Chapter 26

The Internet as a Platform for Civil Disobedience

Cherian George

A key affordance of digital media is their space-transcending capability, enabling messages to be sent from locations that are distant and even indeterminate. Therefore, it is not surprising that much of the research on new media and political contention has focused on how dissenting individuals and groups use these technologies to evade arrest. There are certainly enough case studies to support this line of enquiry, ranging from separatist movements such as the Zapatistas of Mexico and the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka to pro-democracy activists in Myanmar and Egypt and international terrorist organizations (see e.g. Knudson 1998; Ubayasiri 2004; Awan 2007; Shirky 2011). These practices fit within what we might call a “guerrilla” frame, drawing our attention to the use of digital media as a means of hit-and-run insurgency. Of course, every chosen frame excludes as well as includes. In this case, what is overlooked are other, quite distinct ways of using new media to challenge state power. This essay explores one strategy that could not be more different from the norm. Instead of using cyberspace as a hiding place, insurgents can treat the Internet as a stage on which to perform acts of peaceful rebellion, all the while remaining within physical reach of the authorities. Such seemingly irrational behavior is a textbook application of the well-established strategy of civil disobedience, in which nonviolent provocations ...

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