Global Civil Society Networks Online:

Zapatistas, the MAI, and Landmines



Rory O'Brien  

Faculty of Information Studies, U. of Toronto

May 2002  






This paper provides some background into the research literature concerning social change activism as it has been influenced by the new online communications technologies.  It briefly reviews CMC and CSCW; community networks and virtual communities; online governance and the public sphere; and Internet activism.  This is followed by an elucidation of networking, the fundamental concept underlying the collaborations of civil society. 


In the latter half of the paper, three case studies are given that exemplify the empowerment of global civil society through computer-enhanced networking - the Zapatistas' "net war", the anti-MAI (Multi-lateral Agreement on Investment) campaign, and the International Treaty to Ban Landmines.  Ensuing discussions reflect upon the relationship between online and offline networking.  It is argued that these three cases are evidence that online networking has made social change activists more effective in influencing policy at an international level.





Table of Contents



Abstract ii

Table of Contents. ii

Introduction. 1

Research into the social implications of online communications. 1

CMC and CSCW... 1

Community networks and virtual communities. 2

Online governance and the public sphere. 2

Internet Activism.. 3

Networking. 5

Case Studies of Online Campaigns. 7

The Zapatista Movement 7

The Anti-MAI Campaign. 9

The International Treaty to Ban Landmines. 10

Conclusion. 12

Works Cited. 14




In 1999, Seattle was a scene of major civil society protest against the World Trade Organization.  While the politicians, media and general public were taken by surprise at the organization of the opposition, those in the know saw it as one of a continuing series of campaigns by globally-oriented social change activists attempting to influence public policy.  Anti-WTO mobilization was built on a decade's experience of activists’ use of online communications technologies to share information and coordinate action.  In continuing instances of online campaigning, concerned citizens, operating primarily through non-governmental organizations (NGOs), have extended their local networks of contacts into the international arena.  This has resulted in an unprecedented growth in global civil society issue networks, with a profound impact on traditional systems of trans-national policy-making.


This paper presents three case studies that exemplify the empowerment of global civil society through computer-enhanced networking - the Zapatistas' "net war", the anti-MAI (Multi-lateral Agreement on Investment) campaign, and the International Treaty to Ban Landmines.  As a preparation to appreciating the dynamics of such networking, some backgrounding in the literature of the social implications of online communications is outlined in the next section, followed by an overview of the concept of networking. 


Research into the social implications of online communications


Over the past decade, civil society organizations appear to have become much more adept at influencing public policy at the international level.  A case can be made that the new communications technologies have been a key factor in the successes of civil society campaigns.  Before presenting evidence to this effect, a review of the relevant academic literature is in order, with a focus on the concepts that bear on our interests.  In moving from the general to the specific, we will review CMC and CSCW; community networks and virtual communities; online governance and the public sphere; and online activism.




Many researchers of the early years of online communications concentrated on studying its effects on group communications. This included the overlapping research fields of computer-mediated communications (CMC) (Hiltz & Turoff, 1985; Sproull & Kiesler, 1991; December, 1993) and computer-supported cooperative work (CSCW) (Johansen, 1988; Galegher, Kraut & Egido, 1990; Kling, 1991). The focus here is on the use of ICT to enhance workgroup processes, with e-mail and computer conferencing being the key applications. 


An important factor in the effective functioning of virtual teams was the degree of trust that members felt toward each other.  Handy (1995) found that “trust requires touch”, i.e., it was enhanced by face-to-face meetings.  Jarvenpaa et al. (1998) explored what communication behaviors enable trust to be established in a global multi-cultural teams, and found that in high-trust groups, trust is established quickly and maintained by frequent actions on the part of participants.  They also found that the members who functioned best were individuals who were action-oriented, willing to take initiative on their own, and goal-driven.


Community networks and virtual communities


While early CMC literature coincided with other studies of use within specific application areas, notably distance education (Kaye, 1989; Harasim, 1990), the development of such phenomena as Usenet and electronic bulletin boards, followed by the explosive growth of the Internet, has fueled discussion on how its deployment might be used to build online communities.  The use of new communications technologies has led to communication exchanges among groups of geographically dispersed people, who establish relationships based on shared interests.  As described by Howard Rheingold, “Virtual communities are social aggregations that emerge from the Net when enough people carry on those public discussions long enough, with sufficient human feeling, to form webs of personal relationships in cyberspace” (Rheingold, 1993).  Others have corroborated this idea that community can be established in an online setting (Garton, Haythornthwaite & Wellman, 1997; Gulia & Wellman, 1996). 


