Friday, January 28, 2011

Catching up on the action in Tunisia and Egypt

   In Tunisia, protesters had previously sought to start protests, but they fizzled. They tried again after the self-immolation of a street vendor in the city of  Sidi Bouzid.  "The key difference in Sidi Bouzid was that locals fought to get news of what was happening out, and succeeded.  'We could protest for two years here, but without videos no one would take any notice of us,' Horchani said." []
   In Egypt President Mubarak, in power for the last 30 years, never allowed any party but his to gain any actual power.  So the current opposition, mainly young people using ICA, has simply bypassed the small opposition groups that do exist and taken revolution on themselves.  Loosely connected people on the internet are much harder to corral than a small political party.
“'It was the young people who took the initiative and set the date and decided to go,' Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said Wednesday with some surprise during a telephone interview from his office in Vienna, shortly before rushing home to Cairo to join the revolt."[]
When Egypt shut down the Internet in an attempt to thwart protests, people began using faxes instead.  A group called Telecomix began helping by forwarding messages sent via shortwave radio.  People in Egypt could still connect to the Internet via modems dialed to foreign connections.  Anonymous provided phone numbers of foreign providers for Internet connections. This is the opposite of their Ddos attacks on businesses that refused services to Wikileaks.
Wikileaks, meanwhile, decided it was an opportune time for them to dump their "cablegate" information about Egypt [].
ICA has helped protesters in Tunisia and Egypt, but even when the Internet is removed, there are still ways to communicate and organize.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Dealing with infiltrators and trolls

This article claims that British police surreptitiously posted to sites, trying to incite violent action or at least sow discouragement.  These very posts made by the police, then, could be used to prove the dangerousness of the proposed action:

"It should be remembered corporations seeking injunctions under the Protection from Harassment Act (link) have relied heavily on comments made on Indymedia as evidence. This act has been used against campaigns such as Smash EDO to criminalise all forms of dissent targeting specific companies, even entirely peaceful and completely legal protest."

This is a problem for ICA.  Since the structure of the collective action is essentially leaderless, how does the organizing prevent infiltrators and trolls, who want to either derail the project or at least discourage it's participants?  Basically, the rest of the participants have to call out and refute anyone who tries to take the project off target or promoting illegal or non-approved methods.  During the beginnings of Project Chanology probably many people where were not infiltrators were nevertheless accused of being OSA (Scientology's Office of Special Affairs, their dirty tricks department).  No doubt some people who shouldn't have been were driven away, but the result was that the project stayed on target without illegal actions being done.  So once again it is everybody's role to prevent infiltrators, trolls, or anyone else from derailing the project at hand.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

what stalls collective action in Zimbabwe

"This follows from the observation that agents naturally desire to have other agents fight their battles for them but still share the spoils equally. Freedom is a public good that can be enjoyed by everybody regardless of their participation in the revolution so why participate? This is perhaps the greatest plague that has resulted in the regression of the Zimbabwean revolution."

This is an interesting article that shows the dilemma in starting a collective action. On the one hand, everybody would benefit if they worked together toward a goal. But on the other hand, each person might individually suffer or lose out on some benefit if they did join in the collective action.  So how do you get people to join the collective action?

This is something about Project Chanology that still baffles me. The trigger that started many Anonymous to go after the Church of Scientology was apparently Scientology's heavy-handed attempts to remove a Tom Cruise interview from the Internet.  This seems like a very strange reason to start a movement.  But it represented Scientology's continuing attempts to stifle free speech online to many people.  And perhaps the most sacred thing to the Internet community is free speech.  So off they went.

But then, Scientology is not able to arrest or torture its antagonists. There was less to fear from joining Project Chanology than coming against a country's dictator.  But there is also more at stake in Zimbabwe.  Here's hoping that the citizens will join together:

" Any success of the fight for freedom in Zimbabwe will depend on how the oppressed conduct and organise themselves between now and the day of the election this year. If not for ourselves then for posterity’s sake!"

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Can dictators use the Internet to stifle freedom?

Debbie Downer, aka Evgeny Morozov, claims that the Internet is a useful tool for dictatorships to maintain control over dissidents.  "Can the Internet empower dissidents and pro-democracy activists? Yes. But it can also strengthen existing dictatorships and facilitate the control of their populations. Washington’s utopian plan to liberate the world one tweet at a time could also turn American innovation into a tool for the world’s subjugation."

Certainly the net can be used to spy on people.  Just look at Facebook.  But the problem with the Internet is that it is ubiquitous. And the problem with Internet Collective Action is that it doesn't rely on particular leaders.  So a dictatorial country or group would pretty much have to pull the plug on the entire Internet if they wanted to stifle any ICA growing up in their domain.  What a dilemma for dictators!

Internet users are MORE social than non-users

At the beginning of the Internet in the 1990s social scientists feared that Internet users would become socially isolated, sitting at their computers engrossed in whatever rather than being with people.  The Pew Internet and American Life Project shows that in fact "80% of internet users participate in groups, compared with 56% of non-internet users. And social media users are even more likely to be active: 82% of social network users and 85% of Twitter users are group participants."

In my case, I got online in 1994.  My hobby of exposing cults was a very tiny world of fellow travelers.  But on the Internet I found alt.religion.scientology, a newsgroup devoted to the discussion of the Church of Scientology.  Suddenly my connection to fellow enthusiasts at least quintupled.  From there this hearty band organized real-life protests, where I met dozens of people face-to-face that I would have never even heard of had it not been for the Internet.  Connecting people with niche interests is just one example of how the Internet helps people socialize better than non-users.

Facebook,, and such sites make reconnecting with lost friends quite easy. and such sites make it easy to find people in your geographical area with similar interests.  So contrary to the fears at the birth of the Internet, we have actually become more social than less.  And social connections are the foundation of collective action.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

mobile phone companies rat out demonstrators in Belarus

Mobile phone companies gave the Belarus government a list of mobile phone clients who were near a demonstration there.  This is a warning to activists in less democratic countries to consider this before you go to a demonstration.  If you have your phone with you, your provider has a record of which cell tower you were near.  The best solution, I suppose, would be to leave your phone at home.

This demonstrates that the tools that make ICA easy are not friendly tools in all ways.

I wonder what Verizon or AllTel would do if they were subpoenaed for such information here in the U.S.?

How Big Is The Internet

For some reason the size of the Internet is hot news.  Almost 2 billion people are now online, with 600 million of those on Facebook.  Google has indexed 1 trillion unique URLs.

So if you want to participate in some particular topic, you have a pool of 2 billion people to find fellow enthusiasts.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Wikipedia; the largest ICA online

Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, says "In terms of countering the criticism, I think that today most people understand that Wikipedia is pretty good but not perfect, and that it is getting better all the time. It’s really important that our community remain steadfastly committed to taking quality really seriously."

Wikipedia may be the leader in learning how to make ICA efficient and effective.  There are still problems, Wales agrees, but they are tweaking as they go.

Wikipedia is not anarchy. They have "Principles of Wikipedia etiquitte" which are enforced.  ICA to work has to have boundaries such as this.  But what should those boundaries be? How should they be enforced? Who should enforce them?  Wikipedia is helping to answer those questions.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Collective Action; the new Socialism

Along with Clay Shirky, Kevin Kelly is one of my favorite thinkers on Internet collective action.  In this article, he gives an interesting definition: "Broadly, collective action is what Web sites and Net-connected apps generate when they harness input from the global audience."

This is a nice article on how collective action online is socialism without geography.  "When masses of people who own the means of production work toward a common goal and share their products in common, when they contribute labor without wages and enjoy the fruits free of charge, it's not unreasonable to call that socialism."

It's a great read.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Predictions for 2011 by Don Tapscott

Don Tapscott looks at new social trends on the Internet.  He makes 10 predictions for 2011 that seem prescient to me.  # 10 is interesting: "The interdependence of actions and events means we have no option other than to try to encourage and enforce mutual cooperation through a new division of labor among the four key pillars of society: business, government, the civic sector and a new pillar enabled by the Internet – the individual citizen..

The Internet spreads power directly to the people. This gives more power to Internet Collective Actions.

Monday, January 3, 2011

The smartphone: tool for activism

Ok, maybe digital collective action doesn't need to be Internet-based.  Or maybe the smartphone can just be an extension of ICA, like uploading a video from a protest that you recorded on your smartphone.

