Five times Internet activism made a difference

From the Arab Spring to SOPA to #blacklivesmatter, here’s a look at how online activism has impacted social issues across the globe.


Yves Herman/Reuters/File
A reporter's laptop shows the Wikipedia homepage blacked out in Brussels on Jan. 18, 2012. The blackout protesting against proposed legislation on online piracy received support from many of the web's most popular sites, pushing Congress to abandon the two bills.

The Stop Online Piracy Act, introduced in October 2011 by a group of House lawmakers led by Rep. Lamar Smith (R) of Texas and backed by lobbyists from Hollywood studios and the music industry, aimed to stop allegedly copyright-infringing websites by blocking them from appearing online.

Particularly aimed at cracking down on pirate websites outside the US, search engines, Internet providers, and advertisers would have been required to disable links to foreign sites that violated a copyright claim in the US. The Senate’s similar Protect IP Act (or PIPA) originally would have allowed the Attorney General to order sites to be blocked by rewriting the Internet’s Domain Name System (DNS), which assigns unique identifiers to each website. Doing so, critics argued, would expose users who wanted to visit the blocked sites to criminal scams if they accidentally ended up with a less reputable DNS system hosted by another country.

The bills proved controversial from the start, with critics, including a coalition of Internet heavyweights – such as Google, Twitter, Mozilla, eBay, Wikipedia, Reddit, and Craigslist – some lawmakers, and later the White House arguing the bills would chill free speech and effectively “break the Internet.”

In 2012, the companies mounted a massive protest, with black bars and explanations of the danger posed by the bills replacing normal content on Reddit and Wikipedia. The following day, several pro-SOPA websites, including the leading music industry trade group and CBS were also blocked in denial of service attacks, for which the hacker group Anonymous claimed responsibility.

The campaign, which shuttered several of the Internet’s most popular sites, proved immediately successful, with House and Senate lawmakers postponing votes on both bills on the same day the protest began, while walking away from the controversial DNS provision of PIPA; both bills died in Congress.

More recently, documents revealed in the 2014 hack of e-mails by Sony executives reveal that a coalition of studios had begun a second effort to fight against online piracy by targeting a company the studios call “Goliath” — which is likely Google — but so far nothing appears to come of that effort.

“To solve this problem by doing damage to the Internet, which has been a juggernaut for job growth and innovation and free speech, is a mistake,” Sen. Ron Wyden, (D) of Oregon, a longtime PIPA opponent, said just before the protest. “So that was our argument: There’s a problem, there’s a remedy, but you don’t need a cluster bomb to solve it.”

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Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

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