The growth of the internet has created an important communication platform. It has created a platform through which social movement organisations and the general public can create and circulate information as well as raise consciousness and/or awareness. Such activities are referred to as online activism or cyberactivism. Cyberactivism is viewed as an essential means for achieving progressive social change. This is because the internet accelerates information flow as well as people’s response time to the activities of social movement groups. In plain English, cyberactivism creates an instantaneous as well as social movement. According to Akin (2011), the internet allows users to overcome geographical constraints, meaning that issues are selected based on the importance rather than territorial or geographical limits. As such, it allows for a higher participation of individuals in the society. Akin (2011) notes that cyberactivism provides a very important means of pushing for change and democracy because it reaches out to both state and non-state actors throughout the world. The author notes that since cyberactivism is not restricted by any geographical boundaries. As such, it is possible to create of a cyberspace within which the general public can work to achieve political goals without interference from authorities. The internet’s ability to go beyond boundaries as well as forms of control means that it can reach a large number of people. Therefore through cyberactivism, the underrepresented and those who have no voice in the society are given a voice. These make it an important area of study because it can have significant impact on the political system as well as social systems and service delivery.
Definition of cyberactivism
Akin (2011) defined cyberactivism as “social activism assisted or based on the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) and internet” (p. 40). ICTs and the internet provide important tools for cyberactivism (Akin, 2011). Firts, they can be used to create social groups, invite or sign up people into social movement groups, make contact with members and non-members of those groups, as well as coordinate movement activities. Second, they can be used to provide opportunity of media coverage for social groups/movements that currently do not have the privilege of being covered by traditional media. Third, they give tech activists the opportunity to hack into websites, databases, and computer systems to accomplish political goals and/or socially motivated mission. Akin (2011) referred to this as hacktivism.
According to Illia (2002), activism often grows around issues and is triggered by an individual or a group of individuals, resulting in immediate and spontaneous relationship between numerous internet users. Consequently, Illia (2002) defined cyberactivism as an online activism which seeks to pile pressure for change on institutions and corporations. Illia (2003) equates cyberactivism to traditional or offline activism, noting that the difference between offline activism and cyberactivism is that the latter thrives on relationships and networks established online while the former relies on aggregation of individuals into organisational systems. The author concludes that cyberactivism is a faster typology of activism. This is because the internet facilitates establishment of relationship and interactions, which allow cyberactivists to gain visibility and achieve their goal without the precondition of group aggregation. Akin (2011) and Illia (2003) therefore generally agree on the definition of cyberactivism.
Major cases of cyberactivism
Case 1: The Arab Spring
A good example of cyberactivism is the Arab Spring revolution. The success of the Arab Spring revolutions and uprisings that spread across the Middle East in 2011, particularly in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen, was partly due to cyberactivism. Although the incidence that occurred in Tunisia and which ignited the Arab Spring was offline, the incident was circulated online giving the mass opportunity to feel what the situation was and react to it. Since these uprisings had no clear leaders or political figures that led the masses, cyberactivists made use of the internet and online tools to conduct well-coordinated campaigns against the existing regimes. The cyberactivists launched these campaigns through a range of social media platforms, including Facebook, blogs, Twitter, Youtube, Flicker, as well as text messaging by protestors. Facebook, in particular, was the major channel that was used to facilitate and accelerate the Tunisian revolution while Twitter was used more in the Egyptian revolution according to the Huffington Post (2012). The cyber activists who participated in the Arab Spring created online platforms that provided avenues where protestors and citizens can share their ideas. These platforms were used to circulate messages asking the masses to come out and topple corrupt regimes in their home countries. To make the uprising even more effective, they created online platforms where ordinary citizens are able to contribute to in journalism by posting their disapprovals.
Across the countries, the causes of the protests included flaws in the political system, looting of public coffers or official corruption, government or police brutality, limited freedom of expression, as well as serious violations of human rights. These platforms were used to achieve group networking, on-the-ground mobilising, as well as offering advice on how to deal with police brutality that was meted against them or how to avoid arrest. In addition, these platforms allowed citizens and protestors to disseminate messages and images as far as other parts of the world in other continents. Their major goal was to introduce drastic and radical political changes in their home countries and increase levels of freedom and democracy in countries that had been associated with dictatorship as well as autocracy. Social media platforms allowed cyberactivisits and the general public as a whole to accelerate information exchange and to achieve unprecedented waves of information spread. The networks were used to catalyse revolution in the countries that experienced the Arab Spring leading to the fall of the existing regimes which had been perceived as autocratic. This was the major objective of these revolutions.The role cyberactivism in the Arab Spring shows that cyberactivism can influence collective consciousness and a successful political or social movement.
