|Published by NetAction||Issue No. 82||March 20, 2002|
Networks, including the Internet, company intranets, personal home networks, community nets and more, are quickly becoming the lifeblood of society. Broad and varied methods of communications help educate, coordinate, and give voice to people in many forms: political dialogue, event coordination, collaboration with others, information gathering, and personal empowerment. But pressure is on to control our publicly accessible networks, and with it, to control our speech, preferences, and interactions with the networked world. With our networks in the control of a few private companies like Microsoft, we risk losing our privacy.
In an effort to promote a broader understanding of the choices we face, NetAction advisory board member Judi Clark has taken a look at two possible scenarios of future networking: one largely dominated and controlled by Microsoft, the other largely open to development and use by individuals. Through these strikingly dissimilar scenarios she examines the effects that future networks could have on the public interest.
As Clark explains, "While we recognize that some element of control has positive effects (as demonstrated by standards of inter-operability which largely made the PC revolution and the Internet possible), we are alarmed by the strong possibility of extreme controls in the hands of a very few."
The white paper, "Networks for the Future: To .Net or Not," is on NetAction's web site at: http://netaction.org/futures/networks.html.
On March 11, NetAction and Computer Professional for Social Responsibility (CPSR) filed reply comments in the Microsoft antitrust case. Our comments are available on the web at: http://www.netaction.org/msoft/doj-reply.html.
Email action alerts can be a powerful tool for mobilizing community action, but even the most compelling email alert isn't going to mobilize people who don't have access to the Internet. That's why NetAction encourages activists to use email as a supplement to traditional organizing techniques, rather than as a substitute.
Some communities are easier to reach by email than others. Recently, we've been doing a lot of thinking about Internet outreach to seniors. As a demographic group, seniors are well organized and frequently effective advocates on issues that directly impact the quality of life of older citizens, such as affordable health care and housing, and nursing home reform. Integrating Internet activism into senior organizing efforts could make the organizations that serve seniors even more effective - but only if seniors are online.
Unfortunately, few are. According to a survey conducted last fall by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, only about 15% of Americans over 65 have access to the Internet, compared to 56% of all Americans. Moreover, more than half of the seniors over 65 who are not already online say they definitely won't be going online. (For the complete report, see: http://www.pewinternet.org/reports/toc.asp?Report=40.)
But the fact that few seniors are online doesn't mean that groups that work with seniors shouldn't use technology to mobilize their communities. To make effective use of Internet activism, organizations that advocate for seniors will have to look for ways to incorporate email into more traditional outreach efforts.
One way to accomplish this is to integrate email into an old-fashioned telephone tree. Phone trees, for those who aren't already familiar with the concept, are set up much like pyramid marketing programs. A few individuals are designated as phone tree leaders. When a group wants to mobilize its constituency, each leader is responsible for calling several other people.
For example, if a neighborhood group advocating for an expansion of local paratransit services wants to contact 50 seniors to get them to attend a meeting at City Hall, they might designate five individuals as team leaders, each of whom is responsible for calling 9 other people. With this type of telephone alert network, 5 quick calls to the team leaders jump starts the process of mobilizing 50 people.
But if the 5 team leaders have Internet access, substituting email for those initial 5 phone calls will get things going even faster, and it won't matter that the other 45 people don't have Internet access.
Email is an especially useful strategy to incorporate into a neighborhood phone tree mobilization because you can use it to distribute written materials along with the call to action. Using the same example of a neighborhood group advocating for increased paratransit services, the email message that activates the phone tree can also be used to distribute a flyer announcing the City Hall meeting. Since most people who own a computer also own a printer, the 5 team leaders who receive the email message can print multiple copies of the flyer to distribute to neighbors or post in neighborhood store windows.
The mobilization email could also be used to distribute sample letters, phone numbers of public officials, fact sheets, or press releases. It's not the technology itself that makes Internet organizing effective; it's the information the technology enables you to share. The key to effective Internet organizing in communities with limited Internet access is to get the message from Net to the neighborhood.
NetAction's Virtual Activist Training Reader, "Using the Internet For Outreach and Organizing" can now be downloaded from our web site as a single document.
The Reader is a compilation of several of our most popular training materials, including:
We've also included a new "Cyber Security Checklist," sample alerts marked up to highlight what makes them effective (or not), and a more detailed and illustrated version of our popular tip sheet, "How to Create a "Bcc" Email List.
The Reader can be downloaded in PDF or two versions of Word. You will find it on our web site at http://www.netaction.org/training/versions.html.
NetAction is pleased to be a cooperating organization of the 12th Conference on Computers, Freedom and Privacy, which is scheduled for April 16-19, 2002, in San Francisco.
Guest speakers at the conference include California Attorney General Bill Lockyer, California State Senator Jackie Speier, and U.S. Federal Trade Commission Chairman Timothy J. Muris.
Complete information on the conference is on the web at: http://www.cfp2002.org.
A great new resource with information about some of the more technical aspects of Internet activism is now available online in "The eNonprofit: A Guide to ASPs, Internet Services, and Online Software." The guide was written by Michael Stein and John Kenyon, and is available through CompassPoint Nonprofit Services.
"The eNonprofit" includes information on technology companies that provide software services to nonprofit organizations. Known as Application Service Providers (ASPs), these companies provide software tools for a wide variety of interactive features that can be used on nonprofit web sites, such as web fax servers and petitions, and web donation forms.
The guide is user-friendly enough for beginners and includes a glossary and list of resources in addition to a directory of services available through ASPs. It can be downloaded for free from http://www.compasspoint.org/enonprofit. Print copies can be ordered for a fee.
NetAction Notes is a free electronic newsletter, published by NetAction. NetAction is a California-based non-profit organization dedicated to promoting use of the Internet for grassroots citizen action, and to educating the public, policy makers, and the media about technology policy issues.
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