Internet Feudal Barons and Our Lack of Surprise

_net-autonomy

(Subversion News, Itsgoingdown)

December 14th is the congressional vote to repeal Title II classification for Internet service providers, which regulates them as public utilities and mandates equal protection for all Internet traffic, fulfilling the concept of Net Neutrality. It seems that I’ve been here before, and nothing feels different aside from this issue in the grand scheme of things. That, and maybe my level of cynicism.

Three years ago, in my social democrat days, I dove into all that so-called “Team Internet” could really do. The late Obama years were a push to ensure progressive policies would withstand after election season. Everything except physically organizing was what I did when the FCC was urged to adopt clear net neutrality rules. We knew that consumers were just waiting to be fucked over by broadband companies if reclassification didn’t beat them to it, so it was a big deal for most of that year.

Outreach was rather grueling when trying to bring the issue to everyone who uses the Internet. The aggressive lies about “innovation” being at stake if broadband speeds didn’t remain a competitive market seemed as convincing to many as the reality of Internet connections being universally jumbled with the stablest ones concentrated in the hands of those who could pay.

Initially, I didn’t think writing/calling congress and having the situation explained in full would matter much. What felt like this loose network of hackers and nerd-activists seemed to be no match for the landlords of broadband and their lobbyists, so my hopes for victory were modest. But in time the decision to reclassify was sealed, thanks to enough noise against the idea of paying premiums for different connections. There was a sense of accomplishment in banding together within the “safety” of government that my white skin affords me.

This, of course, was before the political jolt that was Trump’s presidency. Around an administration that has been one clique power-grab after the other, Ajit Pai’s flagship decision as newly-appointed FCC chairman was to crash and burn protective Internet regulations, similar to our health care system or public water treatment.

What distinguishes then from now is [my understanding of] what I want out of putting time and energy into an issue. I realized the inherent limitations on what could realistically be won through this perpetually circular politics of appeal and compromise. Self-described “radicals” are engaging in a battle for leverage in a situation that affects what they should realistically be forcing out of the hands of the few. Its not exactly overcoming or progressing (notions that liberals have always suggested) if you’re constantly fighting for the same reforms in different political eras. I arrived at the conclusion that working within authority can only push it to change its tactics of constraint. It has to be deconstructed, physically disrupted and abolished by obsolescing its relevance through new social habits.

This is ultimately no more of a surprise than Trump doing anything else. When you have a president with this kind of hubris, uncharted influence and a tattered but intact support base with various reactionary formations, this is just a drop in the bucket. I was convinced that the definitive sign of more (and worse) to come was the early rhetoric around immigration and “America first”, so its hard to be surprised or significantly upset by any of this.

Let’s not take all this to mean this situation isn’t a problem. Bludgeoning Internet access to guarantee that Telecom giants can exert restraint on consumers as a business strategy in this particular time of polarization and turbulence — especially with most organizing happening online — is going to prove difficult for radicals’ playing field.

But do I clench my heart and cry “Oh, the humanity!” No, because whether we have European-style net neutrality regulations or the same model we have for health care, we are ignoring the relationship at play. The entities people are out to win over cannot have the same conversation. There are mutually opposing interests that are the final say, and accruing their sympathy will not do anything if it conflicts with them. You always run the risk of having any concessions revoked when they’re mere options for appeasement within the negligence of impersonal democracy.

Net neutrality is a false distinction in a society where access to anything is fundamentally broken, let alone the Internet. Nonetheless, liberals will prioritize the things within reach to middle-class whites and avoid the overarching motive behind it all. This is going to be a pain, no doubt. What isn’t in this world?

Hashtag resistance is officially canceled.

What the Internet has demonstrated is among the most effective means of collaborating and opening up new and powerful means of expressing, sharing, reinventing and decentralizing. But that ethos can never reach its fullest potential when Telecom property owners can pull the plug whenever they please. They will never cease control of our access so long as there is any base for them to stand on.

The airwaves are a commons. Every tool and beyond should be, but this will never be adopted as the reality so long as monopolizing or mediating capabilities exist anywhere, be they state or private.

Internet Feudal Barons and Our Lack of Surprise

The Fate of The Radical Internet Community

Our communication avenues are killing us, and we’ve turned them on ourselves. In this sense, I mean that the foundational object for communicating between each other in leftist and anarchist spaces is becoming a mere excuse to make inter-community conflict the primary engagement.

This isn’t to suggest that people only use politics for an excuse to participate in drama nowadays, but our sense of importance in specific things oscillates in a terrible and counter-productive way that maintains a loose connection with our politics to justify itself. The lines between a minor schism and the fate of our persuasions blur, speedily producing a community hysteria that is fully realized when our comrades become estranged in the fractures of the situation when it reaches critical mass.

In the events leading up to late last year, online leftist communities did a very good job of stoking its flames to burn themselves to the ground in hopes of building themselves up.

The frustration against the dominant political and social hierarchies tends to create an inner and outward act of aggression. This means that in the process of attacking one’s enemies, the allies — the comrades, are also significantly harmed or indistinguishable. The body of power-wielders executes decisions in such a careless and frantic manner that all are caught in the crossfire.

