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Tag: Online Activism


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Online and IRL: Protesting in the Digital Age

// Posted by on 11/03/2014 (10:02 AM)

What lurks beneath the surface…?

While protests have occurred throughout time, the shift into the digital age has witnessed a new method of doing so – online. This media activism has spurned some successful and not… Read more

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What lurks beneath the surface…?

While protests have occurred throughout time, the shift into the digital age has witnessed a new method of doing so – online. This media activism has spurned some successful and not so successful protests in recent memory. Moreover, it has raised some interesting questions regarding the role of the Internet and social media as a tool for activism. Drawing on these ideas, the fourth experience that I found myself participating in was a protest – both on and offline.

Having never participated in one, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would we be aggressively promoting our cause? Or would it be a more peaceful demonstration? After voting to protest for a cleaner lake here at the University of Richmond, we were given the direction to bring along props to aid our demonstration. I decided against donning any sort of anonymous mask. While the idea behind making oneself anonymous can be very effective and has been utilised in protests such as the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement, I felt that given the subject of what we were protesting it wasn’t as relevant. Instead, I decided to wear a self-made visual sign with an image of Blinky (the three eyed fish from The Simpsons). I thought that this popular culture reference would be both humorous and easily identifiable for my peers in association to our concern regarding the lake.

Blinky the three eyed fish (see episode, “Two Cars in Every Garage and Three Eyes on Every Fish”)

As we began preparing, it became clear that we would need to apply some ingenuity and flair in order to be noticed and truly heard. To some extent then, a protest can be seen as an advertising campaign. You must be able to sell your ideology or the movement won’t pick up enough of a following to make any noticeable difference. We deliberated as to what would be most effective? Fear? After all much of the American public’s attitudes and beliefs are shaped by fear (see recent cases of Ebola) Or would we use humour? Or perhaps be shocking and controversial? And we couldn’t forget the importance of visual material! But first we needed a name, hash tags and a slogan for our project. Looking to some of the more successful protests that were also rooted in an online environment we recognised the importance of a simple, yet effective name and associated tags. For instance, in the case of Occupy Wall Street, their slogans “We are the 99%” and “This is what democracy looks like” were short, to the point and easy to adopt.Drawing upon this approach, we decided on the following:

  • Name of project: cleanURlake.
  • Hash tag: #URecoli #cleanURlake
  • Slogan: I spy E-coli

With our name finally decided, we proceeded to create posters and flyers as well as setting up a variety of online environments whereby we could conduct our protest and spread the word. Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, Instagram and email accounts were all activated. A Yik Yak (a popular social media app here on campus which allows people to anonymously create and view posts within a 1.5 mile radius) was also sent out. By establishing a variety of different social media accounts we aimed to boost our online presence and increase our chances of the campaign going viral. After all, the importance of information going viral in the digital age is paramount. Our culture thrives off of the viral video, image, and other media formats. Given that so many individuals (at least in the Western world) primarily access their information via the Internet, and particularly social media sites, any viral content will be likely noticed. However, with that said, getting something to go viral is no easy feat. There isn’t a rulebook or guidelines to doing so, but involves a fair bit of ingenuity and luck. Perhaps if we had had more time we could have also put together a video, seeing as a viral video can provide unprecedented publicity, ‘…the movement has spawned celebrities – like LaGreca, who lambasted a Fox News reporter in a YouTube clip that went viral…’ (“Inside Occupy Wall Street” in Rolling Stone) and has even helped kick-start profitable careers (Grumpy Cat).

A few examples of our online presence

Our Yik Yak gains momentum!

However, the inherent difficulties of conducting a protest became apparent fairly quickly. While it was easy enough to go outside in front of the library with signs and flyers to give out to fellow students and faculty, the physical act of rallying IRL (in real life) does require one to be completely uninhibited. As a more reserved, non-confrontational individual the idea of chanting and screaming was difficult for me to immerse myself in. However, I was not alone as our predetermined chant, “Dirty lake, what’s at stake?” (Everyone loves a chant that rhymes!) remained dormant. Here, our small numbers (only seven of us) also perhaps hindered the effectiveness of our protest. After all, protests are often bolstered by “bodies, accompanied by noise” and in the case of Occupy included ‘…bongos and tablas and tambourines and full drum kits with snares.’ (“Inside Occupy Wall Street” in Rolling Stone)

Our protest site (i.e. In front of the Boatwright Library)

My fellow classmates in action

Further, while I thought the group’s horizontalism approach was a clever idea given its popularity among more contemporary protests (i.e. Occupy Wall Street), it was certainly no without its flaws. In implementing this method, it took a long time to come for my peers and I to reach a decision regarding what the core ideas of the protest were and what the name/slogan/hash tag would be. While we were all provided the chance to shape the protest, it ultimately highlighted how pertinent a single leader and voice can be in executing ideas, and ultimately a successful protest.

