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Cyberactivism and the #CleanURlake Protest

// Posted by on 11/02/2014 (10:07 PM)

For this experience, my group, which included myself, Elizabeth, and Brendan, decided to have students organize a protest—in two senses. The first component of the activity involved the establishment of an online campaign, including a Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook

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For this experience, my group, which included myself, Elizabeth, and Brendan, decided to have students organize a protest—in two senses. The first component of the activity involved the establishment of an online campaign, including a Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook account (CleanURlake). We also tried to start some hashtags, including one named after the accounts and #URecoli. Students also utilized Yik Yak, which was appropriate considering it is an anonymous social network, and much of our decision in class revolved around the concept of anonymity and the authenticity (or lack) thereof.
After laying the online groundwork and starting to spread the word, students were left with the responsibility of leading a physical protest in front of Boatwright Library. We simply asked students to come prepared, with signs, with evidence of research and a sufficiently strong knowledge of pollution in the lake, including the perturbingly high levels of E. Coli. We also offered flyers, which included the aforementioned hashtags, so as to pique students’ interest and perhaps even get them talking online. Below is a link to a YouTube video, which includes footage of the protest, as well as a few pictures from before, during, and after the protest, just to put the experience into perspective.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HtXdv73Hcmk
The approach to this experience was wholly unique in terms of the fact that it was based so strongly around the concept of horizontalism, which stands firmly opposed to hierarchical structures of any kind. In our case, it was our intention to lead this experience by not necessarily taking the lead and acting as co-participants instead. One need not look too far to realize the inspiration for such a decision: In “Inside Occupy Wall Street,” Jeff Sharlet notes that Occupy’s “resistance to organized leadership has proved enduring… The evasion of organized leadership that for many began as a tactic—leaders are targets and weak links, subject to prosecution and co-option—has now grown into a principle.” We translated the horizontal proclivities of Occupy and other movements staged in both a physical and digital realm to the confines of our own class experience, so as to measure the viability of horizontalism and to determine whether it helps or hinders a movement.
To some extent, I am unsure whether or not our experience was a completely fair representation of horizontalism in activism. My group had left the horizontal aspect up to question, hoping to surprise students with the experience. Ultimately, that was a mistake. I think we were inspired by the previous group’s emphasis on surprising the class with their experience, and we decided to go a similar route, not wanting to give much information away ahead of time. However, what we did not consider—or at least what I did not consider—was simply the fact that group three’s experience thrived with the element of surprise. When students could not come in prepared to take part in a digital divide simulation, and when they were simply thrown into writing a response to the question of whether or not digital copyrighting perpetuates inequality, they were left with a more authentic experience. When a group like Occupy, or at least the individuals who get the proverbial ball rolling, decide that they want to lead demonstrations, they do so not on a whim, but over time. They prepare, and we should have recognized the importance of fully informing students so as to enable them to prepare as they needed. I believe that we did with regards to the physical protest, but we did not with regards to the social networking component. So was horizontalism successful in our case? Well, not as much, but one has to take into consideration the context of which I have herein spoken.
I firmly believe that in movements like Occupy, fighting for purely democratic values and fighting against hierarchical structures like those evident in capitalism—specifically the so-called New Economy’s nested hierarchies—it is fundamentally logical and necessary for the movement to be based around a structure that empowers all equally. For how can you criticize any hierarchy without ensuring that you do not propagate one of your own? Nonetheless, is horizontalism practical for movements like Occupy, and does it allow a movement to expand and mature at an optimally exponential rate? I would like to think so, but I have my doubts.
A large portion of class discussion involved another activist group, Anonymous, which initially emerged from the anonymous forum site 4Chan. In 2008, it made its first “big” move and targeted the Church of Scientology in Operation Chanology. Suddenly, a movement that had started with Internet trolls who rotated between using 4Chan’s random /b/ board, planning pranks on children’s games like Habba Hotel, and executing DDoS—or Distributed Denial of Service—attacks had matured into something much more politically powerful. Amassing almost 10,000 protesters worldwide, Anonymous proved it had the clout to effect some real change. What it didn’t have—and still doesn’t—is centralized leadership. Like Occupy, Anonymous is a horizontal movement. While that may reflect well simply as an indication of authenticity, as opposed to hypocrisy, the implications for Anonymous down the line were troubling. Suddenly, the movement was split, between those members of Anonymous who wished to return to the simple delights of trolling and the so-called “moralfags” who wanted to work for a social good. For all the wonderful things Anonymous seemed to be doing in movements like Operation Titstorm, which targeted the Australian government for its censorship of the Internet, there remained a sizable contingent very much like Lulzsec, an Anonymous splinter group which looked not to engage in noble campaigns, but rather to return to trolling. The group pulled such stunts as hacking into the CBS News website and posting a false story about Tupac Shakur (who was, they assured readers, in New Zealand, very much alive) for its coverage of whistleblower Chelsea Manning, with which it agreed. Protesting the actions of a government is one thing. Attacking a news source because you don’t like that they published certain information is another, and it contradicts the notion that you believe information should be free. If information is free, it should be freely publicized by media outlets, and freely editorialized upon by the writers thereof.
The problem with Anonymous is also one of its strengths: that it remains so loyal to its horizontalist roots. When Lulzsec—which no longer exists—hacked the CBS News website, did Anonymous condemn their actions and work to ensure that such abuses of power would not occur again? There isn’t any leadership to do so. It remains contingent on individual members to make a choice, whether to use their movement for the forces of good, or to allow it to drift into the deeply troubling realm of intolerance and chaotic trolling. No leadership exists to steer it in any one direction, so the future is uncertain. Can horizontalism work? In certain cases, yes. It certainly has proved fruitful in select cases involving Anonymous. Operation Payback constitutes the group’s most successful endeavor by far, as its work with Telecomix—a coalition of Internet activists—helped to keep the Internet running in countries like Tunisia where governments had attempted to censor and block use by the populace. In many ways, in getting Middle Easterners in these countries back online, Anonymous played a central role in the overthrow of despotic regimes like that of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. It did so without any central command from the top, with the help of “hacktivists” all across the globe. But can Anonymous remain a movement dedicated to the liberation of oppressed peoples, and to fighting all institutions that work in any way to oppress or to suppress information? If its various factions allow it to be split, what is its strength? Can the solidarity inherent in the demonstrations of Operation Chanology be upheld going forward? The answer is certainly unknown. The movement’s choice to remain horizontal, even as it has gained more mainstream attention and effected more sweeping change, has proven wise, for the time being. For as much harm can be done by splinter groups, much can also be done by centralized leadership, if its power is abused.
Whether or not horizontalism worked for Occupy is also a point of contention. Though it served to the movement’s benefit for some of the same reasons as it has for Anonymous, could an organized command structure have provided more guidance? With actual leadership and an official platform, critics like the Wall Street Journal’s Gerald Seib, who complained that Occupy “doesn’t really take you to a particular bumper-sticker action,” may have been silenced, or at least pushed to engage in a substantial debate on the issues, as opposed to merely denouncing the organization’s framework. The problem with Occupy is that, unlike Anonymous, the change it effected isn’t exactly abundantly clear. Is America more wary of corporations—and the immense political influence and power they wield—today than it was five years ago? Likely not. Has Congress passed sweeping reform that keeps corporate influence in check and regulates the private sector more thoroughly? Most certainly not. Has economic inequality been reduced? Again, a resounding no. Then there is the biggest question: Does anyone care? Some people do, but do the majority of Americans feel compelled to become engaged and continue Occupy’s work? Perhaps, but I don’t really see them. Anonymous is the major force right now, and its primary emphasis has not been on economic inequality and corporate influence in the United States. So was Occupy destined to fail, or did horizontalism seal its fate? I work on the argument that Occupy “failed” simply from the standpoint that the aforementioned questions above have been answered with “no”s, even if the New York Times’ Charles Blow has written that the movement ingrained the notion of excessive inequality in the minds of Americans. We cannot be so sure. Even if it was not an abject failure, can it even remotely match up to movements like the women’s suffrage movement? As former Labor Secretary Robert Reich notes, the push to grant women the right to vote was able to sustain itself over the course of many years because they won small victories time and again that gave the movement hope. What small victories has the Occupy movement won that can keep it moving forward? At the moment, Zuccotti Park is devoid of Occupiers, and the physical demonstrations seem to have all but died out. So what exactly is the next step? Is there any? I would contend there is, but it will likely require the leadership of another movement, one that, if horizontalist, must doubtless use its horizontalism to its advantage, as opposed to allowing itself to drift into the anarchic realms of a platform-less, misunderstood campaign.
All of that being said, our experience certainly provides no clearer an answer to the question of horizontalism in activism. Surely, we, like the Occupiers, failed to use it optimally, to our advantage, which led to some initial confusion and disorganization. But I look past the first 30 minutes and to the subsequent 50, and I see glimmers of hope. The physical demonstration was small, as it should have been expected to be with only 7 students in the class, but an impact was clear. I was shocked to find that most students were unaware of the E. Coli levels in the lake. As I held my sign demanding “For your students’ sake clean up the lake,” I received questions like “What’s up with the lake?” People just didn’t know, in spite of a well-done—and relatively recent—piece of reporting by the Collegian. “I knew it was gross,” another student said, “but I didn’t know about the E. Coli. That’s really scary.” It really is. And I hope that that student, if he didn’t like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter, at least went back to his room and did some research, or told a friend. I truly believe that what made our experience successful, in spite of early disorganization and the fact that we did not know how exactly to use horizontalism to our advantage, is the fact that we raised awareness of a serious issue with serious implications. Students who have fallen into the lake have subsequently become ill, but seemingly a majority of their peers were unaware of the presence of the bacteria and the dangers posed thereby. That we were able to connect with dozens of students and talk with them and open a dialogue is important. It means that any impact will be felt not simply during the experience, but after. And that is where I see more success. Students from the Collegian, hearing about our project, came out to write an article, which, once published, shot to the top of the list of most-read articles. It is precisely that sort of publicity that gets a conversation started, and that offers a reminder to those in command that students are informed and concerned and, more crucially, that they want to make a difference. I am unsure that change will be made, but I do sense that there is reason to believe we have started a conversation. On Yik Yak, our post ended up on the “hot” list, with over 40 up-votes. That becomes all the more impressive if one considers the fact that many of the “hot” list entries involve demeaning comments or jokes. We made the list by offering a positive comment and getting students thinking about a legitimate issue.
On the digital front, though, I sense that the question Robert Reich posed to Occupy is the same question we should pose to ourselves: What is the next step? Students insist that they will continue running the Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook accounts, but, in all honesty, I have my doubts. I do not see that as a failure of the experience. I see it instead, as an unusual sort of success. One of the central questions I wanted us to pose in this experience was whether or not online campaigns can last. We see countless examples in the media of campaigns like Kony 2012 that start a widespread conversation before abruptly dying out. Most likely, the online push for the Redskins name to be changed will prove to have a similar fate. Can online movements last, and if so, how? Anonymous surely provides an example of an online movement that has lasted, but it helps that its constituent members are hackers and that their daily routines often revolve around the use of computers and of the Internet. What of the movements like Occupy or CleanURlake, which are constituted not of hackers and 4Chan trolls, but of average students with average knowledge of computers whose schedules are jam-packed and who have more to worry about than a dirty lake or economic inequality? How does an online movement stay alive, winning small victories to give itself momentum, propelling itself forward whilst keeping its participants engaged and informed? Certainly, it is possible to keep an online movement alive, but we have yet to see one that lasts and makes a long-term change, or at least without corporate assistance. What perturbs me is that in searching for examples of successful online campaigns, I only find instances like that in which Google and other Silicon Valley giants teamed up to fight SOPA. Sure, millions took to Twitter and Facebook to voice their opinions, but political change only seems to be effected when corporations throw their hats in the ring. Only then, when money talks, does Washington listen. Nonetheless, I digress, and the central intention of my discussion here regards the social networking campaign our class vowed to keep running. If students fail to do so, it offers a pungent reminder that in many cases, the users of the Internet are too busy—or too disinterested—to use the freedom at their disposal to do something constructive. Students need to ask themselves why we move on so quickly, why we forget about the movements about which we once professed to care. I recognize that not every student in the class cares about the lake (though they should), and not every student will feel compelled to continuing working to have the lake cleaned. For those students who are concerned, though, we need to be asking these questions, and considering the implications.
Lasting online campaigns are rare, and that is for a reason. It is extremely difficult to perpetually keep participants in a campaign interested for months and years on end, and while I might contend that such is a problem springing not from any flaws in cyberactivism so much as from the individuals engaged therein, it is difficult to ignore the point that Reich brings up when discussing women’s suffrage. What allowed that movement to survive for years? What kept its participants engaged? Why didn’t it fizzle out after a few months like Kony 2012? The active engagement in physical protests undoubtedly plays a role. Simply liking a Facebook page or retweeting a tweet requires a few seconds of effort. Making a sign, organizing a demonstration, and working actively to engage passersby requires hours, if not days, of work. The convenience of digital technology is a double-edged sword, ultimately creating an inclination of cyberactivism to be rendered merely “slacktivism” and encouraging the sort of mass acquiescence—as individuals fall victim to the notion that change can ever be a click away—that keeps movements from enduring.
In all of this discussion, what has been thus far left out is the concept of pranking in relation to activism, as well as the Internet meme. How do these concepts fit into the lessons taken from our experience? Most certainly they are not irrelevant to the topic at hand, playing a pivotal role in cyberactivism. Christine Harold in “Pranking Rhetoric: ‘Culture Jamming’ as Media Activism,” contends that “[p]arody derides the content of what it sees as oppressive rhetoric, but fails to attend to its patterns” (191). As a proposed solution, she looks to pranking. Unlike parody, pranks “do not oppose traditional notions of rhetoric, but they do repattern them in interesting ways… strategically augmenting and utilizing the precious resources the contemporary media ecology affords” (208). For the most part, I concur with Harold’s analysis. The Barbie Liberation Organization is more successful than something like Adbusters’ “Blackspot” sneaker campaign because instead of directly attempting to send a message, utilizing mainstream corporate techniques, the B.L.O. sends no direct message and offers only an altered version of an existing product, in effect subverting the system, using it for its own purposes, as opposed to attempting to work against it. In the digital realm, pranking is often seen in the form of Internet memes. Limor Shifman in “Memes in a Digital World: Reconciling with a Conceptual Troublemaker,” notes that “[s]ocial norms, perceptions, and preferences are crucial in memetic selection processes,” and indeed she is correct (366). The study of memetics is crucial to engaging in a thorough sociological examination of the users of the Internet. When Chris Crocker’s “Leave Britney Alone” video is rendered something homophobic, contradicting the purposes for which it was created, that says something about the people who make those videos, watch them, and give their up-votes. What does it say that so many people responded by, in essence, cynically trolling Crocker’s video? What does it say about trolling, the Internet’s version of pranking?
Indeed, pranking can do much good, and certainly it has the potential to do more than mere parody, as Harold contends, but on the Internet, has it done that good? Show me a political meme or a meme intended to bring about some important social change, and I’ll show you five like one of President Obama with the words “Where the white women at?” below it. Sure, trolling doesn’t have to be racist, sexist, or generally prejudicial in any way. There is nothing inherent within trolling or pranking that makes it so, but nonetheless it remains a force for a great deal of very ugly, very negative things, when it could be serving as a force for so much good. And this is the point at which we begin to recognize just how ugly and negative much of trolling has become. When the perpetrators of Internet death and rape threats are dismissed as “juvenile pranksters,” as Amanda Hess notes in “Why Women Aren’t Welcome on the Internet,” we should pay attention. Because that wording isn’t accidental. Yes, dismissing it as pranking trivializes the issue, but this brand of trolling—this insidiously hostile, violent, misogynistic brand—is what pranking on the Internet has become for too many individuals, and that is far from what it should be. When the Biotic Baking Brigade shoved a pie in the face of Bill Gates, it was irrefutably puerile behavior, but it came with a message—albeit an indirect one. As Gates wiped pie off of his face, he was brought down to everyone else’s level. Sure, maybe some people think such a stunt is immature. Maybe others disagree with the potential message of such an action, but the point is that there was a constructive message, not merely something derisive, like threatening to brutally rape and murder a feminist. That may be an unfortunate manifestation of what pranksters on the Internet have become, but it’s not the same pranking of which Harold writes. The very act of pranking—and the foundation thereof—has been perverted.
Quinn Norton argues that “[t]rolls gonna troll,” and that we ought to ask what “[c]ivil inattention, the custom we have of ignoring people you don’t know in public space in order to give them privacy” looks like on the Internet, and I recognize the point she is making. I believe it is an important one. But is there ever an acceptable context in which we can feel free to casually throw around terms like “/b/tard Faggot?” Should we simply ignore those who choose to use such terminology and recognize that “trolls gonna troll?” I don’t think so. Because we can choose to hide those ugly elements of the Internet from ourselves, but in the end, you cannot quarantine ideas on the Web. Slowly but surely, those ideas propagate. They manifest themselves in new and surprising ways, in new and surprising locations. The trolls who call each other faggots end up making memes that circulate around the Web and influence the thought patterns of unassuming social networkers and Internet users generally, who alter or mimic those memes and disseminate potentially prejudicial ideas themselves. So maybe it seems reasonable to simply advocate that people “don’t feed the trolls,” but inaction and a refusal to combat the dangerous ideas being promoted by trolls will only serve to worsen the problem. Indeed, it has. It should not come as any surprise that the same individuals who were online referring to women as “bitches” and objectifying them in dreadful ways ended up harassing female writers, sexualizing them and fantasizing about rape. Certainly, to go from simply objectifying to threatening to rape someone is not a simple transition. You don’t objectify on Monday and make a death or rape threat on Tuesday. The problem, in my estimation, is that by choosing to look away, only considering the context collapse of the Internet as opposed to the wrongful nature of trolls’ words, we are encouraged those actions, words, and ideas. We have fed the trolls by refusing to feed them. We have afforded them an anarchic space to chaotically destroy, piece by piece, without oversight or discretion, surely enough egging one another on, encouraging each other’s sexism, encouraging each other’s racism, encouraging the very idea that a woman with whom you disagree can deserve to be raped or slaughtered. Not all pranksters are sexists or racists, nor are all trolls. Doubtless most do not threaten to rape or kill. But there is a sizable contingent prevalent within that community that does, and to dismiss it as anything other than a problem would be a grave error. Pranking is a wonderful tool to be used by concerned citizens and activists across the globe, and it should be used wisely, for the right reasons, in the appropriate ways. But an overarching problem with the Internet is becoming evident: As with Anonymous, there simply is not enough control over the troll community to ensure that the actions being taken are constructive, healthy, and for the betterment of society. Such is an important understanding that I will return to shortly. It informs my cautious stance on the unit as a whole.
Nonetheless, while I would stop short of advocating for government oversight of trolls, fearing that we would infringe upon their freedom of speech, I also agree with Norton to the extent that these issues must inevitably be handled “IRL.” A troll who perpetuates harmful ideas does not simply pull those ideas out of nowhere. Those ideas come from parents, or from students in school who heard it from their parents. Those ideas are promoted as the education fails to adequately combat prejudice. Numerous studies indicate college graduates are less prejudiced on average than high school graduates. What is the public education system doing wrong, and what are colleges doing correctly? If we can answer those questions, and if we can reform education meaningfully—as opposed to having politicians issue their hollow calls for a “dialogue”—we would see a change, and that would have positive ramifications for the Internet and for the women who are now terrorized by spiteful trolls. The true solutions to the problems with online pranking and trolling lie to a large extent in real-world solutions. Does cyberactivism have a role to play, however, and is it an effective enough force to effect such consequential change?
Before I answer that question, however, I digress once more, simply for the purposes of answering an important question that I posed to the class. Mark Poster in “Information Please” is troubled by the discourse of human rights. The “inherent problem in the term ‘human rights,” Poster writes, is “that it requires a string of supplements to account for its impossibility” (69-70). From the inception of the notion of such rights, it has been tied closely to citizenship, as was the case in the French Revolution. That definition of citizen is no longer relevant or valid. Globalization and the post-national world of the digital age have both redefined citizenship in such a way that fighting for human rights may serve not to liberate individuals, but to legitimize Western hegemony and leave countless in the same—or worse—position they are presently. As a solution, Poster proposes the concept of netizenship. He explains that the netizen is “the formative figure in a new kind of political relation, one that shares allegiance to the nation with allegiance to the Net and to the planetary political spaces it inaugurates” (78). Norton suggests a similar solution to the problems women face on the Internet, with the concept of cyborgs, a closely-related notion. So looking back and recognizing the pivotal role the netizen plays in this unit, I asked the class: Were we acting as netizens?
For me, the answer is yet to be determined. I believe that, as a class, we shared an allegiance to the nation—or, on a smaller scale, to the University of Richmond and the well-being of its students—as well as an allegiance to the Net, with our emphasis on a social networking campaign. The question largely hinges on the issue of whether or not students continue the push. Is one a true netizen if he or she engages in activism—both cyberactivism and IRL activism—and then simply stops? Netizenship is an active concept. The title “netizen” is earned by someone who engages in the community actively and often, who does more than simply just raise awareness of an issue, but takes an active role in educating and recruiting others to engage themselves as well. A netizen not only stands in front of a library with signs, but goes further, standing up and questioning those in power, expanding their efforts, pushing to win the small victories their movement must win. The netizen continues to build online movements, continually developing ways to keep participants engaged. If students continue to build this movement, I believe they can call themselves netizens. If they—as I fear will be the case—leave it at this and do nothing more with the lake, we could not accurately classify ourselves as such. That is a valuable lesson, and if students fail to actively engage going forward, I see it not as a failure of the experience so much as a success in and of itself. Netizenship is not a term to throw around as so many do. It is something that must be taken seriously, and if one wishes to act as a netizen, he or she must take the initiative in earning that title. I hope that in reflecting on the experience, students are coming to the same realization.
All of this discussion is great, but a final question remains: Does cyberactivism even work? Can it work just as well as it might for a clean lake movement as it might for something more sweeping, like ending misogyny on the Web? As always, I will not pretend to have all the answers. This issue is enormously complex, to such an extent that as I try to wrap my head around all of the most complicated questions, I have difficulty untangling the web of contradictions that any possible answer presents. Nonetheless, I will try my best to provide some semblance of a response here that gets to the heart of the issue both adequately and accurately. I believe cyberactivism can work, but I question whether some of our most noteworthy cyber movements have been pushing for the right things.
If anything was made abundantly clear in our experience, it is that cyberactivism requires a very careful balance between the physical aspect of protestation and the digital component. Simply forming Twitter accounts, Facebook accounts, and Tumblr accounts does nothing for a movement if no awareness can be raised. Surely, infrastructure is in place on the Web that enables individuals to raise awareness digitally, but such infrastructure remains inadequate. Physical protests are required to get people talking, to inform them of the problems, to get them to follow your account or like your page, or give you an up-vote on Yik Yak. Cyberactivism is nothing without a physical component as well. If such a balance is ensured, and if participants in a movement engage both in social networking campaigns as well as actual public demonstrations, cyberactivism can be something quite powerful. Anonymous’ efforts in the aforementioned Operation Payback constitute the most hopeful example, especially considering the fact that their efforts came without corporate assistance. A grassroots campaign can be led, and cyberactivism can be an effectual force, if handled correctly and used to fight for the right things. But are we fighting for what’s right?
I don’t ask this question because I see the world in a black-and-white matter. So much of the world is but a mater of interpretation. What is “right” is surely a subjective question. But I pose it because of points that Jaron Lanier makes. Lanier, who was a pioneer of virtual-reality technology and is now a research scholar at Microsoft, has turned against the Web—more specifically, against the concept of cyberutopianism and a fully democratic Web. Americans love the word “democracy,” to such an extent that we throw it around injudiciously. Do we, however, understand what it means? Sure, it sounds wonderful when Anonymous declares that information should be free, but what are the implications of free information? Lanier suggests, “once we made information free… middle-class people… were consigned to the bread lines.” I am not sure I fully agree with Lanier’s argument, in that the purported demise of the middle class has not simply emerged from a vacuum. The availability of free music did not simply render the middle class a relic of the past. Such is an oversimplification of complicated economic issues, including wealth distribution in the United States and trends over the past several decades. Lanier may be making a somewhat valid point, but he misses the mark in oversimplifying and looking past other factors in the problem of which he speaks. Where I concur almost wholeheartedly with him, however, is in his assertion that anonymity constitutes an “enabling and foreshadowing of mob rule, not a growth of democracy.” I say I agree almost wholeheartedly, because I think he misses a more accurate definition of democracy. What is actually the difference between mob rule and democracy? The United States is not a democracy by its nature. It was not founded to be one. On the contrary, it was intended to be a republic. Sometimes, that seems to be forgotten, especially when democracy is a term with such positive connotations, and an easy one to throw around at that. I have never been a proponent of pure democracy in the non-digital realm, so why have I been so enticed by it online? When I ask whether cyberactivism is being used correctly, I mean to refer to this issue. When Anonymous pushes for a—in the words of Artie Vierkant—Post-Internet world, in which objects are not specifically owned by anyone and may always be in flux, are they pushing for the right thing? When Christopher Poole promotes anonymity on 4Chan as a representation of people’s most authentic selves, is he pushing for the right thing? When we push for a freer, “more democratic” Internet, are we pushing for the right thing, or are we just instilling anarchy? Online, what keeps a democratic Internet from becoming an Internet of mob rule? What exactly is the difference if no one is in control but the people themselves? What kind of Internet would we see if our cyberactivism led us to a point at which no one were in control but the people, if nations themselves were rendered a thing of the past and we were beholden only to the Internet, as some cyberutopian theorists have posited will happen? What then will we expect to see? Will it be the democracy of which we have spoken but do not understand, or will it be something else, something uglier, something more dangerous?
By no means am I fully anti-democracy, but I far prefer the notion of a republic to that of a pure democracy from the standpoint that I am unsure whether it is wise to entrust the people alone with the power to control something like the Web. I doubt that cyberactivism will ever be powerful enough to eschew government and corporate control, but nonetheless, the fact that organizations like Occupy and Anonymous—which represent arguably the foremost examples of netizenship—push for a fully democratic Internet and the minimization of government and corporate controls should lead us to ask if that is an appropriate and prudent course of action. So much of what we have discussed heretofore—government surveillance, economic inequality in the New Economy, cyberutopianism—involves the notion of a democratic Web, and I personally have often taken a stance very much in favor of democratization. In no way am I arguing that that is wrong necessarily, so much as one should consider the implications. Cyberactivism, if used to effect such potentially harmful change, may not be the positive force it could be. Cyberactivists must be cautious, realizing for example that while the NSA’s extensive surveillance of the Web is unacceptable and unconstitutional, the inability of governments to regulate the Internet leaves women at risk when they receive death threats. Pure democracy is nothing simple, and though Lanier is certainly not completely correct, he is making an important argument that cannot be neglected.
As always, the class experience raised innumerable questions, only a few of which I have been able to discuss here. I am proud of the experience; in spite of the disorganization of the opening half hour—a result of our mishandling of horizontalism and our failure to adequately inform the class of our horizontal intentions, I think the class was left with an immensely valuable lesson. I hope that they have engaged in it fully to realize the connections to the unit as a whole, and I hope, in the end, that while they may recognize the potential of cyberactivism, they also recognize the need to carefully consider that for which we use cyberactivism to advocate. Much of the class discussion heretofore has led us to this point, at which we explore cyberactivism as a potential solution to problems that may have been thus far encountered. Individuals like Lanier encourage us to ask ourselves whether falling in line behind groups like Anonymous, rather than questioning some of their motives and their philosophy, is the most prudent decision. Cyberactivism is indeed a powerful force, and it can be used for so much good. We need to be making sure, then, that we aren’t allowing it to be rendered something much more destructive.

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I Pledge Allegiance to the Internet

// Posted by on 02/23/2014 (8:04 PM)

In previous weeks, we’ve discussed how technology and the internet provides a global “third space,” an amorphous sphere for interaction between strangers from all over the world, without any real recognition of traditional nation state boundaries. We’ve discussed how the… Read more

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In previous weeks, we’ve discussed how technology and the internet provides a global “third space,” an amorphous sphere for interaction between strangers from all over the world, without any real recognition of traditional nation state boundaries. We’ve discussed how the use of technology can challenge traditional nation states and their governments through hacking, leaking information and fueling IRL assembles, such as the Occupy Wall Street movement. We’ve also discussed the developing news surrounding Edward Snowden, and how this reflects the limited control that nation states have over the “third space.” With this new age tension between nation states and the “third space,” there comes yet another question: who will users/citizens align themselves with?

In Mark Poster’s Information Please, Poster describes a new kind of citizen; a citizen to the “third space”; a netizen. Using such a governmentally influenced term to describe an internet user sets up a clear divide between an individual’s relationship to the internet, and his or her relationship to a country. It implies a certain dichotomy, that a person can only align themselves with one entity or the other.

This idea is further emphasized with our reading on Stuxnet this week. As Symantec was trying to decode the complex and sophisticated malware that is Stuxnet, technical directors began to realize that the malware could be much more than just a technological nuisance. “Stuxnet could be the work of a government cyberarmy,” Kim Zetter writes in her Wired article. “The researchers risked tampering with a covert U.S. government operation.”

Once the governments of traditional nation states were possibly involved, the directors of Symantec had to question their allegiance between a specific country, or the global “third space” that technology provides. This has become a bigger and bigger issue as technology has developed. Both the nation state and the “third space” pose an inherent threat to one another, and a huge part of the threat stems from that fact that an individual can chose which sphere he or she wants to devote themselves to. In the case of Symantec, they “felt no patriotic duty to preserves [Stuxnet’s] activity. ‘We’re not beholden to a nation,” [technical director of Symantec Eric Chien] said. ‘We’re a multinational, private company protecting customers.’”


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Assange & Snowden: whistleblowers of the internet (Tec Collaboration)

// Posted by on 02/14/2014 (5:01 PM)

By: Molly Reilly, Deirdre O’Halloran, Rachel Hall, and Claire Hollingsworth

You can be in your own home on your personal computer or tablet, yet there are people out there who can see everything you search, watch, and do. When you… Read more

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By: Molly Reilly, Deirdre O’Halloran, Rachel Hall, and Claire Hollingsworth

You can be in your own home on your personal computer or tablet, yet there are people out there who can see everything you search, watch, and do. When you visit certain websites they install a “cookie,” which is a piece of data kept in your browser to track your activity once you’ve opened that web page. The purpose of this is to store information for your convenience (added items in a shopping cart, edits to your facebook page), however it seems crazy that numerous websites can then access your personal information. Tracking and third-party tracking cookies can be used to get hold of your long-term history; even beyond when you had authorized a site to put a cookie on your computer (created a username or account).

This lack of privacy and lack of regulations were just a few of the reasons Edward Snowden felt an obligation to the American people to expose the NSA. His core beliefs of freedom of privacy and freedom on the internet lead him to make this massive sacrifice and turn over confidential documents. Snowden was quoted in the guardian article Edward Snowden: the whistleblower behind the NSA surveillance revelations, as saying “I’m willing to sacrifice all of that because I can’t in good conscience allow the US government to destroy privacy, internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they’re secretly building.” The lack of privacy at the corporate level through cookies and data tracking is a source of great concern, however the fact of government sponsored tracking is of much greater concern.

While it might not be completely ethical, corporations have gotten around the laws in order to capitalize on the data available on the internet for their own personal gain. The government, on the other hand should be there to set guidelines helping to protect us from these very corporations, not utilizing the same tactics they implement. Snowden exposed these policies in hopes of forcing government officials to rethink how they gather data and making a more transparent U.S. government. While we will never really know the extent to which Snowden made an impact on NSA policy, it has made everyone in the U.S. more aware and wary of the policy regarding privacy. We could say he has successfully completed his goal of transparency to a small degree, allowing this information exposed and analyzed.

The article “Leaky Geopolitics” looks at the unprecedented reactions of the “free world” in attempting to take down WikiLeaks and Julian Assange.  The author’s bias is evident from the very beginning: any charges against Assange were trumped up by a capitalist-governmental elite class to attempt to discredit him after the leaks began.  The way this article looks at the idea of crime — outside of formal charges, in the court of public opinion — seems to be a pretty accurate way of representing how people are perceived on the internet.  But the court of public opinion seems to be pretty divided on WikiLeaks: groups like Anonymous that prize freedom of information have stood behind the site, but other groups point to a security risk that can come from leaking government documents.

The idea that WikiLeaks and the public reaction to it can have such profound impacts on the geopolitical order –that it can lead people to question the authority of the state, and to think critically about issues of transparency and privacy — leads me to question if, in some ways, Assange and Snowden may have really won, regardless of the threats on their heads.  If the goal was to spur a conversation about these limits, it seems impossible to say that they didn’t achieve that goal with flying colors. The article also takes on the question of the government-industry connection in looking at the corporate responses of MasterCard, PayPal, etc, in taking on the role of protector and enforcer: roles usually reserved for the government, after extensive trial.  The success of WikiLeaks in exposing this portion of the problem also seems pretty undeniable.

In another article, “The War on Wikileaks and Why it matters” Author Glenn Greenwald illustrates the ways in which the U.S. Government has responded to the wikileaks. Wikileaks and Snowden have been a topic of great controversy and debate.  This has surely set the stage for political and public conversation surrounding privacy and regulation of the internet. As government officials the army and its supporters consider snowden to be a criminal and traitor, supporters of Snowden and the wikileaks revolution, see these actions as efforts to expose the government in the name of freedom of information.  Those opposed to wikileaks consider it a threat to American national safety, while Greenwald suggest sites like wikileaks are vital to Americans to provide information where the media is becoming more unreliable at “exactly a time when U.S. government secrecy is at an all-time high, the institutions osensibly responsible for investigation, oversight and exposure have failed”.  This is mostly because media and journalism are generally co-opted outlets controlled and regulated by the U.S. government more so than ever  as “private efforts to manipulate public opinion has proliferated”. Wikileaks, who consider their work to serve as the intelligence agency of the people, see the governments efforts to harass and ultimately destroy them altogether as a result of feeling threatened.

This provokes the idea, is information free?? If its not, should it be? Do we as citizens have the right to know information considered “classified”?  Wikileaks also exemplifies the rise of the term “netizen” in which people are turning to the web as a medium to facilitate social and political change. Is this a good thing? or potentially detrimental?  Setting aside personal views and opinions on the ethical side of wikileaks, it is undeniable that it has opened up the door for conversation as to whether digitization and diplomacy is helpful, or harmful.


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My Generation

// Posted by on 04/25/2013 (2:57 PM)

Being born in 1993 I am now 19 and have never known life without technology. As a student I use it daily in forms such as online textbooks, social media, music, group projects, a social tool, and even a… Read more

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Being born in 1993 I am now 19 and have never known life without technology. As a student I use it daily in forms such as online textbooks, social media, music, group projects, a social tool, and even a tutor, to name a few. This generation is one that will change the world. As technology advances it seems that I, along with my peers, advance alongside. My parents however are stuck in the past, asking me to do simple things such as record a video, download an app, or god forbid send a text. What does this widening gap mean for the future of my generation, for my future?

It is interesting to think of my parents as less capable than me in any instance of my life, seeing as they have had 40 more years than I have had to master life skills. However it is becoming more clear to me as new advances in technology occur that my generation, the digital generation, is willing and more than able to take charge of the world and push it in a direction that my parents generation couldn’t fathom at our age, one that they didn’t even know possible.

My generation, like every generation before is rebellious towards, and misunderstood by our elders. The fact that my parents used to scold me for having my phone out during dinner, or playing music to loud is now comical to the extent that everyone I know is face down in their respective Iphone, Ipad, or laptop. While my father had to go to his library and look for a book for information, advances in technology have made learning and obtaining information as simple as a Google search. While I go to school and take four classes a semester with my classmates, I am constantly learning about the world and various other subjects by myself, on my own schedule, and to my own fancy. This is the most exciting feature of my generation, the inability to feel accomplished. With unlimited resources at my fingertips, available to me in a fraction of a second, I never feel like I have truly learned all there is to learn, or uncovered all aspects of a topic. This longing I feel for more information at all times is felt by all in my generation.

Jerry Adler wrote an article for WIRED entitled 1993, Meet the First Digital Generation. Now Get Ready to Play by Their Rules.In it he addresses an interesting point about social networks and the risky business that my generation undertakes using social networking sites to make our social lives completely transparent over the Internet. In it he interviews a girl in her 20s about her Facebook life. “She is casual about what some might consider the risks of oversharing.” He writes, “In the future, she says, it won’t matter if you did post a picture of yourself covered in chocolate, because ‘the people who care will all retire and the world will be run by my generation, which doesn’t give a shit.’” This is a testament to the attitude of my generation. What my parents find totally unacceptable, I find normal.

What does all this talk of a digital generation really mean? To me it signifies a defining moment in time, a point of no return. Whether older generations agree with it or not, technology has taken over and is here to stay. My generation is the first to have advanced technology throughout our whole lives, leaving a bigger gap than ever before between us and our parents.

My generation will be the ones to take the world into the digital revolution and the next chapter of time. We are at the frontier of the exploration and expansion of the digital space, the fore fathers of a changing world.  Whatever happens next is up to us, we have the power. The only question left is what will we do with this power? To that question I have a simple answer, whatever we want.


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Internet to Take Over the World?

// Posted by on 04/18/2013 (4:50 AM)

Is it possible that the Internet could grow so large that every living human being, all 7 billion of us, would be online? In a recent article the possibility is introduced by  Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google.… Read more

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Is it possible that the Internet could grow so large that every living human being, all 7 billion of us, would be online? In a recent article the possibility is introduced by  Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google. Mr. Schmidt states that approximately 2 billion people in the world use the Internet today, he then goes on to hypotheses that all 7 billion people will be on the Internet as early as 2020.

This idea seems almost absurd to me. Is it really possible that the entire world, quite literally, will be able to connect to each other truly creating one globalized earth? Although there is no definite answer just yet I find it interesting to imagine what life would be like. The Internet is already a driving factor in the way I live my life, I am constantly using it to find information and communicate with others. The Internet is an amazing 3rd space that is already capable of producing amazing ideas and advances in the world today. I can only image what we will be capable of if the Internet reaches every person possible.

Of course with any radical idea there will be obstacles and set backs. The article seems to bring Schmidts dream to a screeching halt when it asks “With poor and developing nations around the world isolated by crumbling or nonexistent Web infrastructures, and others hindered by factors ranging from remote geography to government censorship, is Schmidt’s vision overly optimistic?”

At first I had no answer to this question but then I began to believe once again in the power of the Internet. As the Internet expands new capabilities arise that used to be non existent. I believe that the solution to this problem of limited Internet access will be answered by the Internet itself as it continues to grow and create new networks and advances in technology. And already we are starting to see possible solutions to this problem. Geeks Without Frontiers  is an organization that donates computers and “related technology” to 3rd world countries. In addition the article introduces another very interesting project backed by Samsung. This project is working to open solar powered schools in Africa.

I am very interested to see if Mr. Schmidts claim that 7 billion people will be connected to the internet by 2020 comes true. I am even more interested to see what happens after that, what great advances occur and how life will change when the whole world is available to you from your lap.


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The New Face of Television

// Posted by on 03/03/2013 (10:58 PM)

Is it a fantasy to believe that in ten years more than half of all videos streaming on moblie devices will be live? Not according to Steven Levy, who wrote the article “Living onRead more

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Is it a fantasy to believe that in ten years more than half of all videos streaming on moblie devices will be live? Not according to Steven Levy, who wrote the article “Living on a Stream”. Levy explores companies like Skype and Color, two companies that deal with online video streaming. In this shifting digital age people are able to stream and share live video through the internet opening up new doors for social media and increasing the role of the netizen to provide information to their peers.  Koozoo is a leading force behind the expanding influence of video sharing. This company lets you turn your old cracked iphone or your brand new iphone into a 24/7 live streaming video camera. An article published by Wired speaks of how this video sharing is changing the way humans interact. These webcams are being used in place of typical news such as weather and traffic reports. Due to new companies like Koozoo you are able to see live feeds of anything someone finds interesting enough to record, such as city views, traffic, concerts, and anything trending.

The ability of the netizen to be able to share images around the world with groups of people brings up many ideas and questions. One interesting point brought up in Graeme McMillan’s article found in Wired is the possibility of a downfall of television due to live streaming on mobile devices. Mcmillan starts his article by stating “With its new array of online options for viewing media — not to mention the increasing amount of original content created for online audiences — the internet has become a disruptive influence on the traditional television business, plain and simple.” With live media sharing on the rise people will start to look to their iphones for information such as weather, traffic, and news, all of which will be provided for free by one netizen for another. Is it possible  this new network could potentially become more popular than television?

A big concern when dealing with video streaming is the rights to privacy and invasions of such rights. If one is able to stream live video from anywhere in the world to an open group the possibility for abuse rises. The possibility of invasion of privacy increases dramatically with this new social network of live video, as does the possibility of pirated materials. While there is no doubt that video streaming will become bigger in the future, possibly bigger than TV, the lingering question of privacy is one that is sure to be debated as this technology evolves and expands.

 


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Digital Politics- Phase 1

// Posted by on 04/14/2012 (6:04 PM)

My final blog can be found at:

Digital Politics

 

Digital Politics

Research Problem

For this project, I wanted to look, generally, at digital politics, and specifically at the reciprocal relationship between the two. Although my original research question dealt… Read more

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My final blog can be found at:

Digital Politics

 

Digital Politics

Research Problem

For this project, I wanted to look, generally, at digital politics, and specifically at the reciprocal relationship between the two. Although my original research question dealt with the influence of American politics and the American political process on the rest of the world with the role of networked, digital technology, I decided to first dissect the tole of networked, digital technology and its influence on American politics and the American political process. Since this is such a broad topic, my research focused mainly on the influence of networked, digital technology on major political elections

Theoretical Foundation

My arguments were formed, for the most part, after reading  the chapter “Citizens, Digital Media, and Globalization” in Mark Poster’s Information Please: Culture and Politics in the Age of Digital Machines. Mark Poster made a number of points in Information Please that I feel no longer represent the nature of digital politics. My research began, then, by attempting to highlight these points, and then to understand in what ways these points no longer hold true.

Initial Questions

My first question came from the following passage on page 71 of Information Please:

“Critical discourse currently locates an antagonism between globalization and citizenship. The deepening of globalizing processes strips the citizen of power, this position maintains. As economic processes become globalized, the nation-state loses its ability to protect its population. The citizen thereby loses her ability to elect leaders who effectively pursue her interests” (Poster, 71).

My problem with this statement stems from the last sentence. In my opinion, American citizens have gained, rather than lost, the ability to elect leaders who effectively pursue their interests. My argument here is that the internet has afforded the American citizen unprecedented access to potential leaders, coupled with an extraordinary change in this relationship, from one sided (the potential leader speaks to the citizens) to bidirectional (through digital technologies like social media, the citizen now has a fast, easy, and efficient method in which to talk directly to their potential leaders; see: Obama’s Google+ Hangout)

My second question came from the following passage on page 73 on Poster’s Information Please:

“Self-constitution of consumers spills over into politics as citizenship becomes an extension of consumption. What is more, as consumption has become more political, so politics has become a mode of consumption. Candidates in elections campaigns increasingly rely on media t o reach their constituents. Political advertisements are the chief means of conducting campaigns. The primary means by which citizens obtain information about candidates is the television set, bring politics to individuals in the same way they experience entertainment. The deep consumer culture of the television medium is merged with the electoral process. And celebrities from the domain of entertainment, a major aspect of consumption, become credible candidates for high office with no particular training or experience, as evidenced by the election of Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger as governors of California. We are indeed in a postmodern world of the consumer citizen” (Poster, 73).

