Internet activism, also known as web activism, online activism, digital campaigning, digital activism, online organizing, electronic advocacy, e-campaigning, and e-activism, is the use of electronic communication technologies such as social media, e-mail, and podcasts for various forms of activism to enable faster and more effective communication by citizen movements, the delivery of particular information to large and specific audiences as well as coordination. Internet technologies are used for cause-related fundraising, community building, lobbying, and organizing. A digital activism campaign is "an organized public effort, making collective claims on a target authority, in which civic initiators or supporters use digital media." Research has started to address specifically how activist/advocacy groups in the U.S. and Canada are using social media to achieve digital activism objectives.
Within online activism Sandor Vegh distinguished three principal categories: active/reactive, mobilizing and awareness raising-based. There are other ways of classifying Internet activism, such as by the degree of reliance on the Internet versus offline mobilization. Thus, Internet sleuthing or hacking could be viewed as purely online forms of activism, whereas the Occupy Wall Street movement was mainly conducted offline, and only partially online.:84
Exploring the dynamics of online activism for expressing resistance to a powerful organization, a study developed a critical mass approach to online activism. The results were integrated in a four-year longitudinal process model that explains how online activism started, generated societal outcomes, and changed over time. The model suggests that online activism helped organize collective actions and amplify the conditions for revolutionary movements to form. Yet, it provoked elites’ reactions such as Internet filtering and surveillance, which do not only promote self-censorship and generate digital divide, but contribute to the ultimate decline of activism over time. The process model suggests a complex interplay among stakeholders’ interests, opportunities for activism, costs, and outcomes that are neither foreseen nor entirely predictable. The authors challenge universal access to the Internet as a convenient and cost-free forum for practicing social activism by organizational stakeholders (customers, employees, outside parties). In fact, the technology enablers of social activism also enable its filtering and repression, and thus, more extreme states of information asymmetry may result in which powerful elites preserve their status and impose a greater digital divide.
In one study, a discussion of a developmental model of political mobilization is discussed. By citizens joining groups and creating discussion, they are beginning their first stage of involvement. Progressively, it is hoped that they will begin signing petitions online and graduating to offline contact as long as the organization provides the citizen with escalating steps of involvement (Vitak et al., 2011).
The issue of the mass media's centrality has been highly contested, with some people arguing that it promoted the voices of marginalized groups while others believe it sends forth the messages of the majority alone, leaving minority groups to have their voices robbed.
Examples of early activism
One case that has to do with the history of online activism is the one of 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.
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.
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 lessons on "Using the Internet for Electronic Activism."
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) 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, http://www.globalwebco.net/bdp/, began to redirect to http://www.bdpgabon.org 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 proven 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 and Gabon: Further information on Prisoners of conscience).
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 Organization (WTO) in Geneva. The PGA continued to call for "global days of action" and rally support of other anti-globalization groups in this way.
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. 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."
In the UK, in 1999, the Government introduced a new employment tax called IR35. One of the first online trade associations was created to campaign against it. Within weeks they had raised £100,000 off the Internet from individuals who had never even met. They became a fully formed trade association called the Professional Contractors Group, which two years later had 14,000 members all paying £100 each to join. They presented the first ever e-petition to Parliament and organized one of the first flash mobs when using their database, to their surprise and others, 1,000 came in their call to lobby Parliament. They later raised £500,000 from the Internet to fund an unsuccessful High Court challenge against the tax, though ultimately they secured some concessions. Their first external affairs director, Philip Ross, has written a history of the campaign.
The engagement in the practice of strategic voting was another development that came with Internet activism. People coordinated their vote pairing by entering their contact information into an online database, thereby reducing cost completely.
Kony 2012, a short film released on March 5, 2012. The film's purpose was to promote the charity's "Stop Kony" movement to make African cult and militia leader, indicted war criminal and the International Criminal Court fugitive Joseph Kony globally known in order to have him arrested by the end of 2012, when the campaign expired. The film spread virally. A poll suggested that more than half of young adult Americans heard about Kony 2012 in the days following the video's release. It was included among the top international events of 2012 by PBS and called the most viral video ever by TIME. The campaign resulted in a resolution by the United States Senate and contributed to the decision to send troops by the African Union.
Internet activism has had the effect of causing increased collective action among people, as found by Postmes and Brunsting (2002), who discovered a tendency among internet users to rely on internalized group memberships and social identities in order to achieve social involvement online. The Internet is "tailor-made for a populist, insurgent movement," says Joe Trippi, 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, homogeneous 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.
