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Final Project Research — Cyberutopianism and Politics

// Posted by on 11/12/2014 (4:34 PM)

12/2:

I have received some really great feedback via my survey and I am ready to begin finalizing my project. I have known that I would be able to leave early, not having any final exams, so I began work… Read more

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12/2:

I have received some really great feedback via my survey and I am ready to begin finalizing my project. I have known that I would be able to leave early, not having any final exams, so I began work on a rough draft for the final essay before the Thanksgiving break. At that point I had done enough research to be in a position in which I could begin laying the groundwork for a final piece. Much of the research below was done as I continued working on the piece and was tailored so as to fit the research that I needed to connect some of the puzzle pieces–metaphorically speaking. I submitted a rough draft to Dr. Rosatelli last Tuesday and she let me know that it was in good shape and that I would simply need to wait for feedback and keep updating the research. I did so, finding another counterpoint to Adrian Chen’s anti-Anonymous fervor, as well as the centrist angle from Time. I also needed updated figures for spending on the 2014 midterms, and that is reflected below. Besides that, I really wanted to wait and see what my classmates had to say about my presentation, which was largely my essay in a presentation format. Their responses were great. All five agreed that the topic was relevant to them, which was good. I needed to make sure that I expressed the fact that this matters for us, and I think it is apparent that I did. The second question is the one where obviously there is room for improvement, as 2 students felt that I only gave somewhat of a call to action. One commented that there wasn’t a clear idea of what our response should be, and the other said that he/she wasn’t sure how he/she could personally respond. I think I am understanding where these two students are coming from, and so I have a plan of action ready to fix this. I think that simply explaining that third party candidates have a better chance of winning doesn’t necessarily convince an audience that by rallying around an independent candidate and rejecting the corporatized two-party structure, we will make a difference. So I want to give a real example of a third-party candidate who had a great shot at winning and ultimately only lost because of higher-than-expected Republican turnout, and that is Greg Orman, who was such a dominant Independent candidate in Kansas that the Democratic candidate dropped out (http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2014/09/the-mystery-candidate-shaking-up-kansas-politics/380856/?single_page=true). A third-party candidate, with no allegiance to either side and less financial backing than Republican incumbent Sen. Pat Roberts nonetheless gave the incumbent a run for his money, claiming over 42% of the vote and, while still losing, proved that independent candidates will be a force to be reckoned with going forward. That’s something we have to keep in mind, and though it seems broad to simply advocate siding with third parties instead of condoning the actions of the Democrats and Republicans, I think that if we do engage to research independent candidates and if we engage actively in campaigning and getting out the word, and if those candidates can be afforded some semblance of resources, as was Orman, they’ve got a great shot. Politics takes a lot of work, and those answers aren’t always directly evident, and I think that’s a bit of a challenge in this instance, for students to understand HOW to make it work, but that would necessitate a lengthy political explanation that would probably detract from my central focus, so my hope is to provide a call-to-action to look to independent candidates while understanding that there is a real-world parallel, that this is not some over-idealistic message, and that we can elect third-party candidates if we put in the effort that Orman’s camp put in and if we can capitalize on the historically low approval ratings for the GOP and Democratic Party. I hope with a real example that becomes much clearer. But on an extra-political level, I understand that there was some confusion as to what I meant when discussing the formation of new organizations. Again, I cannot necessarily provide a handbook for how to create an activist organization, as I have never done so and am not really sure how you go about doing that, but what I can provide is an example of a real organization working today that is working against many of the evils of which I spoke, and that is the Free Press Organization. I recently found out about them while reading some random news and found the website for their “Free the Internet” movement: http://www.savetheinternet.com/sti-home … I was skeptical. This group, I thought, must be backed by some large corporations, but in fact, it refuses to take a cent from any corporations, from the government, or from political parties: https://freepress.actionkit.com/donate/single/ … I was still skeptical, so I turned to Opensecrets.org, and found that the group does a very small amount of lobbying, and looked into the two bills for which it lobbied: http://www.opensecrets.org/lobby/clientissues.php?id=D000051085&year=2013 . One was a law that would allow TV service providers to provide a la carte programming and the other was simply a law that cemented how military spending would look for the year 2014: https://www.congress.gov/113/bills/s912/BILLS-113s912is.pdf and https://www.congress.gov/bill/113th-congress/house-bill/2397. I’m not really sure why it would lobby for a bill that was pretty straightforward and simply established how military spending would be allocated for the year, and I will keep my eyes open for any information indicating why, but nonetheless, both seem like harmless pieces of legislation for which to lobby, compared to something like an Internet Sales Tax law. The group’s lobbying efforts are minor, however, compared to the grassroots movement it is leading in favor of Net Neutrality, and this is where I am truly impressed by the group. It is partially cyberlibertarian in nature, but by refusing to accept corporate cash (which I would believe since its lobbying is minor due to lower fiduciary reserves, as Opensecrets’ figures reflect), it reflects the balance of which I spoke in the presentation, balancing an understanding of the importance of an egalitarian Web (i.e. Net Neutrality) with the understanding that regulation–online and offline–is always necessary and that corporations are not inherently a force for good. That is lost in translation with a group like Anonymous, which while anti-corporate is so anarchic and contradictory that any positive balance is lost and the whole ideology comes across as horribly destructive, which it largely is. Hopefully with a real example of an organization that we could stand behind, it becomes clear that Free Press is one of countless organizations out there that we could endorse as citizens. I also, however, do want to emphasize the importance of the fact that perhaps the organization that we must support does not yet exist, and that’s where the self-exploration comes in. I cannot tell you how to start a successful movement, but I can tell you we’ve been given some of the keys to it thus far, and that becoming informed truly is the first step to understanding how to move forward in such an endeavor. In such  way, I think that providing real world examples will be the most appropriate response to the concerns raised, reminding students that my suggestions are not vague, idealistic fantasies, but realistic visions, that my call to action is to become informed, to learn what the next steps are, and to realize the foundation has been set for us to take those steps. All students agreed the material was obviously important, and for that I was thankful. They also all agreed that signs of research were abundantly evident, and that was great, because I have felt I’ve done well in that regard, but I wanted to make sure. The only other concern that was raised was raised at the very end, with a suggestion to define some of the terms of which I speak/write. I am not too worried about this, because I only cut out the definitions due to time restraints, since I had planned a 15-minute presentation but had to fit it into 10. I couldn’t allow for all of the exposition that I wanted and instead had to give a bit of a broader overview. The paper, I am sure, gives a much more thorough definition to the terms, even ones that we have discussed, as I always like to write a paper under the assumption that anyone who reads it would be clueless about the topic (this is not a jab at Dr. Rosatelli so much as a simple philosophy on writing!). I am immensely thankful for the feedback and will be making the revisions mentioned above to the paper. It will be all the stronger as a result, and I am very confident and pleased with how the final project will turn out. I cannot thank my peers enough for their responses and suggestions, and if anyone has any other ideas that they would like to share, I am receptive as always and would not mind listening. I hope that what I have outlined here makes sense as a reasonable solution to the concerns raised, and I am excited to submit a final product that has undone the errors of my earlier drafts and does justice to the topic at hand.

