Civil disobedience and the Internet

Molly sez, "I wrote this short essay over at iO9 on what the future of civil disobedience could look like. Though in the past civil disobedience was enacted in the streets, with people placing their bodies in harm's way for their cause, now online activists can engage in digitally-based acts of civil disobedience from their keyboards. I lay out three major lines along which digitally-based civil disobedience is developing: disruption, information distribution, and infrastructure. The future of civil disobedience online lies in affinity groups combining these three styles of activism, and using a diversity of tactics to support a common cause."

Infrastructure-based activism involves the creation of alternate systems to replace those that have been compromised by state or corporate information-gathering schemes. In other words, if the government is snooping on the internet, activists build a tool to make it harder for them to see everything. Tor, Diaspora, and indenti.ca are some examples of these projects, as are the guerrilla VPNs and network connections that often spring up to serve embattled areas, provided by activists in other countries.

Similar to living off the grid, these projects provide people with options beyond the default. Open source or FLOSS software and Creative Commons use a similar tactic: when the system stops working, create a new system. The challenge is to bring these new systems into widespread use without allowing them to be compromised, either politically or technically. However, these new systems often have to fight network effects as they struggle to attract users away from dominant systems. Diaspora faced this issue with Facebook. Without being able to disrupt dominant systems, user migration is often slow and piecemeal, lacking the impact activists hope for.

The Future of Civil Disobedience Online