Sociology Index

Electronic Civil Disobedience

New Books on Activism, Social Activism, Hacktivism, Computerized Activism

The terms "electronic civil disobedience" and hacktivism date back to 1998. A Net based affinity group called the Electronic Disturbance Theater pushed and agitated for new experimentation with electronic civil disobedience actions aimed mostly at the Mexican government.

It engaged its FloodNet software and invited participation to an international set of artists, digerati, and political activists to make a "symbolic gesture" in support of Mexico's Zapatistas. While at the same time, in Britain, in Australia, in India, in China, on almost every continent there were reports of hacktivity. In the spring of 1998, a young British hacker known as "JF" accessed about 300 web sites and placed anti-nuclear text and imagery. He entered, changed and added HTML code. At that point it was the biggest political hack of its kind.

Taken together we may consider both the more symbolic electronic civil disobedience actions and the more tangible hacktivist events under the rubric of extraparliamentarian direct action Net politics, where extraparliamentarian is taken to mean politics other than electoral or party politics, primarily the grassroots politics of social movement.

Acting in the tradition of non-violent direct action and civil disobedience, proponents of Electronic Civil Disobedience are borrowing the tactics of trespass and blockade from these earlier social movements and are experimentally applying them to the Internet. A typical civil disobedience tactic has been for a group of people to physically blockade, with their bodies, the entranceways of an opponent's office or building or to physically occupy an opponent's office -- to have a sit-in. Electronic Civil Disobedience, as a form of mass decentered electronic direct action, utilizes virtual blockades and virtual sit-ins. Unlike the participant in a traditional civil disobedience action, an ECD actor can participate in virtual blockades and sit-ins from home, from work, from the university, or from other points of access to the Net.

Electronic Civil Disobedience and the World Wide Web of Hacktivism:
A Mapping of Extraparliamentarian Direct Action Net Politics
Stefan Wray
What this paper attempts to do is examine these emerging trends from a slightly wider angled lens. This paper puts forth five portals for consideration: computerized activism, grassroots infowar, electronic civil disobedience, politicized hacking, and resistance to future war. At first they were conceived as five portals into Hacktivism, but perhaps they better serve as five portals for looking at the wider world of extraparliamentarian direct action Net politics, although that phrase is admittedly awkward. Nevertheless, these five portals seem to provide a useful starting point for a more in-depth, yet to come, examination of the convergence of activism, art, and computer-based communication and media.

Stefan Wray, "On Electronic Civil Disobedience," Peace Review 11, no. 1, (1999), forthcoming; Electronic Civil Disobedience archive 1998

Stefan Wray, "Paris Salon or Boston Tea Party? Recasting Electronic Democracy, A View from Amsterdam," Electronic Civil Disobedience archive 1998

Stefan Wray, "Towards Bottom-Up Information Warfare: Theory and Practice: Version 1.0," Electronic Civil Disobedience Archive 1998 12. Stefan Wray, "The Drug War and Information Warfare in Mexico," Masters Thesis, Univ. of Texas at Austin, Electronic Civil Disobedience Archive 1997

Brett Stalbaum, "The Zapatista Tactical FloodNet," Electronic Civil Disobedience Web Page 1998

"Mexico rebel supporters hack government home page," Reuters, 4 February 1998; Same in Electronic Civil Disobedience.