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Overactivism: the proof November 4, 2009

Posted by Farzana Rasool in Uncategorized.
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The first post on this blog was one about the meaninglessness that activism messages attain when they all appear together. People don’t know what to focus on and what to do once they do focus on something.

The argument was that today’s cyber ‘click-through activism’ has little or no effect on the causes they ‘support’. Joining Facebook groups and reading emails that mean little more to you than spam don’t actually do anything to help the cause it’s based on, especially when you forget what cause it is immediately after your click is released.

To help prove this point, an experiment was carried out with a specific Facebook group.

The note by the current administrator, Zubair Adam Mahomed explains the situation best:

“This group was initially, “stop the injustices in Palestine”, then somehow it turned to “stop the media bias against Israel” which horrified me.

I understand that most people would have joined this group as a click to seem like I’m doing something, maybe appease the conscience demons inside us, however not many people seemed to notice when the name changed to the horrifying “stop the media bias against Israel”.

Seeing as there was no admin I became the admin, and decided to make this into a cyber-activism experiment, to see how many people will notice the absurdity, I chose the randomest fruit that came to my mind, which was a lemon.”

And so from being a group about stopping injustices in Palestine, to stopping media bias against Israel, we now have “Lemon trees are our salvation”.

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The best part about this is that only one member seemed to have noticed the change from a political group to a lemon appreciation one.

A new member, Günther Josef Schroffner who noticed the changes made to this group said: “It’s funny how many people you see joining these “activist groups” and voicing their opinions….but how many of them get off facebook and actually do some shit to help the situation? Typing on your keyboard isn’t going to make some rebel put his gun down.”

Point made.

Hacktivism: how does it make you feel? August 24, 2009

Posted by Farzana Rasool in Uncategorized.
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Here’s a chance for some mixed feelings: when we generally think of hacking we think ‘bad’. Think of activism and we usually think ‘good’. Combine the two and now tell me…how does that make you feel?

I’m still quite undecided myself, as to how I feel about ‘hacktivism’, the term adopted to describe the use of digital tools to achieve politically motivated goals and ideological agendas.

As I tried to so eloquently put it above, on the one hand I have a general negative feel for the art of hacking. Breaking into a space which is not your own and manipulating computer code just to suit your means doesn’t sit right with me but at the same time activism does. I am all for finding means to get your message out and to draw attention to a specific cause. Now I just have to decide whether I disapprove of hacking more than I support activism.

Kim Jin-kyung reports : “According to Australian hacker Julian Assange, the earliest form of hacktivism attacks date back to October 1989, when systems at the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration were infiltrated by the anti-nuclear Worms Against Nuclear Killers (WANK) worm.”

But there have also been several recent incidents of ‘hacktivism’, like the cyber attacks on South Korean government websites which are believed to have a political motivation.

Then there was also the DDoS, or distributed-denial-of-service, attacks on Twitter, Facebook, Youtube and LiveJournal earlier this month in an effort to silence a pro-Georgian blogger in an act of hacktivism.

This is the part where you all (not me of course) go: “Oh no! Not Twitter. This hacktivism thing must be bad. No more mixed feelings.”

But wait.

“Stop funding terrorism otherwise we will pawn all your cyber properties on 26th of every month.”

This was the message displayed by hacktivists on the websites of various governmental departments, educational institutions, religious groups and banks in Pakistan. ‘Mission 26th’ (the name of the website), carried the message of the Ahmedabad Cyber Army that was hacked into the websites on the anniversary of the Ahmedabad serial blasts. The message also pays tribute to victims of those blasts.

And the mixed feelings return.

Kevin Mahaffey, founder and chief technical officer of the U.S. firm Flexilis, said that these recent hackings have proved how much cyber terrorism has improved over the years.

But do we really think it’s fair to label something of this nature as terrorism? Especially something so non-violent?

William Jackson addresses this concern and looks at cases of cyber attacks in the US, South Korea as well as in Australia. He blames the attacks on tense international situations and claims that with a fragmented global community, the attacks are likely to increase.

