Do Finland’s digitally crowdsourced laws show a way to resolve democracy’s “legitimacy crisis”?

There is much discussion about a perceived “legitimacy crisis” in democracy. In his article The Rise of the Mediating Citizen: Time, Space, and Citizenship in the Crowdsourcing of Finnish Legislation, Taneli Heikka (University of Jyväskylä) discusses the digitally crowdsourced law for same-sex marriage that was passed in Finland in 2014, analysing how the campaign used new digital tools and created practices that affect democratic citizenship and power making.

Ed: There is much discussion about a perceived “legitimacy crisis” in democracy. For example, less than half of the Finnish electorate under 40 choose to vote. In your article you argue that Finland’s 2012 Citizens’ Initiative Act aimed to address this problem by allowing for the crowdsourcing of ideas for new legislation. How common is this idea? (And indeed, how successful?)

Taneli: The idea that digital participation could counter the “legitimacy crisis” is a fairly common one. Digital utopians have nurtured that idea from the early years of the internet, and have often been disappointed. A couple of things stand out in the Finnish experiment that make it worth a closer look.

First, the digital crowdsourcing system with strong digital identification is a reliable and potentially viral campaigning tool. Most civic initiative systems I have encountered rely on manual or otherwise cumbersome, and less reliable, signature collection methods.

Second, in the Finnish model, initiatives that break the threshold of 50,000 names must be treated in the Parliament equally to an initiative from a group of MPs. This gives the initiative constitutional and political weight.

Ed: The Act led to the passage of Finland’s first equal marriage law in 2014. In this case, online platforms were created for collecting signatures as well as drafting legislation. An NGO created a well-used platform, but it subsequently had to shut it down because it couldn’t afford the electronic signature system. Crowds are great, but not a silver bullet if something as prosaic as authentication is impossible. Where should the balance lie between NGOs and centrally funded services, i.e. government?

Taneli: The crucial thing in the success of a civic initiative system is whether it gives the people real power. This question is decided by the legal framework and constitutional basis of the initiative system. So, governments have a very important role in this early stage – designing a law for truly effective citizen initiatives.

When a framework for power-making is in place, service providers will emerge. Should the providers be public, private or third sector entities? I think that is defined by local political culture and history.

In the United States, the civic technology field is heavily funded by philanthropic foundations. There is an urge to make these tools commercially viable, though no one seems to have figured out the business model. In Europe there’s less philanthropic money, and in my experience experiments are more often government funded.

Both models have their pros and cons, but I’d like to see the two continents learning more from each other. American digital civic activists tell me enviously that the radically empowering Finnish model with a government-run service for crowdsourcing for law would be impossible in the US. In Europe, civic technologists say they wish they had the big foundations that Americans have.

Ed: But realistically, how useful is the input of non-lawyers in (technical) legislation drafting? And is there a critical threshold of people necessary to draft legislation?

Taneli: I believe that input is valuable from anyone who cares to invest some time in learning an issue. That said, having lawyers in the campaign team really helps. Writing legislation is a special skill. It’s a pity that the co-creation features in Finland’s Open Ministry website were shut down due to a lack of funding. In that model, help from lawyers could have been made more accessible for all campaign teams.

In terms of numbers, I don’t think the size of the group is an issue either way. A small group of skilled and committed people can do a lot in the drafting phase.

Ed: But can the drafting process become rather burdensome for contributors, given professional legislators will likely heavily rework, or even scrap, the text?

Taneli: Professional legislators will most likely rework the draft, and that is exactly what they are supposed to do. Initiating an idea, working on a draft, and collecting support for it are just phases in a complex process that continues in the parliament after the threshold of 50,000 signatures is reached. A well-written draft will make the legislators’ job easier, but it won’t replace them.

Ed: Do you think there’s a danger that crowdsourcing legislation might just end up reflecting the societal concerns of the web-savvy – or of campaigning and lobbying groups

Taneli: That’s certainly a risk, but so far there is little evidence of it happening. The only initiative passed so far in Finland – the Equal Marriage Act – was supported by the majority of Finns and by the majority of political parties, too. The initiative system was used to bypass a political gridlock. The handful of initiatives that have reached the 50,000 signatures threshold and entered parliamentary proceedings represent a healthy variety of issues in the fields of education, crime and punishment, and health care. Most initiatives seem to echo the viewpoint of the ‘ordinary people’ instead of lobbies or traditional political and business interest groups.

Ed: You state in your article that the real-time nature of digital crowdsourcing appeals to a generation that likes and dislikes quickly; a generation that inhabits “the space of flows”. Is this a potential source of instability or chaos? And how can this rapid turnover of attention be harnessed efficiently so as to usefully contribute to a stable and democratic society?

Taneli: The Citizens’ Initiative Act in Finland is one fairly successful model to look at in terms of balancing stability and disruptive change. It is a radical law in its potential to empower the individual and affect real power-making. But it is by no means a shortcut to ‘legislation by a digital mob’, or anything of that sort. While the digital campaigning phase can be an explosive expression of the power of the people in the ‘time and space of flows’, the elected representatives retain the final say. Passing a law is still a tedious process, and often for good reasons.

Ed: You also write about the emergence of the “mediating citizen” – what do you mean by this?

Taneli: The starting point for developing the idea of the mediating citizen is Lance Bennett’s AC/DC theory, i.e. the dichotomy of the actualising and the dutiful citizen. The dutiful citizen is the traditional form of democratic citizenship – it values voting, following the mass media, and political parties. The actualising citizen, on the other hand, finds voting and parties less appealing, and prefers more flexible and individualised forms of political action, such as ad hoc campaigns and the use of interactive technology.

I find these models accurate but was not able to place in this duality the emerging typologies of civic action I observed in the Finnish case. What we see is understanding and respect for parliamentary institutions and their power, but also strong faith in one’s skills and capability to improve the system in creative, technologically savvy ways. I used the concept of the mediating citizen to describe an actor who is able to move between the previous typologies, mediating between them. In the Finnish example, creative tools were developed to feed initiatives in the traditional power-making system of the parliament.

Ed: Do you think Finland’s Citizens Initiative Act is a model for other governments to follow when addressing concerns about “democratic legitimacy”?

Taneli: It is an interesting model to look at. But unfortunately the ‘legitimacy crisis’ is probably too complex a problem to be solved by a single participation tool. What I’d really like to see is a wave of experimentation, both on-line and off-line, as well as cross-border learning from each other. And is that not what happened when the representative model spread, too?

Read the full article: Heikka, T., (2015) The Rise of the Mediating Citizen: Time, Space, and Citizenship in the Crowdsourcing of Finnish Legislation. Policy and Internet 7 (3) 268–291.

Taneli Heikka is a journalist, author, entrepreneur, and PhD student based in Washington.

Taneli Heikka was talking to Blog Editor Pamina Smith.

