Click Here To Protest

By Team Digit Published Date
01 - May - 2005
| Last Updated
01 - May - 2005
Click Here To Protest
How many times have you taken to the streets to protest a cause? Never? You also probably don't cringe every time you hear about the plight of the Bengal tiger, or when yet another rain forest in South America falls to the axe of the lumber mafia there.

Despite the lack of popularity of armchair activists, many of us would be more than glad to register our protests from the comfort of our homes or offices. And you can. For all those wannabe armchair activists out these-all those of you who care, yet cannot or will not take part in a morcha-the Internet comes as a medium to air your views, and sometimes, even take action.

Why Online?
Online, or cyber-activism, comes across as 'the easy way out'. But for those who cannot spare time specially for making their point, it does present the option of lessening the guilt! A few clicks of the mouse and you've done your bit, for the month at least. Doesn't sound much like activism... that's exactly why it works.

The easy and quick nature of this type of protest ensures that a large number of people move a cause. In most cases, online petitions are signed by almost twice the number of people who could be in direct contact with the issue.

Cyber-activism transcends geographical limitations and ensures the issue is kept alive 24/7.

To illustrate this point, an online petition to push for a permanent seat for India in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), put up on, a networking hub for Indians from around the world, garnered more than 55,000 signatures from across 120 countries. What's more interesting is that many of these signatories were willing to take time out and volunteer for the cause.

Many hardline activists, though, are not sold to the idea of the strategic effect of an online petition. What is increasingly being realised, though, is that the Internet could not only play a significant role in tackling these pressing problems, but also has the potential of letting the oppressed speak out and be heard.

Petitions, Causes, Blogs
The Internet helps activists save costs in collecting and distributing information, finding like-minded people to support a cause and training them, and raising funds for the purpose. People in remote areas can participate just as effectively in e-mail discussions, like those in larger cities. Increasingly, as the medium itself becomes cheaper to access and more multimedia-like in nature, it opens up to a larger segments of society. Those affected might finally have a way to tell the world of their plight, without needing intermediaries.

Activism on the Net can be broadly classified into two categories. One involves signing a pre-drafted petition, many of which are put up on sites such as,,, and

These sites have petitions indexed by topic and area. Registering a petition is really simple; however,,     for example,  does not have a moderator to sift through the non-serious petitions. This results in a large number of inane petitions like "Get my girlfriend back!" by Douglas Cornell of 'Doug loves Shannon Inc.'.

In the other type, one uses a blog or Web site dedicated to a single cause. Examples are,, and, which have people registered with them as cyber-activists.

A different kind of example is networking sites such as, which functions as a gateway to as many as 170 leading environment, health and population advocacy organisations. These cyber-activists are kept updated about various protests and activities through a regular newsletter. Activists can also download action kits, send Flash-animated postcards to friends, and play informative games.

The Scene In India
Cyber-activism has been around in India ever since the Education and Research Network-the ERNET-set up by the Government of India and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), gained some popularity.

The first known case of a movement on the Net was back in 1995, at a time when BBSes (Bulletin Board Services) comprised much of ERNET. Enthusiasts ran the BBSes in their spare time, using their own funds. The government suddenly deemed these as profit-making corporations fit for taxation. And the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) decided that Rs 15 lakh annually from each BBS operator as a 'license fee' was appropriate.

Obviously, no operator could afford this. There was an uproar, and a group called FREE was formed. They fought the case and by active lobbying, won. The license fee was withdrawn. This was India's first brush with online activism.

The scenario today is very different, with an unregulated Internet, and a large connected population aware of the issues plaguing it. The popularity of the Internet as a medium for communication has altered the demographic break up of today's cyber-activists. "College students form the majority of cyber-activists today, but there are also housewives and teachers with access to computers at home who participate in our cyber-actions," says Shailendra Yashwant, campaign director, Greenpeace India.

India has the largest number-and the widest range-of NGOs and it is therefore natural for cyber-activism to be active here.

One of the longest sustained campaigns has been the one against genetically modified (or GM) foodgrains and crops. Many environmental groups including Greenpeace claim India is being converted into a dumping ground or testing area by major multinationals.

