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Freedom technologists and their practices

July 24, 2014

This is the second in a series of 42 blog posts devoted to exploring the connection between freedom technologists and the new protest movements. See the first post here, the whole series as a document or as blog posts.

In the first post of this series I defined freedom technologists as citizens who like to mix their techs with their politics, often as part of a popular protest or uprising. Some freedom technologists are techies, others are not, yet they all share a strong interest in the potential uses of new digital technologies for political change and social emancipation.

But what do freedom technologists actually do?

The Toronto-based scholar Megan Boler and colleagues offer us some tantalising clues in a recent article. Drawing from interviews with women participants of the Occupy movement in the US, these researchers single out three main digital media practices among Occupiers: adminning, documenting and connecting.

To pay my own way into this discussion I would like to add a fourth techno-political practice – mapping – and extend the geographical reach of this working model to Spain’s indignados (15M) movement.

Read more…

The year of the freedom technologist

July 10, 2014

By John Postill. Republished from Savage Minds

This is the first in a series of 42 blog posts devoted to exploring the connection between freedom technologists and the new protest movements. See the next post here, the whole series as a document or as blog posts.

Two and a half years ago, TIME magazine declared 2011 to be The Year of the Protester. From the Arab Spring or Spain’s indignados to the Occupy movement, this was undoubtedly a year of political upheaval around the world.

But 2011 was also an important year for a new global vanguard of tech-minded citizens determined to bring about political change, often in connection with national crises. Let us call these citizens, at least for the time being, freedom technologists.

Consider, for instance, the loose network of freedom technologists who spearheaded the Tunisian uprising. On 28 November 2010, after long years of struggle under one of the world’s harshest regimes, the lawyer and blogger Riadh Guerfali created the site TuniLeaks. A WikiLeaks spin-off, this site released US diplomatic cables that were highly embarrassing to Ben Ali’s autocratic regime. These leaks helped to prepare the protest ground. The trigger came through the actions of another freedom technologist, veteran activist Ali Bouazizi, who recorded on his smartphone the self-immolation of his cousin Mohamed, a street vendor. He then shared the video via Facebook, where it was picked up by journalists from Al Jazeera – barred from entering Tunisia – and broadcast to the whole nation (and the rest of the Arab world). Al Jazeera’s freedom technologists relied on blogs and social media to bypass the official restrictions and report on the fast-moving events on the ground. When the government censored Facebook, the transnational online group Anonymous launched Operation Tunisia, carrying attacks against government websites via dial-up connections provided by Tunisian citizens.

In nearby Spain, where I was doing anthropological fieldwork with internet activists when it all kicked off in May 2011, the imprint of freedom technologists on the nascent protests was also strongly in evidence. After Spain’s political class passed an unpopular digital copyright bill under US pressure in early 2011, the digital rights lawyer Carlos Sanchez Almeida and other net freedom fighters responded by creating #NoLesVotes, a new platform that urged Spanish citizens not to vote for any of the major parties. Shortly afterwards, tech-minded activists such as Gala Pin, Simona Levi, Javier Toret and others formed Democracia Real Ya, an umbrella group calling for peaceful marches across Spain on 15 May 2011 to demand ‘real democracy now’. Inspired by the occupation of Tahrir square, a small number of protesters, including the hacker collective Isaac Hacksimov, decided to set up camp at Madrid’s main square, Puerta del Sol. This action was soon replicated across Spain. As in Tunisia, tech-savvy journalists played their part in the fledgling movement. Joseba Elola, a reporter with the centre-left daily El Pais and WikiLeaks admirer, described ‘young people conscious of their civil liberties who have risen to head a protest in search of a great change’. A few months earlier, Elola had secured a place for El Pais in the global release of WikiLeaks’ US diplomatic cables following a secret meeting with Julian Assange in London [1]. Read more…

Podemos: Spain’s new ‘transmedia’ party

June 12, 2014

PODEMOS-Pablo-Iglesias-en-a-presentación-d’a-iniciativa-en-Madrit

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the biggest surprises in the recent European elections has been the sudden rise of the Spanish party Podemos (“We Can”), which obtained 8% of the vote in Spain. Podemos is a 4-month old, leftist formation rooted in the indignados (15M) movement and led by the charismatic political scientist Pablo Iglesias, 35. The following passage (my rough translation) is from a thoughtful analysis of the elections published today by another 15M-based party, Partido X, which is currently critically reviewing its own campaign. It contains an intriguing reference to Podemos’ successful ‘transmedia’ approach worthy of further research and reflection.