The article makes good points. For instance, in some countries like India, smartphones are ubiquitous while Internet connections are not.

Phone networks can be effective as web forums... " In 2007, Greenpeace Argentina showed the power of mobile phone networking when they collected 3,000 signatures for a petition against logging via text messaging. They also asked the 350,000 people in their mobile phone network list to call specific legislators. The effort worked and there was a one-year moratorium on cutting down native forests. Imagine what you’d achieve now you can send video messages?"

 It could be that technology will make other technology the actual tools of activism while the Internet will be the hub for distribution, perhaps.

Digital Church mobilized to help children

"Terri Goulette lives in one of those hard-hit areas—Houma, La.—where many families lost their livelihood in the wake of the spill. Moved by the need, she started looking for a way to help and to bring encouragement to the community. That’s when she thought of a backpack and school-supply drive. And she thought perhaps she could mobilize her 'local church'—700 miles away in Central Florida...

"Terri Goulette’s backpack drive had taken shape and gained momentum, mostly through word of mouth and informal networking. It wasn’t until she contacted Northland to invite the involvement of her church that she remembered the church does an annual school supply drive to benefit homeless and other needy children in Central Florida. Goulette and Northland combined their efforts, and the contributions poured in."

* *
This is a small example of people organizing online to accomplish a goal.  The interesting thing to me though is the idea of a digital church. I can see the usefulness of this for agoraphobes and people in jail (do they have computer access?), or others who can't get to a flesh-and-blood church.  But if church is the Body of Christ, can that body be connected by electrons and monitors?  Can you be intimately connected to a group through online participation only?  I believe you can, but I'm not sure if theologically that is a strong enough connection to form a church.  It opens up a big area of discussion.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

raw links to article on recent ICA

Before I decided to start this blog I was just making a web page of raw links to articles on Internet Collective Actions, at

Since I've opted to do this instead, here's the raw links up to this point: (inside look at Anonymous thinking process, December 13, 2010) (December 10, 2010, Anonymous explains its support of Wikileaks) (December 9, 2010 summary of wikileaks battles so far) (December 9, 2010 Anonymous goes after companies that dropped Wikileaks),1518,733703,00.html (December 9, 2010, article on Anonymous' Ddosing) (Anonymous avenges Julian Assange) (Vodaphone protest in UK) (start of (Opt-out at airport screening protest, failed)

Is Ddosing the new sit-in protest?

"Right now we are looking at the online equivalent of a student sit-in, but the wide availability and the rapid development in sophistication of attack tools is concerning. The widespread willingness of volunteers means it is possible that we will see the first global digital riot before long."

I don't like Ddosing. It's more like vandalism to me than a sit-in. Ddosing is done my faceless nameless people. Sit-ins you actually have the person who is upset right there putting his or her body on the line. That's a big difference.

Boycotting online is pretty much the same as boycotting IRL (In Real Life). So I would agree with that. In fact, I canceled my account after they booted wikileaks. Boycotting demonstrates disfavor while at the same time limiting the resources of the offending company.

Calls for a boycott online can easily be drowned out by many other things, so it's a bit tricky. But if the cause is good and the will strong, it can be done well.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Pew Internet and American Life Project

This is a great site for information on how society is using the internet, along with trends and polls. For instance, 52% of Americans now own a laptop! Yikes.

Clay Shirky

Mr. Shirky is one of the foremost thinkers on how Internet Collective Action impacts our society. His book Here Comes Everybody is particularly clear on just what ICA is and how it changes things. Shirky is amazing for seeing things at a different angle that then makes you think "oh yeah, that's obvious" but nobody else thought of it. For instance, he describes Wikipedia as "a bureaucracy mainly given over to arguing. The articles are the residue of the argument...” (Here Comes Everybody, p. 279)

An especially useful aspect of ICA that Shirky points out is the ladder of participation. Participation online can be as simple as sharing, which is the first rung. This is the easiest. Cooperation, the next rung, involves working together on a simple task, such as an ebay transaction. Collective Action involves several people who must define the task, collaborate on how to accomplish the task, and decide who will do what.

I highly recommend Shirky's writings. He's also on twitter, #cshirky.