Internet activism

Internet activism

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, Freedom News Group 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 known 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]

The earliest example of mass emailing as a rudimentary form of DDoS occurred on Guy Fawkes Day 1994, when the Intervasion of the UK began email-bombing John Major's cabinet and UK parliamentary servers in protest against the Criminal Justice Bill which outlawed outdoor rave festivals and "music with a repetitive beat"

In 1995-1998, Z magazine offered courses online through Left Online University, with being taught on "Using the Internet for Electronic Activism."[6]

The practice of cyber-dissidence and activism per se, that is, in its modern-day form, may have been inaugurated by Dr. Daniel Mengara, a Gabonese scholar and activist living in political exile in New Jersey in the United States. In 1998, he created a Website in French whose name Bongo Doit Partir (Bongo Must Go)[7] was clearly indicative of its purpose: it encouraged a revolution against the then 29-year-old regime of Omar Bongo in Gabon. The original URL,[8], began to redirect to[9] in the year 2000. Inaugurating what was to become common current-day practice in the politically-involved blogosphere, this movement's attempt at rallying the Gabonese around revolutionary ideals and actions has ultimately been vindicated by the 2011 Tunisian and Egyption revolutions, where the Internet has proved to be an effective tool for instigating successful critique, opposition and revolution against dictators. In July 2003, Amnesty International reported the arrest of five Gabonese known to be members of the cyber-dissident group Bongo Doit Partir. The five members were detained for three months (See: Gabon: Prisoners of Conscience[10] and Gabon: Further information on Prisoners of conscience[11]).

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.[12] The PGA continued to call for "global days of action" and rally support of other anti-globalization groups in this way.[13]

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.[14][15] 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."[16]

Voter March, an Internet-based advocacy group founded in November of 2000, was formed in response to the debacle of the 2000 Presidential election recount. Voter March built an online community of activist members with more than 60 state and local chapters. Membership in Voter March email lists and Yahoo egroups was over 10,000 individuals.[17] On March 10, 2001, Lou Posner, the founder of Voter March, was a plenary speaker at the "Grassroots Use of the Internet" conference at Yale University.[18]

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."[19]

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."[1]

"The Internet is tailor-made for a populist, insurgent movement," says Joe Trippi,[20] 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."[21]

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.[citation needed] 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.[22]

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.[23]

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.[24][25] Protest groups have responded by posting YouTube videos and establishing a boycott website.[26][27]

Another example, which "is committed to providing detailed and up-to-date information about the funding source of radical anti-consumer organizations and activists."[28] The website is created by the Center for Consumer Freedom, a "coalition of restaurants, food companies, and consumers"[29] 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.[30] 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.[31]


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.[32][33]

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.

Another concern, according to University of California professor Barbara Epstein, is that 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. [2]

Famed activist Ralph Nader has stated that "the Internet doesn't do a very good job of motivating action" citing that the United States Congress, corporations and the Pentagon don't necessarily "fear the civic use of the Internet."[34] Ethan Zuckerman talks about "slacktivism" and that the Internet devaluated certain currencies of activism.[35]

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. ^ Gurak, L.J. (1997). Persuasion and Privacy in Cyberspace: The Online Protests over Lotus MarketPlace and the Clipper Chip. New Haven: Yale University Press.
  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. ^ Bongo Doit Partir (Bongo Must Go)
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ Gabon: Prisoners of Conscience
  11. ^ Gabon: Further information on Prisoners of conscience
  12. ^ A world of many worlds
  13. ^ | Brief history of PGA
  14. ^ Independent Media Center | | ((( i )))
  15. ^ Media Activism, Indymedia History, Mar. 11, 2005
  16. ^ " 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
  17. ^ Voter March Archives, Press Release on Voter March Grassroots Group, April 15, 2001
  18. ^ Yale University, Conference: Grassroots use of the Internet,March 10, 2001
  19. ^ "Website Reels In Political Newbies" Hanstad, Chelsie Salisbury, Bill Pioneer Press, St. Paul, MO accessed February 12, 2008
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^ Christopher Palmeri, Up Front: How To Make A Corporate Cause Click, BusinessWeek Online, January 12, 2004. retrieved October 31, 2007.
  24. ^ Legalize LA subpage
  25. ^ Story, Louise (January 18, 2008). "Politics Wrapped in a Clothing Ad". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-06-26. 
  26. ^ 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)."
  27. ^ Boycott American
  28. ^ About
  29. ^ About The Center for Consumer Freedom
  30. ^ Anderson, Walter T. "Astroturf - The Big Business of Fake Grassroots Politics." Jinn 5 January 1996 accessed Feb 12, 2008
  31. ^
  32. ^ IRMJ01mcmanus
  33. ^ Digital Divide: The Three Stages (Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox)
  34. ^
  35. ^

Further reading

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Internet activism during 2009 Iranian election protests — The Internet activism and, specifically, social networking has been instrumental in organizing many of the 2009 Iranian election protests.[1] Online sites have been uploading amateur pictures and video, and Twitter, Facebook, and blogs have been… …   Wikipedia

  • Internet democracy — is: *A derivative term for e democracy (electronic democracy), especially related to projects and concepts centered on using the Internet. *Self regulation of the Internet, with the development of its constituent technologies through rough… …   Wikipedia

  • Activism — Civil rights activists at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, 1963 …   Wikipedia

  • Internet — This article is about the public worldwide computer network system. For other uses, see Internet (disambiguation). Tree of routing paths through a portion of the Internet as visualized by the …   Wikipedia

  • Internet vigilantism — is the phenomenon of vigilantic acts taken through the Internet (the communication network or its service providers) or carried out using applications (World Wide Web, e mail) that depend on the Internet. The term encompasses vigilantism against… …   Wikipedia

  • Internet art — (often referred to as net art) is a form of digital artwork distributed via the Internet. This form of art has circumvented the traditional dominance of the gallery and museum system, delivering aesthetic experiences via the Internet. In many… …   Wikipedia

  • Internet petition — An Internet petition is a form of petition posted on a website. Visitors to the website in question can add their email addresses or names, and after enough signatures have been collected, the resulting letter may be delivered to the subject of… …   Wikipedia

  • Internet censorship in Australia — Part of a series on Censorship By media …   Wikipedia

  • Anti-pedophile activism — encompasses opposition to the following: pedophiles, pro pedophile activism, and other phenomena that are commonly seen as related to pedophilia, such as child pornography and child sexual abuse. [ [… …   Wikipedia

  • Jewish Internet Defense Force — Infobox Website name = The Jewish Internet Defense Force (JIDF) caption = Logo of JIDF type = Online activism, Israel advocacy url = [] slogan = Leading the Fight Against Antisemitism and Terrorism on the… …   Wikipedia