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Social Change Activism and the Internet:
Strategic Online Activities

 

by

Rory OíBrien

Course: LIS3725Y
Professor: Andrew Clement
Date: September 20, 1999

 

 

 

Abstract

 

Social change groups have always carried out their actions for change based on some degree of strategic planning. The advent of the Internet has brought hundreds of thousands of non-profit organizations online, each wondering how best they might use the new medium. Though much has been written on the Internet's capabilities, including recent explanations of specific kinds of tools and techniques for online activism, relatively little literature exists on general strategic uses of the net by civil society.

This paper describes the functioning of social change organizations within civil society, especially with regards to the types of strategies they use to accomplish their goals. Four approaches to effecting social change, as postulated by Zaltman and Duncan (1977), include facilitative, re-educative, persuasive and power strategies. Over the past decade, civil society organizations have developed a variety of online methods for enhancing their operations. These methods and their applications will be described and categorized with reference to these four types of strategies, with numerous examples given. In general, it is felt that the Internet has been best put to use as part of a facilitative strategy, characterized by multi-party collaboration and the sharing of information.

 

Table of Contents

 

Introduction *

Social Action and Strategies for Social Change *

Elements of Social Action *

Types of Change Strategies *

Facilitative *

Re-educative *

Persuasive *

Power *

Strategic Uses of the Net *

Internet Activism *

Facilitative Activities *

Re-educative Activities *

Persuasive Activities *

Power activities *

Conclusion *

Works Cited *

Bibliography *

 

Introduction

 

People organize themselves into groups in order to accomplish goals that are beyond the capacity of individuals. In contemporary society, the three common delineations of such groups include: the public sector, comprised of governments and governmental organizations; the private sector, including commercial enterprises; and the voluntary sector, which covers all other groups. This last category, the voluntary sector, contains a wide variety of organizations that are primarily supported by the labour of volunteers, who freely contribute their time and resources in order to support common ends. The sector includes organizational types as diverse as trade associations, charities, and hobby clubs. Within this sector, however, there are a large number of groups that strive to improve the general welfare of society through advocacy work or by performing social services not under the purview of the public or private sectors. Such groups are collectively known as civil society.

Within civil society itself, there are many 'social change' agencies that act as advocates, promoters and catalyzers of new ideas, attitudes and social institutions. Derived from historical movements designed to deal with social inequalities and dangers resulting from the sometimes narrow and short-term policies of government and business leaders, these social change organizations are currently involved with such issues as the environment, human rights, social justice, peace and international development.

Actions undertaken by civil society to effect change are generally informed by a degree of strategic thought. In thinking strategically, social change activists try to identify the nature and causes of social problems and then choose specific targets that are deemed the most likely people or organizations to resolve those problems. The optimal approach to take to ensure the targets actually help create and maintain the required changes is determined by the type of strategy adopted by the change agents. One of the keys to a successful strategic approach is in maintaining effective communication with, and among, members of the public.

It is readily acknowledged by leading social theorists (Arendt, 1958; Habermas, 1989) that just and effective democracies require a strong and functional public sphere. The public sphere operates best where citizens, as individuals or in groups, are informed about the social, political and corporate affairs that affect their well-being, and enter into public discussion on the plans, policies and activities of those in power whose decisions affect the public interest. This on-going discussion provides the feedback and direction needed for healthy governance. As well, the rules and procedures of discourse are refined by a democratic society over time, ensuring that public debate is undertaken in a civil and constructive manner.

Civil society organizations, particularly those in the social change sector, are strong proponents of the public sphere, and frequently make public policy discussion and public education major parts of their missions. They seek to effect change through dialogue with others sharing an interest in a social concern. In recent years, the rise of the new communications technologies and the Internet has had a significant effect on public sphere communications. The rapid evolution of the Internet has led many civil society organizations to adopt different software tools and information dissemination techniques to enhance their strategic effectiveness for social change.

This paper will review the elements of social action as typically undertaken by progressive social change groups, and provide an overview of four kinds of change strategies and the circumstances under which they are employed. Acknowledging the rapid increase in the use of the net by non-profits, and noting the need for further exploration of the online environment for social change purposes, these four strategic approaches will then be used as the basis for creating a typology of Internet tools and techniques currently used by social activists.

