Category Archives: Digital Media in Activism

This essay dialogue features the reactions of scholars and activists to Jennifer Earl and Katrina Kimport’s recent book, “Digitally Enabled Social Change: Activism in the Internet Age” (MIT Press, 2011).

Informing Activists: How can I protect myself legally when I am active online?

Derek Bambauer

How can I protect myself legally when I am active online?

Professor Bambauer mentions several resources that you can use to protect yourself online. We have compiled links to these sources below.

The EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation)’s Surveillance Self-Defense offers overviews, tutorials, and briefings for how to keep your identity and your information safe online.

Fire (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education)

The Tor software protects you by bouncing your communications around a distributed network of relays run by volunteers all around the world: it prevents somebody watching your Internet connection from learning what sites you visit, it prevents the sites you visit from learning your physical location, and it lets you access sites which are blocked.

The Tails system is a live operating system that you can start on almost any computer from a DVD, USB stick, or SD card. It aims at preserving your privacy and anonymity, and helps you to: use the Internet anonymously and circumvent censorship; all connections to the Internet are forced to go through the Tor network; leave no trace on the computer you are using unless you ask it explicitly; use state-of-the-art cryptographic tools to encrypt your files, emails and instant messaging.


Further Reading


Marx, Gary T. 1988. Undercover: police surveillance in America. Berkeley, CA: Univ of California Press,


Lyon D. 2007. Surveillance Studies: An Overview. Malden, MA: Polity


Rafail, Patrick. 2014. “What Makes Protest Dangerous? Ideology, Contentious Tactics, and Covert Surveillance.” Intersectionality and Social Change. Emerald Group Publishing Limited. 235-263.


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Singing and not singing: The activist age divide

The year 2012 is a special one in Massachusetts: the centennial of the 1912 Lawrence textile strike has been celebrated with literally dozens of events, with more still planned. The gatherings I’ve attended have given me glimpses into the cultures of different wings of today’s progressive movements. My conclusion is that participatory singing as a political act is becoming an outmoded relic of former movements.

At the big Labor Day event, the crowd included UNITE-HERE members and other Lawrence-area union members, mostly Latinos younger than 50. Union members wore union t-shirts to signify their affiliations; and they marched in contingents; but they didn’t sing as they marched. Some of the musical performers that day sang in Spanish, and young and/or Latino festival-goers either sat and listened or they danced along – but they never sang along.

A number of white and black singers at the Labor Day festival encouraged sing-alongs, and I watched to see who sang and who didn’t sing. In particular, because Bread and Puppet Theater, with its giant puppets and stilt-walkers, is so inherently interesting to all ages and races, I was able to watch their big diverse audience respond to calls to sing along. Perhaps Mobilizing Ideas readers won’t be surprised to learn that those who sang along were old and white. Many of them were seasoned leftists whose experience stretched back to the ‘60s or earlier.

At other Lawrence centennial events I saw the same singing demographic: old and white. The only middle-aged exceptions were approximately four of us hard-core political folkies, those who knew by heart all four verses of the “Bread and Roses” song about the 1912 strike. But except for us, everyone else who sang “Solidarity Forever” had white hair and weathered faces. Ditto with “Union Maid.” And twice, when “The Internationale” was sung, everyone else who stood up and raised their right fist appeared to be 75 or older; this old socialist tradition seems not to have been passed down.

During the anti-globalization movement of the late 1990s I realized that young activists in that movement did not sing during protests. And the music of the Occupy movement seemed to be either performance or participatory drumming, not participatory singing (see this collection). But during those two mobilizations I thought that the singing/not-singing breakpoint was about age 35. At this year’s Lawrence events, I realized that the age divide is much older, and that political singing seems to have virtually died out even among middle-aged activists.

For those of us raised on Civil Rights freedom songs, anti-war songs, wimmin’s music, De Colores and anti-apartheid music, a movement that doesn’t sing seems strange and culturally impoverished. Media jamming and crowd-sourced creativity through Youtube, Facebook and Twitter are the new mode of activist participatory creativity; activists now have protest tools unimagined in the 1960s.

But when I think of some of the situations in which the anti-apartheid movement sang their freedom songs – between jail cells on death row, in the poverty of exile, and while marching under violent repression – I worry about how future activists will keep their spirits up and build solidarity when all their electronic devices are unavailable to them.


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Reflections on “Digitally Enabled Social Change – Activism in the Internet Age”

We created PetitionOnline in 1999 as an experiment in the social ecology of online interaction.  The experiment worked in that amazing way that sometimes happens on the web, and over ten years, the site went on to host more than 50,000 petitions, several with over a million signatures, collecting some 92 million signatures overall by the summer of 2011, when we passed stewardship of the site on to

The PetitionOnline Experience

Our experience of operating what Earl and Kimport term a “warehouse site” for online activism went far beyond the numbers.  Petitioning is inherently a tool of the underdog, a last resort attempt to claim  recognition and drive change, simply by the moral weight of combined voices, when all the regular channels seem to have failed.

We received hundreds of petition success stories. The petitions helped grassroots activists around the world capture the attention of communities and authorities.  The sense of empowerment felt by unassuming people who gained the support of many others through the device of the web-base petition resounds through these stories. Continue reading


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Announcing the Launch of Mobilizing Ideas!

We are thrilled to announce the launch of Mobilizing Ideas, a hub for stimulating conversation between activists and scholars about important issues in social movements and social change.  The central content will be a monthly exchange on a salient topic.  These Essay Dialogues will be complimented by the Daily Disruption – a filter blog of interesting news, perspectives, and more.

