Internet activism

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Internet activism (also known as e-activism, electronic advocacy, cyberactivism, e-campaigning and online organizing) is the use of communication technologies such as e-mail, web sites, and podcasts for various forms of activism to enable faster communications by citizen movements and deliver a message to a large audience. These Internet technologies are used for cause-related fundraising, lobbying, volunteering, community building, and organizing.


[edit] Types

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 (E As), 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 and China News Digest help distribute news that would otherwise be inaccessible in these countries.

Internet activists also pass on e-petitions to be emailed to the government and organizations for positive policy change and protest against many issues from the arms trade to animal testing. Many non-profits and charities use these methods, emailing petitions to those on their mailing list and asking people to pass them on. Mainstream social-networking sites are also making e-activism tools available to users.

Furthermore, the internet 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 both the organizers and the participants. Lobbying is also made easier via the internet, thanks to mass e-mail and the ability to broadcast a message widely at little cost. Organization/mobilization can refer to activities taking place solely online, solely offline but organized online, or a combination of online and offline.

Action/Reaction is a category that consists largely of these types of actions. Denial-of-service attacks, the taking over and vandalizing of a website, uploading Trojan horses, and mass mailings are all examples of activism that takes place within the Internet. For more examples of these types of "direct action", see Hacktivism.[2]

[edit] Examples of early activism

One of the first well-known uses of the internet as a medium for activism was that of Lotus MarketPlace: Households. On April 10, 1990, Lotus announced a direct-mail marketing database product. The software was to contain name, address, and spending habit information on 120 million individual US 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 and uneditable until a new CD-ROM was issued.

In response, a mass e-mail and 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 thousand people contacted Lotus and asked for their names to be removed from the database. On January 23, 1991, Lotus issued a press release stating that it had cancelled MarketPlace.[3]

In 1998, Mexican rebel group EZLN used decentralized communications, including cell phones, to network with developed world activists and help create the anti-globalization group Peoples Global Action to protest the World Trade Organisation (WTO) at Geneva[4]. The PGA continued to call for “global days of action” and rally support of other anti-globalization groups in this way.[5] Later, a global 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.[6] 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."


[edit] Political and business activism on the internet

[edit] 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."[8]

A more decentralized approach to campaigning arose, in contrast to a top-down, message-focused approach. "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 [2], 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, "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." [3]

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. [4]

[edit] Corporate activism

Corporations are also using Internet activism techniques to increase support for causes they favor. According to Christopher Palmeri with BusinessWeek Online companies launch sites with the intent of influencing opinion in selected audiences, to positively influence their own public image, to push for policy changes and to provide negative pressure on competitors.[9]

The clothing manufacturer, American Apparel is an example. The company hosts a website called Legalize LA that advocates immigration reform via a blog, online advertisements, links to news stories and educational materials.[10][11] As a response, groups protesting the company have posted YouTube videos and organized a boycott website.[12][13]

Another example, which “is committed to providing detailed and up-to-date information about the funding source of radical anti-consumer organizations and activists.”[14] The website is created by The Center for Consumer Freedom, a “coalition of restaurants, food companies, and consumers”[15] many of which have been the target of the same organizations which targets. This method of information dissemination is labelled “astroturfing,” as opposed to “grassroots activism,” due to the funding for such movements being largely private.[16]

[edit] Criticism

Critics argue that this form of activism faces the same challenges as other aspects of the digital divide, particularly the global digital divide. Internet activism may give disproportionate representation to those with disproportionate access or technological ability. [17][18] This concern is especially relevant in developing countries, where many people still lack even the basic literacy needed to access written materials on Internet.[19]

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."

"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," observes Scott Duke Harris. 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]

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ "Classifying Forms of Online Activism: The Case of Cyberprotests Against the World Bank" in Cyberactivism: Online Activism in Theory and Practice pp. 72-73. Eds. Ayers, Michael D., Mccaughey, Martha. Copyright 2003, Routledge, New York, NY
  2. ^ "Classifying Forms of Online Activism: The Case of Cyberprotests Against the World Bank" in Cyberactivism: Online Activism in Theory and Practice pp. 71-95. Eds. Ayers, Michael D., Mccaughey, Martha. Copyright 2003, Routledge, New York, NY
  3. ^ "Internet Protests, from Text to Web" in Cyberactivism: Online Activism in Theory and Practice pp. 26-28. Eds. Ayers, Michael D., Mccaughey, Martha. Copyright 2003, Routledge, New York, NY
  4. ^ A world of many worlds
  5. ^ | Brief history of PGA
  6. ^ Independent Media Center | | ((( i )))
  7. ^ " 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
  8. ^ "Website Reels In Political Newbies" Hanstad, Chelsie Salisbury, Bill Pioneer Press, St. Paul, MO accessed February 12, 2008
  9. ^ Christopher Palmeri, Up Front: How To Make A Corporate Cause Click, BusinessWeek Online, January 12, 2004. retrieved October 31, 2007.
  10. ^ Legalize LA subpage
  11. ^ Story, Louise (January 18, 2008). "Politics Wrapped in a Clothing Ad". New York Times. Retrieved on 2008-06-26. 
  12. ^ 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)."
  13. ^ Boycott American
  14. ^ About
  15. ^ About The Center for Consumer Freedom
  16. ^ Anderson, Walter T. "Astroturf - The Big Business of Fake Grassroots Politics." Jinn 5 January 1996 accessed Feb 12, 2008
  17. ^ IRMJ01mcmanus
  18. ^ Digital Divide: The Three Stages (Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox)
  19. ^ Penn GDI | Contacts

[edit] External links

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