In the 1980s, with the increasing availability of personal computers, modems and bulletin board software, many cities saw civic minded people with technical skills create local community networks, or FreeNets.  These were online systems that anyone could obtain an account on, without charge, and freely post and retrieve information.  They were, in the main, voluntary efforts with communitarian ideals of social cooperation in service of local needs.  In recent years, unable to compete with inexpensive commercial Internet Service Providers, several have ceased operations, although others have managed to adapt to changing circumstances and are still in existence.


Providing access is an important function, as it is the means by which civic participation is ensured, and universal access is a prime objective of these networks.  To this end, these networks also provide technical support for their users (Koliba, 2000).


The key principle of community networks is that they provide a means of civic engagement in order to enhance democratic problem-solving (Schuler & Stone, 1996).  They are “caretakers of electronic public space created by the community” (Graham, 1996).


Online governance and the public sphere


Much has been written on the effect of the “information superhighway” on the functioning of governments, who almost universally accept it as a necessary, if not desirable, innovation.  Government agencies have begun using the Internet as a means of providing administrative services at lower costs, as well as for disseminating government information (Neu, Anderson & Bikson, 1998; Hirst & Norton, 1998; DeConti, 1998; Dawes, Bloniarz & Kelly, 1999; Caldow, 1999)


Some writers have become enamoured with the idea of the Internet as a potentially renewed public sphere, allowing for citizen participation in government policy-making.  Some feel that this ‘electronic democracy’ will produce a flowering of social discourse, leading to a wealthy, vibrant society (Dyson, Gilder, Keyworth & Toffler, 1994).  Others have less enthusiastic  opinions.  Current trends show that corporate control over the online media will do little to ensure the maintenance of electronic public spaces (Shapiro, 1995).  Without such spaces, there will be so many semi-private interests proliferating that there can be “no common venue of discourse that might constitute a single, 'classical' public sphere” (Poster, 1995).  Winner (1997) refutes the notion that the Internet will enhance freedom and democracy, calling them “cyberlibertarian myths”.  He sees that commercialization of the net will actually harm real communities – with online shopping leading to the demise of local enterprises, for example.


Finer distinctions have been made by some thinkers, differentiating between teledemocracy, in which the technology supports more direct lobbying of political representatives by individual interests, and deliberative democracy, in which it supports informed and reasoned debate among the citizenry (London, 1995).  Another typology equates teledemocracy with direct democracy and electronic voting; describes cyberdemocracy as comprised of both cyberlibertarians and online communitarians, both of whom want to de-centralize government; and electronic democratization, which supposes that the technology will make government information more available and that it will support ‘electronic town halls’ for providing deliberative communication among the electorate and their representatives (Hagen, 1997).


Steven Clift, a pioneer in online political participation, created the Minnesota E-Democracy Project in 1994 to enable citizens to discuss political issues.  Some of the lessons learned were that effective leadership by a core group was important, and that a substantial effort should go into promotion and outreach using more traditional methods, such as personal contacts and use of the mass media (Clift, 1997).


Internet Activism


Many virtual communities centre on the shared interests of political activism.  The many member networks of the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) have been in the forefront of providing online networking services to activists since the mid-1980s and several papers have been written on their operations (O'Brien, 1992; Frederick, 1992; Sallin, 1994; Walch, 1999).  In particular, accounts of how the APC facilitated the participation of tens of thousands of civil society organizations in a series of five world policy summits sponsored by the United Nations in the early 1990s clearly show the effectiveness of the new medium (Preston, 1994; Kole, 1998a; Kole, 1998b; O'Brien & Clement, 2000). 


More has been written on the subject of online activism, though much of it in a prescriptive, “how-to” vein.  Ed Schwartz, in NetActivism (Schwartz, 1996), showed his readers how to use the existing functionalities of online networks to revitalize communities and engage in political action. Maureen James and Liz Rykert (1997) wrote Working Together Online, a useful book on facilitating nonprofit groups seeking to collaborate on projects. That same year, "An Activists' Strategy for Using Email and the World Wide Web", was published online by the One Northwest (1997) organization. This was followed in 1998 by another online document, "The Virtual Activist", in which the authors stated their beliefs in the effectiveness of the Internet for enhancing change efforts:


"So you want to be a Virtual Activist!

