Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
At the time of the anti-capitalist protests of the late 1990s, it seemed that the internet could start a new era of cross-border activist organising. Ten years later, the recent student demonstrations and tax avoidance protests have shown the potential for social media such as Facebook and Twitter to facilitate mass action.
However, the internet can be a double‑edged sword when it comes to activism. It’s a cheap and immediate way to get your message out to a wide audience, there is a vast pool of information at your fingertips for research, and it allows communication with others all around the world. But it can also eat up valuable time, and creating an online presence for your campaign can be yet another challenge.
So how can an activist make best use of the web?
1 Be topical: be part of the online news revolution
One of the biggest advantages of the internet is its accessibility: a website costs little to start and has a global reach. This has loosened the mainstream media’s grip on news production, a hugely important development.
Whatever your campaign is about, respond to mainstream news stories in real time on your blog or website. Producing information that is topical and contributes to reasoned debate not only makes the most of the democratising potential of the internet but should also bring you more readers.
Regular email newsletters to a mailing list are a good idea, as is submitting your material to alternative news portals and aggregators to reach a wider audience.
2 Facebook, Twitter, et al
The use of social networking sites was, until recently, often derided as the ultimate in ‘slacktivism’. Facebook groups sprung up for every cause, with little or no real-life impact. They are, however, a useful tool in releasing bite-size chunks of information and directing people to updates on your website. The last few months have also seen them used effectively to organise direct action.
The UK Uncut tax avoidance protests, which target stores of corporate tax dodgers such as Vodafone and the Arcadia Group, are testament to the power of the ‘tweet’. The campaign, which tapped into pre-existing anger at the cuts and proposed a direct and replicable way to express it, quickly went viral.
According to Chris Tobin, a UK Uncut spokesperson, using social media such as Twitter gives the movement a horizontal structure and keeps it true to its grassroots: ‘It’s not about central groups any more, or hierarchies or committees. There is a genuine sense of democracy.’
Tobin says the model can be repeated readily. He offers the advice: ‘Remember, it’s not that different from a normal campaign. You have to do your research, choose targets carefully and keep your message clear. The most important thing is to keep it decentralised and allow people to take autonomous action.’
3 Be careful with the law
If you are going to organise a direct action, or use another confrontational or potentially illegal tactic, the internet may not be the place to plan or discuss it. ‘The internet creates an electronic trail,’ warns Jo Makepeace from the direct action newssheet SchNEWS. ‘Evidence from computers and email accounts has been used in various conspiracy trials.’
He thinks the younger generation in particular can be naïve about how discussing their involvement in demonstrations and other forms of direct action online could land them in hot water: ‘I’m convinced a lot of people are going to get in trouble from Facebook.’
4 Don’t be an armchair activist
Perhaps the biggest danger with the internet is that you can spend hours surfing and typing, and end up with little to show for your efforts. Updating social media platforms and checking emails too often can be a distraction from more substantial work.
Don’t campaign online at the expense of ‘real-world’ activism. When you email a PDF file of your newsletter, ask supporters to print off a few and leave it in their local social centre or bookshop. If a campaign you follow asks readers to write a letter to lobby on their issue, do it. Chase up those contacts you make online and collaborate face to face.
And if you find yourself, boggle-eyed at 2am, hitting refresh on the Guardian’s ‘Comment is Free’ to continue your argument with ‘nationalistdave’, it’s probably time to step away from the computer…
Deregulation and tax loopholes are justified by saying that they 'protect growth'. But really, they just protect the wealthy, writes James Fox
Inequality is often treated as a law of nature - but really, it's the result of conscious political choices. It's time to choose equality, writes the IPPR's Carys Roberts.
Tom Palmer, aka Agent Kingfisher, was the 'messiah' of London's squatting scene until his death last year. But who was responsible for his fate? MI5, late capitalism or simply a drug overdose? Matt Broomfield investigates.
'Docs Not Cops' write that we must resist attempts to make our NHS any less universal
Louis Mendee explains the real human costs of climate change for the global south.
From climate change to automation to demographic shifts, Mathew Lawrence explains the challenges our economy will face in the coming decade.
Fifty years after the Abortion Act, women are still dying from being denied basic services, write activists from Feminist Fightback
We need to tackle the patronising ideology that lets Tory think-tanks sneer at social tenants, writes Emma Dent Coad
Acid Corbynism allows people to imagine a future beyond the paltry offerings of capitalism, writes Keir Milburn
'We wanted to use a shared love of the beautiful game to stand in solidarity with those living under occupation', writes Kate Hadley.
Labour Party laws are being used to quash dissent
Richard Kuper writes that Labour's authorities are more concerned with suppressing pro-Palestine activism than with actually tackling antisemitism
Catalan independence is not just ‘nationalism’ – it’s a rebellion against nationalism
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte argue that Catalonia's independence movement is driven by solidarity – and resistance to far-right Spanish nationalists
Tabloids do not represent the working class
The tabloid press claims to be an authentic voice of the working class - but it's run by and for the elites, writes Matt Thompson
As London City Airport turns 30, let’s imagine a world without it
London City Airport has faced resistance for its entire lifetime, writes Ali Tamlit – and some day soon we will win
The first world war sowed the seeds of the Russian revolution
An excerpt from 'October', China Mieville's book revisiting the story of the Russian Revolution
Academies run ‘on the basis of fear’
Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) was described in a damning report as an organisation run 'on the basis of fear'. Jon Trickett MP examines an education system in crisis.
‘There is no turning back to a time when there wasn’t migration to Britain’
David Renton reviews the Migration Museum's latest exhibition
#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny
Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke
The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana
Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth
Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company
You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild
Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University
This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback
Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein
Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up
Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement
‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic
Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden
There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright
Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones