A river that needs crossing political and tech blogs - On the political side, there is arrogance and ignorance, on the geek side there is naivety and over- complexity

My videos are on these two youtube channels visionontv 3,832,876 views and undercurrents 22,689,976 views

 

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Entries with tag indymedia .

Alt-geek culture is broken - indymedia

An introduction to a "unspoken" problem. Everything is "pointless" in till you do something "that is not", if we keep repeating the pointless stuff were/when is the "that is not" going to happen?

 

An example of the geek problem can be found in the flowing and fading of radical alt/grassroots media at the peek of the #openweb

 

The basis of any new media is the technology it is transmitted/mediated by. In the case of newspapers this is the printing press, and for radio and TV it is access to the transmission spectrum. The open internet changed this "traditional" media which was based on a world of (vertical) analogue scarcity. As the accessing technology improved, it created a radically (horizontal) digital media space.

 

This was intently filled with (naive in a good sense) alt-media such as the Indymedia project (IMC). In this post I am looking at how this was killed off by internal geek/process dogmatism at the same time as its space was colonised by new/mainstream such as blogging and social media.

 

We are now coming full circle to where we started with closed client/server, algorithm-determined, gatekeeper, for-profit networks dominating media production and consumption. The corporate gate keeping venture capital driven (and invisible ideology) algorithm is the new printing press/broadcast spectrum that we started the century with.

 

What part did radical geeks play in this?

 

Let's look at the successful global indymedia project, which was based on open publishing and open process through a centralised server network. Before this the radical video project undercurrents, while not so open, was again based on a technical hub. They had the only free digital editing suite for production of grassroots video, thus anyone wanting to produces radical content was funnelled though this grassroots gatekeeper. With IMC, it was publishing to their hosted servers.

 

The indymedia network was setup in the very avant-gardist open model that was to dominate the internet for a time. Like undercurrents it succeeded because of its technical centralisation – the server was the ONLY place citizen journalist content could be published without hard technical knowledge. This monopoly was later lost to the growth of individualistic blogging platforms and later corporate social media. But what I want to argue here is that it died before this due to internal (process) pressures.

 

Indymedia was set up on the open, open, open, open, pseudonymous model.

 

* Open source (free software)

 

* Open publishing (post-publishing moderation)

 

* Open licence content (non commercial re-use)

 

* Open process (everything was organised on public e-mail lists, open meetings)

 

* Pseudo-anonymous (you didn’t have to provide an e-mail address or a real name to publish)

 

Let's look as some of the pragmatism that allowed the project to take off:

 

* The project was initially pragmatic about open source as it used the closed realmedia (RM) video streaming codec and servers. But the core project was committed to the free software path where technically possible.

 

* Open publishing was the basis of the project, things could only be hidden (not removed) because they broke a broad public editorial guideline. Even then they were added to a background page so were still public. In this the publishing process was naïvely open.

 

* Open licence stayed with the project to the end.

 

* Open process was gradually abandoned, a clique formed then fought and split, this was the main reason the project ossified and could not adapt to keep its relevance in the changing world of blogs and social media.

 

* (Pseudo) anonymity was part of the abandonment of open process and led down many of the technical dead ends that finally killed the relevance of the project to most users.

 

Lets look at this final one in more depth

 

Firstly, it's important to realise that any attempt at anonymous publishing in a client server relationship even at its most restrictive and paranoid would produce pseudo anonymity. ie. you might be able to hide from your mates and your employer but you cannot hide from the “powers that be” if they are interested in subverting your server and its internet connection.

 

The internet is inherently naïvely open, its built that way, this is why it works. The recent Edward Snowdon leaks highlight this to the wider public view.

 

- the integrity of the ISP and hosting was always based on trusting a tiny anonymous minority of geeks

 

- the physical security of the server could never be guaranteed.

 

- as the project process closed the identity of these core geeks became tenuous/invisible.

 

In activism just as the man driving the white van repeatedly turned out to be the police/corporate spy, the invisible server admin is the obvious opening for the same role – am not saying this is what existed, rather just trying to highlight how you cannot build a network based on this closed client server infrastructure/culture that IMC became. Given the open nature of the internet, it became dangerous to push IMC as an anonymous project.

