Gabriella Coleman Response

How cute is Gabriella?? I’m so mad I couldn’t attend this talk. I howled when Sven asked about the kidnapping in Mexico and the camera stopped. Boo.

I’ve never really quantified lolism as a measure of success, or even as a founding element of Anonymous. Understanding the evolution of Anonymous was super interesting, and I’m sure a lot of it had to do with Gabriella herself encasing her talk in lols. Though they are probably most associated with being the Rebel Force of the internet, I didn’t realize how strict their internal accountability system was/is. It reminds me of Mormonism. Not that I am an expert in this religion, but I grew up in a community where so many people were Mormon, and they truly valued the secrecy of their rituals and traditions that occurred behind closed doors. Revealing these secrets would result in excommunication from the church and lifelong banishment from their society. Without delving too much into my own personal religious beliefs, I will say when this system is put into the context of Anonymous—-it makes perfect sense. It’s almost a relief of sorts to know that there is accountability within a group of people that has the ability to wreak quite a bit of havoc into a system where so many secrets lay. When initially reading about Anonymous, I found myself asking Jack Bauer-esque questions from this system. How do you know that what you do is for the right cause? What if you’re being manipulated? What if someone is a mole?

And for no good reason other than its ridiculously accurate.. here’s the geek flowchart she mentioned.

Iraq’s “Rapid Reaction Media Team” redacted PowerPoint

I wanted to put up a response to Brian’s post below, about how the nature of state sponsored communication programs differ from more grass roots community efforts (e.g. FabFi). This redacted PowerPoint deck from Jan 2003 describes the US Government Information Operations plan for Iraq: basically vet american media contractors the US Gov feels it can work with, have them “hand pick” and “train” a group of Iraqi journalists and broadcasters to constitute a new “model of free media in the Arab World,” produce two months of US Gov approved programming, and (no kidding), “provide Iraqi’s hope for their future.” Though I have clearly changed the context in my post, quoted material is taken from the doc.

Hardware in the Field

FabFi is an exciting project that it’s not only low-tech and simple, it also works. “FabFi is an open-source, FabLab-grown system using common building materials and off-the-shelf electronics to transmit wireless ethernet signals across distances of up to several miles. “
(http://fabfi.fablab.af) Furthermore, “With Fabfi, communities can build their own wireless networks to gain high-speed internet connectivity—thus enabling them to access online educational, medical, and other resources.”
It’s success can easily be seen in the Afghan city of Jalalabad. They now have high-speed Internet using components out of everyday items, even trash. FabFi is a great precedent in one of the most affected regions by war in the world; it’s a project operated independently of the government and can be put into practice by local people with local talent using local materials.
FabFi is not the only interesting happening in Afganistan these days. “The (US) State Department and Pentagon have spent at least $50 million to create an independent cellphone network in Afghanistan using towers on protected military bases inside the country. It is intended to offset the Taliban’s ability to shut down the official Afghan services, seemingly at will.” (US Underwrites Internet Detour Around Censors. The New York Times)
It is very question-rising to compare this two phonomena, especially if we check out the dollars invested. There’s a huge difference from the “$60 worth of everyday items” needed to install a FabFi node to the more than $50 million of the US cellphone network. What are the interests behind each project? Is it just the good deed of spreading freedom of speech? I can only be a little skeptical and cynical about the Pentagon uninterested initiative and good intentions. On the other hand, I applaud FabFi’s goals and means.

internet free-for-all

These readings on fab fi’s diy internet in Afghanistan comes at a very interesting time in the United States as well as the world. I don’t know if everyone in this class is aware but there is a internet censorship bill pushing through the US house of representatives called SOPA or stop online piracy act, but it does much more harm than good, not not just harm to US citizens and companies but those around the world as well. These readings are also coming a day after the voices of the occupy movements around America have been stifled. I find it interesting that we seek to improve the speech rights of dissent in other countries but fail to uphold the same values to our own citizens. Although the internet is a wonderful education tool and I do feel this is a great way to share knowledge with those around the globe but in the case of the suitcase internet which is much more of a tool for speech, this feels like a very top down approach to it. By this I mean that it is a foreign government sponsoring the free speech of another countries citizens and I feel movements like this coming from the people are more effective.

