05 June 2010

What's the Point of Hacktivism?

Thanks to the Internet, it's easy to engage in big issues - environmental crises, oppression, injustice. Too easy: all it takes is a click and that email is winging its way to who knows where, or that tasteful twibbon has been added to your avatar. If you still think this helps much, try reading Evgeny Morozov's blog Net Effect, and you will soon be disabused (actually, read it anyway - it's very well written).

So what's the point? Well, there are various things that such hacktivism can achieve, nicely laid out in this piece by Ethan Zuckerman called "Overcoming apathy through participation? – (not) my talk at Personal Democracy Forum". But there was one idea that I particularly liked - not least because I hadn't come across it before:

If we assume that activism, as with almost everything else online, has a Pareto distribution, we might assume that for every 1000 relatively passive supporters, we might find 10 deeply engaged activists and one emerging movement leader. And if the contention that participation begets passion, this particular long tail might be a slippery slope upwards, yielding more leaders than the average movement.

Astute readers will have noted that this is one of the reasons why the open source methodology is so successful: it allows natural leaders to emerge from participants. We've seen how amazingly powerful that is, not least in empowering people who in the past would never have been given opportunities to show what they can do. And that, for me, is reason enough to carry on with this hacktivism lark, in the hope that something similar can happen in other spheres.

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