 

Social Action and Strategies for Social Change

 

Elements of Social Action

Philip Kotler (Kotler, 1973), writing in a time of reflection following an intense period of social dissatisfaction that fostered social change movements for peace, the environment, social justice, and women's rights, developed a framework of social action that is still applicable today. After studying the ways that social problems were approached in a wide variety of social situations, he postulated five elements common to all interventions, which he called

"...the five C's of social action:

Cause. A social objective or undertaking that change agents believe will provide some answer to a social problem.

Change Agency. An organization whose primary mission is to advance a social cause.

Change Targets. Individuals, groups, or institutions designated as the targets of change efforts.

Channels. Ways in which influence and response can be transmitted between change agents and change targets.

Change Strategy. A basic mode of influence adopted by the change agent to affect the change target." (Kotler, 1973, p. 172)

The following are brief descriptions of each of the first four elements. The fifth, change strategy, will be taken up in greater detail in the next section.

Cause

According to Kotler, causes can be classified into three categories: helping causes, which seek to aid the victims of a social problem, but rarely attempts to attack the problem at its roots; protest causes, which seek to alter the behaviour of the institutions that contribute most to the problem; and revolutionary causes, which strive to eliminate those institutions who very existence is thought to be the primary source of the problem. Causes generally progress through four stages: a crusading stage, in which a few individuals attempt to raise awareness of a problem; a popular movement stage, where many followers are attracted by the original, often charismatic, leaders; a managerial stage, that sees the leadership shifting to people with organizational skills in order to better manage the activities of the growing movement; and finally, a bureaucratic stage, in which the original zeal is lost and the movement is operated in a more rigid and bureaucratic manner, with well-established policies and procedures, and functional specialization. (Kotler, 1973, pp. 173-174)

Change Agency

A change agency is comprised of two main types of change agents, leaders and supporters. Leaders include: the directors, who start or head the organization; the advocates, who promote the cause through media advocacy; the backers, who finance the agency; the technicians, who provide expert advice or service to the directors; the administrators, who run the daily operations of the organization; and the organizers, who ensure that the agency's supporters and campaigns are well-organized. Those who are supporters of the cause have three roles: workers, who give their time to conducting the activities organized by the agency; donors, who contribute money; and sympathizers, who espouse the beliefs of the movement, but who otherwise remain inactive. Individuals have many different motives for participating in a cause - they may desire affiliation with zealous people, seek to acquire respect from others and improve their status, have power over others, or need to believe in something to give meaning to their lives. Due to the numerous set-backs and ups-and-downs of any social movement, those involved in the change effort can expect to pass through several psychological states over time - from initial enthusiasm, to frustration and reduced expectations, and finally, to adjusted participation. (Kotler, 1973, pp. 176-178)

Change Targets

Change targets vary according to the nature of the cause. Helping causes target victims, often referring to them as clients. Protest causes target institutions of power, such as corporations, the military, and government, seeking to change them in ways that will eliminate or mitigate the problem. Revolutionary causes target these same institutions of power, but attempt to destroy rather than change them. In order to have the most impact on direct targets, change agencies often strive to influence intermediate targets: the general public, the professional establishment (e.g., educators, scientists, lawyers), government regulators, and the business establishment. In mounting an effective campaign, target segmentation is important. Rather than stereotyping all members of a target system, the change agents must be aware "that any target group contains persons at different stages of accessibility and susceptibility to the cause. The change agency must pay attention to these differences and search for the most meaningful dimensions of effective segmentation. The change agent can draw on demographic, geographic, psychographic, behavioural, and social structural variables for segmenting target individuals and institutions." In choosing particular segments, three conditions must be satisfied: accessibility, or the degree to which channels exist to reach the target; substantiality, the degree to which the target is worth the effort; and susceptibility, the degree to which the target will respond to the initiative. (Kotler, 1973, pp. 179-182)

Channels

For effective communication with the change targets, agencies must carefully select the appropriate channels of communication, of which there are two types, the influence channels and the response channels. Influence channels, by which targets are reached, are subdivided into media and personal influence channels. Media influence channels are further broken down into the mass media (e.g., television, radio, newspapers), which sends messages to a mass audience, and specialized media (e.g., niche magazines, newsletters, reports), which distributes communications among particular audiences. In general, the mass media is used to reach the public and outside targets, while specialized media is often used within a change agency system, such as from leaders to supporters. Personal influence channels are predicated on a face-to-face basis, ranging from mass meetings (e.g., rallies, demonstrations, conferences), to small groups (e.g., negotiation teams, committees), to individual visits or phone calls (e.g., lobbying). Overall, the higher the status and the more similar to the targeted individuals the change agents are, the more effective they will be. Response channels are the venues for obtaining feedback from the change target. Like the influence channels, response channels can be divided into media response channels and personal response channels, each used in a similar way to their influence channel counterparts. By increasing the number and accessibility of response channels, the likelihood of receiving a positive response is enhanced. (Kotler, 1973, pp. 182-184)