11/30:

http://www.businessinsider.com/good-hacks-by-anonymous-2013-4?op=1 … This is a bit of a rebuke of Adrian Chen’s anti-Anonymous spin, since it was suggested I try to get some differing opinions on the matter besides just Quinn Norton’s one example. It is particularly helpful in discussing the fact that the group took down white supremacist radio host Hal Turner in 2006 (yes, I know this was discussed in the documentary, but I forgot about it until I read this article). The article also notes that Anonymous took down the Westboro Baptist Church’s website in 2011, and that is a bit of a rebuke of the notion that Anonymous has a bad record on racial and LGBTQ issues (even though, for the most part, it does). The article gives eight examples of positive efforts from Anonymous, but those two are the most important and relevant for my paper.

http://time.com/3148925/ferguson-michael-brown-anonymous/ … This article is not entirely pro-Anonymous; it is more centrist in nature, simply explaining the situation with Anonymous and its involvement in Ferguson. It is significant for several reasons… 1. It notes that the group is intervening in Ferguson to push the federal government to pass legislation that would more strictly regulate police conduct (a good thing), 2. They don’t know how many Anonymous members are in Ferguson or working on behalf of the efforts in Ferguson (not necessarily a good thing), and 3. A group member had previously misidentified the officer who shot and killed Michael Brown, so how can we trust information we get from them, and how do we know they are reliable in any respect?

https://www.opensecrets.org/overview/cost.php … This is an update of the spending on the 2014 midterms, since I didn’t quite update those figures as much as I could have; this will be very helpful and provide the timeliest, most accurate statistics.

11/23:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/wp/2014/01/21/how-citizens-united-changed-politics-in-6-charts/ … This is an important story from the standpoint that it informs my discussion of how cyberutopian faith in a deregulation economy would influence the deregulation of corporate involvement in the political system, and how each side is now exploiting cyberutopianism and the belief in the Internet and the “New Economy” as something inherently democratic to promote further a culture of corporatism and increased donations in an era in which corporate money is becoming all the more necessary to ensuring victory in elections. That then sets the stage for my discussion of the artificial, profit-driven exploitation of cyberutopianism versus the more genuine but more troubling digital utopianism of Anonymous and the political movement in which it is a central figure.

The way my paper should turn out at the moment is an introduction describing the shift of cyberutopianism ideals from left-leaning counterculturists to the right-wing, libertarian coalition of New Communalists and the New Right, and then explaining the culture of deregulation that was created by the notion of a “New Economy” and the inherently democratizing power of the Internet, then describing Citizens United in that context and how it changed the relationship between Washington and corporate powers, and explaining what that means for cyberutopianism as a political ideal and the fact that both sides use it merely as a means to a money-central end, and then moving discussion to Anonymous as a major digital-utopian force outside of the two-party structure and the troubling implications of standing by them. Ultimately the discussion will culminate in the question of which side we choose to stand on in light of the new political order created by the cyberutopian libertarianism of the New Economy and the excessive corporatism and contradiction of democratic values inherent therein.

11/22:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yYqYkdyW0t0&feature=youtu.be … I found this video in a quick Google News search for Anonymous and saw that they are declaring a cyberwar on the KKK… This is very interesting because the Nation article I cited a few days ago clearly argues that the organization is NOT the anti-racist organization it purports itself to be. This would be interesting to juxtapose with a more realistic and thorough depiction of the group’s history…

http://web.archive.org/web/20080824174022/http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/local_news/Net_users_insist_its_joke.html… This is a description of the group’s Habbo Hotel raid in 2006, in which they sent messages like “Pool’s Closed due to AIDS” while playing as black avatars and forming a swastika, something they insist was not intended to in any way be racist, even though, as the article points out, its native 4Chan is “peppered with homophobic and racist comments.” In 2008, several Anonymous group members hung a sign with the same black Habbo avatar that read “Pool Closed” as a joke intended to keep black children away from the pool, even though the group insisted the joke was in no way intended to promote bigotry, saying that the joke was merely “an Internet fad.”

http://www.forbes.com/sites/jasperhamill/2013/10/23/is-anonymous-suffering-an-identity-crisis/ … Further discussion of the multitudinous contradictions inherent in Anonymous and its “identity crisis.” It basically just bolsters most of the arguments I’ve made up to this point.