Don’t knock clickivism: it represents the political participation aspirations of the modern citizen

Following a furious public backlash in 2011, the UK government abandoned plans to sell off 258,000 hectares of state-owned woodland. The public forest campaign by 38 Degrees gathered over half a million signatures.
How do we define political participation? What does it mean to say an action is ‘political’? Is an action only ‘political’ if it takes place in the mainstream political arena; involving government, politicians or voting? Or is political participation something that we find in the most unassuming of places, in sports, home and work? This question, ‘what is politics’ is one that political scientists seem to have a lot of trouble dealing with, and with good reason. If we use an arena definition of politics, then we marginalise the politics of the everyday; the forms of participation and expression that develop between the cracks, through need and ingenuity. However, if we broaden our approach as so to adopt what is usually termed a process definition, then everything can become political. The problem here is that saying that everything is political is akin to saying nothing is political, and that doesn’t help anyone.

Over the years, this debate has plodded steadily along, with scholars on both ends of the spectrum fighting furiously to establish a working understanding. Then, the Internet came along and drew up new battle lines. The Internet is at its best when it provides a home for the disenfranchised, an environment where like-minded individuals can wipe free the dust of societal disassociation and connect and share content. However, the Internet brought with it a shift in power, particularly in how individuals conceptualised society and their role within it. The Internet, in addition to this role, provided a plethora of new and customisable modes of political participation. From the onset, a lot of these new forms of engagement were extensions of existing forms, broadening the everyday citizen’s participatory repertoire. There was a move from voting to e-voting, petitions to e-petitions, face-to-face communities to online communities; the Internet took what was already there and streamlined it, removing those pesky elements of time, space and identity.

Yet, as the Internet continues to develop, and we move into the ultra-heightened communicative landscape of the social web, new and unique forms of political participation take root, drawing upon those customisable environments and organic cyber migrations. The most prominent of these is clicktivism, sometimes also, unfairly, referred to as slacktivism. Clicktivism takes the fundamental features of browsing culture and turns them into a means of political expression. Quite simply, clicktivism refers to the simplification of online participatory processes: one-click online petitions, content sharing, social buttons (e.g. Facebook’s ‘Like’ button) etc.

For the most part, clicktivism is seen in derogatory terms, with the idea that the streamlining of online processes has created a societal disposition towards feel-good, ‘easy’ activism. From this perspective, clicktivism is a lazy or overly-convenient alternative to the effort and legitimacy of traditional engagement. Here, individuals engaging in clicktivism may derive some sense of moral gratification from their actions, but clicktivism’s capacity to incite genuine political change is severely limited. Some would go so far as to say that clicktivism has a negative impact on democratic systems, as it undermines an individual’s desire and need to participate in traditional forms of engagement; those established modes which mainstream political scholars understand as the backbone of a healthy, functioning democracy.

This idea that clicktivism isn’t ‘legitimate’ activism is fuelled by a general lack of understanding about what clicktivism actually involves. As a recent development in observed political action, clicktivism has received its fair share of attention in the political participation literature. However, for the most part, this literature has done a poor job of actually defining clicktivism. As such, clicktivism is not so much a contested notion, as an ill-defined one. The extant work continues to describe clicktivism in broad terms, failing to effectively establish what it does, and does not, involve. Indeed, as highlighted, the mainstream political participation literature saw clicktivism not as a specific form of online action, but rather as a limited and unimportant mode of online engagement.

However, to disregard emerging forms of engagement such as clicktivism because they are at odds with long-held notions of what constitutes meaningful ‘political’ engagement is a misguided and dangerous road to travel. Here, it is important that we acknowledge that a political act, even if it requires limited effort, has relevance for the individual, and, as such, carries worth. And this is where we see clicktivism challenging these traditional notions of political participation. To date, we have looked at clicktivism through an outdated lens; an approach rooted in traditional notions of democracy. However, the Internet has fundamentally changed how people understand politics, and, consequently, it is forcing us to broaden our understanding of the ‘political’, and of what constitutes political participation.

The Internet, in no small part, has created a more reflexive political citizen, one who has been given the tools to express dissatisfaction throughout all facets of their life, not just those tied to the political arena. Collective action underpinned by a developed ideology has been replaced by project orientated identities and connective action. Here, an individual’s desire to engage does not derive from the collective action frames of political parties, but rather from the individual’s self-evaluation of a project’s worth and their personal action frames.

Simply put, people now pick and choose what projects they participate in and feel little generalized commitment to continued involvement. And it is clicktivism which is leading the vanguard here. Clicktivism, as an impulsive, non-committed online political gesture, which can be easily replicated and that does not require any specialized knowledge, is shaped by, and reinforces, this change. It affords the project-oriented individual an efficient means of political participation, without the hassles involved with traditional engagement.

This is not to say, however, that clicktivism serves the same functions as traditional forms. Indeed, much more work is needed to understand the impact and effect that clicktivist techniques can have on social movements and political issues. However, and this is the most important point, clicktivism is forcing us to reconsider what we define as political participation. It does not overtly engage with the political arena, but provides avenues through which to do so. It does not incite genuine political change, but it makes people feel as if they are contributing. It does not politicize issues, but it fuels discursive practices. It may not function in the same way as traditional forms of engagement, but it represents the political participation aspirations of the modern citizen. Clicktivism has been bridging the dualism between the traditional and contemporary forms of political participation, and in its place establishing a participatory duality.

Clicktivism, and similar contemporary forms of engagement, are challenging how we understand political participation, and to ignore them because of what they don’t embody, rather than what they do, is to move forward with eyes closed.

Read the full article: Halupka, M. (2014) Clicktivism: A Systematic Heuristic. Policy and Internet 6 (2) 115-132.

Max Halupka is a PhD candidate at the ANZOG Institute for Governance, University of Canberra. His research interests include youth political participation, e-activism, online engagement, hacktivism, and fluid participatory structures.

Past and Emerging Themes in Policy and Internet Studies

We can’t understand, analyze or make public policy without understanding the technological, social and economic shifts associated with the Internet. Image from the (post-PRISM) “Stop Watching Us” Berlin Demonstration (2013) by mw238.

In the journal’s inaugural issue, founding Editor-in-Chief Helen Margetts outlined what are essentially two central premises behind Policy & Internet’s launch. The first is that “we cannot understand, analyze or make public policy without understanding the technological, social and economic shifts associated with the Internet” (Margetts 2009, 1). It is simply not possible to consider public policy today without some regard for the intertwining of information technologies with everyday life and society. The second premise is that the rise of the Internet is associated with shifts in how policy itself is made. In particular, she proposed that impacts of Internet adoption would be felt in the tools through which policies are effected, and the values that policy processes embody.

The purpose of the Policy and Internet journal was to take up these two challenges: the public policy implications of Internet-related social change, and Internet-related changes in policy processes themselves. In recognition of the inherently multi-disciplinary nature of policy research, the journal is designed to act as a meeting place for all kinds of disciplinary and methodological approaches. Helen predicted that methodological approaches based on large-scale transactional data, network analysis, and experimentation would turn out to be particularly important for policy and Internet studies. Driving the advancement of these methods was therefore the journal’s third purpose. Today, the journal has reached a significant milestone: over one hundred high-quality peer-reviewed articles published. This seems an opportune moment to take stock of what kind of research we have published in practice, and see how it stacks up against the original vision.

