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The Effectiveness of Online Protest and Advocacy on Policy Change. A case study of ACTA

Laura Morales
Sciences Po Paris
Laura Morales
Sciences Po Paris

Abstract

The Internet has proved an invaluable tool to social movements in recent years, as both an organizational instrument and a site for activism. Scholars of social movements have taken a keen interest in how activists engage online, in the connections between online and ‘offline’ protest, and in campaigns concerning Internet issues. The impacts of social movements, both on activists themselves as well as polities and policies, form another focus for social movement scholars. This paper bridges these two focuses of interest by investigating the impacts of ‘offline’ and online protest on policy. The chosen case is the Anti-counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), an international trade agreement that came hot on the heels of the US’s Stop Online Piracy and Protect Intellectual Property Acts, and was seen to contain clauses of equal danger to digital rights. For this reason, ACTA saw a wave of protest in both online forums and on the streets of many countries. It is thus a good case for a study of the relative and conditional effects of online and ‘offline’ protest and advocacy. By drawing on data from a comparative study of more than 20 western democratic governments’ reactions to various types of pressure from the public on a wide range of policy issues – including the regulation of copyright protection on the Internet – collected within the ResponsiveGov project (http://www.responsivegov.eu), we are able to assess to what extent and under what conditions online and ‘offline’ protest are effective in achieving their goals. The paper uses fuzzy-set qualitative comparative analysis (fs-QCA) to examine the effects of different types of protest in a number of different countries, while taking into account scope conditions by employing a political opportunity framework. Ultimately, this will allow us to draw conclusions about the paths of effectiveness of online and offline protest in this case that may then be tested in further cases, and to contribute to the literatures on the consequences of social movements and government responsiveness.