Internet Protest

Instead of taking to the streets, we take to cyberspace and create virtual displays of political dismay.

Jake Perron

The Vietnam War is often used as a comparison for the quagmire President George W. Bush created in Iraq. First, the similarities were drawn between the unnecessary reasons for our involvement in the two wars. Now, Bush asserts that troop withdrawal would foment an upsurge of violence, as happened when the United States withdrew from Vietnam.

As more and more information that illuminates the fraudulent reasons behind this war finds its way into public knowledge, the focus of comparison is shifting from the utter wickedness of presidents who dream up wars and senators with record high levels of ineptitude to actions that are being taken to stop the war. Most notably – what are college students doing?

When the situation in Vietnam had escalated to such a tumultuous point of seemingly no return, the people took to the streets. What you were doing to stop the war became as important as what you were doing in school. Granted, the reality of war was much closer to home with the draft and substantially higher death tolls; but, picketing and protesting were a way of life.

Being the first war broadcast on television, the Vietnam War became known as the “Living Room War.” Some people even attribute the end of the war to a speech made by Walter Cronkite, a television news anchor, after he returned from a visit to Vietnam.

Similar to the impact new technology had on the Vietnam War, the Iraq War is our country’s first major war to be covered by the Internet.

But the new technology in both wars couldn’t have more drastically differing effects. True, television and Internet both serve as information conduits, but the Internet picks up where television leaves off by offering a level of interactivity. Not only do we utilize the Internet to gather information, the Internet can also be used as a soapbox. The Internet has become our generation’s outlet for protest and muckraking.

Instead of taking to the streets with signs and demonstrations, we take to cyberspace and create virtual displays of political dismay. But can the Internet serve as a mechanism for progress?

With YouTube, MediaMatters, and MoveOn, mass audiences have the ability to access exposed scandals. But it’s difficult to believe that Web sites have the potential to ignite action when the first news Web site on the most visited list is foxnews.com. Not only that, MySpace is far ahead of credible news sites.

With all the flashy entertainment available on the Internet, who’d want to subject themselves to the despairing verisimilitude they’d find in the news? That’s like looking at a steakhouse menu and ordering a tofuburger – that is, you know it’s good for you, but it sure doesn’t taste nearly as good as a steak.

It certainly is not uplifting to know that despite a recent troop surge, the government is paying private mercenaries six times the amount a soldier receives to murder innocent Iraqi families.

The fact that foxnews.com is visited more often than The Washington Post or New York Times Web sites shows that people prefer to take their dosage of news with a dose of entertainment and fatuous commentary. That is, if they’re going to engage in political discourse at all.

Another hindrance of Internet activism is the loss of group interaction. Unless you and your buddies get together to stare at a computer screen and join Facebook groups or political Web sites, it’s a rather solitary endeavor. Sending e-mails about scandalous news might make you feel like a muckraker, but it’s not doing much more than relaying information.

That’s what’s most suffered by the Internet generation. Information may be abundant, but activism has become lackavism, a passive action. If this generation wants to take pride in calling itself the Internet generation, the way we use technology needs to change.

The Internet can be a very useful tool, but since our civil liberties continue to slowly dissipate and the most active we get is complaining about it in blogs, the way we approach the Internet is obviously not being used to its fullest potential. Either that, or it’s strictly a medium for relaying information, and it’s time to take to the streets.

Jake Perron welcomes comments at [email protected]