“[...] Podemos have done a masterful, strategic job and have doubtless carried out the most intelligent and effective electoral campaign amongst all of us [new] contenders.

They have managed to anticipate and lay the groundwork thanks to the efforts of Pablo Iglesias and his colleagues with whom he created La Tuerka [a successful TV programme shown via YouTube] with great self-reliance and skill.

With this independent, original programme – a labour of love – they first carved out a sizeable niche audience, and then a space sustained by more resource- and infrastructure-rich media organisations such as HispanTV or [the online newspaper] Público. It was the latter media outlet that eventually became their headquarters, an outlet whose information flow they were able to directly shape, practically turning it into their campaign’s main communication media. Pablo Iglesias then participated as a skilful counterpoint in the political debates broadcast by the [conservative TV channel] Intereconomía, from which he made the leap into the [mainstream channels] Cuatro and la Sexta as a twice-weekly current affairs panelist, thereby creating a highly recognisable persona in his claims and demands.

It was only after all this groundwork was laid that Podemos attacked the electoral front, achieving a highly effective combination of TV work and a “transmedia” use of social media in order to feed back and replicate its message.”

Original Spanish passage

“Concretamente en el caso de Podemos, queremos señalar que han hecho un trabajo estratégico magistral y sin duda han sido los más inteligentes y eficaces en politica electoral de todos los que estamos en juego.

Han sabido anticipar y preparar su terreno y esto es debido a un esfuerzo propio de Pablo Iglesias y de los compañeros con los que ha creado la Tuerka, sin la ayuda de nadie y con mucha habilidad.

Con este programa independiente y de estilo propio se han labrado a pulso, y trabajando mucho, primero un nicho de audiencia muy considerable; luego un espacio amparado por otros medios de mayores recursos e infraestructuras como son HispanTV y Público. En este último han acabado estableciendo su sede y así han pasado a influir directamente en la información que llegaba a este medio, consiguiendo que fuera prácticamente el medio de comunicación de su campaña; luego participando muy hábilmente como contrapunto en los debates en Intereconomía, Pablo Iglesias consiguió saltar así a Cuatro y a la Sexta como tertuliano fijo dos veces por semana, creando así un personaje claro y reconocible en sus reivindicaciones y demandas.

Solo después de todo este trabajo previo, se han lanzado a atacar el frente electoral, consiguiendo una combinación muy efectiva de trabajo en televisión y de uso “transmedia” de las redes sociales para retroalimentar y replicar su mensaje.”

Photo credit: Equinox Magazine

Afterword to Consent of the Networked by Rebecca MacKinnon

May 21, 2014

The Worldwide Struggle for Internet Freedom. A book by Rebecca MacKinnon.

http://consentofthenetworked.com/afterword-paperback/

In late January 2012, thousands of people across Poland took to the streets to protest the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). The treaty had already been signed in late 2011 by European Union trade negotiators and twenty-two EU member states without much media attention, but by early February anti-ACTA protests had spread to over two hundred cities across Europe. Politicians got the message. On July 4, 2012, the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly against ratification. Several dozen parliamentarians held up bright yellow signs: HELLO DEMOCRACY, GOODBYE ACTA.

Europe’s rejection of ACTA was just one victory of a global movement for digital liberty that came into its own in 2012. As Chapter 7 described it, ACTA was conceived by the United States and negotiated over the course of several years—initially in secret—with thirty-four other nations. For years, debates over ACTA—and related debates over how to balance intellectual property rights and online free-speech rights—had been confined to relatively obscure and specialized communities of activists, lawyers, and academics. That has changed, as the global netizen-rights movement to counter abuses of digital power has grown from infancy to adolescence.

I ended Consent of the Networked with a call for action, and in 2012 netizens around the world proved they are willing to act, as demonstrated by the movement’s recent successes. But while we have gained momentum, we face continuing challenges in the pursuit of digital liberty that will not easily be overcome.

Read more

Global directory of freedom technologists: projects, networks, organisations

May 19, 2014

This is a working directory of some of the global projects, networks and organisations where leading freedom technologists — that is, individuals who combine technological and socio-political skills to pursue greater internet and democratic freedoms — congregate and collaborate. It is part of current research towards my forthcoming book Hacker, Lawyer, Journalist, Spy: Freedom Technologists and Political Change in an Age of Global Protest. Please note that I am only including initiatives with a global remit, rather than a national or regional one. Further suggestions are always very welcome [1].

Last updated 11 July 2014

  1. The 99%, @AllOccupyNews
  2. Actipedia,
  3. Al Jazeera, @AJEnglish
  4. All Voices,
  5. Amnesty International, @amnesty
  6. AnonOps,
  7. Anonymous, @YourAnonNews
  8. A-Revolt, http://www.a-revolt.org/
  9. Article 19,
  10. Association for Progressive Communications, @APC_News
  11. Avaaz,
  12. Avocats Sans Frontières,
  13. BBC Technology, @BBCTech
  14. BBC World Service,
  15. Berkman Center, Harvard University, @berkmancenter
  16. Center for Civic Media, MIT, @civicMIT
  17. Chaos Computer Club,
  18. Citizen Lab,
  19. citizenme,
  20. CIVICUS Alliance,
  21. The Committee to Protect Journalists,
  22. Community Informatics Research Network, http://cirn.wikispaces.com/
  23. Democratic Society,
  24. Democracy Now!, @democracynow
  25. Deutsche Welle,
  26. Diaspora,
  27. Digital Democracy,
  28. Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), @EFF
  29. Fight for the Future, @fightfortheftr
  30. Free Culture Forum, @fcforum_net
  31. Free Press,
  32. Freedom House,
  33. Freedom of the Press,
  34. FrontlineSMS,
  35. Global Development (Guardian), @GdnDevelopment
  36. Global Integrity,
  37. Global Investigative Journalism Network,
  38. Global Journalist Security, @JournoSecurity
  39. Global Network Initiative,
  40. Global Revolution,
  41. Global Rights,
  42. Global Uprisings,
  43. Global Voices, @globalvoices
  44. Global Voices Advocacy,
  45. Google,
  46. Guardian,
  47. Guardian Tech, @guardiantech
  48. Hack College,
  49. IFEX (formerly the International Freedom of Expression Exchange),
  50. Index on Censorship, @IndexCensorship
  51. Intercept,
  52. International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, @nvconflict
  53. International Consortium of Investigative Journalists,
  54. International Modern Media Institute (IMMI),
  55. Internet Governance Project,
  56. Internet Interdisciplinary Institute (IN3),
  57. Internet Rights and Principles Coalition,
  58. Internet Society,
  59. IT for Change,
  60. LeWeb,
  61. Liberationtech, Stanford University,
  62. Librarians Without Borders,
  63. Movements.org, @aym
  64. NataliaProject,
  65. Netizen Rights, @netizenrights
  66. New York Times,
  67. Nieman Journalism Lab, Harvard University,
  68. Open Data Institute,
  69. Open Democracy, @openDemocracy
  70. Open Gov Partnership,
  71. Open Knowledge,
  72. Open Media,
  73. Open Net Initiative,
  74. Open Rights Group, @OpenRightsGroup
  75. Open Society Foundations,
  76. Open Wireless Movement, https://openwireless.org/
  77. Oui Share,
  78. P2P Foundation,
  79. Privacy International,
  80. Privaterra,
  81. The Public Voice,
  82. La Quadrature du Net,
  83. Reclaim, https://reclaim.cc/reclaim/about-reclaim1
  84. Reporters Without Borders, @RSF_RWB
  85. Reset the Net, https://www.resetthenet.org/
  86. Sunlight Foundation, @SunFoundation
  87. Tactical Tech,
  88. Tax Justice Network, @TaxJusticeNet
  89. Telecommunications Industry Dialogue,
  90. Tor Project,
  91. Transparency International (TI), @anticorruption
  92. Die Trendblogger,
  93. UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) Coalition,
  94. Ushahidi,
  95. Web Science Trust,
  96. WebWeWant, @webwewant
  97. WikiLeaks,
  98. Wikimedia Foundation,
  99. Wikipedia,
  100. World Wide Web Consortium (W3C),
  101. World Wide Web Foundation,
  102. X.net,

[1] With many thanks to Robert Bodle, David E. Kaplan, Victor Lasa, Ismael Peña-López and Armando Ramos for their suggestions.