Such a claim is disheartening but at the same time we must realise that cyber warfare allows so many small countries to have a voice and draw attention to their issues in a manner disproportionate to their influence. These countries now have a chance to attack and a chance to be formidable opponents in a way that would never be possible for them militarily.

Jackson has a similar view, saying: “North Korea has a real image problem, and most of the world does not take its threats seriously. But if someone is kept out of Amazon.com for a few hours, North Korean concerns become a factor in his or her life.”

So we see the positives and the negatives but still…how does this make us feel? I’m still kind of deciding but I think my vote lies in the positive. As long as serious issues can be aired and addressed because of it, hacktivism does have its role to play.

Toothpasting censorship (Part 2) August 16, 2009

Posted by Farzana Rasool in Uncategorized.
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Reactions to censorship

So let’s get straight to it. Why toothpaste? No it’s not because you have to squeeze some into the eyes of every person that tries to censor your contributions online or because it works some miracle for protecting your system against censorship, like hairspray on a leather couch to get marks out (really does work, I swear).

GetUp is an online activist group that began an ad against online censorship called Censordyne. It parodies a brand of toothpaste and is primarily about the internet filtering policy by the Australian federal government.

Doesn’t this remind you of that movie “Evolution”, where the big fat alien suffers death by Head and Shoulders?

The ad is spreading virally through Twitter and Youtube. The group’s website includes a search function that offers a preview of what Google will be like with the policy in place. Classified sites will be blocked.

The funniest part about the ad on censorship? It’s being censored!

GetUp had planned for the ad to be run on Qantas flights so that politicians could see the ad and get the message. The airline has now pulled out and refused to run the ad saying that it will not promote political advertising.

For another bit of irony in reactions to censorship, Tunisian citizens are crying out against the probable blocking of social networking sites, Youtube and Dailymotion, by turning to a third one. They have started a Facebook group. They hope to use the group to put pressure on the government and hopefully make them unblock the sites.

Isn’t online activism against censorship like anti-obesity threats being challenged by a group that meets at a pizza evening?

I wonder what makes them think the government won’t just close down Facebook next?

Oh wait, they did.

In August last year Facebook itself was blocked by the Tunisian Internet Agency but this group is hoped to be just the first phase in the campaign. The next step will be to write to the newspapers and get journalists involved in the censorship that it is deemed to have a political undertone.

Jamel Arfaoui reports: “Over the last few months, internet users have received “404: Page Not Found” errors when trying to surf the two websites [Youtube and Daily Motion]. Observers say the motive behind the blockage might be political, coming as it does in the months before Tunisia’s presidential and parliamentary elections.”

Online activism is clearly under threat if we remember that the Iranaian government blocked social networking sites quite recently and the Chinese government also did so during the 2009 Tiannamen commemoration days.

Ahem, so about that guide…well it’s either that or I need to find a pair of really dark glasses.

The first point on the EFF ’staying safe online’ activist guide a) Avoid publishing material under your own name, or including facts that might be clues to your identity, unless you are willing to take the risk that authorities will target you for reprisals.”

Fighting censorship…with toothpaste? August 5, 2009

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In my usual online meanderings I recently came across something that made me give a smug little snort of contention.

I found a guide to staying safe online by the EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation). It’s described as a practical guide to using the internet safely under a repressive regime.

I immediately thought: “How spy movie,” and immediately set it aside as ridiculous but decided to do a little research on online censorship anyway. I took back my smug little snort so fast…

In the past month alone there have been many acts of censorship, mostly by arresting digital activists or restricting their actions in some way.

Egypt

The Egyptian government is already censoring every other media platform but now decided that that isn’t enough. They didn’t expect the rise in the use of online media and tools by citizens to speak out against abuses, repressions and detentions. So now instead of just cracking down on offline activists they have reached online activists as well.

They haven’t actually defaced or censored any blogs or websites yet but have arrested several activist bloggers.

