Internet activism: Wikis


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Internet activism (also known as online organizing, electronic advocacy, cyberactivism, E-campaigning, and E-activism) is the use of electronic communication technologies such as e-mail, the World Wide Web, and podcasts for various forms of activism to enable faster communications by citizen movements and the delivery of local information to a large audience. Internet technologies are used for cause-related fundraising, community building, lobbying, and organizing.



Author Sandor Vegh divides online activism into three main categories: Awareness/advocacy, organization/mobilization, and action/reaction.

The Internet is a key resource for independent activists or E-activists, particularly those whose message may run counter to the mainstream. "Especially when a serious violation of human rights occurs, the Internet is essential in reporting the atrocity to the outside world,"[1] Listservs like BurmaNet help distribute news that would otherwise be inaccessible in these countries.

Internet activists also pass on E-petitions to be sent to the government and public and private organizations to protest against and urge for positive policy change in areas from the arms trade to animal testing. Many non-profits and charities use these methods, emailing petitions to those on their email list, asking people to pass them on. The Internet also enables organizations such as NGOs to communicate with individuals in an inexpensive and timely manner. Gatherings and protests can be organized with the input of the organizers and the participants. Lobbying is also made easier via the Internet, thanks to mass e-mail and its ability to broadcast a message widely at little cost. Vegh's concept of organization/mobilization, for example, can refer to activities taking place solely online, solely offline but organized online, or a combination of online and offline. Mainstream social-networking sites, most noticeably, are also making e-activist tools available to their users.

In addition, Denial-of-service attacks, the taking over and vandalizing of a website, uploading Trojan horses, and sending out an e-mail bomb (mass e-mailings) are also examples of Internet activism. For more examples of these types of "direct action", see Hacktivism.[2]

Examples of early activism

One of the earliest know uses of the Internet as a medium for activism was that around Lotus MarketPlace. On April 10, 1990, Lotus announced a direct-mail marketing database product that was to contain name, address, and spending habit information on 120 million individual U.S. citizens. While much of the same data was already available, privacy advocates worried about the availability of this data within one database. Furthermore, the data would be on CD-ROM, and so would remain fixed until a new CD-ROM was issued.

In response, a mass e-mail and E-bulletin-board campaign was started, which included information on contacting Lotus and form letters. Larry Seiler, a New England-based computer professional posted a message that was widely reposted on newsgroups and via e-mail: "It will contain a LOT of personal information about YOU, which anyone in the country can access by just buying the discs. It seems to me (and to a lot of other people, too) that this will be a little too much like big brother, and it seems like a good idea to get out while there is still time."Over 30,000 people contacted Lotus and asked for their names to be removed from the database. On January 23, 1991, Lotus announced that it had cancelled MarketPlace.[3]

In 1993 a survey article about online activism around the world, from Croatia to the United States appeared in The Nation magazine, with several activists being quoted about their projects and views.[4][5] In 1995-1998, Z magazine offered courses online through Left Online University, with being taught on "Using the Internet for Electronic Activism."[6]

Another well-known example of early Internet activism took place in 1998, when the Mexican rebel group EZLN used decentralized communications, such as cell phones, to network with developed world activists and help create the anti-globalization group Peoples Global Action (PGA) to protest the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Geneva[7]. The PGA continued to call for “global days of action” and rally support of other anti-globalization groups in this way.[8] Later, a worldwide network of Internet activist sites, under the umbrella name of Indymedia, was created "for the purpose of providing grassroots coverage of the WTO protests in Seattle" in 1999.[9] Dorothy Kidd quotes Sheri Herndon in a July 2001 telephone interview about the role of the Internet in the anti-WTO protests: "The timing was right, there was a space, the platform was created, the Internet was being used, we could bypass the corporate media, we were using open publishing, we were using multimedia platforms. So those hadn't been available, and then there was the beginning of the anti-globalization movement in the United States."[10]

