Monday, December 8, 2008

Web Activism

Like many people I get a lot of my news updates via some form of online media. I recently read Michael Y. Dartnell book, Insurgency Online: Web Activism and Global Conflict[1], which highlighted the impact of the Internet on political views, activism and larger political movements. Prior to reading Dartnell's book I had considered some of the political implications of the Internet, but my thoughts were mainly focused on the accessibility of information, the ability of people to communicate and the ease of publishing political ideas online. Insurgency Online brought a whole other stream of questions about politics and the Internet to mind.

Dartnell suggests that the Internet has allowed for the development of web activism, which he claims is a new type of global conflict. Web activism is based on "producing, providing, and spreading information outside of government control or regulation." [2] Web activism allows for marginalized and radical political points of view to gain a medium. Insurgency Online focuses specifically on the use of the web by the Irish Republican Socialist Movement (IRSM), the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), and the Movimiento Revolucionario Tupac Amaru (MRTA). All three of these political groups have different political agendas, however each employ the web as a means of reshaping government prescribed perceptions. The IRSM has used the web to create coherence amongst people geographically separated, RAWA has used web activism to document gender abuse in an attempt to influence global views, and MRTA has used the Internet to relay information about its cause to mainstream media outlets [3].

After reading about all of these very political uses of the Internet I was left wondering if this was a good or a bad thing. It is clear that the web has the potential to be used, and at times manipulated, by political groups. The Internet can be used to illuminate the struggles of wrongly marginalized groups, however it can also be used to organize radicals and further radical political views. Regardless of the 'moral' implications of the use of the Internet by certain groups I do agree with Dartnell's assessment of it's impact. He maintains that web activism alone does not overthrow governments, rather "web activism is a powerful method for political organizations of all stripes in precise circumstances that favour their particular messages" [4]. The notion that web activism alone, cannot completely destroy a government is a reassuring idea and suggests that despite the range of the Internet there are still some practical limitations.

Despite considering myself fairly Internet savvy, I am still constantly being introduced to new implications and uses of the net. Web activism has further opened my eyes to how diverse the internet is and how it can be used in a multiplicity of ways.

[1]A preview of Darnell's book is available online via google books.
[2] Michael Y. Dartnell,
Insurgency Online: Web Activism and Global Conflict, (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2006), 6.
[3] Dartnell, 8-10.
[4] Dartnell, 101.

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