A report on the situation says that the Egyptian government has detained about 43 internet activists during the course of 2008.

Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan has contributed to the censorship phenomenon by arresting a political satirist who dressed in a donkey suit in an online video to mock the government’s forking out of ridiculous amounts for donkeys.

The donkey man and a fellow activist were arrested on fabricated charges according to amnesty international in a public statement.

Both activists are said tobe well known for using social networks, Youtube, Facebook and Twitter to comment and provide information on the political situation of their country.

Iran

Evgeny Morozov relates an anecdote where a colleague’s friend was asked by airport immigration control officers if she had a Facebook account, when flying to Iran.

Although she said no, they searched her name anyway and then noted down the names of all her friends.
This means that the Iranian government is paying close attention to Facebook and Twitter which they now use as tools for intelligence gathering and this is possibly the only reasons why the networks have not been blocked.

Very soon Iranians will be required to give their user-names for Facebook and Twitter when filling out official forms and no doubt will have to explain how they came to have certain friends.

US

Members of the US House Committee have rejected amendments to the Financial Services Appropriation Bill that would have protected free speech. It would have prevented the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) from restoring the so-called Fairness Doctrine regulations to US airwaves.

This is in blatant disregard of the Constitution which clearly highlights the freedom of speech. Independant newssite,WND (WorldNetDaily) also reported on the alarm that occurred due to the nomination of Julius Genachowski to head the FCC.

It is expected that with Genachowski’s nomination comes censorship and regulation of internet speech and ‘net neutrality’ regulations that will allow the FCC to dictate what communications internet providers should allow.

Iran, US, Europe

The power of the 3 most popular social networks flows both ways. Twitter, Facebook and Youtube are used to connect and empower people but can also be used against them.

Timothy Karr specifically looks at the abuse of DPI (Deep Packet Inspection), which is a content-filtering technology. It “allows network managers to inspect, track and target content from users of the Internet and mobile phones,” says Karr.

European and North American companies sell DPI to enable their business customers “to see, manage and monetize individual flows to individual subscribers.”

It gets worse when this technology is now sought out by regimes in China, Iran and Burma, for more negative purposes.

It has been used in Tehran to hinder free speech, pinpoint the location of digital activists and hunt them down.

So why toothpaste? Look out for the next post. All will be explained.

Tweet and save the world? July 29, 2009

Posted by Farzana Rasool in Uncategorized.
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Twitter will change the world. Twitter will stop global warming. Twitter will better educate children. Twitter will swoop in and stop women from being abused.
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And all this will be done in no more than 140 characters.

Twitter has morphed from being just another social networking tool. It is now used as a news tool by media houses, a campaign tool by politicians and more recently a mobilising tool by online activists.

There was quite a political buzz around the micro-blog platform during the US election campaign in 2008 and following the disputed Iranian elections this year. This lead to the social network being used more creatively to try and mobilise people behind certain causes.

UNICEF’s Eminent Advocate for Children, Queen Rania of Jordan, is someone who believes in twitteras an activism tool. She says in an interview,queen-rania2 “I’ve seen Twitter evolve into a dynamic and diverse medium for action as well as communication. Whether it’s raising money for malaria nets or promoting your company brand, Twitter answers much more than just “what are you doing?” It’s expanded to “what is the world doing, and what can the world do?”

I find it quite difficult to imagine how questions like these can sufficiently be answered in just 140 characters at a time.

Twitter does have its advantages for activists. They can personally share their views and opinions with followers and can give their ideas as well. Even if people don’t engage with activist tweets they are atleast made more aware if they read posts about certain causes. Also, perhaps the answer is not meant to be found in single 140 character tweets but in the ‘crowd’, the sourcing of ideas, connections, material and even money using Twitter.

Queen Rania says Twitter is “about using social media for social change: creating a community of advocates who can use their voices on behalf of the voiceless, or leverage their talents, skills, knowledge, and resources to put more children into classrooms, or pressure their elected representatives to get global education top of the agenda.”