The socialism subreddit (/r/socialism) made a perfect example of this in late 2016. Through top-down word policing that included paternalizing the health and conduct of neurodivergent and disabled people, they managed to become a sort of online DPRK, interestingly. By squeezing language and conduct so tight that nobody could clench their anus wrong without receiving a ban, they closed themselves off from the very source of their purpose and did an outstanding job of ensuring that nobody will want to participate there again.

The model of decentralized pockets of speech and assembly is the ideal and perhaps essential approach of self-organized communities. This counters the notion of free speech everywhere, which even ardent advocates would be horrified to see realized.The actions of /r/socialism, however, were hopelessly irresponsible for such a model.

For one thing, in the present hierarchies, people are generally familiar with a sort of wide-open “market” of communities, for lack of better words, wherein different sections offer different things, but within the general market there is a custom of “people can say what they want.” While in this custom, there is a crucial period of weening people away from an all-encompassing obligation to servicing everyone’s ideas, and bringing them to an important suggestion: “would you allow anyone at all to say anything at all at your own party or gathering? If not, thats exactly what we’re doing here.”

This is crucial because it really changes what curious newcomers thought about discussion. It easily shows that yes, you wouldn’t like someone with opposing ideas always allowed to badger you and your friends who think differently. This is not to say that you would never debate that person or step outside your own community, but you would default to doing so in a place that explicitly facilitates or welcomes such activity. Always being welcome to do that anywhere is simply annoying.

How we coordinate this in vision and fact is to think of it as an actual community, and to take it seriously as such. The way to make this work on mainstream platforms is to use moderation and administration roles in the same rotating, limited and retractable ways as delegation in physical assemblies. This way we can enforce the agreed, democratically managed statutes of the community through trusted members occupying a subsection of the total membership, and not a specialized tier of managers.

This is where /r/socialism failed. They’ve always appeared to operate on a sort of vanguardism that made party-like tiers and higher sections necessary. It was relatively tolerable, however, until new moderators came aboard and began enforcing strict and ridiculous rules regarding ableism and catgirlswithout community clearance, essentially alienating contributors from overseers. This put everyone in an awkward and uncomfortable place. Neurodivergent people like myself, who were pressured into conforming to the speech mandate, became so stressed over the change in environment that the expressed idea to be welcoming became an inverted, bastardized idea of what doing good looked like. “Just change who you push away and everything will be fine.” Even though you’re just shuffling which disabled people you’re kicking out.

This is precisely why feedback needs to be continuous between participants and those entrusted with certain positions like administrators and moderators. And sadly, if not a sweeping act of frantic autocracy, we end up manufacturing multiple frenzies that interlock and build a multifaceted body of decay. A kind of microscopic shredder for a once good community overtaken by whatever everyone is screaming about, influencing a migration or even a dropout from the total cause.

This is probably the most unfortunate fact of the Internet. With so much possibility, it doesn’t always work in our favor, often pushing us into awkward positions. But if anyone knows anything about me, they know this is all to say that our direction is tremendously off course, not that we should abandon platforms on the Internet.

The problem as it seems to me is that we’ve centered our hope in the Internet following the changes in our world, which is an awful tactic for such a massive social vision as anarchism or leftism to adopt. The Internet, as both an advantage and a detriment, is fundamentally separate from human nuances. To think for a moment that we can exchange ideas sufficiently through dehumanized arrangements of letters is absurd, let alone manage an effective movement.

Communication online is a convenient yet faulty device for our language, and language, words, are somewhat disconnected from overall communication. With real and genuine conversations, we find essential indicators of tone, gesture, emotion and fixed context that make one sentence or phrase mean totally different things under minuscule differences. This is the disparity between online and physical interaction that cannot be rightfully fixed under the current direction. Online communication is the provisional answer to distance and language barriers, yet the eventual gain in numbers and actions demands a physical realization of what we’ve developed over the Internet.

From this approach, if we want to escape our problem, we require the use of online spaces to act as an extension to a greater center of engagement, rather than the Internet being that greater center while physical engagement is the extension; a reversal. I suppose I could dial this back as well. If using them in tandem becomes too difficult or just devolves back into the same problem, we could consider using them reciprocally. What was left undone in one sphere is noted and completed in the other.

Ultimately, we need to reclaim a self-discipline of what is functionally important to the cause of anarchism and anarchist communities, and what is merely inconsequential and sometimes destructive quarreling over something disconnected. The discipline needs to take place in getting a hold of ourselves: not to close off discussions for change, but to get face-to-face with them, thoroughly measure whats going on, and not just initiate a referendum out of custom. To limit what enters our directing community sectors like the decision-making process or the general assembly based on the situation and the number of perspectives on it. Sometimes a disagreement is just that, and needs no such advancement into a rule of the association. Acting in this way is the best bet for creating new conflicts and tangles to resolve later.

This involves distinguishing the levels of overall community action on an issue, leaving certain scopes of engagement up to individuals alone, and actually utilizing our commitment to non-hierarchy even in services that run on hierarchical features, such as forums, group chat platforms and social media (don’t use those top-down features. Ever.)

At this point we start to see a need to reevaluate our self-governance. The issue is not just the vehicle for our communication and its downfalls, but our own downfalls too. We acknowledge oppression and trade methods of combating its appearance in our communities, but we often fix those methods to inflexible actions propped up by the dehumanized face of digitalized language. A whack-a-mole of moderation. In the pursuit of adjusting ourselves for others, we end up swapping out who is disadvantaged rather that making balanced compromises.

Call-out culture just makes our own brand of coercion to act proper before peers instead of actually learning from mistakes and feeling comfortable in what we do. If we’re to look at the minor blunders of comrades and resolve them while staying friends, we need to take on a smart approach to making a solution essential to the problem. Disciplinary solutions in their scope and aggression need to be proportional to the offense given, not a fixed action.

The call-out only appears to be effective, or at least justified, if we’re dealing with someone in power or someone expressly bigoted. In simpler terms, you have to know who your friends are. Who you can tap on the shoulder, talk to in a heart-to-heart way and point something out; a call-in. And then there’s knowing who aren’t your friends: who you can loudly condemn to the same extent they’ve caused harm; calling them out. You simply have to make those distinctions and really look at the offense to determine what is the right action. To quote Asam Ahmad:

Paying attention to these other contexts will mean refusing to unleash all of our very real trauma onto the psyches of those we imagine represent the systems that oppress us. Given the nature of online social networks, call-outs are not going away any time soon. But reminding ourselves of what a call-out is meant to accomplish will go a long way toward creating the kinds of substantial, material changes in people’s behaviour — and in community dynamics — that we envision and need.

Default aggression only fosters the strain and friction later to come, and in a way it is privileged in of itself. People who have real issues with communication (on top of speaking on the Internet) often seek human connections and validation online, where they feel safe and can adequately make friends. Here, their impairment can still slip through and create a misunderstanding. Things like these are important to keep in mind when finding something objectionable, as well as the context which can indicate if the offense is intentional or a mistake. Again, this is where calling in is useful.

To encourage mindful evaluations of certain speech and ideas, be conscious of context and actively oppose unilateral policing is how we create not only the ideas but also the facts of our future. To reiterate, this is not the approach to everything. People still have a fundamental right to dismantle grossly bigoted or authoritarian speech as the need arises, but to suggest that such aggression and vigilance is required all the time is what creates the tensions that scare away honest comrades who are capable of the same mistakes we all are.

To do all this that does justice to our tendency, we need to exercise this power in a horizontal, flexible manner.

Its all our cross to bare. No single class of admins or mods can be blamed, we all need to take initiative and be the change. Afterall, we did all this. We built the communities, shared the ideas, brought people in. We let it fall into disrepair, inverted what we preached, let irresponsible people take central power.

Its our choice, we must decide if we’re up for idiotic schisms to fragment us until our only option is resetting or death, or if we want to approach issues and the very nature of our engagement differently, humanely; and quite possibly save ourselves and the world in the process.

The Fate of The Radical Internet Community

The Crypto War is Insane

“This means of securing yourself personally is hindering law enforcement from getting to the bad guys, therefore it should be outlawed entirely.”

We don’t apply this logic to locks on front doors or blinds over windows, because we know in that context its outrageous: Personal security is just a basic utility for your own privacy and safety, something everyone is entitled to. But in the context of a pressing issue such as terrorism, and the point that criminals use online communications that use a level of encryption, it becomes an acceptable kind of authoritarianism… at least to some.

One of the problems is that we live in an environment where there is a basic agreement that civil liberties and due process is important and must be protected, yet our leadership is held by unprincipled people who abandon these ideas when the going gets tough. We did the same thing after 9/11 in Iraq: threw out International Law, facts and the Constitution and rushed in to do something. We’re starting to see something like this emerging about encryption in the wake of heightened terrorism and this false notion that perpetrators only communicate through encrypted services.

The political gray-zone of knowledge and advisory on how information technology functions, how encryption is vital for security for everyone and how its essentially a standard for most protocols nowadays is inexcusable. You had to know how to operate a telegraph in the early 1900s when it became commonplace. Same with the telephone later on. Trying to ban radio during World War II because thats how the nazis communicated on the frontlines would harshly disadvantage everyone else, since there was more of everyone else than nazis. In 2015, with the Internet now becoming a dependancy and a utility, our leaders need to know how it works, hear from experts and understand the differences when it comes to security — neverminding that, again, we don’t ban locks on doors.

The primary argument for this is to combat terrorism, but we see how badly that went for mass surveillance since this is really an extension of that. It seems we still haven’t fully grasped that when you collect everything and classify everything as a potential threat, the real threats have a tendancy to get lost in the rest of the dragnet. When you dedicate more resources to breaking crypto or classifying it as a threat, you only continue to waste time and effort as terrorist attacks go on as usual. The solution is the only one: Warranted investigations and police/counter-terrorism work in obvious areas of criminal activity. This is empirically all we can do.

This idea of outlawing encryption on the level of the citzenry would be catastrophic. If we’re talking about doing away with TLS/SSL, PGP and AES, websites will be tremendously more vulnerable to attacks and breaches, journalists wouldn’t legally be able to make secure contact with sources, and bussinesses couldn’t use certain media restrictions (even though they shouldn’t exist). However, it seems that the authorities understand this and curve around this by saying encryption shouldn’t be outlawed, but law enforcement and the government should have a copy of the private key and passphrase; set up backdoors… just in case. Not fully ridding us of encryption, just nullifying it.

We can again apply the door lock analogy to this. What good is a lock on your front door if law enforcement has a copy of the key to it? It totally ruins the purpose of something even being there. Trying to make it excusable by saying “Well, only the cops should have backdoor access” is insane. This is how you welcome blatant totalitarianism into your society. You need the ability to be safe no matter who wants to get to you. You don’t get a middleground — either you have the ability to secure yourself or not, let alone that everyday people outnumber bad actors.

This isn’t something debatable. You can’t be in favor of privacy and in the same breath believe that encrypted service providers should be pressured to introduce backdoors, or that the government should cripple a standard, harming the security of millions of people while saying that they’re keeping us safe.

We can’t allow fear and scapegoats to overwhelm those in power to go through with something horrible. We — activists, developers, journalists and honest people — truly hold the line between where civil liberties and privacy start, and where totalitarianism and unjust intervention takes over. Its our choice of how things will turn out. Please defend encryption.

The Crypto War is Insane

Response to Sunde’s Outlook on the Internet

Motherboard did an interview with Pirate Bay co-founder Peter Sunde concerning the state of the Internet and file-sharing. The conversation was blunt and rather disheartening, focusing on the world’s fading concern of Internet freedom and of capitalist interests, censorship and political involvement changing the web for the worst.

Sunde highlighted the conversation by saying that he has “given up the idea that we can win this fight for the internet”. He continues, “The situation is not going to be any different, because apparently that is something people are not interested in fixing. Or we can’t get people to care enough. Maybe it’s a mixture, but this is kind of the situation we are in, so its useless to do anything about it.” He concluded that a total crash and burn of capitalist control on society is necessary in restoring the net to the vision most beloved by Internet freedom advocates. “stop treating [the] internet like it’s a different thing and start focusing on what you actually want your society to look like. We have to fix society, before we can fix the internet. That’s the only thing.”

I’m mostly agreed with Peter on this. Having followed his blog for several years and being on the same political spectrum, I sympathize with where he arrives at things and how he got there. But I think he arrives at this particular conclusion by looking at a few variables differently than I would, and perhaps leaving a few things out.

A big problem is that, while people do deeply care about the well-being and freedom of the Internet (e.g., EFF, Fight For The Future and Demand Progress), your everyday person is significantly less likely to give a shit on the same level of activists. If they can still check Facebook and watch Netflix, chances of them joining in on protests in Washington D.C. or Berlin over CISA or TPP/TTIP, or defending net neutrality are pretty slim. These days all you can realistically do is run a moderately successful ad campaign that reaches maybe 100 everyday people on such issues when a new piece of legislation comes along, but it seems you won’t be making a notable difference. The common goal should be to get 50 – 60% of an area or country on board with you’re cause, something we haven’t reached since SOPA.

So the solution is to change that: amass great legions of demonstrations and outreach on the issue and make the subject unavoidable in public discourse. Some international movement, greater in size than occupy or WTO, centered around the idea that the Internet is a resource that can’t be controlled by authoritarian or private forces, lest we begin to see the same slowly happen to the other aspects of our lives. That is necessary in the approach of reform, rather than revolution. We can argue that we’ve tried it before and it didn’t work, but did we really try enough to where it got into the region of popularity and effectiveness that we want? We can’t say a massive gathering for changes within the current system didn’t work until we actually get there and see. We haven’t got there because its hard, and we somewhat expected it to be easy to tell people that the utility that they love is constantly under siege in ways they don’t recognize, and suddenly having them on our side. So, in my opinion at least, we need to work hard on this before we consider tearing it all down and starting over.

Another great problem, which is being combatted in the US, is money in politics transforming what we call a democracy into an oligarchy through private campaign financing. Something like making reform to get rid of surveillance, stop attacks and loopholes against fair use, implement net neutrality and other pirate-friendly policies are dead on arrival when you have insane amounts of money perpetuating “I scratch your back; you scratch my back” transactions between representatives and senators and special-interest funders from the right or the copyright defense. The restoration of people, not money, leading in Democracy would be a great light of hope for getting a society like the United States onto a path of fixing things.

As far as ending the capitalist grasp on mankind, or allowing it to begin to eat itself and the society its connected to, this would probably be all thats needed for everything above to happen. In the aftermath, when we’re in the ruins of cities and factories, those remaining could rebuild on more honest principles and pave the way for a socialist technocracy. But I think the idea of letting the system overload by letting it gorge itself with profit, or having the worst possible person like Trump getting elected isn’t guaranteed to work how we would like it to. For all we know, it would only cement things like climate change caused by fossil fuels and pollution, wage slavery and money ruling the world for the future. We can estimate that it would find a way to sustain itself for another decade or two as they officially raise the flag of corporate mob rule — something Orwell didn’t fully anticipate.

We certainly need to put massive industry in its place and sever ourselves from its control, but again, if we follow how the political game is rigged and attempt to reverse-engineer how its been set up through massive global organizing, we have a shot at deescalating the problem before we jump off the cliff hoping that theres something soft to land on.

At the very least, we should consider how information technology shifts over time, perhaps not how we’ve previously seen. I wrote before how the Internet is an undying concept and a front-end of reality that takes on incredible changes and problems every single day, be it from governments, corporate entities or security holes. At the end of the day, its still the Internet and its still possible to do something or create something new that gets you from point A to B. It comes back to it not being as easy as we’ve gotten used to, but still possible. When plain HTTP was found to be susceptible to man-in-the-middle attacks, HTTPS slowly became a norm. Perhaps the same will happen for BitTorrent and how we share files when the MPAA conducts its next strike. Pirates and hackers are too great of a force to allow the future to be a gloomy wasteland without a fight.

I could be totally wrong and we truly are doomed for the entire duration of where we are now, but its better to remain optimistic and try to do something instead of dropping your sword and giving up. Even if its hopeless, I still want to work either through reform and activism, and then — when it becomes necessary, revolution and re-building society in the model of libertarian socialism.

I think if we want the solution right now, want to re-build society free of capitalism entirely and don’t care about the potential for a sub-utopian world that emerged from darker times, the path of revolution and starting over might be what we want. But I would first like to see if we can actually follow a chain of problems within society and apply solutions that restrict abuse of money, attacks on information technology and things that desensitize the public.

To Peter: stay strong, don’t give up everywhere or forever, and do what you love even if people want to control it.

Note: Go watch TPB AFK if you haven’t seen it. Its great.

Response to Sunde’s Outlook on the Internet

The Internet is a Universal and Infinite Concept

Concerns about the end of the best platform for expression and information have circulated since its beginning. The Internet follows a cycle of having problems and challenges met with solutions and patches to the holes in the boat almost everyday. In some cases, a government issues a proposal or mandate that would cripple the integrity of the net in a region, such as surveillance or data retention, or in its own function, regulating or banning encryption or certain protocols. In others, communities where free speech and the free exchange of information was once at the core of its principles cripples and corrupts itself for different motives. These issues are real and need battles waged over them — and when they are, it is guaranteed that someone in the crowd will claim that the internet is done for, and we might as well accept certain defeat. But approaching this claim in a basic and not merely idealistic way shows that, like everything else, a problem cannot exist without a solution, or a return to basics at which we can rebuild.

Starting from the bottom-up, the Internet as we know it is composed of hundreds of protocols and instructions for how information is spelled out in binary and source code and moves from one device, to browser or client, to the other. Such protocols include HTTP/HTTPS, SSH and BitTorrent. Each of these serve one specific purpose, but having many working in an ecosystem of computers around the world and beyond is what makes up the net. Its that simple when you lay it out.

The question now is what happens when such protocols become insecure, can be easily compromised or are outdated and a replacement becomes necessary.

Plain, unencrypted HTTP took a backseat in the department of serving webpages when a secure, encrypted variant (HTTPS) was finalized in the year 2000, originally created by NetScape in 1994 when man-in-the-middle attacks became a serious concern. The same for plain text emailing and STARTTLS for IMAP. Situations like these when they arise present the notion that the Internet is too chaotic and unstable to be a realistic medium of communication, and that it will be that way forever. But as fast as information travels and new things are made, so are patches, updates and methods of working around the problem and continuing on a path. This is only the surface of the continuous cycle of problem leading to solution.

Following fixing technical vulnerabilities is what happens within that which protocols enable. Initially it was Usenet and Bulletin Board Systems that served for discussion, but now in late 2015 we are at the height of information decentralization with things like Twitter and WordPress. Where anyone at anytime can become an alternative press outlet or share an idea that could become something larger. The system is put to the test when one of a few things happens: (1) the community or publisher is censored, either by the service moderators, or by the speech regulations of a government, (2) the community or publisher is hijacked by either insiders with certain interests in mind, or infiltrated by outsiders possibly sent by a government. The first situation is all too common when you allow unfettered free expression in something like the Internet, be it the shadowbanning controversy of Reddit in July 2015 (by service moderators) or the atrocious internet freedom ranking of China (by government speech regulation). Secondly, we have instances where new management alters the original state of affairs of a group and their content for nefarious purposes, namely, for example, the concerns which arose from the GamerGate controversy about ethical gaming journalism, and the co-opting of Occupy Wall Street and their message (which some believe wall street officials and the US government arranged). Naturally, what follows is speculation that free speech at large is under siege and that the values of the Internet are fastly coming to an end when headlines come in about Turkey blocking wordpress.com or secular bloggers in Bangladesh being murdered. The same in regard to hijacking communities fits similar criteria.

So when we’re presented with these problems, what do we do? If you’re sharing an opinion on a forum, about the forum that the moderators won’t like, and there is evidence that they deleted the post and the comments, the options to abandon the forum and join or create a better one, raise awareness about the censorship taking place in the hope to make corrections, and/or gather people to abandon the forum as a sort of boycott are right in front of you. When we’re dealing with a government blocking access to websites or targeting certain content, the common solution to go around a great firewall is the TOR network, a proxy network or a distributed P2P network for accessing the Internet from outside the location that content is being blocked. When you have reason to conclude that an entity has taken over the community you speak frequently on and caused great harm, you are most reasonably inclined to follow the steps taken with censorship by a service moderator: move elsewhere, attempt to amend the community or boycott it.

