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[liberationtech] NEWS: Launch of Meta-Activism Project / Interview with Mary Joyce

Yosem Companys ycompanys at
Tue Mar 9 07:35:14 PST 2010

  Digital Activism: An Interview with Mary Joyce
Written by Richard
ReadWriteWeb / March 8, 2010 7:30 PM

 Digital activism is defined by the newly launched Meta-Activism
Project<> as
"the practice of using digital technology for political and social change."
One of the leaders in the field of digital activism is Mary
the founder and executive director of the Meta-Activism Project. Joyce is
among the most knowledgeable and experienced digital activists in the world.
She also founded in 2007, a volunteer organization for
grassroots activists. In 2008, she was New Media Operations Manager for
Barack Obama's presidential campaign.

As a lead-up to the upcoming event in New York City with Chinese digital
activist Ai Weiwei<>,
Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey and yours truly, I interviewed Mary Joyce
about the strategies and success stories of digital activism.

*RWW: You recently moved on from DigiActive in order to create a new
organization for digital activism. Can you tell us more about what that will

*MJ:* The new organization is called the Meta-Activism Project (MAP) and its
goal is to build the field of digital activism by catalyzing a body of
strategic knowledge unique to the field.  Today's digital activist is in an
untenable position: caught between the 100-ton rock of pre-digital strategy
and the thousand slippery pebbles of highly-contextual tactical knowledge
that focuses on a seemingly endless stream of new social media
applications.  We want to build a new body of activism strategy that
recognizes the radically different communications infrastructure of the
digitally networked world.

I am really excited to announce the official launch of the Meta-Activism
Project on ReadWriteWeb! The site - - went live at
the end of last week and, though it is pretty bare now, we'd like it to be a
central location for people interested in building a body of knowledge about
the fundamental mechanics of digital activism.

*RWW:** We've heard a lot about Twitter being used in Iran last year, and
the subsequent blocking of social media services like Twitter and Facebook
in China. What other countries have social media tools had a big impact in,
for digital activism?*

*MJ:* Judging impact is quite tricky in the field of digital activism, as
few cases of digital activism are actual successes.  Usually we judge the
success of an activism campaign by whether the activists achieved their
campaign goal.  However, in almost all of the famous cases of digital
activism "success" - the post-election mobilizations in Iran and Moldova in
2009 or the 2008 general strike in Egypt - while activists did successfully
mobilize using social media, they did not achieve their campaign goal, be it
to overturn an allegedly fraudulent election result or the wide range of
social and political reforms demanded by the strike organizers.

*Mary doing digital activism
training<> at
Video Camp Goa*

The measuring of impact thus becomes extremely subjective.  Digital activism
proponents want to count mobilization as success even when the goal is not
achieved, while skeptics and pessimists point out that, by traditional
measures, most digital activism campaigns are failures.  Though I am
certainly a proponent of digital activism, I would actually side with the
skeptics here.  In order to really push the field forward, we need to set
high standards for digital activism success and not be satisfied with

*RWW:** Facebook and Twitter are the two most high profile social media
tools being used for digital activism. Are there any other Internet tools
that have had success, that perhaps people aren't as aware of?*

*MJ:* I could tell you, but that tool would probably become outdated in a
few months, or would prove useless out of its original context.  That's the
problem with tactical knowledge: tools change, contexts change, and
activists are forever playing catch-up.

Probably the greatest factor which determines the utility of an application
to activists is scale and "use neutrality."  Scale means that the tool needs
to reach a certain critical mass of users before you will have the network
effects that will either make it likely that activists will become aware of
it (in the case of something like Tor or proxy servers) or, in the case of
social platforms, that enough people will be on the platform to constitute a
meaningful audience for an activist message. "Use neutrality" means that it
can be easily co opted, that its architecture can facilitate a wide variety
of interactions and does not dictate the content of hosted files.  YouTube,
Facebook, Twitter, and Blogger are use neutral, LastFM and Bloglines are

*Mary at the Women's Leadership and Technology
Sharjah, UAE*

*RWW:** Over the past year or so, can you describe a couple of success
stories for digital activism using web tools.*

*MJ:* Ha! More about measuring success. With the lack of true success, it is
no wonder that people are so eager for these stories.  I think the
traditionally-defined successes in this field (i.e. when the campaign goal
is achieved) are much smaller and less dramatic - NGO meets fundraising goal
through online donations (multiple cases), bloggers get a corporation to
withdraw an offensive advertisement (e.g. Motrin), a social network lifts a
questionable national block (e.g. LinkedIn in Syria).

In the high-stakes activism campaigns that intend to make dramatic changes
at the national and international level, I would say that we have cases of
successful mobilization - Iran, Moldova, Egypt - without successful

*RWW:** In terms of China, a lot has been written about the censorship there
- both the Great Firewall that blocks certain sites and domains, and the
self-censorship that many companies have to do in order to survive.
Currently Google is trying to challenge
but we're not sure how successful even a hugely influential company like
Google will be. So what, if anything, can ordinary people do in terms of
digital activism to support the freeing up of the Chinese Internet?*

*MJ:* I am not an expert on China, but it seems like the best strategy for
defeating the Great Firewall is to make it obsolete: create so many ways of
getting around it that it no longer successfully censors Chinese Internet
users.  This means both creating new circumvention tools - more Psiphons,
proxies, Tors, FreeGates - and finding new and innovative ways to get those
tools to Chinese users.

*RWW: Thanks Mary for this illuminating interview. We at ReadWriteWeb wish
you the best with the newly launched Meta-Activism Project!*
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