What about WhatsApp? A systematic review of WhatsApp and its role in civic and political engagement

Natalie Pang, Yue Ting Woo


The use of instant messaging platforms such as WhatsApp for civic and political purposes has been observed and reported to be growing faster than other social media platforms especially in recent years. Using empirical research on WhatsApp studies published from 2009 to 2019 as its corpus of data, this article systematically reviews them to provide more robust conclusions about WhatsApp and its relationship with political and/or civic engagement. This paper seeks to answer three central questions related to WhatsApp and engagement: 1) What are the motivations in using WhatsApp and how do they manifest in the use of WhatsApp as a communication tool? 2) What is the role of WhatsApp in civic and political engagement? 3) How do researchers study the use of WhatsApp in civic and political engagement? The review finds that across empirical studies, while WhatsApp is used by activists and organisational networks for mobilisation and coordinating actions, it is also used by users who draw on the affordances of the medium for informal and ‘de-politicised’ conversations. The findings contribute to the theorising of social media-mediated movements and activism and highlight methodological gaps of ongoing research on WhatsApp.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.5210/fm.v25i12.10417

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