Thursday, August 16

The Problematization of Digital Civil Disobedience

After a sumer hiatus, full of booze and boys I am back and ready to start the semester. Here is unorganized rambling of some ideas I have been having about cyber civil disobedience and I would love to hear thoughts or suggestions. If anyone has any good readings or links or organizations they'd like to throw my way, that would be immensely helpful. Thanks for taking the time to listen to my thoughts! 

I started looking into the origins of civil disobedience. I have begun with Thoreau and his essay which is what informed Gandhi's theory of Satyagraha. The main premise here is not to challenge or confront your enemy per se, but rather to convert him to your cause through acts of civil disobedience. The idea is that the moral weight of unjust actions should compel the moral man to reject the unmoral stance of the state. Looking at what is happening with OWS and with hacktivists in general, I am not so sure that they embrace this stance. There is almost a we are definitely right and you are definitely wrong attitude. There seems to be a youthful arrogance that follows these hacktivist "attacks" ( i dont like that word, but I am working on a word that I like better). That is not to say that all hacktivism is this way, as you mentioned before there is civil disobedience in small actions like the blacking out of wikipedia and the downloading of illegal music. but i am very interested in the more popular forms of cyber dissent, because I feel that is what resonates with people when they think about cyber activism. I had this idea to compare the Gandhi and MLK's expression of civil disobedience with the Seattle WTO and OWS movements. I think that there has been significant changes to what is considered to be acceptable forms of disobedience among activist groups while at the same time there has been a constriction of acceptable protest behavior by state actors (NDAA and Patriot Act to be specific). This is all further clouded by the fact that digital technology is a legal grey area and both sides are clamoring to use the interconnectedness of individuals to their advantage. 

The second thing that I have been exploring is this issue of freedom of speech and the internet as a public space. There has been great discussion about DDoS and whether or not it counts as an infringement of freedom of speech on web owners. Can we reasonably make the comparison that DDoS attacks are a cyber form of a sit in? I mean isn't really about a bunch of people being in a single space to make it unusable? Perhaps this was not the intent of the civil rights leaders, but I do feel that it is a logical extension of those tactics. But the question becomes, do I, as a civilian, have the right to block Visa site because I believe that they are stifling the speech of wikilinks? There is an issue here with the right to buy being conflated with the right to speak. Is buying speech?

If me an my friends occupy a digital space to the extent that is is unusable is this an infringement on the rights of speech for others who want to use those services? If we make that claim then it starts to look like anything I do that impedes anothers ability to buy or to consume is infringement, and I dont know if I am sold on this argument.  Is there a freedom of corporate/commercial speech? what if it was a small business? Would a boycott pr a sit in be considered a infringement if people didn't have a choice whether to participate or not? This questions extends beyond DDoS attacks to other forms of cyber protest in general.  This question of what speech is protect is MASSIVE, and I am not sure if it is something that i can tackle in this thesis, but it has been weighing on my mind.

another thing that occurred to me after listening to Slavoj Zizek speak about the political act being part and parcel with the consumerist act. when I buy a chicken sandwich, for example, I am not longer just buying sustenance. I am purchasing a political ideology. The whole question swirling around chik-fil-a was one of freedom of speech, but buying a sandwich is not speech, or is it? I am very interested in how the flow of money shapes our conversations and understanding about political will. We have the freedom to buy our political beliefs, but we dont have the freedom to act on those beliefs in the public square (OWS, camping, general rabble rousing) I find this to be very interesting, particularly how it shapes who we talk about political discourse. Watching the news the only things you hear about this election is who has given the most money, and how that money is being spent ( i have literally heard nothing, about platforms, or issues, except for a little lip service paid to the economy and taxes on the wealthy. Nothing substantive). So then the question becomes if the political moment of OWS rejects the form of commodity politics, then where is the space that they can operate politically. if it doesn't exist and they have to create it, what are their rights to make that space available, and what are the growing pains and criticisms that they can expect to face? The infringement argument listed above is but one example of the critique that actors of commodity politics will make, but I know there are more. 

One of the other things that I have recently become aware of is the notion of "cyber" graffiti, though I havent really done much research into this as a form of civil disobedience. I am mainly taking about detournement in the form of culture jamming via geotags. I also saw this software that allows people to create digital billboards  or animations that they can overlay on top of a landmark and is only visible thru a smart application available for your ipad or os device. Like putting a middle finger over the NY stock exchange. stuff like that. But even with these forms of disobedience, i dont want to just collect a bunch of cool forms of protest, I want to dig deeper at the ways that protesting, our understanding of protesting rights are informed and challenged by both our consumption and innovative use technology and new media. and how the speed of change destabilizes traditional practices and definitions.