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Literature review

Today, with the wide use of ICTs, political campaigns have already transformed into “hypermedia campaigns” (Howard, 2006). For example, Castells conducted a case study [2] of Obama’s 2008 Presidential primary campaign. Castells (2009) discussed “the role of the new relationship between communication and insurgent politics established by the Obama campaign, the first campaign in which the political uses of the Internet played a decisive role.” [3] He notes the skillful use of the Internet for fundraising — Obama was able to raise unprecedented amounts of money to support his campaign, and 60 to 90 percent of donations came through the Internet (compared to an average of only six percent of Americans who donate online). Castells (2009) believes that the key to the success of the campaign was the Obama team’s ability to use the possibilities of the Internet, specifically social networking Web sites, to support and further stimulate the classic American model of grassroots community organization and mobilization. Thus, they were able to involve in the process large numbers of new political actors, especially from the youth (“Generation Obama”). Such active involvement of previously passive or marginalized masses of the population in a political campaign is one of the key features of successful insurgent politics.

Consider another recent case, Iran. In the most current example of an attempt at a color (“Green”) revolution, we find more evidence of the increasing role ICTs play in pro–democratic revolutionary events in authoritarian states. Web services like Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and YouTube were actively used in Iran to organize, attract support, and share information about street protests after the June 2009 presidential elections (Gross, 2009b). Despite the Iranian regime’s efforts to block Internet access, especially the streaming of photos and videos of the violence surrounding the protests, tech–savvy Iranians repeatedly found ways to bypass official restrictions using proxy sites that rerouted messages to Twitter. Iranian Twitterers also waged an online war against the regime by promoting sites that overloaded the Web sites of prominent regime figures and other pro–government sites (Gross, 2009a).

Internet–based services such as Facebook and Twitter also played a significant role in the events in Moldova in April 2009. These protests started the day after rigged parliamentary elections, when organizers from two youth oppositional movements called their supporters to participate in protests. One of those organizers described the effort on her blog as “six people, 10 minutes for brainstorming and decision–making, several hours of disseminating information through networks, Facebook, blogs, SMSs and e–mails.” (Barry, 2009) As a result, a crowd of about 15,000 people gathered within just a few hours to protest in the capital’s main square.

In these two recent cases of citizens’ mobilization in Iran and Moldova, we see the network effect, which further promotes Internet–based ICTs’ use for political action. As more people adopt Internet–based social tools and as those tools allow increasingly rapid communication, the speed of group action also increases. Just as more is different, faster is different, too (Shirky, 2008). The Ukrainian incumbent authorities before the Orange Revolution underestimated the role of the Internet–based press and other information resources (Kyj, 2006). The case of the Ukrainian Orange Revolution is an ideal study from which to draw both theoretical and practical lessons on how to successfully use technologies for major social change.

Even an Internet penetration rate as low as one to two percent can be very important for breaking information blockades in non–democratic countries. Goldstein (2007) explained the important role that the Internet played during the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, despite its relatively low penetration, through the lens of two–step flow theory (Katz and Lazarsfeld, 2005). This theory describes how information reaches wider masses of a population through an intermediary “step” made of various opinion–makers who have Internet access. This is empirically supported by the results obtained by Kulikova (2008).

ICTs have the potential to play a more active role in the processes of democratization worldwide, particularly during electoral revolutions. However, except for some preliminary work by McLaughlin (2003), there is still no cohesive theoretical framework outlining the effective use of these tools for successful electoral revolutions by democratic dissenters under non–democratic regimes. At the same time, we have numerous separate descriptions of the Internet’s political use during the Orange Revolution (Bandera, 2006; Kyj, 2006; Goldstein, 2007). Together these provide sufficient data that we combined using triangulation. After ensuring their reliability and validity, we derived patterns which can serve as a basis for the elaboration of such a framework. Later in this paper we create a unified comprehensive case study of Internet–based ICT use in the Orange Revolution, based on the previously mentioned individual descriptions, and derive from it relevant findings and implications.