Martha McCaughey's collection of 12 essays covers a wide geographical, political, methodological, and theoretical range of study on cyberactivism. The essays were written before
the Ferguson protests and the emergence of the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag/movement, so they do not cover the explosion of citizen journalism that found voice in August
of 2014, but they set much of the groundwork for those who follow and study these recent events. McCaughey explains the guiding principles for the collection in her
introduction; she notes that the essays show, from different perspectives, how "social media impact social and political change by presenting new ways to make change
and new ways to protest," and how "the political environment in which digital activists find themselves shapes how activists will use digital technology" (2).
The introduction then provides its own synopsis of each essay. The variety of approaches and of subject material makes this book valuable for many future studies
and projects involving social media and citizen participation. At the same time, it is a little daunting trying to find controlling themes or topics in the collection.
Perhaps some thematic grouping of the readings could make the material a bit more accessible. With that in mind, it might be useful to discuss the readings in general
thematic groupings rather than in their order in the book.
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The idea of building and maintaining online communities through social networks-and the role these community bonds play in enabling activism-is a key factor
in assessing the strength and possibilities for that activism. The volume opens with "Trust and Internet Activism: from Email to Social Networks," Laura J. Gurak's
explanation of how an ad hoc tornado watch online community in Minnesota led to Minnesotans United for All Families, a digital campaign mobilized to defeat a state
constitutional amendment limiting marriage. Gurak explores the importance of classical rhetorical concepts in online movements-specifically, how trust-as-ethos is
generated and maintained in online communities, and how that trust carried through into a new, activist project. In this case, a geographical and physical connection to
Minnesota and to the common need for information outlets in a natural disaster fostered the initial online community. Ultimately, she sees the division between
online and live activism dissolving into a continuum as activists make use of both modes to communicate and maintain bonds.
Jennifer Terrell's "The Harry Potter Alliance: Sociotechnical Contexts of Digitally Mediated Activism" offers another reading of an online community.
As with Gurak' s Minnesota community, Terrell's online community had roots in a common offline experience. Rather than a geographical connection, this
community bonded through an interest in the Harry Potter books, particularly in the messages of social justice permeating the narrative. Terrell coins the term
"transmediated sociality" to describe how a community can exist and act across several modes of social media. For example, The Harry Potter Alliance used livestream.com to
hold a telethon-similar to traditional televised fund raising events, but held online-to collect funds for Haitian earthquake relief. The community cohesion
held across several other modes, however, including chatrooms, Twitter, and Facebook, making use of the unique attributes and public interfaces of the different
platforms. Terrell describes the movement attracting fans who may have been reluctant to engage in activism by appealing to a common sense of "shared identity
and culture" and using shared markers for this group-references to Harry Potter characters and causes, performances by actors from the films-to reinforce and
reward their participation (49). Terrell also addresses charges of slacktivism, ever-present in critiques of online activism, noting that "change accomplished
by the HPA is small-scale, yet highly tangible (55).
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Two of the essays use extensive data analysis to explain interactions between digital activists and their audiences. "The Arab Spring and its Social Media Audiences:
English and Arabic Twitter Users and their Networks" by Axel Bruns, Tim Highfield, and Jean Burgess, uses data from twitter activity related to the movements in Libya and Egypt.
The authors use the data to question assumptions about the activists and the role of social media in each situation, and to point towards topics that need further study.
The authors note that the data on the languages used-either English, Arabic, or Western European languages--suggests that Twitter was "primarily a channel for international
observers to discuss the uprising" (87). In the Libyan protests, for example, a relatively larger proportion of English to Arabic tweeting suggests that Twitter was used for
sharing information and updates with outsiders. In Egypt, on the other hand, a more substantial portion of Arabic tweets pointed to Twitter having a stronger role in managing
protests (110). Extensive graphs provide visualization of several trends and means of analyzing the Twitter activity around these protests.
Alexander Halavais and Maria Garrido also bring in data and graphing in "Twitter as the People' s Microphone: Emergence of Authorities during Protest Tweeting."
Halavais and Garrido categorize the tweeting styles used in messages from and about activist events: "tweets that called protesters to action, [tweets that]
kept them coordinated and informed during protests, and [tweets that] established what was important about the events: what they meant" (117). The essay looks
at ways movements-including OWS-provide media-friendly narratives not readily accessible or conveyed by traditional media. Looking primarily at Twitter activity
on the #g20 hashtag-for the G20 meeting in Pittsburgh in Sept 2009-the authors examine how authority is gained and granted by the several publics that follow an event
via hashtag. They note that while external credibility-granted a newsmedia figure, for example-carries over into Twitter, the platform also "provides for amazing
influence mobility" (132). Those who tweet frequently and provide important, timely detail or eyewitness accounts can gain an authoritative voice and contribute
to the shape of the narrative. They also explain how Twitter has a cascade effect, whereby retweets and open accessibility can magnify a Tweet. They compare its
method of dissemination of information with Facebook, which tends to be confined to chosen and limited publics.
