Internet Advocacy - The Tactics
The internet facilitates many different tactics. Some are just adaptations of non-electronic advocacy, others are only possible with the use of the internet.
Your ability to utilise these methods will depend on your technical abilities. All of the following tactics have been used successfully by others, in different contexts. Remember, creativity is the key. Don't be afraid to mix and match approaches.
The internet has ushered in a new age of user-friendly petitioning. There is a wide range of software programs available on the internet (often free) which you can put up on your webpage to get the e-signatures of thousands of people. You can also put a link in your emails which will send them straight through to your petition page. This is a particularly user-friendly way of collecting signatures.
Be warned, though - it's not quite as easy or as effective as it sounds. Because it's easier to get signatories on an ePetition, you'll require more of them - quite a few more - to make the impression you're hoping for. Where you might have needed 2,000-3,000 handwritten signatures to make an impression, with an online petition you'll need to get something like 5,000 to have the same effect.
The other key thing to remember is that without some way of identifying each signatory the petition will be ignored. It's best to get the person's physical address. This way you can verify every name on your list. Just putting down a country or a suburb will simply not do - there's no way of checking with the signatory. An email address will do at a pinch, but a physical address seems to hold a much greater level of legitimacy.
This is also a good opportunity to build up your database of email addresses. Make sure everybody has the opportunity to sign up to your database when they sign the petition.
The next step up from the online petition is to email the minister/corporation/perpetrator that you're lobbying. You can do this using your petition software, which generally allows you to provide a space for personal comments. Many online petitions include a pre-written letter which you have the opportunity to edit or amend.
It's more effective, however, if a large number of people email individual messages to the appropriate person. To make this easier, you might like to send out a mass email with your subject's contact details and suggest some points that could be made.
These e-letters tend to be more effective than an online petition, but are probably not as effective as a paper letter.
The internet has of course facilitated a much greater ease in networking. You can instantly email someone with similar ideas on the other side of the world. Emailing and surfing the web provide great opportunities for collaboration and solidarity.
Email action alerts are a very effective way to communicate with a lot of people very quickly, enabling mobilisation and education. In addition it will often hit a much wider cross section of the community than other more traditional methods will.
'Blog' is short for 'Weblog' - websites that are sometimes known as Web Diaries or Online Journals. They basically consist of 'posts' (the online equivalent of a diary entry) which are listed in chronological order, often include provision for readers to comment, and have other elements of interactivity. Advocacy organisations and advocacy campaigns are increasingly turning to blogs to allow their people to keep up to date with campaign developments in real time.
Wiki stands for "what I know is". Wiki wiki is also the first Hawaiian word meaning "quick" or "fast". In essence, a wiki is a web page that anyone can easily edit using a web browser. The various "wiki pages" are all hyperlinked to create a web of information that can be collectively edited.
The best known and biggest wiki is Wikipedia (www.wikipedia.org).
Wikis are being used more and more frequently by advocacy groups to develop any number of things from policies to training manuals. They act as a working document that is continually refined by this group editing process. Conveniently, all changes can be tracked, and people can leave notes explaining why a particular change has been made.
Popular wiki software packages include Media Wiki (www.mediawiki.org), which is used by Wikipedia, and Tikiwiki (http://tikiwiki.org/) which probably has the most comprehensive list of features but is less aesthetically pleasing.
Finally that report, newsletter, idea, essay or book that you want the world to know about is easily accessible. With the use of the internet you can automatically become your own publisher, without going to all of the expensive of undertaking a large print-run.
The task of raising funds has been made that much easier with the arrival of the internet and email. Check out Our Community's free online donations service at: http://www.ourcommunity.com.au/giving.
It's very important to keep your supporters informed about what is going on. Again, the internet and email provide a great opportunity to facilitate this.
If you're having an event or trying to mobilise support it's important to send out a mass email. Don't forget to include all the important details: who, what, when, where and why. And send a test email to a few different people to check for bugs before you commit to the mass version.
A word of caution
The internet has brought about a level of communication, an astronomical level of dissemination of information, and a whole new area of creative activism across the full range of the political spectrum. It is accessible to a large majority of Australians, and will undoubtedly help you in your quest to have your voice heard.
But there are limitations to internet and email advocacy. It is important to bear this in mind and be aware of the shortfalls. There's no substitute for face-to-face coordination, and in the end you need to actually show up to the protests.
Remember, those you are campaigning against also have this technology. If they have better resources (which they nearly always are) they'll probably going to use the technology more effectively than you have the ability to.
Stay on the right side of the law - mirror sites (sites that look almost identical to one you wish to parody or subvert), virtual sit-ins (jamming a website in order to disrupt its functionality) and hacktivism (hacking into a website and altering its content) are legally dicey and tactics that should be avoided at all costs.