Marginalisation, activism and the flip sides of digital technologies

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August 2016 Update

The full report from this research project has been published:

About the project

Over two years and with support from the Making All Voices Count consortium, Tactical Tech undertook research to understand how marginalised technology users in Kenya and South Africa negotiate visibility and anonymity through mobile phones, popular social media and messaging applications.

Based on field and formative interviews with close to 70 LGBTQ activists in Kenya and housing and land rights activists in South Africa, this study presents reflections and learnings for people working to apply technology in transparency and accountability projects.

Jan 2016

READ THE RESULTS OF OUR MAVC-SUPPORTED RESEARCH in the 2015 Global Information Society Watch journal.

'Being LGBTQ online and Offline in Kenya' was Tactical Tech's contribution to the 2015 Global Information Society Watch Journal, an annual publication from the Association for Progressive Communications (APC), on the theme of Sexual Rights and the Internet.

This edition of GISWatch presents stories from around the world on how the politics of sex and sexual rights activism takes place online. It shows how generally accepted sexual identities, as well as marginalised sexualities, are expressed, regulated and moralised on the internet. The journal shows how this relates to the threats of surveillance, censorship and online violence.

Tactical Tech's article describes results from research in Kenya about how LGBTQ activists use technology and the risks and barriers in doing so.

Nov 2015


In October 2015, Tactical Tech and partners in Nairobi and Johannesburg discussed results of new research on the limitations of uses and applications of digital technologies in activism by activists marginalised by their societies.

Summary papers:

From 'Dirty Toilets' to 'Thembelihle': How marginalised housing and urban development rights activists in Johannesburg are using technology (pdf)

The Möbius Strip: How LGBTQ Kenyans use technology to negotiate visibility and anonymity (pdf)

In the past few years, digital technology applications are increasingly popular tools employed in work around civic engagement, democratic participation and transparency and accountability in governance and public services. This is visible in open data and open knowledge movements, social media and map-based applications such as: Harassmap, Follow the Money projects, public, social audits like Our Toilets Are Dirty, and the combination of open data, data journalism and visualisation for government transparency and public accountability as is popular across Latin America.

However, research from the Institute of Development Studies suggests that it is the 'usual suspects' who are most likely to engage in these kinds of technology projects: middle class, educated men who are part of the social mainstream. Outside of this narrow segment, what limits other groups in society from using digital technologies for activism and in demanding accountability from governments?

Tactical Tech has supported, enabled and championed the creative use of digital technologies for witnessing, exposing, mobilising and organising by activists and human rights defenders worldwide. Our work has also been focused on addressing the 'flip sides' of using technology in activism: limits placed on freedom of speech, expression and assembly and negative consequences for speaking out against institutions and demanding rights, such as surveillance by the state, as well as non-state actors. How can citizens and governments engage in meaningful dialogue when citizens who are marginalised and subjected to violence and criminalisation? What promises does the digital make for such communities?

In order to address these questions, Tactical Tech did two research studies in Nairobi and Johannesburg to understand how marginalised communities of activists use digital technologies in their personal lives and for work and activism, and the risks and barriers they face in doing so. We have shared the results with local community-based organisations as well as with the technical community that works on transparency and accountability projects.

We were joined by Nanjira Sambuli and Melissa Wainana in Nairobi; Koketso Moeti, SERI, and Indra de Lanerolle in Johannesburg.

The research and local events are made possible thanks to a grant from the Making All Voices Count fund.