Revolution in cyberspace

Cyberactivism is a cheap and effective way of spreading a cause

When a small town in Japan was considering whether to have a nuclear facility or not, just 75 protest emails led the mayor to decide the issue through a public referendum. That’s an example of the power of cyberactivism. More and more people are realizing the benefits of using the Internet for activism. The benefits are many. It’s cheap. It’s immediate. It’s global. And it’s a way by which a small group of people can reach out to large numbers all across the globe. Called “digital organizing”, cyberactivism uses websites and emails to drive home a cause.

How it all began

The ELZN, or more popularly the Zapatista movement, was probably one of the first practitioners of cyberactivism. In 1994, ELZN declared that it was at war with the Mexican government over its dictatorial policies. After capturing some municipalities in a city with the use of violence, the movement switched to a battle in the virtual world. A mass of emails were sent out with details of the capture and the government found no way of suppressing information regarding the uprising thereafter. The Zapatista movement quit the use of violence and used the Internet medium to spread their cause. The hostilities lasted only for a few months. After that the ELZN created the Electronic Disturbance Theater, which remained very active on the Web.

Greenpeace: Taking it to the next level

However, it was Greenpeace which took this form of activism to higher and higher levels and they have many successful campaigns under their belt. That includes one out of India too. While the Bhopal gas disaster happened in 1984, the after-effects in the form the closed Union Carbide factory decaying and contaminating the groundwater stay on even today. In 1999, Greenpeace helped set up a cybercafe right in front of the factory and thousands of Bhopal citizens came and sent protest emails to both the erring company and various governments. Previously most of them had no way of addressing their grievances. Dow Chemicals (which is Union Carbide today) decided to skirt the issue and started screening out such emails. However, the issue subsequently got great media attention and soon everyone came to know about the whole issue. Later cyberactivism campaigns were much more successful and in one of them, the World Bank decided to stop funding polluting factories in Gujarat. Greenpeace has tasted much greater success in Europe and have successfully fought many campaigns on the Web.

Post 9/11 concerns

However, cyberactivism is a form of civil disobedience and is totally frowned upon by most authorities. Especially after 9/11 when security in cyberspace came under the scanner and any form of hacking or online activism was not considered the right thing. For some, the line between cyberactivism and cyber-terrorism blurred a bit. However most cyberactivists point out that there is no violence done by this movement and most of the activities fall in the ambit of cyber laws.

While right now computer penetration, especially in places like India, is limited, the future could see cyberactivism as the preferred choice for most groups across the world.

Cyber Activities

Cyberterrorism: Terrorism spread through computer networks and the Internet.
Hactivism: Hacking for a political cause.
Crypto-anarchism: Belief that all computer and Internet users should be anonymous. Will be achieved through the use of strong public key cryptography that will give a high degree of privacy to everyone.
Internet Activism: Associated with citizen movements while cyberactivism is used with civil disobedience.

(This article appeared in Living Digital magazine in August 2005)

Google me again

Do you know the difference between Googling and autoGoogling? Internet search has led to a brand new terminology

Ever since Internet search engines have come into our lives, they have changed the way we think, talk and research. When you want to know something you just “Google” it. It has become a library, teacher, directory and reference guide all rolled into one. It has also introduced a few new terms into the English language. Googling, egosurfing and counter-googling are some samples.

Beware, you’re being Googled!

In the movie Maid in Manhattan, when the heroine’s son asks her a question, she asks him to “Google it”. Google has already entered the English language as a verb that means to perform an Internet search. It’s also sometimes used synonymously with “research”. Googling has also appeared in cartoon strips and TV serials including the highly popular Friends. A search for “googling” on Google gets more than 700,000 results. That shows how widespread the usage has already become.

A very popular thing to do is google people before you meet them. Businessmen do it before they meet clients. Neighbors and old schoolmates are googled and in America, boys and girls google the person they’re about to date.

The exact search is simply got by putting one’s name in quotes. Then there’s the misplaced notion that the more searches a person has on Google, the more important he or she is. But a thing to remember is that not all the information on the Net is authentic. That’s because it’s very easy to put up information in cyberspace without any checks and crosschecks. You’ve to be cautious because many people take it at face value.

Take that ego trip right now

Instead of googling others what if you googled yourself? That would be called autogoogling, or more popularly egosurfing. Some people get a kick out of seeing how many times their name comes up in cyberspace. Popular among top businessmen, famous personalities, writers and journalists. And what do some people do when they are down? Just egosearch to boost their morale!

But what if you’ve zero name searches to your name? Well, that’s quite easy to rectify. Start writing a regular blog and mail the URL to everyone in your mailing list in a bid to popularize it. Leave your comments on every article you read on Websites and participate in all the discussion forums you can. You can even upload your resume on certain career sites that have an Internet search option. That means if anyone searches your name, they can read your resume. Remember, getting published in cyberspace is much easier than getting published in real life. Sometimes you might also get a kick out of knowing how many people share your name and what your namesakes are up to.

Point and counterpoint

The Bel Air hotel in Los Angeles googles first time customers to know about their preferences and give them more personalized services. Both names and addresses are put to the search. called this “counter-googling”. (If googling refers to customers checking out a company, then counter-googling refers to the act of companies checking out their customers). With the amount of blogs on the rise, it’s very easy to get hold of a million-strong database of potential customers.

So looks like the Google Global village where everyone in the world can know about everyone else is just around the corner.

(This article appeared in Living Digital magazine in August 2005)