Authors: Kate Brodock, Mary Joyce, Timo Zaeck
Data Set: download spreadsheet (.xls)
Abstract: Our goal in creating this survey was to collect the first international demographic data on the new group we call “digital activists”: people who use digital technology as part of grassroots campaigns for social and political change.
From late mid-February to mid-April of 2009, DigiActive collected 122 responses through an open online form, followed by three rounds of qualitative and quantitative analysis. Despite the challenges of researching the world’s digital activists we felt a need to record – in some rough way – this evolving demographic. Our original data set is available for download above and we welcome comments below through firstname.lastname@example.org.
Age: Of the survey’s 122 respondents, 28% were between the ages of 26 and 30, with 10% above age 50 and only 2% below the age of 20. The low activism rates of these young “digital natives” may be explained by political apathy and entertainment preferences online.
Gender: Outside North America, male respondents outnumbered female respondents by a margin of 7 to 3. If this gap holds true for digital activists in general, this further challenges the gender-neutral identity of technology.
Geography: Geographic representation was largely consistent with global Internet access but should not be used as representative of the true distribution of digital activists around the world.
Economics: Digital activists, particularly in developing countries, are much more likely than the population at large to pay a monthly subscription fee to have Internet at home, to be able to afford a high-speed connection, and to work in a white-collar job where Internet is also available. In short, digital activists are likely to be prosperous.
Access: Intensity of use, rather than simple access, is critical as to whether or not a person is a digital activist. This high use is only possible for people with the ability to pay for it. The Internet may be democratizing, but its effects are felt most strongly in the global middle class.
Mobiles: Respondents with more features on their mobile phone – such as Internet, video, and GPS – are more likely to use their phones for activism. This is another indicator of the importance of financial resources for digital activists, both quantitatively, in terms of greater technology access, and qualitatively, in terms of better (mobile) hardware.
Causes: Across regions, “rights” emerged as the most popular cause, with 21 different types identified by respondents.
Broadcast: The plurality of respondents (37%) believe digital technology’s greatest value for activism is one-way communication. What makes social media useful for digital activism may not be its interactivity but rather the fact that these technologies collapse the barrier to broadcast.
Platforms: Social networks are the most common “gateway drug” into digital activism.
Design: None of most popular activist tools – social networks, blogs, and email – were specifically made for activism. It is likely a combination of their open and agnostic architecture, as well as their high user base, that has made them popular with activists.
Skills: Findings on technology and advocacy skills acquisition challenge the assumption that those who have a facility with technology are more likely to become digital activists and gives encouragement to programs that seek to teach technology skills to traditional activists.
Offline: Older activists in the respondent group are most likely to use digital technology to increase the efficiency of offline activities, such as training and evidence collection, and less likely to participate in activities which have gained popularity because of the availability of online tools, such as posting original content on web sites.
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