Nevertheless, the experience did raise a pertinent issue in the digital age as to whether activism online can ever replace a physical protest. I’m not convinced it can. While it is easy to like or follow an online protest movement, the problems of such “slacktivism” arise. Just because an individual hits ‘Like’ or ‘Share’ on various social media sites, does not solve the issue at hand. It may generate buzz and therefore garner attention in the media, but how long that attention will last is questionable. A new issue may arise and simply push it to the background. This flaw in online activism has seen the failure of such campaigns (I.e. ‘KONY 2012’ and ‘Bring back our girls’ among others). Moreover, online activism is just as risky as real life protesting. While many may think they are safe behind a computer screen, this is certainly not the case as demonstrated most recently in the current protests occurring in Hong Kong. As reported in The Wall Street Journal (October 19 2014) by Gillian Wong, ‘A man was arrested on suspicion of posting messages online that urged people to gather and agitate at a protest site…’ Wong further goes on to note the impact of such an arrest, stating that, ‘The move—one of the first such arrests during three weeks of demonstrations—could potentially chill the protesters’ use of the Internet and social media to mobilize large crowds.’ Thus, it is clear to me that the two (online and IRL) aren’t mutually exclusive and work far better when utilised together (again demonstrated by Occupy, the Tunisian protests, etc.).

While it was difficult to document during the protest given that we were so actively involved, I did manage to take a few screenshots and pictures to aid with writing this reflection. Also, in order to remember some key facts while protesting, I typed them into my phone using my notes app. However, what was particularly useful as a piece of documentation was an article written about the protest by a reporter for the University of Richmond’s independent student magazine, The Collegian (to read it, click the following link: http://www.thecollegianur.com/article/2014/10/e-coli-levels-in-westhampton-lake-inspire-protest). This article also served as a reminder of the protest and provided a more objective view of the event itself.

Our protest appearing on The Collegian’s Instagram page

Ultimately, while we may not have introduced a deafening noise into the signal, I believe our protest certainly brought to light a genuine environmental concern on campus. After all, while protests at my home university are a daily occurrence, with students constantly lining the main pathway chanting various slogans and bombarding any passers-by with flyers, here there seems to be little to no student activism. While many (including myself) often try to dodge the constant harassment and groan about the influx of information, this experience certainly provided me with a new perspective on just how hard it is to effectively protest – whether it be IRL or online. Next time I’m approached or handed a flyer I will certainly think twice before hurrying off!

For more information, check out the protest online:

  • Twitter: #cleanURlake
  • Instagram: @cleanURlake
  • Facebook:
  • Email: cleanurlake@gmail.com

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Your Anon News

// Posted by on 04/22/2013 (2:08 PM)

The famous hacker/activist group Anonymous has just raised enough money to start their own news website, to be entitled Your Anon News (YAN) reports the website ARS Technica. The fundraiser was set up through the website Indiegogo, and raised close… Read more

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The famous hacker/activist group Anonymous has just raised enough money to start their own news website, to be entitled Your Anon News (YAN) reports the website ARS Technica. The fundraiser was set up through the website Indiegogo, and raised close to  55,000 dollars. The article states that Anonymous only set out to collect 2,00o dollars initially.

It is interesting that the group only set out to raise 2,000 dollars but in reality ended up raising a small fortune. To me this shows the support of the people for more influence by Anonymous in their lives. The group is criticized by many for their attacks on certain companies and websites. However for every person who views Anonymous as a terrorist group, there are two people who idolize the group. In recent years the group has made some waves with its hacks and ability to appeal to a good portion of the population.