At the most general level, the journal’s articles fall into three broad categories: the Internet and public policy (48 articles), the Internet and policy processes (51 articles), and discussion of novel methodologies (10 articles). The first of these categories, “the Internet and public policy,” can be further broken down into a number of subcategories. One of the most prominent of these streams is fundamental rights in a mediated society (11 articles), which focuses particularly on privacy and freedom of expression. Related streams are children and child protection (six articles), copyright and piracy (five articles), and general e-commerce regulation (six articles), including taxation. A recently emerged stream in the journal is hate speech and cybersecurity (four articles). Of course, an enduring research stream is Internet governance, or the regulation of technical infrastructures and economic institutions that constitute the material basis of the Internet (seven articles). In recent years, the research agenda in this stream has been influenced by national policy debates around broadband market competition and network neutrality (Hahn and Singer 2013). Another enduring stream deals with the Internet and public health (eight articles).

Looking specifically at “the Internet and policy processes” category, the largest stream is e-participation, or the role of the Internet in engaging citizens in national and local government policy processes, through methods such as online deliberation, petition platforms, and voting advice applications (18 articles). Two other streams are e-government, or the use of Internet technologies for government service provision (seven articles), and e-politics, or the use of the Internet in mainstream politics, such as election campaigning and communications of the political elite (nine articles). Another stream that has gained pace during recent years, is online collective action, or the role of the Internet in activism, ‘clicktivism,’ and protest campaigns (16 articles). Last year the journal published a special issue on online collective action (Calderaro and Kavada 2013), and the next forthcoming issue includes an invited article on digital civics by Ethan Zuckerman, director of MIT’s Center for Civic Media, with commentary from prominent scholars of Internet activism. A trajectory discernible in this stream over the years is a movement from discussing mere potentials towards analyzing real impacts—including critical analyses of the sometimes inflated expectations and “democracy bubbles” created by digital media (Shulman 2009; Karpf 2012; Bryer 2012).

The final category, discussion of novel methodologies, consists of articles that develop, analyze, and reflect critically on methodological innovations in policy and Internet studies. Empirical articles published in the journal have made use of a wide range of conventional and novel research methods, from interviews and surveys to automated content analysis and advanced network analysis methods. But of those articles where methodology is the topic rather than merely the tool, the majority deal with so-called “big data,” or the use of large-scale transactional data sources in research, commerce, and evidence-based public policy (nine articles). The journal recently devoted a special issue to the potentials and pitfalls of big data for public policy (Margetts and Sutcliffe 2013), based on selected contributions to the journal’s 2012 big data conference: Big Data, Big Challenges? In general, the notion of data science and public policy is a growing research theme.

This brief analysis suggests that research published in the journal over the last five years has indeed followed the broad contours of the original vision. The two challenges, namely policy implications of Internet-related social change and Internet-related changes in policy processes, have both been addressed. In particular, research has addressed the implications of the Internet’s increasing role in social and political life. The journal has also furthered the development of new methodologies, especially the use of online network analysis techniques and large-scale transactional data sources (aka ‘big data’).

As expected, authors from a wide range of disciplines have contributed their perspectives to the journal, and engaged with other disciplines, while retaining the rigor of their own specialisms. The geographic scope of the contributions has been truly global, with authors and research contexts from six continents. I am also pleased to note that a characteristic common to all the published articles is polish; this is no doubt in part due to the high level of editorial support that the journal is able to afford to authors, including copyediting. The justifications for the journal’s establishment five years ago have clearly been borne out, so that the journal now performs an important function in fostering and bringing together research on the public policy implications of an increasingly Internet-mediated society.

And what of my own research interests as an editor? In the inaugural editorial, Helen Margetts highlighted work, finance, exchange, and economic themes in general as being among the prominent areas of Internet-related social change that are likely to have significant future policy implications. I think for the most part, these implications remain to be addressed, and this is an area that the journal can encourage authors to tackle better. As an editor, I will work to direct attention to this opportunity, and welcome manuscript submissions on all aspects of Internet-enabled economic change and its policy implications. This work will be kickstarted by the journal’s 2014 conference (26-27 September), which this year focuses on crowdsourcing and online labor.

Our published articles will continue to be highlighted here in the journal’s blog. Launched last year, we believe this blog will help to expand the reach and impact of research published in Policy and Internet to the wider academic and practitioner communities, promote discussion, and increase authors’ citations. After all, publication is only the start of an article’s public life: we want people reading, debating, citing, and offering responses to the research that we, and our excellent reviewers, feel is important, and worth publishing.

Read the full editorial:  Lehdonvirta, V. (2014) Past and Emerging Themes in Policy and Internet Studies. Policy & Internet 6(2): 109-114.


Bryer, T.A. (2011) Online Public Engagement in the Obama Administration: Building a Democracy Bubble? Policy & Internet 3 (4).

Calderaro, A. and Kavada, A. (2013) Challenges and Opportunities of Online Collective Action for Policy Change. Policy & Internet (5) 1.

Hahn, R. and Singer, H. (2013) Is the U.S. Government’s Internet Policy Broken? Policy & Internet 5 (3) 340-363.

Karpf, D. (2012) Online Political Mobilization from the Advocacy Group’s Perspective: Looking Beyond Clicktivism. Policy & Internet 2 (4) 7-41.

Margetts, H. (2009) The Internet and Public Policy. Policy and Internet 1 (1).

Margetts, H. and Sutcliffe, D. (2013) Addressing the Policy Challenges and Opportunities of ‘Big Data.’ Policy & Internet 5 (2) 139-146.

Shulman, S.W. (2009) The Case Against Mass E-mails: Perverse Incentives and Low Quality Public Participation in U.S. Federal Rulemaking. Policy & Internet 1 (1) 23-53.

Presenting the moral imperative: effective storytelling strategies by online campaigning organisations

Online campaigning organisations are on the rise. They have captured the imagination of citizens and scholars alike with their ability to use rapid response tactics to engage with public policy debate and mobilize citizens. Early on Andrew Chadwick (2007) labeled these new campaign organisations as ‘hybrids’: using both online and offline political action strategies, as well as intentionally switching repertoires to sometimes act like a mass mobilisation social movement, and other times like an insider interest group.

These online campaigning organisations run multi-issue agendas, are geographically decentralized, and run sophisticated media strategies. The best known of these are MoveOn in the US, internationally focused Avaaz, and GetUp! in Australia. However, new online campaigning organisations are emerging all the time that more often than not have direct lineage through former staff and similar tactics to this first wave. These newer organisations include the UK-based 38 Degrees, SumOfUs that works on consumer issues to hold corporations accountable, and Change.Org, a for-profit organisation that hosts and develops petitions for grassroots groups.

