Below is a collection of Internet activism examples I find excellent. Not all of these cases accomplished their policy or electoral goals, but did have some impact in other ways.
Much of this list is structured around categories outlined by Sasha Costanza-Chock in “Mapping the Repertoire of Electronic Contention,” in Representing Resistance: Media, Civil Disobedience and the Global Justice Movement, eds. Andrew Opel and Donnalyn Pompper. Greenwood, in press. Unless otherwise indicated, the quoted text below has been taken from him.
Though I’ve added some of my own commentary, this is not intended to be a full analysis of the campaigns and organizations mentioned. While I disagree with the politics of many of the examples listed, I think there is something to be learned from each one.
Many of the projects also cross multiple categories, but are organized here for the sake of demonstration. The categories are as follows:
- Information Distribution and Independent Media
- Cultural Production
- Tactical Communication
- Direct Action
“It would be impossible to catalog the hundreds of thousands of sites devoted to social movements, but these generally present organizations in terms of mission, projects, history, membership, and links to affiliated groups, and usually include contact information. One function of such sites is to establish a kind of ongoing presence for organizations and other movement actors. In contexts of extreme repression, websites may be the only way for organizations that operate entirely underground to have a persistent visible presence at all. For example, this is the case for the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, who have spoken of how their website (www.rawa.org) has served as kind of ‘virtual base’ from which they are able to represent themselves to the world as well as engage in all the other forms of conventional electronic contention described below.”
“This includes, but is not limited to, the distribution of information about movement goals, campaigns, actions, reports, and so on via website, email, listservs, bulletin boards, chat rooms, ftp, and other channels. Information may be designed for the general public or for specific receivers, for example press releases, academic reports, or radio programmes and video segments for rebroadcast. In some cases the same information may be repackaged differently for various intended audiences.”
Radio B-92 broadcasts music and news promoting “free speech, objective reporting, social tolerance and solidarity, minority cultures, cosmopolitan values and alternative culture” in the struggle for a free and democratic Serbia. After two brief closures by the regime of Slobodan Milosevic, Radio B92 was permanently taken over on April 2, 1999. Within months, Free B92 managed to resume almost all its former activities. In cooperation with Studio B, the radio program B2-92 began broadcasting on 99.1 MHz FM on August 9, 1999. Despite constant jamming by the regime this program quickly became the highest-rated in Belgrade as had been Radio B92 before the shutdown. The government took over Studio B on May 16, 2000, terminating the FM broadcast. Despite this, the station continued to broadcast on satellite (six hours a day) as well as on the Internet (24 hours). The shift to underground, Internet broadcasting enabled the opposition to be heard throughout the war. The station continues to use the Internet in the fight against repression, and as a focus of an on-line community concerned with the struggle for democratization of Serbia.
Much has been made of the rise of Blogs in Iran, particularly as a place for women in Iran to talk freely about subjects they can not otherwise discuss in public. The debate online is an extension of the overall intellectual and democratic transformation taking place.
Blogs also played a role in the resignation of Senate majority leader Trent Lott. When the mainstream media ignored the racist remarks of the incoming Senate Minority Leader, bloggers kept the story going.
Tokyo Alien Eyes is a tiny organization that fights racism against foreign residents in Japan, particularly students. The director maintains a blog (in Japanese) of his activities which creates a level of transparency that is unique among Japanese community-based organizations.
A geek buys a new computer with a built-in DVD player. He runs the Linux operating system and is unable to play the DVD’s he owns. So he cracks the DVD encryption scheme and shares the recipe with other Linux users. Hilarity ensues. So what’s the best way to spread a piece of code? Ban it and then sue a bunch of geeks to remove the code and links to it from their Web pages. The debate over DeCSS, subsequent lawsuits and massive civil disobedience have broad implications: Is code software or speech? Are digital media (like movies and videos) software or speech? Can you really make hyperlinks illegal? And what about our freedom to tinker? The continued redistribution of the code has made a mockery of the MPAA, their tactics, and security model. (Particularly when the DeCSS code was briefly entered into the public record in the course of the trial.)