11/19:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/06/occupy-wall-street-protesters_n_999289.html … This article intrigues me from the standpoint that on a fiscal level, Occupy is taking a direct stance against both parties, insisting that both Democrats and Republicans have served to enhance corporate power. Now I am going to look for stories that relate to the concept of the “New Economy” in relation to the Democrats and Republicans and I’m looking for information that hopefully should pin down a trend of both sides actually feeding into New Economy ideals in some way, as I did to a lesser extent in previous entries.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/timworstall/2014/11/12/bad-news-for-amazon-as-boehner-kills-the-online-sales-tax/ … This is yet another interesting article from the standpoint that a bill putting in place an Internet sales tax was supported by Amazon as a means of competing against physical retailers, even though it would require Amazon products to be taxed, undoing the unfair advantage that online retailers have. It is a complicated economic reasoning, but long story short, the company knows that an Internet sales tax would hurt smaller online retailers more, giving them an advantage on the online marketplace. The article notes that most Democrats supported the Internet sales tax, which actually indicates that Democrats are not for a completely free and open Internet. In this way, I wonder if fiscally, in terms of the New Economy, our discussion of politics in the digital realm will make a bit more sense, as opposed to the ideas regarding cultural objects and the freedom thereof online. Republicans theoretically remain cyber-libertarians in terms of fiscal issues, with House Speaker John Boehner having shot down the sales tax legislation and other Republicans, like Ted Cruz (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-11-18/ted-cruz-wants-to-stop-bipartisan-internet-sales-taxation-bill.html) opposing it as well. But here’s where things get confusing, as always: Cruz insists that the legislation is a result of the lobbying of large corporations, and while it seems like a hypocritical excuse from a party with support from large corporations, it does offer a reminder that economically speaking, we have two parties that are very much taking support from corporate entities and this cyber-economics discussion isn’t even that clear-cut politically speaking. As the Bloomberg article above points out, this sales tax was also supported by Wal-Mart, and they are one of the largest lobbying organizations in the world (https://www.opensecrets.org/lobby/clientsum.php?id=D000000367)… So economically speaking, this is a very confusing political discussion. While Republicans are taking millions of dollars from corporations like Wal-Mart in their fight against the minimum wage, Democrats are taking millions from Wal-Mart in their fight for an Internet sales tax. Democrats seem to be playing hardball with corporations, but is that the full picture? Absolutely not. Each party’s platform seems to be in line with how we would assume they should vote on these key issues: Democrats support taxes online, and Republicans oppose it. The former is anti-corporation, the latter pro-. But that’s not an adequate picture, and while this reflects equally on politics outside of the digital realm, it has serious implications in the digital realm as well. And let’s move away from party leaders altogether and look at party members, because there are some interesting things to note here, as well, going back to some of my early findings on Net Neutrality, an issue with economic repercussions… http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2014/11/12/wonkbook-polling-shows-even-republicans-overwhelmingly-support-net-neutrality/ … According to this poll from The Washington Post, both Democrats and Republicans overwhelmingly oppose Net Neutrality. And if that isn’t confusing enough, let’s consider why on earth the Republican Party would remain so firmly opposed to Net Neutrality if 81% of Americans disagree. It might seem that the GOP remains dependent on contributions from cable companies, but Comcast–by a slim margin–gives more to Democratic recipients than to Republican recipients (https://www.opensecrets.org/orgs/toprecips.php?id=D000000461&cycle=2014)… So whose side are they on? Well, both the easy answer and the complicated answer is the same: they’re on their own side. As the Forbes article–which is written by a conservative–explains, these corporations are simply pushing for any policies that benefit them. If a Democrat is going to support legislation that benefits their economic interests, they will reciprocate with donations and support. And that’s where the complicated nature of all this becomes abundantly clear. No longer can we simply say that one side is more pro-corporate than the other, because both are receiving millions upon millions of dollars from these entities. In many ways, the advent of the Internet and the digital sphere has merely complicated matters even more, with issues like Net Neutrality and the Internet sales tax elucidating the fact that fiscal politics in the digital age are no longer so black-and-white.

https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/response/protecting-our-artists-and-entrepreneurs-innovation-economy … This is a bit of a different issue altogether, but I just found this, and I think this is one of the more interesting points to make. This is an official White House response to a petition calling for more lenient copyright laws. The White House actually responds at the above link and calls for more regulations on copyright infringement and enhanced financial penalties for those who fail to comply with the law. This is so fascinating, because it affirms President Obama, a Democratic leader, as being in line with the GOP in opposing copyright infringement and further opposing any legislation that would make copyright more lenient. Both sides–or at least the leadership thereof–support enhanced copyright legislation and oppose the more cyber-libertarian approach embodied by Lessig. Again, this gets confusing because Lessig’s Mayday PAC gave mostly to Democrats, in spite of this support for copyright. It is also confusing because, as this Newsweek article (http://www.newsweek.com/art-steal-copyright-retreat-283118) points out, many Silicon Valley companies actually support free cultural objects online since it attracts consumers to purchase digital devices. So many of the largest corporations in the world have reason to support more lenient approaches to copyright, and do support more lenient approaches, but that isn’t reflected in the actions of the Democrats or the GOP. I suppose perhaps they can rely more on the support of other corporations. But really, that’s a key point here: principle isn’t guiding cyber-politics, let alone politics itself; money is. This cannot be defined in terms of politics because of the money that is guiding the decisions of each party. Each side takes the stance it needs to to ensure the continued support of the corporations upon which it relies for donations and lobbying cash. But what does that mean for a post-political organization like Anonymous? If anything, it reflects a sort of fatigue with corporate-led politics, and subsequently can explain some of the group’s anarchic proclivities, but it leaves us with a really tough question. As voters, who do we turn to? How can we turn to Anonymous if it so fervently stands behind cyber policies so lenient as to be considered anarchic, and if so many of its members have proven to be misogynistic, racist, homophobic, etc? Anonymous is one of the leading forces in the push against the government’s crony capitalism, but should we be siding with them? If we don’t, who do we side with? Both parties are making decisions based on money, especially in terms of digital issues. Neither is necessarily a defender of cyberutopianism on every issue, only the ones that can generate support and donations. Certainly no one could support that, so voters who oppose corporate influence on government are left in a position, very much reflected in cyber politics, in which we really can’t support one side or the other. Nonetheless, each side is leading us forward into a post-political age in which we see our beliefs not in a spectrum and we see conflict not taking place between two very different parties so much as we see two similar parties in a fight against cyber-libertarian groups that are so radically cyberutopian that they call for anarchy. At least that’s what I’m seeing in my findings… Alarming.