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." Listservs like Freedom News Group or BurmaNet assist in spreading news that would otherwise be inaccessible in these countries.:84 Internet activists also pass on E-petitions to be sent to the government as well as to private and public interest groups and organizations to protest against and urge for implementing positive policy changes in areas from the animal testing to arms trade. Many non-profits and charities use these methods, emailing petitions to those on their email list and 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 Facebook.com, are also making e-activist tools available to their users. An active participatory culture is enabled by the communities on social networking sites because they permit communication between groups that are otherwise unable to communicate. In the article "Why We Argue about Virtual Community: A Case Study of the Phish.net Fan Community," Nessim Watson emphasizes the necessity of communication in online communities. He claims that "without ongoing communication among its participants, a community dissolves". The constant ability to interact with members of the community enriches online experiences and redefines the very word community.
Hashtag activism is the use of hashtags for fighting or supporting a cause through the usage of social media outlets. The term "hashtag activism" first started circulating within journalism in 2011. Since then, its use has been associated with movements such as #MeToo, #BlackLivesMatter, #SayHerName, and many more.
One example of the powerful rise of hashtag activism can be seen in the black feminist movement's use of hashtags to convey their cause. The famous hashtag "IamJada" was an internet backlash to the mocking "#Jadapose" that went viral, ensuing after sixteen-year-old girl Jada Smith was photographed following her gang rape  In this instance, a hashtag was employed to convey a powerful anti-rape message.
Other notable instances in which marginalized groups have used hashtags as organizing tools for social justice include responses to racial violence and police profiling, as in the case of #BlackLivesMatter and #JusticeForTrayvon, along with misogyny and gendered violence, such as #MeToo and #YesAllWomen.
Black Lives Matter
One of the most prominent uses of hashtag activism is #BlackLivesMatter, a social justice movement that first began after George Zimmerman was acquitted for the shooting and killing of Trayvon Martin, an African American teenage boy. The movement started as a hashtag and now it has been at the forefront of the fight against police brutality and racial profiling across the world.
After the killing of Martin on February 26, 2012, several people wanted justice. The hashtag started to grow in popularity, with a Change.org petition calling for an investigation and prosecution of George Zimmerman. Social media users, including many celebrities retweeted, shared, and created new petitions, eventually raising over 2.1 million signatures combined by March 26, 2012. By April 11, 2012, Zimmerman was charged with the second-degree murder of Trayvon Martin.
After George Zimmerman was acquitted on July 13, 2013, a "letter to Black folks" was posted to Facebook by Alicia Garza. Garza ended her letter with the statement "Black lives matter," which her friend turned into a hashtag below. From here, #BlackLivesMatter or simply "BLM" became the movement against police brutality and killings of unarmed African Americans, as well as hate crimes and racially motivated crimes.
#BlackLivesMatter's impact does not end online. The formation of Black Lives Matter allowed for activists across the United States to organize in-person protests and rallies together, no matter where they may be located. U.S. politicians—such as Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez—have endorsed Black Lives Matter, aligning themselves with a push for racial justice.
The most recent display of how the Black Lives Matter movement has been used as a platform for offline activism is the 2020 BLM protests that occurred after 17-year old Darnella Frazier live-streamed on Facebook the controversial death of George Floyd by then-police officer Derek Chauvin. Protests took place in all 50 states, as well as in many countries around the world.
March For Our Lives
After the Parkland, FL mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14, 2018, #MarchForOurLives was born. Students came together to create this hashtag to fight for gun control in the U.S. This hashtag turned into an entire movement of over 800 protests across the United States with the main protest taking place in Washington, D.C. There was an estimated 200,000 people in attendance at the Washington, D.C. protest, alone.
TikTok's platform has been increasingly used for raising up social issues through creative short videos, especially after an allegedly make-up tutorial turned into a call to action on China's treatment of Muslim Uighurs. The tutorial was banned for 50 minutes on November 26, 2019. Eric Han, the heads of TikTok's US content-moderation team, claimed the banning was due to a “human moderation error”. The Chinese owners declared the app does not remove content based on sensitivities to China. TikTok also partnered up with UN Women in a campaign fighting women violence in India which kicked off on November 25, 2019. The campaign can be found under the hashtag #KaunsiBadiBaatHai and features short videos with positive and negative examples of men interacting with women.
Use in political campaigns
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."
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 MoveOn.org 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."
Two-thirds of Internet users under the age of 30 have a SNS, and during the 2008 election, half of them used a SNS site for candidate information (Hirzalla, 2010).
The Internet has become the catalyst for protests such as Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring as those involved have increasingly relied on social media to organize and stay connected. In Myanmar, online news paper Freedom News Group has leaked some government corruption and fuel to protests.
In 2017, the Sleeping Giants cyberactivist group, among others, launched a boycott campaign against controversial, conservative webpage Breitbart News, getting more than 2,000 organizations to remove it from ad buys.
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.
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. Protest groups have responded by posting YouTube videos and establishing a boycott website.
Corporate methods of information dissemination is labelled "astroturfing," as opposed to "grassroots activism," due to the funding for such movements being largely private. More recent examples include the right-wing FreedomWorks.org which organized the "Taxpayer March on Washington" on September 12, 2009 and the Coalition to Protect Patients' Rights, which opposes universal health care in the U.S.
Cybersectarianism is a new organizational form which involves: "highly dispersed small groups of practitioners that may remain largely anonymous within the larger social context and operate in relative secrecy, while still linked remotely to a larger network of believers who share a set of practices and texts, and often a common devotion to a particular leader. Overseas supporters provide funding and support; domestic practitioners distribute tracts, participate in acts of resistance, and share information on the internal situation with outsiders. Collectively, members and practitioners of such sects construct viable virtual communities of faith, exchanging personal testimonies and engaging in collective study via email, on-line chat rooms and web-based message boards."
In 1998, former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke wrote on his website, “I believe that the internet will begin a chain reaction of racial enlightenment that will shake the world by the speed of its intellectual conquest.” White nationalists quickly saw the potential of the Internet as a platform to effectively disseminate their message to a mass audience.
This exploitation of technological innovations is not a novel concept for this group. In the early 20th century, with the emergence of film technology, the KKK created their own film companies and produced films like The Toll of Justice (1923) to spread their message. Then, a century later, with the rise of digital technologies, the KKK adapted to the changing media landscape to become a digital movement. They not only adapted to the digital age, but also found vulnerabilities through which they could most quickly and efficiently insert their ideologies. Examples of this included strategic domain names and hidden propaganda content.
Today, white nationalists' efforts to push their principles on the Web combined with tech companies' belief in the Internet as "raceless" motivate white nationalists to continue to exploit algorithms and influence digital spaces such as Twitter. As algorithms work in a self-reinforcing manner, they worsen the psychological effects of confirmation bias. They provide search results that confirm one's beliefs and biases and, further, connect one to communities of like-minded people. This works in favor of white nationalists; for example, search engines’ autocomplete features suggest racist notions, and make White supremacist sites readily accessible to users.
One of the earliest books on activism was Don Rittner's "Ecolinking - Everyone's Guide to Online Environmental Information," Published by Peachpit Press in 1992. Rittner, an environmental activist from upstate New York, spent more than 20 years researching and saving the Albany Pine Barrens. He was a beta tester for America Online and ran their Environmental Forum for the company from 1988 to when it launched in 1990. He took his early environmental knowledge and computer savvy and wrote what was called the bible of the online environmental community. It showed new Net users how to get online, find environmental information, connect to environmentalists around the world, and how to use those resources to save the planet.
Sexual assault activism
Activism against sexual assault is often led on the internet, where individuals may feel comfortable talking about uncomfortable topics. One such movements is the #NotGuilty movement. This movement began in April 2015 when Ione Wells, an Oxford University student shared a "letter to her attacker" in her college paper. The letter described how she was sexually assaulted and how she chose to respond and build from that point in her life. At the end of the letter she urged readers to send a letter back describing their own sexual assault experience with the hashtag #notguilty. She received so many letters from locals that she decided to create a website called "notGuiltyCampaign.co.uk." This caused global attention and inspired many to share their stories. The Me Too movement is a similar movement that started in Hollywood. Tarana Burke created the phrase to "empower women through empathy" and Alyssa Milano helped spread the use of the phrase. This phrase was first used to demonstrate the amount of sexual assault that happens to young actresses and actors in Hollywood. It soon spread to apply to all forms of sexual assault, especially in the work place. These movements were intended to create an outlet for men and women to share their experiences with those with similar views without blame or guilt. They brought widespread attention to sexual assault and caused much controversy about changes that should be made accordingly. Criticism around movements such as these centers on concerns about whether or not participants are being dishonest for their own gain or are misinterpreting acts of kindness. However, the same Me Too movement, which also reached Egypt showed the adverse side of the activism where witness detention in one of the high-profile rape cases highlighted the prioritisation of traditional social morality by the government over women’s rights in the country.
Denial-of-Service attacks, the taking over and vandalizing of a website, uploading Trojan horses, and sending out e-mail bombs (mass e-mailings) are also examples of Internet activism. For more examples of these types of subversive action, see hacktivism.
Impact on everyday political discussions
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."
Information communication technologies
Information communication technologies (ICTs) make communication and information readily available and efficient. There are millions of Facebook accounts, Twitter users and websites, and one can educate oneself on nearly any subject. While this is for the most part a positive thing, it can also be dangerous. For example, people can read up on the latest news events relatively easily and quickly; however, there is danger in the fact that apathy or fatigue can quickly arise when people are inundated with so many messages, or that the loudest voice on a subject can often be the most extreme one, distorting public perception on the issue.
These social networks which occupy ICTs are simply modern forms of political instruments which pre-date the technological era. People can now go to online forums or Twitter instead of town hall meetings. People can essentially mobilize worldwide through the Internet. Women can create transnational alliances and lobby for rights within their respective countries; they can give each other tips and share up-to-date information. This information becomes "hyper textual", available in downloadable formats with easy access for all. The UN organizations also use "hyper textual" formats. They can post information about upcoming summits, they can post newsletters on what occurred at these meetings, and links to videos can be shared; all of this information can be downloaded at the click of a button. The UN and many other actors are presenting this information in an attempt to get a certain message out in the cyber sphere and consequently steer public perception on an issue.
With all this information so readily available, there is a rising trend of "slacktivism" or "clicktivism". While it is positive that information can be distributed so quickly and efficiently all around the world, there is negativity in the fact that people often take this information for granted, or quickly forget about it once they have seen it flash across our computer screens. Viral campaigns are great for sparking initial interest and conversation, but they are not as effective in the long term—people begin to think that clicking "like" on something is enough of a contribution, or that posting information about a current hot topic on their Facebook page or Twitter feed means that they have made a difference.
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.
The Internet also allows ordinary people to contribute materially to Humanitarian relief projects designed to intervene in situations of global disaster or tragedy, as in the case of the "Hope for Haiti Now" telethon event, which was launched three days after the 2010 Haiti Earthquake. The telethon and its broadcast became an effective vehicle to present a plea for support and to collect contributions quickly, facilitating a relationship between entertainment and humanitarian fundraising that has developed in response to historical and economic market conditions.
With internet technology vastly changing existing and introducing new mechanisms by which to attain, share and employ information, internet activism raises ethical issues for consideration. Proponents contend internet activism serves as an outlet for social progress but only if personal and professional ethics are employed. Supporters of online activism claim new information and communications technologies help increase the political power of activist groups that would otherwise have less resources. Proponents along this line of thinking claim the most effective use of online activism is its use in conjunction with more traditional or historical activism activities. Conversely, critics worry about facts and beliefs becoming indistinct in online campaigns and about "sectors of online activism [being] more self-interested than socially interested." These critics warn against the manipulation commonplace to online activism for private or personal interests such as exploiting charities for monetary gain, influencing voters in the political arena and inflating self-importance or effectiveness. In this sense, the ethical implication is that activism becomes descriptive rather than transformative of society. One of these reviewers suggests seven pitfalls to beware of in internet activism: "self-promotion at the expense of the movement... unsolicited bulk email... Hacktivism... violating copyright... nagging... violating privacy... and being scary." Many of the ethical criticisms against the prevalence of online activism are further discussed in the criticisms section of this article.
Critics argue that 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 greater access or technological ability. Groups that may be disadvantaged by the move to activist activity online are those that have limited access to technologies, or lack the technological literacy to engage meaningfully online; these include ethnic and racial minorities, those of lower socioeconomic status, those with lower levels of education, and the elderly. Issues like racism and sexism are issues that internet activists reportedly deal with.
A study looked at the impact of Social Networking Sites (SNS) on various demographics and their political activity. Not surprisingly college students used SNS for political activity the most but this was followed by a more unlikely group, those that had not completed high school. In addition the probability for non-White citizens to consume political information was shown to be higher than that of Whites. These two outcomes go in the face of normal predictors of political activity. Despite these surprising findings older generations, men and whites showed the highest levels of political mobilization. Acts of political mobilization, such as fundraising, volunteering, protesting require the most continued interest, resources and knowledge (Nam, 2010).
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, Scott Duke Harris of the San Jose Mercury News noted that "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."
Another concern, according to University of California, Santa Cruz 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 the human contact that always has been crucial to social movements.
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 enables them to pinpoint the ones they agree with and ignore the rest.
