The literature on the social uses of social technologies is substantial and expanding. Using over 400 sources, the current review outlines the key themes emerging from academic, grey literature and online material in this field. Much of this literature argues for the transformative power of social media, through its capacity to democratise and generate action through horizontal networks.
The literature is dominated by studies of and commentary on the political impact of social media use, in particular in forms of protest. But while these technologies may have helped to change some processes, there seems to have been little lasting impact on broader outcomes in terms of empowerment, equalities or social justice. Nor is there evidence, at the less-publicised level of the community sector, that such outcomes have been or will be affected by uses of social media.
Within the third sector literature, the dominance of material relating to marketing and fundraising for charities obscures a lack of case studies of community organisations’ use of social media.
Research suggests that networked individuals may now carry out community action roles more efficiently than organisations. There is evidence that social media is changing the way social actions are organised: not just collective action but also ‘connective’ action. Community organisations will need to adjust to a changing role in the processes of knowledge generation and sharing.
This literature review has underpinned further primary research exploring the use of social media by community groups. This is published as Third Sector Research Centre Working Paper 140: Community Action and Social Media: Trouble in Utopia?