Monday, June 14, 2010

An Info-War, a Virtual Sit-In, and Hacktivists…United for a Cause

Henry David Thoreau once said "That government is best which governs least". He then changes ground and asks “not at once” to be rid of government “but at once a better government. Let every man make known what kind of government would command his respect, and that will be one step towards obtaining it”. Organizations like the Electronic Disturbance Theater who take action through electronic civil disobedience are in different forms of protest making the government know what kind of government it ought to be--delegated by the people who command respect and equality.

As mentioned in “The Zapatistas and Electronic Disturbance Theater” post last week, I viewed the birth of the Electronic Disturbance Theater (EDT) in relation to the Mexican Zapatistas and discussed a few of the technicalities of protest they demonstrate including their software FloodNet which allows activists to form some sort of electronic artistic way to send across messages of protest/disturbance. FloodNet has been the source of virtual sit-ins practiced by EDT members and participants all over cyberspace. A virtual sit-in is another form of electronic civil disobedience (ECD) created by the EDT.

Before I begin, please view the two videos which will discuss the information war, virtual sit-ins, and hacktivism—the main three topics of this post. Keep in mind that it is difficult to separate each topic into a category of its own because they are interlaced and cannot exist without the other. In these videos, you will see the uniting of the three…

Information Warfare

An infowar is a war of words, a form of propaganda, a desire to push words for action. The internet has allowed a pathway for a cyber infowar to take place. The internet allows activists to incite action as opposed to simply describing the information. Information Warfare was involved in the Zapatistas action for equality from the Mexican government in Chiapas, MX. The Zapatista experience has been a war of words instead of a prolonged military conflict. Of course there is still a strong Mexican military presence in Chiapas, however as mentioned in my earlier post, there was no way for the Zapatistas to battle alone. In no way could they take down the Mexican and US governments and so EDT joined with the Zapatistas to create an Information War that led to virtual sit-ins and hacktvism using the FloodNet software. The fighting technically ended on January 12, 1994 and since then there has been a ceasefire and numerous attempts at negotiation. Scholars, activists, and journalists have said that the Zapatistas owe their survival to this war of words. It is the propaganda that has been unleashed by the Zap leaders like Subcommandante Marcos and non-Zapatista supporters throughout the world. Communication and information has been spread through the famous Mexican newspaper, La Jornada, a more traditional way of sending out information but it has also been distributed through e-mail since the digital Zapatista took rise January 1, 1994 with the aid of Ricardo Dominguez and the Electronic Disturbance Theater (Wray). The infowar provides a way to not only incite action but to do so on a global level. After the Acteal Massacre of 1997, the word spread all over the internet and within days, protests and actions were going on at the Mexican consulates and embassies all over the world. The internet has been seen as a source for activists to communicate and take action. In order for an infowar to take root, electronic civil disobedience comes into play exposing new varieties of protest including virtual sit-ins.

Virtual Sit-Ins

Virtual sit-ins began in 1998 as an online activist tool created by Dr. Ricardo Dominguez which allows activists, using FloodNet, to potentially flood and take down a website. They use an HTML-based program that targets a specific website and allows other activists to join and participate. As each individual joins in the protest, the website is forced to refresh the page which draws in more traffic and eventually leads to a prevention of use. This form of technology reveals the reasons as to why individuals participate in the protest and tells how long it will last thus giving it far more meaning. But how?..

Stefan Wray, who has been mentioned in earlier posts, sees the form of virtual sit-ins, a new form of civil disobedience, when compared to the traditional form of civil disobedience, allows an ECD actor the ability to participate in virtual blockades and sit-ins from home, work, school, and virtually any location where there is access to the Net. Dominguez says in regards to electronic civil disobedience that it:
allows us to think about the question of art becoming a social manifestation, allows us to think about art allowing communities who do not have access to power to make themselves present, that allows the unbearable weight of human beings to put a stop to the crisis that is around us—especially the juicy crisis of education. It allows us to see that art is an active space in public culture and that it cannot be disregarded.
Dominguez views virtual sit-ins from an active EDT member viewpoint. The art assimilated with cyberspace allows activists to voice their message of protest in a different and unique way.

The goal of the Electronic Disturbance Theater is to take the traditional and respected form of civil disobedience and attach it to the cyber world. A virtual sit-in on an internet website allows for the same purpose of protest in a different form. Just like an embodied traditional physical sit-in, in order to be effective, a virtual sit-in also needs a lot of people in order to make a purpose clear. Participants are noticed and seen as a force. For a virtual sit-in to be effective, it must be transparent and open access.

There is a difference between a virtual sit-in and a “Distributed denial of Service” (DDoS) attack. With a DDoS attack, unknown individuals become channels in increasing traffic to certain internet addresses, making it inoperable and threatening a crash of the system. In a DDoS attack, identity is obscured and there are extended assaults motivated by retribution, financial gain, and an attempt to censor freedom of speech. A virtual sit-in differs greatly in that the individuals participating in the sit-in have a goal, a reason, for protest and they make that known. Actions are stated, grievances are described, participants are known, and once it is over, there is no physical damage done. Participants use the FloodNet software and the reload/refresh button on a webpage that eventually sends a cross a message in the URL. The message is a digital artistic form of speech in protest. In order for these virtual sit-ins to uprise, hacking must occur and in an activist form, Hacktivism, comes to rise.

Hacktivism: “Words AS War, Not Words FOR War”—Ricardo Dominguez

Hacktivism, according to the Electrohippies, is a function that combines hacking and activism in a technological sense to provide “Hacktivism”. Hacktivism is a legal “tool for open and focused action against injustice and human subjugation.” Hacktivism uses creative ways as have been previously mentioned to send forth messages. Hacktivists take a piece of technology, a URL code, a website, and envision a use for it beyond what it was designed for. This innovative thinking combined with a hacktivist’s desire for truth and rights in a social or political context allows for progressive movements in digital protest.

Hacktivism has already been mentioned in my previous post and throughout this one. Using FloodNet, participants would visit a website and then download the Java Applet software which would access the target site and reload or refresh every couple of seconds. The protests allow protestors to leave personal statements on the targeted server error logs. With the Zapatistas, for example, browsers were pointed to non-existent files which included the names of those murdered in the Acteal Massacre on the target server. The server would return and log the message “[murdered victim’s name] not found on this server.” This was a creative form of protest with the intentions to send out a message of non-violent awareness, protest, and a re-visitation and reminder to the murderers. Brett Stalbaum, the creator of FloodNet characterizes the software as “conceptual net art that empowers people through active/artistic expression.”

Hacktivism is a peaceful form of protest that organizes a mass amount of people with using FloodNet to create a “symbolic gesture”. Digital activism and hacktivism allows people in different parts of the world to view things that have been censored by their government. Hacktivism exposes truth in an artistic and meaningful way. The video below shows the political exposure which raises awareness to citizens in several different countries. The traditional ways of protest are also viewed in this video. The concensus is that cyber-activism provides a platform for several more people to take a virtual stand to relay the same message across.

Electronic Civil Disobedience combining FloodNet software, the information war, virtual sit-ins, and hacktivism allows for an undoubted measure of activism and protest to come about through a mass load of messages and participants. But are these methods of protest even effective? Stefan Wray analyzes the word effective and defines it in the light of hacktivism in that "if hacktivism is to draw attention to particular issues by engaging in actions that are unusual and will attract some degree of media coverage, then the effectiveness can be seen as high...hactktivism appears to be a means to augment or supplement existing organizing efforts, a way to make some noise and focus attention."

Wray describes this generation as a period of expansion and not contraction. "The nature of cyberspace is extraterritorial. People can easily act across geographic political borders." Hacktivism on the rise provides for endless opportunities that exist in some combination of word and deed. Where is hacktivism going? In my up and coming posts I will be discussing modern forms of hacktivism in current events, its effectiveness and the frontier ahead.

1 comment:

  1. That first video was SO interesting! This is a great post. I'd love to see something where you continue analyzing the parallels between traditional civil disobedience and electronic civil disobedience. Like, it's clear that the digital zapatista movement draws upon Thoreau's ideas for legitimacy, but how are they similar as opposed to just being a reaction? I don't know if that made sense. Great work!