More Than The Birds And The Bees
Environmentalists have been at the forefront of using the Internet as a formidable tool of protest. Almost all major groups working towards the protection of the environment have a strong presence in cyberspace.

The Worldwide Fund for Nature (, too, has a cyber-activism cell, akin to the one run by Greenpeace. However, its activities are not as aggressive.  Other organisations such as PETA (People for Ethical Treatment of Animals) India do not have a specific online activism cell, but do have downloadable literature. Additionally, they allow downloads of their ads for use on your Web site.

So is online activism is restricted to social or environmental issues? Thanks to the media, no.

One of the strongest movements witnessed recently on the Net was against the forced closure of the blog 'Mediaah!' The blog, run by a journalist, carried daily updates about Indian media houses. Written in a chatty, gossipy style, it gave out bits of 'insider' news on the activities of various big media houses. Its activities, though, were cut short since some of those mentioned on the site did not seem to agreee with the views expressed.

According the Indian IT Act, the respondent to the notice should have been the service provider-in this case, Google-and not the author. But, rather than challenge the notice, he decided to shut shop.

"This is a classic case of a large media house throttling our fundamental right of free speech," says Rohit Gupta, a journalist and a prolific blogger. Gupta and fellow bloggers from around the world are campaigning against blogs being attacked by entities with vested interests. "It's time these people realised that just because they have the muscle power they cannot trample upon our rights," says Gupta.

Thanks to the unregulated nature of the Internet, an anonymous blogger can potentially set up a blog called with all the allegedly offensive articles, and also scanned copies of the legal notice served to Mediaah!

Not Just Petitions And Protests
So is it just about signing petitions and posting protests, or is there something concrete about the process? There definitely is a move beyond your desktop.

This is best illustrated by the amount of relief that flowed in during the tsunami of some months ago. Several blogs and Web sites were set up to coordinate relief work and dispense accurate information.

There is, however, only this much that any petition can do-whether posted online of distributed among people. To mobilise people, one needs to move from just spreading the word and gathering information.
All the relief work during the tsunami was possible because there were people on the ground who knew how to handle the situation. The Internet just acted as a facilitator; a one-point control centre. Can an issue be tackled only by protests lodged on the Net? "It depends entirely on the issue at hand," says Yashwant. 

A customer-savvy corporation will pay attention to what its customers are saying. Companies like Microsoft have a cell to address consumer complaints and tackle issues that are posted on the Net. Likewise, e-friendly states with a high level of e-governance could look at incoming mails and stop an ill-advised project.

Morphed forms of activism on the Net are also gaining ground. One of the more popular ones is 'hacktivism'. This new phenomenon of protest in the cyber-world is a synthesis of social activism and hacking.

'Hacktivists' are a bunch of people who want to transport the movement of civil disobedience onto the Internet. In December 1999, a group called the Electrohippies organised a "WTO virtual sit-in" that overloaded the machines hosting the World Trade Organisation's Web pages. Estimates say over 450,000 people swamped the site.

This disrupted traffic to the site for close to five hours daily. Some question whether it's an acceptable form of protest, but hacktivists hope to defuse criticism by popularising not just their tools, but also their code of ethics-by publicising their intentions before any attack or action.

It's All A Number Game
Over the last couple of years, online protests have garnered support from around the world. when the movements gained public acceptance.

In Bhopal, for example, on August 15, 1999, Greenpeace India launched its first cyber-protest. A cyber-café was set up in the middle of J P Nagar, literally in the shadow of the Union Carbide factory. Thousands of residents sent out e-mails from this facility.

After nearly 3,000 mails, Union Carbide was forced to shut down its corporate mail centre to screen out e-mails arriving from Bhopal. The case recently got a boost when, after a sustained e-mail campaign, the Government of India gave the US courts a green signal to accept cases filed by Indians against Union Carbide.

With advancements in technology, it is only natural that each of man's ways of expressing and emphasising his individuality will adapt with time. Protests are a way of pushing for and stressing one's rights. There has been a fundamental shift in the way protests are carried out.
But with effectiveness failing to back up the numbers, purists are still wont to describe online activism as all bark and no 'byte'.

Team DigitTeam Digit

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