11/17:

http://www.thenation.com/article/158974/accelerated-grimace-cyber-utopianism … This is fascinating because it is an openly left-wing critique of cyber-utopianism from the viewpoint that it conflates things like “crowdsourcing” in the “New Economy” with digital sharecropping, or even digital plantations and suggests heavily that cyber-utopianism has its roots in libertarian ideologies, which it does, again making this issue even more confusing. How did cyber-utopianism begin as something advocated by libertarian conservatives like Newt Gingrich and end up wielded by Anonymous, a perhaps anarchic group that leans any which way but right? It is also interesting to note that Anonymous, while extremely averse to conservatism, in embracing anarchism, embraces a small-government (in their case, a no-government) approach to politics that is almost a form of extreme libertarianism, closer to the right wing than the left. Yet the actions they take, like protesting Arizona’s immigration legislation or fighting Ugandan homophobia, show that they are not on the right at all. It could simply boil down to the fact that Anonymous, one of the leading powerhouses in contemporary cyberutopian political thought, is an anarchic organization, or is post-political as I had first believed. I am starting to lean towards the former as opposed to the latter, which perhaps will cement my paper as an explanation of the evolution of cyberutopianism and the fact that we should be careful to buy into the ideology now that it may have anarchistic repercussions.

11/16:

http://www.thenation.com/article/190369/truth-about-anonymouss-activism?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=socialflow# … What fascinates me is the extent to which this article emphasizes the ways in which Anonymous is far from a liberal organization, even though you have people like Quinn Norton talking about the group like it is in this piece: http://newint.org/features/2012/12/01/anonymous-into-politics/ … Anonymous hacked the Ugandan government websites to protest its homophobic legislation, yet post horribly homophobic statements online… They also protested Arizona’s strict immigration laws, which could reasonably be viewed as a rather liberal move, since the legislation was from conservatives. And notably, some also insist they helped make Occupy what it was–another liberal movement. But actions taken and comments posted online show a refusal to adhere to even the liberal ideas that they sometimes defend. Yes, we must first consider the group’s horizontalism and the fact that there is no central leadership, but even so, the group almost seems to be anti-everything, except perhaps anarchy, which is a scary thing. This is where the idea of cyberutopianism comes in, as Anonymous seems to believe that with a free and open Internet, all people could coexist and perhaps we wouldn’t even need governments. Cyberutopianism as embodied by Anonymous has essentially manifested itself as something that places its trust so excessively in the Internet as to advocate perhaps for the dissolution of governments, if it is even fighting for any larger goal at all. And, ultimately, that is the question. Is Anonymous fighting for anything in the end, or is it just fighting AGAINST everything? But the group in general, so horizontalist as to offer a multitude of contradictions in its ideology, does indeed seem to be–if not anarchist–then firmly post-political, as the Nation article seems to intimate… “Coleman sees Anonymous as part of a great geek political awakening, along with Edward Snowden, WikiLeaks, the Pirate Party and Debian programmers, ‘clearly part of a wellspring of hackers and geeks who were taking political matters into their own hands and making their voices heard.’” … The common thread between them is digital utopianism, and if Anonymous represents anything about this new counterculture, this cyberutopian movement, it is the post-political nature of it all… Paragraph about Fred Turner’s argument is vital. The predominantly liberal counterculture marked a substantial change in American politics once the New Communalists put forth their vision of new societies away from the masses, in their return to nature. But as those communes collapsed, they turned to the Internet that they had begun to romanticize, and it’s easy to see that that is where Anonymous is now: they have set up camp away from the rest of society, in the confines of the Internet, hidden away in places like 4Chan, still holding that unending faith in the cyberutopian potential of the Internet, carrying on the message of Wired and other products of the New Communalists and their so-called “techno-optimism.” And this is where it gets really confusing, because they are indeed carrying on that message, which is starkly libertarian in nature. If Anonymous is anarchist, or apolitical, or even slightly left-leaning if you view it more ideally like Norton, how does that reconcile with its fundamental libertarianism? It doesn’t… Once again we come to the same sort of conclusion, that Anonymous, the 21st-century manifestation of the New Communalists and cyberutopian thought, is the embodiment of the post-political world.

11/12:

http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/11/10/statement-president-net-neutrality … This is very interesting from the standpoint that President Obama makes a statement that the Internet is one of the greatest gifts to our economy… That’s a very “New Economy,” cyber-libertarian stance from a Democratic President. He directly refers to the Internet as one of the most democratizing forces the world has ever known, which is fascinating because it takes the digital determinist stance of finding the Internet to be inherently democratic… Rather cyberutopian thinking.

http://www.politico.com/story/2014/11/2014-elections-mayday-pac-larry-lessig-112617.html … I first heard about this PAC from a Politico story I had to analyze for my News Media and Society class and knew this would relate. Again, we see an instance of a cyberutopian individual–cyberutopian in the thinking that if reforms are made, the Internet can be a liberating force–who is standing by mostly Democrats (and in the context of this specific election cycle, failing as a result) and putting forth a pretty anti-libertarian message of “no big money in politics.” Lessig, who we have talked about in class before, was once a member of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, of which Esther Dyson was a member as well… The same Esther Dyson whose “Magna Carta” was endorsed by Newt Gingrich and accepted by the GOP… So Lessig, whose conception of a free Internet has a proclivity to fall under the distinction of cyber-libertarianism, has been pushing for a fiscally anti-libertarian policy, removing big money from politics. Is there a difference between libertarianism “IRL” and online? (Sorry, I’m thinking out loud and droning, but if people like Tufecki, a cyber-libertarian, insist that digital dualism is false, then cyber-libertarianism is no different from actual libertarianism… Correct? Does this make any sense? So is Tufecki wrong? This is pretty off-topic, but it’s just so complicated and confusing.)

http://time.com/3578255/conservatives-net-neutrality-poll/ … Here’s where it gets interesting, because after all this discussion of the fact that Democrats seem to be pretty cyberutopian and support Net Neutrality and such, we find this, from Time Magazine, and this suggests that the vast majority of conservatives in this country (4 out of 5) support Net Neutrality, even though their party leaders may not. So clearly, the cyberutopian ideal of a free and open Internet is not something that is isolated to one party or another, and that’s vital to understand if I’m talking about how cyberutopianism is no longer only endorsed by one party over the other, and it stands in stark contrast to the way things once were.

An overview of the shift I’m trying to portray:

As we studied in class, the Counterculture movement in the 60s was largely fearful of computers and digital technologies, fearing specifically dehumanization. That would eventually change as a result of New Communalist efforts (namely efforts like Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Catalog) to show a path forward in technology as a transcendent force that could bring people together and serve not to dehumanize so much as to liberate mankind under Norbert Wiener’s theory of cybernetics. Indeed, the New Communalists, an ideologically liberal subset of individuals, were perpetuating a message of digital utopianism. As they grew older and began to inhabit the private sector, they would move to the right, under the theories of a “New Economy,” and standing behind organizations like the aforementioned Electronic Frontier Foundation in the 1990s. The “Magna Carta,”  which called for a free and open Internet that would act as a democratizing force and which represented the hopes of a laissez-faire digital economy, was in many respects the culmination of this shift, as it was endorsed by Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and became a major part of the GOP platform. The once-liberal counterculturists had become Republicans, taking their digital utopian ideas with them. The 21st century has brought with it immense change, however, as Democrats, too, are standing behind measures (like Net Neutrality) that are inherently cyber-libertarian and see an open Internet as a democratizing force, as President Obama insisted. The post-political aspect of all of this comes in when we consider the fact that for most conservatives to support Net Neutrality as well is to align themselves with people like Lawrence Lessig, who is most certainly not a proponent of laissez-faire economics. Though conservatives may not hew closely to his ideology on every last issue, Net Neutrality is only one of many issues on which it is clear that, digitally speaking, Republicans and Democrats share more in common than might normally be expected. In fact, on many of these issues, each party’s respective stance betrays a sort of contradiction with regards to the supposed core tenets of their ideologies.

Take the notion of cybersurveillance, for example. Conservative individuals on the right, like Ted Cruz, are fervently opposed to such measures. The government’s intrusion into users’ privacy is an interference in the free and open Internet that cyber-libertarian organizations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation seek to create. That is a cyberutopian ideal, in which a free Internet is looked to as a liberating force. But let’s consider the implications of an Internet which is not subjected to the surveillance of any force, and in which we see cases like that which is described in Amanda Hess’ “Why Women aren’t Welcome on the Internet.” Twitter is an entity that is firmly opposed to cybersurveillance and fights off government attempts to access its users’ information. As a result, law enforcement is crippled in its attempts to handle death threats, rape threats, and other misogynistic comments made towards women online. This stands in stark opposition to the “tough on crime” stance that Cruz and many other Republicans take (for example, note that he is on the record as wanting heightened monitoring of sexual predators… http://www.ontheissues.org/domestic/Ted_Cruz_Crime.htm … But can that be reconciled with his cyber-libertarian opposition to government surveillance?).

The lesson here, thus far, is that the issues we have discussed in class are markedly post-political. Does this argument make sense? And is cyberutopianism necessarily a core component of that argument? Sorry I wrote so much. “Excessively verbose” seems to be my default setting.


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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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Occupy Wall Street: the strength of technology (Phase #1)

// Posted by on 04/21/2014 (8:19 AM)

http://elizabreed.wordpress.com/

For my final research project I decided I wanted to focus on the movement, Occupy Wall Street and the global recognition it has acquired. I quickly developed interest in this topic because of how unfamiliar I was with it.… Read more

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http://elizabreed.wordpress.com/

For my final research project I decided I wanted to focus on the movement, Occupy Wall Street and the global recognition it has acquired. I quickly developed interest in this topic because of how unfamiliar I was with it. When first thinking about how I should drive into my research, I decided it would be helpful to figure out how Occupy even began. I originally believed it was initially organized in America, however I was hugely mistaken. The movement sprouted in Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia, where twenty-six year old man set himself on fire due to years of police harassment. This act ignited more protests around Tunisia, which eventually led to the overthrow of the long autocratic rule. After citizens in other countries learned of the success that the Tunisian people had, they themselves began planning riots to fight for their beliefs. Many of these protests were very successful, creating a spark within the global society. Finally on September 17th, 2011 Occupy Wall Street was born and hit the sidewalks of New York City, specifically Wall Street.

