WhatsApp is the favorite Latinx messaging app. It's free and messages come from a known sender. WhatsApp campaigns cost less than SMS and is ideal for relational organizing.
This blog explains how relational organizing on WhatsApp is being used to mobilize Latinx voters. The technique also works with other communities through the messaging app they prefer to use, such as WeChat in the Chinese community.
- How to conduct a WhatsApp based relational organizing campaign using words, images and GIFs
- Popularity of messaging apps and their usage in the Hispanic community
- Pros and cons of WhatsApp vs SMS
- How WhatsApp is used to mobilize voters and abused to spread disinfo
- Map of Latinx population by county
Latinx relational organizing with WhatsApp and VoteForce
Blue Future, a national, nonprofit organizing program that mobilizes college students conducted a pilot program with DemLabs using WhatsApp educate voters in Colorado. Their campaign spread Voter ID requirements with the Colorado Latinx community using volunteers and relational organizing on WhatsApp. They chose a voter info card (image) from VoteRiders, a nonprofit that works nationwide that provides voter ID education and assistance to all eligible voters. This GIF demo shows how Blue Future created the message for volunteers to share through VoteForce (a free app), and how volunteers shared the message with friends using WhatsApp and posted it to their Facebook and Instagram pages.
WhatsApp relational organizing with VoteForce
Organizers encourage supporters to get the free VoteForce app from either the Apple Store or Google Play.
- Volunteers specify where they live and their interests when they install the app so that the campaign organizer can send alerts to only the selected volunteers.
- Organizers create messages with either text, images or GIFs.
- Volunteers are alerted through their VoteForce app when there is a new message for them to share.
- Volunteers can personalize the message and then share it through WhatsApp (or other messaging apps)
- They can send the message to one or many friends with one click
- They can also post the message to their social media account
WhatsApp advantages for organizing
- - Messaging apps like WhatsApp are free and can be used phones, tablets and laptops
- They do not involve data fees and can be used over WiFi without cellular coverage
- Allows political groups to mobilize supporters with encrypted messages
- Enables immediate delivery and direct calls for action that can be spread virally and for free
- Can be used to target small groups with specific message
- Messages come directly to the user's phone, from known contacts, and feel ‘personal’
- Immediacy of message delivery can create a feeling of urgency about particular topics
- Can be used to penetrate rural communities that don't have access to other platforms
- Allows creation of groups of up to 256 people, generating large communities of close contacts
Unlike having 5,000 friends on Facebook, many of whom you don’t know in person, WhatsApp messages come as personal single messages from specific contacts. - Tactical Tech
SMS vs WhatsApp cost comparison
Consider an outreach campaign to send a message and the picture of a voter info card to 2,000 people
Message to be sent: "All registered Colorado voters will automatically receive a mail ballot before each election. A copy of your ID is not required when you vote by mail, but the signature on your mail-in ballot must match your signature on file with the state. If you choose to vote in person, you must confirm your identity." (from VoteRiders)
This message has 54 words and 306 characters which is considered two text segments.
"All phone carriers (AT&T, Verizon, etc.) measure text messages in character batches called segments. Generally, most messages use the character coding standard of GSM-7 and contain up to 160 characters per SMS text segment." - Text-em-All
Text messages are sent as SMS (Short Message Service) while images are sent as MMS (multimedia message service).
RumbleUp, for instance charges 9 cents to send a text and 13 cents to send an MMS.
Cost to send text and image = ( 2 segments x $ 0.09/SMS + 1 image x $ 0.13/MMS ) x 1,000 people = $ 310
Sending this through relational organizing with WhatsApp and VoteForce would cost about $30 with a greater likelihood of the messages being opened.
Widespread Latinx usage of WhatsApp
"Almost half (49%) of Hispanics use the app, according the Pew Research Center. That makes perfect sense, considering it’s the dominant messaging platform in Latin America and US immigrant communities use it broadly to communicate with family and friends in their home countries. WhatsApp costs less than SMS or calls and is used for everything from sharing news to doing business and conducting diplomacy." - Quartz
"A Brookings survey conducted in August 2020 found that 10.4% of participants said they had used WhatsApp within the past 7 days. But what was particularly interesting were the demographic breakdowns. 27% of the Hispanics surveyed said they used the app within the past six months to discuss politics."
Messenger platform adoption
WhatsApp abused to spread disinformation
"WhatsApp, which uses encrypted messages between groups of fewer than 250 people, is notoriously difficult to track. And because messages are typically shared among people who know one another, the information is often presumed to be fair and accurate. WhatsApp is exceedingly popular among Latinos with families living both in the United States and Latin America, and experts have seen what they call a relentless deluge of false information being passed from those living outside the United States about American politics — and then back again. Many people are reluctant to leave groups they have long been a part of to join in friendly family gossip and nostalgia.
“In the U.S., there’s not a huge WhatsApp penetration, but in certain diaspora communities, there is,” said Jacob Gursky, a research associate at the Center for Media Engagement at the University of Texas at Austin, which has studied disinformation in the United States, Brazil, India and Mexico and has been looking into the messages proliferating in Miami.
Misinformation proliferates first online, then is often shared on WhatsApp, which is particularly popular among Latino immigrants. Then, in Florida, it trickles into the Miami media market’s largely unchecked ecosystem of niche Spanish-language newspapers and radio and television stations, whose right-wing hosts and commentators amplify some of the pernicious messages." - NY Times
Latinx population by county
The Latinx community is a key voting bloc in many counties. Increased mobilization would have a major impact in many elections. This map created with ArcGIS Online shows the number of Latinx voters and their % of the the overall voting population in the county based on information from esri Living Atlas. The map can be freely shared with this link or embedded in a website with this line of code:
< iframe width="300" height="200" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" allowfullscreen src="https://arcg.is/1vX5aH">