And then there are your solid campaign sites like Circuses.com. Run by the organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the campaign targets cruelty against animals by circuses. The site provides a concise overview of the issue, a list of actions you can take, and materials for kids to download and print. The site navigation is clear, and the overall design is bright and circusy with stars and photos of circus tents... and animals in chains. The domain name is also a great Google hack. When a user searches for info on “circuses,” Circuses.com comes up first.
“Many social movement organizations use the Internet as a resource for gathering specific information relevant to their cause, including information about opponents or targets, information produced by other movement actors, case studies of parallel situations, historical background, theory, economic data, environmental data, media analysis, and so on.”
The Environmental Working Group Farm Subsidy Database is a database of farm program checks written by the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 1996 through 2000, obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request. Tens of millions of check records were compiled to obtain the total subsidy received by each recipient, in each payment category. According to the New York Times, it has “not only caught the attention of [U.S.] lawmakers, it also helped transform the farm bill into a question about equity and whether the country’s wealthiest farmers should be paid to grow commodity crops while many smaller family farms receive nothing and are going out of business.”
Among the myths, propaganda, and disinformation bolstering the U.S. invasion of Iraq, there were a few shining beacons of clarity and truth on the Web. The Center for Cooperative Research has produced several excellent fact sheets about America’s war without end. Their breakdown of Iraqi opposition groups, and their positions on U.S. invasion, is the best that I’ve found. See also 13 Myths About the Case for War in Iraq, a collaborative research project developed by Organizers’ Collaborative. Written and produced by “The Committee to Unsell the War,” Who Dies for Bush Lies? features a summary of Bush administration lies for this and the previous Gulf War, and addresses the cost of war on U.S. civilians and soldiers as well as Iraqi civilians and soldiers. It also points to carefully selected resources, links, and actions, and features photos of anti-war Americans from all walks of life rallying against the war. Iraq Body Count tracks Iraqi casualties of war by cross-checking news accounts.
Related to advocacy oriented research are sites that aggregate research materials.
National Security Archive, Digital National Security Archive, the Dossier Documents Library, Cryptome and The Memory Hole host extensive collections of declassified documents from U.S. government agencies. The Memory Hole was one of the first Web sites to publish photos of U.S. coffins returning from the war in Iraq, and became a site of reference collected images of U.S. soldiers torturing Iraqi prisoners published published in other media.Tobacco Archives contains “7 million documents related to advertising, manufacturing, marketing, sales, and scientific research of tobacco products.”
“Visual art, music, video, poetry, net.art, and other forms of cultural production by artists active in, associated with, or supportive of social movements are often posted, distributed, or sold online.”
Several Web sites host agit-prop images that can be freely printed out and posted around town. Subvertise is a fairly broad collection. During the invasion of Iraq, many sites hosted a number of downloadable anti-war posters. The idea is good, though the quality of the images is mixed. Two individual artists with some great agit-prop images and posters online are Erik Drooker and Mike Flugennock. Micah Wright’s remixed vintage propaganda posters were widely picked up by the blogging crowd.
During the invasion of Iraq, a couple of artists remixed President Bush’s State of the Union speeches to comic and chilling effect. To this, I would also add this lip-synched love song between George W. Bush and Tony Blair.
Also under cultural production, are satire sites.
“Site parodies or replicas of target sites that subtly alter wording or images to express activist viewpoints and discredit the target have been launched against.”
I list a few other examples in the parody section of my Web log.
The 2004 election also saw a number of feature films and grassroots video projects hit the Web.
MoveOn sponsored a video contest to produce a 30-second advertisement criticizing President Bush.
Activist video editors provided instant, video remix analysis of the presidential debate, the Republican National Convention, and media coverage of the war:
Also known as “viral marketing,” these campaigns often take the form of Flash pieces that are emailed from friend to friend promoting a cause or action. Two examples are AIDS Concern, Hong Kong, and the Amnesty International, Conflict Diamonds animation.
