How the revolution became digitized

"People like molly or the thousands of other people that start campaigns every single month are shocked at their own power, their own capacity to make a difference on things they previously couldn't affect . . . and now they can," said Rattray.

On Thursday a petition with some 250,000 signatures gathered online was delivered to Apple's flagship New York store demanding better treatment for workers in China who make iPhones and iPads.

The dark side of shiny Apple products

Just last week, a top official from of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Fund resigned after an online uproar that forced Komen to reverse a funding cut to Planned Parenthood.

Lindsey Turrentine, editor in chief of CNET (a part of CBS), has been watching the explosion of online activism.

"There's always been protests in the world, from the French Revolution and beyond," said Turrentine. "But now protest happens a lot faster, and big corporations and governments find that they need to react at a speed that they might not be comfortable with.

It doesn't have to be a life-and-death issue, or even about money.

In the fall of 2010, San Francisco-based clothing company the Gap had a surprise when they floated an idea for a new logo online, replacing their decades-old blue square logo with a new one.

Customers howled.

"There was a lot of passion about the changes that we had made, there was a lot of passion about the old logo, and it was really clear that they wanted to have a voice in the changes that we were making," said marketing director Olivia Doyne.

The Gap logo stayed put, and the company has a new sensitivity to what customers want.

"People feel very passionate about this brand and they want to have a say in how we evolve," said Doyne.

When lawmakers came close to passing anti-piracy bills, the Internet response was even more pointed.

The Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect Intellectual Property Act would, many believed, squelch the freedom of the Internet.

For a day, major websites were dressed in black suggesting the threat of censorship. The only thing Wikipedia users could look up was the name of their Congressman.

"It turns out millions and millions of people looked up their congressional representatives," said Wikipedia's Jay Walsh.

And not long afterwards, those Congressional representatives were saying, I've had some second thoughts about this.

"I mean, we knew that a lot of people come to Wikipedia," said Walsh. "We knew that it would have an impact. But I don't think we quite appreciated how immediate and how rapid. And it was a wonderful reality."

"What I think politicians found was that there's a whole, very intelligent, very vocal group of people on the Internet who are able to explain the complexities of these issues maybe even better than the politicians are able to do," said CNETs' Turrentine.

And the speed at which they can do it is astounding.

On the social networking service Twitter, users can send a 140-character message instantaneously, to everyone they know, anywhere in the world.

For revolutionaries it's a game-changer.

"It's a very different experience when you see the rush of military police coming at you, and thinking it's you and your eight friends, as opposed to thinking it's you, your eight friends, and the rest of the world behind you," said Twitter CEO Dick Costolo.

"One of the first things that happened a couple years ago was we actually had some planned maintenance we were going to do to the service and needed to take it down, but it was during everything that was happening in Iran, when folks in Iran were using twitter to communicate with each other during these protests," said Costolo.

"And we actually received a request from the State Department, 'Please don't do planned maintenance while the folks in Iran are using your service to communicate with each other.' And I think that was kind of Phase One of the slap in the head of Uh-oh, you know, this is really important!"

"Does every government, every company, have to fear what may happen on Twitter now?" asked Blackstone.

"I think they have to embrace what's happening on Twitter," said Costolo.

From politicians to the biggest corporations, there is no avoiding the power that the Internet and social media have given to those who were once powerless.

After Molly Katchpole helped to defeat the Bank of America, she took on Verizon for adding a consumer fee - and won that battle, too.

She is far from alone in aiming to change the world with no weapon but a keyboard.

"I think there's a lot of stuff that has yet to be conquered," Katchpole said. "And I'm excited to help conquer it!"

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