By creating this news website I believe that Anonymous is looking to create a more dedicated group of followers and loyalists who look up to the group for inspiration. The article states that ”YAN’s mission is also to become more integrated with the news cycle: ‘to report, not just aggregate the news,’” and a video posted by Anonymous stated that “Our goal was to disseminate information we viewed as vital separating it from the political and celebrity gossip that inundates the mainstream.”

Although I do not necessarily agree with some of the groups actions, I am interested to see how they use this news website to convey information that they think is relevant and important. I actually have faith in this new website, I support their point that news nowadays is to mainstream and gossipy. I will be sure to check out the website when it is up and if nothing else at least it will provide me the opportunity to escape from mainstream culture and media for a few minutes.

Check out the video here.


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Online or Offline, or Both?

// Posted by on 04/08/2013 (6:37 PM)

In the past, activist movements usually took place offline and had a lack of connection to the Internet. Nowadays these movements are taking place online more and more. An interesting article I found online speaks of the… Read more

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In the past, activist movements usually took place offline and had a lack of connection to the Internet. Nowadays these movements are taking place online more and more. An interesting article I found online speaks of the blurring of online and offline movements to create a more influential and far reaching movement. Mob Lab wrote an interesting article describing the move from offline movements to a more combined approach using both offline and online tactics to help expand their ideas.

One interesting example  in the article was that of the Belgium Food Bank. The organization used likes on Facebook to help donate money to the food banks. However in addition to that they put up a live feed that would show the picture of whoever liked the page being printed and then put on a massive wall. This technique worked well because the people who liked the page actually got to see their personal picture being put up on a live video that was accessible to the whole world. This helped to entice people to see that they had a bigger impact than simply clicking a like button on Facebook.

The opportunities that the Internet provide for connecting offline movements to online movements is a giant step towards online activism. I believe that incorporating both the offline and online aspects of any organization into activist movements will help to propel the influence of movements that would otherwise not make a big impact on the global community.

One thing that organizations must avoid however is the possibility of helping to expand slactivism. Slactivism could potentially become a major problem by delegitimizing movements that have a good idea at heart but lack the actual drive and motivation that is only possible by real people doing real things, not just clicking a button and thinking you are changing the world. As organizations start to blend the offline and online aspects of their respective movements I believe that it is important to remember that we live in a physical world and not in an abstract online based community.

While the Internet has undoubtedly helped to increase global participation and awareness I believe that it is important to stick to our roots offline and use the internet as tool to advance ideas instead of the only outlet for activist movements. It will be interesting to see in the coming years how organizations choose to go about raising awareness for causes and then actually taking action towards those goals in the real world, not just the Internet.

Check out this video for more info:


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A Brighter Future

// Posted by on 04/01/2013 (1:04 AM)

When the subject of US Mexican relations is brought up it is almost instantly turned to talk of intense violence, drug cartels, trafficking, and missing people. These problems are very real and in need of answers, however they are… Read more

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When the subject of US Mexican relations is brought up it is almost instantly turned to talk of intense violence, drug cartels, trafficking, and missing people. These problems are very real and in need of answers, however they are not easy problems with foolproof answers. A possible answer to these problems can be found in online activism.

Online activism is a new form of protest that takes place solely online in a 3rd space.  Social activism is being transformed by the web.  Some of the most creative forms of protest and philanthropy are taking place online. People who are powerless in the modern world now have a voice that can be heard and seen by millions online with the click of a button. Online activism has the power to change how the world runs, for better or worse. In the case of the border predicament I can see online activism doing amazing things for the growing problem.

Online activism has the potential to unite the common citizen against the violence that many border towns face everyday. A quote from an online article describes the power of online activism quite well, the quote goes “Once a citizen feels he is not powerless, he can aspire for more change. … First, the Web democratized commerce, and then it democratized media, and now it is democratizing democracy.” The web gives the average citizen power that he or she would normally be without. One such example of the possibilities that online activism can bring to the table is an organization called Center for Citizen Integration. This organization “aggregates Twitter messages from citizens about everything from broken streetlights to “situations of risk” and plots them in real-time on a phone app map of Monterrey that warns residents what streets to avoid, alerts the police to shootings and counts in days or hours how quickly public officials fix the problems.” It is a very interesting idea that has the potential to drastically increase the role of the citizen and hopefully decrease crime rates and drug related violence.