 

Types of Change Strategies

Because problematic situations are embedded in unique circumstances, and resources are often scarce, the way in which those resources are deployed is of utmost importance to the change agency if they are to be successful in their endeavours. Core plans for deploying resources to influence change targets are known as change strategies.

Kotler defined three types of strategies for change: power strategies, which are used to change the behaviours of the target by means of sanctions controlled by the change agent, such as authority, force or payment; persuasion strategies, by which the agent seeks to induce change in the target by strengthening the appropriate beliefs or values required; and re-educative strategies, which promote the internalization of new beliefs and values in the target. (Kotler, 1973, pp. 185-186)

Gerald Zaltman and Robert Duncan in Strategies for Planned Change (Zaltman & Duncan, 1977), further elaborated on Kotler's three types, and added a fourth one, facilitative, which is generally used in conjunction with, and in support of, the other three. They situated these strategic types along a continuum representing the degree of pressure exerted, with the minimum of pressure used in the educative strategy, and the maximum in the power.

 

Minimal External Pressure --------------------------------------------------- Maximal External Pressure

Educative -------------------------------------- Persuasive -------------------------------------- Power

------------------------------------------------ Facilitative ----------------------------------------------

Fig. 1 - Types of Strategies for Change
Source: Zaltman and Duncan, 1977, p. 60)

 

Facilitative

Facilitative strategies make change easier to implement and are used when the target group is in general agreement that a change is needed. Information dissemination and public relations are key ingredients, as is improving the availability of necessary resources. They are useful when the magnitude of change is great and time is not an important factor. It is also important that the target groups are aware of the assistance that is being provided. (Zaltman & Duncan, 1977, pp. 108-109)

 

Re-educative

Re-educative strategies are used to create an awareness of a problem, with solutions postulated by target groups. They are useful if immediate change is not required, if motivation or commitment is not low, and if the capacity for change is high. A program of re-education is necessary when new skills or knowledge associated with the change is required. The higher the level of resistance is expected, the further in advance a re-educative strategy should be instituted. (Zaltman & Duncan, 1977, p. 132)

 

Persuasive

Persuasive strategies attempt to create change by reasoning, urging and inducement. They embody a very biased and usually low-key, non-explicit approach. These strategies are used when a problem isnít recognized or considered important, or to convince the target group that one particular solution is best. They are most useful when the magnitude of change is great, when change is controversial or risky, when commitment is low, or when time constraints exist. (Zaltman & Duncan, 1977, p. 151)

 

Power

Power strategies involve the use of coercion to obtain the targetís compliance. The degree of coercive control exercised by the change agency is directly correlated with the degree of dependency of the target on it. This dependency come from the ability of the change agency to inhibit the satisfaction of the target's needs, such as reputation, income, freedom, and the like. Power strategies are useful when the change must be accomplished immediately, when the felt need of a change is very low, or when the reallocation of resources is resisted. Such a strategy usually decreases commitment, and maintenance of the change requires further coercive measures. (Zaltman & Duncan, 1977, p. 165)

These four types of change strategies are not mutually exclusive. In reality, though one may prove dominant, strategies employed by change agents frequently exhibit characteristics of all of them. According to Zaltman and Duncan,

"... a change agent is likely to employ multiple change strategies to accomplish the desired change. The change agent may segment the change target into homogenous subgroups on the basis of a number of factors such as stage in the decision-making process, degree of commitment desired, anticipated level of resistance, etc., and use different strategies with each segment. ...the change agent may employ a sequence of strategies over time. For example, an educative strategy might be used to create awareness, followed by persuasion to achieve adoption of a particular solution. A persuasive strategy might be first tried to achieve change; however, if this strategy fails, a power strategy might be used." (Zaltman & Duncan, 1977, p. 60)

Having discussed the four basic strategies for change, we are in a position to use them as a means of evaluating and categorizing the many ways that the Internet is being used strategically by change activists. First though, it will help to note the growth of Internet connectivity among nonprofit civil society organizations, and review the social commentary on this phenomenon.