 

There were four fatal blocks:

 

- the repeated blocks and failure and delay of decentralisation of the servers to the regions.

 

- the blocks on aggregation, then the closed subculture aggregation that final happened as a parallel project

 

- the focusing on encrypted web hosting and self-signed certificates put a block on new non-technical users that proved termanaly offputting.

 

- the failed "security theater" of not login IP address locally on the server as a limited security fig leaf. They could simply be logged on the ISP/open web instead.

 

These, together with a shrinking of the core group, led to the project becoming irrelevant in the face of the growth of more openly accessible blogging and then social media.

 

Let's get positive and suggest some ways the IMC project could have flourished and still be a dominant grassroots project:

 

* The base level of the project should have actively decentralised as the technology matured to make this feasible. Every town needed its own DIY run server.

 

* Then regional aggregation using RSS (really simple syndication) would make this grassroots media presentable as outreach media.

 

* A national aggregation site could then have compete directly with the (then) declining traditional media outlets.

 

* Recognising that the IMC project was pseudo-anonymous at best, IMC could have built a parallel encrypted peer-to-peer gateway app/network to feed into this to provide true(ish) anonymity for publishers to this ongoing open media project.

 

* The decentralisation would have been a force to keep the process open by feeding though new people/energy – this would have naturally balanced the activist clique forming/closing in the centre.

 

* As blogging became popular and matured these could have been “ethically” aggregated into the network to build a truly federated global open media network such as http://openworlds.info is working to be.

 

* Social networking could have been added as an organic part of this flourishing federated network.

 

If this had happened, it's not too much to say that the internet would have been a different place to where it is now. The IMC project highlights some of the failures of activist/geek culture. If we are to (re)build the open web we need to learn from this and move on.

 

(find photo of indymedia Sheffield masked up photo)

 

This is sadly not a metaphor for an open media project

 

It should be obvious to people now that even the most paranoid centralised closed internet is only pseudo-anonymous at best. We need to learn how to live with "open" to build the world we want to see. And our geeks fighting for closed are actually a problem for us, just as much as "them".

Where next for grassroots/alt-media?

It's common knowledge that grassroots media is well F**ed and that #failbook and #twitter are the problem not the solution. Where can we go from here? To reboot alt-media (and play a role in rebooting the open web) we need to create an affinity group to cross the geek/political divide that has demolished our once flowing/healthy alt-media networks.

For a moment let's look at broad-brush history, The 20th century alt-media was one of offline social movements, where modern (21st century) alt-media is a product of online social networks - the web. Take a moment to think about our years of failed encryption geek projects on the one hand, and, the constant churning of disappearing media silos on the other. The last 10 years have been a wasteland for both the geek and political.

The original internet/web suceeded because it was a stupidly open design, it had no built-in agenda to the network. Lets compare this ”new” for a moment to the pre-internet, the old wired telephone networks had all the smarts at the exchanges and the phones were dumb, it was a centralised hierarchical network. Where the internet had the smarts at the ends, the computers, and the network itself was dumb – a horizontal network.

This turning on the head of 20th century thinking is important to move out of our current lon- running malaise in alt-media. Am arguing the divide between politicos and geeks is feeding a failed fixation on 20th century thinking in that they both want to build systems (both technical and social) where the smarts are at the centre. In contrast we know that in the 21st century it is more powerful to build “empty” networks that connect the smarts at the edges. The word “empty” here gets a lot of negative responses :) This is the touching of the core problem. Take a moment to re-read and think positive thoughts ;)

An “empty” network is a general-purpose network that connects general purpose computers to general purpose people and community. Yes, the tech we need, like the internet/open web has an agenda but it is not sectarian as #failbook and other #dotcoms are, as are our own much smaller alt-media silos. Instead its “open” and “simple” based on “industrial” standards and open working social ideals. This is obvious, but it needs saying, The “dumb net” is completely ignorant of what the user wants to do – just data in and data out. It's up to the user to decide what the data is. Only “universal languages”, that is data standards, have flow. There is a ridiculous power for change in this obviousness.