The Internet makes it possible for activists to expand our networks by identifying and contacting activists in other communities who have similar interests and concerns. If you're a grassroots activist, chances are you already know the people in your own community who share your concerns. By joining the appropriate discussion lists and news groups, you can identify and communicate with activists in other communities who are working on similar issues. By sharing information, strategies, and/or advice, you may be able to enhance the effectiveness of your efforts. Even activists who have the resources to broaden their networks by attending conferences and meetings outside our own community will benefit from the additional networking opportunities provided by the Internet. " (Krause, Stein & Clark, 1998)


More and more, facilitators of network activism are themselves using the net as a way of guiding the organizations they serve. Websites and e-mail lists are increasingly preferred over the book or the journal article, as is evidenced by several such initiatives. Audrey Krause, one of the writers of "The Virtual Activist", operates a virtual organization called NetAction, whose website [] is a popular one for those who wish to keep abreast of the latest cyber-policy issues. Besides a listing of related online resources, the site offers a distance education training course in Net activism, and visitors can sign up to an e-mail list to receive periodic articles and notices of events.


Another leading organization dedicated to promoting the use of the net by grassroots organizers is the Benton Foundation. A important part of their website is Benton's Best Practices Toolkit [], which is frequently updated to provide the best examples of effective uses of the new media. The Toolkit contains hyperlinks and examples, organized in areas of news, fundraising, technical advice, and online forums (Benton Foundation, 1999).


The NetAction and Benton Foundation examples are just some of the many instances where activist groups use the Internet to keep people informed as well as help them get organized around the technology. As techniques are developed that prove useful, they are quickly copied and modified to suit particular constituencies. The last decade has seen a profusion of new ways of using the Internet to improve the operations of social change activists. Such innovations have been commensurate with the communal modus operandi of most advocacy groups, which itself is uniquely designed to achieve the goal of fostering changes to the social status quo.


Now that we have delineated various related areas of academic and popular research, we will take some time to review the key organizational process utilized by global civil society, namely networking.




The Internet is a network of information processing devices, and many social change movements are networks of individuals or other organizations.  The network concept is an important one for understanding the dynamics of both the online communications and civil society organizations. 


In his trilogy on ‘informational’ society, Castells, a prominent sociologist, has emphasized the evolution of the network as a major social pattern, which he links to the proliferation of the new computer technologies.


“To be sure, networks have always existed in human organization. But only now have they become the most powerful form for organizing instrumentality, rather than expressiveness. The reason is fundamentally technological. The strength of networks is their flexibility, their decentralizing capacity, their variable geometry, adapting to new tasks and demands without destroying their basic organizational rules or changing their overarching goals. Nevertheless their fundamental weakness, throughout history, has been the difficulty of coordination towards a common objective, towards a focused purpose, that requires concentration of resources in space and time within large organizations, like armies, bureaucracies, large factories, vertically organized corporations.


With new information and communication technology, the network is, at the same time, centralized and decentralized. It can be coordinated without a center. Instead of instructions, we have interactions. Much higher levels of complexity can be handled without major disruption.” (Castells, 1998)


There are, according to Lipnack and Stamps (1986), three essential qualities that differentiate organizational networks from hierarchical, bureaucratic social institutions such as business, church, school, or the military.





Networking, they claim, has a number of advantages due to its value-based, loosely coupled, weblike and non-hierarchical structure.  It can encourage the full utilization of innovation, minimize the consequences of failure, promote the sharing of information across socio-economic barriers while preserving ethnic and vernacular values, maintain flexibility and adaptability in the face of new situations and developments, and emphasize egalitarian rather than authoritarian roles and relationships.  Movements for women’s rights, peace, and the environment are good examples of this type of social formation. 


The primary form of communication used in networking is face-to-face interaction.  People seek out others who share their values and concerns.  Through dyadic and small group meetings, often interspersed with telephone calls, letters, or electronic communications, members of the forming network develop a knowledge of their 'contacts'.  This allows them to call upon specific people when a need for resources arises.  Such resources may be advice, co-operation in an initiative, money, emotional support, or anything else that may meet that individual's needs.  Groups can network with other groups in the same manner.


Lipnack and Stamps have become well-known as management consultants, advising corporations on how to reduce hierarchical layers and encourage horizontal networks as a way to cope with faster-changing business environments.  In their book Age of the Network, they list five organizing principles of networks:


“Unifying Purpose
Purpose is the glue and the driver.
Common views, values, and goals hold a network together. Shared focus on desired results keeps a network in synch and on track.

Independent Members
Independence is a prerequisite for interdependence. Each member of the network, whether a person, company, or country, can stand on its own while benefiting from being part of the whole.

