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22 Harv. Hum. Rts. J. 205 (2009)
Networked Activism

handle is hein.journals/hhrj22 and id is 209 raw text is: Networked Activism

Molly Beutz Land*
The same technologies that groups of ordinary citizens are using to write
operating systems and encyclopedias are fostering a quiet revolution in an-
other area-social activism. On websites such as Avaaz.org and Wikipedia,
citizens are forming groups to report on human rights violations and organ-
ize email writing campaigns, activities formerly the prerogative of profes-
sionals. Because the demands of human rights work often require
organizations to professionalize in order to be successful in their advocacy,
human rights provides an ideal case study for evaluating the effect of low-
ered barriers to online group formation on citizen participation in activism.
This article considers whether the participatory potential of technology can
be used to both broaden the mobilization of ordinary citizens in human
rights advocacy and provide opportunities for individuals to become more
deeply involved in the work.
Existing online advocacy efforts reveal a de facto inverse relationship be-
tween broad mobilization and deep participation. Large groups mobilize
many individuals, but each of those individuals has only a limited ability to
participate in decisions about the group's goals or methods. This inverse
relationship is principally a problem of size. As groups grow in size, they
may replicate the process of professionalization in order to avoid the
problems that would be associated with decentralized decision-making.
Thus, although we currently have the tools necessary for individuals to en-
gage in advocacy without the need for professional organizations, we are
still far from realizing an ideal of fully decentralized, user-generated
This article argues that a model of networked activism can help re-
solve the tension between mobilization and participation. The article first
provides an overview of human rights advocacy, describing both the ways in
which the work has, of necessity, become professionalized and the critiques
that have stemmed from these developments. The article then creates a
typology of online activism-sharing, aggregation, and collaborative pro-
duction-and evaluates the extent to which these activities achieve broad
* Associate Professor of Law, New York Law School. Special thanks to Susan Benesch, Elise Bod-
die, Elizabeth Chambliss, Tai-Heng Cheng, Bruce Elman, Diane Fahey, Doni Gewirtzman, James
Grimmelmann, David Johnson, Salil Mehra, Patrick Meier, Frank Munger, Beth Noveck, and Rebecca
Roiphe for invaluable feedback. Jason Buckweitz, Nicole Kennedy, and Shalizeh Sadig provided excel-
lent research assistance. The author grants permission for copies of this article to be made and distrib-
uted for educational purposes, provided that the copies are distributed at or below cost and the author
and publisher are clearly identified.

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