The question still is, how much of this they can do in just 140 characters?

Managing director of World Wide Worx, analyst Steven Ambrose points out that Twitter allows for no context and that is a problem. Due to this lack of context there will be misunderstandings and missed messages. 140 characters that are missed can be crucial.

Some see Twitter as the platform for the advocating of human rights since it is a space that reminds everyone that we are all equal. But do people really see it this way? It doesn’t seem so since they are still fascinated by the fact that they can now speak to Ashton Kutcher and John McCain.

As mentioned earlier, Twitter no doubt has its advantages for the Barrack Obamas and the Queen Ranias of the world, but for how long will the everyday person stay attentive before they move on to the next new social networking tool? How long before they tire of the spam as businesses and bloggers also push their own agendas?

Other than just the spam, people will find Twitter just too much. Eventually it will be more annoying than anything to keep up with so many people. Follow more than just a handful of people and you are bound to begin to detest the clutter.
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There are 3rd party applications that can help, but not every user will be able to download the software.

The medium is the message

There is the idea that Twitter is about the triumph of humanity and not technology. It’s seen as something that people use to become smarter and to make the world a better place, but this could just refer to social networking tools in general. Any space where people are allowed to exchange ideas and opinions can be described as such.

The lengthy commentary after the interview with Queen Rania is evidence of thoughts and ideas being shared and negotiated. The difference with twitter and the main difference for me is that they would have had to say all of that in 140 characters. How rich could the conversation have been if it had to be restricted to that?

140 characters make it too short for context and this is bound to cause misunderstandings and frustrations and people won t want to use it for anything more than fun. People may continue to use it to follow their specific group of friends and favourite celebrities but will shy away from serious issues because the platform isn’t practical for such discussions.

Another thing to think about is whether the importance of serious issues become diminished when they are placed on Twitter. Does the medium become the message, meaning that they are seen more light-heartedly because they are now associated with social networking and following celebrities? It’s kind of like a honk your horn for cancer day, it becomes a game and the message is missed.

One solution is that Twitter can be used to provide links to full articles and lengthier discussions around certain causes but how many people will click on links? And for those that do, how many links can they possibly follow? Digital activism does have a small place on Twitter but it is too restricted to give Twitter the chance to stop starvation or put every child in a classroom.

…but it could May 28, 2009

Posted by Farzana Rasool in Uncategorized.
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I’m not a one-eyed, small-minded ranter, though it may seem like I am at times. I do acknowledge the bright side of human nature that is not always self-feeding and egocentric and I do see the not-dark side of petitioning.

The good

The speed at which large amounts of people can be reached no doubt gives a huge shoulder up to digital petitions. They’re a way to close the gap between citizens and their governments. See how some governments are capitalising on this.
 

As pointed out by Handmadebyava in a comment on Sign for a cause, any cause, it doesn’t make a difference, there are those whose intentions are sincere. These are users who judge the success of their petitions not just by how many signatures they attain, but by what difference it eventually makes. The same goes for some who do the signing, they actually follow up on what the petition has achieved. Not everyone signs and then looks away before the ink dries.

 

 Petitions cannot legally enforce any change in policy but a large number of signatures enforce a moral authority on governments, that can’t be  ignored. Anthony Williams gives the example of how Nelson Mandela’s release from prison can, in part, be attributed to petitions that were presented to the United Nations in contempt of the Apartheid Government.

Another case is on Sheralyn Tay’s site on digital petitions where a Chinese labour activist was saved from the death penalty because of petitions. This, however, is not always the case.

 

People who work full-time jobs and people who have children and so, little extra time, can participate in politics where, without petitions, they would have had to remain passive observers. They can now contribute and help make meaningful changes in society.

 

It’s a way for the voiceless masses to advocate their views. They can literally put their name behind or against a social occurrence, but the problem lies in who gets to see their names in conjunction with others, all screaming out against some atrocity or the other?

 

Williams says: “A problem…is the lack of framework for translating the results of these petitions into action. There is no way of citizens knowing what, if any, the result of their efforts will be.”

 

What then, is the point of exercising your voice if it’s still unheard?

 

The bad

 Yet again, it’s a way to make your special self feel important and to help rid you of your sense of social responsibility. It’s something to put your name against when you’re chatting to other soccer mums or playing a game of golf with your colleagues. You, you, you.

 

How often do signees make sure that the petitions eventually get to someone who can make a change? It’s become more like a competition to see which petition gets the most signatures.

 

“Whatever their cause, supporters say it’s exciting and gratifying to see the number of signatures on their petitions grow throughout the days and weeks they’ve been in cyberspace,” says Duncan Martell in an article on online petitions.

 

 Even when petitions are carried forward to the right people or authorities, they still face other obstacles. Authorities don’t always pay attention to them and how are they to determine the authenticity of the petitions and the signatures? There is no certain way for them to verify that there’s only one signature per person.

 

Stevenson mentions another hardship which is that MPs or those in positions of authority will become overloaded with e-petitions that need consulting and then the situation will become impractical.

 

“They could have to become editors; struggling with the “trivial or mischievous” time-wasters… confidence in parliament might even be eroded. And the whole affair could prove damaging in terms of costs.”

 

Question: do we really want petitions to change policy considering that they may not always be representative? Usually people who are anti- something will petition and those that are satisfied will be silent. How do we account for them or for people on the other side of the digital divide that don’t have access to the required technology?

 

The ugly

 This section is named ugly after the horrible sponsors behind petitions (yes people sponsoring activism!) and because I think MP’s are quite ugly. I don’t know for sure but it’s just a feeling, like you know that sense you have that broccoli tastes terrible even though you’ve never actually eaten any?

 

Check out TruthOrFiction for more on petition sponsors and how companies use petitions to compose marketing mailing lists.

 

And the seriously strange

This is what happens when petitioning becomes easy:

41,000 people signed up on the UK government’s Downing Street e-petition site to make Jeremy Clarkson Prime Minister.                                                                                              

 

Examples of highest ranking petitions on petition sites are one for legalising marijuana in the UK and another for a fifth season of a science-fiction show.

 

Martell provides another nutter: “In light of these concerns, there’s even been an online petition petitioning the petition website to stop posting online petitions. Got that?”

Sign for a cause, any cause, it doesn’t make a difference May 20, 2009

Posted by Farzana Rasool in Uncategorized.
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Slackitivism is the word I didn’t know I was looking for when I wrote the post on Overactivism.

Andrew Taylor describes the term on his blog as “an on-line trend that combines our internal need to make a difference with the personal inertia that keeps us from actually making an effort.”

This is the part where I give a high-pitched giggle of excitement (and embarrassingly enough, a snort) in the realization that they actually have a word for my thought. This is exactly what I tried to get across in my previous post.

It’s not that people don’t care anymore or don’t want to make a difference, they just seem to have adopted this idea that they can make all the changes they want, for any cause they choose, just by raising the tip of their index fingers (not even the whole thing!- for those of you who have now fake-clicked your mouse, yes I know you did, and yes you do actually lift the whole finger just a little bit, but you know what I mean).

Somehow users have come to believe that their names now, all of a sudden, hold enough weight so that if they simply attach it to a cause and don’t actually do anything else to further that cause, they have done enough to make a significant change.

 This egocentric nature of users is encouraged by the commercialization that comes with the digital revolution. Online content is increasingly based on what users want rather than on what’s necessary or important enough to be made public knowledge. Online journalists tiptoe around the ever-important user when deciding everything from the story angle to the number of paragraphs (but this is a whole other debate). And now this feeling of self-importance has crossed over into the activism arena.

Activists, or more likely, people who were until recently just targets of activism messages, are finding more and more ways to make activism easier.