Voluntary Links
Just add links. The distinguishing feature of networks is their links, far more profuse and omni-directional than in other types of organization. As communication pathways increase, people and groups interact more. As more relationships develop, trust strengthens, which reduces the cost of doing business and generates greater opportunities.

Multiple Leaders
Fewer bosses, more leaders. Networks are leaderful, not leaderless. Each person or group in a network has something unique to contribute at some point in the process. With more than one leader, the network as a whole has great resiliency.

Integrated Levels
Networks are multi-leveled, not flat. Lumpy with small groups and clustered with coalitions, networks involve both the hierarchy and the "lower-archy," which leads them to action rather than simply making recommendations to others.” (Lipnack & Stamps, 1994)


Has civil society actually made good use of networking, particularly online networking, in mounting international campaigns for social change?  In the next section, three case studies from the literature will be presented that have shown that this has indeed happened.  Discussion following each case will highlight a number of points that can be made of the relationship between the electronic and non-electronic networking environments.


Case Studies of Online Campaigns


While there are countless websites and mail lists that exemplify the use of online networking by NGOs, throughout the literature on social activism there are relatively few mentions of how computer communications have been used in the mounting of NGO campaigns.  Those articles that focus specifically on the description and sociological analysis of the use of online communications by activists are rare.  The following are overviews of the three most prominent detailed accountings to be found in the literature: the Zapatista movement, the anti-MAI campaign, and the International Landmine Ban Treaty.


The Zapatista Movement


In January 1994, immediately following the introduction of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) launched an armed rebellion in the Mexican state of Chiapas.  Though the insurgents were few, and the rebellion was readily contained by the massive counter-assault by the Mexican army, the resulting publicity created a political storm that saw unprecedented concessions on the part of the government.  In their book, The Zapatista Social Netwar in Mexico, Ronfeldt and Arquilla (1998) argue that it was because the EZLN and their supporters used online networks as a means of mobilizing networks of civil society activists (primarily those of the APC) that they became as powerful as they did.  In their words, the Zapatista movement "provides a seminal case of “social netwar”".


The social justice and human rights activists used electronic networks to keep themselves informed of the situation and to organize action.  In addition to making the relatively minor armed struggle into a political cause celebre and maintaining it on the media agendas in their respective countries, they also expressed solidarity by arranging to physically travel to Chiapas to help protect the peace process.  Hundreds of representatives of non-governmental organizations, both foreign and Mexican, actually formed a cordon for several days around the building in which the peace accord was being negotiated between the EZLN and the Mexican government to forestall any intervention by the military. 


How successful was the Internet-facilitated publicity and mobilization of international solidarity networks? Ronfeldt and Arquilla conclude that


"Overall, the netwar has helped impel the Mexican government to continue down the road of reform. It added to the pressures on Mexico’s leaders to enact political and electoral reforms; to make the political party system more transparent, accountable, and democratic; to take human rights more seriously; to accept the rise of civil society; and to heed anew the needs of indigenous peoples."


There are some lessons that can be derived from analyzing this ‘netwar’.  One of them is that the technology itself is not a ‘field of dreams’, drawing supporters into the fray just by being there.  Traditional networks of solidarity were in place long before the rebellion started (Cleaver, 1996).  This is not to say that the computer networks were not used prior to that time.  Many of the NGO groups involved in this struggle were drawn from the ranks of the anti-NAFTA campaigners who had begun using computerized communications during previous years fighting the free trade agreement (Cleaver, 1996).


Another point to be gleaned was the power of the online environment to circumvent the Mexican governments control over the dissemination of information, traditionally achieved through restrictions imposed on the mass media (Froehling, 1997).


It is Ronfeldt and Arquilla’s assertion that this particular ‘netwar’ was characterized by ‘dense’ communication flowing in a non-hierarchical, ‘all-channel’ configuration, which in turn heightens collaborative efforts.  Such communication within a decentralized network is greatly enhanced by the new online technologies (Ronfeldt & Arquilla, 1998, p. 13). 


They also differentiated between “(a) issue-oriented NGOs, and (b) infrastructure-building and network-facilitating NGOs. The former receive most of the attention, but the latter are equally important. In a sense, the former correspond to the “content” and the latter to the “conduit”—or the “message” and “medium” respectively— of social activism” (Ronfeldt & Arquilla, 1998, p. 53). The networks of the APC were singled out as being of particular importance as facilitative conduits.