It's not hard to re-boot to escape these 10 years of failure, actually it's simple. Though it's not going to happen without a good affinity group who cross the geek/political divide. Message me if you think you have the smarts, skills, tolerance and humility.

hamish@visionon.tv

 

 

 

Outline of 20 years ups and downs of grassroots activism in the UK

In my expirence the flowering of the indymedia networks followed by the first years of climatecamp were the high points of activist culture. The end of climate camp was the low point of activist culture, after this the drift to NGO and fashion was wide and dissipating.

Occupy was a break in activist culture, it was the first mass “internet first” on the ground manifestation that happened disconnected to the past of activism because of the use of #dotcons tools as prime organising space. The old couture has been discredited by the failings of climate camp, the new dotcon tools had been celebrated and used well by Ukuncut etal. Were Ukuncut was a reboot of old climate camp crew, Occupy was a project of the #failbook generation in all its wide reflective madness.

Were are we now? The old left is rebooting with a broken mix of the blairite right and the Stalinist/toxic left both pulling at the radical liberal centre. Alt media content is being rebooted but the network it needs to build, to stop its drift to NGO burn out is missing. The right is ideologically bankrupt and visibly grasping, but stronger than ever.

In activism currently we are full of the biter taste of occupy and NGO worshipping of dotcoms and careerism. The working of the 21st century is potentially different to the workings of the 20th century the are groups, networks and individuals that embody this and a larger group/individuals who fight for the past century working practices.

The “certainties of the 20th century” are grasped in our frail and trembling hands, the first stage of a “network” reboot is to let go of these “certainties” one constructive path to this is to fill in the gaping activist memory hole by looking at what works and what dose not. The lost and flailing progressive alt needs foundations bridging this gap to build on.

The IS NO SHORT TERMISM HERE but the is speed and nimbleness, plenty of fun, creative motivated building to be done. Many of the foundation problems can be built in parallel as a “network” so it can happen faster than most can imagine.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

 

UPDATE:

 

Am currently working on two projects to take steps to medate the issues I ouline here:

Open Media  Network (OMN)

The Witches Cauldron - open activist archive

 

Privacy and uk Indymedia

Do you remember the "privacy" debates about not logging IP address in the UK #indymedia network. This was not about privacy as the IP address can be collected on root to the "protected servers". It was actually a hidden "philosophical" battle between open and closed. The #indymedia project was born open and died closed. We face the same battle now with the #openweb and the #dotcons

Media - why do names matter

Grassroots media

Media made and distributed from the lower part of society, made DIY for, from, too, the grassroots. And at its best outreaching beyond.

Alt- media

Media made from an ideologically different perspective to the mainstream (invisible) ideology. And hopefully, though often not, made in a way that can speak outside this narrow idelogical view.

Indymedia

Project that embodied both grassroots and alt-media pushed on a wave of open web. It was VERY successful in its time before being killed by internal ossification of process and the encriptionsts pointlessness. Might be time for a reboot of this project, but maybe something has to lead the way before this can happen.

Radical media

Is a term that is sometimes picked up by the NGO's and dogmatic control freaks, it tends to be empty and the trademark is owned by a advertising company.

DIY culture

Describes many projects growing out of the UK direct actions movements of the 1990's to the end of the century. A lot of alt/grassroots media projects grow from this spring of energy.

In summery

grassroots and alt media are different things though they often overlap in a good way. Indymeda is a project that embody them both but is ossified and needs a reboot to be relevant agen. Radical media needs a scare warning as the history is not good, DIY culture simmers in many small forms, maybe media could bring it back to the centre to make a difference that’s needed in the world?

 

Where is our media?

Climate camp is a example of the transition from alternative media to social media. At the beginning of the Climate Change Movement Indymedia was declining. At the first two camps there was a healthy Indymedia centre providing internet, sustainable power and computers

There's always a stress between alternative media and outreach to traditional media. They're in competition and to a certain extent they ignored each other at climate camp. But for social change it is important for the two to go hand-in-hand. The outreach to traditional media should support the production of alternative media and alternative media should feed the best of its production into traditional media to amplify its voice. At climate camp there was only lip service to this happening, in reality the two groups split apart quite soon. Originally the groups were supposed to share the same physical space, but this did not last.

The agenda of traditional media outreach was about the shmoozing of traditional journalists.* Whereas alternative media was bogged down in providing real services in a field which to an extent is always dysfunctional. Like oil and water without a conscious emulsifier to hold them together they separated and throughout the life of climate camp the two never really came together. This happened to a certain extent because radical activists, and I use the word “radical” with "" marks, were prejudiced against people who do what is perceived as soft works such as media production. This is part of activist lifestyle. The spikey/floppy debate.

For a time activist/traditional media outreach ploughed separate paths both playing a role. With the growth of blogging and then most importantly social media - Twitter and Facebook. A new group of NGO focused careerists**  championed this initially successful new tool. The traditional media crew ignored social media***, mirroring the attitude of traditional media to social media at those times. The more naive alternative media embraced social media as an effective tool for social change. The realistic alternative media reluctantly embraced it as another form of media outreach, a form of outreach that bypassed the gatekeepers of traditional media.

The growth of social media impacted grassroots alternative media in catastrophic ways. The software NGO careerists**** championed social media and for the naive alternative media people this was the panacea, the future, the one way to gain a voice. Interestingly the traditional media outreach initially saw social media as a threat but they soon with reluctance embraced it. The few remaining radical alt media people struggled to work wih declining relevance, their tools ageing and disintegrating. With the problems of geek culture they had no way to compete with traditional media or the new social media.

Social media took over activist media. Traditional media still had a role as the traditional media belatedly embraced social media and learnt how to use it.

As I highlighted my other article the problem of geek culture damaged radical alternative media. The failure of traditional media outreach to complement activist media led to radical activist media being sidelined. The growth of individualistic blogging while temporarily bolstering individual voices inevitably led to a decline of of our cultural voice. The final blow the wholesale embracing of social media pushed by the NGO careerists.*****

In all these failures we have come full circle to where we started with a dominant hegemonic gatekeeper media world. If we are to rebuild an open media we have to learn from these mistakes and make sure that we do not continue to repeat them.

Lessons to learn

* Work out how to overcome the limitations of geek culture for activist media. Open is the solution here.

* The politics of media. We need to make sure that there is emulsifier in place between radical grassroots media and traditional media outreach. To achieve this the social movements need to rein in and refocus the traditional media message. Media production IS “spikey” and core to activism.

* Radical grassroots media is always incompatible with NGO careerists.****** We need to build in strong enough foundations so that our architecture cannot be subverted by these privileged people. This is for their good and our good.

Conclusion, the most difficult part of successful radical grassroots media is social, cultural and political. In this it's essential that it is not technologically led. Actually technology is the easiest part of radical media. The tools and standards that we need always already exist. What is missing is the willingness and the common-sense to use what we have.

Organise the 21st Century

Lets look at how we acturly organise.

Garssroots alternative streams (and mainstream river with more complexity) can be split into a number of streams

* The horizontals

* The verticals

In the horizontals the organising is actually pretty opaque – lets look at the tributary’s

Organic consensus – this is rare and generally fleeting, a working example is the rainbow gathering, generally as the project settles into place organic consensus is replace with one of the bellow organising strategys. The organic nature comes form shared myths and traditions.

Bureaucratic consensus – common but this tends to be only a surface layer obscuring the actual working practices which would be one of the others. It leads to ossification, see late climate camp process as an example of this. A current project is looking likely the “edge fund”.

Opaque affinity group – the is a group of people who are doing it but you don’t know how or how to take on a role. A lot of alternative are actually run like this, middle/late climatecamp is an example.

Invisible affinity group – the thing just appears as if by magic – lovely as far as it takes you. Given time this will burn out and morph into one of the other forms. Early Climatecamp is a good example of this as is early Indymedia

Open affinity group – the is hope in this hard to sustain one an example would be the tech group at Balcoby anty fracking camp. These are hard/tiring to keep open “naturally” falling into a different strategy.

