Roundup of Global Internet Activism Course
New School University
This course examines activist action in which technology plays an important role.
Have social media radically changed the political situation
in authoritarian countries? What are the transformational potentials
of social media for political activism? How successful are social
media in support of sustained, long-term activist campaigns?
The impact of social media tools is less signiﬁcant in the United States than in countries in transition (Morozov).
Memory, Immediacy, Organization, Public forum (social, sexual, religious), Accountability
Platform Activism Email Cellphone-Activism, SMS, Blogs, Blogs, IM
Social Media allow for ad hoc reporting of events and the organization of protests.
The core issues are social, not predominantly technical. Setting up a blog only helps
if people dare to post despite fears of arrest (i.e., Burma).
Methodology: Speciﬁcity and Comparison
In this course we analyze social media by discussing the “affordances” of
speciﬁc tools in their cultural and political context. We compare what
activists achieved by using a particular tool in a given political situation
to what they would have accomplished without it.
Social media tools and phenomena
are constantly in transition: What persists?
The signiﬁcance of the case studies that we analyzed in this course will fade away.
Speciﬁc tools will fall out of favor and others will gain popularity. Nevertheless, it
is crucial to study such speciﬁc examples, concrete applications of today’s social media. While
historical examples will be forgotten, the insights that we will gain from these examples will
have lasting importance.
Why do more people care about ﬁle sharing and DRM than about civic engagement?
Why do we care more about some conﬂicts while ignoring others?
The Importance of what we care about: Self-interest vs. caring for others.
Methods of Censorship
Iran: slow Internet speed, required registration of blogs, assertion of supremacy
over online public opinion
Russia: ofﬁcially no censorship but state owns most platforms and swamps them
state ownership of platforms (i.e., video),
Internet Service Providers (ISPs) ﬁlter content because they are legally held
responsible by the state
crack down of pornography becomes smoke screen for censorship of online dissent
Governments are getting more adept at blocking or ﬁltering the Internet and cellphone communication but also
bloggers ﬁnd novel ways to outwit such repression. In Iran, the government started over 10,000 conservative Basji
blogs. (The Basji are paramilitary forces). In China, bloggers were paid to write positive comments about the
China’s 50 Cent Army
The Communist Party aims at the assertion of supremacy over online
public opinion by paying bloggers for positive comments about the
image source: http://itmanagement.earthweb.com/columns/article.php/3795091/How+Chinas+50+Cent+Army+Could+Wreck+Web+2.0.htm
Astroturﬁng describes political campaigns that seek to create the
impression of being spontaneous quot;grassrootsquot; behavior.
For the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle, activists built a web platform that would challenge the old mass
media model by providing citizens with a platform to contribute their news reports to the IndyMedia
Hundreds of IMC chapters emerged around the world. While the IMC was incredibly signiﬁcant, today,
their importance is somewhat in question.
The Old Mass Media Model
Benkler, chapter 6
The citizen journalism portal OhMyNews was founded in 2000 in South Korea.
After the presidential elections in South Korea in 2002, the president elect gave his ﬁrst
interview not to the press but to OhMyNews acknowledging their crucial role
in his victory.
a non-proﬁt service supporting Chinese people
to set up their independent blogs
After the popularization of weblogs, culminating in 2004, it became increasingly clear that blogs
started to play an important role in news reporting. By 2006, one hundred million blogs were set up
but not all were active.
The Lead-Up To The War In Iraq
Who oered a better analysis of the lead-up to the Iraq war and speciﬁcally: Who oered a more
salient critique of Colin Powell’s speech in front of the United Nations in 2003-- the blogosphere or
The New York Times? Bloggers certainly questioned the assertions by the administration more
http://feeds.technorati.com/blogs/www.iraniansblogs.com http://www.iraniansblogs.com/ Blogs Opening Iranian Society?
In 2000, blogging got momentum in Iran. Today, there are roughly 100,000 blogs in Farsi, which
are authored by expats and by people living in Iran.
Dr. Mona El-Farra blogs about women, health, children, and human rights in Palestine.
Zola travels rural China and posts his observations to his website.
In 2005, two art students from Guangzhou (China) used a webcam to record themselves lip synching
the Back Street Boys in their dorm room. They uploaded the video to YouTube where it was been
viewed by millions of people and they signed contracts for promotional corporate TV appearances.
AlJazeera makes extensive eorts to overcome its Anti-American reputation
in anglophone regions in order to reach a broader audience.
Global Voices provides a stage for locally trusted bloggers who represent local communities-
from China to Kenya.
Cross-National Attention: Social Media as Lever
1999 NATO's high altitude bombings of Kosovo and Serbia
In 1862, during the American civil war, Mathew Brady took photographs of the Battle at Antietam and presented
his photographs in a gallery in New York City. About 140 years later, NATO conducts high altitude bombings of
Serbia and Kosovo. CNN represents NATO’s “humanitarian intervention” with abstract images of “surgical strikes.”
