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The Top Tech-Politics Developments of 2012

BY Micah L. Sifry | Monday, December 31 2012

Here's our subjective list of the top events and developments in the world of technology and politics in 2012. It's drawn from our just updated "Politics and the Internet" Timeline, and is built on the work of techPresident's editors and writers along with suggestions from an array of friends. We've added about 35 new items to the overall timeline, by the way. If you think we've left something out, or want to suggest a change to an existing item in the timeline, use this form to let us know.

January 18, 2012--SOPA/PIPA blackout day
Wikipedia, Google and other large sites lead online campaign against the "Stop Online Privacy" and "Protect IP" Acts. In total over 150,000 websites participated in the January 18th blackout resulting in both the House and Senate deciding to drop the proposed legislation. As many as 10 million emails, calls and faxes flooded into Congress as a result of the anti-SOPA campaign. See "The Day the Internet Started Fighting Congress" for more details.

February 1-3, 2012--Komen Foundation reverses anti-Planned Parenthood decision after massive online protest wave
After the Komen Foundation announced that it was ending its support for Planned Parenthood's breast cancer screening program, supporters of Planned Parenthood responded with a massive wave of online protests. Sites like "Planned Parenthood Saved Me," a Tumblr detailing personal stories, went viral, while feminist activists raised millions of dollars for the organization, more than offsetting the loss in funding. Within just three days, Komen backed down. See "With Pinterest and Twitter, Activists are Out to Punish Komen," for more details.

March 5, 2012--"Kony 2012" video goes viral
Invisible Children, a grassroots organization focused on saving child soldiers in Uganda, launched a powerful YouTube video on this day. It spread rapidly from IC's base on predominantly Christian college campuses thanks to the help of tweets from celebrities, and ultimately garnered more than 92 million views, astounding online organizers who had never seen a 30-minute video spread so fast or so far. But ultimately, the group's campaign fizzled after its founder suffered an apparent nervous breakdown. See "#StopKony: The Simple Viral Demand That Sparked a Broad Debate" for details.

May 17, 2012--Americans Elect, Internet-based third-party effort, gives up 2012 drive
After raising a reported $20 million to $30 million and paying for petitioners to get ballot access in more than 20 states, the Americans Elect third-party effort gave up on its attempt to build an internet-driven nomination process when it failed to attract any major presidential candidates to participate. See "Americans Don't Elect to Use Americans Elect; 3rd Party Hits Wall?" for details.

May 23, 2012--Obama campaign unveils new "Dashboard" online organizing platform
President Obama's re-election campaign unveiled its revamped online organizing platform with a focus on metrics and team-building to allow it to better manage its massive base of volunteers and field organizers. It builds on 2008's but puts more emphasis on individual volunteers, neighborhood organizing teams and their ongoing performance metrics. See "The New and Not-So-New In Obama's "Dashboard" for details.

July 6, 2012--United Nations says Internet freedom is basic human right
The 47-member UN Human Rights Council in Geneva affirmed, in a non-binding resolution, that “the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online, in particular freedom of expression, which is applicable regardless of frontiers and through any media of one’s choice.” See "What the UNHRC's "Internet Freedom" Resolution Might Mean" for details.

July 18, 2012--YouTube unveils new tool enabling facial blurring to protect activists
Responding to calls from privacy and human rights activists, YouTube launched a new feature that allows users to obscure faces that appear within videos before posting them. See "YouTube Now Lets You Blur Faces in Videos: What This Means for Safety-Minded Activists" for details.

July 19. 2012--Washington State becomes first in U.S. to enable online voter registration
Washington state became the first state to officially rolling out online voter registration via a Facebook application developed by Microsoft, free of charge. When users access the app, it asks them to give permission to transfer their name and date of birth from their Facebook profile to the application's interface, where it performs a real-time check to see if the voter is already registered. If not, it allows the voter to register, assuming the user has a Washington state driver's license or I.D. card number. See "Washington to Allow People to Register to Vote Through Facebook" for details.

August 3, 2012--Google enables advertisers to target ads by congressional district
While online advertisers have long been able to target voters by zipcode, Google is the first platform to enable them to target their audience specifically by congressional district. (The new functionality adds a level of granularity that isn't available through Facebook.) See "Google Now Allows Advertisers To Target Ads By Congressional District" for details.

August 14, 2012--Malaysian activists stage one day internet blackout to protest proposed government legislation
Malaysian activists and business owners staged a one-day Internet blackout on August 14 to raise public awareness of Amendment 114A to the Evidence Act. The amendment would make people responsible for any content coming out of their computers, mobile devices or Internet connections — including anonymous comments left on their blogs and social media accounts. It would also mean that business owners would be held responsible for information posted on the Internet by users taking advantage of the free WiFi available in cafes and other commercial venues. People accused of hosting or disseminating dissent via anonymous comments would be deemed guilty until they prove themselves innocent, so one could even be held accountable for information posted on an account that had been hacked. See "Malaysian Activists Stage One Day Internet Blackout to Protest Proposed Government Legislation" for details.

Late August, 2012--Cryptoparties, do-it-yourself user privacy training sessions, go viral
Born in Australia, when digital freedom activist Asher Wolf began discussing the idea on Twitter following the passage of that country's Cybercrime Legislation Amendment Bill 2011 and the proposal of a two-year data retention law, "crypoparties" took off as do-it-yourself training sessions in online privacy self-protection. Within days of the idea appearing, events had been held in events have been held in Sydney, Melbourne, Berlin, Cairo, Tel Aviv and several U.S. cities. Participants teach each other the basics of practical cryptography such as how to use the Tor anonymity network, the principles of key signing parties, and the use of virtual private networks. See "Internet Users Learn to Protect their Online Privacy at Crypto Parties" for details.

