Stick It to the Man: How the Web Spurs Political Change

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Redwood Tree Sitting: 2002-2003

Jeny Card
Jeny Card sitting in "Jerry."
Activist Jeny Card, going by the online name Remedy, spent 361 days starting in early 2002 atop a 130-foot ancient Redwood dubbed "Jerry" in Freshwater, California, to protest clear-cutting of old-growth forests. During parts of her nearly 12-month protest, Card used a laptop running Debian Linux and a wireless broadband card to blog about the experience, relying on supporters to recharge the device. During the tree sit, Card reported in her blog that she witnessed corporate disregard for court orders, saw police mistreatment of nonviolent protesters, and experienced the perils of riding out a storm in the crown of a giant tree. Card was forcibly removed from "Jerry" in March 2003.

Activism: Somewhat effective

Iran: 2000

Twitter was originally deemed a key tool in organizing and broadcasting events from Iran's 2009 postelection street protests. The effect of social media on Iranian protests appeared to be so profound that outside observers dubbed the movement the "Twitter Revolution."

At one point, the U.S. government asked Twitter to reschedule its maintenance downtime to allow Iranians to continue using the microblogging service during daytime hours in the Middle East. YouTube played a significant role of its own in Iran, most notably as a viewing portal for a video of the shooting death of a protester named Neda Agha-Soltan. In the end, the Ahmadinejad regime quelled the protests, and Twitter's importance in the Iranian protests continues to be debated.

Activism: Somewhat effective

Online Poker Lobby: 2006-Present

Lovers of games such as Texas Hold 'Em, Seven Card Stud, and Five Card Draw have been active in recent years trying to ensure that Congress doesn't outlaw online versions of poker in the United States. At the forefront of the movement is the Poker Players Alliance, an online poker advocacy organization claiming more than 1 million members. Since at least 2006, when President George Bush signed a law banning online wagering, the PPA has encouraged American poker players to fight for their right to use the Web to bluff their way to a $5 pot.

The efforts of the PPA and other pro-poker advocates appear to be paying off. Recently, the Department of Justice said that online poker does not violate the Federal Wire Act, which prohibits interstate and foreign betting on sporting events and contests.

Activism: Effective

Facebook Users: 2009

The world's largest social network turns into a hotbed for protest whenever Facebook decides to change aspects of its user interface. But the most successful Facebook-related protest, which occurred in February 2009, didn't involve UI design; instead it had to do with changes to Facebook's terms of service.

Critics asserted that Facebook's new terms laid claim to all user-generated content--a charge that the company denied. Under pressure from its members, Facebook eventually reverted to its old TOS until the company instituted a user-approved version in April 2009.

Activism: Somewhat effective

It Gets Better: 2010

Terry Miller, left, and Dan Savage of It Gets Better Project.
Terry Miller, left, and Dan Savage of It Gets Better Project.
In 2010, journalist and author Dan Savage and his partner Terry Miller created a YouTube video in response to several gay teen suicides, including Indiana youth Billy Lucas. In the video, the couple shared their negative experiences as gay youths, but also conveyed the message that life gets better after high school for young people who make the transition from fearful, persecuted, or closeted gay teenager to mature and openly gay adult. That action resulted in the It Gets Better Project.

Since Savage and Miller posted that initial recording, more than 30,000 "It gets better" videos have been recorded by gay and straight people, including such public figures as President Barack Obama, Adam Lambert, Stephen Colbert, and Neil Patrick Harris. The project in March 2011 released a book of essays, with all proceeds going to LGBT youth charities.

Activism: Effective

Next: Egypt, Russia, and Occupy

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