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Another set of essays explores the in-real-life conditions and the dangers facing labor and environmental activists along with the meaning given to a physical
place by the events that have occurred there. Activism-on the ground or online-poses additional challenges when the participants must work for or live under the
control of the targets of their protest. Richard Widlick looks at the history and meaning of violence associated with movements in "Dangerous Places: Social Media
at the Convergence of Peoples, Labor, and Environmental Movements." Widlick argues that social media activisms is given life when participants, through what he terms
"social imaginaries," remember and remake scenes or places of public importance given meaning by violence and danger (69). His example case is the Redwood Timber Wars,
which pitted labor and environmentalists against timber companies in California in the 1980s and 90s. Widlick traces the meanings of this conflict beginning with the
genocide perpetrated against the original inhabitants of the area, and the resulting privatization/capitalization of the lands. The violence that began the process,
he suggests, stayed with the place and the industry, echoing in the later anti-worker actions and finally an unsolved bombing during Redwood Summer of 1990. Instead
of the common assumption that online activism lacks connection and depth, Widlick argues that social media can infuse a sense of the specific place of protest and
historical violence through a wider, even global community.
Dorothy Kidd looks more specifically at oppressive labor practices in "Young Chinese Workers, Contentious Politics, and Cyberactivism in the Global Factory."
Beginning with a narrative of a shoe factory strike in Dongguan in 2012, she traces the economic and political pressures on Chinese workers, including the role
of international corporations and media. Since, as Kidd points out, "activists were almost invisible in both the state-run Chinesse media and the New York Times,
workers had to construct alternate venues for communication and narrative-building" (210). Earlier Chinese labor movements relied on "poetry, wall-posters, and handbills,"
but by 2012, increasing use of mobile phones and online participatory media provided a new tool for protesters. Kidd moves from the localized plight of Chinese laborers to
a potential for greater, even global solidarity for laborers and other victims of economic restructuring in Europe, the U.S., and the Middle East. Kidd concludes that, for
this to happen, local online actions will have to push their way into the narratives produced by dominant global news media (224).
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While social media-driven cyberactivism generally targets conditions or causes outside its own medium, two of the essays here follow movements and tactics launched
in defense of internet activity itself. "Dark Days: Understanding the Historical Context and the Visual Rhetorics of the SOPA/PIPA Blackout" by John Logie and "Art
Interrupting Business, Business Interrupting Art; Re (de)fining the Interface between Business and Society" by Constance Kampf both study digital activist movements
launched online in opposition to measures restricting digital communication. Logie examines the organized online protests against two bills proposed in congress in
2012-the "Stop Online Piracy Act" and the "Protect Intellectual Property Act." Logie traces the origin of this protest to Jimmy Wales, who, in late 2011, requested
feedback from the Wikipedia user community on the possibility of a blank-out or strike in response to the proposed law. The idea was picked up by Reddit the next month,
and the date for the blackout-January 18-was announced. Logie includes several images of "blacked out" pages, illustrating how they called attention to the possibility
of their own absence. Logie points out, however, that despite media claims that this coordinated action was unprecedented, this type of protest actually does have a history.
He describes how the 1996 "Black World Wide Web" responded to The Communications Decency Act as an early forerunner. While the 1996 movement was more limited in scope and was
generally ineffective-due to artistic limitations of the 1996 era web, the timing of the event after legislation had already been passed, and the smaller affected audience for
the 1996 internet-it set an example for the future movements. Logie also narrates the history of "The Haunting of Geocities" in 1999. This protest against Yahoo by "homesteaders"
faced with the threat of Yahoo taking ownership of the material on their homesteaded pages showed some of the more artistic, culturally savvy possibilities for website protest
available 3 years after BWWW. Finally, Logie moves from this generally successful protest to discuss its links with later moments of cultural critique: Lasn' s Adbusters
and Culture Jamming, and eventually the Occupy Movement.
Kampf' s essay on "Art Interrupting Business" delves into two specific historical/cultural moments in cyberactivism-Toywar and Vote-Auction. She uses Foucault' s
theoretical base of savoir/pourvoir-roughly, knowledge and power--to argue that knowledge of the workings of power can and should inform digital activist projects
so that activists can use artistic expression that "provokes and then focuses on revealing and questioning underlying assumptions" to call attention to the ways that
society is controlled by the corporations in power (156). Kampf analyzes the example of artist collectives such as ŪTMark, which spawned The Yes Men, and etoy.com,
which launched Toywar, the site of action for the conflict between etoy and eToys.com, which tried, unsuccessfully, to shut down etoy. These collectives "shift transparency
[in the business/society interface] by challenging corporate notions of transparency . . . through introducing new cultural productions . . . and (re)designing interfaces"
(162-63). The Toywar campaign mobilized online networking to build audience support and outlast and overcome the corporate eToy.com, which tried to prevent the artist collective
site from using the etoy.com domain. Vote.Auction, a project satirizing the influence of money in politics, garnered the attention of national newsmedia, which, proving the
project' s theme, apparently took the vote-selling website in earnest. These entities introduced "new perspectives and practices to challenge power structures by creating and
practicing alternative forms of knowledge" (160-61).
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Although cyberactivism is frequently associated with left-leaning political movements, two of the essays explore the strategies employed by right wing movements. In
"From Crisis Pregnancy Centers to TeenBreaks.com: Anti-Abortion Activism' s Use of Cloaked Websites," Jessie Daniels looks at the online activity of Crisis Pregnancy Centers
and the use of cloaked sites. Here, the study of online interaction examines the need for an understanding of rhetoric as defense against verbal manipulation, as the cloaked
sites "require a new set of skills . . . a critically engaged praxis that combines Internet literacy with a critical consciousness of power relations" (150).
Daniels suggests an approach to teaching computer literacy that includes resources for evaluating and researching the groups behind websites and for fact checking claims.
Manuela Caiani and Rossella Borri look at "Cyberactivism of the Radical Right in Europe and the USA: What, Who, and Why?" In this case, rather than "cloaking" their intentions,
these groups use the web to recruit new members and solidify group ties. This discussion, of course, becomes searingly relevant after the recent Charleston shootings, in which
the perpetrator entered neo-nazi ideology, according to news sources, through internet
searches on the Trayvon Martin case. Caiani and Borri interviewed 45 representatives of right-wing movements from 3 types of extremist groups: political parties,
political movements, and youth groups (183). The interview questions "focused on changes in the communication and mobilization strategies of extreme right groups
(actions, targets, national, and crossnational contacts, etc.) due to the advent of the Internet" (183). The researchers studied the
interviews and analyzed the groups' websites. Like other activist groups, far-right groups use the internet and participatory media for increasing communication
possibilities-the cascade/mulitiplication effect. The essay covers the main uses of the sites with statistics (which take up
much of the essay) and charts. The authors conclude with suggestions for further studies "to explore the underlying mechanisms ... between virtual
and real-world political activism ... both on more countries different types of online political radicalism" (200). Although there is little or no clear moral judgment
on these groups in the essay (a few references from the interviewees noting their belief that operating online frees them from censorship or social disapproval mark the
closest indication of such disapproval), it would seem that a compelling reason to monitor groups such as the Neo-Nazis would be to understand how their rhetoric affects
and radicalizes recruits.
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"Women Activists of Occupy Wall Street: Consciousness-Raising and Connective Action in Hybrid Social Movements" works with historical and cultural connections
between traditional activism and cyberactivism, tracing the horizontal structure and emphasis on process in the Occupy movement to tactics and priorities established
in the feminist movement of the 1970s. Social media and participatory internet space "transforms the process of identifying by exploding the number of discourses and
subjection positions to which the individual becomes exposed, as well as by multiplying the particular forms available" (233). It's interesting to see a piece providing
a counterpoint to the prevailing notion of Web 2.0 as a predominately masculine space, ruled by aggressive commenters emboldened by anonymity and lack of accountability.
This essay looks instead at how the structure of internet activist movements can encourage a more collaborative system.
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The volume concludes with Lee Salter's warning about the flip side of engaging in activism online, and the possibilities for countering it.
In "Emergent Social Movements in Online Media and States of Crisis: Analyzing the Potential for Resistance and Repression Online," Salter covers
the increased threats to online activism posed by online surveillance, then points to "sousveillance"-a term borrowed from Steve Mann's essay "'Sousveillance':
Inverse surveillance in multimedia imaging"-to give activists and witnesses the power to watch and expose governments and corporations.
Just as they are monitoring from above in the power structure, activists can monitor, record, and make public the actions of
oppressive forces. This concept, of course, has exploded in the news and in social media since Ferguson, the Walter Scott
shooting, and, most recently, the Sandra Bland arrest and subsequent death in custody. Activists have used uploaded
recordings to challenge and even change accepted narratives of events. Evidence for the potential value of this sousveillance-and the threat it poses
to the power structure-is provided by the attempts by police forces to curtain recording of their activity.
Cyberactivism and the Parctipatory Web functions as a set of snapshots of scholarship, inquiry, and emerging issues in the study of participatory online activism.
The ideas and approaches suggested here, along with the extensive sources provided after each essay, will surely provide a solid starting point
for study in this field as it evolves.
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