“…But such acts of lulzmaking are magnetic on two levels, producing spectacular, shocking, and humorous events and images that attract media attention while simultaneously binding together the collective and rejuvenating its spirit. This runs counter to the reductive arguments about whether or not online organizing can breed the conditions necessary for serious, effective activism (see Clay Shirky in the affirmative, Malcolm Gladwell in the negative); the pursuit of lulz, and the shared technology used to do so, are means of creating a common, participatory culture. (Of course, the pursuit of lulz is also an end in and of itself.) ”
-from Here Comes Nobody by David Auerbach and Gabriella Coleman
If there is one explicit role of the internet in relation to activism, it is to cultivate a broader accessibility to political and social issues. Without question, Anonymous does this. However, there have been a rash of viral political agendas that have seen light through videos, online petitions, and twitter campaigns. Do these attempts at broadening the accessibility of activist agendas fulfill their greatest function or do they reduce human rights issues and campaigns for social change to a novel 21st century spectacle?
Since its rise in popularity, there has been no shortage of critiques regarding the Kony 2012 campaign in which young, well-to-do, white American men do their best to disarm and dismantle the militant, child-soldiered regime of warlord Joseph Kony by way of viral video. The video moved swiftly through social media circles, accumulating likes, notes, and retweets at an unheard of rate. Invisible Children, the organization responsible for the video, was able to gin up a tremendous amount of online support for their cause. But outside of a whole host of ethically dubious issues surrounding the content of the video itself – did the Kony 2012 campaign transfer into a meaningful movement that yielded real-world results? The Invisible Children campaign demonstrates one end of a spectrum of political activism on the web.
On a separate end of this spectrum are the protests of SOPA and CISPA, as well as more divisive gestures of direct action like the Anonymous attack on major credit card companies, dubbed Operation Payback. It seems that one factor behind the effectiveness of these campaigns is their relation to the internet. They toe a line between virtual and physical consequences. The swift backlash against SOPA and CISPA existed so prominently on the internet, quite obviously, because it concerned the internet. It concerned the freedom of its users, and the sovereignty of its institutions. The same might be said for Operation Payback. This coordinated effort by Anonymous to attack major credit card providers that denied service to those who sought to donate money to Wikileaks produced such strong feelings within the organization simply because the issue at hand related directly to the agency of a website. Understanding the link between earnestness and effectiveness is not an issue unique to the internet, but as web-culture expands its gaze, it is important to assess the internet’s ability to bring about meaningful change in circumstances far removed from the web.
Hand Motions is a blog column on DINCA continually featuring writing from Louis Doulas, Wyatt Niehaus and Ria Roberts.