Existing civil society focused organisations are also being challenged to fundamentally change their approach, to move political tactics and communications online, and to grow their member lists. David Karpf (2012) has branded this “MoveOn Effect”, where the success of online campaigning organisations like MoveOn has fundamentally changed and disrupted the advocacy organisation scene. But how has this shift occurred? How have these new organisations succeeded in being both innovative and politically successful?

One increasingly common answer is to focus on how they have developed low threshold online tactics where the risk to participants is reduced. This includes issue and campaign specific online petitions, letter writing, emails, donating money, and boycotts. The other answer is to focus more closely on the discursive tactics these organisations use in their campaigns, based on a shared commitment to a storytelling strategy, and the practical realisation of a ‘theory of change’. That is, to ask how campaigns produce successful stories that follow a concrete theory of why taking action inevitably leads to a desired result.

Storytelling is a device for explaining politics and a campaign via “cause and effect relations, through its sequencing of events, rather than by appeals to standards of logic and proof” (Polletta et al. 2011, 111). These campaign stories characteristically have a plot and identifiable characters, a beginning and middle to the story, but the recipient of the story can create, or rather act out, the end. Framing is important to understanding social movement action but a narrative or storytelling driven analysis focuses more on how language or rhetoric is used, and reveals the underlying “common sense” and emotional frames used in online campaigns’ delivery of messages (Polletta 2009). Polletta et al. (2011, 122) suggest that activists have been successful against better resourced and influential opponents and elites when they “sometimes but not always, have been able to exploit popular associations of narrative with people over power, and moral urgency over technical rationality”.

We have identified four stages of storytelling that need to occur for a campaign to be successful:

  1. An emotional identification with the issue by the story recipient, to mobilize participation
  2. A shared sense of community on the issue, to build solidarity (‘people over power’)
  3. Moral urgency for action (rather than technical persuasion), to resolve the issue and create social change
  4. Securing of public and political support by neutralising counter-movements.

The new online campaigning organisations all prioritise a storytelling approach in their campaigns, using it to build their own autobiographical story and to differentiate what they do from ‘politics as usual’, characterised as party-based, adversarial politics. Harvard scholar and organising practitioner Marshall Ganz’s ideas on the practice of storytelling underpin the philosophy of the New Organizing Institute, which provides training for increasing numbers of online activists. Having received training, these professional campaigners informally join the network of established and emerging ‘theory of change’ organisations such as MoveOn, AVAAZ, Organising for America, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, SumOfUs, and so on.

GetUp! is a member of this network, has over 600,000 members in Australia, and has conducted high-profile public policy campaigns on issues as diverse as mental health, electoral law, same-sex marriage, and climate change. GetUp!’s communications strategy tries to use storytelling to reorient Australian political debate — and the nature of politics itself — in an affective way. And underpinning all their political tactics is the construction of effective online campaign stories. GetUp! has used stories to help citizens, and to a lesser extent, decision-makers, identify with an issue, build community, and act in recognition of the moral urgency for political change.

Yet despite GetUp!’s commitment to a storytelling technique, it does not always work — these organisations rarely publicise their failed campaigns, or those that do not even get past the initial email ‘ask’. It is important to look at how campaigns unfold to see how storytelling develops, and also to judge whether it is a success or not. This moves the analysis onto an organisation’s whole campaign, rather than studying only decontextualised emails or online petitions. In contrasting two campaigns in-depth we judged one on mental health policy to be a success in meeting the four storytelling criteria; and the other on climate change policy (which was promoted externally as a success) to actually be a storytelling failure.

The mental health story was able to build solidarity and emotional identification around families and friends of those with illness (not sufferers themselves) after celebrity experts launched the campaign to bring awareness to and increase funding for mental health. Mental health was presented by GetUp! as a purely moral dilemma, with very little mention by any opponents of the economic implications of policy reform. In the end the policy was changed, an extra $2.2 billion of funding for mental health was announced in the 2011 Federal Budget, and the Australian Prime Minister appeared with GetUp! in an online video to make the funding announcement.

GetUp’s climate change storytelling, however, failed on all four criteria. Despite national policy change taking place similar to what they had advocated, GetUp!’s climate change campaign did not achieve the level of member or public mobilisation achieved by their mental health campaign. GetUp! used partisan, adversarial tactics that can be partly attributed to climate change becoming an increasingly polarised issue in Australian political debate. This was particularly the case as the oppositional counter-movement successfully reframed climate change as solely an economic issue, focusing on the imposition of an expensive new tax. This story defeated GetUp’s moral urgency story, and their attempt to create ‘people-power’ mobilised for a shared environmental concern.

Why is thinking about this important? For a few reasons. It helps us to see online tactics within the context of a broader political campaign, and challenges us to think about how to judge both successful mobilisation and political influence of hybrid online campaign organisations. Yet it also points to the limitations of an affective approach based on moral urgency alone. Technical persuasion and, more often than not, economic reality still matter for both mobilisation and political change.


Chadwick, Andrew (2007) “Digital Network Repertoires and Organizational Hybridity” Political Communication, 24 (3): 283-301.

Karpf, David (2012) The MoveOn Effect: The unexpected transformation of American political advocacy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Polletta, Francesca (2009) “Storytelling in social movements” in Culture, Social Movements and Protest ed. Hank Johnston Surrey: Ashgate, 33-54.

Polletta, Francesca, Pang Ching, Bobby Chen, Beth Gharrity Gardner, and Alice Motes (2011) “The sociology of storytelling” Annual Review of Sociology, 37: 109–30.

Read the full paper: Vromen, A. and Coleman, W. (2013) Online Campaigning Organizations and Storytelling Strategies: GetUp! in Australia. Policy and Internet 5 (1).

Investigating the structure and connectivity of online global protest networks

How have online technologies reconfigured collective action? It is often assumed that the rise of social networking tools, accompanied by the mass adoption of mobile devices, have strengthened the impact and broadened the reach of today’s political protests. Enabling massive self-communication allows protesters to write their own interpretation of events – free from a mass media often seen as adversarial – and emerging protests may also benefit from the cheaper, faster transmission of information and more effective mobilization made possible by online tools such as Twitter.

The new networks of political protest, which harness these new online technologies are often described in theoretical terms as being ‘fluid’ and ‘horizontal’, in contrast to the rigid and hierarchical structure of earlier protest organization. Yet such theoretical assumptions have seldom been tested empirically. This new language of networks may be useful as a shorthand to describe protest dynamics, but does it accurately reflect how protest networks mediate communication and coordinate support?

The global protests against austerity and inequality which took place on May 12, 2012 provide an interesting case study to test the structure and strength of a transnational online protest movement. The ‘indignados’ movement emerged as a response to the Spanish government’s politics of austerity in the aftermath of the global financial crisis. The movement flared in May 2011, when hundreds of thousands of protesters marched in Spanish cities, and many set up camps ahead of municipal elections a week later.