Another point related to the effective functioning of the hundreds of activists that came from other countries to offer support seems worthy of note:


“Throughout, the fact that the Catholic Church, especially the diocese at San Cristóbal and church-related Mexican NGOs like the “Fray Bartolome de las Casas” Center for Human Rights, had a strong presence in Chiapas was crucial for the whole array of NGOs discussed above. The diocese and the NGOs related to it, soon to include CONPAZ [a coalition formed to ensure a peaceful resolution to the conflict], provided a physical point of contact—a key node—for the transnational activists.” (Ronfeldt & Arquilla, 1998, pp. 53-56)


This ‘physical point of contact’ appears to be an important factor in the process.  While it would have been needed for local communications, since the local area was not well-equipped for online connectivity, one could surmise that the face-to-face interaction was also useful in establishing the bonds of trust and solidarity among the many people who did not know each other except perhaps through online interactions.  This is in accord with Handy’s (1995) assertion that personal contact is a vital part of groupwork, and may account for the extensive online monitoring and information sharing that was sustained for several years afterward, presumably by many of those who went there in person.


The Zapatista example shows that electronic communications can help mobilize activists, particularly if they are already loosely networked, or have had a chance to meet in person, and that it can eliminate the traditional control of media by the state.  The next section on the anti-MAI campaign reinforces these findings.


The Anti-MAI Campaign


The Multi-lateral Agreement on Investment (MAI), an OECD-sponsored attempt to promote greater trade liberalization in investments among its members, was originally proposed at the 1995 meeting of the G7.  It was expected that it would not take long to negotiate the agreement, but by October 1998, it had been put on indefinite hold.  One of the factors seen as instrumental in this decision was the oppositional campaign mounted by hundreds of civil society organizations around the world who perceived the MAI as an erosion of national sovereignty without public debate.  What was remarkable about the anti-MAI campaign was the use activists made of the Internet.  As reported in a Toronto Globe and Mail newspaper article of the day,


“Using the Internet's capability to broadcast information instantly worldwide, groups such as the Council of Canadians and Malaysia-based the Third World Network have been able to keep each other informed of the latest developments and supply information gleaned in one country that may prove embarrassing to a government in another. By pooling their information they have broken through the wall of secrecy that traditionally surrounds international negotiations, forcing governments to deal with their complaints.” (Drohan, 1998)


According to Deibert (2000), the Internet was used in three distinct ways by the anti-MAI forces:


1)      it was essential for the rapid and dense communications among the many members of the lobby, who used electronic mailing lists to share information and coordinate activities on a day-to-day basis;


2)      it proved useful in publicizing the MAI initiative and their evaluation of its potentially harmful consequences to the wider Internet audience, providing a ‘broadcasting’ capability that gave their concerns an exposure they would not otherwise have received via traditional media; and


3)      through the online posting of contact information and instructions on how to voice one’s concern, it was used as a tool to get people to directly pressure politicians on the issue, making it much easier to elicit active support among the general public.


The Internet’s ease of use appears to facilitate “armchair activism”.  When sending messages to politicians and other citizens becomes a matter of only a few keystrokes, rather than taking the time to hand write and mail a letter or go door to door with leaflets, it makes it more likely that people will cross the line from passive supporter to active participant.  This is in line with the findings of Bonchek (1997).


The use of the Internet to help organize political activists seems to have changed the dynamics of international policy-making, which up to now has been mostly the purview of states alone.  As Stephen J. Kobrin, Professor of Multinational Management at the Wharton School, put it,


“…the story of the MAI is a cautionary tale about the impact of an electronically networked global civil society. The days of negotiating international treaties behind closed doors are numbered, if not over. A much broader range of groups will have to be included in the globalization debate, and much more thought will have to be given to how nonparticipants will interpret international negotiations and agreements.” (Kobrin, 1998)


The Anti-MAI campaign illustrates again the utility of the online networks in raising awareness of an issue, and coordinating an ongoing response to it by a multitude of actors, including many citizens who found the technology lowered the hurdle of participation.  The campaign to implement the International Landmine Ban Treaty, covered in the next section, also shows the growing role of the Internet in helping activist groups take the lead in global policy-making, but emphasizes personal leadership and connections.


