A Brief History of Internet Activism

The protests in Egypt and Tunisia have shone a spotlight on Facebook and Twitter as vehicles for democratic revolt, particularly the nuts and bolts work of getting the word out, organizing, and presenting a united front to the Egyptian government. Stateside, we’ve seen Tiger BeatDown’s Sady Doyle organize two Twitter hashtag protests in the last six weeks, #MooreandMe and #DearJohn, both of which have garnered national media attention and resulted in apologies from Michael Moore and the removal of the “forcible rape” language from Republican-backed bill H.R.3.

But what young ‘uns like me want to know is–how long have people been using the internet to stage protests and band together (the proverb about the bundle of sticks which cannot be broken comes to mind) against much larger, much more individually powerful corporations and governments?

The answer is a long time, way before “social media” was a buzzword, even before Facebook was a solid-gold little speck in Mark Zuckerberg’s eye–practically since the inception and widespread availability of the internet itself. So join me on a walk down memory lane:

– April 10, 1990–Lotus Software announces they intend to start selling a CD-ROM with names, addresses, and buying habits of 120 million Americans on it. People organize mass emailing lists and E-bulletin boards with information about how to contact Lotus and what to say. After 30,000 people request to have their information removed from the CD-ROM, Lotus announces in January, 1991 that it’s canceling the entire venture.

– Guy Fawkes Day (November 5), 1994 – In protest against British Prime Minister John Major introducing a bill that outlawed raves and music consisting of “a succession of repetitive beats,”  the “Intervasion of Britain” civil disobedience group was formed and coordinated an email-bomb DDoS attack against Major’s servers.

– September 24, 1998 – is launched in response to campaigns calling for then-President Bill Clinton’s impeachment. Initially titled “Censure and Move On,” the website featured a one-sentence petition requesting members of Congress do just that–censure the President and move on to more pressing matters. The petition ultimately received over 500,000 signatures, and MoveOn became a well-established fundraising and campaigning mechanism for the Democractic Party.

– November, 2007–, the progressive internet petition site, is founded. To date, their most successful petition is aimed at the problem of lesbians being raped and their attackers going free, and is called “South Africa: Declare ‘Corrective Rape’ a Hate-Crime.”

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