There is no person on the planet that is not willing to admit the important role that social networks and online activism played in the recent years – not only for assisting political change in regions like Egypt, the protests in London, Spain, Occupy Wall Street movement, but recently in stopping laws in global and local level.
Technology was essential when people were organizing those protests that shook the world. 2012 was especially successful for online activists with the successful campaigns against SOPA and PIPA (also known as Hollywood acts) in USA and ACTA.
On January 18, 2012 over 115 000 websites blacked their logos or homepages (including Google, Wikipedia, Mozilla and Wired among others), 10 million signatures were recorded on online petitions, more than 3 million emails were sent to US representatives, over 3 million tweets mentioned SOPA and PIPA, as well as 4.5 million people signed Google’s anti-SOPA/PIPA petition. The situation was similar with ACTA, with activist successfully leveraging the power of social media to spread the message throughout the EU about the dangers of ACTA. When it came to financing the opposition to ACTA, activist turned to crowdfunding in order to raise money for educating people about ACTA in Germany. They managed to raise over 15 000 euros, which it used to design, print and distribute over 120 000 materials. Essential help for the protesters, was EDRI.org (European Digital Rights) as well as La Quadrature du Net. Through the latter, I was personally able to learn more about ACTA, find my EU parliament representative and contact them with a message that I am against the ratification of ACTA.
All this led to many protests in most Central and Eastern European cities, calling to EU parliament representatives to reject ACTA. Because of all the hard work of activists, as well as regular citizens, the EU parliament rejected ACTA by a huge majority on Wednesday 4th of July.
On a more local level, Bulgaria saw massive protests being executed throughout the summer of 2012, with the help of social media and other online tools – such as Avaaz and through regular blogs. The protests were response to a new environmental law that was established for a specific group of people with huge financial interest in the changes.
For days mostly young people during the day commented on online platforms, which later transferred on the streets of the capital. The whole organization was achieved through Facebook with many protesters posting through Instagram what is happening. The traditional media was repressed or disinterested to respond to the protests and therefore failed to cover one of the most important civil actions in our society for the last 20 years. The good news: we were able to shelf the law. For now. But I think the government officials discovered the power of online activism and had to pay attention to what the citizen wanted and not just to care for corporate interest.
Jordan was not spared from protests after the government proposed the Press and Publication Law, which will give authorities the right to block sites, control the media and restrict social media comments. Even the Jordanian Queen turned to Twitter to voice her disapproval of the piece of legislation with #BlackOutJO, but unfortunately, the King supported the law and it was accepted by the lower house of parliament.
Those are only several examples from the thousands of protests around the world. New tools give the ability to people to organize in an unprecedented ways in order to support a cause they believe in. Here is a short list of some tools to use if you plan a protest or online campaign for a cause you believe in.
- Causes and Votizen – Several days ago Causes, the online petition site, has acquired Votizen – dedicated place for exercising political action by engaging with voters online. This acquisition comes at a time when online activism is getting more attention from politicians, activists and traditional media.
- Crowdvoice – the crowdsourcing site for tracking protests around the world. You can supplement information about a protest, share first-hand experience, and thus people from around the world can stay informed what is happening on the local level.
- Surkey – after the police started using tactics to cut off protesters, known as “kettling”, UK activists created a tool using Google Maps and Swiftrive, for protesters to help one another to avoid getting caught behind the barricade. Sulkey collects data from Twitter, text messaging, Livestream, Image sharing platforms – Twitpic, yfrog, Instagram, Flickr.
- Petition Platforms – Moveon.org, Change.org, iPetitions.com, SignOn.org, and many more, offer great easy and cheap way to inform people about a cause and maybe get the ball rolling for change. The best thing of online petitions is the ability to mobilize public opinion for a cause when you are on a deadline. Unfortunately, this can lead to the “clicktivism” – many people sign petitions online but do not actively participate in the next steps for ensuring the cause is successful.
- Community Organizing Platforms – like NationBuilder (it is fee based) and Crabgrass – allow activists to build websites, create blogs, volunteer outreach, calendars, wikis, email lists, group collaboration and network organizing, as well as payment processing and other options. Those platforms and others like them, allow for activists to create a place to build a community with tools easy to set up and use without a specialized knowledge.
Obviously the field will evolve more, but there is certain gleam of hope that online activism could be an important tool for society. But is it possible that our online activism will turn into something as prosaic as is now clicking on the Like button in Facebook? Does it contain any meaning and usefulness? After all, it is a lot more easier to sign your name and email online for a cause you believe in, instead of going out and supporting that cause with some offline activity? And is it possible that sometime soon we would be drawn in various types of campaigns only to stop noticing them and accept them just as part of the information flood we are surrounded online? Is it possible for this activism to bring real sustainable change? As Egyptian activist Hossam El-Hamalawy said, “The Internet is only a medium and a tool by which we can support our ‘offline’ activities. Our strength will always stem from the fact that we’ll have one foot in the cyberspace, and, more importantly, the other foot will be on the ground.”