Monthly Archives: September 2006

The Impact of Web 2.0 on Social Activism

“The past few years have seen the Internet used more often and more widely as a tool for social activism. As a resource, digital technology provides a platform for information collection and publication, a site for dialogue and debate, and a venue for lobbying and fundraising. In addition to using the Internet as a practical tool, a number of organizations have begun employing the Internet as a space for staging activism. Known variously as virtual activism, net protest, hacktivism, and cyberjamming, online activism is a rapidly growing and evolving field.
Previous work has suggested that the development of tactics for online activism relies on flexible, well resourced, and technically adept specialist groups. These small, less cause-driven groups with critical and technical expertise (such as Electronic Disturbance Theatre and RTMark) produce digital means of activism that expand the ‘electronic repertoire of contention’. These tactics can then be used by larger, less technically skilled groups.
The advent of the Web 2.0 paradigm has significant implications to the development of the electronic repertoire of contention. Within the Web 2.0 approach, the web is seen as a platform for service delivery – a model that emphasises user control, architectures of participation, and emergent behaviour. With an increase of re-mixable, collectible, hackable systems of loosely joined pieces, the web has the potential to become an even more critical tool for social movements.
Online services such as Google, Flickr, and BitTorrent – as well as more general trends such as blogging, wikis and semantic tagging – empower less technical organisations to become more active in the digital space. This has two implications for online social action. The first is an increase in the use of the Internet as a tool or resource – BitTorrent provides an ideal platform for sharing media assets globally between chapters of an organisation, while wikis enable organisations to cost effectively build grass-roots knowledge bases.
The second implication of Web 2.0 is that these online services create digital spaces that movements may seek to subvert as part of their actions. When online services and content become core to many people’s daily lives, they offer a unique opportunity for social protest. One documented examples of this is Google-bombing, where individuals or movements have sought to manipulate the Google search ranking system as a form of activism.
This paper surveys the technologies underlying Web 2.0, and illustrates how emerging online services differ significantly from previous digital content. Several examples are provided of the use of these services by social movements – both as resources and as sites of contestation. A model for the expansion of the electronic repertoire of contention is presented, and modified to encompass the potential impact of Web 2.0 services. A number of observations are made on the implications this will have for social movements that wish to extend their activity to digital media.” [read the full paper]
Rolfe, B. (2006) The Impact of Web 2.0 on Social Activism, Paper presented at the 7th Annual Conference of the Association of Internet Researchers. 

Internet Research 7.0 – Convergences

This week I have been attending Internet Research 7.0 – Internet Convergences in Brisbane. Primarily I’m here to present my paper on The Impact of Web 2.0 on Social Activism, but have run into a few nice folk and caught some interesting papers. I am just not a conference kind of guy – all that academic schmoozing leaves me a little cold. At a collection of pretty geeky academics, I have discovered that at least I am not alone in that!
The conference is broadly cross-disciplinary, which is both a strength and a weakness. On the positive side, the juxtaposition of highly technologically driven papers with sociological surveys, ethical remarks, and occasional theoretical treatments sends a strong message about the breadth of people studying these topics. On the negativs side, it is harder to gain anything of practical value from much of the work, and many of teh works lack an awareness of their own inherent disciplinarity or interdisciplinarity.
Having said that, there have been papers that do cut through the jumble of perspectives to resonate in interesting and often unexpected ways. Nancy Baym’s paper on The Internet in Advice Columns and Mat Wall-Smith’s observations on Metadata and Moving Bodies have been particularly appreciated.