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Digital dustups: Can social media protest force corporate change?

Lucas Mearian | April 14, 2014
Backlash against online protests is likely.

A week after Mozilla's CEO was forced to step down for his stance against gay marriage, an ad hoc group is calling for a boycott of cloud storage company Dropbox because it plans to include former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on its board of directors.

Drop Dropbox site
The Drop Dropbox website image.

The announcement of Rice's appointment on Dropbox's blog site was peppered with comments both fervently for and against the move.

At the very least, the protests are being enabled by the Web, if not specifically encouraged by it and social media sites that spread the opinions of users in ways never before capable.

There are two components driving the trend in Internet protests: They tend to be effective against Web services and online networks allow people to mobilize quickly, according to Daniel Castro, a senior IT policy analyst with the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a non-partisan think tank.

"I think these types of protests can be very effective if [used] against online services like a Dropbox or a Mozilla because their users are online and they can quickly take an action," Castro said. "They can go online and switch their service or not download Firefox anymore."

Yesterday, a webpage called Drop Dropbox popped up on the Web and began building momentum after being posted to sites such as Reddit.

"This is deeply disturbing, and anyone or any business who values ethics should be concerned," the Drop Dropbox website states. "When a company quite literally has access to all of your data, ethics become more than a fun thought experiment."

The webpage cites Rice's position as President George W. Bush's National Security Advisor in the lead up to the Iraq War and her support for the war. It also claims Rice supported the torture of al-Qaeda suspects and warrantless wiretaps.

"Condoleezza Rice could have resigned from the Bush Administration if she believed these actions -- all of which she was deeply involved with -- were wrong. She did not," the protest page concludes.

Last week, Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich stepped down after less than two weeks in the post after he came under fire because of his support for California's Proposition 8 ballot initiative. In 2008, Eich contributed to supporters of Prop 8, a measure that banned same-sex marriage before a court overturned it as unconstitutional.

The week prior to Eich's resignation, Mozilla employees used Twitter to protest his appointment.

And two weeks ago, a campaign on Twitter to get Comedy Central to cancel the late-night satirical television program The Colbert Report garnered thousands of "retweets" and news coverage.


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