 

Strategic Uses of the Net

New technologies, especially the new multi-media technologies associated with the Internet, have proven attractive to many people. In recent years, a barrage of media attention and commercial advertisements has helped turn this attraction into a veritable stampede to "get online". Civil society organizations have not been immune to the siren call and have been increasingly linking themselves up to the Internet. As the following table shows, the number of non-profit organizations, which have exclusive use of the '.org' domain name ending, has been steadily growing over the past four years.

Domain name

January 1995

January 1997

January 1999

.org

185,493

400,901

844,410

.com

1,685,716

5,194,696

15,479,017

.edu

1,190,177

2,946,083

5,228,251

.net

177,352

2,152,519

9,383,201

.gov

232,372

472,481

749,278

Table 1 - Growth of the 5 original Internet domains 1995-1999

Source: based on data from the Internet Software Consortium (http://www.isc.org/)

If the trend continues, there will soon be over one million such groups on-line (and this does not include the many civil society organizations who may be using the alternative '.net' domain). Clearly, the time is ripe for getting a better understanding of how the Internet is being used in a strategic manner by social change activists.

 

Internet Activism

Although the proliferation of the Internet in mainstream society only happened after the introduction of the World Wide Web in 1994, there have been several commentators, researchers and activists who had discussed electronic communications as a means of enhancing public action on political and social issues prior to that time. Murray Turoff and Starr Roxanne Hiltz, in 1978, first sparked people's imaginations with their visionary scenarios of the social uses of computer messaging systems in the seminal book The Network Nation (which won the 1978 award of the Association of American Publishers as the outstanding technical publication of the year). (Hiltz & Turoff, 1978)

Social theorists such as Alvin Toffler (Toffler, 1980), Yoneji Masuda (Masuda, 1981), and Ithiel de Sola Pool (Pool, 1983) wrote of the benefits that computer communications would bring to society. Later, Nicholas Negroponte, head of the Media Lab at MIT, continued this techno-optimism in Being Digital (Negroponte, 1995), a re-compilation of his columns in Wired Magazine, one of the more widely-read journals of the new communications media.

The concept of the information society has not been without its detractors as well. Theodore Roszak (Roszak, 1986) spoke of the "cult of information", and Clifford Stoll (Stoll, 1995) considered it more hyperbole than substance, likening its proponents to sellers of "snake oil". Herbert Schiller (Schiller, 1996), in analyzing the corporate control over the deployment of the technology, disparaged the growing social inequalities arising from differential access to, and control of, information resources.

Closer to the reality of how networks were being used to foster grassroots movements, Howard Reingold wrote The Virtual Community (Reingold, 1993), in which he devoted a chapter to describing the early activities of early online activists involved in community development, civil rights and the environmental and peace movements. Rory O'Brien (O'Brien, 1992) and Howard Frederick (Frederick, 1993) were more explicit in their explanations of the workings of the Association for Progressive Communications, the world's largest umbrella organization of computer networks for social change activists.

As the popularity of the Internet increased, the genre of writing moved from the theoretical to the descriptive to the practical. Mark S. Bonchek (Bonchek, 1995) studied how the Internet changes the way people participate in political affairs. In NetActivism (Schwartz, 1996), Ed Schwartz showed his readers how to use the functionalities of online networks to revitalize communities and engage in political activism. Maureen James and Liz Rykert (James & Rykert, 1997) wrote Working Together Online, a 'how-to' book on facilitating nonprofit groups seeking to collaborate on projects. That same year, "An Activists' Strategy for Using Email and the World Wide Web", was published online by the One Northwest (One Northwest, 1997) organization. This was followed in 1998 by another online document, "The Virtual Activist", in which the authors stated their beliefs in the effectiveness of the Internet for enhancing change efforts:

"So you want to be a Virtual Activist!