Less attached to any specific campaigns are two projects by Jonah Peretti that were forwarded widely around the Web: his email exchange about customizing Nike sneakers with the word “sweatshop”; and the straight-faced satire site blackpeopleloveus.com.
Somewhere between outreach and communication is political use of the Web site meetup.com. The site is a “free service that organizes local gatherings about anything, anywhere.” You register your interest and city and when a critical mass of people have also registered, a date and place for the meeting is set. On April 2, over ten thousand people met across the country to discuss campaign efforts for Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean. In June 2003, Dean’s Meetup site reported that nearly 23,000 people were interested in meeting in nearly 500 cities. Also of note, is the Howard Dean Web log, maintained during the campaign by one of his staff as they stumped across the U.S.A. Read more about the Dean campaign and its use of the Internet.
One of the first electronic advocacy campaigns was the Blue Ribbon free speech. In February 1996, President Clinton signed into law a Telecom Bill and its “Communications Decency Amendment.” The “Communications Decency Act” attempted to impose U.S. broadcast-style content regulations on the Internet. Internet users were outraged. Protests were held, lawsuits were filed, and Web authors colored their pages black for 48 hours. Subsequently, the authors posted banner graphics of blue ribbons and linked to campaign pages on the fight against the CDA and Internet censorship. In June 1997, a unanimous US Supreme Court decision struck down the CDA as an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment. The blue ribbon campaign did not end, however, as Clinton signed the “Child Online Protection Act” (aka “CDA II”) in 1998. After another round of protest and lawsuits, the law was struck down in March 2003. The blue ribbon campaign continues today and has broadened to include Internet censorship worldwide.
In January 2003, First Lady Laura Bush invited Sam Hamill to take part in a White House symposium called “Poetry and the American Voice.” Hamill, author of 13 volumes of poetry,is also ex-Marine, a Buddhist and a pacifist. He started the Web site Poets Against the War and invited a few friends to submit antiwar to be presented to the White House at the March 5th symposium. News quickly spread and in two months the site had received over 13,000 submissions. News also reached the White House, and the symposium was cancelled. The site then expanded to list events and readings of poetry against the war around the U.S. In March 2003, 13,000 poems were presented to the Prime Minister of Canada. The following May, 174 of the poems were published by Nation Books in an anthology titled “Poets Against the War.”
From the Link and Think site:
“Each December 1, World AIDS Day, the creative community observes A Day With(out) Art, in memory of all those the AIDS pandemic has taken from us, and in recognition of the many artists, actors, writers, dancers and others who continue to create and live with HIV and AIDS. A Day With(out) Art was created by the group Visual AIDS in New York City. For the last several years, Creative Time has organized a Day With(out) Art observance on the worldwide web, encouraging diverse website designers and administrators to darken their site and convey AIDS prevention and education information to their visitors. In 1999, more than 50 webloggers took part in a project called a Day With(out) Weblogs. In 2000, nearly 700 personal weblogs and journals of all sorts participated. In 2001, the number was over 1,000. The personal web publishing community — weblogs, journals, diaries, personal websites of every kind — has continued to grow and diversify. Once again, everyone who produces personal content on the web is invited to participate a global observance of World AIDS Day. In recognition of the variety of sites participating — E/N sites, weblogs, journals, newspages and more — and to differentiate it from other, similar endeavors, a Day With(out) Weblogs became Link and Think.”
“This includes electronic versions of certain kinds of collective action aimed directly at influencing the political process and legislative outcomes. Online petitions and email campaigns fall into this category. Targets may be elected officials and government bodies, multilateral institutions, transnational nongovernmental organizations or other social movement organizations.”
In the tools section, I discuss several applications that help automate the process of coordinating among activists and lobbying state and federal officials in the U.S.
However, while tools for such lobbying are becoming widely available, elected officials have not kept pace. Electronic advocacy is overwhelming the representative process. Officials and their staff are struggling to process the information they receive and should invest in technology to enhance their ability to listen and respond beyond their election campaigns.
