Insurgency On-Line is a theoretically-based and broadly cross-national comparison of Internet use by anti-government political movements. The project focuses on how selected groups use the Internet as an information provision tool in campaigns against particular governments. The project aims to provide conceptual tools to distinguish insurgency on-line as a form of information warfare as distinct from "information terrorism", evaluate the political implications of on-line technologies, and analyze the overall character of the new medium. The program aims to sharpen the focus between anti-government organizations that use the Internet as an information-provision medium and those that employ it to threaten or harass authorities or others through "hacking" or electronic sabotage. In order to achieve these ends, the project examines a broad selection of movements and organizations with an eye to their representation of politics to national and global publics.
The Internet is a new electronic medium whose interactivity, potential synchronicity, flexibility, relative low cost, availability to a limited but rapidly changing population, and capacity to function independently of location distinguish it from traditional media. The political impact of the Internet appears potentially enormous, but is now difficult to apprehend. A provocative dimension of the new medium is that previously unknown, marginal or illegal movements in specific jurisdictions can now articulate their interests to a significantly widened audience. In effect, social and political movements that were once largely limited to specific places now represent their ideas, goals and interests at a transnational level through electronic media.
Several interpretations of Internet use by anti-government movements have been put forward. Many analysts argue that the Internet effectively "de-territorializes" politics by diminishing the need to base political interaction in physical locations. Other analysts view new technologies as inherently dangerous. Analyses of "information terrorism" focus on how new on-line technologies directly threaten national and international security although these categories are far from clear in the contemporary dynamic and changing global environment. Some interpretations are even based in the literature on political terrorism where it is sometimes suggested that technological access should be limited in the name of security and order. In contrast to both approaches, Insurgency On-Line treats the emergence of Internet political communication as a component of a wider post-Cold War political context in which struggle between capitalism and communism has been supplanted by the multiplication of political identities seen, for example, in contemporary nationalism and religious movements.
Insurgency On-Line integrates and focuses concerns raised by theories of political communication, comparative politics, international relations, and security studies. The project integrates several elements in my ongoing research interests. Specifically, it re-situates the analysis of anti-government political movements seen in my articles and book (Action directe: Ultra-left terrorism in France, 1979-1987, Frank Cass, 1995) in the context of interpreting Internet communication. The method of discourse analysis developed in my previous research, which focuses on the main themes in groups' texts and relates them to overarching issues in their host political cultures, is herein adapted to on-line Internet research. Internet materials collected for analysis in the project resemble the documents collected in previous print-based research, but are applied to and interpreted in an emergent technological setting.
By distinguishing between technology used for anti-government information provision and information terrorism, the project refines analytical categories and clarifies issues for subsequent research. The research also casts the political implications of new on-line technologies in long-term and structural terms to the end of providing guidelines for more immediate policy purposes. In order to assess the implications of Internet media, the research is divided into two distinct parts. The first part examines a selection of movements from Europe, North America, Africa, Asia and Latin America that use the Internet to communicate their ideas, demands and interests. This portion of research locates specific movements and outlines their characters in a social, political and global context. This first part highlights the variety of anti-government movements on the Internet rather than develops over-arching generalizations.
The second part of the research project turns to interpreting the electronic and contextual fieldwork accomplished in the first section and begins a process of theory-building. A number of questions guide interpretation: what is the character and significance of the on-line political "communities" manifest in the hypermedia environment?; how does Internet political communication affect the relationship between various forms of government and insurgent oppositions?; do these movements threaten the state and sovereignty?; and, are the political repercussions of the relationships, connections and communities spawned by the Internet analogous to that of nationalism as it was shaped by rising literacy and print technology after the eighteenth century? Through addressing these issues, Insurgency On-Line defines an area for Political Science research that integrates elements from theories of political communication, comparative politics, international relations and political theory.
The wider social benefits of Insurgency On-line directly relate to public policy. Policy-makers now confront a proliferation of groups that use the Internet in different manners. Distinguishing information-provision activities from public and/or security threats will provide a substantial tool to guide policy response through enhancing capacity to characterize and qualify threats. Among other benefits, longer-term or structural concerns can be distinguished from issues that demand immediate response. Following this, definition of "on-line insurgents" as an analytic category will facilitate national and international conflict resolution. Information for use in negotiations or by mediators will thereby be framed in a political-ideological setting. Insurgency On-line also relates to issues of civil rights, their limits, and freedom of expression. A major consequence of differentiating insurgency on-line from information terrorism is that it clarifies issues around the possibility/impossibility of regulating expression on the Internet. Finally, the project also addresses foreign and international technology policies in that the potential for regulating insurgency on-line is set in a global and transnational context.
Insurgency On-Line incorporates several activities. The research will examine materials from a wide variety of groups:
The above list of groups, intended as a guideline, aims to broadly sample African, Asian, European, Latin American and North American organizations. All materials used are available in English on the WWW. English-language materials are used to examine precisely how the above groups communicate to a global public.
Insurgency On-Line analyzes the contents of each group's materials and the manner in which goals are communicated. The project is not simple data gathering. The methodologies used to examine the significance of materials are inter-disciplinary, including historical analysis of the context of messages, ideological analysis of the character of each group (for e.g., whether nationalist, religious or another viewpoint), technical analysis of how the message is transmitted (mailing lists, posting documents on WWW, e-mail, etc.), and discourse analysis (e.g. what goals are expressed? symbols used?). As indicated above, one part of the research involves assembling materials in order to apply a discourse-analysis method. The materials examined are located on the WWW. After that, the materials are linked to the Insurgency On-Line Website and downloaded for subsequent incorporation into an electronic archive that is the nucleus for a research resource.