A Short History of Activism on the Internet – Pre Millenium

With social media playing such a large part in the exchange of information, activists worldwide have been introduced new tools that serve in a much more global sense. More and more often the photographs of ‘facebook’ and ‘twitter’ being spray-painted in Egypt and other newsworthy areas around the Middle East and North Africa bombard us through the media. In light of the recent revolutions, it’s easy to forget that social media isn’t nearly the root of  activism’s technological evolution.

– The earliest known major activism that utilized the internet took place around 21 years ago. On April 10, 1990, a software by the name of Lotus Marketplace (developed by the Lotus Developmental Corporation) began a direct-mail marketing database product that was to contain name, address, and information on purchasing habits of hundreds of millions of people in the United States. Even if a lot of this data was already available for  companies and individuals to view, privacy advocates worried about the availability of this specific data within one database. Another issue was the fact that all of this data was to be contained on a data CD-ROM. This didn’t bode well with the general public, especially to those being mentioned in the data that was made public. Many personal websites began to spread the word about the acts committed by Locus, including steps to take to contact Locus. A little less than a year later in January, 30,000 individuals sent letters of complaint via email and the company was forced to disband the entire business venture.

– A few years later in the U.K., the first known acts of flooding a server with emails (see DDoS) occurred. Parliament’s servers were overloaded by several internet gatherings opposed to a new criminal justice bill that would deem outdoor rave festivals playing “music with a repetitive beat” illegal.

– In 1998,  an activist from New Jersey and Gabon-born scholar by the name of Daniel Mengara created http://www.globalwebco.net/bdp/ (later redirected to http://www.bdpgabon.org). The French tile ‘Bongo Doit Partir’ directly translated to ‘Bongo Must Go’. The title alone did well enough to portray the page’s initial purpose and mission statement; a revolution against Gabon’s President, Omar Bongo, and his long-winded regime full of corruption and allegations of pocketing government money.  In his creating of this website, Mengara had successfully brought to light the new idea of a politically-motivated active blog community. What those who were aware of Mengara’s website saw was essentially what we are seeing now in terms of the blogging done in Egypt during the revolutions, getting information out into the rest of the world and more importantly exposing the wrongdoings of their government to fellow Egyptians who are plagued with propaganda-ridden state television broadcasting. The ‘Bongo Must Go’ domain is still up, but from what I can gather it is no longer active, likely due to Bongo’s death in the summer of 2009.

– In a political effort focused more towards the United States, MoveOn.org was launched shortly after the Lewinsky Scandal, calling out against President Clinton’s impeachment. Although it was only a sentence in length, the petition drew together over 500,000 digital signatures. MoveOn.org went on to become a large Democratic outlet for fundraising and campaigning.

These are only the most well known beginnings of a step towards technology-aided activism, there surely could have been others that were obscured in one way or another, never gaining the following they desired. The point is, although social media sites like twitter have become an extremely convenient way to make information and opinion flow in a multi-directional manner, they are nothing new in the terms of using the internet as an outlet for activism.

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