The WWF Panda Passport makes electronic advocacy into a kind of a lobbying game. The more actions you take, the more stamps you get in your panda passport. The more stamps you accumulate, you higher rank and title you win. At each threshold, you are offered rewards like downloadble wallpaper graphics and screen savers. Site users are also sent email action alerts. Though the game format seems very effective at encouraging participation, I find it trivializes the content.
Amnesty International’s Urgent Action Network existed long before the Internet. Postal mail action briefs were sent from AI’s London headquarters to national offices around the world to distribute to Amnesty International members. The briefs outlined cases of “prisoners of conscience,” often detained for non-violent expression of their political beliefs and often at risk of torture or execution. Amnesty members would respond with hundreds and even thousands of letters to the responsible government officials urging them to free the prisoners. Email and the Web have dramatically shortened response times, though much of the lobbying is still done with postal mail. Last year’s campaign on torture introduced action alerts via text messages to beepers and cell phones. Over the years, hundreds of prisoners have been released (though AI does not take direct credit for specific releases.) Also of note is the use of geography as a tactical tool. Not every urgent action is sent to every member by the 80 Amnesty offices around the world. When actions are distributed, a geographic balance is maintained so that, for instance, an Islamic country does not only receive letters from the U.S. and Western Europe, but from other Islamic countries as well. Conversely, Amnesty generally does not send cases to members that are in the members’ own country (though there are some exceptions.)
The advocacy tools I mentioned are not just helping large organizaitons with million dollar budgets. Irene Weiser, a self-described ‘an average citizen from upstate New York’ wanted to do something to save the Violence Against Women Act. The act, which provides funding for domestic vioilence programs, was set to expire in 2000. The press portrayed the Act as inevitably lost. Irene got worked with e-Advocates.com to start a one woman campaign to save the bill. She created stopfamilyviolence.org and sent out letters to friends, colleagues and family. In two months, she built an email list of 36,000 subscribers who helped send 164,000 email messages to Congress. In October 2000, the Senate re-authorized the Act unanimously, after a House vote of 371-1. President Clinton signed legislation into law on October 28, 2000, doubling the funding for the program.[source, source]
The campaign has continued grow. When a Massachusetts state court ordered the Women’s Resource Center to hand over counseling records of a 16-year-old girl to the defense team of the man she says raped her, the Center said no, earning a fine of $500 fine for every day the Center refused to hand over the records. Through the stopfamilyviolence.org network, 2,500 people volunteered to go to jail for a night to help protect the girl’s privacy and to fend off the fine. This generated significant publicity to the issue. [source]
In January 2005, stopfamilyviolence.org turned to the nomination of Alberto Gonzales for U.S. Attorney General. The site urged its members to oppose his confirmation on the grounds that a man who authored the torture memo has no place overseeing the Violence Against Women Office and all federal laws regarding violence against women and children.
Lobbying the media has also had some effect. With the Capital Advantage application you simply type enter your zip code for a list of local media outlets and their contact info. Palestine Media Watch and “Honest Reporting” send out regular email dispatches documenting media bias in reports on the Israel-Palestine conflict. Their newsletters encourage subscribers to respond directly to the news agency concerned.
Rather than encouraging the pursuit of balance, these efforts may have a chilling effect:
Doug Feaver, the recently retired executive editor of washingtonpost.com, says these campaigns could make some news reporters and editors hesitant to pursue controversial topics....
Jonathan Dube, managing producer of MSNBC.com and writer and publisher of the CyberJournalist.net website, says the danger is not so much that journalists will be scared off controversial stories, but that they will cut themselves off from their audiences.