Case 2: Hacktivism against corporation
Cyberactivism has not just targeted political institutions or governments, but has also been directed towards corporations. Hacktivists hack servers, crash websites, and even steal passwords in order to obtain critical information from corporations or disrupt their activities. The information obtained through hacking is used to achieve political and social goals. Activities of hacktivists have been on the rise over the past years and are becoming more serious in their mission which includes censoring companies and governments online. An example is the Occupy Wall Street movement that protested against the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE)’s perceived greed and economic equality. An online group known as “Anonymous” promoted the activities of the protestors who were largely young people. In support of the protestors, they posted a video online threatening to erase NYSE from the internet (Chicago Tribune, 2011). In fact, they made the website slow and made it unavailable for about 2 minutes before restoring it and later in the evening disrupting activities on the website for about 25 minutes (Chicago Tribune, 2011). The Anonymous group has in many occasions intervened whenever governments have attempted to block their civilians from accessing specific websites. For example, together with other tech activists groups, Anonymous organised the Operation Egypt and Operation Tunisia which helped restore access to websites that were being controlled by the governments during the popular protests. Basically, this shows that hacktivists work to ensure that the government, institutions, and corporations do not block people from accessing critical information. Therefore, they hack the websites, obtain information, and share instantaneously so that the public is aware of what is going on.
Case 3: Campaigns against corporations
Cyberactivism has also targeted corporations which are perceived not to pay much attention to their ethical practices. A good example is the protests that were organised against Apple for its poor labour conditions, which included the use of children by its suppliers in manufacturing its products such as iPhones, iPods, and so on. Reports indicated that Apple’s contract manufacturers in three factories in Asia were using children in the manufacturing plants despite this being against international labour laws which corporations agree to abide by. Further reports and documentaries showed deplorable working conditions in these plants. For example, 62 workers at factory that manufactures Apple’s and Nokia’s products had been poisoned by n-hexane which causes muscle degeneration as well as blur eyesight (Moore, 2010). Poor treatment of workers in some of these factories had even led to some workers committing suicide and as many as 150 Chinese workers threatening to commit suicide in protest of their working condition (Moore, 2012). As a result, two international movements, Change.org and SumOfUs.org, mobilised Apple’s customers to petition the company to develop a worker protection strategy and to stop the use of children by its suppliers (Ogg, 2012). The two organisations collected electronic signatures of hundreds of thousands of electronic signatures from Apple’s customers across Europe, Americas, and Asia. They made use of online platforms to organise and plan globally coordinated protests while at the same time collecting the electronic signatures. The signatures were presented with the petitions to the company’s divisions in London, San Francisco, New York City, Washington, D.C., Bangalore, as well as Sydney (Ogg, 2012). These protests forced the corporation’s top level management to assure all its workers that they care for all their workers and to require all its suppliers to ensure that they put in place at least minimum labour standards.
The cases presented above provide evidence that cyberactivism gives citizens access to important information and facilitates the creation of a vibrant civil society. It facilitates instantaneous political and social participation on issues that affect a society. This is because it provides an inexpensive as well as universal access to information which makes it easy to organise and coordinate activities of a course. In other words, it makes it easy to mobilise, energyse, and accelerate response to issues that affect society so that reactions to the issues are always instantaneous.
Akin, A. I. (2011). Social movements on the internet: The effect and use of cyberactivism in Turkish Armenian reconciliation. Canadian Social Science, 7(2), 39-46.
Chicago Tribune. (2011). Anonymous ‘hacktivists’ briefly takedown NYSE.com. Chicago Tribune. Web.
Huffington Post. (2012). Revolutionizing revolutions: Virtual collective consciousness and the Arab Spring. The Huffington Post. Web.
Illia, L. (2003). Passage to cyberactivism: How dynamics of activism change. Journal of Public Affairs, 3(4), 326-337.
Moore, M. (2012). ‘Mass suicide’ protest at Apple manufacturer Foxconn factory. The Telegraph. Web.
Moore, M. (2010). Apple admits using child labour. The Telegraph. Web.
Ogg, E. (2012). Protests against iPhone factory conditions planned Thursday for Apple stores. GIGAOM. Web.