The Hispanic Institute recently published a study about the impact of mobile communications technology on the development of civic engagement among Hispanics.
Statistics show that the Hispanic community is more invested in mobile technology than other groups. Today, more than 87% of English-speaking Hispanics have a cell phone, compared to 80% of Whites (Smith, 2010). They use their cell phones more frequently and use more features than the general population (Lenhard, 2010). They also lead other groups in the use of mobile devices to access the Internet: 53% of Hispanics and only 33% of Whites (Horrigan, 2009).
This fact has a substantial impact on three important areas: immigration, Education and Voter Registration.
Social media could have a huge power on civic engagement and immigration issues. For example, a quick search on Facebook lists several hundred sites in support of the DREAM Act, which would have provided a path to citizenship for children of undocumented residents.
On March 2006, in Dallas, a group of 4,000 Hispanic high school students used Myspace, e-mails and cell phone texting to organize a walkout in protest of the Border Protection, Anti-terrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act (Harris, 2006).
Mobile technology has allowed groups to make their voices heard. For example, Mobile Voices, a joint project of the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California and a nonprofit, the Institute of Popular Education of Southern California, has produced VozMob, which allows immigrant workers in the Los Angeles area to use their cell phones to record voice or video stories about their experiences to be posted online. The stories are then used to provide a more complete view of the immigrant community and their experience during a time of extreme tensions between immigrants and anti-immigrant activists (Vozmob.net, 2010).
Austin, Texas-based software company edioma offers English-language mini-courses on cell phones to first-generation Hispanics. The lessons are tailored to meet specific needs, such as banking or retail shopping. These short informational bursts can help provide Hispanics with information about a wealth of other topics and skills, including civic issues.
Voter Registration and Mobilization
Recent political campaigns have powerfully demonstrated the power of the Internet and social media to drive civic engagement results. One of the best examples of how this phenomenon has played out in the Hispanic community is a voter registration project conducted by The Hispanic Institute in Nevada in 2009:
The project primarily targeted Hispanic residents but included all residents within the target areas. The voter registration drive coincided with a series of immigration reform rallies organized by a number of community-based organizations, which allowed the THI team to take advantage of the convergence of events to utilize mobile technology to amplify their reach.
The project had both a voter registration and a Get-Out-The-Vote component. In addition to more than 134,000 individual contacts at homes, supermarkets and other public gatherings, THI staff and volunteers collected key data and registered eligible voters. Additionally, organizers collected cell phone numbers for all contacts, whether they were signed up as voters or not.
The THI voter registration project met its goal to register 10,000 new voters. Mobile communications technology drove the civic engagement effort. Once individuals were registered to vote, they were sent numerous text messages to remind them about early voting, voting site locations, availability of transportation to the voting sites, updates about ballot initiatives, and other information. Additionally, voters were given contact information and a central location for in-person contacts. This two-way mobile network allowed voters to access information when it was most convenient to them.
The success of The Hispanic Institute‘s voter registration/mobilization drive clearly demonstrates that the population‘s use of mobile communications technology has pushed civic engagement to a new level that can benefit the entire nation.
The Hispanic Institute