Many different chat apps exist. This page will help you choose which one to use for your organisation. The applications will be compared looking at the five factors below:
Popularity: When a lot of people already use the app, this makes it easier for new activists to join your communication channels. They do not have to download a new app, and do not have to become accustomed to it. Users will likely check for updates more frequently if they use the app for communicating with others as well.
Functionality: The larger your organisation becomes, the more likely you will want to be using an app that is specifically designed for large group communication. However, keep in mind that apps with more functionality are often more difficult to learn for new users. When an app is hard to use, people will be less likely to start actively using it.
Security and privacy: You should make an analysis how important it is to keep secret the identity of your fellow activists and their communication with each other. As an activist organisation, you are likely being followed closely by local authorities. This is not necessarily a reason to become more secretive, as this could scare potential new members of your movement away. Do not, however, be naive when it comes to the ability and willingness of authorities to follow your actions. If you're interested in communicating securely with others, also read this article by EFF.
Price and revenue model: Unless your group is fairly small, and intends to stay that way, you will want to use an app that is free to use for your members. Apps that are targeted at larger organisations often use a different payment model: they ask the organisations to pay per member. Some offer software that you can host yourself, which means that you will be making (relatively small) hosting costs. This means, however, that you will have to manage your server yourself. You will need the technical capacity to do this.
We only share tools we really like. We are not being paid to recommend them. Feel free to add the tools that you like to use as an activist!
We have reviewed the chat apps below. If you would like another app to be reviewed, let us know in the comment section. They are sorted by popularity.
The chat apps below are best suited for small to medium sized groups. It is also possible to use these chat apps for larger movements, but it will become harder to keep an overview. Most chat apps have a maximum number of members for group chats. As your movement grows, you might want to look at the section below about communication tools for larger organisations
WhatsApp (most users): This app is very popular and simple to use. While it is owned by Facebook and some improvements are possible, WhatsApp provides quite decent security and privacy compared to the alternatives. If you need more privacy, go for Signal. WhatsApp is blocked in China.
Facebook Messenger: This app is popular in many parts of the world. It is owned by Facebook and does not provide proper security and privacy features. If it is possible to convince your fellow activists to use a different app, consider switching to a more privacy friendly alternative such as WhatsApp or Signal.
Telegram (best functionality): This app is popular in some activist groups, because it provides quite a bit of functionality for medium sized groups without becoming too complex. However, this app does not use end-to-end encryption in group chats, and in private chats only if you specifically turn it on. Consider alternatives if you need more privacy and security.
Signal (most secure & privacy-friendly): This app is not the most popular, but if you need privacy and security, Signal is definitely the way to go. Signal is remarkably easy to use, open source and trusted by security experts.
iMessage: iMessage only works on iPhone, so for many activist movements it is unsuitable. The app does quite well on privacy and security aspects, but is not open source.
Once your movement becomes larger and harder to organise, you will likely start creating working groups that are responsible for managing one aspect of your organisation. For example, in your climate movement, you might want to have one group working on social media, one for organising protests and another one working on reaching out to climate scientists.
The tools below use channels to categorise the different groups of your organisation. It is possible for individuals to join the various channels that they are interested in. You can also join a channel, but mute it so that you do not get overwhelmed with notifications. For coordinators, having all these channels in one app helps them to keep an overview of what is happening. In addition, these fools offer various integrations with other apps such as Google Drive, social media, your calendar and email.
The apps below are developed specifically for larger organisations and thus have extensive functionality to help you communicate as efficiently as possible. However, having such extensive functionality also means that members of your movement will have to learn how to use these tools. People will have to download a new app and they will have to become accustomed to checking it regularly for updates. All of this might make it harder for new activists to join your movement. As your organisation grows, you will have to find a balance between accessibility and efficiency. You might want to consider using a combination of both simple chat apps for newcomers, and dedicated communication tools for activists that are already more involved with your movement.