"Online Networks and Bottom Up Politics," in Society and the Internet: How Information and Social Networks are Changing our Lives. Oxford University Press, 2013.

Book Chapter
Sandra González-Bailón

Chapter Abstract: It is a common assumption that digital technologies have helped turn political engagement into a more decentralized process. Examples often cited include the 2011 global wave of political protests; the actions of the hacktivist group Anonymous; or the free culture movement born to promote the freedom to distribute content online. Examples more remote in the history of digital technologies include the anti-globalization movement (emerged in the late eighties) and the emancipatory struggles of minorities like the indigenous Zapatistas in Mexico - in both cases, the protests attained global visibility through the use of email distribution lists and alternative media sites like Indymedia. What all these examples have in common is that the actors involved used digital technologies to coordinate their actions, and targeted online networks with their messages to reach larger audiences and involve more participants. Internet technologies allowed protesters to organize in a decentralized way, that is, without a central authority processing local information or overseeing strategies from above. This form of organization creates more flexible forms of collective action and it has radically changed the way in which grassroots politics operate. This paper explains why by examining the network mechanisms that are involved in this new form of organization.

Society and the Internet: How Information and Social Networks are Changing our Lives, edited by Mark Graham and William H. Dutton, has an interdisciplinary appeal across the social sciences. Its chapters focus on showing how research can inform and stimulate debate on theory, policy, and practice. It is accessibly written and clearly structured introduction to the social shaping of the Internet and its societal implications. And it is ideal for advanced courses on the Internet and ICT.