Political and business activism on the Internet

Empowering insurgencies

When discussing the 2004 U.S. presidential election candidates, Carol Darr, director of the Institute for Politics, Democracy & the Internet at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., said of the candidates which benefited from use of the Internet to attract supporters: "They are all charismatic, outspoken mavericks and insurgents. Given that the Internet is interactive and requires an affirmative action on the part of the users, as opposed to a passive response from TV users, it is not surprising that the candidate has to be someone people want to touch and interact with."[11]

A more decentralized approach to campaigning arose, in contrast to a top-down, message-focused approach usually conducted in the mainstream. "The mantra has always been, 'Keep your message consistent. Keep your message consistent,'" said John Hlinko, who has participated in Internet campaigns for and the electoral primary campaign of Wesley Clark. "That was all well and good in the past. Now it's a recipe for disaster ... You can choose to have a Stalinist structure that's really doctrinaire and that's really opposed to grassroots. Or you can say, 'Go forth. Do what you're going to do.' As long as we're running in the same direction, it's much better to give some freedom."[4]

"The Internet is tailor-made for a populist, insurgent movement," says Joe Trippi[12], who managed the Howard Dean campaign. In his campaign memoir, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, Trippi notes that the Internet's

roots in the open-source ARPAnet, its hacker culture, and its decentralized, scattered architecture make it difficult for big, establishment candidates, companies and media to gain control of it. And the establishment loathes what it can't control. This independence is by design, and the Internet community values above almost anything the distance it has from the slow, homogenous stream of American commerce and culture. Progressive candidates and companies with forward-looking vision have an advantage on the Internet, too. Television is, by its nature, a nostalgic medium. Look at Ronald Reagan's campaign ads in the 1980s - they were masterpieces of nostalgia promising a return to America's past glory and prosperity. The Internet, on the other hand, is a forward-thinking and forward-moving medium, embracing change and pushing the envelope of technology and communication.

According to some observers, the Internet may have considerable potential to reach and engage opinion leaders who influence the thinking and behavior of others. According to the Institute for Politics, Democracy & the Internet, what they call "Online Political Citizens" (OPCs) are "seven times more likely than average citizens to serve as opinion leaders among their friends, relatives and colleagues…Normally, 10% of Americans qualify as Influentials. Our study found that 69% of Online Political Citizens are Influentials." [13]

The Internet has also made it easier for small donors to play a meaningful role in financing political campaigns. Previously, small-donor fundraising was prohibitively expensive, as costs of printing and postage ate up most of the money raised. Groups like MoveOn, however, have found that they can raise large amounts of money from small donors at minimal cost, with credit card transaction fees constituting their biggest expense. "For the first time, you have a door into the political process that isn't marked 'big money,' " says Darr. "That changes everything. [14]

Corporate activism

Corporations are also using Internet activist techniques to increase support for their causes. According to Christopher Palmeri with BusinessWeek Online, companies launch sites with the intent to positively influence their own public image, to provide negative pressure on competitors, to influence opinion within select groups, and to push for policy changes.[15]

The clothing manufacturer, American Apparel is an example: The company hosts a website called Legalize LA that advocates immigration reform via blog, online advertising, links to news stories and educational materials.[16][17] Protest groups have responded by posting YouTube videos and establishing a boycott website.[18][19]

Another example, which “is committed to providing detailed and up-to-date information about the funding source of radical anti-consumer organizations and activists.”[20] The website is created by the Center for Consumer Freedom, a “coalition of restaurants, food companies, and consumers”[21] many of which have themselves been the target of the organizations which the website targets. This method of information dissemination is labelled “astroturfing,” as opposed to “grassroots activism,” due to the funding for such movements being largely private.[22] More recent examples include the right-wing which organized the "Taxpayer March on Washington" on September 12, 2009 and the Coaltion to Protect Patients' Rights, which opposes universal health care in the U.S. [23]


Critics argue that this form Internet activism faces the same challenges as other aspects of the digital divide, particularly the global digital divide. Some say it gives disproportionate representation to those with disproportionate access or technological ability. [24][25]

Another concern, expressed by author and law professor Cass Sunstein, is that online political discussions lead to "cyberbalkanization"—discussions that lead to fragmentation and polarization rather than consensus, because the same medium that lets people access a large number of news sources also lets them pinpoint the ones they agree with and ignore the rest.

The experience of the echo chamber is easier to create with a computer than with many of the forms of political interaction that preceded it," Sunstein told the New York Times. "The discussion will be about strategy, or horse-race issues or how bad the other candidates are, and it will seem like debate. It's not like this should be censored, but it can increase acrimony, increase extremism and make mutual understanding more difficult.

On the other hand, "the Internet connects all sides of issues, not just an ideologically broad anti-war constituency, from the leftists of ANSWER to the pressed-for-time 'soccer moms' who might prefer MoveOn, and conservative activists as well," opined Scott Duke Harris of the San Jose Mercury News. According to University of California professor Barbara Epstein, however, the Internet "allows people who agree with each other to talk to each other and gives them the impression of being part of a much larger network than is necessarily the case." She warns that the impersonal nature of communication by computer may actually undermine important human contact that always has been crucial to social movements. [5]

Famed activist Ralph Nader has stated that "the Internet doesn't do a very good job of motivating action" citing that Congress, corporations and the Pentagon don't necessarily "fear the civic use of the Internet." [26]

See also


  1. ^ "Classifying Forms of Online Activism: The Case of Cyberprotests Against the World Bank" in Cyberactivism: Online Activism in Theory and Practice, Eds. Ayers, Michael D., Mccaughey, Martha, pp. 72-73. Copyright 2003, Routledge, New York, NY
  2. ^ "Classifying Forms of Online Activism" in Cyberactivism: Online Activism in Theory and Practice, pp. 71-95. Copyright 2003, Routledge, New York, NY
  3. ^ "Internet Protests, from Text to Web" in Cyberactivism: Online Activism in Theory and Practice pp. 26-28. Copyright 2003, Routledge, New York, NY
  4. ^ Cooke, Kevin; Lehrer, Dan (July 12, 1993), "The Whole World Is Talking", The Nation  
  5. ^ The Whole World Is Talking
  6. ^ [ [PEN-L:700] USE the INTERNET to CHANGE THE WORLD: An Online Course for Activists]
  7. ^ A world of many worlds
  8. ^ | Brief history of PGA
  9. ^ Independent Media Center | | ((( i )))
  10. ^ " A New Communications Common in Cyberactivism: Online Activism in Theory and Practice pp. 59. Eds. Ayers, Michael D., Mccaughey, Martha. Copyright 2003, Routledge, New York, NY
  11. ^ "Website Reels In Political Newbies" Hanstad, Chelsie Salisbury, Bill Pioneer Press, St. Paul, MO accessed February 12, 2008
  12. ^ [1]
  13. ^ [2]
  14. ^ [3]
  15. ^ Christopher Palmeri, Up Front: How To Make A Corporate Cause Click, BusinessWeek Online, January 12, 2004. retrieved October 31, 2007.
  16. ^ Legalize LA subpage
  17. ^ Story, Louise (January 18, 2008). "Politics Wrapped in a Clothing Ad". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-06-26.  
  18. ^ YouTube: Save Our State vs. American Apparel "5 patriots from the organization Save Our State protest American Apparel and its "Legalize LA" campaign (amnesty for illegal aliens)."
  19. ^ Boycott American
  20. ^ About
  21. ^ About The Center for Consumer Freedom
  22. ^ Anderson, Walter T. "Astroturf - The Big Business of Fake Grassroots Politics." Jinn 5 January 1996 accessed Feb 12, 2008
  23. ^
  24. ^ IRMJ01mcmanus
  25. ^ Digital Divide: The Three Stages (Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox)
  26. ^

Further reading

External links

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