ByAlister Wynn
03/10/2011
5 min read

People Power and the Internet

With the Internet nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for the second year in a row, it’s time to recognise the positive power of the Web.

With over 30% of the global population now connected to the internet,1 this is the biggest social platform ever known to humanity. This World Wide Web connects individuals from every corner of the planet, providing a new type of society in which everyone’s voice can be heard and encouraging action to be taken on issues that matter, creating positive change in society.

image of a crowd of people sitting on the grass

Internet for Peace

The fact that the Internet is up for the Nobel Peace prize this year, for the second time (after losing out to Chinese human rights activist Liu Xiaobo last year) demonstrates just what a positive tool it can be.2
This nomination is backed up by the events that took place earlier this year in North Africa and the Middle East where Internet Social Network sites Facebook and Twitter played a huge role in inspiring young people to topple their repressive regimes and transform society.3 Following the revolution in Egypt on 25th January this year, an Egyptian man even named his first-born daughter ‘Facebook’ in tribute to the social network’s role in the organisation of protests in the country.4 The UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon emphasized the role of the Internet in these events:

“It is young people like you who are leading this revolution, who are not only finding their voices online but are using the technology to shape a better future for all of us.”

UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon (Mar 2011)

He describes the Internet as a “powerful resource and tool for development” and urges young people around the world to use the Internet creatively to chart a better future for Humanity.5

united nations logo

This power of the Internet is of course only possible due to the openness that this platform provides. Recognising the significance of the Internet in the uprisings, the former Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak resorted to shutting down Internet connectivity in the country in an attempt to stall the opposition. In direct contrast, the post-Mubarak cabinet have now embraced the internet by opening an official FB page and an official Youtube channel with the hope of engaging the country’s youth.4 A report released recently by the UN describes the Internet as a Fundamental Human Right.6, 7

“The Special Rapporteur underscores the unique and transformative nature of the Internet not only to enable individuals to exercise their right to freedom of opinion and expression, but also a range of other human rights, and to promote the progress of society as a whole.”

United Nations Report (May 2011)

Power to the People

As well as the power of social networking sites described above, the Internet has had a huge influence in bringing power back to the people. Through providing a platform for people to come together and share views and opinions, the internet encourages people to take action on issues that matter to them through online petitions. The web also provides a huge community to listen to your voice so there’s no need wear your knuckles down knocking on doors!

Some of you might very well be thinking “do online petitions actually make a difference?” This is something I’ve wondered myself whilst checking through the many emails received from campaign organisations such as One and 38 degrees, so I decided to do a bit of research.

Yes, there are a lot of petitions out there, many of which may not make a great deal of difference to the world we live in. This is often because the petition is not clearly directed at a significant individual in a position of power to make a change. Despite collecting thousands of signatures the petition is often wasted, serving more as a tool for the outlet of public outrage than anything else.8

But…there are definitely those that work. The petition is often just the starting point. When enough signatures are gained, people start listening and become impassioned to get involved in all sorts of other ways from demonstrating to writing emails to MPs. It’s important to realise that even if a petition isn’t successful, the process is valuable in itself since it acquaints the public with issues that they might otherwise have very little knowledge of. How can that be a bad thing?

38 degrees is a UK based organisation which is responsible for some very effective campaigns is well summed up by their slogan, “People. Power. Change.” In October last year, 38 degrees launched a campaign to stop the government plans to sell off our forests to private firms. The online petition gained over half a million signatures and was discussed widely in the media and in Parliament.9

newspaper cutting for the forest campaign

As well as the petition, 38 degrees conducted a poll which revealed that 84% of the British public thought that the forests should remain in public hands. £60,000 was raised for adverts placed all over the national newspapers publicising the poll result. 100,000 people also emailed our MPs concerning the issue. These efforts were duly rewarded by David Cameron completely scrapping the plans to sell of UK forests, keeping the forests firmly in Public hands.

So, people power does work! Would there have been such success without the internet? It’s a difficult question but the Web definitely allows a broader range of people to get involved…not all of us are into doing it the old fashioned way and demonstrating at Westminster. With a few clicks of the mouse, thousands of us who might otherwise not have participated, got their voices heard thought the petition. Social networking sites such as Facebook were also key in gaining attention and developing discussion about the campaign (check out our blog post on the importance of Social Media for campaigns).

The UK Government recently launched an e-petitions website, designed to bring democracy directly to the people. The system allows members of the public to have their issue debated in the House of Commons if they gain 100,000 signatures or more. The first day after launching the website, more than 1000 people accessing it every minute which just shows what a great medium this is for the average Jo to get involved, have his voice heard and change government policy.10

uk government e petition homepage screengrab

Summary

The Internet has revolutionised people power. By harnessing the power of the web to reach millions of people from all around the globe, people are getting their voices heard through online petitions, encouraging real change. The internet is also allowing us to establish meaningful connections with other human beings such as the young people involved in the uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East.

The key to all of this is communication. The Internet provides a platform encouraging the free expression of opinions on issues people across the world feel passionate about. Be it on Facebook or an online petition, the huge audience the Internet provides makes it a valuable tool for transforming society and culture.

Here’s to the Internet getting the Nobel Peace Prize this year!

References

1    Internet world stats
2    Internet for peace
3    Guardian news article
4    Techcrunch
5    United Nations News
6    United Nations Report
7    Care2
8    Snopes
9    Guardian news article
10  Dailymail news article