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 .
Last updated 16 August 2014
- The 99%, @AllOccupyNews
- Al Jazeera, @
- All Voices,
- Amnesty International, @
- Anonymous, @
- A-Revolt, http://www.a-revolt.org/
- Article 19,
- Association for Progressive Communications, @APC_News
- Avocats Sans Frontières,
- BBC Technology, @BBCTech
- BBC World Service,
- Berkman Center, Harvard University,
- Center for Civic Media, MIT, @civicMIT
- Chaos Computer Club,
- Citizen Lab,
- CIVICUS Alliance,
- The Committee to Protect Journalists,
- Community Informatics Research Network, http://cirn.wikispaces.com/
- Democratic Society,
- Democracy Now!, @
- Deutsche Welle,
- Digital Democracy,
- Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), @EFF
- Fight for the Future, @
- Free Culture Forum,
- Free Press,
- Freedom House,
- Freedom of the Press,
- Global Development (Guardian), @GdnDevelopment
- Global Integrity,
- Global Investigative Journalism Network,
- Global Journalist Security, @JournoSecurity
- Global Network Initiative,
- Global Revolution,
- Global Rights,
- Global Uprisings,
- Global Voices, @
- Global Voices Advocacy,
- Guardian Tech,
- Hack College,
- IFEX (formerly the International Freedom of Expression Exchange),
- Index on Censorship, @
- International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, @nvconflict
- International Consortium of Investigative Journalists,
- International Modern Media Institute (IMMI),
- Internet Governance Project,
- Internet Interdisciplinary Institute (IN3),
- Internet Rights and Principles Coalition,
- Internet Society,
- IT for Change,
- Liberationtech, Stanford University,
- Librarians Without Borders,
- Movements.org, @aym
- Netizen Rights, @netizenrights
- New York Times,
- Nieman Journalism Lab, Harvard University,
- Open Data Institute,
- Open Democracy, @openDemocracy
- Open Gov Partnership,
- Open Knowledge,
- Open Media,
- Open Net Initiative,
- Open Rights Group, @OpenRightsGroup
- Open Society Foundations,
- Open Wireless Movement, https://openwireless.org/
- Oui Share,
- P2P Foundation,
- Privacy International,
- The Public Voice,
- La Quadrature du Net,
- Reclaim, https://reclaim.cc/reclaim/about-reclaim1
- Reporters Without Borders, @
- Reset the Net, https://www.resetthenet.org/
- Sunlight Foundation, @SunFoundation
- Tactical Tech,
- Tax Justice Network, @TaxJusticeNet
- Tech Defenders,
- Telecommunications Industry Dialogue,
- Tor Project,
- Transparency International (TI), @
- Die Trendblogger,
- UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) Coalition,
- Web Science Trust,
- Wikimedia Foundation,
- World Wide Web Consortium (W3C),
- World Wide Web Foundation,
See also the following related directories
Global movement for Internet freedom and digital rights (by Rebecca MacKinnon):
Transparency advocates from all around the world (by Sunlight Foundation):
European Digital Rights (EDRi) country members:
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)  [PDF]
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.
Social movements, protests, protest formula, internet activism, freedom technologists, free culture, techno-pragmatism, Anonymous, WikiLeaks, Arab Spring, indignados, Spain, Tunisia, Iceland
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 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.
Performing, narrating and calculating the future of democracy: the complex digital futurities of Spain’s Partido X
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.
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.
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.
New protest movements and the mainstreaming of internet politics: a ground-up comparison of Malaysia, Iceland, Tunisia and Spain
Paper to the Anthropology Department seminar, University of Melbourne, Wednesday 16 April 2014,
4.30- 6.00 5.45-7.00 pm.
School of Social and Political Sciences
John Medley (Building 191)
Venue located in the link way on the 4th floor between the two ‘wings’
(entrance 10, off Grattan st.)
The University of Melbourne
Parkville, VIC 3010
RMIT University, Melbourne
In this talk I draw from fieldwork in Spain and Malaysia and from secondary research on Tunisia and Iceland to explore the link between the mainstreaming of internet politics (epitomised by organisations such as WikiLeaks, Anonymous or the Pirate Parties) and the emergence of new protest movements around the world in 2009-2011. Inspired by the Manchester School of anthropology, I follow the protest practices and actions of leading ‘freedom technologists’ (geeks, hackers, online journalists, tech lawyers) across online and offline sites. Contra Morozov, I argue that far from being techno-utopians, freedom technologists are in fact pragmatists who are playing crucial parts as protest vanguards in numerous national struggles. In doing so, I am shifting the analytical focus from our current fixation with new protest technologies towards greater attention to a new breed of protest technologists. This suffix is literally the gist of my argument.
Lim, M. (2013). Framing Bouazizi: ‘White lies’, hybrid network, and collective/connective action in the 2010–11 Tunisian uprising. Journalism, 14(7), 921-941.
By delving into the detailed account of the Tunisian uprising, this article offers an explanation that sets the 2010 uprising apart from its precursors. The 2010 uprising was successful because activists successfully managed to bridge geographical and class divides as well as to converge offline and online activisms. Such connection and convergence were made possible, first, through the availability of dramatic visual evidence that turned a local incident into a spectacle. Second, by successful frame alignment with a master narrative that culturally and politically resonated with the entire population. Third, by activating a hybrid network made of the connective structures to facilitate collective action – among Tunisians who shared collective identities and collective frames – and connective action – among individuals who sought more personalized paths to contribute to the movement through digital media.
922 Bouazizi was by no means the first Tunisian ‘martyr’. Why did his self-immolation in December 2010 succeed in garnering so much attention and trigger the Tunisian uprising and Arab Spring? ‘How was media used to propel Bouazizi’s death into a large-scale and successful movement?’.
923-926 Section ‘A great disconnect: online activism vs. working-class struggles’. The 2010-2011 uprising in Tunisia rooted in history of online activism and working-class/labour activists.
923 At least a decade of struggle against online censorship. In 1991 Tunisia connected to internet, first Arab country. Publicly available from 1996 but that same year Tunisian Internet Agency (ATI) established. Created ‘the most severe internet censorship in the world’. Activists still used the net for politics, incl. cyber think-tank Takriz created in 1998, or websites like Perspective Tunisiennes in 2000 or TuneZine in 2001. In 2004 political blogs were born, gathered around Nawaat.org which became ‘a platform for Tunisian dissident voices and debates’. Many blogs censored, with cyber dissidents and bloggers arrested.
923-924. Despite this vibrancy, online activism didn’t connect with majority of population, with issues of concern to the working class. First attempt at online-offline connection was 22 May 2010 street rally against net censorship. Only hundreds participated.
924 Online activists are mostly well-off, highly educated, urban. Closer to global struggles and platforms like WikiLeaks or Reporters Without Borders than local issues. [see Wolfson 2014 on similar problem in the USA, but contrast this with Postill 2014 on Malaysia]. Thus on 28 November 2010, TuniLeaks launched by Nawaat.org, to republish WikiLeaks revelations about Tunisia, ‘only one hour after WikiLeaks’ release of 17 cables that contained information that undermined the Tunisian authorities’.
924-926 For instance Gafsa protests January to June 2008, videos posted on YouTube or DailyMotion never went viral, not even popular with net activists. Al Jazeera didn’t cover Gafsa either because banned from Tunisia, and hadn’t yet started integrating citizen contents into their broadcasts. Activists framed Gafsa as struggles of the poor, unconnected to lives of urban middle classes or to ideas of freedom of expression or anti-censorship. This was to change with the framing of Bouazizi.
926 Bouazizi’s self-immolation often presented as trigger of Tunisian revolution. However, important not the death itself but ‘the framing of the narratives around it’. To mobilise death it must be framed ‘as part of something bigger, beyond the death itself’.
926-927 Unlike previous immolations, this one was video recorded. A distant cousin of the deceased, Ali Bouazizi, ‘a long-time opposition activist’, recorded the death and subsequent protest on his Samsung mobile. With help from a friend, edited content and posted in on Facebook, not blocked in the country (unlike other sites). Images went viral.
However, ‘images alone do not propel a movement’, so Ali fabricated some of the facts, what he calls ‘white lies’, incl. the lie that he was a jobless university graduate having to make do selling produce (in fact, he never completed high school), or the ‘slap in the face’ by a woman in a position of authority (it never happened).
927. By adding these two ingredients – a university graduate and a slap – to the story, Ali rendered Mohamed’s burning body political, affixing to it the political body of a citizen whose rights were denied. Mohamed Bouazizi no longer represented the uneducated poor who struggle to provide food on the table, but represented all young people of Tunisia whose rights and freedom were denied.
928 This was a classic example of ‘frame bridging’ (Snow et al 1986: 467): linking a movement to people with comparable grievances yet ‘structurally disconnected or disengaged’. Leila Ben Debba, a lawyer-turned-activist-leader: “It was a revolution where the young people did not rally for food but for a dignified life”.