I’m sure these things are obvious to most people, as it resembles common sense: If something isn’t working, use something else or make something new. But the reason I lay these out is that people have a habit of thinking the Internet will suddenly die in its total (unlimited) scope when problems arise. Similar to religious fanatics that claim a foreign conflict signals the end times. The point is that these things have always happened, not only with the Internet but with all forms of media, from print, to music, to television. Its a matter of expression and information itself rather than what the medium is. How the Internet differs is its broad accessibility and limitless possibilities, meaning that everything beneficial and harmful to what we value most about the Internet is always happening, the question becomes how much hysteria will build over this equilibrium to form a claim of the Internet on life-support.

The underlying implication I’m making with these cases is that all these occur around a concept, and they’re not simply direct attacks or effects on a centralized body of things. You can attack plain HTTP, crack email, throttle BitTorrent traffic, censor bloggers and infiltrate communities, but the Internet is still a functioning thing if there is still electricity and the possibility to connect one computer to another. You still have the possibility to send something, somehow to one computer, back again, and find either a solution to the problem or an alternative where you can pick up again when you’re facing problems. Hacktivists, programmers and internet freedom watchdogs around the world are too great of a force to be stamped out by a few parties’ actions. This is what makes the net immortal and beyond basic physical limits — its been on the tip of our tongues for ages. If we’ve known that “Hmm, this software isn’t cutting it for me, but I’m sure someone else out there wrote a better program that could work for me”, applying that to the integrity and existence of connected computers itself is more than reasonable. Even in scenarios where the physical access to a computer is unavailable to some people, necessary information or reporting can circulate in places elsewhere, albeit more imprecise — such as the conditions of someone in prison or political asylum.

If we only have two or three telephones in a neighborhood or city, the concept of making a phone call still remains.

The analogy I’ve used for a while is that the net is the front-end for reality itself. We can interface with information, discussion and creation more broadly and efficiently than any other tool in the history of technology. As we once needed a few journals, a pen, a camera and a tape recorder, we now only need to have a few tabs open in our browser and a few applications open at the ready. This front-end recurs back to itself in maintaining its own existence by having no centralized dependencies, because it isn’t any single thing. Its a concept, a simple formula for working. The only thing it relies on is being in the minds of people who want to use it and keep it going.

The Internet is a Universal and Infinite Concept

Computer Hobbyist and Activist Culture and Media Acceleration Online

For most of my life I’ve associated with those who have a culture built around their interests and pursuits in computer science and information technology. Not uncommon with other communities who find different media suitable or compatible with what they do and what their friends do. For several years I’ve seen this culture change, mold and react to the media they’ve adopted progress and stretch outwards, for better or worse. People in the community either pick up new media and information and use that to build extensions around whats already there — or go along with it without revision, or something in between. We as social technology enthusiasts created an omnipresent hub of possibilities of expression and life within production and creativity. Things like the nerd persona and the stoic programmer, which have been immortalized in the mainstream through the years, are perhaps the most immediately recognizable forms stemming from the hacker and Internet freedom fighter subculture, but theres a lengthy chain of how and why these things developed into identities and generation-defining movements and communities.

When we look at how communities form their shared interests, we’re looking at a branch of evolutionary social application. A creative work or idea generally goes through a subtle consensus trial to determine if its interesting, entertaining, amusing or otherwise defining for the community when someone shares it in a forum of discussion. If it snowballs and reaches enough people as intended, it may very well be seen again and again, sometimes in different or better ways. This is when something becomes a part of a group’s culture: when it is naturally adopted and accepted into the community over a period of time, and becomes a norm to some degree. So an example of this in computer hobbyist culture might be the stylized green text in a computer command line, computers and artificial intelligence being put in a metaphysical situation (as seen in the Wachowskis’ The Matrix) the stylized clothing, lingo and hacking sequences in Iain Softley’s cyberpunk crime thriller Hackers, or a high-tech dystopian future as shown in Ion Storm’s Deus Ex video game series. These things became part of that culture because they matched up with what the nerds in a particular sector found appealing. Simple enough. It builds on itself when it inspires further cultural production from within the community, rather than content from an outside entity to be picked up by the target audience. At that point, the full evolution of a culture has been reached and the process has been completed.

The obvious question becomes how did this formula apply itself to computer enthusiasts? First, people had to start doing things and build a community. This began around the late 1960s to mid 1980s at places like MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, UC Berkeley and Bell Labs at the time where innovation in Computer Science was endlessly up for grabs. Here, the development of UNIX and core computing standards by Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie were under way, the ARPANET packet-switching network was created, and the early workings of the Internet were coming into fruition. Along with technical achievements, an ethical framework was being forged by Richard Stallman, a young computer scientist at the time, through the GNU project and its mission and tenants, in conjunction with the common hacker ethic. From here a social basis was formed for hackers to work and live in — a sort of consciousness influencing creativity and productivity. Its at this point that the tone and shape of the community is made, where members of it have numerous interests and freely exchange them in areas of discussion. It is composed of students, researchers and independent intellectuals who do things in the context of their group: programming, studying artificial intelligence, and designing — as well as hacking — devices. Among their cultural favorites are George Lucas’ Star Wars, John Badham’s WarGames, Steven Lisberger’s TRON, and George Orwells’ classic book 1984.

Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie

Around this time, circa 1985, there was a political atmosphere growing that would work beside the interests of these hackers, who already had concerns of civil and human rights. The Free Software movement at this time found voices of support across the globe in France by the newly founded 1984 Network Liberty Alliance, who’s precursor had organized against the installation of nuclear warheads in Multangen, Germany. The Alliance spread information on the GNU project and trained participants on similar methods of information technology; one of the early instances of Free Software working with activism. Later in the early 1990s, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a very active and important organization in the field of digital rights to this day, was established in response to a US federal crackdown on the distribution of a technical document laying out the functions of the emergency 911 system. It was thought at the time that technical information of the system being made public would allow for people to exploit the system, so that callers with actual emergencies could not be put through. The scope of those wrongfully caught up in this case, a particularly messy and uninformed one on electronic information, soon raised the concerns and grievances for an informed legal framework for dealing with computers, their connectivity and how information crosses around the world in that system; when we, the hackers, were facing challenges from law enforcement and a society having newly stepped into the digital age — “where law and technology collide”. The EFF brought expertise and a framework for action and speaking out to the table for electronic law.

Electronic Frontier Foundation

What those in the hacker community were figuring out would evolve into what we now call hacktivism — blending the forces of an effective interest in computing and ambitious hacking with making political progress and referendum for the better. Its not unreasonable to say that the instinct within hackers reaches outwards at times to touch or change the world around their world: To effect state policy or resolve injustice, and to throw their interests in the ring of public discussion.

What distinguishes then from now is how differently media and information could spread and dominate. Not just in regards to news and what we found in books, but culture and ideas. Summaries of our own consciences spelled out and published in text. If we had to pin down a single, specific part of this discussion, to define where the landscape changed radically and where we stepped back and said “whoa”, it would certainly have to be the time shifting to where anyone could create a blog, or register a website, or sign up for Facebook or Twitter and share yourself unfiltered with the universe. This allowed for the most amazing and widespread growth of content, communications and relationships that was previously impossible in human history. And because of this remarkable phenomenon, we witnessed new areas in Sociology, specifically how we react to information at a high rate, emerge from the great rock we were chiseling at.

The conventional model for information which worked through newspapers, books and word on the street was static, and thus limited in accessibility and reach. This made media comparatively slower to develop and change over a period of time, which people were used to. But a little while after computers became connected around the 80s and 90s and we created ways of sending content back and forth, the old model became the new stone tablet as we embraced something beyond previous anticipation. It afforded everyone the ability to start a newspaper online or publish a book, and have comments and ideas shared through social networks effortlessly. It nullified the dependency on someone with the knowhow to start a new paper or column; everyone could do it themselves easily.

This kind of event is part of what I’d like to call “Media Acceleration”. The point at which data as everyone knows it transitions from being a singular, limited form to being something instantly obtainable from anywhere. When we apply this part of the formula to creative media and watch that run its course in communities, and the variable for circulating information and data is replaced with forming cultures, the result is the computer hobbyist community in the early 2000s. A few years beforehand, when UseNet was the goto medium, you could see a few recurring themes and references in threads, different jokes and types of people who congregated in different areas, but nowhere near in size compared to how references from new movies, TV shows and music, amusing original content and jokes were pouring out just a few years later, and how some died out quicker or lasted longer than others. The solidifying of the Internet meme — the great pillar of online humor, file sharing, imageboards and social news all came into existence and perfection around this point: perhaps the most vibrant, free and beautifully chaotic period in Internet history. I don’t think many people know how much of a big deal this was and still is, or how much we took it for granted.

Having obtained a massive culture, numerous things to fight for among those passionately online were inbound once more. Hacktivism makes one hell of a comeback at this time. Springing out of 4chan around 2006, when they weren’t raiding habbo hotel for fun (lulz) or bringing down a Neo-Nazi radio host, a new confederation of Internet vagabonds was weaponizing anonymity and mass demonstrations against the Church of Scientology for cease-and-desist letters against critical publications of their organization. They form a global audience against the church and expose various incidents of corruption and harassment, called Project Chanology. Their disorderly confederation is called simply Anonymous. Here begins the embodiment of the trend of causes and activism online, something once brewing slowly in the 90s, while the concept of remaining anonymous affords voices to be everywhere because they are nowhere centrally. This would be seen again in the case of the Manning leaks and the support efforts during the 2011 Egyptian Revolution a few years after Chanology.

Project Chanology Demonstration

This is particularly important because not only did it shine light on a far better method of releasing and spreading information, but it did so with the cover of anonymity, and thus security, up front. One needs only to trust in or join the efforts of the millions who are passionate about truth and justice, and seeing those prevail over the Internet.

Culturally, it has augmented the Hacker Ethic revered in the 1980s — to explore and test the limits of computing, and to share information with the intention to bring good into the world. A newer iteration found itself under the ethic’s umbrella: To use speech and tools online to combat injustice and fight for human and digital rights around the world.

