Network Activism

Yesterday’s “The Day We Fight Back” was, some say, underwhelming. Although nearly 250,000 signatures on thedaywefightback.org is significant, it does not seem to be eliciting the same type of response that we have seen with other online campaigns. Most notably, the mass blackout of websites in 2012 in response to SOPA and PIPA .

Wikipedia SOPA (flickr cc Search Influence) http://flic.kr/p/beW8RZ

Wikipedia SOPA (flickr cc Search Influence) http://flic.kr/p/beW8RZ

Do you remember seeing this image when you went to Wikipedia on January 8, 2012? Did you see anything like this when you went to Wikipedia yesterday? It is hard to match the visceral power of starting at a black page with white lettering telling you that you won’t be able to use the service if these acts are successful. In contrast, a pop-up bar at the bottom of the page you came to see is pretty easy to ignore.

Part of the challenge is in the difference between the threat of something that might happen in the future vs. something that is happening right now that you wouldn’t have noticed had someone not told you about it. In a great article by Lance Ulanoff on Mashable.com entitled We Were Supposed to Fight Back Yesterday? I Didn’t get the Memo, he outlines a several ideas about why this was a “failed” campaign (look harder at that url link: http://mashable.com/2014/02/12/the-day-we-fight-back-fail/). Ulanoff notes the stark contrast in the way that notification was handled, specifically by Wikipedia.

One other point that Ulanoff makes, which is echoed in George Arthur’s article I mentioned yesterday, is the fact “Those who did organize and fight back are the people who have already been doing so.” This made me start to wonder how Charles Kadushin (2012) or Yochai Benkler (2006) would view the situation.

Kadushin might talk about how the groups and individuals acted too much like a clique, in which all parties are more or less connected to each other. The lack of bridging connections (perhaps with mainstream media) may account for why there was not enough coverage or not a great enough understanding of the importance of the event. Benkler might add that there was not enough of a foundation on which the teeming masses could collaborate and build. Arthur and Ulanoff would probably agree with both of them.

The good news is that the perceived “failure” of the campaign is now becoming news! Coverage of the difficulties observed is picking up, which is continuing to raise awareness of the campaign. Perhaps this is a shift in online activism. Perhaps we’ll see a Shai LaBeouf type of “failure on purpose” attempt to gain some attention in the future – perhaps he is a ground-breaking artist.

Offline References:

Benkler, Y. (2006). The Wealth of Networks : How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom. New Haven [Conn.]: Yale University Press.

Kadushin, C. (2012). Understanding social networks : Theories, concepts, and findings. New York: Oxford University Press

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4 responses to “Network Activism

  1. Pingback: How pathetic is that? | ForcedReadingForMyCohorts

  2. I did a little reading on the two movements you mention and I don’t want to jump into something I don’t know enough about, but perhaps I could comment on the communications side of the two campaigns.

    I wonder if the reaction was larger for SOPA, not only because Wikipedia drew attention to it, but because it was something people could prevent. I understand that NSA mass surveillance on the other hand is already occurring and so needs to be stopped? Looking at the communications, Wikipedia’s SOPA messaging tapped into emotions and was inspiring, the mass surveillance messaging seemed somewhat sensational and discouraging.

    Am I totally of base here? Or do these comments point to a couple reasons as to why it the author of the article you linked to called it “just another day on the Internet”?

  3. Nicole, you totally hot the nail on the head. I saw Sean’s post about fighting back, had two minutes of “aargh WordPress why won’t you work” and gave up. If I were fighting an imminent battle, I probably would have stuck with it.

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