The Digital Activism Gap: How Class and Costs Shape Online Collective Action

Source: Jen Schradie Social Problems, Volume 65, Issue 1, February 2018
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
What is the relationship between social class and online participation in social movements? Scholars suggest that low costs to digital activism broaden participation and challenge conventional collective action theories, but given the digital divide, little is known about cost variation across social movement organizations from different social classes. A focus on high levels of digital engagement and extraordinary events leaves scant information about the effect of social class on digital mobilization patterns and everyday practices within and across organizations. This study takes a field-level approach to incorporate all groups involved in one statewide political issue, thereby including organizations with different social class compositions, from Tea Parties to labor unions. Data collection spans online and off-line digital activism practices. With an index to measure digital engagement from an original data set of over 90,000 online posts, findings show deep digital activism inequalities between working-class and middle/upper-class groups. In-depth interviews and ethnographic observations reveal that the mechanisms of this digital activism gap are organizational resources, along with individual disparities in access, skills, empowerment and time. These factors create high costs of online participation for working-class groups. Rather than reduced costs equalizing online participation, substantial costs contribute to digital activism inequality.