Follow the logic with me: If everything is made easier then no one tries hard anymore or no one has to try hard anymore and if no one tries hard then no one is actually active and so the meaning of activism is essentially lost or changed. Supporting a cause just does not require much activity anymore in this digital age. Other than activist emails, tweets and Facebook groups, we now have the digital petition/ online petition/ e-petition.

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E(asy)-Petition

These come in the form of emails where you are asked to add your name to the bottom of a list and then forward it to as many people as you can, but there are now also sites that allow you to create digital petitions.There are also sites where you can just choose causes and then sign up on petitions that have already been created for them. Users can create whole websites for their petition in order to explain it and provide more information; alternatively petition pages can be added to already existing websites.

Check out this site for tips on how to go about creating a good petition and what to watch out for when signing one.

In the true spirit of the digital age there is now an alternative to simply signing your name as is the traditional method of petitions. Petitions can now be carried out with pictures.

Flickr is a photo sharing application that is now being used for petitions. Instead of signing up their names to emails and passing them on, people supporting the Starbucks photo petition that aims to help Ethiopian farmers benefit more from their coffee, take pictures of themselves with signs claiming their support and add it to the photo pool.

Ahem, now may I urge you to scroll up a bit and remind yourself about my comment on the egocentric nature of digital users? Of course it’s not about the Ethiopian coffee farmers, it’s about taking a cute picture of yourself and trying to hide the vanity of putting it up in a public space behind a little hand-written sign that took no more than a minute to write out, saying “I support coffee farmers.”

How are you supposed to be taken seriously?

You claim to be concerned about farmers who aren’t getting the best out of their hard work and the hardest work you put in is making sure your hair is set and you’re wearing the earrings that go best with your eyes before you look at the birdie. What are all your pictures with recently-flicked hair and cheesy grins supposed to do, even as a collective, for the Ethiopian farmers?

In her blog on cyberactivism, Sheralyn Tay says: “Online petitions are a vital part of the new wave of activism; speed and the ability to reach international audiences and large numbers make web petitions invaluable in garnering public awareness and consolidating support for activist causes.”

Granted. The digital age does now provide ‘activities’ like petitions with the means to reach extremely large amounts of people in short spaces of time. So the ‘e’ of e-petition is a plus. What about the ‘petition’ part? Petitioning, for me, is a political action that has been in decline for some time and this does not change with the digital sibling.

Alex Stevenson says on his site about UK politics (http://www.politics.co.uk/feature/rise-the-e-petition-$1224577.htm): “A 2003 survey saw only three per cent of MPs saying they thought petitions were an effective procedure. One-fifth of petitions do not even receive a reply from the government.”

Some petition sites name ‘success stories’ in terms of the amounts of signatures they get, but where’s the success in that? What has actually been done for the cause?

See next post for more on digital petitions.

digital-signing

We don’t all fight for trees and peace May 13, 2009

Posted by Farzana Rasool in Uncategorized.
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It’s been a while since hooded members of the Ku Klux Clan were seen walking around freely or standing around a campfire singing Kumbaya.

This does not mean that racist groups no longer exist or that activism for negative causes like racism is dead. The world would, admittedly, be much happier if hate groups had all died along with the little man with the small moustache (no, I don’t mean Mugabe, although…) who killed millions just because of their Semitic heritage, but this is not the case.

Not all types of activism are positive or progressive. There are many instances, on the digital platform as well, of prejudiced groups. There are many examples, specifically, of sexist and racist groups. These are just two types of negative activism themes.

The digital platform may actually be making the existence of these groups easier than it would have been without it. The main reason for this is the considerable softening or altogether disappearance of fear.

A study conducted by Kathleen Blee (1998) on racist activism groups in America suggested fear is a dominating factor. There is fear on both sides of the activism. Hate activists are afraid of the authorities and police coming after them, and the people they targeted with their messages or as subjects of their messages, both had to fear the actions of the activists.

On the internet this fear dries up because users of blogs and forums can choose to be anonymous or use avatars. Hate activists can air their views and publicly display their messages without worrying about being tracked by authorities. In the same way, users wishing to oppose these views can leave anonymous comments on blogs and websites without worrying about being targeted and physically harmed. The digital age then provides a simple platform for ‘alternative’ activist groups.

Racist activism is prominent on the internet. There are the usual websites and blogs that are created by one or a few people and then gain support by means of comments. There is also the instance of racist Facebook groups that gain support by other users actually signing up as members of these groups.

This type of activism can be seen retrogade, the case where progression is not just stopped but counteracted. In South Africa especially, where the issue of race is so salient and where it is so important for citizens to try and move past race as a dividing factor, this type of activism becomes problematic.

The general idea that it is the older citizens who have experienced apartheid and its horrors is not necessarily the case. Some of the racist groups on Facebook are created by high-school students, the very people that are arguably supposed to be moving beyond race. This is an example of retrogade activism then, where users mobilise towards a morally repugnant goal like racism, xenophobia, hate crime, religious persecution etc.

In response to the growing rise of hate groups on social websites, organisations like Facebook have reacted by shutting down groups in support of the KKK and its ideals. Google has taken the opposing stance and refuses to shut down racist blogs, citing the right to freedom of speech.

Culture Jamming May 5, 2009

Posted by Farzana Rasool in Uncategorized.
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When we’re passionate about something, we like to say that we “eat, sleep and breathe” it. Whether or not we consciously love brand names we usually do the same for them as well. We become blind slaves to big corporations and brands that control our lives from their steely grey watchtowers with pet vultures that circle overhead and report back on our behaviour.

In today’s world citizens are transformed into consumers. Commercial culture dominates and not everyone likes it. Those who don’t, have many reactions, like protesting against the multinational corporations or boycotting their products, and others choose to culture jam.

In his 2008, award winning film, student director, Chad Gillespie calls culture jamming “an organized, social activist effort that aims to counter the bombardment of consumption oriented messages in the mass media (Bennett),” in his piece called What Is This Jam In My Culture?

In plain English, culture jammers act out against the consumer orientation of the mass media who represent large corporations but fail to show all sides. To culture jammers, adverts are little more than propaganda for established interests.

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“With a sleight of hand, culture jammers take the mickey out of aggressively marketed corporations,” says Jared Tham of Adbusters.

There are several different forms that culture jamming can take and they develop along with new technologies.

Subvertising as one of the most popular methods of culture jamming takes popular adverts of big brands and changes them in order to direct thought to the negative aspects of the products.
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These parodied ads are then put up as posters or billboards in public spaces and more recently, sent as emails and generally distributed on the internet. The technology needed to modify the ads and pictures are now more advanced and the digital effects of the message can be of greater impact.

The Yes Men, culture jammers who engage in performance art, started off by presenting at conferences. They don’t don capes and masks or wear unsightly red underwear over their pants (although, at times they came close). They simply pretend to be representatives of companies like Dow Chemical or of organisations like the World Trade Organisation (WTO). In this way they could publicise immoral or negative acts of these companies.

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They too have entered the digital arena and have created a documentary that showcases some of their efforts, including one time when they pretended to represent McDonald’s in a presentation to University students, trying to convince them that McDonald’s was planning to make patties from human excrement. They also created a fake WTO webpage that looks a lot like the real version, where they have articles such as the one entitled “WTO Announces Formalized Slavery Market For Africa.”

YouTube is another digital platform used for culture jamming. “And what is YouTube if not a space that allows for people to articulate rejections of the one-way flow model when it comes to mass media texts?” asks Elizabeth Clark in an article for the Journal of Communication, Culture and Technology.

She also says: “YouTube and digital technology make culture jamming a viable activity for many more people than an action like altering a billboard.”

This benefit may counter itself though because while it allows many more to engage in culture jamming it also prohibits many others due to the digital divide. Could this then also lead to an elitist division? To put it crudely, if you’re wealthy enough you can sit and culture jam from the comfort of your own home, but if you’re not then sorry, but you’ve got to get up there and deface that billboard.

