid social movements. Key findings include:

  • The main driver behind the mobilization of the protests in the spring of 2011 in both countries was direct person-to-person communication via face-to-face contact or phone calls.
  • The main mechanisms for information dissemination and organization also relied on direct person-to-person communication in a common physical space—on the streets during the protests or in the offices of local NGOs.
  • Individual activists did use Twitter to spread information, but not very successfully, and the on-the-ground coordination between these activists and established NGOs did not translate into coordinated efforts to use or control virtual space.
  • High-profile activists who used Twitter frequently during the protest period did not generate significant online attention or interest among protesters, even those also active on Twitter; the main audience for activists’ Tweets appears to have been international.

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