Complete Story


Summer 2002, pages 33-59

Homestead Acts: Rhetoric and Property in the American West and on the World Wide Web

Abstract: This paper analyzes a recent Internet-based protest action in terms of its historical and rhetorical antecedents. Throughout the mid-1990s, the GeoCities company offered visitors a "deed" to a small portion of electronic storage space, so long as these virtual "homesteaders" maintained and improved these parcels of cyberspace-based "property." This exchange, based expressly on the terms of the 1862 Homestead Act, proved popular, and GeoCities thrived to the point that it was taken over by the Internet giant Yahoo. When Yahoo circulated a change in the GeoCities Terms of Service which claimed ownership to the intellectual property found on the homesteaders' home pages, the residents of GeoCities responded with a visually sophisticated protest which quickly generated national publicity and created a public relations nightmare for Yahoo. This protest ultimately demonstrated the homesteaders' ability to organize online, and then to discover the available means of persuasion within the relatively novel communicative spaces of the World Wide Web.

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