 

Developing my course of action has been a difficult process for me. Initially I believed my argument was going to be an easy one, proving that without technology and the effect social media has on our world today, Occupy Wall Street would never have become so globally documented. Throughout my research I realized that I was not finding any articles directly stating facts regarding the use of technology benefitting the movement. However, through talking it out with myself I realized there are more ways to prove my argument. I have decided I am going to begin looking at other protests from years past, before technology had the impact on our society that it does today. By looking at past riots, like the World Bank protests in Seattle, approximately fourteen years ago I will be able to illustrate to my audience that comparably the #occupy movement spread like wildfire. The question to ask your self’s now is, why. Why did Occupy go viral? As the Los Angeles Times quotes, ” “It started as a catchphrase and became a global movement.” Throughout my research I will work through understanding how that came to be.

Also I want to explore the aftermath that #occupy has created. Due to the successes of Occupy and the popularity it has generated, movements have begun to spread. Banning banks from trying to foreclose people’s homes have created uproars, leading to people staying stagnant in local’s homes making it nearly impossible for the banks to enter homes and take them away. People around the world began “occupying” everything. From streets to homes to parks, every place that someone needed help, citizens were willing and able to do whatever they could to lend a hand. Occupy really came to be a thing, the concept of it really struck a cord within people. The term itself ended up evolving into this movement, it became a branch of its own.

 

To prove that Occupy is a protest unlike anything we have ever seen before, my first step will be to research in-depth the chronological timeline about how occupy came to be and the velocity of it. Without technology, and how “tuned in” our society has now become, I believe #occupy would not have reached the height it has. Technology has allowed the movement to span city to city, country to country and continent to continent, all striving to succeed at one thing: change. I chose Occupy Wall Street because I believe people need to become more informed with not only the movement, but also the power and effects technology has on our world today.

Research Questions:

—How am I going to prove that technology influence the #occupy movement?

—How/why did Occupy become so viral? What aspect was it that made people so “tuned in” and eager to help different causes?

—Finding the right data that is congruent with my argument:

  • —Without technology Occupy would not have become so global?

—Where do you guys think I should look?

—How should I develop my argument?

—Have you come across any articles that you think could help me with my discussion?


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The Problem With Hipsters…

// Posted by on 04/18/2014 (11:23 AM)

Haddow’s criticism of “hipsterdom” seems a bit unfounded to me. He complains that hipsters contribute no real cultural developments because they are too concerned with consuming what is “cool,” and borrowing most of their trends from previous generations, without ever… Read more

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Haddow’s criticism of “hipsterdom” seems a bit unfounded to me. He complains that hipsters contribute no real cultural developments because they are too concerned with consuming what is “cool,” and borrowing most of their trends from previous generations, without ever really fully committing to the culture.

I feel like this state of culture is less a reflection of the motives of people, and more of a reflection of culture itself. Being in a modern society with such expansive and constant access to technology, it can be difficult for extreme cultural phenomena to gain steady footing. The internet provides such widespread access to all types of music, movies, television shows, literature, or any other form of consumable culture that these things are more likely to garner a smaller, yet intensely passionate following than a recognizable cultural impact. This may still have something to do with Haddow’s idea that hipsters are “too afraid to become it [culture] ourselves,” and are unable to commit; or it might have something to do with the shortened attention span that is often attributed as a symptom of technology; but no matter the reasoning, I think Haddow would be more accurate to criticize the culture itself, not the people who consume the culture.

That being said, Haddow seems to lump together the idea of change in general, with the idea of cultural developments. Shifts in culture are not the only changes we should be concerned with. While people like Haddow may think the hipster generation is lazy when it comes to culture, this has no bearing on their capability for social progress. Just because there might not be a strong shift or innovation within popular culture doesn’t mean there are no dynamic shifts in society in general. An article by Zeynep Tufekci sites “Indignados” in Spain, “Occupy” in the United States, Tahrir Square in Egypt, Syntagma Square in Greece, Gezi Park in Turkey and #Euromaidan in Ukraine as recent social movements that all stem from the use of modern technology as a means of coordination.

Tufekci’s article does go on to criticize the use of social media in social movements, though:

“However, this lowering of coordination costs, a fact generally considered to empower protest mobilizations, may have the seemingly paradoxical effect of contributing to political weakness in the latter stages, by allowing movements to grow without building needed structures and strengths, including capacities for negotiation, representation, and mobilization. Movements may grow quickly beyond their developed organizational capacity, a weakness that becomes critical as soon as a form of action other than street protests or occupation of a public space becomes relevant.”

http://dmlcentral.net/blog/zeynep-tufekci/capabilities-movements-and-affordances-digital-media-paradoxes-empowerment

Again, this could be contributed to the negative attributes of hipsters, Haddow’s idea that they cannot commit fully to anything beyond the cultural flavor of the week. But it could also be a flaw within social media and internet society as a whole.

Either way, I think the hate of hipsters in general is unwarranted. The arguments made against them are so focused on what hipsters consume on a cultural level, yet give little thought to what they are capable of producing on a greater social level, which seems like a very narrow perspective on their potential.


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Strike Debt!

// Posted by on 03/25/2013 (9:24 PM)

A quick look at the image above offers some pretty shocking statistics about the amount of debt that our citizens face, these statistics show that a drastic change is needed in our governments to correct this growing debt problem.… Read more

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A quick look at the image above offers some pretty shocking statistics about the amount of debt that our citizens face, these statistics show that a drastic change is needed in our governments to correct this growing debt problem. The Occupy Wall Street movement looks to implement this dramatic change.

Every one has heard of the occupy wall street movement that swept the nation and brought millions together behind a common goal, to eliminate inequalities faced by the famed 99%. The Occupy movement used the internet to spread its message to the world and was the starting point for Occupy movements across the world, one such movement is an Occupy offshoot called Strike Debt.

