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Research Questions

  1. How do ICTs affect the formation, maintenance, and dissolution of social movements?
  2. How can ABMs be used to investigate the effects of ICTs social movements, and what advantages do ABMs offer?

Social movement research is becoming increasingly important, as information and communications technologies (ICTs) have altered the ways movements form, organize, mobilize, and act, as well as the ways in which they are surveilled and disrupted. The authors of this report explore the use of agent-based modeling as a method for studying the effects of ICTs on the formation, maintenance, and dissolution of social movements over time.

The authors first reviewed selected research on recent technologies and social movements and conducted case studies of the Arab Spring protests in Egypt in 2010, the civil uprising in Syria in 2010, and the Hong Kong protests in 2019. They then developed and tested an agent-based model (ABM) that simulates the role of technology on specific features of social movements. The authors present conclusions from this exploratory research and discuss how to better employ ABMs as a tool for understanding the dynamics of social movements.

Key Findings

  • Technology tends to accelerate the opportunity for collective action to form based on some preexisting grievance that groups of people may hold.
  • Recent advances in technology shaped the dynamics in the formation of collective action in our case studies.
  • ABMs provide a useful tool for studying the role of technology in shaping the underlying characteristics that define a social movement. Combining case-based research with theory and computational modeling offers opportunities to develop insights that would otherwise not be available using these methods in isolation.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One


  • Chapter Two

    Case Study: Egypt and the Arab Spring Protests

  • Chapter Three

    Case Study: Syria and the Arab Spring Protests

  • Chapter Four

    Case Study: 2019 Hong Kong Protests

  • Chapter Five

    Theories and Models of Social Movements

  • Chapter Six

    Modeling Network Formation

  • Chapter Seven

    Applying Agent-Based Modeling to Social Science and Social Movements

  • Chapter Eight


Funding for this research was made possible by the independent research and development provisions of RAND’s contracts for the operation of its U.S. Department of Defense federally funded research and development centers. The research was conducted by the Acquisition and Technology Policy Center within RAND National Security Research Division.

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