Online activism is a rapidly growing trend and now companies and organizations are popping up with the sole goal of aiding online activists. One such organization is Advancing Human Rights and is helping to reach out to citizens in countries that face injustices but do not have the power to resist them.

The two examples previously stated are a symbol of hope to the future of online activism, and a bright light that could potentially fight the war on drugs and the border relations of US and Mexico. When I read about the spread of the idea of online activism it gives me confidence that the web will grow as a force for good. It will be very interesting to see in the coming years how drastically online activist movements affect the violence and drug scene that has engulfed towns and cities on both sides of the border.


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#WeAreAndiola

// Posted by on 03/31/2013 (6:31 PM)

Slacktivism is a relatively new term that combines the terms “slacker” and “activism” and is used to both represent and criticize digital activism for its lack of real, physical, and/or time-consuming action. Slacktivism is anything from tweeting, sharing a photo,… Read more

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Slacktivism is a relatively new term that combines the terms “slacker” and “activism” and is used to both represent and criticize digital activism for its lack of real, physical, and/or time-consuming action. Slacktivism is anything from tweeting, sharing a photo, or wearing a color or symbol that represents or supports a specific cause. Prominent examples of slacktivism are the Kony 2012 campaign and the Trayvon Martin case. More recently we have seen slacktivists take up the Mexican-American immigration cause.

This past January the police showed up to Erika Andiola’s house and both her mother and brother were handcuffed and detained in immigration detention centers, ready for deportation. Ms. Andiola is the co-founder of the Arizona Dream Act Coalition, a group that fights for the rights of immigrant children brought illegally to the United, as she was. Immediately after her mother and brother were hauled away Ms. Andiola posted a video on Youtube.

This video is a prime example of how digital media can turn local issues into global issues. As Ms. Andiola says in the tearful video, “this is not just happening to me, this is happening to families everywhere”. Ms. Andiola’s message was heard by the digital world and her family was released shortly from custody after the Obama administration was put under severe pressure from activists. Activists tooks on Ms. Andiola’s cause through phone calls, e-mails and online petitions, but primarily on Twitter, where they mobilized support under the hashtag, #WeAreAndiola.

The New York Times article argues that, “their swift releases underline the power of the youth-immigrant movement and their social media activism”. But slacktivism, or social media activism, such the movement on behalf of Ms. Andiola, is often highly criticized. Gabrielle Corvese, from the Brown Daily Herald, writes, “The vastness of social media makes these acts incredibly easy. You can share a picture to let your Facebook friends know you care. Twitter has a hashtag for every cause. But what is the actual effect of these actions? Though social networks allow the easy spread of information, a problem arises when the only support for a cause is a photo with a few thousand shares. While it is satisfying and convenient for the individual to show concern for an issue, those in need of support receive little benefit.”

To reply to Ms. Corvese’s statement I would argue that the Erika Andiola case clearly illustrates the power and effect of “slacktivism”. A single tweet alone may not cause change, but thousands and millions of tweets can attract enough attention and support to put pressure on our politicians to enact political and legal reform. Digital activism can more than often lead to actual, real life action.

While I take the side of these “slacktivists” arguing that any and all activism is positive there are still many, like Corvese that would not agree with me. What do you think are the positive and negative outcomes slacktivism? Do you slacktivism proves that our digital generation has become lazy? Or do you see it like me, as activism naturally transitioning alongside with our culture into the digital realm?


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Can we all live the American Dream?

// Posted by on 03/30/2013 (1:58 PM)

A population within the immigrants in America are called the DREAMers, but who is counted as one? Quoted from the immigration policy, it defines DREAMers as immigrants ‘who are under the age of 31; entered the United States… Read more

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A population within the immigrants in America are called the DREAMers, but who is counted as one? Quoted from the immigration policy, it defines DREAMers as immigrants ‘who are under the age of 31; entered the United States before age 16; have lived continuously in the country for at least five years; have not been convicted of a felony, a “significant” misdemeanor, or three other misdemeanors; and are currently in school, graduated from high school, earned a GED, or served in the military.’  They meet the requirements for the DREAM act in which DREAM stands for Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors. The immigrants who are considered to be DREAMers are mostly Mexican and often live in the southern states California and Texas.