928-929 Framing not enough. Protests must be diffused nationally and overseas. Networks must be galvanised, contention turned into a social movement. Social media not sufficient. What achieved this was ‘a hybrid network’ made of social media, big media (eg Al Jazeera) and small media (laptops, sneakers, mobiles, memory cards).
929 Al Jazeera particularly important in that fostered practices of ‘networked journalism'; all sorts of media practitioners interacting. 933 Thus the self-immolation broadcast across Arab world only a few hours after it happened (Al Jazeera reporters had trawled the net in search of materials, finding Ali Bouazizi’s video). After this Al Jazeera kept in touch with ‘citizen journalists on the ground’ incl Ali and a collaborator, both becoming regular contributors. Very few smartphones, but mobiles allowed ordinary people to share news and keep informed.
934 This hybrid media network follows logic of media convergence (Deuze 2006, Jenkins 2004). A govt can shut down a given channel, but not a hybrid media network, for information would still find another route in this ‘redundant and resilient’ network.
936 As citizen journalism was main source of information, Ali Bouazizi’s ‘white lies’ ‘became the master frame’, winning in a ‘frame contest’ among competing frames (Ryan 1991). The result was a united sense of identity and shared injustice between the population and the Ben Ali regime.
937 There was also at work a potent combination of collective action and connective action (more personalised, ‘an act of personal expression [via] trusted relationships [, e.g. via Facebook], Bennett and Segerberg 2012).
937 In conclusion, Tunisian activists managed to bridge the class and geographical divides through three main mechanisms:
1) an archetypal image (the self-immolation) turned from a ‘non-event of the poor’ to a ‘public spectacle’
2) frame alignment via a master frame that appealed to whole society, fostering a sense of injustice and unity
3) activated hybrid media network to attain both collective and connective action.
Khosrokhavar, F. (2012). The new Arab revolutions that shook the world. Paradigm Publishers.
Notes on Chapter 2. The Tunisian revolution of dignity and freedom.
p. 28. most unexpected revolution in Arab world, but there were signs in previous protests of what was to come.
There were historical precedents like the Gafsa movement in early 2008, in the Gafsa mineral field, in poor region bordering Algeria.
p. 30 Unlike Jasmine revolution of late 2010, though, in Gafsa the two segments of the population (pro-democracy middle class and the precarious or poor seeking social justice) did not come together.
p. 31 Nevertheless, some lessons were learned in Gafsa that would be applied in 2010: ‘a leaderless social movement, spontaneous riots, a leading role played by the “jobless graduates”, strong backing by young people’.
p. 31. Before that, in October 2005, 18 October Movement for Rights and Freedoms formed out of opposition forces incl. liberals, leftists and Islamists. Unlike the Gafsa and Ben Guerdane movements, which were socio-economic, this was a political platform/movement.
p. 32-35 Tunisian revolution was counterintuitive: happened in seemingly highly stable country, with ‘presidents for life’ (Bourguiba, Ben Ali). Ben Ali stood out among authoritarian regimes for not tolerating any opposition whatsoever.
It was a highly creative revolution in that it combined disparate social forces (the poor and the middle classes) and unified them through new digital media, with Bouazizi’s self-immolation as the trigger. It started in the marginalised regions, derided by the elites as ‘inland Tunisians’ (Nuzuh), where youth joblessness almost double the national average, not in the relatively affluent coastal regions and northeast with 90% of investment.
This case shows it’s not glaring poverty and lack of development that trigger revolutions, but ‘unevenly spread development and a political regime out of touch with real society can’ (p. 34).
p. 35 Compared to Egypt, much more important role of working-class activists, taking on ‘a classical dimension of class antagonism, coupled with a middle-class demand for democracy’.
p. 36-38 The revolutionary imaginary in Tunisia was ‘hectic’, with ‘fanciful, even extravagant interpretation of the facts’ as people caught up in the revolutionary fervour, not unlike the French Revolution of 1789 or the 1979 Iranian revolution. Distorted accounts of Bouzazi’s suicide helped to radicalise the population [see also this blog, Lim 2013].
p. 37 Wikileaks also important in ‘general lack of inhibition towards the Ben Ali regime’. When it revealed – further disseminated by Al Jazeera – that the country was ‘ruled by thugs and Mafia’, revolutionaries were emboldened by the fantasy that America was now on their side.
p. 38 Collective indignation created ‘a collective sense of immunity towards death’.
