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Communication Practices and Technical Activist Actions on CISPA

Communication Practices and Technical Activist Actions on #CISPA

Stacy Blasiola 
Department of Communication 
IGERT Fellow

September 10th at 1:30 pm, SEO 1000

Through incidences such as Arab Spring and #qldfloods, to name a few, Twitter has established itself as an integral communication mechanism in mobilizing political masses (Meraz & Papacharissi, 2013) and informing citizens in times of duress (Bruns, Burgess, Crawford, & Shaw 2011). For activists in the Digital Liberties Movement,Twitter works as a communication device that operates on the same platform they wish to defend: the internet. As such, distinguishing between web communication and internet activity is integral to understanding how DLM activists challenge power. Using content analysis, this paper examines tweets that contain the #CISPA hashtag to understand how, on the one hand, DLM activists frame the debate, educate, and activate citizens, and on the other hand, incorporate technical activism in their tactics and message. 
In the United States, The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act is intended to allow “federal agencies and private companies to share customer information that relates to ‘cybersecurity’ threats in order to combat hacking attacks” (Chen, 2012). CISPA is controversial “because it overrules all existing federal and state laws by saying ‘notwithstanding any other provision of law,’ companies may share information ‘with any other entity, including the federal government’" (McCullagh, 2013). Put simply, private companies such as Facebook would be allowed to share citizens’ information with the government without a warrant and without fear of legal recourse. Despite the bill failing to pass in 2012, it was reintroduced in 2013 with a House vote expected in April. Privacy advocates and grassroots organizations such as Anonymous have taken to Twitter under the #CISPA hashtag to educate citizens and call for action. Their messages seek to: (1) frame the debate, (2) educate (3) activate citizens to contact local representatives, and, in some cases, (4) engage in technical activist actions. As such, #CISPA provides a fertile field for studying the nascent DLM. Furthermore, whereas many communication researchers conflate web communication with “the internet” this research will help to distinguish between web communication practices and the internet-based technical actions of DLM activists. 

Stacy Blasiola (M.A., University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee) is a Ph.D. student in the department of Communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She is a National Science Foundation Electronic Security and Privacy-IGERT fellow. Stacy uses content analysis and network analysis to investigate how cultural and legal aspects of privacy are negotiated in online, networked spaces such as Twitter and Facebook. This research ranges from analyzing how users recognize phishing attacks on Twitter, to how citizens debate privacy legislation.