Reading Response 11.16

I love when people make things out of trash. It’s quite possibly one of my favorite things ever. I had actually read about the “internet in a suitcase” initiative earlier this year while doing research for other projects, and has influenced the progression of my own thesis work. Living in the United States, specifically NYC where WiFi is pretty much everywhere (except at the New School, ahem) we’re lucky enough to not have to grapple with access to these services. At one point I had come across articles from members in the UN arguing that internet access should be a basic human right. The only times I feel we ever really see the limitations of our infrastructure is during a natural disaster (Irene, Katrina, etc…), or when our services are intentionally disarmed (BART cell shutdown), showing just how important these ad hoc networks are across the globe, and not just in developing nations or areas that have been neglected from these services.

The Iran Protests article brought up a valid point when they stated that most people in Iran who were tech savvy are the ones that are anti-Ahamdinejad. Not that I am a supporter of Ahamdinejad by any means, but that the narrative that comes out of these situations can be somewhat likened to how we experience our personal twitter and facebook feeds, in that most of the items we see come from the same people. Regardless, in times of censorship, these networks are what gives the rest of the public a portal into current events, and allows activists to communicate and organize.

My favorite quote from these readings comes from Clay Shirky about internet freedom:
“You can’t say, ‘All we want is for people to speak their minds, not bring down autocratic regimes’ — they’re the same thing.”

Reading Response

Simple solutions to complex problems is something I always gravitate towards. Over the course of time, I have come to realize that 1. Complex problems can be approached in a simple manner with simple materials. (They may not provide an end all solution, but micro interventions are definitely a positive approach. On the other hand if they are a complete failure, at least you haven’t spent a ton of materials and money). 2. Problems cannot always be solved FOR people, but solutions/ interventions are more effective when done WITH the people or BY the people. The FabFi Project is a good example of that. The Internet is such an important and beneficial tool for the access of the information, though I am not convinced that projects like One Laptop Per Child are the solution for education or learning. The internet does open a vast ocean of information which when channeled correctly can open up great possibilities of learning. Though it is a pity that areas that need education the most do not have access to internet. I was surprised to learn that only 8% Indians have access to the internet. (http://www.moneycontrol.com/news/world-news/india-to-launch-worlds-cheapest-tablet-computer-for-3635_594278.html)

I have come across many similar projects (i.e similar in approach) which I’d like to share.

(links are embedded in the titles, if you’d like to know more)

The Digital Drum is a solar powered computer kiosk created in Africa to give access to information to the people. It is built with inexpensive, readily available materials and was prototyped within few days in a car repair shop!

 Grassroots Mapping  was started by Jeff Waren from MIT Media Lab is a project that initiates people to create their own maps that prove to be most beneficial for people to understand their own land in times of upgrading and land claim and ownership situations. The project essestially uses a digital camera that is elevated by an everyday object (kite, inflated trahsbag etc.) to get aerial snapshots of their land. It is an open-source, participatory process using inexpensive equipment.

Text to Change, a non profit started an interactive text-message campaign to give access to health information to the people of Africa and also spread AIDS awareness and provide other health related eduction to the people.

 

 

 

Reading Response 11.9

In Storming the Servers,  Web War One led me straight to the Terminator movies. Our general infrastructure of day to day living is dependent on the efficiency of digital communications over the web. Without this in place, cities would crumble.  The power of a movement that is triggered by loss is driven by emotions, and will likely result in a much larger response. In this respect, I can only imagine how much more powerful the Occupy movement will be now that the birthplace of OWS has been stripped away. Part of me thinks that this might actually be a good thing for the movement; they can better model their physical form so that it becomes more transient and modular in nature, and won’t be subject to the existing laws of society– it embodies the “internet way of thinking.”

One of the biggest pros/cons of the internet is the mask of anonymity. Without having to be physically present in a moment of collective action can have catastrophic results. There’s this great Ted video that analogizes how a movement is started, showing how people join a movement to join a movement, and not necessarily because they understand the motive or reasoning behind it. It’s the age old grade school bully tactic, the mother’s tale of “If so-and-so jumped off of a bridge, would you?” With collective action in cyberspace that is politicized, it becomes much harder to hold people accountable for their actions, if their actions are indeed something that is deemed as violent. Where do we draw the line between private and public space in the digital world? How do we define free speech in an infrastructure that is based on textual commands?

