Social Netwar

“In August 1996, we called for the creation of a network of independent media, a network of information. We mean a network to resist the power of the lie that sells us this war that we call the Fourth World War. We need this network not only as a tool for our social movements, but for our lives: this is a project of life, of humanity, humanity which has a right to critical and truthful information.”

– Subcomandante Marcos

Our Word Is Our Weapon


The rise of the internet and Subcomandante Marcos’s goal to transform civil society through the power of the word complimented each other. He believed in the power of the word.  So, he took part in “information wars”, which meant  informing people about the wrongs of the government and also keeping Mexican activists  observers, journalists and intellectuals present or near the conflict zone. This compensated for the Zapatistas inability to hold physical space outside Chiapas. An information war prevents violence and promotes negotiations, which is another one of the movements goals: transformation through non violence.

Information Age

  • 1964: Invention of Fax, more commonly used in 1970
  • 1971: First Email was sent
  • 1973: First cell phone call
  •  Even though internet existed since 1969, the World Wide Web, created in 1989 made using the internet popular –-because it was easier and more accessible.This allowed for sharing of information by individuals, groups, and organizations.
  • 1997: First social network site,
  • 2001: Satellite Radio

The availability of information allows for NGOs to connect and coordinate with each other more than they would without this resource. The cooperation among groups was strengthened by the increase in human rights and indigenous NGOs.  In 1984 in Mexico there were 4 human right organizations, by 1991 there were 60; by 1993 there were more than 200 (Ronfeldt 37.)

The information wars included propaganda and media in its traditional sense. EZLN chose strong visual iconography to promote immediate recognition on the television and in pictures to aid their media push and generate a following. Marcos still wears a costume consisting of military garb, a black balaclava and corncob pipe.

Most importantly, the Zapatistas are known for their presence in the internet to spread ideas.

During a time when email was almost non existent, less than 1% of the population was online, the EZLN was building relationships online, joining the anti-globalization movement, and recruiting people for their own group. The ability of the EZLN to use the then infant technology of the internet to engage this global community brought in many players from various movements that aimed to protect marginalized communities from market driven globalization. These players ranged from feminist groups to LGBT groups to other indigenous groups around the world – any collection of marginalised people aiming to gain political legitimacy. The fact that marginalized groups were taking part in the technology revolution was extremely empowering.

Early 1990’s:

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Early 2000’s

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Internet use 2002 vs 2012

The EZLN started to use email lists, Usenet groups, listservs and websites to disseminate communiqués written by Marcos to the global support network and to fundraise for their cause. This network grew in size and geography, pushing the message to larger audiences and strengthening it from downfall through anonymity and scale.  Post information about what the EZLN is doing next, for example, on April 29, there was a screening of a Zapatista documentary. They post actions of fellow human rights leaders. Ways to get involved with other groups such as conferences and events for other groups like Yaquis. The site also provides press releases and letters to officials for the public to see.

The issue with this push towards technology, however, left out many of their own people in Chiapas behind. Many members of the Zapatista movement did not have access to the technology and knowledge required to become part of the online community. This meant that they were dependent on others in the group becoming their spokespeople. One way the Zapatista quelled this was by hosting an offline event for the various members of the online movement to meet. This movement to offline communication was extremely popular and successful, strengthening relationships and allowing the inclusion of those on the wrong side of the digital divide.

The massive push towards technological literacy made encuentros possible:

1996 – Intercontinental Encuentro for Humanity and Against Neoliberalism was a conference held in Chiapas, MX Subcomandante Marcos organized to discuss alternatives to neo-capitalist globalization. The group suggested creating a network that was “horizontal” and “self organizing” More than 3,000 grassroots activists attended. The meeting assured an intercontinental network of resistance and communication, and was so successful that a second Encuentro was held a year later in Europe.



During the beginning of this year, the hacktivist Anonymous group teamed up with the Zapatistas to hack the website belonging to the Mexican Department of Defense. Anonymous strongly opposes internet censorship and surveillance, which explains why they would attack the Dept of Defense. On the site, they posted a statement in support of the Zapatistas. This is an excerpt: “Our struggle is for life, and the bad government offers death as a future. Our fight is for respect and for our right to govern and be governed, and the evil government imposes upon the majority the law of the minority. Our struggle is for freedom of thought and action, and the evil government makes prisons and tombs,”

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They left this video on the Mexican Ministry of Defense page:

Zapatista Hactivism: