Radical Democracy & the Internet Ch 5

Chapter 5: Online direct action: Hacktivism and Radical Democracy Tim Jordan

Difference: between hacktivism and hacking a) hacktivists speak out on politics b) hacktivists connect political action to spheres beyond informational freedoms.

Jordan identified two trends in hacktivism:

1. Mass Action hacktivism

The translation of offline mass protests (especially non-violent direct action) online. Examples:

a) Electronic Disturbance Theatre.

One of the elements of my work since the ’80s is what happens to the social space of critique and protest when the physical avenues have been shut down physically and emotionally. This leads to the question of electronic civil disobedience: to what degree can virtual landscapes of critique be used to amplify and route around the lockdown that’s happening at this university? In the best of all worlds, this would also allow a teleportation between data bodies in protest and real bodies in protest.

Electronic civil disobedience is a fearless space that allows one, nonviolently, to protest in ways that are no longer allowable in real space. This seems to me to become extremely important in our post-contemporary period. To a certain degree, I find that students, because we are in this kind of electro-scape, would be more willing to risk having a voice as a group if that voice is digitally represented (through, for example, MySpace or Facebook).

From an interview with Prof. Ricardo Dominguez, principal investigator at the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology and an assistant professor for UCSD’s visual arts department.)

b) Electrohippies anti-World Trade Organisation action which broad down the WTO network in Seattle. It did so not by using bots to enact a DDoS attack but by aggregating actual users in flooding the site with requests, hence bringing it down. So it is in the numbers of mass protest that effectiveness is produced, where its symbolic capital is stored – not the technological ‘solution’.

2. Digital correctness

Less of an attempt to simulate offline mass direct action online than to assertions of liberty and the rights to an uncensored internet. It’s about beating the censor. Examples are:

  • Peekabooty network is a peer-to-peer network which its developers (a hacking community called the cult of the dead cow) claims will evade all attempts to censor/block traffic (see Guardian report).
  • Torpark – anonymous Web-browser based on Firefox that uses the TOR (The Onion Router) network. It comes pre-configured, requires no installation, can run off a USB memory stick, and leaves no tracks behind in the browser or computer.
  • ScatterChat is a secure instant messaging client designed for non-technical users who require secure and anonymous communications.
  • Camera/Shy enables users to share censored information with their friends by hiding it in plain view as ordinary gif images.

See http://www.hacktivismo.com/projects/index.php

Jordan then looks at the antagonisms between the two trends and how they contribute to Laclau and Mouffe’s conception of radical democracy – ie the extent to which both trends extend liberty and equality in relation to the social identities destabilised by capitalims. Conclusion: unclear how their contribution can be evaluated.

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