‘I do think there is a danger that these e-mail campaigns will encourage — or force — more journalists to close off communication with their audience, either by not publicizing e-mail and other contact information, or by simply ignoring e-mails they do get because they don‘t have time to separate the wheat from the chaff,’ said Mr. Dube. ‘And if that’s the result, then that's a shame, because open dialogue with readers helps make reporters better journalists and coverage more informed.’ [source]
One of the best uses of online petitions is simply building a network of supporters. MoveOn.org started in September 1998 as an online petition to encourage the media and politicians to move on from the seemingly endless noise over the President Clinton’s impeachment proceedings. According to the site “during impeachment, MoveOn’s grassroots advocates generated more than 250,000 phone calls and a million emails to Congress.” The site has focused on other issues, but it was during the U.S. war on Iraq that it took off. Most notable, was the virtual march on Washington which organized thousands of anti-war Americans to call and fax the President and Congress on February 26, 2003. The action overwhelmed White House and Senate switchboards and offices. With their periodic email messages urging simple, concrete actions MoveOn also organized off line rallies, personal visits by constituents with their elected officials, and raised funds for the production and placement of television, radio, and newspaper ads. The email list now boasts over two million subscribers around the world.
“This includes appeals to membership and donations as well as the online sale of ‘SMO merchandise’ - T-shirts, books, buttons, posters, and so on. This is problematized by certain kinds of companies that might be considered (or consider themselves) SMOs but have a main organizational function that is commercial, for example Fair Trade Federation (http://www.fairtradefederation.com). Fundraising efforts are also aided by computer-assisted direct mailing campaigns and by member database management.”
An growing number of Internet users are donating money online, though the overall percentage of charitable donations made online is still very small. According to groundspring.org, around 1-3% of individual giving in the U.S. was via the Internet in 2002.
Humanitarian organizations like the Red Cross raise an enormous amount of money when a big disaster hits the mainstream media. Donation sites raised an unprecedented amount of money for the families of the victims of the attacks on September 11, 2001.
Of online donation sites, I find the Heifer International Gift Catalog particularly effective. The Catalog is an e-commerce site where you can purchase cows and goats which are distributed to families around the world that live in poverty. The site creates a strong sense of transparency, giving the impression that there is no question about what your money is funding.
The Hunger Site was the first of many ‘clicks for charity’ sites. The site funnels dollars from banner ad clickthroughs into humanitarian relief efforts. I have always been impressed by the popularity of the site, considering how superficially it address the actual causes of hunger and extreme poverty. The Hunger Site is run by a for-profit corporation, though it claims 100% of sponsor banner advertising is paid to nonprofit beneficiary organizations.
In the U.S., registered non-profit organizations are restricted in the amount and kinds of lobbying they are permitted to conduct. So MoveOn, building on its enormous email network, started a separate political action committee. MoveOn PAC is a response to corporate PACs that raise money for (and curry favor from) candidates for congressional office with moderate to progressive views. “All funds go entirely to the individual campaigns in the amounts you specify. We take care of all the required [Federal Election Commission] paperwork by transmitting necessary contributor information to each campaign... Through the MoveOn.org Political Action Committee, more than 10,000 everyday Americans together contributed more than $2 million to key congressional campaigns in the 2000 election, and more than $3.5 million in 2002 election.”
Planned Parenthood also used fundraising as an advocacy tool. After an LA Times columnist wrote that a donation to Planned Parenthood in the name of John Ashcroft was a fitting message to send to President George W. Bush on Presidents’ Day in response to his reinstating the “global gag rule” and appointing John Ashcroft as U.S. attorney general, 15,000 individuals contributed $500,000 . Fifteen thousand acknowledgment messages were delivered to the new Executive Office Building.
“[Tactical communications] refers to the use of the Internet or other electronic communications to aid mobilization efforts, both before and during street or ‘real world’ collective actions. This includes calls to action distributed electronically, as well as coordination during street actions using internet, pager, cell phone, WAP, or other electronic communications technologies.”
The idea of a worldwide day of anti-war marches came out discussion at the European Social Forum in Florence in November 2002. At the Forum, the date February 15 was chosen as a date for anti-war demonstrations “in every capital.” What transpired was unexpected and unprecedented.
On February 15, 2003, an estimated 10 million people took to the streets in over 600 cities around the world to protest the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Though email facilitated much of the organizing within individual cities, almost no coordination took place between cities. It was not until the following day that the scale was truly realized. Protest images circulated the Web in practically real time. Some articles: Wired, New York Times, Washington Post.
