The activist's toolbox: 10 ways to get your voice heard

10. Traditional action

Not all contemporary campaigning is conducted via digital methods. Some of the most effective ways of creating social or political change still involve time-honoured activities like door-knocking, public demonstrations and marches, acts of civil disobedience and writing to your local representative.

When it comes to petition, there's no competition. Here's how to start a digital critical mass with the world's biggest campaign platform.

Having snowballed from one million users in 2010 to some 25 million users last year, is the poster child for the new digital social action platforms, helping a reported 15,000 people per month globally start new petitions to address issues that matter to them.

It's entirely free to use, meaning you don't need to pay any money to start your online petition.

However, the measure of how successful it will ultimately be will depend on how well you devote your time and energy to actively promoting it.

While has been criticised for not being entirely forthright about its commercial purposes — against internet norms, this .org site is actually a for-profit business, which attracts advertising revenue from a huge range of cause-based organisations and industries, whose motives may not be entirely clear to an unsuspecting user.

Yet there's no denying the site has enabled thousands of everyday people to effect real change by highlighting important issues, which otherwise may have flown under the community's radar.

Some famous victories include successfully petitioning the Florida police force to prosecute the killer of a 17-year-old youth, curbing the Bank of America's monthly account fees and urging the South African parliament to establish a national task force to prevent "corrective rape".

But as other commentators have pointed out, the larger success of the site lies in the countless numbers of smaller, local victories that might not make the national headlines, but which nonetheless create positive change at a community level.

To get inspired, check out the numerous examples of campaign victories listed on the site.

Starting a campaign is as simple as following these three steps:

  1. Who do you want to petition? Provide the name of an individual, organisation or government body.
  2. What do you want them to do? This could really be anything, but be careful to ensure that it's a realistic, supportable goal and one that's clearly tied to the responsibilities or interests of the individual or group you're petitioning.
  3. Why is this important? Make your case: explain why someone should support your petition.

Of course, that's just getting things started. There's lots more information on the site about how to get your campaign noticed, including tips and FAQs.

Hacktivism vs slacktivism

With great power comes great responsibility, so be careful: you can go too far or not far enough.

Depending on the courage of your convictions, the hidden dangers of digital social action lie in the ease of access that modern consumers enjoy to powerful tools of technological disruption, which can either encourage us to blithely do either too much or too little in the name of our beliefs.

A great body of commentators has dispelled the rise of digital consumer power as an impotent smokescreen; in short, hitting a 'Like' button once on a social network to placate your activist friend and then forgetting to ever follow up with any semblance of ongoing or meaningful actual support is hardly an effective form of democratic participation.

This phenomenon has given rise to the term 'slacktivism', which refers to all the ineffectual and lazy token forms of armchair activism, which probably amount to very little in terms of actually changing the world.

On the other side of the coin, for those who are very determined to achieve their ends, the power of technology can be used in all manner of unethical and illegal ways to promote a cause.

Think of the continuing debates surrounding Wikileaks, the exploits of hacker groups like Anonymous, or the sad case of US internet activist Aaron Swartz, who took his own life while being threatened with a controversial prosecution over an alleged theft of digital academic resources.

In the world of hacktivism, many well-meaning people break the law while attempting to do what they think is right, but the consequences (legal and otherwise) can be unexpected and far-reaching.