These protests contributed to the emergence of the worldwide Occupy movement. After the original plan to occupy New York City’s financial district mobilised thousands of protesters in September 2011, the movement spread to other cities in the US and worldwide, including London and Frankfurt, before winding down as the camp sites were dismantled weeks later. Interest in these movements was revived, however, as the first anniversary of the ‘indignados’ protests approached in May 2012.

To test whether the fluidity, horizontality and connectivity often claimed for online protest networks holds true in reality, tweets referencing these protest movements during May 2012 were collected. These tweets were then classified as relating either to the ‘indignados’ or Occupy movement, using hashtags as a proxy for content. Many tweets, however, contained hashtags relevant for the two movements, creating bridges across the two streams of information. The users behind those bridges acted as  information ‘brokers’, and are fundamentally important to the global connectivity of the two movements: they joined the two streams of information and their audiences on Twitter. Once all the tweets were classified by content and author, it emerged that around 6.5% of all users posted at least one message relevant for the two movements by using hashtags from both sides jointly.

Analysis of the Twitter data shows that this small minority of ‘brokers’ play an important role connecting users to a network that would otherwise be disconnected. Brokers are significantly more active in the contribution of messages and more visible in the stream of information, being re-tweeted and mentioned more often than other users. The analysis also shows that these brokers play an important role in the global network, by helping to keep the network together and improving global connectivity. In a simulation, the removal of brokers fragmented the network faster than the removal of random users at the same rate.

What does this tell us about global networks of protest? Firstly, it is clear that global networks are more vulnerable and fragile than is often assumed. Only a small percentage of users disseminate information across transnational divides, and if any of these users cease to perform this role, they are difficult to immediately replace, thus limiting the assumed fluidity of such networks. The decentralized nature of online networks, with no central authority imposing order or even suggesting a common strategy, make the role of ‘brokers’ all the more vital to the survival of networks which cross national borders.

Secondly, the central role performed by brokers suggests that global networks of online protest lack the ‘horizontal’ structure that is often described in the literature. Talking about horizontal structures can be useful as shorthand to refer to decentralised organisations, but not to analyse the process by which these organisations materialise in communication networks. The distribution of users in those networks reveals a strong hierarchy in terms of connections and the ability to communicate effectively.

Future research into online networks, then, should keep in mind that the language of protest networks in the digital age, particularly terms like horizontality and fluidity, do not necessarily stand up to empirical scrutiny. The study of contentious politics in the digital age should be evaluated, first and foremost, through the lens of what protesters actually reveal through their actions.

Read the paper: Sandra Gonzalez-Bailon and Ning Wang (2013) The Bridges and Brokers of Global Campaigns in the Context of Social Media.

The global fight over copyright control: Is David beating Goliath at his own game?

Anti-HADOPI march in Paris
Anti-HADOPI march in Paris, 2009. Image by kurto.

In the past few years, many governments have attempted to curb online “piracy” by enforcing harsher copyright control upon Internet users. This trend is now well documented in the academic literature, as with Jon Bright and José Agustina‘s or Sebastian Haunss‘ recent reviews of such developments.

However, as the digital copyright control bills of the 21st century reached parliamentary floors, several of them failed to pass. Many of these legislative failures, such as the postponement of the SOPA and PIPA bills in the United States, succeeded in mobilizing large audiences and received widespread media coverage.

Writing about these bills and the related events that led to the demise of the similarly-intentioned Anti-Counterfeiting Treaty Agreement (ACTA), Susan Sell, a seasoned analyst of intellectual property enforcement, points to the transnational coalition of Internet users at the heart of these outcomes. As she puts it:

In key respects, this is a David and Goliath story in which relatively weak activists were able to achieve surprising success against the strong.

That analogy also appears in our recently published article in Policy & Internet, which focuses on the groups that fought several digital copyright control bills as they went through the European and French parliaments in 2007-2009 — most notably the EU “Telecoms Package” and the French “HADOPI” laws.

Like Susan Sell, our analysis shows “David” civil society groups formed by socially and technically skilled activists disrupting the work of “Goliath” coalitions of powerful actors that had previously been successful at converting the interests of the so-called “creative industries” into copyright law.

To explain this process, we stress the importance of digital environments for providing contenders of copyright reform with a robust discursive opportunity structure — a space in which activist groups could defend and diffuse alternative understandings and practices of copyright control and telecommunication reform.

These counter-frames and practices refer to the Internet as a public good, and make openness, sharing and creativity central features of the new digital economy. They also require that copyright control and telecom regulation respect basic principles of democratic life, such as the right to access information.

Once put into the public space by skilled activists from the free software community and beyond, this discourse chimed with a larger audience, which eventually led many European and French parliamentarians to oppose “graduated response” and “three-strikes” initiatives that threatened Internet users with Internet access termination for successive copyright infringement. The reforms that we studied had different legal outcomes, thereby reflecting the current state of copyright regulation.

In our analysis, we say a lot more about the kind of skills that we briefly allude to here, such as political coding abilities to support political and legal analysis. We also draw on previous work by Andrew Chadwick to forge the concept of digital network repertoires of contention, by which we mean the tactical use of digital communication to mobilize individuals into loose protest groups.

This part of our research sheds light on how “David” ended up beating “Goliath”, with activists relying on their technical skills and high levels of digital literacy to overcome the logic of collective action and to counterbalance their comparatively weak economic resources.

However, as we write in our paper, David does not systematically beat Goliath over copyright control and telecom regulation. The “three-strikes” or “graduated response” approach to unauthorized file-sharing, where Internet users are monitored and sanctioned if suspected of digital “piracy”, is still very much alive.

France is an interesting case study to date, as it pioneered this scheme under Nicolas Sarkozy’s presidency. Although the current left-wing government seems determined to dismantle the “HADOPI” body set up by its predecessor, which has proven largely ineffective in curbing online copyright infringement, it has not renounced the monitoring and sanctioning of illegal file-sharing.

Furthermore, as both our case studies illustrate, online collective action had to be complemented by offline lobbying and alliances with like-minded parliamentary actors, consumer groups and businesses to work effectively. The extent to which activism has actually gone ‘digital’ therefore requires some nuance.

Finally, as we stress in our article and as Yana observes in her literature review on Internet content regulation in liberal democracies, further comparative work is needed to assess whether the “Davids” of Internet activism are beating the “Goliaths” in the global fight over online file-sharing and copyright control.

We therefore hope that our article will incite other researchers to study the social groups that compete over intellectual property lawmaking. The legislative landscape is rife with reforms of copyright law and telecom regulation, and the conflicts that they generate carry important lessons for Internet politics scholars.


Breindl, Y. and Briatte, F. (2013) Digital Protest Skills and Online Activism Against Copyright Reform in France and the European Union. Policy and Internet 5 (1) 27-55.

Breindl, Y. (2013) Internet content regulation in liberal democracies. A literature review. Working Papers on Digital Humanities, Institut für Politikwissenschaft der Georg-August-Universität Göttingen.

