Digital activism glossary

Like many other hi-tech disciplines, digital activism has it’s own specialized vocabulary, used by it’s practitioners but unknown by many people outside this field. Talia Whyte and Mary Joyce have compiled a glossary, published in the book “Digital Activism Decoded – The New Mechanics of Change”, under the Creative Commons Non-Commercial 3.0 license and reproduced bellow.

astroturf: The appearance of a grassroots campaign that is, in fact, organized by an established institution. This controversial practice is commonly used to benefit specific individuals or groups who have funded the campaign. In the world of digital activism, astroturfing can take the form of paid blogging or other supposedly spontaneous and personal communication that is actually determined by payments from an interest group.

autofollow: To automatically subscribe to another user’s feed (content stream) on the micro-blogging site Twitter. This indiscriminate practice is generally frowned upon as it implies that the user is not reviewing another user’s content before deciding to subscribe. Autofollowing is also used as a means of increasing a user’s followers. A user may follow multiple users at random in the hope that they will reciprocate with an autofollow.

blog (or Weblog): A regularly updated online journal, with the most recent entry at the top of the page. Written either by an individual or a group of writers in a conversational manner, blog posts most often contain links, audio, video, and other information found online juxtaposed with the blogger’s viewpoint on that content. Most blogs allow readers to post comments about what is being discussed on the blog.

blogroll: A list of recommended blogs, displayed as a series of links, on a blog’s sidebar blogware (or Weblog software): Support software for blogs. Such software allows users to both write and share content. Products such as Blogger, WordPress, and Typepad are examples of blogware.

bot: A piece of software that carries out automated actions, often malicious, directed against another computer system.

bot attack: A destructive or disruptive assault on a computer system carried out by a network of computers running bots.

botnet: A combination of “robot” and “network,” a botnet is a network of automated software controlled and manipulated by a third party, that is, neither the owner of the machine running the bot nor the target of the attack. A botnet can refer to a legitimate group of computers that share program processing. However, the term generally refers to computers running malicious software that was downloaded without the consent of the computer’s owner and is used to make attacks against other systems.

clickthrough rate (CTR): A measure of the success of an online advertising or advocacy campaign. The CTR measures what percentage of the people who viewed a piece of online promotional content clicked on that content to arrive at the destination site.

crowdsourcing: A distributed labor practice wherein a job that is usually done by one person is given to a large group of people who each do a smaller piece of the task, usually as volunteers. In digital activism, a group of supporters may donate a wide variety of content and skills (video, photos, Web design, etc.) to a cause, thus allowing a dynamic campaign to emerge with limited expenditure of financial resources.

cyber-activism: Campaigning and organizing for political and social change in cyberspace, an alternative virtual world composed of interactive online communities and immersive experiences. This 1990s view of Internet activism—that it occurs in an online space that is separate from the real world—has lost favor as activists and organizers have increasingly stressed the importance of online action having offline impact.

data trail: A record of information about a person’s actions that remains after the action is complete and that can be accessed by others and used to track that person’s activities, often without the individual’s knowledge or consent. The Internet makes the collection and retention of data—and the leaving of data trails—easier than it was in the paper era.

digital activism: The practice of using digital technology to increase the effectiveness of a social or political change campaign.

distributed denial of service (DDoS): An explicit attempt by Internet attackers to prevent legitimate users from accessing a website or other online service. Attackers make repeated requests to the website, sometimes by simply reloading a Web page in their browsers or, more often, by using a botnet or other software to create automatic requests. The high number of requests overloads the capacity of the servers on which the site is housed, thus the servers are no longer capable of responding to requests—either legitimate or illegitimate—from people trying to access the site, often resulting in the display of an error message to the site’s visitors.

e-activism: The use of electronic tools to increase the effectiveness of a social or political change campaign. In the early days of computing, the “e” preface was useful in differentiating between activities that were and were not mediated by a computer, for example email and e-banking. Since the rise of the Internet, the electronic nature of computing is seen as less salient than its networking features and the “e” prefix is, as a result, less popular than it once was.

e-advocacy: The use of electronic tools for political and social change in cases in which the campaigners are speaking (advocating) on behalf of a particular group or interest.

flaming: The act of posting deliberately hostile messages online, generally in chat rooms and on discussion boards. While most “flamewars” start out as a heated debate over a political or social issue, some malicious Internet users (trolls) flame for the sole purpose of offending other users.

flashmob: A large group of people who gather suddenly in public to engage in unusual and concerted actions and then disperse quickly. Part of the larger smart mob phenomenon, these gatherings are usually organized through social media, text messaging, or email, and have a grassroots character that differentiates them from publicity stunts with a profit motive.

follow: In an online context, to subscribe to a user’s content stream (feed) on the micro-blogging site Twitter.

hashtag: Community-driven tagging convention mostly used on the microblogging site Twitter to aggregate and track content by subject, with the use of a hash symbol (#) followed by a key word, or tag. An example is #4change, a hashtag for tweets on the use of social media for social change.