Strike Debt is a non profit organization that was started as a result of the Occupy movement. On their official website they state “Debt resistance is just the beginning. Join us as we imagine and create a new world based on the common good, not Wall Street profits.” This grassroots organization says it has abolished over 1 million in medical debt, saying that the medical industry and debt in general is “an industry designed to confuse, overwhelm, and exploit.” The organization is a Rolling Jubilee project that buys debt for pennies on the dollar and then destroys the debt. for a more indepth explanation check out this short youtube video. By using donations this organization will try to abolish millions of dollars in debt caused by unfair wall street practices. For more information on this movement you can visit their facebook page, or their blog.

While the Occupy movement itself is impressive I believe that the use of a common goal to unite people thousands of miles away from another is a feat in itself. The Occupy movement was so successful itself, and at creating other movements, such as the Strike Debt organization, because of  the use of a 3rd space, the internet, to connect people in a common goal no matter their location or social standing. The use of internet propaganda and social networking is the main reason why this movement was so popular. As globalization increases and internet users are more interconnected it is an intriguing question to ask, whats next? Will the strike debt movement really be able to abolish millions of dollars in debt, and bring more equality to the 99%? To find out the answers we turn to the internet, just more proof that the internet is a 3rd space that brings the global community closer all the time.

 


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Occupy Earth

// Posted by on 03/25/2013 (1:51 AM)

At first glance, the Occupy Wall Street movement can appear to be an group of angry individuals who were “organized’ under a vague focal point. However, the sheer fact that the Occupy movement’s ideas spread around the world means… Read more

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At first glance, the Occupy Wall Street movement can appear to be an group of angry individuals who were “organized’ under a vague focal point. However, the sheer fact that the Occupy movement’s ideas spread around the world means that this was no small, localized event. Social media helped to unify like-minded individuals, and an outpouring of support “through video, photos, text messages, audio and other messaging using Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and other online services” gave the movement “legitimacy.” In order for the movement to build up steam, it needed to become a literal movement, not just a figurative one.

According to the Wall Street Journal in 2011, the spread of the Occupy movement seemed almost “organic.” Copycat organizers studied the New York protests and created their own mini-movements in cities like Chicago and Los Angeles, and they planned these protests via Facebook, Twitter, and other networking websites. This method is a 21st century phenomenon, for protesters are now able to share their grievances and complaints with other individuals instantly through the Internet and gather their own followings. Another interesting feature of the Occupy movement’s spread is the source of the spread. When studying the Vietnam War’s protest movement, some of the biggest and most well-known criticism came from actors, musicians, and artists. Americans latched onto the feelings shared by people they recognized in the news like John Lennon, Allen Ginsberg, and Frank O’Hara, and these celebrities gave the protests a strong backbone.

With Occupy Wall Street, however, the backbone was formed by (mostly young and jobless) Americans who were fed up with corporations paying executives extremely high wages, preventing workers from negotiating better and safer working conditions, etc. Celebrities heard about the movement in the news and then had to decide whether or not they wanted to side with the folks in New York. Some, like musician Tom Morello, Russell Simmons, Alec Baldwin, and Yoko Ono pledged their support (ironic, because they are not members of the “99%”). Simply put, for one of the first times in history, ordinary Americans were taking matters into their own hands and single-handedly forming a movement without any kind of leader or figurehead. They were, collectively, their own figurehead.

This may be one of the biggest reasons why the Occupy Wall Street movement spread like it did. Because the base was made up of the so-called 99%, almost all Americans were included in their movement. They were spreading ideas that millions of people understood and were against, and this is what unified people form around the world. It may have started out as a relatively small gathering in a park in New York City, but the ideas the protestors shared were significant enough to reverberate across the globe.

Here’s a brief video showing various movie stars being asked about their thoughts on the movement. What do you think? Should they not be allowed to “support” the Occupy Wall Street movement because of their “1%” standing, or are their voices needed to give legitimacy to the protester’s cause? I personally don’t think the protesters need any big names or stars to support the movement because, in many ways, that sort of thing can actually undermine what the movement is standing for.

Occupy


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Occupy London

// Posted by on 03/25/2013 (1:24 AM)

The Occupy Movement that began in 2011 as Occupy Wall Street became an international call for mobilization of “the 99%.” Hundreds of websites around the world were created to represent the total movement along with individual branches of Occupy. The… Read more

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The Occupy Movement that began in 2011 as Occupy Wall Street became an international call for mobilization of “the 99%.” Hundreds of websites around the world were created to represent the total movement along with individual branches of Occupy. The feelings of social and economic inequalities were so strong that the movement continued for years, resulting in camp-outs all over the US and far beyond.

occupylondonday1

This is the video from the “About” section on the OccupyLondon website.

In London, the Occupy movement used the #occupylsx, #occupylondon, and #olsx as trending terms for twitter. Their website, occupylondon.org.uk, has all the information about events, social media, getting involved, and donating. On the homepage is a declaration of sorts that declares their 10 initial statements, agreed upon by the hundreds of people that gathered on October 26, 2011 in front of St. Paul’s. October wasn’t the only uprising though – in May 2012, Occupy protesters at the Bank of England were arrested on a global day of action. During this day, thousands of people in cities including Athens, Moscow, New York, Barcelona and Madrid rallied their forces in protest of inequality. BBC News referred to the event as a powerful symbol. Protesters named the march “visiting the 1%” and stopped at the largest banking institutions, including Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch.

