Using Location Data From Mobile Phones to Study Participation in Mass Protests

Assaf Rotman, Michael Shalev*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Automatically collected behavioral data on the location of users of mobile phones offer an unprecedented opportunity to measure mobilization in mass protests, while simultaneously expanding the range of researchable questions. Location data not only improve estimation of the number and composition of participants in large demonstrations. Thanks to high spatial and temporal resolution they also reveal when, where, and with whom different sociopolitical sectors join a protest campaign. This article compares the features and advantages of this type of data with other methods of measuring who participates in street protests. The steps in preparing a usable data set are explained with reference to a six-week campaign of mass mobilization in Israel in 2011. Findings based on the Israeli data set illustrate a wide range of potential applications, pertaining to both the determinants and consequences of protest participation. Limitations of mobile location data and the privacy issues it raises are also discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1357-1412
Number of pages56
JournalSociological Methods and Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 2022


  • Israel
  • big data
  • mass protests
  • mobile location data
  • social movements


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