Then the verticals are more in the open

Democratic centralism (SWP etc) top down and corrupt, good for the nasty crew at the centre that can last a long time by draining new blood from the alternative. Big noise and little effect.

Bureaucratic democracy (NUJ) good as far as it goes but endless meetings and heavy use of cross subsidy to sustain the sluggish process, problematically reactionary dues to glacial adaptation to changes around it.

Career Hierarchy – most trade unions and the labour party, conservative and sluggish, can be captured by functioning opaque/invisible affinity groups and then used for their own ends – an example the new labour project.

Generally the way things are on the river surface bears little relation to the undercurrents bellow the surface. Almost all organising that achieves social change is by opaque or invisible affinity groups. The more permanent static alt infrastructure is Democratic centralism or Bureaucratic democracy. The parts that merge into the mainstream river are career Hierarchy.

We live in turbulent times, enjoy your ride on the choppy river.

Dangerous thoughts - anonymity on the internet

The last 10 years activist technology and its supporting NGO's have been pushing the encrypted web as secure form of communication. From the Indymedia network "not logging IP's" to Wikileaks "secure whistleblowing" to numerous encrypted chat and social networks. Not to mention all the corporate dotcoms "solutions" jumbling up the space.

This naiveté working had driven alt-tech into oblivion, by complexity and obfuscation. Has this in any way been worth while? I would have liked to right this up but you will have to make do with the notes - This is a good example summing up of the issue (from SN-493-Notes.pdf)

TOR: Not so Anonymous after all

Our previous coverage:
● SN#70 (Internet Anonymity) - seven years ago, March 28th, 2008
● SN#394 (TOR Hidden Services) - nearly two years ago, March 8th, 2013
● In our earlier "what is TOR" coverage, we primarily focused upon the cleverness of
TOR's ONION layering cryptography.
http://thestack.com/chakravarty-tor-traffic-analysis-141114
● "81% of Tor users can be de-anonymised by analysing router information, research
indicates."
● Using weak but pervasive built-in Cisco "NetFlow" tech and deliberate traffic
perturbation.● Perturb the traffic from the server a user is connecting to, and watch the exit nodes'
traffic.
● The point was that even very weak "NetFlow" aggregation was enough. More expensive
"per packet" monitoring and analysis was not needed.
Did feds mount a sustained attack on Tor to decloak crime suspects?
● http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2015/01/did-feds-mount-a-sustained-attack-on-tor-t
o-decloak-crime-suspects/
● <quote> Despite the use of Tor, FBI investigators were able to identify IP addresses
that allegedly hosted and accessed the servers, including the Comcast-provided IP
address of one Brian Farrell, who prosecutors said helped manage SilkRoad2. In the
affidavit, DHS special agent Michael Larson wrote:
○ From January 2014 to July 2014, a FBI NY Source of Information (SOI) provided
reliable IP addresses for TOR and hidden services such as SilkRoad2, which
included its main marketplace URL, its vendor URL, its forum URL, and its support
interface (uz434sei7arqunp6.onion). The SOI's information ultimately led to the
identification of SilkRoad2 servers, which led to the identification of at least
another seventeen black markets on TOR.
○ The SOI also identified approximately 78 IP addresses that accessed a vendor
.onion address. A user cannot accidentally end up on the vendor site. The site is
for vendors only, and access is only given to the site by the SilkRoad2
administrators/moderators after confirmation of a significant number of successful
transactions. If a user visits the vendor URL, he or she is asked for a user name
and password. Without a user name and password, the vendor website cannot be
viewed.
The Internet was never designed to provide anonymity... and it doesn't.
● True anonymity is extremely difficult to achieve.
● In a high-latency store & forward system it's somewhat feasible...
● But in any low-latency near real time network, it's arguably impossible.
Review... What is TOR?
● TOR is a LOW LATENCY anonymity-enhancing network service.
● The original designers of TOR made some assumptions and compromises that are
coming back to haunt us now...
● One academic paper put it this way: "Tor aims to protect against a peculiar threat
model, that is unusual within the anonymous communications community. It is
conventional to attempt to guarantee the anonymity of users against a global passive
adversary, who has the ability to observe all network links. It is also customary to
assume that transiting network messages can be injected, deleted or modified and that
the attacker controls a subset of the network nodes. This models a very powerful
adversary, and systems that protect against it can be assumed to be secure in a very
wide range of real world conditions.
Tor, on the other hand, assumes a much weaker threat model. It protects against a
(weaker) non-global adversary, who can only observe a fraction of the network, modify
the traffic only on this fraction, and control a fraction of the Tor nodes.
Furthermore, Tor does not attempt to protect against traffic confirmation attacks, wherean adversary observes two parties that he suspects to be communicating with each
other, to either confirm or reject this suspicion. Instead, Tor aims to make it difficult for
an adversary with a very poor a priori suspicion of who is communicating with whom, to
gain more information.
The Crypto Model:
● Choose a "circuit", default is three nodes.
● Negotiate keys with the 1st node.
● Using the first node, get keys for a randomly chosen second node.
● Using the first and second nodes, get keys for the randomly chosen third node.
● Wrap outgoing traffic in an onion from node 3 to node 2 to node 1.
● The onion model nailed it. No one is attacking that. But...
The Traffic Flow Model: (and the Achilles' heel)
● Deliberate obfuscation of individual packets with random length padding.
● TCP flows are divided into 512 byte cells... And are sent round robin out of the node.
● The power of the global observer
● Much like metadata... traffic pattern analysis is a POWERFUL tool.
● The power of active vs passive attacks
● Being able to "perturb" the flow makes attacks far more powerful.
The extreme power of active assumption confirmation attacks.
● One academic paper: <quote> "Tor does not attempt to protect against traffic
confirmation attacks, where an adversary observes two parties that he suspects to be
communicating with each other, to either confirm or reject this suspicion."
● IOW -- In any near real time network, traffic confirmation is a killer.
Bottom line... *I* would never rely upon TOR alone.
● Consider it, itself, another layer of a more full "Defense in Depth."
● The dream is that someone can sit at home and be fully anonymous. But that's not the
reality.
Defense in depth:
● First of all... DO NOT do anything illegal. Do not do anything that you wouldn't want the
Federal Government to know about.
● Traditional old school & new school.
● Go somewhere as far away as convenient.
● Be anonymous there... Pay with cash.
● Don't go anywhere familiar, don't stay long, don't know anyone, don't talk to anyone.
● Plan ahead to get in and out. Rehearse for speed. Get it done and leave.
● Don't do ANYTHING having to do with your own identity.
● Perhaps purchase a cheap laptop just for this. Pay with cash.
● Override your laptop's default MAC address.
● Use TOR and sacrifice real time performance
● Use widely dispersed global nodes.
● Use many nodes.
● In other words... Tor IS useful, but it's not perfect. So always act as though it's not.

I love affinity group organising

A ruff DRAFT

I love affinity group organising, its a very effective way of getting good stuff done. Lets look at the highs and lows of a few such inspiring groups.

First 2 years climatecamp were affinity group organised (manifested), it worked very well, the was no “democracy”. Process grew and smoothed this in-till the project “ossified” into the naive mess that you see in the film “just do it”, it went down hill when bureaucratic consensuses process brought a highrahcky into existences run by people who had no idea how to do real/horizontal things.

The first few years of London hackspace were afferently group organised (hacked), it was a exceptional frendly and open space, with few fundemental problems. Only later has it started to fall into the arms of “bureaucracy” which some naive people might call democracy. The common space, decision making and creativity are now “ossified” and the trolls are breeding and dispoling the decision making e-mail list.

In both cases the transition came about because of the limitations of affinity group organising – that small close nit groups, while nimbale/very effective move on. The resulting spaces are then filled with less imaginative/creative/lovely people who leave the space open to trolls and blind ego wankers.

Affinity group organising is the best we have for anerkist/libertarian/horizontal ideas about life, but the is no working horizontal process for passing on responsibility to new affinity groups – thus they are annual flowers, they fade and die too soon to be a real alternative to traditional society. What can we do about this?

The same happened to UK indymedia, though that was also different in some ways.

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