OpinionOp-Ed

Alyssa Milano, media actorvist

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When you've been working since you were 8, as Alyssa Milano has, it takes a special kind of role to get you really excited. Using your birthday to raise money for clean water in Ethiopia, for instance. Or hunkering down with the beleaguered in Kosovo and Angola, as a UNICEF goodwill ambassador. Or getting help for African women and children with AIDS. Or her latest — creating "Hacktivist," a four-issue graphic novel/comic book whose heroes run a world-beating social media company by day and practice world-beating social activism by night. The star of TV's "Charmed" and "Who's the Boss?" has a lot to say, in 140 characters or more.

How did you become engaged in the "Hacktivist" issues — social media, the hacker group Anonymous and digital radicals?

During the protests in Iran, I was fascinated that [the news] media were not in Iran, yet they were reporting what they were learning on Twitter or Facebook. I found that to be monumental. People were using social media to put things in motion, and there were coders here cracking codes there, opening up firewalls. People came together to make things happen.

I thought, "This is revolutionary. This is how things are going to change." WikiLeaks and Anonymous and these groups exposing what was happening and trying to create transparency [about] everything going on in the world — it's very much what journalists did in the '60s and '70s, except now we have total access to all information.

What do you think of the Edward Snowden saga?

There are certain people who, whether it be through fate or their own tenacity, change things up. Just as it took a certain type of person to break the color barrier in baseball, it took this guy, who had to know what the ramifications were going to be. He would take the risk for what he truly believes is the betterment of the country, regardless of what his critics believe, to get an outcome that would potentially change the way we function. If it wasn't Snowden, it would have been another guy as ballsy and well-positioned.

Is transparency always a good thing? Daniel Ellsberg withheld several volumes of the Pentagon Papers because they were about peace negotiations still in progress.

It's hard to be fighting for transparency if you're not going to be totally transparent. Organizations like Anonymous and WikiLeaks are swinging the pendulum [against secrecy] so that it balances out in the middle. Do I think it's helpful that all of the information is out? No, but I feel it's almost a necessity now. Politically, socially, it's so horrifying — I'm disenchanted by the entire political process, the entire media process. It's kind of corrupt.

Your comic's two protagonists run a social media company but have the hacktivist thing going too.

They're two sides of the same coin, and how this technology can be used for good and bad. The bad part starts to show itself in the second issue.

You have access to TV and filmmakers — why choose comics to tell a story?

Being in television for as long as I have, I didn't want to pitch this and have them tell me every single reason why it couldn't be done or had to be done in a certain way. I wanted the idea to be in its purest form and not have any boundaries, and that just doesn't happen anymore in film and television.

Archaia's [editor], Stephen Christy, got it immediately. I'm not sure many other [comic] companies would have taken the risk because there's no guy with superpowers or some crazy suit or a cape. There's no gimmick. It's two regular guys who are changing the world through their skill, which is hacking, coding.

We didn't have any of those things that you go up against with a studio or a network trying to tell you to keep under budget. If we wanted a helicopter chase scene, it didn't cost us any more money! It was very fulfilling.

Who is your audience?

The comic book fan, the technology fan, and I hope the fans who have grown up with me, who might not be into graphic novels, would have some interest in this. I hope it does great things for the comic book industry and women within it. I really want to make it easier for women in comics.

When you were researching the story line, you met with some hackers. One hacked your phone as you sat across from him.

This is what these guys do. We had some high-up members of Anonymous who helped in making sure everything I was portraying was at least feasible. I would love to go to one of these hacking conventions.

You've been clever in using the Internet to make a point, in your tweets or in posting a mock-sex tape at "Funny or Die" that was a dig at Americans' interest in world affairs.

I was not making a political statement; I was making a social statement.

I'd been trying for some time, through UNICEF, to educate people about what was going on in Syria. It seemed nobody cared, nobody was clicking on that. But put in "Alyssa Milano sex tape" and suddenly you have a million hits in the first two hours. It was covered by more news outlets than what was going on in Syria.

The people who follow my tweets are not people who care about the new shoes I just bought. They know what I'm putting out there. Even 10 years ago, a celebrity had no real outlet to educate or empower, unless they were on some talk show. Now we have this responsibility, this audience 24 hours a day, seven days a week. How powerful is that?

There's no news channel [regularly] covering what's going on with dolphins [being slaughtered in Japan], but you can't get on Twitter without seeing some post about it. There's a live webcam covering it. Hopefully my being very vocal through social media would help inspire people to create change.

Is there a privacy line anymore?

That exploitation [of] public figures — there's an audience for it. It used to be the [National] Enquirer and the Star at the cash register, and that was it. Now [people] can ingest it in their beds with their laptops. They don't have to pay for it.

I've had nothing to hide. But once I had my son — he didn't choose this life of being a public figure. Do you even know what Elizabeth Taylor's children look like? But we all know what Halle Berry's children look like, or Jen Garner's. The Internet has made this an entirely separate celebrity business. The only privacy I think celebrities have — and it's unfortunate, because it keeps us out of touch from the rest of the world — is behind gates and closed doors.

You mention "paying for it." The idea has taken hold that everything online should be free. But movies, TV, graphic novels cost money. Is there a solution?

I was one of the first celebrities to sue a website for copyright infringement for using pictures they didn't have permission to use. We won. It was nude scenes I'd done in films. They were taking still frames from films. Now they're taking the entire film. I don't know the answer. We just have to stay ahead of the piraters.

You've been politically engaged for a long time, posing for PETA ads and kissing Ryan White, the early poster boy of AIDS, working with UNICEF.

I was raised by very politically active parents, so to me there's no real separation between how to be a good human being and how to give back and be a productive member of society. They were very vocal about how what they had done in the '60s had changed their lives.

You're pursuing serious causes; you're also a deep-blue Dodger fan. How are their prospects?

I always have hopes that we are going to win the World Series. I'm that fan who goes into every spring training thinking this is the year. But until we put together a team that can beat the Cardinals in the playoffs, it's all irrelevant. We could have the greatest season ever, and we get to the Cardinals, and all of a sudden, we can't beat that team! It's crazy.

This interview was edited and excerpted from a taped transcript. patt.morrison@latimes.com. Twitter: @pattmlatimes.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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