Moving to offline action
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 do not necessarily "fear the civic use of the Internet." Ethan Zuckerman talks about "slacktivism", claiming that the Internet has devalued certain currencies of activism. Citizens may "like" an activist group on Facebook, visit a website, or comment on a blog, but fail to engage in political activism beyond the Internet, such as volunteering or canvassing. This critique has been criticized as Western-centric, however, because it discounts the impact this can have in authoritarian or repressive contexts. Journalist Courtney C. Radsch argued that even this low level of engagement was an important form of activism for Arab youth because it is a form of free speech, and can spark mainstream media coverage. University of North Carolina professor Zeynep Tufekci has argued that the need to put in significant organizing time in the pre-Internet era is what gave street protests their strength.
Scholars are divided about whether the Internet will increase or decrease political participation, including online activism. Those who suggest political participation will increase believe the Internet can be used to recruit and communicate with more users, and offers lower-costs modes of participation for those who lack the time or motivation to engage otherwise. Those concerned that the Internet will decrease activism argue that the Internet occupies free time that can no longer be spent getting involved in activist groups, or that Internet activism will replace more substantial, effortful forms of in-person activism.
Journalist and Writer, Malcolm Gladwell, argues that activism through social media and the internet cannot be successful because they promote a 'lazy' way of activism that doesn't require people to put in meaningful effort. For example 'liking' a protest related post on social media, people feel like they have contributed to a cause, which makes them less likely to take more costly, and some would argue more effective, action like joining a protest.
With cases such as the Black Lives Matter and Me Too movements, it shows how internet activism can become more than slacktivism. Scholars have found that internet activist communities and offline activist communities work closely together, rather than being two separate entities. With internet activism, activists can organize without the constraints of physical location.
Internet activism is also the only way many people with disabilities can participate in activist work. Whether this is due to physical, mental, or financial constraints, internet activism may be the most accessible and comfortable for disabled people. If able to attend a physical protest, the inaccessibility of public spaces is often too large of a roadblock to participation. In some cases, such as protests involving the subject of disability, alternative protest options may be available, but this is not common for public protests. This is something to take into account when evaluating slacktivism. If there are no options available, internet activism can be a way for those who are passionate about an issue to be able to advocate for it.
Similar to "slacktivism," performative activism refers to the action of acting as if one is an advocate or activist—often on social media—for personal gain. This term is used as a negative term towards those who seem to be untruthful or exaggerating their activism work. Performative activism became frequently used after the 2020 BLM protests, this term started to become widely used as many took to social media to participate in the Black Lives Matter movement. The intentions of a lot of new activists and allies were questioned. On June 2, 2021, the social media platform, Instagram, was flooded with millions of the same image. These images were black squares under the hashtag, #BlackoutTuesday. The purpose of this online protest was to amplify Black voices on social media. However, many criticized this protest, arguing that the protest had the opposite effect as the squares flooded the important #BlackLivesMatter hashtag. People started to accuse those who participated in Blackout Tuesday, but did not do anything else in regards to the Black Lives Matter movement, of being performative activists.
Another criticism is clicktivism. According to techopedia, clicktivism is a controversial form of digital activism. Proponents believe that applying advertising principles such as A/B testing increases the impact of a message by leveraging the Internet to further its reach. Opponents believe that clicktivism reduces activism to a mere mouse-click, yielding numbers with little or no real engagement or commitment to the cause.
Micah M. White argues, "Political engagement becomes a matter of clicking a few links. In promoting the illusion that surfing the web can change the world, clicktivism is to activism as McDonalds is to a slow-cooked meal. It may look like food, but the life-giving nutrients are long gone." He argues that political engagement becomes a matter of clicking a few links and neglects the vital, immeasurable inner-events and personal epiphanies that great social ruptures are actually made of. It reduces activism to a mere mouse click. Micah M. White goes on to argue that "... clicktivism reinforces the fear of standing out from the crowd and taking a strong position. It discourages calling for drastic action. And as such, clicktivism will never breed social revolution. To think that it will is a fallacy. One that is dawning on us".
In Net Delusion, author Evgeny Morozov argues against cyberutopianism. He describes how the Internet is successfully used against activists and for the sake of state repression. China presents a good example of this. Internet censorship in China has often been used as a way to achieve political stability of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
- Cyberactivism in North Korea
- Data activism
- Community informatics
- Community organizing
- Digital humanitarianism
- Internet vigilantism
- Internet activism in South Korea
- Online petition
- Online social movement
- Protests against SOPA and PIPA
- Psychological warfare
- User revolt
- Virtual community
- Virtual volunteering
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