See also the following related directories

Global movement for Internet freedom and digital rights (by Rebecca MacKinnon):
http://consentofthenetworked.com/get-involved/

Transparency advocates from all around the world (by Sunlight Foundation):
http://sunlightfoundation.com/blog/2013/05/29/transparency-advocates-from-all-around-the-world/

European Digital Rights (EDRi) country members:
http://edri.org/about/

Freedom technologists and the new protest movements: a theory of protest formulas

May 2, 2014

20 July 2014 update: Now published online ahead of print here:

Postill, J. in press. Freedom technologists and the new protest movements: a theory of protest formulas. Special issue of Convergence journal, “New Media, Global Activism and Politics” Vol. 20, no. 3 (2014) [1] [PDF]

See also Global directory of freedom technologists: projects, networks, organisations

Abstract

In this article I draw from anthropological fieldwork in Spain and secondary research on Tunisia and Iceland to explore the connection between internet freedom activism and post-2008 protest movements. I introduce two new concepts: ‘freedom technologists’ and ‘protest formulas’. I use the term freedom technologists to refer to those individuals who combine technological and political skills to pursue greater internet and democratic freedoms, which they regard as being inextricably entwined. Far from being techno-utopians or deluded ‘slacktivists’ (Morozov, 2013, Skoric, 2012), I argue that most freedom technologists are in fact techno-pragmatists; that is, people who take a very practical view of the limits and possibilities of new technologies for political change. I also differentiate among freedom technologists, singling out three main specialists for their strong contribution to the new movements, namely hackers/geeks, tech lawyers and online journalists. The second new coinage I develop is protest formulas. This term refers to the unique compound of societal forces and outcomes that characterises each protest movement – as well as each phase or initiative within a movement. In the article I track the influence of freedom technologists on emerging protest movements as they interact with other agents within these political compounds.

Keywords

Social movements, protests, protest formula, internet activism, freedom technologists, free culture, techno-pragmatism, Anonymous, WikiLeaks, Arab Spring, indignados, Spain, Tunisia, Iceland

Introduction

In recent years an emergent literature has begun to theorise the rise of internet-based activism and protest through studies of the free software movement (Kelty, 2008), the information freedom movement (Beyer, 2014) or networks such as Anonymous (Coleman, 2013a) and WikiLeaks (Cammaerts, 2013). However, we still know little about the part played by net activists and other techno-political actors in the new protest movements that arose in the wake of the global financial crisis of 2008 and the Tunisian uprising in late 2010 which led to a protracted period of upheaval in the Arab world, southern Europe and many other regions.

Existing accounts of the new protest movements have merely touched on this connection, the focus to date being on the networked technologies used by protesters rather than on the technologists themselves. A great deal of energy has been expended on debating the role of social media in the protests. On one side of the debate, a number of scholars and journalists have highlighted the positive contribution of social and online media to the various revolts. For instance, Tufekci and Wilson (2012) have argued that new digital media were ‘game-changers’ in that they allowed Arab citizens to circumvent mainstream media censorship and mobilise at great speed. Similarly, for Castells (2012) the protests were the result of post-2008 ‘networks of outrage’ that morphed into ‘networks of hope’ in a globalised self-communication order based on the Internet. On the other side of the debate, authors such as Morozov (2012, 2013) and Gerbaudo (2013) have criticised ‘techno-utopian’ authors and activists for seeking simple technical fixes or ‘solutions’ to complex societal problems. Steering clear of technological determinism, Gerbaudo (2012) suggests that the 2011 protest networks in the Arab world and elsewhere resulted from activists’ conscious orchestration of digital and physical forms of collective action anchored to the occupied squares. Meanwhile, Tejerina et al (2013) place the new technologies within a political economy perspective in which the protests are but the latest manifestation of a protracted crisis of global capitalism.

Amidst the polemics, not enough attention has been devoted to examining the links between an emergent global freedom technology movement and the recent uprisings, with Beyer (2014) and Hintz (2012) among the rare exceptions. In this article I draw from anthropological fieldwork in Spain and secondary research on Tunisia and Iceland to explore these links. To this end I introduce two new concepts, namely ‘freedom technologists’ and ‘protest formulas’. I use the term freedom technologists[2] to refer to those geeks, hackers, online journalists, tech lawyers and other social agents who combine technological skills with political acumen to pursue greater Internet and democratic freedoms, both globally and domestically. Indeed, freedom technologists regard the fate of the Internet and of human freedom as being inextricably entwined. Far from being techno-utopian dreamers or deluded ‘slacktivists’ (Morozov, 2012, Skoric, 2012), I argue that most freedom technologists are in fact techno-pragmatists; that is, people who take a very practical view of the limits and possibilities of new technologies for political change, as we shall see in the empirical examples below. I also differentiate among freedom technologists, singling out three main specialists for their strong contribution to the new movements, namely hackers/geeks, tech lawyers and online journalists. This tripartite distinction arose inductively both from the empirical materials gathered in Spain as well as from secondary research on the global Internet freedom movement. In the present article I put it to the test in three very different national contexts: Spain, Tunisia and Iceland.

Read more…

Performing, narrating and calculating the future of democracy: the complex digital futurities of Spain’s Partido X

May 2, 2014

Postill, J. 2014. Performing, narrating and calculating the future of democracy: the complex digital futurities of Spain’s Partido X. Paper to the Studying Futurities conference, Leiden University, the Netherlands, 26-27 June 2014.

Abstract

On 8 January 2013 a new political party was launched in Spain. But this was no ordinary launch – and indeed no ordinary party. For one thing, its creators chose to remain anonymous for the first year of its life. In addition, their first ‘press conference’ was a YouTube video in which two unnamed actors opened with the gambit: “This press conference from the future is to announce in our past (your present) that the X Party, the Future Party, has won”. Far from being a joke, this audiovisual performance was a serious political intervention by a group steeped in Barcelona’s free/digital culture and indignados (15M) scenes, which I have been researching since 2010 (Postill 2013, 2014, in press). This was the first in a series of ‘anticipatory’ actions (Anderson 2010), both online and offline, accompanying the steady growth of Partido X over the past 16 months. As I write these lines, its candidates (including the HSBC whistleblower Herve Falciani and the free culture activist Simona Levi) are busy campaigning in the coming European elections of 22-25 May 2014. In this paper I retrace the extraordinary trajectory of Partido X, paying particular heed to how ‘different forms of the future… affect our global present’ (Pels 2013) and putting forth two main claims: 1) Partido X is making intriguing use of Anderson’s (2010) three forms of anticipatory practice (i.e. performing, narrating and calculating the future), and 2) its expert and lay participants are collaboratively developing an ‘anticipatory democracy’ model (Toffler 1970, Bezold 1978), albeit one that displays marked historical, cultural and technological differences from Toffler’s original 1970 conception. I conclude by arguing that Partido X’s complex ‘techno-political’ praxis (Toret 2013) invites us to interrogate current academic typologies and divisions of labour around the study of futurities.

References

Anderson, B. 2010. Preemption, precaution, preparedness: Anticipatory action and future geographies. Progress in Human Geography, 34(6), 777-798.

Bezold, C. (Ed.). 1978. Anticipatory democracy: People in the politics of the future. Random House.

Pels, P. 2013. Call for papers for a conference on FUTURITIES. Leiden University, The Netherlands, June 2014.

Postill, J. 2013. We are the 1 percent: rethinking national elites as protest participants. Reviews & Critical Commentary (CritCom), 26 November 2013.

Postill, J. 2014. Democracy in an age of viral reality: a media epidemiography of Spain’s indignados movement Ethnography 15 (1): 50-68.

Postill, J. in press. Freedom technologists and the new protest movements: a theory of protest formulas. Special issue of Convergence journal, “New Media, Global Activism and Politics” Vol. 20, no. 3 (August 2014).

Toffler, A. 1970. Future shock. New York, Bantam.

Toret, J. 2013. Tecnopolítica: la potencia de las multitudes conectadas. El sistema red 15M, un nuevo paradigma de la política distribuida. IN3 Working Paper Series.

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