The Internet makes it possible for activists to expand our networks by identifying and contacting activists in other communities who have similar interests and concerns. If you're a grassroots activist, chances are you already know the people in your own community who share your concerns. By joining the appropriate discussion lists and news groups, you can identify and communicate with activists in other communities who are working on similar issues. By sharing information, strategies, and/or advice, you may be able to enhance the effectiveness of your efforts. Even activists who have the resources to broaden their networks by attending conferences and meetings outside our own community will benefit from the additional networking opportunities provided by the Internet. " (Krause, Stein & Clark, 1998)

More and more, facilitators of network activism are themselves using the net as a way of guiding the organizations they serve. Websites and e-mail lists are increasingly preferred over the book or the journal article, as is evidenced by several such initiatives. Audrey Krause, one of the writers of "The Virtual Activist", operates a virtual organization called NetAction, whose website [http://www.netaction.org/] is a popular one for those who wish to keep abreast of the latest cyber-policy issues. Besides a listing of related online resources, the site offers a distance education training course in Net activism, and visitors can sign up to an e-mail list to receive periodic articles and notices of events.

Another organization that is dedicated to promoting the use of the net by grassroots organizers is the Benton Foundation. A important part of their website is Benton's Best Practices Toolkit [http://www.benton.org/Practice/Toolkit/], which is frequently updated to provide the best examples of effective uses of the new media. The Toolkit contains hyperlinks to advice and examples categorized into the following headings:

These last two examples are just some of the many instances of activist groups making good use of the Internet to keep people informed as well as help them get organized. As techniques are developed that prove useful, they are quickly copied and modified to suit particular constituencies. The last decade has seen a profusion of new ways of using the Internet to improve the operations of social change activists. Such innovations have been commensurate with the communal modus operandi of most advocacy groups, which itself is uniquely designed to achieve the goal of fostering changes to the social status quo.

The Internet, being an unprecedented and still experimental communications medium, is being used in a myriad of novel ways by change agencies. It can act as a single channel of communication with change targets that assumes the functions of Kotler's influence and response channels, or as a mass medium, with a single online event or document attracting large numbers of the participating public. It can also behave as a specialized medium, with the capability for many-to-many interaction, useful for sharing information among a geographically and temporally dispersed group.

The Internet is becoming the common platform for digital communications, with the Web browser the common user interface. These platforms support many different types of software tools for information manipulation, such as hypertext links on web pages, online databases, e-mail, sound and video clips, chat rooms, and virtual reality modeling. Many of these tools are in common use by change activists, eager to get their message out to the public, engage people in their cause, and improve their organizational communications. In the following sections, we will explore a general typology of online techniques and activities currently used by social change agents based on the facilitative, persuasive, re-educative, and power types of change strategies, and link them with some examples of their application within the online environment.

 

Facilitative Activities

Organizational Maintenance

Facilitative strategies are used mainly to support other types of strategies, but there is one type of facilitation that is paramount to the change agency - the facilitating of organizational maintenance, without which there would be no organized strategy. Maintenance activities include fundraising, personnel development, project management, and intra-organizational communication.

Fundraising is being increasingly conducted online, with searchable databases of foundations now available, linked to their websites for downloadable application forms. Donations are not only solicited, but are being processed electronically. E-commerce is also enhancing online fundraising, allowing sales of information products and organizational memberships. Intranets are becoming popular, helping personnel be better organized with the help of online directories, group forums for project management, and sign-up forms for volunteer recruitment. For larger groups, with offices in several locales, the intranet has become the online office filing cabinet, making important organizational documents such as policies, reports, schedules, announcements available on an insider-only website, and even serving as an informal 'water cooler' via private computer conferences.

Information Sharing

The real power of the Internet lies in its ability to allow information to be shared by anyone online, almost anywhere, relatively quickly and inexpensively, A website, even if it is just an 'on-line brochure' is becoming de rigeur for non-profit organizations. Many go beyond just posting public information about their operations, and enhance their sites with newsletters, events calendars, and job postings. Information is now fairly easy to put online, making it relatively simple for even the poorest of grassroots organizations to keep the world informed about their issues. Compilations of related sites help some groups find others that share their problems, leading to closer collaborations. Some organizers provide daily summaries of presentations and workshops held at conferences, permitting non-attendees to keep abreast of things. In some cases, video streaming technologies allow the viewing of the actual presentations made. Reference materials are no longer relegated to brick-and-mortar libraries - researchers now search online repositories of documents, and the contents of websites, quite easily, with the problem of overload being handled by specialized non-profit online services that filter and aggregate specific information content.

