King's College London

Research portal

From cyber-autonomism to cyber-populism: An ideological history of digital activism

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)477-489
Number of pages13
JournaltripleC: Communication, Capitalism & Critique
Issue number2
Accepted/In press2 May 2017
Published29 May 2017


  • From cyber-autonomism_GERBAUDO_Publishedonline29May2017_VoR (CC BY-NC-ND)

    From_cyber_autonomism_GERBAUDO_Publishedonline29May2017_VoR_CC_BY_NC_ND_.pdf, 478 KB, application/pdf

    Uploaded date:14 Jul 2017

    Version:Final published version

    Licence:CC BY-NC-ND

    Published online in Triple C,, v.15 no. 2. Current URL:

King's Authors


The analysis of digital activism has so far been dominated by a techno-determinist approach which views the content of various forms of activism supported by digital communication, as directly reflecting the properties of the technologies utilised by activists and the historical evolution of such technologies. This line of interpretation has been manifested in the popularity acquired by notions as “Twitter protest” or “revolution 2.0” in the news media and in academic discourse in reference to recent protests. Moving beyond this reductionist trend, this article proposes an ideological approach to the study of digital activism and its historical transformation, which may better account for the combination of political, cultural and social factors involved in shaping it. I identity two main waves of digital activism, which correspond not only to two phases of technological development of the Internet (the so-called web 1.0 and web 2.0), but also to two different protest waves, the anti-globalisation movement, and the movement of the squares that began in 2011, each with its own dominant ideology. I argue that reflecting the seismic shift in perceptions and attitudes produced by the 2008 financial crash, and the connected shifts in social movement ideology, digital activism has moved from the margins to the centre of the political arena, from a countercultural posture to a counterhegemonic ambition. I describe this turn as a transition from cyber-autonomism to cyber-populism as the two defining techno-political orientations of the first and second wave of digital activism. Reflecting the influence of neo-anarchism and autonomism in the anti-globalisation movement cyber-autonomism viewed the Internet as an autonomous space where to construct a countercultural politics outside the mainstream. To the contrary, informed by the populist turn taken by 2011 and post-2011 movements cyber-populism approaches the Internet as a “popular space”, a generic space which is populated by ordinary citizens, and mostly dedicated to non-political activities, such as gossip, celebrity culture, or interpersonal communication, but which can nevertheless be politicised, and turned towards the purpose of popular mobilisation against the neoliberal elites responsible for economic and social disarray. This shift which substantially modifies the way in which activists conceives of and utilise digital media goes a long way towards explaining the differences in digital activism practices, and their contrasting views of the Internet as a tool and site of struggle.

Download statistics

No data available

View graph of relations

© 2020 King's College London | Strand | London WC2R 2LS | England | United Kingdom | Tel +44 (0)20 7836 5454