Other large-scale, demonstrations by the global justice movement, such as the G8 protests in Evian, France and the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, rely heavily on the Internet to coordinate.
Protest.net lists upcoming protests and actions in cities around the world.
Other examples of electronic media in tactical communication include the use of fax machines to mobilize and publicize 1989 uprising in Tiananmen Square.
The January 2003 presidential victory in South Korea stunned observers by shaking off 50 years of conservative rule. The change is partially the result of a demographic shift and the use of the Internet by the younger generation to get out the vote.
During the 2002 Congressional election, the Republican National Committee compiled an email list of nearly 2 million people through aggressive advertising and marketing of its Web site. “By contrast, the Democratic National Committee has a list about one-fifth that size. The RNC also maintains a database of about 200 million names... that it shares with GOP groups nationwide, allowing them to target likely voters by region and other factors. The Republican congressional leadership site, GOP.gov, has 1,650 email lists that users can join, broken down by everything from geography to issues to the frequency with which subscribers want to receive mail.” [source]
During the 2004 presidential election the Bush-Cheney campaign organized volunteers through "virtual precincts," networks of personal church and work-based associations in which a "virtual precinct captain," was charged with prodding people to register and vote. The virtual precinct allowed online supporters to create a permanent email list through to distribute campaign information to friends and family members. Supporters were also given information about local talk radio shows and newspapers, and encouraged to call or write telling why they supported Bush. Volunteer information such as maps to head quarters and neighborhood walking maps were also made available through the virtual precinct.
The Bush-Cheney Campaign and RNC organizers gathered over 8 million email addresses during the campaign. During the last 72 hours of the campaign 7.2 million Bush ‘E-activists’ contacted their family and friends making sure they got out to vote. Many of the captains were also part of the 1.4 million volunteers on the ground in the battleground states on Election Day, and the Saturday, Sunday and Monday leading up to Election Day — who contacted 15 million voters directly, either by phone or knocking on their door. [source]
This related article, The Tech Tidal Wave Hits Politics mentions MoveOn’s use of the Web to create a massive, distributed phone bank:
For the last weeks of the campaign, anyone who wanted to help Kerry or the Democrats get out the vote today has been able to log onto any of several Web sites like Votercall.org, register, and within seconds get a list of likely Kerry voters, or undecided voters, or newly registered voters in key states, along with their phone numbers and a suggested script for the call.
In 2000, a post-election survey by a group of online advocacy consultants found that “in the 8 toss-up U.S. House and Senate races where a challenger won, an overwhelming majority - 75 percent - employed a superior Web strategy, as defined by online voters in a February 2000 e-advocates/Juno survey and candidate rankings on top search engines. Additionally, in seven out of the eight races, the winning challenger raised less money than the losing incumbent - an anomaly in the results of all congressional races nationwide.”
Related to the tactical communication, these are projects that use the Internet as a means for online and offline collaboration.
Schools Demining Schools was a project of the United Nations CyberSchoolBus leading up to the signing of the treaty to ban landmines. An online curricula, frequently asked questions, and background brief about landmines and demining were posted as an initial foundation. Students could then email questions to series of respondents including activists, government officials, demining personnel, and landmine survivors. The answers were posted on the Web site and circulated back to the participating students. On December 2, the date of the treaty signing, students posted a special banner on their Web sites and held offline events about landmines. After the signing, students could correspond via the site to demining teams in Mozambique and Afghanistan and raise funds to support the demining of school grounds there.
iEarn, International Education and Resource Network, is a small office with an enormous network. Teachers and students around the world can use the iEarn network to collaborate in projects across borders. The projects are designed and facilitated by the participants themselves in a range of subjects from science and math to arts and languages.
Site alteration or redirection involves illegal entry to target sites, altering text or images or rerouting visitors to a different site (often one that expresses an oppositional viewpoint to target policies or actions).
Crackers also redirected the al-Jazeera Web site in 2003 towards other internet destinations, including porn sites. The site itself was defaced with the message ‘Hacked by Patriot, Freedom Cyber Force Militia’ beneath a logo of the US flag.