The International Treaty to Ban Landmines


The International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) is a loose international coalition of more than 1000 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in 70 countries.  Formed in 1992, it had a mandate to get governments to pass legislation that would ban the manufacture and deployment of anti-personnel mines, weapons that remain hidden long after the military conflict is ended and which continue to kill and maim thousands of civilians each year.  In 1995, Belgium became the first state to enact such a law, and by the end of 1997 122 other nations had agreed to abide by the International Treaty to Ban Landmines (formally known as The Ottawa Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction).  Largely because of the efforts of the ICBL, it was the fastest major international agreement ever to enter into force in history (Rutherford, 1999).  The organization and its coordinator, Jody Williams, were awarded the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize, with the Nobel Committee commending them for their model process in international diplomacy.


As in the case of the Zapatista supporters and the anti-MAI lobbyists, the Internet played a key role in assisting NGO participation in this international policy development, through information dissemination and coordination of activities, particularly in the later years of the campaign when the Internet had become more widespread.  It also helped by reducing the costs of building and maintaining the coalition, especially among southern NGOs (Rutherford, 1999). 


Significantly, although a great deal of effort went into successfully establishing a collaborative rapport between the NGOs and local governments, this transparency and trust was facilitated by personal contact rather than via the Internet.  However, in some circumstances, where governments were hostile to NGO liaison, the Internet allowed local groups to avoid censorship and report on local conditions.


One of the major reasons for the success of the campaign was the time, energy and commitment given by those in leadership positions. 


“The main point here is that Jody Williams and other ICBL leaders maintained the ICBL on a straight and clear path to accomplish its goal of banning landmines by utilizing the fax machine, and then later relying on e-mail communications to coordinate among the members.” (Rutherford, 1999)


This illustrates the importance, not just of the communications venues, but also of the critical role played by a strong, focused leadership, one in which a core of dedicated people use their personal networks to organize the movement.  Online communications are an important adjunct to this organizational effort, however:


“…the Internet has not replaced the need for activists to travel and make personal contacts. But these technological developments do lower the transaction costs of engaging in transnational political activism compared to previous eras, and they facilitate denser political engagement across borders.” (Price, 1998)


The enhanced ability to share information has created a “community of experts” (Price, 1998) outside of government that now have the credibility and capability to challenge the state’s default monopoly of knowledge, making it more likely that an informed debate on the issues will take place in public.


The role of ensuring that governments maintain their commitments is another thing that is greatly enhanced by ICT, where movement members in different countries can report on, and compare, their own situations with each other.  Any slip in compliance by a particular state is therefore more likely to receive rapid condemnation from other states that have been notified by the local activist networks.  This ‘peer pressure’ works both in the formative phase of policy development as well as the implementation phase (Price, 1998).


The Landmine Treaty campaign was different from the Zapatista and anti-MAI campaigns in that it was an effort by civil society to constructively engage national governments in a policy-making dialogue, rather than maintain an adversarial position.  Though the online tools were used in a similar manner, the landmine campaign revealed the importance of their use by strongly motivated leaders to coordinate local actors, particularly those in the South.




Researchers have written extensively about the social implications of computer communications for many years, with several areas of research focusing on organizational interaction, community-building, political discussion, and Internet activism.  The concept of networking lies at the heart of much analysis of interpersonal and group dynamics.  Networks - segmented, decentralized, and values-based represent a fundamentally different social pattern of organizing than the hierarchical, centralized and bureaucratic structures of most social institutions.  Social change activists have embraced networking as a modus operandi, particularly the use of online networking.


The Zapatista movement, the anti-MAI effort, and the Landmine Ban Treaty are three examples of activist campaigns that suggest that the use of online communication technology has helped create a new dynamic in the field of international policy-making.  It has enhanced the ability of civil society organizations to communicate more efficiently among themselves and to more effectively promote a global public sphere, resulting in an improved ability to engage political decision-makers in debate on issues of international concern.  Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the United Nations, expressed the UN’s concurrence with this view when he stated,


"The relationship between the United Nations and civil society has changed beyond all recognition...Information technology has empowered civil society to be the true guardians of democracy and good governance everywhere. Oppressors cannot hide inside their borders any longer. A strong civil society, bound together across all borders with the help of modern communications, will not let them. In a sense, it has been the new superpower -- the people determined to promote better standards of life in larger freedom." (Civil Society Organizations and Participation Programme (CSOPP), 2000)


Though Annan’s statement may reflect a degree of political hyperbole, he rightfully acknowledges the power shift that is underway. 


It must be kept in mind, though, that the technology alone did not create the inter-personal and inter-organizational networks of global civil society - it merely enhanced their development across a wider arena.  Further study of the evolution of online activist networks is needed before we can more adequately explain how computer communications influences global social change movements, especially regarding the relationship between online and off-line networking activities.


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