Cyberenvironmental Activism: A digital revolution.
In his research blog, Gregory Donovan constructs a definition of his neologism “cyberenvironmentalism.” Donovan writes that “cyberenvironmentalism aims to develop ecologically informed environmental practice for the information age through interdisciplinary examination of cyborg ecology.” He further defines his new field as follows: “Pragmatic in its approach, constructive forms of relationship between cyborg and cyberenvironment are negotiated and re-negotiated through sustained scientific research.”
I propose that the current threats to human rights and social justice in cyberspace warrant not only a “pragmatic approach…negotiated and re-negotiated through sustained scientific research” as Donovan proposes but also a revolutionary theory as David Harvey demands, one “validated through revolutionary practice.”
This revolutionary practice is cyberenvironmental activism. Cyberenvironmental activism is the pursuit of social justice within cyberspaces using not only the tools of theory but also drawing on the rich history of radical actions outside of cyberenvironments (by groups such as the SDS, the Weathermen, FARC, The Black Panther Party, etc.) Online protesting brings to mind mobilization through list-serves and email or web sites such as Meetup or MoveOn, but these are usually just a method of communicating about a solidspace action to prepare for the ‘real’ protest, when the people assemble in a physical space together. But there is an arsenal of tools available to the online online-radical to engage the cyberenvironment.
Just as is true with the solidspace equivalents, many of the methods used in this sort of ‘virtual protesting’ are considered acts of terrorism or crime by authoritarian structures. (It is worth noting that most web sites and cyberspaces have ‘free speech zones’ where expression of certain kinds is allowed, the actions described here deny the restriction of those spaces and reclaim the cyberspace as a public forum.) The tools of cyberenvironmental activism include:
Civil Disobedience: refusal to participate in online activities, refusal to follow unjust rules online.
Sit-ins, aka “denial-of-service-attack”: visiting and refreshing a site en mass to the point of crashing it or preventing other visitors from accessing the site.
Graffiti: hacking sites and posting political messages.
Boycott, aka the “auction attack”: negative rating attacks on cybermarketplace sellers to prevent commerce.
Letter Writing: Email flooding, sending more email than the recipients inbox can handle.
What distinguishes cyberenvironmental activism from cyberenvironmentalism? Cyber-Activism does not rely on scientific research or a pragmatic approach, but rather on that aspect of the human spirit that demands immediate action when we witness injustice. Cyberenvironmentalism might serve to “agitate, educate and organize,” while Cyber-Activism takes direct ‘violent’ or ‘non-violent’ action against the barriers to social justice in cyberspace.
Why does the human spirit demand we engage in cyberenvironmental activism? Religion. Socialist theologian Paul Tillich defines Religion as that which is ultimate, infinite and unconditional in our spiritual life; ultimate concern. Tillich proposes this ultimate concern manifests as the unconditional seriousness of the moral demand. Activism is a religious practice, we engage in activism because we MUST. The “schizophrenic split” between theologians and scientists that Tillich examines can be a source of creative potential – within that chaotic area exists an opportunity for revolution.