The children who meet these standards often did not have a choice to come to the United States, since they were often too young to know what was going on and came with their parents. What one could question is whether the parents made the decision to come to the U.S. to see if they can live the ‘American dream’. Coming from the Netherlands myself, I am foreign to the ‘American Dream’, the only way that I get my information and read stories about it is online.  

The ‘American dream’ has been around since 1932, when John Trislow Adam described it in his book ‘The Epic of America’. It was the idea that anybody could work his way to the top, but only through hard work. Regardless of what social class one was born in, everybody had the opportunity to grow to better circumstances. 

What I have read is that it is mostly immigrants who try to go to the United States in order to pursue their American Dream. They might come from poor countries and give up everything so that they can live a better life economically. The question is, whether the ‘American Dream’ still exists, even now after the economic crisis and the difficulties that came with it. In the Netherlands there are still some people who would like to come to the US in order to ‘make it’, but these people are mainly artists and musicians. I cannot speak for the whole Dutch population, but to me it seems like our vision of the ‘American Dream’ slowly disappears, yes there still is social  mobility in America, but mainly because of the crisis they view the idea of the ‘American Dream’ being achievable more pessimistic. 

Coming back to the fact that since I am not from here, my only information comes from the (online) media. The media does portray a certain idea of the ‘American Dream’, as soon as there is a story of someone who became successful in America the media will link it to the ‘American Dream’. I personally think the spirit of the ‘American dream’ still exists among Americans, however it seems like the chance of getting to the top and become real successful is smaller for people who grew up in poor neighborhoods. There seems to be luck involved next to the hard work to achieve the dream.

The End of the American Dream?

This video is an example of online activism, that try to argue that the American Dream does exist and should be reclaimed by the working and middle class.  It seems that the middle class is slowly decreasing and the gap between rich and poor become bigger. Change to win therefore tries to unite the ‘ordinary people who work’ in order to show that the ‘American Dream’ does exist and should be pursued. It can be critiqued whether the ‘American dream’ does exist or if it is not just a myth.

How is the concept of ‘American Dream’ viewed in Mexico?  Do people think it still exists? Or is it just a myth? Also, does digital media demystify or strengthen the ‘Dream’?


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Virtual March on Wall Street and Online Activism

// Posted by on 03/25/2013 (12:27 PM)

On October 5th, 2011 thousands of people gathered in Lower Manhattan to take part in the Occupy Wall Street Solidarity March.  The march protested against the growing income divide and widespread unemployment due to the influence and corruption of large… Read more

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On October 5th, 2011 thousands of people gathered in Lower Manhattan to take part in the Occupy Wall Street Solidarity March.  The march protested against the growing income divide and widespread unemployment due to the influence and corruption of large corporations and big banks. But what about the millions of Americans not living in New York who were likewise outraged and suffering from the greedy bankers and unjust policies that wrecked our economy and undermined our democracy?  How could they get involved? How would they get their message across? Well on October 5th OWS joined forces with MoveOn and used the “third space” to gather nationwide support through a Virtual March on Wall Street. The virtual march allowed users to upload pictures of their own protest signs and tell their stories online. It added thousands of voices from across the country and showed just how widespread outrage at Wall Street really was. (Check it out http://civic.moveon.org/occupy/)

The virtual march on Wall Street is just one example of how the Internet and technology “a community of more than 7 million Americans from all walks of life who are using the most innovative technology to lead, participate in, and win campaigns for progressive change.” They have utilized the third space in numerous ways such as online-petition signing and online fundraising. MoveOn is a United States based and strictly American targeted group, but this is an example of how the internet and technology can be used to link issues from a small town in say Indiana to larger towns such as New York; it makes the local national. As Sassen writes, “Computer-centered interactive technologies have played an important role…these technologies facilitate multiscalar transactions and simultaneous interconnectivity among those largely confined to a locality” (366).

I believe the advantages of digitization and activism to be clear, but the disadvantages also need to be addressed. In traditional forms of activism: protesting, marching, journalism etc. there is always a traditional form of authority to maintain law and order. But on the Internet traditional forms of authority fall short, especially when things can be posted anonymously. Are we okay with activism that can’t be monitored or truly governed over? What happens if that activism turns violent or dangerous? What about “hacktivism”? We must remember while digitization and technology opens the door to many positive possibilities it likewise brings negative possibilities along with it.


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