Ambivalence in the (Private) Public Sphere: How Global Digital Activists Navigate Risk


Sarah Myers West, Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, University of Southern California


This paper seeks to provide insight into how digital activists navigate the risks posed to them in online environments. I examine how a group of activists across ten different non-Western countries adapt and respond to threats posed by two types of powerful actors: not just the state, but also the technology companies that run the social media platforms on which many activists rely to conduct their advocacy. Through a series of interviews, I examine how resistance against censorship and surveillance manifests through their everyday practices, not only by using encryption and circumvention technologies, but also by using commercial social media platforms to their advantage despite considerable ambivalence about the risks they pose.

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@inproceedings {205912,
author = {Sarah Myers West},
title = {Ambivalence in the (Private) Public Sphere: How Global Digital Activists Navigate Risk },
booktitle = {7th USENIX Workshop on Free and Open Communications on the Internet (FOCI 17)},
year = {2017},
address = {Vancouver, BC},
url = {},
publisher = {USENIX Association},
month = aug