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The politics and ethics of cyberactivism

Image of Stefania Milan

Stefania Milan (Tilburg University / Citizen Lab)

Ethics of technology and ethics of organizing:The cyberactivists’ struggle for moral values in cyberspace

This paper explores the politics and ethics of cyberactivism. Cyberactivism indicate the realm of collective action in cyberspace that addresses network infrastructure or exploits the infrastructure’s technical and ontological features for political or social change. Examples of cyberactivism include electronic disturbance tactics, the autonomous creation of infrastructure, software and hardware hacking, and hacktivism. Although some of their critics consider these activists to be some sort of anarchic cyber-guerillas, cyberactivists reclaim for themselves a role of “guardians” of the internet. They embody a set of moral norms grounded on values such as openness, transparency and self-expression. In this paper, I explore these norms and ethical discourses. I distinguish between two dimensions: the ethics of technology and the ethics of organizing, which are strictly interrelated. The ethics of technology, in particular, is visible in the design of technology and infrastructure, which for activists is both a process and the outcome of activism.


Stefania Milan ( is curious about self-organization in cyberspace, data activism, and the politics of code. A (political) sociologist of the web, she enjoys experimenting with digital and action-oriented research methods, and seeks ways of bridging research with policy and action. She is the author of Social Movements and Their Technologies: Wiring Social Change (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), and co-author of Media/Society (Sage, 2011). Currently, she is assistant professor of Data Journalism at Tilburg University, the Netherlands, where she founded the Data J Lab, a research lab dedicated to Big Data analytics. She is also a fellow at the Citizen Lab, Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto.