Enter the Swarm: Anonymous and the global protest movements

This text was written for LeMondeDiplomatique, were it appeared their February 2012 issue. Below is the manuscript as I submitted it. Here's the published version in English, Deutsch, francais, Espangol, Brasilian Portuguese, Norwegian, Slovak, etc

In the course of just one year, using the identity “Anonymous” highly efficient digital attacks have been carried out against global corporations and national governments. All in the name of freedom of speech and social justice. The media coverage has done little to clarify the events, rather, contradictory characterizations of Anonymous have been espoused, ranging from an elite hacker conspiracy, to a loose network of ignorant teenagers, from a major cyber-terrorist threat to a mere nuisance driven by sophomoric humor. None of these characterizations is entirely incorrect, because each captures some fragments of the phenomenon, but they all miss the central element of Anonymous, namely that it is not one, but many, and that it is not a group or a network, but a swarm, or to be correct, multiple swarms that feed off each other.

Teilen und Modifizieren. Neue Dimensionen von Solidarität

Mein Beitrag zum eben erschienen Band: "Nach dem Ende der Politik - Texte zur Zukunft der Kulturpolitik III"

Seit etwa 40 Jahren findet ein umfassender Individualisierungs- und Entsolidarisierungsschub in den westlichen Gesellschaften statt. Neuerdings gibt es aber auch zaghafte Gegenbewegungen, die nicht primär darauf ausgerichtet sind, die Errungenschaften des industriellen Wohlfahrtsstaats zu verteidigen (was notwendig bleibt) oder abstrakte Kritiken zu entwickeln. Vielmehr entwickeln sie durch eine veränderte Alltagspraxis ganz neue Dimensionen gesellschaftlicher Solidarität auf Basis geteilter, für alle zugänglicher Ressourcen, die zunehmend politisch als Gemeinschaftsgüter oder Commons artikuliert werden. Im Folgenden sollen diese Dynamiken auf dem Gebiet der Kultur skizziert werden.

Individualisierung versus Entsolidarisierung

Zunächst ist es aber wichtig, Individualisierung und Entsolidarisierung, die von der neoliberalen Ideologie so erfolgreich verknüpft wurden, analytisch von einander zu unterscheiden. Die Individualisierung der Gesellschaft lässt sich als eine direkte Folge der strukturellen Veränderungen der Kommunikationsmedien, der Wirtschaft und der Kultur erklären, die es ermöglichen, eine ungleich größere Vielfalt und Flexibilität zu organisieren.

Demokratie jenseits der Repräsentation

Der Erfolg der Piratenpartei beruht auf dem Wandel der Arbeits- und Lebenserfahrungen. Sie steht für dafür, Partizipation neu zu denken.

Die Feststellung, dass die Piratenpartei eine Protestpartei sei, führt nicht weit. Jede neue Kraft beginnt als Opposition, und der politische „Normalbetrieb“ steckt zu offensichtlich in einer tiefen Krise. Die Entfremdung zwischen BürgerInnen und PolitkerInnen nimmt seit langer Zeit zu. Die alten Transmissionsmechanismen zwischen (Zivil-)Gesellschaft und Politik – die Gewerkschaften, Vereine, Kirchen, Kammern etc. – funktionieren nicht mehr richtig. Entsprechend wird die Politik als abgehoben, von Partikularinteressen manipuliert und in ihren rituellen Appellen zu Wahlkampfzeiten als unglaubwürdig erlebt. Eine wachsende Zahl der BürgerInnen identifiziert sich nicht einmal mehr mit den Parteien, für die sie gerade die Stimme abgeben. Die Zahl der WechselwählerInnen steigt stetig; die Wahlbeteiligung sinkt.

Interessanter ist die Frage, warum der Protest die Form der Piratenpartei angenommen hat.

Politics of Networked Visibility

Abstract: This article tries to assess how people and their actions are made visible within and through computer networks. The aim is to differentiate between different modes of visibility based on the politics they support. The main difference is made between vertical visibility (i.e. the network provider sees verything) and horizontal visbility (i.e. people see each other without anyone seeing everything).

Politics of Networked Visibility

In January 2001, Franco and Eva Mattes, the artist couple by then still known as 0100101110101101.ORG, started their project “life sharing”. As they explained in the concept note: “every Internet user has free 24-7 access to [our] main computer: read texts, see images, download software, check 01's private mail, get lost in this huge data maze. ... Contents are not being periodically uploaded the way people build and maintain websites, because 0100101110101101.ORG works directly on the shared computer. The home computer has been turned into a transparent webserver, therefore users can watch in real time the "live" evolution of the work.”1 The project ran for more than 2 years without interruption.

Ethics of Sharing

The current issue of the International Review of Information Ethics on the ethics of sharing, guest-edited by myself and Wolfgang Sützl, is available online now. With contributions by Clemens Apprich, Michel Bauwens, Vito Campanelli, Alessandro Delfanti, Marie-Luisa Frick/Andreas Oberprantacher, Mayo Fuster Morell, and Andras Wittel.

… This issue brings together contributions towards an ethics of sharing that embed the new technological potentialities linking them to their actual social impact. In our understanding, information ethics “deals with ethical questions in the field of digital production and reproduction of phenomena and processes such as the exchange, combination and use of information.” So, the task of developing an ethics of sharing is both descriptive – helping us to understand the contemporary complexities of the ethics of exchanging information as it emerges from using digital technologies across a global range of social and cultural contexts – as well as normative – helping us to address blind-spots and clarifying possible ethical frameworks to address unresolved issues regarding these practices. And what do we and should we finally do with the truly impressive contributions gathered here to provide answers to the above named questions and guidelines for the outlined task? We share them with you leaving them to your appropriate use – whatever you may make out of it. (From the editorial by Rafael Capurro and Felix Weil)

complete IRIE issue 15/2011 in pdf format

Free Culture Forum Declaration

sustainable creativity

The Free Culture Forum has launched its declaration on "Sustainable Models for Creativity in the Digital Age". After last year's "Charter for Innovation, Creativity and Access to Knowledge", the declaration is an important next step in the self-definition of the free culture movement. It moves beyond licensing issues, focusing instead on long-term sustainability, which needs to combine income streams for professional producers with the right to access and re-use material for the general public. I think this is crucial, but admit to being somewhat biased, since I played a part in drafting these documents. See for yourself.

We can no longer put off re-thinking the economic structures that have been producing, financing and funding culture up until now. Many of the old models have become anachronistic and detrimental to civil society. The aim of this document is to promote innovative strategies to defend and extend the sphere in which human creativity and knowledge can prosper freely and sustainably.

This document is addressed to policy reformers, citizens and free/libre culture activists to provide them practical tools to actively operate this change.

  • How To for Sustainable Creativity [30 pages]
  • Autonomía y control en la era de la post-privacidad

    Una forma de definir la modernidad occidental, el periodo que estamos justo dejando, es por su particular estructura de control y autonomía. Ésta emergió como resultado de dos desarrollos históricos –uno que llevó a que burocracias grandes y jerarquizadas se establecieran como forma dominante de organización, otro que llevó a que el ciudadano (burgués, masculino) se convirtiera en el principal sujeto político. La privacidad jugó un papel clave en el mantenimiento del equilibrio entre ambos. Hoy en día, este acuerdo se está diluyendo. En el proceso, la privacidad pierde (algo de) sus funciones sociales. La post-privacidad, entonces, apunta a la transformación de cómo la gente crea su autonomía y de cómo el control impregna sus vidas.

    This is the Spanish translation, by Christel Penella de Silva, of "Autonomy and Control in the Era of Post-Privacy". Read the whole translation at Christel's blog

    Call for Papers: Ethics Of Sharing

    The Ethics of Sharing

    Call for Papers for Vol. 15 - July 2011

    • Deadline for extended abstracts: January 31, 2011
    • Notification of acceptance to authors: February 8, 2011
    • Deadline for full articles: April 30, 2011
    • Publication: July, 2011

    Sharing has emerged as one of the core cultural and ethical values native to the networked environment. It is built both into the technical protocols that make up the Internet, and holds together distributed, mediated communities and
    organizations (even if they try to limit sharing to members inside the organizations).

    In information ethics, sharing has implicitly been discussed in terms of privacy, intellectual property, secrecy, security and freedom of speech, which together define the social character of the information environment. But recent developments such as WikiLeaks have shown that there is a need to go beyond discussing the legitimacy of access or restrictions. We need to address the motivations and ethical positions that compel people to share information, even at considerable risk to themselves. Has sharing of information a special virtue of the information society? How are choices of sharing or withholding information justified? Is sharing subversive of the new global information regime, or an integral aspect of it?

    This issue of IRIE brings together contributions towards an ethics of sharing that embeds the technological potentialities in lived social experience. In our understanding, information ethics "deals with ethical questions in the field of digital production and reproduction of phenomena and processes such as the exchange, combination and use of information."

    Dictionary of the Human Economy, out now!

    The Dictionary of the Human Economy is out now. It's an amazing collection of some 30 concepts of social alternatives (see table of contents). I'm very happy that my entry on "Digital Commons" is included here. You can get it in any good book store and, of course, online.

    About the Book

    The global financial crisis has renewed concern about whether capitalist markets are the best way of organizing economic life. Would it not be better if we were to treat the economy as something made and remade by people themselves, rather than as an impersonal machine?

    The object of a human economy is the reproduction of human beings and of whatever sustains life in general. Such an economy would express human variety in its local particulars as well as the interests of all humanity.

    The editors have assembled here a citizen’s guide to building a human economy. This project is not a dream but is part of a collective effort that began a decade ago at the first World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, and has gathered pace ever since.

    Over thirty original essays address topics that range from globalization, community participation and microcredit to corporate social responsibility and alternative energy. Each offers a critical guide to further reading.

    The Human Economy builds on decades of engaged research to bring a new economic vision to general readers and a comprehensive guide for all students of the contemporary world.

    free culture and the culture flatrate

    I spent the last few days at the Free Culture Forum in Barcelona, which was focusing on sustainability of free culture.

    One of the main themes of the discussion was the culture flatrate and the collecting societies. In part because the main organizer of the forum, exgae, is in a high-stakes fight with the Spanish collecting society, sgae. In part, because the notion of a culture flatrate appears to be gaining some ground politically. I use the qualifier 'appears' on purpose, because I haven't seen it at all, but others, who are more deeply plugged into the back channels of the policy process, are saying so.

    The discussion, though, was rather unproductive, confusing and exhausting, mainly because the two concepts are mutually exclusive.

    Free Culture, in its most basic notion, is about the resources and rights available to every individual to make a contribution of his or her choosing to culture (a distributed system of meaning) and to communicate the activities to anybody he or she wishes to. It is a transformative view of culture were the input and output of the productive process are not categorically distinct, implying that existing cultural artifacts and processes are part of the resources available to everyone.

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