Thursday, January 19, 2012

Technology and Activism

More and more, technology plays a very large part in activism.  Many movements are integrally tied to technology such as the Free Software Movement.  Others are not quite so significantly tied to technology such as Anonymous.  However, the days when rallies and protests were organized with paper and face-to-face communication is largely drawing to an end.

Today, the Internet and cell phone networks are the way to organize.  Facebook, Twitter, texting, and the web in general are what brought protesters to Zuccotti Park in droves.  This trend can only continue to increase in frequency and intensity.  Perhaps technology and communication can bring about a positive and substantive change in the world.


Anonymous was born on the Internet in what is still considered a shady underworld without any rules or restrictions.  Perhaps such a force could not have come from a place where participants would feel less free to explore the possibilities.  Today, Anonymous is everywhere, supporting other movements such as the 2010 and 2011 revolutions in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, and several other middle eastern countries and the Occupy movement in the U.S.

Anonymous has broken free of the Internet and now lives and thrives in the real world.  An early example of Anonymous' influence offline was "Operation Chanology," a campaign against the Church of Scientology.  In more recent times, Anonymous has gained a near synonymity with the Occupy movement which makes itself very visible in the real world.

Anonymous still does at least as much of its activism online as it does offline, however.  In support of the Syrian uprising still ongoing, Anonymous launched "Operation Syria", a campaign of online attacks aimed at the Syrian establishment which is responsible for the massacre of many innocent Syrian citizens.

The Occupy movement

The Occupy movement may now be the most visible and significant ongoing protests in the western world.  It began with Occupy Wall Street in September 2011 with the goal of curbing the corporate influence on government and the imbalance of wealth in the U.S.  The issues the movement started with had little to do with technology or the Internet.

Recently, the Occupy movement has turned to technical issues with the possibility of the imminent passage of the Stop Online Piracy Act, a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives containing many draconian provisions such as allowing the U.S. Government to shut down large swaths of the Internet on mere suspicion of allowing for the infringement of copyrights.  This is strong evidence that technology is more important today to the real world than it has ever been in the past and that what goes on on the Internet is worth protecting with activism.

As I've mentioned, Anonymous and the Occupy movement are very much intertwined.  Anonymous symbols such as the Guy Fawkes Mask and the official unofficial Anonymous flag appear in virtually every Occupy-related venue.  The two support each other in numerous ways.  Anonymous takes direct action in support of the Occupy movement while the Occupy movement lends credibility to Anonymous which still struggles for legitimacy in the eyes of the populace.

Arab Spring

In December of 2010, protests began in Tunisia which eventually led to the fall of the oppressive Tunisian regime and the establishment of democratic elections.  The revolutions spread beyond the country's borders to Egypt, Libya, Syria, and many other Arab nations.

Throughout the uprisings, Facebook, Twitter, and other web services served to help the people organize, cell phone cameras recorded much of the events and retaliation from the dictators' regimes, and the Internet allowed the rest of the world to see on a much more grassroots level what exactly was happening.

So helpful was the Internet to the rebellions that some dictators such as Muammar Gaddafi of Lybia opted to cut off that resource to the countries entirely.  Anonymous, however, came to the rescue of some by subscribing in large numbers to cheap dial-up services and faxing the connection and authentication information to schools and other establishments in Libya, thus allowing them Internet access via the phone lines.

It's certain that technology will play a much larger role in every aspect of life including activism in the future.  There are dangers in technology, however.  In some cases, technology may be used against the masses almost as effectively as it may be used by the masses.  There are movements to reduce corporate, government, and other special interest influence on networks.  But, it still pays to be careful who you trust.

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