The widespread diffusion of the Internet, mobile communication, digital media and a variety of social software tools throughout the world has transformed the communication system into interactive horizontal networks that connect the local and global. They enable citizens to interact and can accelerate cooperation and action. This helpdesk research report looks at the role of social media in the formation and functioning of civic groups, protest and social movements, the effectiveness of social media and success factors. Social media is considered to contribute to democratic processes, and to be an important mechanism for collective action, protests and social movements.
While many claims are made about the effectiveness of social media, there is little systematic research that seeks to estimate the causal effects of social media. Various factors discussed in the literature as contributing to the success or weakness of social media include: leadership, links to conventional media and other activists, elite reaction and external attention. Although new communication technologies tend to generate new forms of decentralised, non-hierarchical organisations and movements, effective organisation and leadership are still considered to be important to success.