Building and Defending the Alternative Internet: The Birth of the Digital Rights Movement in France

TitleBuilding and Defending the Alternative Internet: The Birth of the Digital Rights Movement in France
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2018
AuthorsPétin, P., and Félix Tréguer
JournalInternet Histories
Date Published11/2018
KeywordsActivism, France, Hackers, History, Internet policy

In the mid-1990s, as the Internet underwent a major wave of growth and commodification, it also became increasingly politicised. In this article, we analyse the process that led to the birth of the digital rights movement in France. Based on archival work and interviews with key protagonists of the movement, this article blends historical, sociological and policy analysis to help explain the politicisation of French “Internet pioneers”. It documents the emergence of alternative Internet service providers, their relationship to other activist groups, and to the wider digital economy. It then shows how the same small group of individuals turned to political advocacy by surveying some of their interactions with policy-makers, focusing in particular on the debate on intermediary liability and freedom of expression. We stress that the particular social trajectories of these digital rights activists confronted with the commodification of the Internet and the power practices of the state converged to create a “perfect storm” that led them to wield exceptional influence on Internet policy in this early phase of development. We also highlight some of the movement’s internal contradictions and explain its waning influence from the early 2000s on. Through this article, we hope to help diversify the historiography of digital activism as well as to contribute to comparative-historical approaches.