Hype Cycle: A visualization, developed by the American research firm Gartner, that shows the life of certain technologies. The five phases of avHype Cycle are technology trigger, peak of inflated expectations, trough of disillusionment, slope of enlightenment, and plateau of productivity.

info-activism: The use of effective information and communications practices to enhance advocacy work, of which digital technology is only one possible medium. The term is most commonly associated with the advocacy training organization Tactical Technology Collective.

malware: Malicious software designed to enter a computer owner’s system without his or her consent and to execute destructive or disruptive functions. Once installed on a user’s system, the software carries out malicious actions (unintended by the system’s owner) that affect the system of the user or a third-party target.

mashup: An application that contains two or more sources of digitally encoded information in formats such as video, audio, text, or graphics; this juxtaposition highlights in new ways how the pieces of information are related. A popular example of a mashup is the crisis-mapping software Ushahidi, which allows users to view mobile text messages superimposed on a digital map according to the message’s place of origin.

meme: In an online context, a piece of content that spreads widely on the Internet without changing its basic structure. The content of the meme can be an inside joke, an image, or a response to a prompt such as the creation of a “top five” list on a given topic.

memetic entropy: Chaos in the transmission of a piece of structurally stable content, a meme, as it is shared from person to person online.

micro-blog: A form of blogging (a personal Weblog or online diary) that allows users to broadcast short messages to subscribers. Twitter is currently the most popular microblogging service.

nano-activism: A play on the prefix “nano,” which means 1∕109 in size, this term refers to an activism methodology that breaks the work of the campaign into small and easily executable tasks by using technology in innovative ways, such as signing online petitions, joining special interest groups on Facebook, or many people donating small amounts of money to charities online. The term is derisive and implies that the impact these actions have on their intended cause is likewise “nano”—imperceptibly small.

netizen: A combination of “network” and “citizen,” this term describes anyone who uses the Internet to engage in and foster relationships with communities. Whether for intellectual stimulation or social banter, netizens communicate with other online users with a variety of tools, including blogs, email, Facebook, Twitter, and a host of other social networks.

netroots: A combination of “Internet” and “grassroots,” the term refers to political activists who organize through online social media. It is particularly associated with progressives in the United States. The annual Netroots Nation convention, which seeks to be the center of this movement, is an outgrowth of a yearly meeting of people associated with the influential progressive blog “DailyKos.”

online organizing: The use of the Internet to increase the effectiveness of the community organizing model, a system developed by trade unions that defines how grassroots organizations should advance the political interests of their members. Like community organizing, online organizing includes recruitment though personal networks, volunteer labor, and empowerment of community leaders. While strategies remain largely the same as in the pre-Internet era, these activities are now supported by digital tools like email, social networks, sophisticated supporter databases, and online events tools.

open source: A means of producing software in which the source code is accessible to anyone who wishes to examine or improve it. Because open source code is freely accessible, the resulting software is also often available for free to the end user. This practice of software production differs from a closed or proprietary means of production—wherein code is a closely guarded secret and considered to be the intellectual property of the firm developing the software. Software developed in a closed system is most often sold by the developing company at a profit.

online activism: The practice of using the Internet to increase the effectiveness of a social or political change campaign.

phishing: An illegal attempt to acquire sensitive, personal information by falsely assuming the identity of a person or organization trusted by the recipient of an online communication. A common example of phishing is to send mass emails requesting banking information or usernames and passwords for email accounts.

SIM card: A device found in mobile phones, usually a small piece of plastic, that contains the subscriber identity module (SIM) that uniquely identifies a user to the mobile phone network on which his or her calls are routed. The card holds personal identity information such as a user’s phone number, email accounts, and text messages and can be switched between different phones, thus allowing a user to make calls from multiple handsets while retaining the same phone number and contact information.

smart mob: A type of rational yet loosely connected social organization, made possible by the ubiquity of networked communication devices. Such devices and their associated information-sharing practices allow for self-structuring among members. The term was coined in 2002 by Howard Rheingold. The flashmob is a type of smart mob.

SMS: Short message service (SMS), also referred to as texting or text messaging, allows for short messages, usually 140 characters in length, to be sent from one mobile phone to another or between an online application, like Twitter, and a mobile phone.

social media: Content designed to be distributed through social interactions between creators. Because this type of media dissemination requires accessible and easy-to-use content-creation tools and cheap and effective means of transmission, social media are almost always created and distributed
through digital networks. Popular social media applications include Flickr (photo sharing), YouTube (video sharing), and Facebook (sharing of multiple content types). This type of media can be created on a variety of devices—from mobile phones to digital music players to computers. Social media challenges the traditional broadcast model of media dissemination because content can be created and shared widely at little expense, making the generation and use of the cultural space more participatory than was possible previously.

sousveillance: Either observing and recording an activity as a participant rather than an onlooker, or reverse surveillance—watching the watcher. In the field of digital activism, the latter meaning is more commonly employed because social media provide many opportunities for activists to observe and report on the activities of political authorities—who usually are in the position of monitoring activists.

splog: A combination of “spam” and “blog” referring to a blog that is created specifically to promote other websites—sometimes by improving the search-engine ranking of the associated sites through linking or by displaying advertising.

technological determinism: The controversial belief that technology makes certain inevitable contributions to society’s development that are beyond the control of individuals.

thumb drive (or flash drive): Small portable data storage device, usually the size and shape of a thumb. They are generally rewriteable, come with different storage capacities, and hold memory without a power supply. Thumb drives will fit into any USB (universal serial bus) port on a computer.

Twitter bomb: The process of flooding the micro-blogging site Twitter with similar hashtags, keywords, and links using multiple accounts, with the objective of attracting more viewers to a website, product, service, or idea.

Webcam: A combination of the words “Web” and “camera,” this is a small digital video camera meant for use with a computer connected to the Internet. The Webcam is most often used for videoconferencing and video chat.

viral: Describes a piece of content that spreads quickly online as users forward and share it with their friends and acquaintances, much as viruses are transmitted from person to person offline. Viral content transmission online is often associated with online social networks. The high volume, fast dissemination, and low cost of viral transmission make it extremely appealing as a means of increasing brand visibility, product sales, personal promotion, or cause awareness. A humorous or thought-provoking video, blog post, discussion board article, or tweet are among the types of content most likely to go viral, though the exact mechanics of viral spread are hard to manufacture.

About Osvaldo

Digital activist, online producer and webmaster.
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