 

Reading Response 11.09

Nowadays, we are using internet in many different ways such as social networking, searching information, communicating with many people from other countries, chatting, sharing private/public information, emailing, and so on. I cannot imagine if I don’t use Internet in every single day. Even though people cannot meet person to person, they communicate well through technology. In these kinds of current situations, many people are using Internet as a tool for attack and social protests. For example, in Estonia, the cyber protest became The First Web War. Protesters used a distributed denial of service attack (DDoS) by repeatedly transmitting data to a specific website and difficultly access to it. Although it was not a physical war, the attacks could be a new system to gather people’s voice and thought to protest against some situation.

How is it possible for people to easily protest something through online? On the Internet, sometimes we can access and use it without identification. So, anyone participates and joins with anonymous because on the cyberspace people have much freedom to express their opinion, and they don’t know who we are and where we are. On Internet Relay Chat Channels (IRC channels), people can organize attacks, debate and watch. This kind of method let people connect each other without identification. The positive effect of it is gathering people’s voice, thought, and attacks without physical damage. It’s more too the point than those simply stating that in Anonymous everyone is equal. In practice, there are people who have more influence through activity or skill (organizational, technical, strategic, rhetorical). That gives it direction and focus. At the same time, it’s all in constant flux; people come and go, views and plans and methods evolve, gain and loose support, change, become obsolete by events, and people leading the charge suddenly don’t.

After I read Jill Lane’s “Digital Zapatistas”, I wondered about the performative reach of such electronic disturbances software like FloodNet creates. I understand that in the NYU example, the disturbance would have caused NYU’s entire website to go down. But what about when FloodNet requested nonexistent pages from the Mexican government’s website and got back “404 error-reply” time and time again, saying things like “justice not found on this site”? Perhaps I don’t fully understand what function this performs in terms of website function, etc., but I wonder who exactly is their audience for this? Just the site’s digital memory? If the only audience is a website’s memory, is it performance for the sake of the performers? Moreover, I wonder when the term “illegal” began to carry such a negative connotation. In terms of definition, it is the opposite of being legal. But the same word can describe running through a stop sign and smuggling drugs into a foreign country. I just wonder when the word sort of tip-toed over to the negative end of the spectrum and became a noun used to describe a group widely despised by those who use the word “illegal” in such a way.

Reading Response – DDoS

Essentially flooding a server with requests (DDos) and flooding a facility with people (a sit-in) to disrupt activity are similar, except the tools like the Large Orbit Ion Cannon (DDoS tool used primarily by Anonymous) or FloodNet (Electronic Disturbance Theater) lacks the same accountability and sustainability that participating with real people in a tangible environment has. Without constant encouragement from peers, and the social feedback loop that a real-world protest brings, this makes the virtual sit-in less effective and consistent.  Another problem is scalability, as reducing business at a coffee shop has a minimal impact on the economy, while taking down world-wide financial servers for over a day may cross the threshold of awareness into retaliation.This retaliation is a major design problem for DDoS users – the advantage of Internet protests and the main ideology behind groups like Electronic Disturbance Theater or Anonymous is the ability to cross this threshold while still masked in anonymity. LOIC and similar software is very bad at masking users’ IP addresses, exposing them to retaliation by the FBI and other world-wide government agencies. Other application developments that completely gut LOIC and rebuild it with more intelligent software design and a concentration on hiding IP addresses have been created since the Wikileaks attacks (High Orbit Ion Cannon, among others), but the ease of use and ubiquity of LOIC has made it the preferred choice for the majority of Anonymous.

Another design consideration that is both beneficial and disadvantageous for users is the open-source nature of LOIC. While having the source code available for anyone to inspect has built an assurance system with users, making distribution easier since the software can be trusted, major agencies retaliating against Anonymous can find ways to exploit the open source for their objectives. HBGary Federal, was recently hacked for claiming to have identified major Anonymous figures, planning to sell the information to the FBI – their rootkit and emails were breached, etc. – although they were wrong about the Anonymous identities, many controversial and corrupt activities have come to light from their ~70,000 emails. A few emails paint a conversation between employees about ways of taking the open source LOIC code and injecting malware into the program to fight back against Anonymous using their own protesting tools. They would have slowly seeded the modified program through Anonymous IRC channels, which are the most trusted communication networks.

Although it would be much more dangerous to the community if the LOIC code was closed, there are some indirect consequences of the Utopian, open-source ideal, where nothing that is open source can be bad for your computer and Anonymous can trust Anonymous, even though that can be anyone, anywhere.