Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Social Networks Becoming an Important Method of Online Protest

The importance of social networking in online protest is becoming more apparent during the Israeli Palestinian conflict in Gaza. The use of various networks such as YouTube and Flickr allow both side to show and tell their story but it appears that Facebook is where the action is.

These social networks are used by individuals, groups and governments to convey their messages, rally support, solicit donations and organize physical protests.

"On Dec. 30, the Israeli consulate in New York conducted a news conference on the war entirely on Twitter, the social messaging site where users communicate in short, rapid-fire notes, or "tweets."

"As a chance to field questions from a world audience, the experiment succeeded, but with questions and answers limited by Twitter to 140 characters, it didn't exactly make for nuanced discussion, even when consulate staffers rewrote the abbreviations." - McClatchy

"The IDF itself has also begun an Internet effort, making use of YouTube and a blog to post official army videos and information about the situation in Gaza. ...its videos had been viewed over 750,000 times. " - The Jerusalem Post
There are even meta-protest sites that allow visitors to vote or pick which side they want to support:
"It doesn't get any simpler than, where visitors can just pick sides. With nearly 500,000 votes cast, the race is a virtual tie, while the Web site's server is overloaded." - McClatchy
This isn't limited to the current Israel-Gaza conflict. allows people to voice their opinion on the gas standoff with the EU.

Online and traditional media are increasingly reporting not just the use of social networking but their effectiveness:
"More than 1,000 students and ethnic minorities swarmed the streets of Hong Kong Sunday responding to a Facebook call to march against Israel’s deadliest assault yet on impoverished Gaza." - Saudi Gazette
Traditional social networks are not the only places online protest is showing up. Virtual worlds such as Second Life are developing protest movements as well:
"Virtual worlds have been left mostly to their own devices and the picture is somewhat different with no overt ‘official’ presence from the Israeli government or Hamas. Both sides of the conflict are therefore, represented in Second Life by, Second Life Israel and the Palestinian Holocaust Memorial Museum (slurl) hosted by the IslamOnline site. Second Life Israel (slurl) has been the focus of some limited protest within Second Life, while the Palestinian Holocaust Memorial Museum is much more of an information hub." - MetaSecurity
In fact, the issue of security and protest in virtual worlds now has its own blog, which states its purpose as:

"... a blog that seeks to explore ideas relating to the security implications of virtual communities. The blog will post articles and commentary relating to security events in this rapidly growing sector. Specific topics include:

  • Fraud
  • Money Laundering
  • Inworld criminal activity
  • Legal responses
  • Inworld extremist acvivity
  • Software Security"
The introduction of social networks and virtual worlds has increased the relevance of online protest but the importance of the media in furthering online political causes is not new and was seen in the 1980s and 1990s:
"Politically motivated computer crime differs from traditional “hacking” in that the target is chosen - and the attack is designed - to effect a change in the behavior or activity of the victim. Therefore, a cyber attack, in isolation, most likely will not accomplish the goal of the attacker. It is for this reason that politically motivated cyber attacks are often combined with extensive public relation campaigns." - Politically Motivated Computer Crime and Hacktivism
It is obvious that this activity will evolve quickly. As the effectiveness of these types of protests increase, I'm sure we will see an increase in attempts to censor or block them. We're not in Kansas anymore...

Some other media quotes related to social network protest movements:

"As soon as Operation Cast Lead began to take shape just over a week ago, Dan Peguine started the program QassamCount, a system that updates users' statuses on Facebook with the number of Kassams that hit Israel.

"Within the first three days, 10,000 people had donated their statuses to the cause.

"Peguine first started a program counting Kassams about a week before the operation in Gaza began. He used Twitter, which sends users' statuses to all their "followers," to help people understand how often rockets hit the South" - The Jerusalem Post

"An enormous number of people around the world are using blogs, YouTube and social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter to register their support or opposition to the war. Thousands of images — from Palestinians under siege in Gaza to Israeli neighborhoods that have been hit by Hamas rocket attacks — have filled photo-sharing sites such as Flickr and Picasa."

"So how are young people protesting the conflict in Gaza through Facebook? Well, in many, and often time creative ways, such as through status messages, notes, and most significantly through the formation of groups. Some of the groups that have been created in response to the airstrikes include, “Stop Israeli attacks on Gaza,” “Gaza is bleeding,” “Prayers for Gaza People,” and “Let’s collect 50,000 signatures to support the Palestinians in Gaza.” - The Examiner

Gaza War's New Front: Facebook (Wired Magazine)
Social networking boost for Gazans (Saudi Gazette)
Gaza war also being waged in cyberspace (McClathy)
Twitter, Facebook users show solidarity with QassamCount (The Jerusalem Post)
Gaza, Information War and Second Life (MetaSecurity)
Increased Use of Social Networks in Protests (PoliticalHacking)
Politically Motivated Computer Crime and Hacktivism


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