Mobile Chat Applications and Political Protests in Contexts of Surveillance

By: Colin Agur  

This paper identifies and conceptualizes the role of mobile chat applications (WhatsApp, WeChat, LINE, KakaoTalk, Snapchat, Firechat, Signal, Telegram, and others) as tools of political protest. Drawing on several dozen interviews with activists and journalists in Hong Kong and China, the paper focuses on political activism from 2014-present, emphasizing the significance of chat apps in contexts of surveillance. It explores the ways that mobile-first tools have changed the organization and mobilization of protest movements, as well as the ways that leaders and other participants seek to persuade those outside the movement. The paper also considers the vast amount of content that chat apps have produced (from intra-group chats to communiques aimed at journalists, to memes and art, to photos and clips, to dis- and misinformation) and the ways that news organizations have used chat apps as tools for covering large-scale protests. The paper emphasizes the shift from open social media (e.g. Twitter) to a still-evolving mix of open and closed conversations in chat apps.

"Mobile Communication", " Social Media", " Chat Apps"
Media Technologies
Paper Presentation in a Themed Session

Prof. Colin Agur

-, -, University of Minnesota, United States
Minnesota, United States

Colin Agur is an Assistant Professor at the Hubbard School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities. His research examines contemporary mobile phone usage, the social and legal implications of mass mobile telephony, and the unanticipated consequences of network development. Regionally, he interested in India, China and other developing economies, and in the United States. At the International Communication Association (ICA), he is Chair of the Mobile Communication Interest Group. In 2016-17 at the University of Minnesota, he taught JOUR 1501 (Digital Games, Sims and Apps: Storytelling, Play and Commerce) and JOUR 3551 (Economics of New Media). In fall 2017, he will be a Residential Faculty Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) at the University of Minnesota. In 2016 he was a Research Fellow at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University. Prior to coming to the University of Minnesota, he was a postdoctoral fellow in media and law at Yale Law School’s Information Society Project. In 2014 he received his PhD in Communications from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.