ARIN6902: Just what does the Internet mean for Protest Movements?

As I mentioned in my initial post, Protest Movements in relation to the Internet is an incredibly broad topic. So this next post will attempt to give a very broad overview of the topic and provide context for the focus of the blog itself: cultural protest.

Just why is this topic so broad? Firstly, there are considerations of what the Internet comprises (ie. endless websites, apps, RIAs, widgets, feeds, social networks), then you need to analyse definitions of “protest” and activities therein (“hacktivism”, and, Facebook groups, Twitter posts, email campaigns) and lastly, there is a need to take a look at what actual topic or issue is that is being “protested” – democracy in Iran, disliking the fashion sense of a colleague or perhaps a particular musical genre (Norwegian death metal anyone?).

Let’s start off by connecting the dots. The Oxford English dictionary, that  esteemed gatekeeper of knowledge and grammar, defines protest as both a noun and a verb:

noun 1 a statement or action expressing disapproval or objection. 2 an organized public demonstration objecting to an official policy or course of action.

verb 1 express an objection to what someone has said or done. 2 take part in a public protest. 3 state emphatically in response to an accusation or criticism: she protested her innocence.

So, taking the next step, “protest movement” implies a group of participants who are, to varying levels, unified in terms of just what is being protested against. It also suggests organisation, collaboration and action.

Now that we have that clear, we can look at the typical overarching topics that protest movements revolve around…and as can be expected, there are some very thorny topics indeed (not surprisingly, they are the topics your parents and those silly etiquette guides always told you never to discuss at dinner): sexual orientation, politics, religion, sport, culture, war…the list goes on.

And what sort of activities do people who engage in protest movements get up to? Well, they range from the benign to the definitely illegal, the maybe-illegal and the downright ingenious. The activities that get the most attention seem to be the ones that target large, international corporations or government agencies: in 1998, the Pentagon and Mexican government websites were affected by a “virtual sit-in” where hundreds of activists protesting the treatment of natives from an area of Mexico initiated denial of service attacks so that the websites became inaccessible. Other notable events in this vein constitute defacement of a website – unauthorised people gain access to the website and post messages on the homepage to gain attention and notoriety for their cause. More recently and locally, the website for the Melbourne International Film Festival was shut down due to denial of service attacks by Chinese protesters, who were against the inclusion of a prominent filmmaker from the Muslim Uyghur minority and is critical of the Chinese government.

Somewhat more benign and perhaps dumbed-down are the thousands of Facebook groups set up protesting anything from the discontinuation of a chocolate bar to the cancellation of Friends on UK Channel E4. Hadley Freeman at The Guardian picks up on this dumbing down of protest, suggesting that in many cases, it is simply a case of reactionary campaigning, where those that sign up are only doing it for the sake of it.

Let us now take a look at how the Internet has facilitated protest movements. The obvious points are that forms of publication on the Internet act as a mobilising and galvanising force, allowing for movements to organise themselves, spread their beliefs and to be active. The large potential audience of the Internet and its networked nature allow the development of dedicated and determined protest movement members. It also provides protest members with a gathering location that is not physical.


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2 Responses to “ARIN6902: Just what does the Internet mean for Protest Movements?”

  1. David Says:

    nice ad! there’s been similar protests too (and a long running boycott) about Nestle’s promotion of powdered milk over breast milk in Africa which you might be interested in (or already be aware of):é_boycott

  2. ARIN6903: Internet activism – Facebook group reclassifies Tony Blair’s memoirs in bookstores « Allison Jones Says:

    […] Last semester I wrote about Internet protest for the Internet Cultures and Governance class:original post here. One of the criticisms raised about Facebook being used to organise groups was that it is often used […]

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