Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Digital Sit-In

Ah... The sit-in. Made famous by the lunch-counter sit-ins of the Civil Rights Movement, this method of civil disobedience has been employed by protesters for more than a century. At their outset many sit-ins seem inconsequential, even failures*. However, as support for the protesters and their cause grows the hours can begin to stretch into days and the groups from a handful of people to hundreds. Sit-ins and other protests of this magnitude can – and do – draw significant public attention and support off an issue.

Hacktivisim, as the word implies, is a contemporary form of protest utilizing modern technology and techniques to "fight back" against contemporary societal problems. In parallel with its lo-fi ancestor the sit-in, hacktivist actions haven't been as successful as planned at their outset. Sure, Anonymous was able to cripple the sites of Visa and Mastercard and eBay and the Swiss Government to show support for Julian Assange and Wikileaks. What was the effect? The companies' sites were down for a few hours (the credit card companies were still able to process transactions) and the mainstream media had its headlines for the evening news. Have average Americans across the country started shredding their Visa cards or stopped bidding on eBay in support of Assange and his quest for free information? Not likely. And I doubt many ever will.

The Economist article "The rights and wrongs of hacktivisim" argues that "protestors in cyberspace are usually anonymous and untraceable ... disqualifying them from protection". The argument of your protection or "rightness" is irrelevant when the effect of your actions is almost nonexistent. The lunch counter sit-ins were not successful solely because of their size or their duration. They were successful because people from thousands of miles away saw enough of themselves in the protesters and their blight that they were driven to take up the protest themselves. Without that human connection anonymous hacktivists will remain the shadowy figure in the darkness failing to build the support a protest requires, failing to change the norm.



  1. I dont think its that simple to say "The companies' sites were down for a few hours (the credit card companies were still able to process transactions) and the mainstream media had its headlines for the evening news." because just the mere fact that the sites DID shutdown is HUGE inconvenience and getting on the breaking news even for an evening means even MORE press.
    As far as hacktivists go, when people hack and do these shady things its bc they wanna remain 'shadowy'. they want the info or whatever the heck they are looking for, but not be tracked back to them. I hope im understanding correctly, but also i do not agree with the statement that without human connection, a protest would not have enough support. Social networking today, such as facebook allows for pages to be created and passed around to friends and networks all over the world to be 'liked' or joined or what have you. the word is spread around in this manner. THEN large groups build tangibly. Their is human connections all throughout the process of building support for protests.

  2. Your post reminded me of a digital "Fight Club." Project Mayhem through the internet! Hacktivism is just a better, faster way to get organized!