Our inaugural dialogue features the reactions of scholars and activists to Jennifer Earl and Katrina Kimport’s recent book, Digitally Enabled Social Change: Activism in the Internet Age (MIT Press, 2011).   This topic is one of great interest to those of us who grapple with understanding the ever-changing world of movement dynamics, as social movement leaders are finding increasingly creative uses for social media. As you will read in in the posts that follow, agreement on the tactical advantage of digital media is not unanimous.

We would like to thank our distinguished contributors for participating in this inaugural essay dialogue:

Frida Berrigan, Witness Against Torture
Joss Hands, Anglia Ruskin University
Kevin Matthews, PetitionOnline
Paul-Brian McInerney, Univ. of Illinois at Chicago
Francesca Polletta, Univ. of California in Irvine
Deana Rohlinger, Florida State Univ.

We hope you will add Mobilizing Ideas to your bookmarks and feeds, and that you will help us spread the word about this important source of social movement information and debate.

Enjoy the site!

Grace Yukich, David Ortiz, Rory McVeigh, and Daniel Myers
Editors in Chief

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Maybe you’re better off not holding hands and singing We Shall Overcome

By Francesca Polletta

Jennifer Earl and Katrina Kimport wade into the debate over the role of the Internet in contemporary social movements with a provocative claim: the Internet is ushering in a new repertoire of protest. In this repertoire, mobilizations are sporadic rather than deep-rooted and enduring. Protests flare up, gather huge numbers to the cause, and then fade away—sometimes to reemerge, other times not. More people participate than in earlier repertoires, and they do so for diverse reasons: because they care passionately about the cause or because they’re mildly concerned; because they believe that protest will be effective or because they just want to express themselves. Targets are diverse and issues are too. There are few clear dividing lines between politics and, variously, leisure, consumption, and popular culture: people may use the same tactics to protest the war in Iraq and the cancellation of their favorite TV show.  And movement organizations are becoming obsolete: protests are often organized by small groups, “lone wolves,” or participants who never even meet each other.

What makes this picture so compelling is not only that it is grounded in extensive and meticulous data on activists’ use of new digital media, but also Continue reading


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@ctivism: How technology affords new forms of mobilization, tactics, and movements #DigitallyEnabledSocialChange

Paul-Brian McInerney

As I write this, I am flipping back and forth to my twitter feed, where I am monitoring tweets about the Occupy protests that are happening here in Chicago. I cannot help but think whether the protests would have happened without the help of information and communications technologies (ICTs). I would hypothesize (safely) that Internet technologies such as email and web pages probably helped the movement bring more people out in the streets. More important, they probably fundamentally changed the way the protests happened, allowing activists to transmit tactics, share stories of success and struggles, and support Occupy protests happening elsewhere. ICTs change mobilization and protest quantitatively (bringing out more people) and qualitatively (fundamentally changing the forms of activism and protest). In their important new book, Digitally Enabled Social Change: Activism in the Internet Age, Jennifer Earl and Katrina Kimport describe the former as “supersize effects” and the latter as “theory 2.0 effects.” Supersize effects theories argue that ICTs reduce mobilization costs, allowing activists to mobilize more people. Theory 2.0 argues that leveraged correctly, ICTs change how activism is and can be done in fundamental ways.

Earl and Kimport take a sophisticated look at the role of Internet technologies on activism, starting from the idea of “affordances.” Continue reading


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Framing Digital Activism – On The Value and Limits of a Taxonomy of Mobilization

Joss Hands

The overarching position of Jennifer Earl and Katrina Kimport’s Digitally Enabled Social Change: Activism in the Internet Age is a reasonably convincing combination of claims that can be summarized by two central interlocking theses: that there is a new ‘digital repertoire of contention’ (p. 177) which is made possible by leveraging the affordances of the Web. Such a thesis has, in many regards, become a contested one in a lot of recent discourse about the Web and activism and this book offers much needed empirical evidence to inform this debate.

While Earl and Kimport’s research largely precedes the rise of social media Continue reading


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Twitter vs. the Human Microphone

Frida Berrigan

A few months ago, I was at a peace conference in Barcelona (I know, some people have all the luck). It was organized by War Resisters International and brought together campaigners from all over the world to share information and analysis about war profiteering.

It was a fairly low-tech gathering. A lot of people had laptops and international cellphones and most of us needed little radios for translation, but it was at an old Salesian monastery crowded with greenery and little palazzos and very few of the presenters used that old Pentagon technology—the Powerpoint. Continue reading

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Point-and-Click Change? Understanding Social Movements in the Digital Era

Deana Rohlinger

We like to believe in the power of social movements. It is satisfying to think that a relatively small group of people can band together and change the world for the better. However, as Jennifer Earl and Katrina Kimport point out in their new book, Digitally Enabled Social Change, the role of social movements and the organizations that animate them are up for grabs in the 21st century. This observation may come as somewhat of a shock for students of social movements. We often think about collective action and social movements as synonymous with organization as the sinew binding the two conceptually. Earl and Kimport argue that this is not always the case. Instead, they suggest, that Internet Communication Technology (ICT) provides “affordances” that individuals and groups alike can leverage (with more or less skill) to achieve a goal. In this digital era, then, challenges to authorities can occur without social movement organizations and outside of social movements.

Conceptualizing ICT as offering affordances that can be leveraged Continue reading

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