This afternoon (9 May) Suay Özkula and I will be presenting a paper based on our systematic review of digital activism research. This builds on our paper published in Information, Communication & Society last year, which found a preponderance of Twitter studies in digital activism research between 2011 and 2018.
For further information on the study, please feel free to contact us.
The abstract can be read below:
Where exactly is the Global South? Exploring Northern visibilities in digital activism research
The seemingly global nature of hashtag activism makes it difficult to assess what regions are being studied in digital activism research and the extent to which this scholarship is subject to ‘digital bias’ (Marres, 2017). This is of particular concern to scholars who have problematised the dominance of ‘Western’, Global North actors in digital media research whilst also calling for internet research methods to become de-westernised, internationalised, or decolonised (e.g. Badr & Ganter, 2021; Bosch, 2022; Milan & Treré, 2019; Karam & Mutsvairo, 2022; Mutsvairo, 2019; Schoon et al., 2020). While some argue that a ‘decolonial turn’ in digital media research is belatedly occurring (Couldry and Mejia, 2021), questions remain about whether similar trends are evident in digital activism research.
In response to this issue, this paper explores geographic representation in digital activism research. The corpus for the systematic review was created by running queries spanning 21 relevant keywords describing digitally enabled activism on the Scopus database. The final corpus consisted of 315 articles published between 2011 and 2018, which was tested on a range of attributes including methodological approaches and factors for evaluating regionality with a focus on regionally disadvantaged communities (towards capturing “Global South” and semi-periphery regions), incl.: case study origin and location, author affiliation, regional foci of the publishing journals, and researched digital/ social media platform (as tied to specific user demographics).
Results indicate that Global North and non-region specific campaigns dominated digital activism research during this period, particularly in articles featuring digital data. As such, extant research in the field has disproportionately produced what we term Northern Visibilities – privileged demographics & popular platforms of the “Global Majority” (i.e. Global North and privileged economies), above all in research applying software-based approaches.
The paper concludes by outlining a number of epistemological provocations around the extent to which the methods and methodological instruments researchers choose affect which social groups they capture or potentially omit as demographics may become diffused over multiple spaces and language contexts. Challenges in capturing Global South and semi-periphery communities apply, above all, in computational approaches as these are often based on high visibility as well as the API access options platforms provide. This means that researchers may need to rethink (a) where (e.g. which platform spaces) and how disadvantaged and less visible social groups are represented online, (b) which precise social groups digital social research is meant to capture, (c) gaps in digital activism research, above all in relation to “unheard” groups, as well as (d) what these skewed representations mean for inclusive research practice.
Badr, H., & Ganter, S. (2021). Towards Cosmopolitan Media and Communication Studies: Bringing Diverse Epistemic Perspectives into the Field. Global Media Journal-German Edition, 11(1). https://www.globalmediajournal.de/index.php/gmj/article/view/195
Bosch, T. (2022). Decolonizing Digital Methods. Communication Theory, 32(2), 298-302.
Couldry, N., & Mejias, U. A. (2021). The decolonial turn in data and technology research: what is at stake and where is it heading?. Information, Communication & Society, 1-17.
Karam, B., & Mutsvairo, B. (2022). Decolonising Political Communication in Africa: Reframing Ontologies (p. 254). Taylor & Francis.
Marres, N. (2017). Digital sociology: The Reinvention of Social Research. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Milan, S., & Treré, E. (2019). Big data from the South (s): Beyond data universalism. Television & New Media, 20(4), 319-335.
Mutsvairo, B. (2019). Challenges facing development of data journalism in non-western societies. Digital Journalism, 7(9), 1289-1294.
Schoon, A., Mabweazara, H. M., Bosch, T., & Dugmore, H. (2020). Decolonising digital media research methods: Positioning African digital experiences as epistemic sites of knowledge production. African Journalism Studies, 41(4), 1-15.