The Cute Cat Theory of Digital Activism

In our lessons about the new media culture, one of the issues we often discussed is the relations of the internet with democracy and the digital activism. In my opinion, the internet is an important field for activism, and it has a positive effect on participatory democracy, on the other hand there are some problems in this area. There are two main problems about the usage of the internet for digital activisim which are  web censorship and surveillance.

It is possible to organize people for social movement through the internet. For instance Arap Spring, Occupy Movement, Gezi Movement, etc, and we know there is a cycle between massive resistance and pressure. (I believe, -hopefully- this cycle will be broken:). And we know “where there is power, there is resistance.”[1] The consept of web censorship comes into play right here.

In this course, we deeply focus on relationship between social movements and the new media. Also this will be examined. Last week, our lecturer Burçe Çelik gave us a number of important articles about Media, Public Sphere and Surveillance. (You can find the list of links here).

One of them is about The Cute Cat Theory of digital activism, written by Ethan Zuckerman. Ethan Zuckerman who developed The Cute Cat Theory, states that

“The web was invented so physicists could share research papers. Web 2.0 was invented so we could share cute pictures of our cats. The tools of Web 2.0, while designed for mundane uses, can be extremely powerful in the hands of digital activists, especially those in environments where free speech is limited”.

Let’s think about Facebook. Nearly all Facebook users have dozens of friends who come from various culture, different walks of life, have a different worldview. And many Facebook users spend their time on Facebook to have fun. So, everyday thousand of users upload and/or share cat photos, comedy videos, and sexual content, etc. there.

Of course I am not saying that only this kind of content is uploaded to Facebook. We can easily see that our Facebook timeline are full of  so many posts about political subjects. Activists are very effective on Facebook and they have wide audience on their pages/accounts. They organize demonstrations, protests or some political events through Facebook.

Because of these two types of Facebook users -in the broadest sense the internet users- take part of the same virtual places, when Facebook is blocked each users would be affected. Zuckerman says that 

“Porn is a weak test for the success of participatory media – it’s like tapping a mike and asking, “Is it on?” If you’re not getting porn in your system, it doesn’t work. Activism is a stronger test – if activists are using your tools, it’s a pretty good indication that your tools are useful and usable”.

Web platforms techniqually have evolved day by day, because of demands such as uploading more and more quality videos, photos etc,. Activists of these platforms get more opportunities and various facilities that can be used for their political struggle.

When I read these paragraphs I remembered the massive demonstration in Istanbul, on 2011, labelled as “Don’t touch my Internet!”.[2]  A thousand of people who took the streets to march against  web censorship. Everybody there was for the rights of internet access but each groups or individuals had  different arguments. For example, some of them were there for freedom of speech, some protestors were there for freedom of watching porn. They shouted  “don’t touch my porn!”. Anyhow, each of us stood for our internet rights.

Photo Credit: ,
“Don’t touch my porn!” and “Uncensored internet!” banners on anti-censorship march in Istanbul, at 2011.

The relationship between cute cat lovers and activists can become pragmatically strong. It shows that people of the internet could come together for their rights too and resistance could be stronger.

Another example about The Cute Cat Theory that related to the ban of in Turkey. I would like to mention about my personal experience in this process. where my blog had been published through was banned in Turkey  in 2011. Bloggers from Turkey, started a campaing against censorship. I had participated that campaign called “Don’t touch my blog!”. I worked together with many fashion blogger  friends during this period. Actually I was irritated by the concept of fashion blog but I have met many fashion bloggers during the anti-censorship campaign who were so active and had a positive effect on wide audience due to their popularity on the internet.

Photo Credit: Photo from a Turkish mom blog shows that sadness of mom blogger because of banning of “Don’t touch my blog” is writing top of the photo.

Actually many of them were depoliticized, their blogs were totally irrelevant to politics or human rights issues, but pragmaticially they come to be related with the rights issues. Especially most popular fashion bloggers work together with companies and they publish ads on their blog. Those who wanted to earn money and popularity among the Internet social world have struggled against the censorship. We were shoulder to shoulder against the censorship but I had different causes such as freedom of expression.

There are many example on Zuckerman’s blogpost about The Cute Cat Theory. All of them show us that although all types of the internet users who have different attitudes, they resist the censorship together intentionally or not intentionally.

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