All Together Now For Great Justice Dot Org
Topic Owners: Rainer + <b>Elana</b> + Mel - it's worth noting that we have a KSG student, an MBA student, and an engineer in our group, and no lawyers or law students, so expect this session to come from a slightly different perspective.
back to syllabus
To prepare before class, please do the following.
- Read the #Precis, which will introduce you to the main topics of the session.
- Read and consider the #Core questions we will be discussing during the session.
- Read and complete the #Workshop prep exercise. This should take you no more than 20 minutes.
- Read the #Mandatory readings; there are 4 total; 2 are short, and 1 can be skimmed.
Activism is "intentional action to bring about social or political change" (). In this sense, activist have used the web for mobilizing people for all kinds of social causes, ranging from the tremendous success of the Obama campaign's online efforts to post-election crisis mapping mash-ups in Kenya to your basic online petition or full-scale and often illegal hacktivist activities. New tools are emerging for coordinating concrete action and volunteering (Pledgebank, The Point, Zoosa) as well as fundraising and matching donors and social entrepreneurs (Facebook Causes, DonorsChoose, Socialvibe), and other tools not explicitly designed for social action in particular (Twitter, collaborative document editing, IMs and text messages) are being pressed into service by tech-savvy grassroots organizers, sometimes to great effect.
Sandor Vegh has suggested three categories of "Cyberacticism":
|awareness/advocacy||Blogging, petitions||PETA||Websites, mass mailings, podcasts, RSS|
|organization/mobilization||Campaigning, fundraising, volunteering, community building||Moveon, Pledgebank, Al Qaeda, Myanmar uprising||Websites, mass mailings, mobile applications, online/offline hybrids|
|direct online action/reaction||Electronic civil disobedience, hacktivism||Cyberattacks during the 2008 South Ossetia war||DDoS, website vandalizing, trojans, mass mailings|
Classifications help to structure our view on the landscape of online activism. But many questions are still unresolved. Here are four of these "issues at the frontier":
- An issue of tactics: What are the success factors of online activism tools? Is it true that, "while marketing has always been the art of turning friends into customers and customers into friends, it is now the art of finding, befriending, and 'activating' the like-minded for a common cause, for the common good, for profit." ()? Have the rules for online activism changed in the same way they changed for for-profit marketing. Or is there a fundamental difference between advocating a cause (or a candidate) and promoting a product? Is there a generalizable model here? What are cutting-edge examples of successful campaigning/fundraising/mobilization/collaboration? How do they harness different channels and media (www, email, SMS, etc.)?
- How do we define and measure success in the first place? Is it the number of viewers, of adresses on your mailing list, of Facebook friends for your cause? Do they indicate more than a shallow degree of engaggement? Is it the level of engagment (attention - advocacy - actions/donation) that supporters of your cause display?
- Compared to offline activism: Who is in now and who is out? Who has access and who still may not have it? How do old digital divides play out or new ones emerge? To what extent do these tools allow us to subvert hierarchies of power or to what extent do they create new hierarchies and gatekeepers?
- Online activism often creates decentralized organizations, which act and react very differently than the centralized organizations most of us are used to. This creates issues both for participants of decentralized movements who want to further their cause but find leveraging and deploying a decentralized community counter-intuitive, as well as for people trying to counteract what they perceive as a destructive decentralized movement (for instance: music-sharing, encouraging people to sign a politician's email address up for spam). What things can decentralized online movements do more easily than centralized (online or offline) ones, and what strategies might activists and/or their opponents do to take advantage of these tendencies to either promote or counteract a cause?
- Ethan Zuckerman, Berkman Center Fellow, Co-Founder of GlobalVoicesOnline.org, providing both practical and theoretical expertise with focus on applications in the developing world.
- Nicco Mele, IOP Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School, founder of EchoDitto, former Internet Operations Director of Gov. Dean's presidential primary campaign in 2003
To be done before class.
During class, we will be splitting into 6 randomly assigned teams for a rocket pitch workshop session. Teams will be competing to create and pitch ideas for internet-based projects for various hypothetical clients, played (and judged) by the session team (Mel, Rainer, and Elana), the course professors, and our guests.
Assignment: Examine online tools (software programs and platforms) that have been or could be used for online activism. Come to class with a list of 5 tools that you examined. (We suggest posting these lists on your wiki userpage). Each entry on the list should contain the following parts:
- Name of tool - http://link-to-the-tool-if-possible.com - 1-2 sentence description of what types of projects/demographics/causes this tool would be particularly suited to AND/OR a link to an example of this tool being used for a specific activism project.
Requirements: The #Tools section in the optional readings has some ideas for starters, but at least one of the tools on your list must come from outside that list. Tools must be internet-based in some way, but do not necessarily need to be limited to personal computers; cellphone/SMS apps, location-based tags and artifacts that somehow link or point to online spaces, etc. are also valid. Custom-developed applications that were developed and deployed for a specific project are ok, even if they cannot be reused for future
Activity intro (10 minutes)
We will first explain the ground rules of the rocket pitch workshop which will be held later in the session and introduce the 3 scenarios involved.
Guests present case studies (30 minutes)
Next, our guests will give short case study examples of projects they've worked on and tactics they've used. During this part of the session, students are encouraged to write down (on pieces of paper) questions they'd like to bring up, and to save those papers for the discussion after the workshop.
You will be divided into 6 teams. Teams will roleplay the parts of teams assigned to create internet-based projects for various activism scenarios. Teams will compete to create the best 1-minute rocket pitch of their project idea. The 1-minute timing will be strict; we'll cut you off at 60 seconds.
- You get 30 seconds to set up and 1 minute to present.
- Each group gets 3 big sheets of paper ("slides") and a marker for each round. You do not have to use the paper. However, projector setup will count against your time...
- Groups can use any resources (including computers) and work anywhere they want.
- Your presentation can be and use any things or people you want.
- 20 minutes: First scenario prep
- 10 minutes: First scenario presentations and #Judging
- 10 minutes: Second scenario prep
- 10 minutes: Second scenario presentations and #Judging
Judging is interspersed with the #Workshop.
Presentations will be judged on the following criteria, evenly weighted.
Discussion (30 minutes)
Students are now encouraged to bring out the questions they had earlier; we'll use these as the basis for a followup discussion.
- Technologies of Protest: Insurgent Social Movements and the First Amendment in the Era of the Internet, by the law professor Seth Kreimer.
- Ethan Zuckerman's Cute Cat Theory of Digital Activism (This is available in .mp3 format for free in podcast section of the iTunes store --CKennedy)
- From the Bottom-Up: Using the Internet to Mobilize Campaign Participation by Dana Fisher, a short article that compares the strategies of Obama and McCain's online campaigns. (skim)
- The Starfish and the Spider by Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom, pages 133-158 on "taking on decentralization," which argues that conventional attack tactics fail against decentralized activism, and presents several strategies that can be used instead. Mel will upload this later tonight.
- A Review of Cyberactivism: Online Activism in Theory and Practice, edited by Martha McCaughey and Michael D. Ayers. (This book is difficult to get hold of, but good supplementary reading if you're interested and can procure a copy.)
- Rebooting America: Ideas for Redesigning American Democracy for the Internet Age
- The Internet and the 2008 Election, The Pew Internet + American Life Project