The netroots story — lefty bloggers storming the barricades — can seem, well, so 2006. Little wonder, then, that this year's Netroots Nation conference in Providence didn't receive much national press.
But this is actually a remarkably fertile period for online activism. In January, the Internet killed anti-piracy bills, known by the acronyms SOPA and PIPA, that seemed destined for passage just days before (see "Game Change?," 5.30.12).
And in the weeks that followed, social media campaigns helped pressure the Susan G. Komen foundation into restoring funding to Planned Parenthood and several corporations into dropping funding for the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, which pushed for voter ID laws and the kind of "Stand Your Ground" legislation central to the Trayvon Martin case.
But these high-profile efforts are just part of the story. Nose around the Internet for awhile and you'll see all kinds of innovation. For instance, alumnae of some of the big, multi-issue sites like MoveOn.org and Avaaz.org (a global equivalent) that have powered the activist web until now are launching all manner of new, more targeted sites.
Nita Chaudhary, formerly of MoveOn, is helping to build a media-centered, rapid-response wing of the women's movement called UltraViolet, which played an important role in organizing the Susan G. Komen campaign and protested Facebook's all-male board of directors before the company went public.
Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, who once worked for Avaaz, started corporate accountability site SumOfUs.org six months ago. She has already built a membership of 665,000 and found some early success organizing around Apple's labor practices.
Andre Banks, who joined Chaudhary's UltraViolet co-founder Shaunna Thomas and Stinebrickner-Kauffman on a Netroots Nation panel titled "Emerging Movements: The Face of New Progressive Online Communities," is executive director of allout.org, a community of 850,000 working on gay rights.
Banks and Stinebrickner-Kauffman spoke of another trend on the lefty web: a move toward internationalism informed not just by the global reach of the Internet, but by the scope of the problems they are tackling.
As Stinebrickner-Kauffman noted, the corporations her site is targeting are multi-nationals. Organizing boycotts in the United States alone might have some impact, but an effective campaign must target the firms' many markets.
Of course, as Stinebrickner-Kauffman herself acknowledged, it's nearly impossible to measure the impact of the campaigns launched by the new netroots.
Would the bad press surrounding the Komen foundation's decision to drop breast cancer screening funding for Planned Parenthood have been enough to force a reversal by itself, without an Internet uprising to buttress it? And if the sprawling, quickly evolving web protest against Komen did play a role, how to apportion credit to one organization or another?
It is hard to find definitive answers to any of these questions. But as the panelists themselves suggested, the Internet will quickly decide which sites it values. And if the current crop doesn't pan out, well, it'll be time to innovate again.