Given all the so-called power of global influence, exposure, and support, how successful was Occupy London? Did the constant tweets, updates, and physical presence In a BBC article from after the removal of the tents, the sentiments are mixed. Overall, there is a sense that the movement was too disorganized, with too many ambitions and protesters with far ranging objections, which made the outcomes unrealistic. Occupy London focused on income inequalities, to which David Skelton, the deputy director and head of research at the Policy Exchange think tank, replied “Whether or not [the concept of the 99% and 1%] would have come about without the Occupy London camp is another argument.” (Cacciottolo, 2012) Another article from 2012, a year after the camps, found that the sentiments were mainly that Occupy London was ineffective in having real changes in attitudes and actions. The movement brought issues to policymakers attention, but further than that could not boast any tangible changes in feeling.

Right now, @OccupyLondon has 38,420 followers, almost 13,00 tweets, and thousands more re-tweets and tweets under their trending terms. @OccupyWallStNYC has close to 150,000 followers (for comparison). From the information I’ve uncovered in various articles, social media had a limited impact on the Occupy London movement. This is different from what I expected, considering that the London Stock Exchange is such an important piece of the global market.


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#OccupyEverything

// Posted by on 03/17/2012 (2:06 PM)

After reading an article on Occupy Together I was astonished to see just what people are occupying. Each week the site posts a list of movements that are occurring around the globe, from right… Read more

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After reading an article on Occupy Together I was astonished to see just what people are occupying. Each week the site posts a list of movements that are occurring around the globe, from right here in the capital of Virginia to Iran to Russia; people are attempting to make someone notice they are suffering. So what happens in one week of occupying? Do people sit around and make a building inaccessible? Do they have rallies? I had no idea. Searching around on YouTube I came across the video of an occupy movement in Richmond, Virginia on March 3, 2012, International Women’s Day.

The video is simple, it’s someone standing in the crowd with their camera directed to the steps where women are sitting in a pro-choice rally. They are protesting a new bill that requires women to have an ultra sound before receiving an abortion. 14 men and 17 women were arrested on that day, having done nothing but sit on a flight of stairs. I guess the primary question is what is Occupy? What do we occupy and why do we do it?

5 days after this event 5,000 protesters formed a 3 mile line from lower Manhattan to Union Square, protesting unemployment. But what is protesting? Does it actually accomplish a task or does it do more harm than good? Can progress be gained from a protest or is it just as good as signing a petition? The Occupy movement originated from Occupy Wall Street, where groups gathered in September of 2011 in Liberty Square to fight back against major banks and multinational corporations that stand over democratic process. But now, there is occupy everything. Occupy has become in retrospect a sit-in, where a group of people or an organization becomes unhappy about a situation and decides to “occupy” someplace where a difference might possibly be made.

As all of this can be a great cause does it ever become too much? Does the term occupy become a laughing matter where people are over doing it? Does occupying have any real result?


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The Revived Hippie Culture

// Posted by on 01/30/2012 (4:08 PM)

While Ali makes a great point in her post “New Hippies?” that the stereotypical hippie still exists today (though fairly rarely), I think traces of the hippie culture we associate with the 1960s and 1970s’ counterculture are very

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While Ali makes a great point in her post “New Hippies?” that the stereotypical hippie still exists today (though fairly rarely), I think traces of the hippie culture we associate with the 1960s and 1970s’ counterculture are very visible in today’s Occupy Movement. This movement’s website clearly demonstrates the need for revolution and a change in the world – aspects very prominent in the counterculture of the 60s and 70s. Even in the website’s section titled “#HOWTOOCCUPY”, the “O” in occupy features a human fist, much resembling the fist used by African-Americans in the Black Power movement. These features are just some of the many of the Occupy Movement that are reminiscent of the “old” counterculture.
The Occupy Movement’s website also imitates aspects of the WELL network, utilizing a discussion post forum in which users can publish views and opinions related to various topics concerning the movement. This retro network forum symbolizes the community ideals held by counterculturists of the 60s and 70s. These community ideals are apparent in the Occupy Movement as a whole, bringing Americans of all races, ethnicities, incomes, genders, and ages together under a common goal towards a more economically and socially equal society. Perhaps the fact that the participants in the Occupy Movement represent a wide-ranging spectrum of people suggests that it has revised the 60s and 70s counterculture beneficially (in contrast to the very visible “exclusion fever” present in countercultural movements at the time).
Moreover, some of the physical aspects to Occupy Movement “campgrounds” located in target cities, such as Zuccotti Park in New York for Occupy Wall Street, resemble the communes that existed (and some that Ali points out still exist) in the 60s and 70s. As many of the Occupy movements take place in very urban settings, parks provide a stark contrast between the targeted audiences that reside in corporate buildings and the “99%” that protest from and (sometimes) live in (tents – resemblant of the communal geodesic domes) green, nature-oriented parks. The nature-focused aspect of a park suggests the call for a world in which life is less corporate(or building)-focused. Often, the actual inhabitants (or participants who stay in the parks) of the Occupy movemnts resemble the traditional, stereotypical hippie. However, the members of the Occupy Movement who live in the tents represent only a very small portion of the entire Occupy community that protests for the great change. While the Occupy members may be grouped under this hippie-looking-tent-occupier stereotype, their diversity and massive size (mentioned in the beginning) proves Occupiers are far more than that.
Although I focused the previous points on Occupy Movements taking place in the United States with Americans, the Occupy craze has spread globally. As of today (January 30, 2012), there are 2,853 Occupy communities worldwide. (To see more details click here) This movement promotes the international spread of its ideals through facilitating organization of different Occupy meetups and communication among those participants. This connection-oriented feature of the Occupy Movement is another resemblance of Brand’s WELL.
To go back to my original comment, it seems as though hippies (not restricted to our stereotypical 60s and 70s hippie figure) exist today in greater numbers than we might have first thought. The Occupy Movement is a clear example that brightly glows with resemblance and similarity to the 60s and 70s counterculture in all of its glory.

Occupier

Occupy Wall Street

Occupy Wall Street


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