Problems

Gillespie’s research found little to prove that culture jamming impacted on targeted corporations in any substantial way.

“No corporations had suffered any serious repercussions due to the acts of the “jammers,” which made me question the effectiveness of the activist’s actions,” said Gillespie.

But making users question things they would never have may be the larger goal in these situations, since change can only come after consciousness.

Another argument against this kind of goal-oriented pranksterism is that it sometimes helps draw positive attention to the brands. Some brands take elements from counterculture and use it in their campaigns. Sprite uses this in its “Image is Nothing” campaign.

Culture Jammer’s Manifesto: “…We will uncool their billion-dollar brands with uncommercials on TV, subvertisements in magazines and anti-ads right next to theirs in the urban landscape…”

For some sites that use digital technologies to culture jam: https://www.msu.edu/~devossda/415/activities/jamming.html

Check out more culture jamming videos:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2pfbqpXSUp8&feature

CNN story on culture jamming ads:
http://youtube.com/watch?v=O59clqhoszc

Overactivism April 28, 2009

Posted by Farzana Rasool in Uncategorized.
5 comments

You have 29 unread emails. 6 of these are important. Of the remaining 23, 15 are activist emails drawing my attention to a bomb-blast here or a rape or four there. What do I do? I delete them along with the Facebook updates that I simply mark and destroy without even opening. 

No, come now, don’t judge.

 I do have some sort of a reaction first. I feel a small sense of pride and self-worth. “Oh how nice that she [sender of activism email] holds me in high regard, thinking that I’m the type of person who will respond and make a change.” With the smile of this thought on my face I push delete…except for the times when guilt forces me to open, read, sympathise and then push delete.

It’s not that I don’t care, I just don’t know which email or invite to care about. Time and practicality tells me that I cannot read and answer every single “help us/them” thrown my way.

The digital age provides the best platform for passing messages that can reach large numbers in small spaces of time. But the most important message that needs to be sent out on every platform of the internet and with every new technology is the one that every primary school teacher repeats like a mantra (it obviously doesn’t sink in): “I can’t hear you when you all scream at once”.

At every login and password one is bombarded with cries to “Save Palestine” or “Fight for Gender Equality.” Email inboxes are full, Facebook group invites are never-ending (how many groups must you have for the same cause? If it really is that important why not merge and join support bases?), and cell phones are beeping their ancestors’ little antennas off with automated SMSes.

The Digital Age as a brilliant era for activism opportunities is being wasted due to overload on potential supporters. There are so many messages thrown around that none of them are meaningful anymore. There are issues that are genuinely cared about by those being targeted but they become little more than spam when they attack them constantly.

Perhaps part of the problem is that online activism blurs the line between activists and the people they’re supposed to reach. Just as blogging has opened up the field of journalism to any member of the public, now anyone can become an activist without really being that active at all. Gone are the days when those who put serious thought into influential campaigns, organised marches and stood on corners handing out informative pamphlets were called activists. Now all you have to do is click on a button to forward an email or click on friends’ names to send out invites to groups. This means that the number of ‘activists’ has increased and so has the span of the message, in an ‘information overload’ kind of way.

The solution does not require keeping activism off digital platforms but it does require me being forced to sour my tongue by stating a cliché: Leave it to the professionals. If you feel strongly about a cause then by all means fight for it and reach out to others to help in the fight but don’t ‘do your bit’ by passing along messages that weren’t created by you in the first place.

Leave it to blogging.

This way only those who are willing to put in the proper time and effort and who are actually being active about a cause will have a platform for their messages. In the same way those who are interested in specific causes can search for them when they want to and then read up as much as they like without feeling like they ‘re guilted into it or facing information about it every day, without actually taking anything in. Activist blogs or websites will retain the meaning in messages about causes, instead of letting them be lost to millions of mark-and-deletes.