Bright, J. and Agustina, J.R. (2013) Mediating Surveillance: The Developing Landscape of European Online Copyright Enforcement. Journal of Contemporary European Research 9 (1).

Chadwick, A. (2007) Digital Network Repertoires and Organizational Hybridity. Political Communication 24 (3).

Haunss, S. (2013) Conflicts in the Knowledge Society: The Contentious Politics of Intellectual Property. Cambridge Intellectual Property and Information Law (No. 20), Cambridge University Press.

Sell, S.K. (2013) Revenge of the “Nerds”: Collective Action against Intellectual Property Maximalism in the Global Information Age. International Studies Review 15 (1) 67-85.

Read the full paper: Yana Breindl and François Briatte (2012) Digital Protest Skills and Online Activism Against Copyright Reform in France and the European Union. Policy and Internet 5 (1).

Why do (some) political protest mobilisations succeed?

The communication technologies once used by rebels and protesters to gain global visibility now look burdensome and dated: much separates the once-futuristic-looking image of Subcomandante Marcos posing in the Chiapas jungle draped in electronic gear (1994) from the uprisings of the 2011 Egyptian revolution. While the only practical platform for amplifying a message was once provided by organisations, the rise of the Internet means that cross-national networks are now reachable by individuals—who are able to bypass organisations, ditch membership dues, and embrace self-organization. As social media and mobile applications increasingly blur the distinction between public and private, ordinary citizens are becoming crucial nodes in the contemporary protest network.

The personal networks that are the main channels of information flow in sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn mean that we don’t need to actively seek out particular information; it can be served to us with no more effort than that of maintaining a connection with our contacts. News, opinions, and calls for justice are now shared and forwarded by our friends—and their friends—in a constant churn of information, all attached to familiar names and faces. Given we are more likely to pass on information if the source belongs to our social circle, this has had an important impact on the information environment within which protest movements are initiated and develop.

Mobile connectivity is also important for understanding contemporary protest, given that the ubiquitous streams of synchronous information we access anywhere are shortening our reaction times. This is important, as the evolution of mass recruitments—whether they result in flash mobilisations, slow burns, or simply damp squibs—can only be properly understood if we have a handle on the distribution of reaction times within a population. The increasing integration of the mainstream media into our personal networks is also important, given that online networks (and independent platforms like Indymedia) are not the clear-cut alternative to corporate media they once were. We can now write on the walls or feeds of mainstream media outlets, creating two-way communication channels and public discussion.

Online petitions have also transformed political protest; lower information diffusion costs mean that support (and signatures) can be scaled up much faster. These petitions provide a mine of information for researchers interested in what makes protests succeed or fail. The study of cascading behaviour in online networks suggests that most chain reactions fail quickly, and most petitions don’t gather that much attention anyway. While large cascades tend to start at the core of networks, network centrality is not always a guarantor of success.

So what does a successful cascade look like? Work by Duncan Watts has shown that the vast majority of cascades are small and simple, terminating within one degree of an initial adopting ‘seed.’ Research has also shown that adoptions resulting from chains of referrals are extremely rare; even for the largest cascades observed, the bulk of adoptions often took place within one degree of a few dominant individuals. Conversely, research on the spreading dynamics of a petition organised in opposition to the 2002-2003 Iraq war showed a narrow but very deep tree-like distribution, progressing through many steps and complex paths. The deepness and narrowness of the observed diffusion tree meant that it was fragile—and easily broken at any of the levels required for further distribution. Chain reactions are only successful with the right alignment of factors, and this becomes more likely as more attempts are launched. The rise of social media means that there are now more attempts.

One consequence of these—very recent—developments is the blurring of the public and the private. A significant portion of political information shared online travels through networks that are not necessarily political, but that can be activated for political purposes as circumstances arise. Online protest networks are decentralised structures that pull together local sources of information and create efficient channels for a potentially global diffusion, but they replicate the recruitment dynamics that operated in social networks prior to the emergence of the Internet.

The wave of protests seen in 2011—including the Arab Spring, the Spanish Indignados, and the Global Occupy Campaign—reflects this global interdependence of localised, personal networks, with protest movements emerging spontaneously from the individual actions of many thousands (or millions) of networked users. Political protest movements are seldom stable and fixed organisational structures, and online networks are inherently suited to channeling this fluid commitment and identity. However, systematic research to uncover the bridges and precise network mechanisms that facilitate cross-border diffusion is still lacking. Decentralized networks facilitate mobilisations of unprecedented reach and speed—but are actually not very good at maintaining momentum, or creating particularly stable structures. For this, traditional organisations are still relevant, even while they struggle to maintain a critical mass.

The general failure of traditional organisations to harness the power of these personal networks results from their complex structure, which complicates any attempts at prediction, planning, and engineering. Mobilization paths are difficult to predict because they depend on the right alignment of conditions on different levels—from the local information contexts of individuals who initiate or sustain diffusion chains, to the global assembly of separate diffusion branches. The networked chain reactions that result as people jump onto bandwagons follow complex paths; furthermore, the cumulative effects of these individual actions within the network are not linear, due to feedback mechanisms that can cause sudden changes and flips in mobilisation dynamics, such as exponential growth.

Of course, protest movements are not created by social media technologies; they provide just one mechanism by which a movement can emerge, given the right social, economic, and historical circumstances. We therefore need to focus less on the specific technologies and more on how they are used if we are to explain why most mobilisations fail, but some succeed. Technology is just a part of the story—and today’s Twitter accounts will soon look as dated as the electronic gizmos used by the Zapatistas in the Chiapas jungle.

Online collective action and policy change: shifting contentious politics in policy processes

Research has disproved the notion held by political elites — and some researchers — that collective action resides outside of policy-making processes, and is limited in generating a response from government. The Internet can facilitate the involvement of social movements in policymaking processes, but also constitute in itself the object of contentious politics. Most research on online mobilisations focuses on the Internet as a tool for campaigning and for challenging decision-makers at the national and international level.

Meanwhile, less attention is paid on the fact that the Internet has raised new issues for the policy making agenda around which activists are mobilising, such as issues related to internet governance, online freedom of expression, digital privacy or copyright. Contemporary social movements serve as indicators of new core challenges within society, and can thus constitute an enriching resource for the policy debate arena, particularly with regards to the urgent issues raised by the fast development of the Internet. The literature on social movements is rich in examples of campaigns that have successfully influenced public policy. Classic works have proved how major reforms can start as a consequence of civic mobilisations, and the history provides evidence of the influence of collective action within policy debates on environmental, national security, and peace issues.

However, as mentioned above and argued by Giugni (2004), social movement research has traditionally paid more attention to the process rather than the outcomes of mobilisations. The difficulty of identifying the consequences of collective action and the factors that contribute to its success may lie behind this tendency. As Gamson (1975) argues, the notion of success is elusive and can be most usefully defined with reference to a set of outcomes; these may include the new advantages gained by the group’s beneficiaries after a challenge with targets, or they may refer to the status of the challenging group and its legitimacy.