At the present time, we are witnessing and building history as we speak. The contemporary hacker community continues to reflect its original principles in a modern setting. Virtually all free and open source projects emphasize the importance of community and the freedoms to revise and share, seemingly a trend growing in technology at large. We find the culture seeded innumerably with all walks of styles and interests, but it seems a few particular bold points are the startup craze, basking in the indie scene as a home (using some obscure linux distro, coding in a language only three people are using, making something only three people will use, etc.) and always looking to stand out somehow (pretentious hipster bullshit or valid personalities, depends who you ask). The drive to effect policy and launch reform remains stronger than ever, possibly because of the ease to jump aboard something, but equally considering the events of the current times. Since the release of NSA documents by Edward Snowden in 2013 confirming speculation about government monitoring of electronic communications, hackers and digital rights enthusiasts have been stirred up like never before. What was always depicted as an Orwellian, far-off scenario has been found to be closer to reality than we thought. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, Fight For The Future and other digital advocacy groups have started hundreds of campaigns against such actions which curtail privacy, free speech and other individual rights. Though we have a ways to go and have barely scratched the surface of what needs to be reformed, the energy and means of doing things are here and ready for deployment when the time comes, on the net and out in the streets around the world.

There is some interesting criticism and analyses of what our culture is now compared to how it was a few years prior, things I’ve also noted. There is a recurring mindset in some (particularly young) programmers of having a project that goes through an emphasized crowdfunding and crowdsourcing phase, depending on what it is. This constitutes the startup branch of the culture; not a negative one, but one that feels worn out and recylced when considering how many other people have this same style of doing things. Another is the pseudo-hipster (a mindfuck in a single phrase) personality that roughly half of those who align with programming or advocacy communities fit in with. This normally consists of using the hacker identity as a platform to hold up the bold points of one’s unique identity and interests. Say what you will about “hipsters” or new iterations of them, but I think the merits and ambitions of the hacker should be the first thing to be judged. Afterall, we’re all weirdos to someone.

We start to ask ourselves what the future might be. Where we should go, what more we should do. As for doing great things and effecting the world around us, we obviously need to continue being invested in our principles of testing the limits and moving the horizon forward, defending free speech, information-sharing, free and open source software — and not only encouraging but relying on the innovation of computer systems and tools.

As for our culture, what shades in all these geeks and tinkerers when they gather around, the most forward-moving approach that we’re already keeping alive is encouraging the diversity that forms naturally in good communities and the decentralized variations of what hacker’s like, the disorderly confederation mindset, and the common ownership of the entire community. Even the concept itself.

You see, the thing that defines what we are and what makes some teenager with a computer and a will so important is that we interact with the most powerful communication and information-sharing tool more deeply than other’s care to. Every person who aligns with the hacker culture has the potential to shape the world of tomorrow: to fix something that should have been fixed long ago, or say what should have been said sooner. Thats why this community matters. Every part of it. From what we do to what drives us and fascinates us.

Computer Hobbyist and Activist Culture and Media Acceleration Online

On the Wikimedia Foundation’s lawsuit against the NSA

A few weeks ago, the Wikimedia foundation filed a lawsuit against the National Security Agency on the grounds of the NSA conducting unconstitutional surveillance on Wikipedia and the agency’s unjust establishment of upstream surveillance through programs such as PRISM [x]. Wikimedia has held that this intensity of surveillance violates the First and Fourth United States Constitutional amendments which prevents government obstruction of freedom of speech and illegal search and seizure, in this case the seizure of data, IP Addresses and web browsing information.

I cannot be any more admiring of the Wikimedia foundation for taking on this commendable task than I am now. For years, since the publications detailing mass surveillance by Edward Snowden, the vast injustice committed by the National Security Agency has gone largely unfought by the public and what remains of a transparent legal system, aside from standard public outrage. But now there is finally a solid legal action against the wrongdoings of the current occupation of the NSA, the Department of Justice and other involved persons and associations.

Standing with Wikimedia and its representation by the American Civil Liberties Union is the Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International USA, The Global fund for Women, The Rutherford Institute, The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the Pen American Center, The National Magazine and the Washington Office on Latin America. This collaboration is intended to be effective through the unity of causes which share a common defense of individual freedom, privacy and the good of humanity against those who abuse their power [x]. Gathering as many sympathetic organizations as possible to join in defense of this lawsuit will undoubtedly benefit its longevity and efficiency, and while the current allies to it will provide a good standing, other groups hosting causes to assist Wikimedia financially and legally, and encouraging involvement from elsewhere in the public will greatly and significantly create a bold public stance against the construction of a global surveillance state, and a call for justice based on what the Wikimedia Foundation has started.

I myself would like to see The United States Pirate Party, Fight for the Future and the Free Software Foundation put themselves into this issue and promote the good of what Wikimedia is doing. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has already made itself well-known in the surrounding discourse against upstream collection and in full support of the actions of Wikimedia, the ACLU and all those who are following [x]. For a case against the unlawful actions of the most powerful Intelligence agency in the world to work, and for the call for reform to mean anything and show anything in the end, it needs to be backed by as many people who are passionate about the human right to privacy and personal freedom as possible. This is certainly the legal battle that will determine how we fight broad, unwarranted data collection on every human being, and if we will be able to restore the basic right to have a conversation, send an email, chat via IM, use the Internet and voice any opinion and do anything at all without constantly being monitored.

Lets get more people on board, more people talking about this and how important it is, and hopefully we can finally begin making headway in the fight against the unlawful expansion of surveillance.

On the Wikimedia Foundation’s lawsuit against the NSA