This Kosovo War, sometimes called the ﬁrst Internet War, was accompanied by
almost real-time reports of mayhem and destruction on mailing lists
such as nettime where a Serb writing under the pseudonym “insomnia”
aired frequent, highly emotional accounts of what he or she witnessed.
When the Milosovic regime raided the radio station B92 in Belgrade and conﬁscated
all broadcasting equipment, it overlooked the existence of B92’s Internet radio.
Consequently, the radio station continued to broadcast online, allowing voices critical of
Milosovic to be heard.
While Kosovars had little online presence, Serbian artists made ample use of the Internet to
distribute their artwork in response to this war.
In 2003 an anonymous blogger in Iraq commented on the lead up to the war in Iraq from
within the country. The blogger, who called himself Raed wrote with much humor and
eloquence about everything from the music of Massive Attack to his take on the invasion. He
reached an international readership of thousands who left hundreds of comments on a daily
political situation in Burma has hardly changed but international attention was heightened
Nano-activism: “just blowing off steam?”
Since 1962 Burma lived under military rule. Each time there was a riot, the junta closed down
the borders and asked all journalists to leave before mercilessly cracking down on the
protests, killing many hundred dissenters. In 2007, anti-government protests erupted once
again but this time it was signiﬁcantly harder to prevent witness-bearing acts. A small group
of Burmese sent photos and videos from inside Burma to the BBC via FTP. Thousands of
people joined the Facebook group “Support the Monks’ Protest in Burma.” They also widely
distributed images, videos, and photos of the situation in Burma all across the Web. However,
it is hard to say what these small acts of virtual activism achieved. They did not end the rule
of the military junta. On the other hand, Facebook groups alongside online videos, photos,
and articles in major newspapers, directed worldwide attention to the repressive regime in
Burma, which may have prevented the military from an even more violent suppression of
Founded in 1977, RAWA’s main goal is to ﬁght fundamentalism in Afghanistan.
While RAWA’s web presence did draw attention to the situation of women in Afghanistan,
its website, which contains many photos of the Taliban was instrumentalized by the
United States Army during their initial Afghanistan oensive.
Israeli Consulate holds press conferences on Twitter http://twitter.com/israelconsulate
During the 2008/2009 Israel-Gaza conﬂict, Israel shut out all journalists from the war zone.
Consequently, Facebook and YouTube became the information front line. The Israeli
gave press conferences on Twitter, for example.
Ushahidi (Swahili for quot;testimonyquot;)
Using the Kenyan software platform Ushahidi, AlJazeera allowed Israelies and Palestinians
to report protests, rocket attacks, casualties and deaths, using Twitter and SMS. Ushahidi was
used for the Kenyan elections and prior to Gaza. In April 2009, it was used to monitor the
Wikipedia about Ushahidi:
“Ushahid means 'witness' in Swahili and was chosen as the name for a website developed to
map reports of violence in Kenya after the post-election fallout at the beginning of 2008. It
uses the concept of crowdsourcing for social activism and public accountability, serving as an
initial model for what has been coined as 'activist mapping' - the combination of social
activism, citizen journalism and geospatial information.”
Deployments of Ushahidi
Deployments of Ushahidi http://votereport.in/
2008/2009 Israel-Gaza conﬂict:
Both, Israelies and Palestinians created Facebook applications that would take over a given
user’s status update. The Palestinian version automatically notiﬁed people of incidents that
led to the death of Palestinians while the Israeli version, Qassam Count, created alerts about
rockets that were launched against Israel territory. More than 70,000 users of Facebook
installed Qassam Count. The same information was also made available via Twitter.
more than 70,000 Facebook users donated their status
In addition, to QuassamCount, there were also various “distributed denial of service” (DDoS)
attacks against Palestinian and Israeli websites.
over 700,000 members
2008/2009 Israel-Gaza conﬂict:
Facebook groups made the deﬁance of many activists visible while at the same
time mapping the network of their friends.
YouTube channel of the Israel Defense Forces
Israel Defense Forces (IDF) created a YouToube where they posted daily commentary by
Israeli soldiers on the unfolding war.
Twitter Search allowed for real-time reporting.
News from Al Jazeera English on the violence in Gaza
AlJazeera also made use of Twitter to distribute its take on the war.
Editing Wars on Wikipedia
The Israel-Gaza conﬂict also played itself out on the free encyclopedia Wikipedia on the discussion page about the war.
More broadly, the Wikipedia entry about Israel mentions the word quot;occupationquot; nine times, whereas the entry on the
Palestinian People mentions quot;terrorquot; only once. quot;[This] means only one thing,” says a leading Wikipedia editor during a
trip to Israel: “Israelis should be more active on Wikipedia. Instead of blaming it, they should go on the site much more,
and try and change it.quot;
Raid Gaza! Editorial Games and Timeliness
Tank you to Liz Losh for the reference! https://eee.uci.edu/faculty/losh/
Online games like Raid Gaza and Save Israel became part of a campaign that aimed to inﬂuence international
opinion about the war.
