Digital Activism

Web 2.0 has become a major site of political and social movement activism. This includes much traditional organizing work -- recruiting members, planning demonstrations and other events, educating publics, writing letters (or in this case often emails) to politicians and so on. Such work is sometimes called "Net roots" organizing, in contrast to the grassroots kind, and has in many cases merged well with traditional modes of movement activism. In addition to augmenting older modes of organizing, digital activism also includes forms unique to cyberspaces, such as alternative online news sites, web meeting/discussion spaces, culture jamming, hactivism and other forms of digital civil disobedience, and the use of tweeting, flash mobbing, and other new media modes during protest events.

Digital activism has been credited with playing a central role in the Arab Spring revolts of 2010-2011, and in the #Occupy movement that began in New York City but has now spread around the US and around the world. But others argue that this role has been exaggerated, and that digital activism has significant perils, both because forces of reaction can also use these tools and because over-reliance on social media can blunt equally important face-to-face organizing. Both the virtues and the limits of digital activism are discussed in the works cited below.

Featured Sites

The Digital Activism Project Based at the University of Washington, the Digital Activism Project is collecting a massive database of information on digital activism worldwide. You can download their preliminary findings.

HarassMap Example of innovative digital activism against sexual violence and harassment.

Key Writings on Digital Activism

Bey, Hakim. The Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological Anarchy, Poetic Terrorism. One of the foundational theory texts of the cultural anarchist branch of digital activism.

Boler, Megan, ed. Digital Media and Democracy: Tactics in Hard Times. MIT Press, 2010. Excellent collection of critical essays examaning the theory and practice of various modes of digital activism.

Boler, Megan and Matt Ratto, eds. DIY Citizenship: Critical Making and Social Media.MIT Press, 2014. Rich explorations of the often missing political contexts and notions of agency in digitally driven "participatory" culture.

Brooking, E.T. Anonymous vs. the Islamic State Foreign Policy (online edition Dec 2015).

Castells, Manuel. Networks of Outrage and Hope: Social Movements in the Internet Age.
Polity Press, 2012. Study of Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street and other recent movements by one of the foremost theorists of digital culture.

Chock-Costanza, S. "Mapping the Electronic Repertoire of Contention," in A. Opel and D. Pompper, eds.Representing Restsance: Media, Civil Disobedience and the Global Justice Movement.. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2003. 173-191,

Dahlberg, Lincoln and Eugenia Siapera, eda. Radical Democracy and the Internet. Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. Chapters 4 & 5 deal with Net activism most directly but all 13 essays in the excellent anthology are relevant.

Diamond, Larry. “Liberation Technologies.” Journal of Democracy 21.3 (July 2010): 69-83. Makes a strong case for the democratizing potential of digital tools.

Digital Activism #Now. Signficant conference on trends in digital organizing for social change accessible as podcasts.

Earl, Jennifer, and Katrina Kimport. Digitally Enabled Social Change: Activism in the Internet Age. MIT Press, 2011. Sociological study of the ways in which digital activism differs from earlier forms of social movement organizing.

Fuchs, Christian. Some Reflections on Manuel Castells’ Book "Networks of Outrage and Hope. Social Movements in the Internet Age." Cognition, Communication, Co-operation 10.2 (2012). Extended critique of Castell's book (see above) on digital media and social movement.

Gerbaudo, Paolo. Tweets and the Streets. Social Media and Contemporary Activism Pluto Press, 2012. Empirical comparative study of social media use in movements in the USA, Egypt, Spain, the United Kingdom, Tunisia and Greece

Hands, Joss. @ Is for Activism: Dissent, Resistance and Rebellion in a Digital Culture. Pluto Press, 2011.

Ingram, Mathew. “Gladwell Still Missing the Point About Social Media and Activism.”
GigaOm. 3 Feb. 2011. Web. 2 April. 2014.

Joyce, Mary. Digital Activism Decoded: The New Mechanics of Change. International Debate, 2010. A how-to manual for digital activists.

Juris, Jeff. Networking Futures Duke UP, 2008. Ethnographic and theoretical study that includes much detailed reflection on the role played by digital media in the movement against neo-liberal globalization.

Kahn, Richard, and Douglas Kellner. "New Media and Internet Activism: From the "Battle of Seattle" to Blogging." New Media and Society 6.1 (2004):87-95.

Lievrouw, Leah. Alternative and Activist New Media. Polity, 2011. Accessible overview of digital activism in news and social movement organizing.

Marichal, Jose. Political Facebook Groups First Monday 18.12 (Dec 2013).

MacKinnon, Rebecca. Consent of the Networked. Site for the book of the same name with links to activist groups worldwide fighting for internet freedom.

Mozorov, Evengy. Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom. Public Affairs, 2011. Offers a clear analysis of the dangers of relying too fully on web-centered activism, and on use of the Net by authoritarian regimes.

Pickerill, Jenny. Cyberprotest: Environmental Activism Online. Manchester University Press, 2003.

Raley, Rita. Tactical Media. U of Minnesota P, 2009. Especially strong on "an aesthetic politics of disruption, intervention, and education" via digital media.

Van der Donk, Wim et al. CyberProtest, New Media, Citizens and Social Movements. Routledge, 2004. Anthology surverying digital activism from around the globe.

Wolfson, Todd. Digital Rebellion: The Rise of the Cyber Left. Champaign-Urbana. U of Illinois P, 2014. Beginning with the Zapatistas and the rise of Indymedia in the alter-globalization movement, Wolfson uses ethnographic case studies to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of digitally centered organizing.

Further Reading

Cyberactivism Bibliography from the University of Gaziantep.

Annotated Bibliography from the Digital Activism Project at U of Washington.