The Future of Social Movement Organizations: The Waning Dominance of SMOs Online

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34 Scopus citations


This article examines the role of social movement organizations (SMOs) in Internet activism. While SMOs may still play a vital role in offline protest that is facilitated online, I argue that SMOs do not necessarily offer strong returns on investment for forms of protest in which participation occurs online or in which entire movements are organized online. Specifically, I argue that several critical functions for SMOs in offline social movements are not as applicable online, rendering SMOs less necessary for online participation and/or organizing. However, that SMOs may no longer be prerequisites for online protest does not imply their extinction for several reasons. First, noninstrumental motives may drive SMO formation and maintenance. Second, other situations remain, such as facilitating offline protest using the Internet, in which SMOs are still likely to provide significant returns on investment. Third, SMOs may be important to healthy movement ecologies such that entire social movements that are devoid of SMOs may operate less optimally than movements in which at least some SMOs are active. I close by arguing for increased research on settings where SMOs are absent and on alternative returns on investments for SMOs in Internet activism.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)35-52
Number of pages18
JournalAmerican Behavioral Scientist
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 16 2015


  • organizing outside organizations
  • organizing through different organizations
  • social media
  • social movement organizations
  • social movements

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Cultural Studies
  • Education
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • General Social Sciences


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