For the most part, Poster is actually helping me support my argument, in that he points out that politics has become a mode of consumption. My problem with this passage lies with the sentence “the primary means by which citizens obtain information about candidates is the television set.” While statistics obviously vary depending on the source, I’ve noticed a general trend over the last ten or so years that illustrates a shift from television to internet in terms of where people in our generation get their political information. Furthermore, I would argue that culture of the internet medium is far more merged with the electoral process than the television ever was, given the ability of the citizen to access information whenever they want online, versus whenever an advertisement happens to play on television.

From these general questions, I was able to somewhat narrow the scope of my research question. By looking at the newer, bidirectional relationship between the citizen and it’s potential leaders, and by realizing that the average American between the ages of 18 and 29 has officially moved from relying on the television for information to relying on the internet, I decided to look at how effectively the American political process is using networked, digital technologies, and what the consequences of this relationship might be. Poster begins to answer this question by looking at some existing political formations:

“The objection to the argument for the netizen might be raised that the Internet promotes, even enhances, existing political formations. The Zapatistas and the neo-Nazis alike further their political ambitions by means of Web sites, Listservs, blogs, e-mail, chat rooms, and so forth. In heavily mediatized societies, political candidates of all stripes deploy the Net to their advantage. Reform movements in China and Eastern Europe depended on the Net… to spread their word and foster political change. Countless experiments could be named, such as the City of Santa Monica’s Public Electronic Network, which use the Net to extend democratic processes. The demonstrations in Seattle early in the year 2000 against the WTO and the World Bank, as well as the general process of globalization, benefited in addition by the ability of the Net to aid the work of organizing political protest. These examples all bespeak the ways in which the Internet can function within existing political structures” (Poster, 79).

Lastly, Poster hints at the fact that the consequences of the relationship between networked, digital technology and the American political process is a break down of American Politics and the creation of newer political structures:

“There is, then, at least one political novelty specific to the Internet that I choose to highlight. The internet holds the prospect of introducing post-national political forms because of its internal architecture, its new register of time and space, its new relation of human to machine, body to mind, its new imaginary, and its new articulation of culture to reality. Despite what may appear in the media of newsprint and television as a celebration of the Internet’s harmony with the institutions of the nation-state and the globalizing economy, new media offer possibilities for the construction of planetary political subjects, netizens who will be multiple, dispersed, and virtual, nodes of a network of collective intelligence. They may resemble neither the autonomous agent of citizenship, beholden to print, nor the identity of post-modernity, beholden to broadcast media. The political formation of the netizen is already well under way, bringing forth, as Heidegger, might say, a humanity adhering not to nature alone but also machines, not to geographic local identity alone but also to digitized packets of its own electronic communications. The import of these speculations is… to call to attention to the possibility for the establishment of global communications, one that is more practically dispersed across the globe than previous systems, one that is inherently bidirectional and ungovernable by existing political structures” (Poster, 84).

This passage aided in the construction of my final research question by bringing up the idea of collective intelligence: networked, digital technology is made up of both the citizens who use the technology and the technology itself, begging the question of not only how this online collective intelligence will influence the American political process, but how American politics influence the network? Embedded within this question are several key points, including the effectiveness of this utilization, the consequences of the relationship, and the future of digital politics.

Roadblocks

Politics is a touchy subject, with a wide spectrum of views and beliefs. For this reason, a major roadblock in my research has been subjectivity. Any published research on the subject, despite a necessary need for unbiased analysis, has the risk of being somewhat opinionated or swayed. When attempting to gauge the effectiveness of various online campaigns, every analysis must be taken with a grain of salt, and I’ve discovered that I have to constantly fact-check many of the articles I’ve read and videos I’ve watched. Unfortunately, twitter has been one of the biggest roadblocks for this project. As a massive social media site, I have spent a long time browsing political twitter users and the responses to their post. Being a personal-use site, however, there is a lot of bias and it is often difficult to sort through the opinion to find the facts. If anything, however, this roadblock will most likely end up becoming a part of the answer to my research question.

Supporting Media

For this project, I have utilized a variety of social media websites, focusing on the networked aspect of digital technology. The sites I spend the most time on are Twitter, YouTube, and various political blogs and websites, such as Politico, the Drudge Report, and the Huffington Post. Of these, one of the most valuable resources has been YouTube’s political section, which organizes videos by candidate and also compares each candidate by the number of videos on their channel and the number of subscriptions to their channel:

Group Assignment

For the group assignment, I wanted to try to eliminate some of my own bias in researching these questions. Because politics is such a polarized subject, I asked my group members to pick a candidate (Obama, Romney, Paul, Gingrich, and Santorum), and to do some general browsing of these candidate’s digital presence, such as on twitter, youtube, Facebook, etc. I was interested in how effectively or ineffectively these candidates have been using their online space, and what some of the pros and cons of their use were. I was most interested at this time in Santorum, considering the day I assigned this project was the day he suspended his campaign; I was interested to look at a possible correlation between a failed digital campaign and this suspension.

Cameron chose to look at Ron Paul’s digital campaign. Cameron pointed out that Ron Paul has an extremely active online presence, on websites such as twitter, YouTube, and Facebook. Specifically, it seems as though Ron Paul’s supporters are the most active online when compared to other candidate’s supporters. In contrast to Ron Paul, Natalie reported that Newt Gingrich’s online campaign has not been going so well, and has been struggling to utilize the Web in an effective way. Lastly, Renee looked at the online campaign of Mitt Romney, and discussed how his online videos rarely speak to the issues, but rather either attack Obama or promote himself as a “family man.”

From this assignment, I plan on focusing in on specific ways in which the candidates use these websites. Natalie pointed out that many tweets relating to Gingrich were very wordy or linked to other websites, something that is seemingly detrimental to getting his message out there. I would like to compare specific uses such as this between the candidates as a possible way in which a lack of understanding of how people use social media may negatively impact a campaign, versus very tech-literate supporters, such as those that Ron Paul has, positively impact a campaign.

Future Research

I feel as though the phrase “Digital America” takes on an enhanced meaning when speaking about politics. With an increased online presence of candidate campaigns, the election truly has moved online, and America that results from this presidential race will truly be one that, I think, will be decided in a completely digital way. The final phase of this project will require a much more in-depth analysis of the remaining presidential candidates, and how effectively they use networked, digital technology. Furthermore, I want to look at the opposite side of this relationship, and analyze how the networked, digital technologies utilized effects how the candidate’s shape their campaign. Lastly, I want to fully connect the theoretical points Poster made about the relationship between politics and the Internet, by more fully understanding the applications of networked, digital technology for the American political process and American politics; this will require diving into the scholarly research of the effect of the Internet on politics, and using my research of the candidate’s online presence as supporting media.


