This was originally published at the Global Voices Technology for Transparency project. Many thanks to David Sasaki for allowing us to repurpose it.
At noon on October 19, 2009, Alejandro Pisanty, director of the Internet Society of Mexico, posted a message on Twitter linking to an article he wrote expressing concerns about the impact of a new 3 percent tax on internet access, which had just been approved by Mexico's Chamber of Deputies.
Pisanty's message quickly spread around Mexico's digerati like wildfire. The following day, "#InternetNecesario" ("Internet [is a] necessity") was included on Twitter’s Trends Topic List; that is, it was one of the most discussed topics on Twitter worldwide.
In a matter of hours, the conversation on Twitter transformed into a decentralized advocacy campaign involving thousands of Twitter users in different locations across Mexico and the diaspora who used Flickr, podcasts, blog posts, YouTube, photo blogs, and traditional offline demonstrations to protest against the proposed tax.
The #InternetNecesario team had to make sure that the widespread anger about the tax was harnessed in such a way that Mexican politicians heard it, and acted on it by reversing their decision.
THE TOOLS AND TACTICS
While the protest campaign was diverse and decentralized, two main platforms emerged to aggregate relevant information and share it across platforms. The first site, InternetNecesario.org, asked its users to "tell the politicians why the internet is a necessity." Each day the InternetNecesario.org team compiled a thorough list of Twitter messages using the "#internetnecesario" tag and sent them via e-mail to all 628 members of Mexico's congress.
The second major site, InternetNecesario.info, was concerned that Mexico's mainstream media were reporting more about the use of Twitter in the protests than the content of the actual Twitter messages and the reason for the protest in the first place. In addition to aggregating the latest Twitter posting with the hashtag "#internetNecesario," the website also used blog posts to provide its readers with more context about the history of the tax debate, how senators voted along party lines, how Mexico's broadband access and rates compare to other countries, and how Mexican senators reacted to the bombardment of e-mails, Twitter messages, and personal meetings about the tax. The website also developed a section called "Meta | TXT" to pull out key concepts and trends from the tens of thousands of messages posted to Twitter using the "#internetnecesario" tag. The project is open source, so anyone can get the code and adapt it for their own projects. They used a Twitter API to aggregate the tweets that used the hashtag #internetnecesario.
They classified the info in four main areas: Why internet is a necessity for:
•Technology and education
•Legal and political aspects
•Economy and development
•What citizens were saying on Twitter
Their purpose was to go beyond the message and start an informed, critical analysis of the situation but also to leave a footprint—a record—with the voices of every citizen who took part of it.
Oscar Salazar is an ICT expert working on mobile technologies and activism. Alberto Bustamante and Homero Fernandez and their group of friends teamed up with Oscar after spending a lot of time talking about how bad the internet tax would be for Mexican society and deciding that they needed to find a way to act.
THE STUMBLING BLOCKS
Initially, Mexican politicians didn’t see Twitter as a valuable tool to bring into the electoral process. As one told a reporter, "I am not familiar with Twitter because I have a job and I do not have time for it." This is why they decided to use e-mail to get the attention of the lawmakers, sending them daily Twitter digests. Their e-mail digest strategy helped to separate the signal from the noise (which there was a lot of). On that note, not everyone was as informed about the issue as Alberto, Homero, and Oscar would have liked.
"The movement was not analyzing and considering all the relevant aspects; it was limited to the tax, and did not express concerns for the lack of internet access for most of Mexico's population."
While this was an avowedly short-term campaign—and a succesful one—the degree of engagement that #internetnecesario incited in Mexican youth presented an opportunity to maintain that engagement. It's hard to say if they've been able to come through with this, but the sharp drop-off in use of the hashtag after the bill reversed suggests that they haven't.
Soon after they began sending the e-mails, members of the Senate invited any participants willing to express their opinions on the topic to a formal, face-to-face meeting at the Mexican Congress, where active members of the campaign used strong arguments to convince the senators to change their minds and abstain from taxing the internet. This resulted in the tax being reversed.
As a side effect, a new population of younger Mexicans were brought into the political process: “Many people who had not engaged ever before in a political dialogue now are actively discussing other relevant topics online.” However, the level of excitement generated by the #internetnecesario campaign held a lot of opportunity for a continued effort to raise important issues about the digital divide in Mexico. This was an opportunity that was, for the most part, squandered: The campaign has not continued since they achieved their initial goal of reversing the law, and the hashtag has all but died out. As with Oscar’s other project, Cuidemos el Voto, maintaining engagement and accountability as time goes by is the biggest challenge.blog comments powered by Disqus