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HAL 2001: How to set up a successful cyberaction
by Peter de Ruiter
Saturday 11 August 11 AM Stage 3


This text is published at Cyberacties.nl, a (Dutch) site devoted to cyberactions, initiated by Peter de Ruiter, who can be reached by mail@peterderuiter.nl and + 31 70 3060013

 This contribution about cyberactions is highly structured. First I will discuss what cyberactions are, then who you can set up one, then when to do this and why. How do you do this successfully and where can you find resources to do so? At the end, I present some do's and don'ts and a bunch of quotes from a quick survey I did among organizations that use cyberactions. Then we can discuss.

A cyberaction is any kind of action that in taken on or via the internet to reach a political goal. Political here applies to society as a whole. Not only government. The essence of a cyberaction is that you want to organize people to support a goal. Whether your illegal neighbor is threatened to be thrown out his house and out of the country or climate change is on its way, you want to prevent this by giving people a place to express their opinion about this - in writing of just with their name and email address.

Much used ways to quantify support to a cyberaction are
- collecting names and email address of people who support the goal
- having people write certain authorities by email to express their concern
- having people publish their opinion directly or indirectly on the internet

Internet is the most democratic medium in existence. Virtually anybody can set up a cyberaction, not only Greenpeace or the World Wide Fund for Nature. There are almost no technical or financial barriers and it doesn't take a lot of time. The internet provides plenty of free, user friendly methods and resources. You don't agree with the way the local politicians handle the traffic in your neighborhood? Design a cyberaction in an hour and contact the people you always met in your elevator but you were afraid to talk to for help.

When and why
As a whole, I think the reason for setting up a cyberaction shouldn't be to individualistic. For instance, the action shouldn't concern only one person with a individual problem. In order to be credible and able to stimulate people to support, the action should have a broader goal, for instance attacking a political or corporate policy on a certain subject. Of course your illegal neighbor can be the example to illustrate the effect of this policy.

How and where
The how to set up a cyberaction and the where to find resources need the most attention. I'll give you a blue print of 'how to'. Let's say you don't agree with the fact that authorities want to kick your illegal neighbor out of his house and out of the country.

1) Contact a few neighbors and form a small committee.
2) Get the information straight from the illegal neighbor and from the authorities
3) Make a simple homepage (let's call it the action page) at one of the websites where you can do this for free and that contain a user friendly program to help you do this (like Tripod.com). Publish the information and say you oppose on humanitarian grounds, despite of what the law says.
4) Open a (free) email address where people mail a (perhaps pre-written) text to in order to show they support the action. This way you can a) collect names and email addresses of people and b) gather personal opinions of supporters concerning this issue you can publish on the action page. You can also open a free discussion forum where people can publish their opinions directly - and link to it.
5) Ask the members of the committee to invite people in the neighborhood they know to the action page. And ask these people to do the same.
6) Send out a press release to local websites and news media in the physical world.
7) Monitor the reactions, give feedback when needed, bundle them and offer them to the proper authorities.

From start to finish, the whole process could be done in one or two weeks. You'll be amazed what you can accomplish and the attention you will get, probably not only from local media.

Design an action page at Tripod.com or Geocities.com. Open an email address at Hotmail.com or look for a free pop mail address (in Holland 12move.nl runs quite smoothly). Start a discussion forum at Server.com. Here you can also start a free mailing list that people can subscribe to so you can easily inform them about developments and results.

8) Inform supporters about the results.

9) Be creative. Do not imitate other actions, but give yours an original swing.


Do's and don'ts

Phil Agre of UCLA gives a number of useful suggestions in order to set up a successful what he calls 'action alert for the internet'. Read it and don't get discouraged, because it's quite a lot.

Two don'ts are:
- Don't use spamming as a form of cyber action unless you want to bite the hands that should feed you. Don't let people mail an authority directly, but let them mail you and then offer all of the these mails to the authority in one package in an agreed format, digital of physical.

- Don't use a chain letter where you can write your name under as a form of cyberaction. They get messed up by forwarding and lost somewhere along the tracks. Last month a newspaper in the Netherlands published the experience of medical doctor B. Meyboom - de Jong with the chain letter concerning the Brazilian boy Brian. I guess you know his case: an internet provider should have donated 0,0001 cent for every email that would be forwarded in order to sponsor Brians heartsurgery.

Well, doctor Meyboom forwarded the email to a couple of friends. And the friends did the same. But one of these friends added to the forwarded email: for more information contact doctor Meyboom, and gave her telephone number. After a year and a half, she still gets called form people all over the planet. 'It comes in waves', she says. And them this Brian doesn't exist at all.


A special kind of cyber action is this:

21 October will be this year's Jam Echelon Day. A group called Cipherwar want to distort the international eavesdropping network that scans all our telephone conversations and emails. The network reacts if one of more 'trigger words' are found in communications like counterterrorism and information warfare. Than the information is monitored closely by agents. But what if everybody adds these trigger words in their emails? Then Echelon will have to employ the half of the planet in order to be able to check it all out. Find the trigger words at Cipherwar.com/echelon


Greenpeace and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) can be regarded as forerunners when it come to cyberactions. At WWF supporters can become a member of the Panda Passport. As a member, you are regularly invited to sign petitions of send email messages when nature is at stake anywhere in the world.

Greenpeace International has its Cyberactivist Community with 25.000 members worldwide and growing with 200 a day, says Ilja Jutte of Greenpeace Netherlands. To her, cyberactions work best when companies or policians worry about their image. Even limited pressure by way of a cyberaction can result in the right behavior towards the environment.

A special kind of cyberactions by Greenpeace are the webcams that show pollution to the whole world. 'Cyberactions though will never replace the rubber boats, but with every action in the physical world we nowadays think of how we can let the public participate via the net', says Ilja Jutte. A good spin off of the Cybercentre is that people meet there and fight environmental issues locally, even apart from Greenpeace.

Greenpeace about the importance of cyberactivism
Greenpeace Cybercentre

 Roland Ramakers of Amnesty International says the internet is becoming more and more important in fighting human right issues. For instance, members and other people are asked to email authorities in countries were political prisoners are mistreated. The several national organizations of Amnesty work independently, but they are moving toward an international approach of these actions. The SMS action which is now running is a success. In this action one can reply to an SMS message and this way protest against the mistreatment of prisoners. Amnesty has similar email actions.

 Friends of the Earth, a loose international federation of environmental organizations, is in Holland represented by Milieudefensie. Koen Vink of Milieudefensie says they are working on a cybercentre like Greenpeace. They hope to get a grant from the Dutch government for this. Their recent (physical and digital) action 'Groene Grens' (Green Frontier) is considered a success with 13.000 gathered supporters via the internet. The facilitation of discussion forums is one of the main activities of Milieudefensie.

 Finally, there is an organization in the south of the Netherlands that fights for the survival of their language 'Limburgs'. Their website is an important meeting point and medium for the dissemination of information. Paul Prikken of Limburghuis.nl says that the dictionary of the Limburg language that is on the site is very popular. The amount of downloads represent the support the organization has. Being a small group without many funds, Paul praises the fact that the internet is so cheap to use to reach your goals. It also gets you in contact with a much younger crowd than in the physical world. And to get response, there is no medium that can beat the internet, says Paul.