The Dynamics of Backlash Online

Anonymous and the Battle for WikiLeaks

Article appearing in Research in Social Movements, Conflicts, and Change

  • Co-Author:
  • Jessica L. Beyer with Jennifer Earl
  • Publisher: Emerald Group Publishing Limited
  • Date: September, 2014
Research in Social Movements, Conflicts and Change

We analyze reactions to the U.S. government-led repression of WikiLeaks in late 2010 by actors such as Anonymous and the Pirate Parties to argue that the potential for backlash, which has been so prominent offline, is also a potential repercussion of repression online. In doing so, we use existing research to identify different ways in which bystanders might be pulled into conflicts, and examine our case for evidence of any of these forms of backlash. We also hypothesize that the net observed effect of repression is really the result of competing and/or amplifying backlash and deterrence effects; when this net effect is in favor of backlash, we call it a “net backlash effect” to indicate that there was more backlash than deterrence. We argue that net backlash occurs when repression recruits more bystanders into a conflict than it is able to deter in terms of already active participants. We also argue that backlash is a very likely outcome when Internet activism is repressed.