p. 39 National workers’ union (UGTT) played a key role, but internally riven between central leadership supporting Ben Ali and regional/local levels as well as some subsections such as the teachers’ union. p. 40. Eventually it joined the protest movement following the Kasserine repression. Role of political groups and Islamists was limited. It was trade union, first local and regional levels, then nationally, that was decisive. One could say Tunisia was the Arab Gdansk, in reference to Solidarity movement in 1980s Poland.
p. 41 ‘The Internet, mainly Facebook and Twitter, played a major role in mobilising the youth’. When the govt banned journalists from Sidi Bouzid, the town where Bouazizi killed himself, a group of bloggers (incl 100+ censored in previous months) managed to bypass censorship and relay news of unfolding events in the town. As 1 in 6 Tunisians was using Facebook, the gov was unable to put a stop to it. Even innocuous websites devoted to sport or fashion became politicised. Soon disparate ideologies unified on Facebook around a pro-democracy stance and ‘all of them denounced dictatorship, fraud, and censorship’.
FB crucial role in linking young middle classes in Tunis with trade union movement and organising demos just prior to autocrat’s downfall. When gov tried to suspend use of FB in some regions and penetrate opposition’s pages, Anonymous launched ‘operation Tunisia’ against government websites.
p. 42 Al Jazeera not allowed to open office in Tunisia, but had a big impact by broadcasting cell phone footage of provincial protests by bloggers (as did France 24) and amplifying contents from FB and YouTube. Despite low quality and dubious credentials of a lot of the images they ‘took the risk and broadcast the images’.
A few days ago I posted a question to Alix Johnson, a PhD student in cultural anthropology at UC Santa Cruz, in the US. According to her Savage Minds interviewer, Adam Fish (read interview here), Alix will be soon travelling to Iceland
to study the practices and discourses of data centers. She studies information infrastructures in capitalist economies and postcolonial politics, and researches these questions in Iceland where they take strange and fascinating forms.
This is the question I put to Alix:
Terrific interview and project, many thanks for posting this. Having worked on Spain’s indignados (15M) movement, I am oddly familiar with the Icelandic ‘revolution’, as it often crops up in Spain as an example to learn from, both politically (e.g. bankers prosecuted) and technologically (e.g. efforts to crowdsource a new constitution [eventually thwarted]). “When we grow up we want to be Icelandic”, was one of the slogans chanted in the occupied squares in 2011.
It’ll be very interesting to read about your findings in due course. It reminds me a little of Thomas H. Eriksen’s current fieldwork on fracking in a Queensland town, in Australia, as part of his comparative project Overheating. One difference here is that instead of studying the local articulations of a global environmental crisis, you are studying the local and national articulations of what we might call a global *information* crisis.
I was wondering what you thought, Alix, about Iceland’s Modern Media Initiative (IMMI) in light of Icelandic Member of Parliament, and IMMI co-founder, Birgitta Jónsdóttir’s bleak outlook on legal initiatives to create data havens given what we now know about the extent of NSA/GCHQ surveillance since the Snowden revelations. Back then, when IMMI was created in 2009, Icelandic information freedom activists were unaware of the scale and reach of US/UK surveillance. I understand that Jónsdóttir herself has run afoul of the NSA. Is IMMI still at the resolution stage? What are its prospects of becoming law?
Fortunately, she has kindly agreed for me to repost her private reply here (thanks, Alix!):
Sorry for the slow reply! I missed the cutoff for responding on Savage Minds, but I really appreciate your comment. I know a bit about the 15M movement, but had no idea Iceland was used as a model in this way (or heard that super interesting chant!).
Yes, the last couple years have posed some challenges to IMMI ideals. The case you mention (where Member of Parliament Birgitta Jonsdóttir’s Twitter records were subpoenaed by the U.S.) is definitely one of them. I think for supporters of the “information haven,” though, this just proves the need for the IMMI – Twitter is subpoena-ble because its data and corporate structure are located in the U.S. In the world that IMMI imagines, where local alternatives are developed and hosted in information-friendlier jurisdictions, this dynamic would look very different.
As for IMMI itself, it’s being passed in pieces. Some of its provisions (like source protection) are complete; others (like the Freedom of Information Act) are pending ratification, and still others (like the Icelandic Freedom of Expression Prize) are on hold. Adding a layer of complication, some of its provisions are tied up in Iceland’s new proposed constitution, which itself has been tabled by the new governing coalition. At the same time, the 2013 election brought in three new Pirate Party MPs, who’ve expressed a commitment to seeing it through. So I’m hopeful/interested/anxious to see how it goes [...].