August 28, 2012--Jordanian websites go dark in protest of proposed legislation to censor internet
Over two hundred Jordanian websites went dark in a anti-SOPA-like protest of draft legislation that would allow the government to block and censor Internet content. The action was coordinated by a grassroots organization of tech savvy Jordanians and the editors of various Jordanian websites, with blackout screens on dozens of widely read digital news sites and blogs. The blackout was augmented by Twitter participation via the hashtags #blackoutjo and #freenetjo and a website called 7oryanet (Freedomnet). Queen Noor (@Queen Noor), widow of the previous ruler, King Hussein of Jordan, joined the protest on Twitter, calling the proposed legislation "hypocrisy." See "Jordanian Websites Go Dark in Protest of Proposed Legislation to Censor Internet" for details.

August 28 and September 4, 2012--"Internet Freedom" embraced in Republican and Democratic party platforms
The concept of "Internet freedom" became part of each major American political party's national platform for the first time in 2012. The move addresses the recent demands of Internet activists and groups for both parties to adopt language addressing the issue, and illustrates the enduring impact of the movement created by the broad protests against the Stop Online Piracy Act in January. The text of the Republican plank is here; the text of the Democratic plank is here.

August 29, 2012--President Obama does an "Ask Me Anything" session on

For the first time, a sitting president went live on the popular user forum to take questions from members. The resulting burst attention actually overwhelmed the site, which normally gets about one million unique visitors a day, causing its servers to go down. His campaign later said that the online appearance on the site had caused a spike in voter registration among young people, a target audience.

September 28, 2012--France's techies block tax increases with online "Pigeons" protest
Calling themselves “Les Pigeons” (French slang for “suckers”), a group of young Internet entrepreneurs launched an online campaign in protest of the government's planned tax hike, which they said would hurt small companies like startups. Prominent French bloggers like The Liberal Parisian and Kelblog published posts in support of les pigeons while the Twitter hashtag #GEONPi trended and the campaign caught the attention of the mainstream media. In a practically unprecedented instance of a social media campaign affecting government policy in France, les pigeons were successful: President François Hollande’s government rolled back its planned tax hike. The campaign began with an opinion piece published on September 28 in the French business daily La Tribune by venture capitalist Jean-David Chamboredon, the leader of an IT investors' lobbying group called France Digitale. This article would have gone unnoticed had it not been for a dedicated Facebook page, introduced on September 28 by the founders of young internet start-ups such as Whoozer and Yopps to share their indignation. The page soon had 72,000 followers, while Twitter users replaced their profile picture with a pigeon. See "France's Techies Flap their Wings at Tax Increases With Online "Pigeons" Protest" for details.

October 19, 2012--Iceland citizens vote in favor of crowdsourced Constitution
Iceland's new constitution, drawn up in the wake of the collapse of its financial and political institutions in 2008, was affirmed in a nonbinding vote participated in by nearly half the country's citizens, with 66% voting in favor. The process of drafting the new governing document made extensive use of crowdsourcing along with more traditional methods of consulting experts. The “crowdsourcing body in charge” was a council of 25 members elected by popular vote from a field of 522 candidates over the age of 18. This council posted draft clauses on a weekly basis, with comments from the public invited via Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. More than 1600 comments were submitted. See "Iceland Citizens Vote in Favor of Crowdsourced Constitution" for details.

November 6, 2012--With the help of digital infrastructure, Obama wins re-election
Barack Obama won re-election to a second term as the 44th president of the United States with a campaign that was undergirded by disciplined digital effort that relied heavily on targeted voter communications, an ambitious ground game, and extensive and innovative use of data analysis, social media and online fundraising tools. For more details on the results of the Obama and Romney digital efforts, read this.

November 29-December 2, 2012--Syria temporarily cuts off access to the Internet
For the first time since the start of Syria's bloody civil war, nearly all access to the Internet was halted inside the country for three days. Internet connection was restored after only three days. Afterwards, the Electronic Frontier Foundation reported that the restoration of online communication was accompanied by powerful new malware that targets anti-regime activists. "One of the few IP addresses to stay online was the address implicated in the ongoing campaign of surveillance malware targeting Syrian dissidents since November 2011," EFF said, "including a fake anti-hacking tool, a fake Skype encryption tool, and
fake documents allegedly pertaining to the formation of the leadership council of the Syrian revolution. Now EFF has detected two new campaigns of surveillance malware associated with the same IP address — the first we have detected since this summer." See "Syria's Internet Completely Cut Off for the First Time Since its Civil War Began" for details.

December 10, 2012--Facebook ends its experiment with user-democracy
Facebook's experiment with involving its users in establishing their own rules of self-governance was ended when only a half million account holders voted to keep the existing system. That was nowhere close to 30 percent threshold needed under the rules now abolished. (With one billion users, a binding vote would have required 300 million people to participate.) Facebook had announced just prior to Thanksgiving that it wanted to end the process that invited its users to vote on changes to the way the site was governed. The reason, the company said in a post online, was that the policy was resulting in a lot of low-quality feedback. The company wants to instead hold online townhalls to engage in conversations with its users about its policies. See "'Facebookistan''s Experiment With 'Democracy' Ends With A Whimper" for details.

December 12, 2012--The Pope joins Twitter
Two weeks after the Vatican announced that the Pope would be joining Twitter, Benedict XVI sent his first message to 1.3 million followers in eight different languages Twitter accounts on this day. It read, "Dear friends, I am pleased to get in touch with you through Twitter. Thank you for your generous response. I bless you from all my heart." The Vatican also released a photo showing the Pope tweeting on an iPad. His handle, @pontifex, is Latin for "bridge builder."