As for the factors determining success, some scholars believe that collective action is likely to succeed when its claims are close to the aims of political elites. Others, like Kriesi (1995), note that government responses depend on the forms and tactics of contentious politics. Activists occupy different positions on the spectrum between radical and reformist, which in turn affects their willingness to engage with policy-makers. For instance, movements pursuing a type of ‘prefigurative’ politics tend to avoid direct contact with policy-makers, focusing instead on building alternatives which ‘prefigure’ the values that they would like to see on a grander scale.

The Internet has raised new questions around the outcomes of collective action and its interface with policy making. Internet governance, for instance, constitutes a new source of contentious politics, while the use of the Internet for the organisation of protest influences the forms of contemporary collective action. As a tool of collective action, the Internet facilitates the rapid organisation of protests around issues of public concern. Mobilizations can be organised without a formal hierarchy in place, and spread easily as online networking helps the creation of flexible ‘opt-in/opt-out’ coalitions. Information about protest can diffuse through online interpersonal networks and alternative media, and can capture the attention of mainstream news outlets. In addition, the Internet has expanded the ‘repertoire of contention’ of current movements. Petitions, direct action, and occupations now have their online counterparts with tactics such as email bombings, DDoS attacks, and e-petitions.

The affordances of online tools are thought to be affecting the characteristics of collective action and thus its capacities for policy change. Compared to past mobilisations, current movements tend to be more decentralised and flexible, constituted by loose coalitions between a plurality of actors. They are also more inclusive, addressing a diverse and at times incongruent combination of issues. As Della Porta (2005) points out, online mobilisations tend to have a more temporary and fleeting character as they can emerge and dissolve with equal speed; they are also more global in nature, since they can scale up easily and at a low cost.

At the same time, the Internet has facilitated the rise of a what Chadwick defines as new ‘hybrid’ type of civil society actor who combines traditional tactics, such as petitioning, with the more flexible forms of organising favoured by less institutional groups. Organizations like MoveOn in the U.S., Avaaz on the transnational level, and GetUp! in Australia use the power of the Internet to influence policy makers. The Internet helps such organisations to operate at a very low cost, which in turn allows them to be flexible and easily switch the focus of campaigns around issues that capture the public interest.

However, the Internet has become in itself an object of policy and further attention must be paid in considering its implications as a source of new contentious politics. Melucci (1996) argues that research on collective action should pay attention to the new types of inequality that generate contentious politics, rather than restricting its focus to the forms of mobilisations. Studies of online collective action should thus consider the Internet not only as a tool for practicing politics but also as a new “dominant discourse” which produces new claims and inequalities.

Current inequalities in governing digital mediated communication generate what Kriesi (1995) calls ‘windows of opportunities’ for collective action to play an important role in policy making on Internet-related issues. Within this framework, an increasing body of research is addressing collective action around the governance of the Internet, the regulation of free and open software, privacy and data retention, file sharing and copyright issues, and online freedom of expression as a fundamental human right.

Whether and to what extent these new types of actors and mobilisations organised through and around the Internet can have an effect on policy making is an issue requiring further research. For instance, the decentralised and temporary character of some movements , together with their lack of clearly identified leaders and spokespersons can make it difficult in establishing themselves as legitimate representatives of public opinion. New types of ‘hybrid’ actors may encounter problems in establishing themselves as legitimate representatives of public opinion. In addition, new online tactics like e-petitions, which require limited time and commitment from participants, tend to have a weaker impact on policy makers. At the same time, the technical nature of Internet regulation complicates efforts to influence public opinion due to the degree of knowledge necessary for the lay public to understand the issues at stake.

Despite these potential limitations, collective action through and around the internet can enrich policy making. It can help to connect local voices with policy makers and facilitate their involvement in policy-making processes. It can also contribute to new policy debates around urgent issues concerning the Internet. As the Policy and Internet special issue on ‘Online Collective Action and Policy Change’ explores, online collective action can thus constitute an important resource and participant in policy debates with whom policy makers should create new lines of dialogue.

Read the full article at: Calderaro, A. and Kavada A., (2013) “Challenges and Opportunities of Online Collective Action for Policy Change“, Policy and Internet 5(1).

Twitter: @andreacalderaro / @AnastasiaKavada
Web: Andrea’s Personal Page / Anastasia’s Personal Page


Giugni, Marco. 2004. Social Protest and Policy Change : Ecology, Antinuclear, and Peace Movements in Comparative Perspective. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.

Gamson, William A. 1975. The Strategy of Social Protest. Homewood, Ill.: Dorsey Press.

Kriesi, Hanspeter. 1995. “The Political Opportunity Structure of New Social Movements: its Impact on their Mobilization.” In The Politics of Social Protest, eds. J. Jenkins and B. Dermans. London: UCL Press, pp. 167–198.

Della Porta, Donatella, and Mario Diani. 2006. Social Movements: An Introduction. 2nd ed. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub.

Melucci, Alberto. 1996. Challenging Codes: Collective Action in the Information Age. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Online collective action and policy change: new special issue from Policy and Internet

The Internet has multiplied the platforms available to influence public opinion and policy making. It has also provided citizens with a greater capacity for coordination and mobilisation, which can strengthen their voice and representation in the policy agenda. As waves of protest sweep both authoritarian regimes and liberal democracies, this rapidly developing field calls for more detailed enquiry. However, research exploring the relationship between online mobilisation and policy change is still limited. This special issue of ‘Policy and Internet’ addresses this gap through a variety of perspectives. Contributions to this issue view the Internet both as a tool that allows citizens to influence policy making, and as an object of new policies and regulations, such as data retention, privacy, and copyright laws, around which citizens are mobilising. Together, these articles offer a comprehensive empirical account of the interface between online collective action and policy making.

Within this framework, the first article in this issue, “Networked Collective Action and the Institutionalized Policy Debate: Bringing Cyberactivism to the Policy Arena?” by Stefania Milan and Arne Hintz (2013), looks at the Internet as both a tool of collective action and an object of policy. The authors provide a comprehensive overview of how computer-mediated communication creates not only new forms of organisational structure for collective action, but also new contentious policy fields. By focusing on what the authors define as ‘techie activists,’ Milan and Hintz explore how new grassroots actors participate in policy debates around the governance of the Internet at different levels. This article provides empirical evidence to what Kriesi et al. (1995) defines as “windows of opportunities” for collective action to contribute to the policy debate around this new space of contentious politics. Milan and Hintz demonstrate how this has happened from the first World Summit of Information Society (WSIS) in 2003 to more recent debates about Internet regulation.

Yana Breindl and François Briatte’s (2013) article “Digital Protest Skills and Online Activism Against Copyright Reform in France and the European Union” complements Milan and Hintz’s analysis by looking at how the regulation of copyright issues opens up new spaces of contentious politics. The authors compare how online and offline initiatives and campaigns in France around the “Droit d’Auteur et les Droits Voisins dans la Société de l’Information” (DADVSI) and “Haute Autorité pour la diffusion des œuvres et la protection des droits sure Internet” (HADOPI) laws, and in Europe around the Telecoms Package Reform, have contributed to the deliberations within the EU Parliament. They thus add to the rich debate on the contentious issues of intellectual property rights, demonstrating how collective action contributes to this debate at the European level.

The remaining articles in this special issue focus more on the online tactics and strategies of collective actors and the opportunities opened by the Internet for them to influence policy makers. In her article, “Activism and The Online Mediation Opportunity Structure: Attempts to Impact Global Climate Change Policies?” Julie Uldam (2013) discusses the tactics used by London-based environmental activists to influence policy making during the 17th UN climate conference (COP17) in 2011. Based on ethnographic research, Uldam traces the relationship between online modes of action and problem identification and demands. She also discusses the differences between radical and reformist activists in both their preferences for online action and their attitudes towards policy makers. Drawing on Cammaerts’ (2012) framework of the mediation opportunity structure, Uldam shows that radical activists preferred online tactics that aimed at disrupting the conference, since they viewed COP17 as representative of an unjust system. However, their lack of technical skills and resources prevented them from disrupting the conference in the virtual realm. Reformist activists, on the other hand, considered COP17 as a legitimate adversary, and attempted to influence its politics mainly through the diffusion of alternative information online.

The article by Ariadne Vromen and William Coleman (2013) “Online Campaigning Organizations and Storytelling Strategies: GetUp! Australia,” also investigates a climate change campaign but shifts the focus to the new ‘hybrid’ collective actors, who use the Internet extensively for campaigning. Based on a case study of GetUp!, Vromen and Coleman examine the storytelling strategies employed by the organisation in two separate campaigns, one around climate change, the other around mental health. The authors investigate the factors that led one campaign to be successful and the other to have limited resonance. They also skilfully highlight the difficulties encountered by new collective actors to gain legitimacy and influence policy making. In this respect, GetUp! used storytelling to set itself apart from traditional party-based politics and to emphasise its identity as an organiser and representative of grassroots communities, rather than as an insider lobbyist or disruptive protestor.

Romain Badouard and Laurence Monnoyer-Smith (2013), in their article “Hyperlinks as Political Resources: The European Commission Confronted with Online Activism,” explore some of the more structured ways in which citizens use online tools to engage with policy makers. They investigate the political opportunities offered by the e-participation and e-government platforms of the European Commission for activists wishing to make their voice heard in the European policy making sphere. They focus particularly on strategic uses of web technical resources and hyperlinks, which allows citizens to refine their proposals and thus increase their influence on European policy.

Finally, Jo Bates’ (2013) article “The Domestication of Open Government Data Advocacy in the UK: A Neo-Gramscian Analysis” provides a pertinent framework that facilitates our understanding of the policy challenges posed by the issue of open data. The digitisation of data offers new opportunities for increasing transparency; traditionally considered a fundamental public good. By focusing on the Open Data Government initiative in the UK, Bates explores the policy challenges generated by increasing transparency via new Internet platforms by applying the established theoretical instruments of Gramscian ‘Trasformismo.’ This article frames the open data debate in terms consistent with the literature on collective action, and provides empirical evidence as to how citizens have taken an active role in the debate on this issue, thereby challenging the policy debate on public transparency.

Taken together, these articles advance our understanding of the interface between online collective action and policy making. They introduce innovative theoretical frameworks and provide empirical evidence around the new forms of collective action, tactics, and contentious politics linked with the emergence of the Internet. If, as Melucci (1996) argues, contemporary social movements are sensors of new challenges within current societies, they can be an enriching resource for the policy debate arena. Gaining a better understanding of how the Internet might strengthen this process is a valuable line of enquiry.

Read the full article at: Calderaro, A. and Kavada A., (2013) “Challenges and Opportunities of Online Collective Action for Policy Change“, Policy and Internet 5(1).

Twitter: @AnastasiaKavada / @andreacalderaro
Web: Anastasia’s Personal Page / Andrea’s Personal Page


Badouard, R., and Monnoyer-Smith, L. 2013. Hyperlinks as Political Resources: The European Commission Confronted with Online Activism. Policy and Internet 5(1).

Bates, J. 2013. The Domestication of Open Government Data Advocacy in the UK: A Neo-Gramscian Analysis. Policy and Internet 5(1).

Breindl, Y., and Briatte, F. 2013. Digital Protest Skills and Online Activism Against Copyright Reform in France and the European Union. Policy and Internet 5(1).

Cammaerts, Bart. 2012. “Protest Logics and the Mediation Opportunity Structure.” European Journal of Communication 27(2): 117–134.

Kriesi, Hanspeter. 1995. “The Political Opportunity Structure of New Social Movements: its Impact on their Mobilization.” In The Politics of Social Protest, eds. J. Jenkins and B. Dermans. London: UCL Press, pp. 167–198.

Melucci, Alberto. 1996. Challenging Codes: Collective Action in the Information Age. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Milan, S., and Hintz, A. 2013. Networked Collective Action and the Institutionalized Policy Debate: Bringing Cyberactivism to the Policy Arena? Policy and Internet 5(1).

Uldam, J. 2013. Activism and the Online Mediation Opportunity Structure: Attempts to Impact Global Climate Change Policies? Policy and Internet 5(1).

Vromen, A., and Coleman, W. 2013. Online Campaigning Organizations and Storytelling Strategies: GetUp! in Australia. Policy and Internet 5(1).

Papers on Policy, Activism, Government and Representation: New Issue of Policy and Internet

We are pleased to present the combined third and fourth issue of Volume 4 of Policy and Internet. It contains eleven articles, each of which investigates the relationship between Internet-based applications and data and the policy process. The papers have been grouped into the broad themes of policy, government, representation, and activism.

POLICY: In December 2011, the European Parliament Directive on Combating the Sexual Abuse, Sexual Exploitation of Children and Child Pornography was adopted. The directive’s much-debated Article 25 requires Member States to ensure the prompt removal of child pornography websites hosted in their territory and to endeavor to obtain the removal of such websites hosted outside their territory. Member States are also given the option to block access to such websites to users within their territory. Both these policy choices have been highly controversial and much debated; Karel Demeyer, Eva Lievens, and Jos Dumortie analyse the technical and legal means of blocking and removing illegal child sexual content from the Internet, clarifying the advantages and drawbacks of the various policy options.

Another issue of jurisdiction surrounds government use of cloud services. While cloud services promise to render government service delivery more effective and efficient, they are also potentially stateless, triggering government concern over data sovereignty. Kristina Irion explores these issues, tracing the evolution of individual national strategies and international policy on data sovereignty. She concludes that data sovereignty presents national governments with a legal risk that can’t be addressed through technology or contractual arrangements alone, and recommends that governments retain sovereignty over their information.

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