The Chinese government employs various techniques to censor the Internet.
Filtering of content and the blocking of domains are only part of the larger attempt to control
the distribution of dissenting material online. While it is relatively easy to identify and ﬁlter
terms like “freedom” or “democracy,” it is not possible for computers to understand what can
be seen in an image or video. A YouTube video of Alpaca sheep and singing children may
morph into course language and a naked man doing push ups comes to stand for dissenting
bloggers. River crabs alludes to censorship.
Wikipedia: “The Pink Chaddi Campaign is a nonviolent protest movement launched in India in February 2009 in
response to notable incidences of violent conservative and right-wing activism against perceived violations of
Indian culture, when a group of women were attacked in a pub in Mangalore. The campaign was conceived
particularly in protest against a threat by Pramod Muthalik of the Sri Ram Sena (also spelled as Sri Ram Sena, Sri
Ram Sene and Sriram Sena), an orthodox Hindu group based in Mangalore. Mr.Muthalik threatened to marry o
and take other action on any young couples found together on Valentine's Day.”
Social media can facilitate social and sexual
freedoms in conservative societies.
Earlier on, I mentioned the role of weblogs in Iran. I alluded to the large number of blogs written in Farsi. There are several Irani “girl
blogs” that become a public outlet for women who are excluded from coffee houses, for example. Topics of these blogs mainly music,
ﬁlms, dating, and sex. However, blogs are also used as places to discuss interpretations of the Koran that may differ from mainstream
exegesis. The Internet facilitates alternative religious community and this includes connections expats and Muslims living in Iran.
Facebook groups like Single and Looking in Saudi Arabia allow networked publics of LGBTQ to connect in
countries where the punishment for their public display of affection is harsh. While such public forums are well
used, the also provide the government to monitor and possibly prosecute them.
Tunisian Prison Map was created in 2006. It invites prisoners and their relatives to
map the prisons in the country and to add information, and recount experiences.
The creators also added information provided by human rights groups. In November 2007
Tunisia blocked access to YouTube and DailyMotion because they contained material on
Tunisian political prisoners. It did not work: Barbara Streisand Eect.
“They Rule aims to provide a glimpse of some of the relationships of the US ruling class. It takes as its focus the
boards of some of the most powerful U.S. companies, which share many of the same directors. Some individuals
sit on 5, 6 or 7 of the top 500 companies. It allows users to browse through these interlocking directories and run
searches on the boards and companies. A user can save a map of connections complete with their annotations and
email links to these maps to others. They Rule is a starting point for research about these powerful individuals
Social Media for Ad Hoc Mobilization
Social media make the ad hoc planning
of protests more effective.
Social networking services as public forum and pro-democracy tool or as mapping tools for authoritarian regimes?
Wikipedia: “The April 6 Youth Movement is an Egyptian Facebook group started by Esraa Rashid and Ahmad Maher in
Spring 2008 to support the workers in El-Mahalla El-Kubra, an industrial town, who were planning to strike on April 6.
Activists called on participants to wear black and stay home the day of the strike. Bloggers and citizen journalists used
Facebook, Twitter, Flikr, blogs and other new media tool to report on the strike, alert their networks about police activity,
organize legal protection and draw attention to their efforts. The New York Times has identiﬁed the movement as the
political Facebook group in Egypt with the most dynamic debates. As of January 2009[update], it had 70,000
predominantly young and educated members, most of whom had not been politically active before; their core concerns
include free speech, nepotism in government and the country's stagnant economy. Their discussion forum on Facebook
features intense and heated discussions, and is constantly updated with new postings.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
Republic of Moldova:
Twitter-organized student protest brought some 10,000 people to
Chisinau's main square, who accused the government of rigging Sunday's vote.
“Patrick Meier, an afiliate of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society,... found that an increase in
cell-phone availability increases the likelihood (at least perceived by the public) that the government
might be overthrown by violent means.”
French Riots 2005
Text messaging was used to coordinate the protests.
November 2004 to January 2005: Protests following 2004 Ukrainian presidential election
which was claimed to be marred by massive corruption, voter intimidation and direct
electoral fraud. (FB, Twitter, SMS) Ukraine_elections_massprotest_20041122.jpg
2004 Democratic and Republican National Conventions
2005 inauguration of George W. Bush
Feb 15, 2003: Worldwide protests against the war in Iraq (SF), 800 cities, millions of people
Social media can bring
media attention to political causes
The direct impact of the use of social media by Barack Obama is unclear. Did his use of iPhone
applications and personal text messages directly get him the youth vote? Regardless of how many
people joined his skillfully executed social media campaign, the symbolic value of working in this way
was at least as important. It signiﬁcantly contributed to Obama’s association with new media and
A small number of avatars, protesters meet in Second Life to show their deﬁance of the War
in Iraq. What looked like an online event of little import and resonance, did in fact catch
much media attention. Articles about the Avatars Against the War appeared in the New York
Times and the BBC. The novelty factor drew attention to virtual dissent.
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