Ostensibly, in response to repeated hacking the Bush/Cheney campaign Web site blocked international traffic to their campaign Web site. This also had the effect of blocking access by U.S. citizens and military personnel abroad — constituencies perhaps less likely to vote for Bush.
In its ongoing information war against the Chechen cause online, the Russian government has closed down several of the most important of the Chechen Web sites, even seeking help from Western governments. Russian authorities (or their supporters) have also routinely cracked Chechen Web sites, destroying or distorting the materials and information they contain. Chechen supports have responded in kind. “There are suspicions that the Chechens or their backers may have been behind the defacing of Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov’s site two weeks ago precisely because of his statements against Chechnya and his efforts to expel Chechens from the Russian capital.” [source]
The Internet service provider Connect-Ireland suspects the government of Indonesia was behind a Denial of Service attack and break-in in February 1999. The attack brought down the ISP’s servers, including the server managing the East Timor domain .tp. The attack temporarily cut access to all Web sites registered with a .tp Web address. The servers offered hosted some three hundred East Timorese sites offering a rallying point and an account of the conflict to contrary to official line of the Indonesian government.
A more legal form of site redirection is the practice of Google bombing, influencing the search result ranking of Google to position ones Web site. This may be used for parody or political commentary:
- A search for the term “Weapons of Mass Destruction” in mid-2004 led one to a page designed to replicate an Internet Explorer error message reporting that “These Weapons of Mass Destruction cannot be displayed. The weapons you are looking for are currently unavailable. The country might be experiencing technical difficulties, or you may need to adjust your weapons inspectors mandate.”
- If a user searched for the term “Esso” in 2002, Google’s search results listed Greenpeace’s own Stop E$$o campaign page above the Esso corporations own home page.
- A Google search for “circuses” continues to list circuses.com as the number-one result. The campaign site from PeTA challenges cruelty to animals at circuses.
Denial of service attacks and virtual sit-ins result in blockage of public access to the target site. When targets are companies that rely on online sales, such actions can have significant economic as well as symbolic impact.
The Electronic Disturbance Theater has conducted virtual sit-in in support of the living wage campaign at Harvard University and in solidarity with the people of Vieques.
At the 2003 Computers Freedom and Privacy Conference, Kijoong Kim of JinboNet in South Korea described one successful denial of service attack. In 2000, the Korean Ministry of Information and Communication proposed requiring a PICS rating system for all Web content. The proposal was defeated after activists initiated DDoS attacks on the MIC Web site. The law was, however, was reintroduced in 2001... and included provision prohibiting online protest.
Data theft or destruction. Hacktivists gaining entry to target servers may destroy or alter data, or steal private or classified documents useful to social movement organizations.
One recent example of this is the publication of internal documents copied from Diebold’s corporate servers. The documents revealed that Diebold, makers of electronic voting software, knew its software was not secure. The documents suggest that Diebold knew the system the system was flawed when it mysteriously subtracted 16,000 votes from Al Gore in Florida during the 2000 election.
Activists, students, and supporters quickly posted mirrors of the documents. Diebold responded with several lawsuits relying on the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, until Congressman Dennis Kucinich posted the documents on his own Web site and sent a letter to the House Judiciary Committee requesting a hearing to investigate abuses of the DMCA by Diebold.
Thus far, I have not found any examples of violent electronic contention, or digital attacks resulting in real-world damage, death, or injury. Still, the Internet becomes ever more integrated with our physical environments and network connections proliferate. A majority of technology scholars surveyed in September 2004 predict at least one devastating attack on the network infrastructure in the coming decade. This April 2005 article in Wired reports that “the U.S. military has assembled the world’s most formidable hacker posse: a super-secret, multimillion-dollar weapons program that may be ready to launch bloodless cyberwar against enemy networks — from electric grids to telephone nets.” With technical knowledge and basic Internet access, developing countries and non-state actors may be able to employ similar tactics, allowing them to leapfrog more sophisticated and expensive weapons regimes.
Last modified on May 2, 2006 09:41 AM