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Keywords:

  • networked collective action;
  • policy;
  • cyberactivism;
  • multistakeholder governance;
  • civil society participation;
  • Internet governance

Abstract

New forms of networked action and informal collaboration are challenging traditional notions of civil society. Based on the proliferation of new technologies, and spurred by the spread of trans-border delocalized communities and the increasing disillusionment with traditional forms of political organization, civic action is becoming increasingly flexible, temporary, and elusive. This type of nontraditionally organized collective action often stays below the radar of public discourse, unless it is propelled to the spotlight because of international political developments such as the WikiLeaks case (and the related actions by the cyberactivist network Anonymous) and the mass protests in Northern Africa and the Middle East (and the role of social networking tools in these uprisings). In this article, we investigate the interactions and (in)compatibilities of Internet-based networked collective action with institutionalized spaces of policy debate. We begin by characterizing online networked action as an emerging form of organized civil society, focusing on the realm of cyberactivists who are building and using cyber-infrastructure (“grassroots tech groups”). In particular, we examine their values, identity features, and organizational forms. Based on this analysis, we explore two dimensions in which cyberactivism challenges established forms of institutionalized policy debate: the structural dimension and the realm of action repertoires. We ask whether these new forms of civil society are structurally compatible with current multistakeholder governance, and we discuss their repertoires of action with regard to policy advocacy and policy interventions, and thus the level and type of their engagement with governance processes and institutions.