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4Chan’s got nothing on this…

// Posted by on 04/08/2012 (1:56 PM)

Throughout the past couple weeks of class we’ve been discussing the fact that most of us feel we have nothing to hide from trollers but that we’re also apprehensive to risk pissing anyone off and getting our site hacked.  The

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Throughout the past couple weeks of class we’ve been discussing the fact that most of us feel we have nothing to hide from trollers but that we’re also apprehensive to risk pissing anyone off and getting our site hacked.  The article we read in Wired called Inside the Matrix makes the threat of anonymous 4chan trollers look like nothing.  Sure you could be subjected to viruses and hate mail or something for years but now the government is building a facility that is capable of spying on basically anyone and can store yottabytes worth of data(10^24 bytes).  This could mean encrypted codes from China and Iran to the emails we sent this evening about the paper due tomorrow morning at 9:00.
It was again mentioned that the average citizen’s email is not something the new $2 billion NSA base will really be after but the fact is they are capable and they have enough memory to store years of emails, text messages and phone calls, just in case.  Can anyone else imagine Ben Franklin turning over in his grave? It’s almost cliche to bring up his quote anymore but the man had a point; “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” It is true that as long as you’re not a terrorist, planning to be one, or phrasing things in such a way to make the government think you’re a terrorist there really isn’t anything to worry about but, there is the argument about the principle of the matter.  Our country won a war for independence sparked by a matter of principle.  Our newly imposed taxes were nothing compared to England’s and it’s only fair to pay for a war that was waged to protect us from the French and Indians. But, by principle we disagreed.  Since 9/11 and the fear that ensued from that terrible day we have lost that sense of principle and allowed our government to spy on us illegally and to eventually pass laws that make it legal.  This fact led William Binney, a former senior NSA crypto-mathematician to leave the NSA when the agency started “violating the Constitution.”
It is highly unlikely that any opposition to this data center will arise and even if it did the government is not going to shut it down, especially after dropping $2 billion dollars to make it.  Ans until it is operational the repurcussions of its existence remain open to speculation.  Perhaps it will focus on what it is advertised to do, break encrypted codes, or to spy on American citizens or something in between. Maybe this will be the institution that can enforce the new law Arizona is likely to pass that will punish internet harrasment.  They are certainly capable of it.  I wonder if the music industry has suggested an area devoted to those who chose to illegally download music?
In case it wasn’t clear, I oppose this data center because it gives too much power to the NSA with no real check and I find that it violates the founding principles of our country.  What are your reactions as a citizen? Reactions as a netizen? How will this change the dynamic of the internet and how we communicate with each other? Will we see a resurrgence of snail mail? Do you think Anonymous will try to do something about this?

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The Evolution of the Public Sphere

// Posted by on 02/17/2012 (2:49 AM)

The public sphere is the community in a society where individuals can come together to freely discuss and identify societal problems, and through that discussion influence political action.(Compliments of Wikipedia) This sphere extends back to the beginnings of ancient Greece… Read more

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The public sphere is the community in a society where individuals can come together to freely discuss and identify societal problems, and through that discussion influence political action.(Compliments of Wikipedia) This sphere extends back to the beginnings of ancient Greece in 8th century BC, it was called the agora, Greek for ‘gathering place’. The agora was the center of town and is where the culture of the city existed. Displays of arts, athleticism, spiritual activities and politics were all taking place here. However, in the political realm only free-born male land-owners were allowed to participate. As the agora formed into a marketplace rather than a place solely for free men, others were certainly apt to hear the discussions and rulings of the king or council but they could do nothing about it.

The town hall is the place in which the governing of a city takes place. These buildings often house a more formal sphere of elected officials but it is still a gathering place for the community equipped with libraries and space for entertainment. In colonial America this was the center of democracy. Once more, land-owning, white men came together to discuss and ideally solve the political problems of their community.

-Coffee shops and taverns in cities and towns of all time periods have been a place to gather and discuss politics and town issues. Before technology was around this was the only way to gather information outside of one’s personal bubble, if you will. Travelers could be key parts of this by bringing in news from other places.

 

Even something as cliche as a barbershop has been a source of political information and influence. And for most of history it was the free, rich, white men with the ability to inform himself and others as well as the ability to take action if they saw fit. However, we have seen throughout the 20th century the expansion of the political sphere to include the apparent spheres of all races, religions, and genders. And here we are, with a growing sphere of voices and with it, a new and constantly adapting medium with which to influence politics, the internet.

The internet is the agora of today’s political influences, or influencers I should say. It started with the counterculture movement, we saw the first blog space in the Well, throw in a decade of hacker innovation, and some dorm room ideas that spawn into things like facebook and you get the feedback systems of today that can organize things like the Arab spring, some truly volatile riots, or an occupy wall street movement. It can completely revamp the way political polls are taken, instead of cold calling and letters through good ole’ snail mail, we have access to numerous surveys online that take in the same information in virtually no time at all!

 

 

In his book Information Please author Mark Poster argues that this age’s public sphere really isn’t like the public sphere’s of old because of the personalities one creates online in what Poster calls the digital public sphere. “My argument is not that the digital public sphere destabilizes the full presence of face-to-face meetings but that it constructs the subject though the specificity of its medium in a way different from oral or written or broadcast models of self constitution…The digital self that participates in the Internet public spheres is different from the individual speaking in the agora or the coffee shop, as well as from the representative of individuals speaking in democratic institutions like parliaments.”(41)

In essence, Poster is saying that the person we create on the net is different from who we are in reality but, the digital public sphere still has the capability to influence political actions on the part of our representatives. Case and point being the outcry against PIPA and SOPA only weeks ago. Ultimately, the public sphere has been a highly influential space for those who were allowed to participate and eventually for those who chose to participate in it. The digital public sphere allows this generation to take that influence to an entirely new level that I don’t think we fully understand. It is very easy to express our opinions and to share them on a large scale with our friends and with our representatives. How far we take that ability I think will be revealed in the coming presidential election as we weed out the Republican candidates and take stock of how influential the internet is at publicizing where our candidates stand and why we should vote for them.


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Internet Lingo

// Posted by on 02/13/2012 (11:29 PM)

We’ve talked a lot in class about how culture is America’s biggest export. Included in the catagory of culture is language. So I starting thinking about language and how it is shaped by the network. Well the answer is pretty… Read more

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We’ve talked a lot in class about how culture is America’s biggest export. Included in the catagory of culture is language. So I starting thinking about language and how it is shaped by the network. Well the answer is pretty obvious. The web exports language to anyone who has access but it also creates language. Out of the web an entire system of communication has developed. There are hundreds, if not thousands of new words, slangs, and abbreviations that have been created by web users. About two years ago BBC published an article called How the Interent is Changing Language. In the article, author Zoe Klienmann discuss how words which were created in or for the network, like “google”, have become accepted in are everyday vocabulary and have even been added to the dictionary.

According to the dictionary to “google” is to: ” to search the Internet for informationabout (a person, topic, etc.): We googled the new applicantto check her background.”

Klienmann goes on to talk about acronyms that have been created due to txting (and instant messaging , although she does not acknowledge this), and words that were created on cult websites like 4chan.

Klienmann also talks about the testimony of 4chan creator, Christopher Poole, in a Tenesse court case. What I find particularly funny about the testimony is that the lawyers questioning Poole have no idea what any of the internet lingo means. Klienmann includes a link to the testimony but I have included one here as well. If you scroll down to page 12 you can read a funny exchange where the lawyer essentially has no idea what he’s talking about. He clearly is not a netizon. I feel like this example shows how the internet is access based and anyone who wants to can have a hand in developing the web and creating culture. The lawyer does not subscribe to this culture but there are millions of other people who do.

For more about internet lingo being added to the dictionary, check out this video of Ellen. (skip to 00:56).

 

 

And this comprehensive list of words and abbreviations used in the network.

Also, the latest edition of WIRED talks about this topic as well in an article called “Use Your Own Words”. The article talks about how the auto correct software of phones is fighting against users attempts to create new lingo. In a sense auto-correct is hindering the creation of new culture. There is a hilarious website dedicated to showing the abuses of auto-correct software called Damn You AutoCorret!.

The article goes on to argue that grammatical rules are continuously evolving so users should be encouraged to alter the language as they choose. The creation of language should be a “bottom-up” process inspired by the creativity of all who speak the langauge.


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