Coordination

The coordination of action between and among several change groups is greatly assisted by the Internet. Rallies, demonstrations, and other forms of public protest are increasingly conceived, planned, implemented and evaluated with the help of the Internet. Computer conferences and mail lists are good ways for activists to suggest ideas, decide upon particular actions, publicize the activity, and engage a wider public in an on-line discussion of the issues. In Toronto, for example, Citizens for Local Democracy made extensive use of online communications to coordinate a number of demonstrations against the policies of the provincial government, as well as facilitating the organizing of citizen workshops on issues of local governance. (Citizens for Local Democracy, 1998) Internationally, the Council of Canadians used the Internet to publicize the dangers of the proposed Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI), and coordinate a world-wide campaign of hundreds of groups opposed to it. (Council of Canadians, 1999)

In addition to coordination of actions, the Internet has proven useful for the joint development of policy. The major international policy summits of the United Nations since 1992 have included representation from non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The unprecedented involvement and participation by the thousands of NGOs and other stakeholders has been made possible only with the use of the new communications tools. The tracking via Internet of the series of regional and global meetings leading up to the development of the Kyoto Protocol to establish binding national targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, is a good example of a greater participation in joint public-policy making by civil society organizations. (IISD, 1997)

 

Re-educative Activities

The purpose of re-educative strategies is to create an awareness of a problem, and to teach people skills and knowledge required in order to create the needed changes. The Internet is now a preferred venue of alternative news sources, many of which act as a balance to the offerings of the mainstream media. In certain instances, mail lists and computer conferences maintained by change agencies provide a wealth of information about particular issues and problematic situations. Websites are occasionally enhanced with geographic information systems (GIS) that help people get information about their local environment, such as the location of nearby toxic waste dumps. Social issues are also being addressed online in a more formal distance-education mode, in which educators link students with online resources, or help them share local data with classes in other countries. Online research, often conducted by means of searches through scientific databases, promotes learning about solutions to problems as well. Finally, in order to use the technology, it helps to be taught by those who know. There are many non-profit organizations teaching others how to make the best use of the Internet, through hands-on training, or by providing advice via online documents.

 

Persuasive Activities

Much social change advocacy follows a persuasive strategy, and this is mirrored in the online world. A good many of the non-profit organizations with websites seek to promote their cause by means of web pages designed to be persuasive. Often, single issue websites will contain hundreds of supportive articles and reports that argue their position on the matter at hand. Pictures, or video clips, are frequently chosen for online presentation on the basis of their emotional appeal. Most of these kinds of websites do not allow for public interaction, eliminating any immediate potential for the audience to publicly respond to the host's assertions.

One interesting case of online persuasion is akin to an educative function, though its bias toward the negative precludes it being classified as a balanced educational activity. This is the case of the 'watchdog' organizations. Though they existed prior to the Internet, the new digital capabilities have allowed them to proliferate. Anyone interested in knowing about any harmful, unethical, or wasteful activities of companies or governments can now locate websites that contain a constantly updated historical record of transgressions against the public interest.

 

Power activities

Power strategies are coercive, with the aim of making the target respond positively or else risk jeopardizing the satisfaction of its needs. The use of the Internet has helped make activities derived from a power strategy more efficient. Economic pressure on corporations, for example, is heightened by the easy availability of information on boycott issues via websites maintained by consumer advocates. The social investment movement has also begun to use the net to amass and disseminate data on corporate social responsibility, to dissuade potential shareholders from investing in companies that offend the public interest. Political pressure is brought to bear in an online environment through such things as action alerts on breaking issues, online petitions, and mobilizing supporters to participate in electronic mail or fax campaigns targeting politicians. Though such use has followed from the more traditional forms of non-electronic advocacy, the ease and speed of the Internet has encouraged more public involvement in political action.

There is one area, however, in which power strategies are used online in a highly disruptive, often illegal manner. This area involves making communication venues unavailable, or destroying computerized data. Often referred to as electronic civil disobedience or 'cyberwar', the techniques used include, for example: 'mailbombs', the automated sending of e-mail messages to a mail server until it overloads and crashes it; 'denial of service' attacks, in which automated requests for a web page are sent to a server until it overloads the bandwidth capacity and makes the site virtually unavailable; and 'cracking', obtaining surreptitious remote entry to a computer on the net to manipulate or destroy data. In general, civil society organizations decry the use of strategies such as these (Afonso, 1997).

 

Tables 1 and 2 provide online examples of the above-mentioned organizational uses of the net within the social change sector, categorized by the types of activities associated with each change strategy. Readers are invited to use the associated URLs to visit the respective websites and see for themselves how the Internet tools and techniques are being used.

 

Table 2 - Online activities related to Facilitative Change Strategies

 

Table 3 - Online activities related to Re-educative,

Persuasive, and Power Change Strategies

 

 

Conclusion

Civil society organizations, and social change groups in particular, choose activities strategically in order to accomplish their aims. Since these activities often involve different forms of communication, whether it be with their colleagues, supporters, the public, or the change targets themselves, the new communications technology of the Internet has had a major impact on the operations of non-profits. Many such groups have adopted a variety of Internet-based tools and techniques for enhancing their effectiveness. Because the number of non-profits using the Internet is increasingly rapidly and there has been very little written regarding the strategic implications of Internet use by social change organizations, it is an opportune time to look further into the subject of strategic uses of the net.

The social change processes as outlined by Kotler in 1973, and the Zaltman and Duncan's 1977 breakdown of actions into facilitative, persuasive, re-educative, and power strategies provide a useful framework for categorizing the emerging methods employed by change activists. Though mainly an exploratory overview rather than an exhaustive analysis, this paper indicates a relative preponderance of facilitative types of online communication, especially those used for organizational maintenance and promotion. Most of the information put out on websites is of a passive nature, with interactivity primarily relegated to e-mail, or online forums internal to the group and its allies. While websites may be passive, the information they contain often attempts to persuade the audience to adopt specific views or actions, or to re-educate and inform them about specific problems. In certain circumstances, groups may use a power strategy to bring about change through online imposition of political and economical pressures, with a minority of more radical activists resorting to online attacks on the data or communication venues themselves.

In general, it appears that the Internet's capabilities have been harnessed as adjuncts to long-standing activities routinely engaged in by most change agencies. Old-fashioned paper-based petitions, for example, are now often conducted online, with little change in format; filing cabinets are giving way to electronic filing systems; and the information formerly disseminated via a brochure has been made vastly more accessible by putting it on a website. But if there has been little creativity shown in moving routine functions into cyberspace, the new techniques of online group collaboration have shown themselves to be very effective in mobilizing and coordinating the disparate elements in a campaign for change. This is possibly the result of the focused facilitation of Internet-savvy campaign leaders, and an energizing immediate feedback system for reporting ideas and actions of fellow campaign supporters, whether they be across town or across the planet.

Whatever the nature of the issue or problem, effort and resources may be saved if organizations were to strategically review their use of the Internet. Though there are many factors to consider in developing a cyber-strategy, the typology presented in this paper may be helpful in pointing out the range of online tools and techniques available to organizations working for social change.

 

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IISD. "THE THIRD CONFERENCE OF THE PARTIES (COP-3)." December 1997. http://www.iisd.ca/linkages/climate/kyoto/ (9/9/1999).

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Kotler, Philip. "The Elements of Social Action." Processes and Phenomena of Social Change. Ed. Gerald Zaltman. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1973. 169-89.

Krause, Audrey, Michael Stein, and Judi Clark. "The Virtual Activist." 1998. http://www.netaction.org/training/v-training.html (01/04/1998).

Masuda, Yoneji. The Information Society as Post-Industrial Society. Washington, D.C: World Future Society, 1981.

Negroponte, Nicholas. Being Digital. New York: Knopf, 1995.

O'Brien, Rory. "The APC Computer Networks: Global Networking for Change." Canadian Journal of Information Science 17.2: 16-24.

One Northwest. "An Activists' Strategy for Using Email and the World Wide Web." 1997. http://www.onenw.org/toolkit/modestproposal.html (22/4/1998).

Pool, Ithiel de Sola. Technologies of Freedom. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1983.

Reingold, Howard. "The Virtual Community: Homesteading at the Electronic Frontier." 1993. http://www.rheingold.com/vc/book/ (8/4/1999).

Roszak, Theodore. The Cult of Information: A Neo-Luddite Treatise on High-Tech, Artificial Intelligence, and the True Art of Thinking. Berkeley, CA: Univ. of California Press, 1986.

Schiller, Herbert I. Information Inequality: The Deepening Social Crisis in America. New York: Routledge, 1996.

Schwartz, Ed. NetActivism: How Citizens Use the Internet. Sebastopol, CA: O'Reilly, 1996.

Stoll, Clifford. Silicon Snake Oil: Second Thoughts on the Information Highway. New York: Doubleday, 1995.

Toffler, Alvin. The Third Wave. New York: Bantam Books, 1980.

Zaltman, Gerald, and Robert Duncan. Strategies for Planned Change. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1977.

 

 

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