There are many factors that make the Internet attractive for campaigning: its transmission speed, its reach globally and locally to a enormous number of users, low publishing cost, and 24 hour access. The Internet is an important alternative source of information to official and mainstream media, and a powerful means of connection outside of mainstream institutions. It is a truly mass medium, enabling individuals world-wide to share information and converse.

Where open access is available, the Web does not differentiate information by age, status, geography, or point of view — though not all Web pages are accessible to persons using assistive devices to browse the Web (such as screen readers or Braille interface.)

However, while the Internet has created new forms of individual power, social inclusion, and mass participation, it also amplifies existing forms of social exclusion. Internet access is determined by, and can reiterate, existing social and economic relations. The Web is of little use without the ability to read and write.

While the Internet’s communication structure allows for some anonymity, absolute anonymity and security online are extremely difficult to guarantee. This structure has allowed for new methods of surveillance and profiling. However, the same structure makes absolute censorship extremely difficult.

This document offers a brief introduction to a few different techniques of electronic advocacy using email, the Web, and other “new media” to bring about social change.

Though I include a section on Advocacy Tools, this is not intended to be a list of resources on the Internet but rather an overview and analysis of campaigning methods.

This document is also not intended to endorse electronic campaigning tactics at the expense of other offline tactics. Constituencies that are less connected to the Internet, for instance, are less likely to be reached by Internet organizing alone.

Any campaign determining its strategy should analyze its goals and consider the best way to influence, facilitate, create, or seize power. Electronic campaigning techniques may work best when supplementing offline tactics... or may be entirely unsuitable given a campaign’s intended audience, targets, timing, or resources.

As with other campaigning tactics, strategies that work in one context will not necessarily work in another.

The notion of a centrally coordinated, traditional “campaign” should also be reexamined with respect to the emergence of large scale, even spontaneous, online collaborations that are not centrally or hierarchically organized.

In an increasingly wired world, the Internet will become an increasingly important tool in the struggle for human rights and social justice. Coming improvements in eGovernance are also likely to open up new opportunities for electronic advocacy.

This document was drafted in January 2005. Technology and telecom policy change rapidly, so this will soon become dated. But, I suspect some of the advice and techniques apply beyond our specific technological moment.

This document was composed for a non-technical audience employed by nongovernmental and intergovernmental organizations working on civil and political human rights. As such, I do not address the finer points of developing an overall campaign strategy and leave out discussion of many excellent Internet services, tools, and campaigns — for instance, challenges to restrictive copyright and patent law... one of the broadest campaigns on the Internet right now. Though I touch on it here, I leave a detailed analysis of online fundraising techniques for another day.

Last modified on April 5, 2010 8:47 PM

Additional Resources


Check out the activist toolkit -

Posted by: rob allen at March 24, 2005 5:40 AM