Legba Carrefour Responds To Douglas Rushkoff | Digital Nation | FRONTLINE | PBS
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Legba Carrefour responds to Douglas Rushkoff


Legba Carrefour
What are some of the best examples of net activism you have witnessed - or taken part in? What did the net enable that wouldn't have happened otherwise?

Sorry I'm late on joining in. Meatspace activism got in the way pretty
drastically. I know we've moved on but I wanted to start by directly
answering the initial question.

I'm a little apprehensive of the notion of "net activism", largely
because the most successful actions aren't defined simply by
technological interaction, but by networked action. "Net activism" to
me brings to mind a mental space where we divorce who owns the network
from our on-the-ground work. When we use the internet, we're
communicating over spaces we don't own and can never hope to, making
us quasi-legal media squatters. It's something worth keeping in mind
when we talk about this.

I do grassroots radical organizing across the spectrum and I've
witnessed some pretty spectacular uses of network technology,
particularly at large mobilizations (like the old anti-globalization
protests). The one that sticks in my mind was the development of a
project by the Institute for Applied Autonomy called TxtMob back in
about 2003.

TxtMob was this a pre-Twitter microblog service that ran exclusively
via SMS. You would set up a group and you could do group distribution
either through an open group that allowed anyone to post (sending the
message to everyone else subscribed to the group) or an announcement
only list.

I first saw it in action at the 2004 Republican National Convention in
New York. At one point, something like 1200 people suddenly mobilized
on Broadway to disrupt convention delegates who were given free
tickets to Broadway shows, followed by dozens of spontaneous actions
all over Mid-town Manhattan.

TxtMob eventually shut down after Federal prosecutors tried to
subpoena records for the site and the owners decided to simply trash
the servers rather than turning it over. It's also definitely been
technologically surpassed, but the model it set up was a great way to
organize people on an instant level.

I'm actually a little skeptical of the utility of something like
Twitter to on the ground mobilizations. I've used it for a lot of
protests in Washington, DC and because of how it's set up and what
it's for, it seems more suited to sparking and directing dialogue on
that specific network. So you can publicize what you're doing and get
other people to pick up and repeat it and because it's an open network
and searchable, you can get the conversation up to pretty high levels
in the corporate media chain.

The repetition bit is really interesting: Ten years ago, one of the
most successful ways of rapidly communicating at protests was to have
people at the site of whatever thing was taking place would, in
unison, say a short message, fall silent, people behind them would
then repeat the message, fall silent, and so on until 5000 people
learned something like where the cops were within 3 minutes. Tools
like Twitter have the capacity to replicate on a global scale.

You saw something like that happen with the uprising in Iran over the
last year. Twitter wasn't so much useful for coordinating protests due
to the near-total shutdown of service inside Iran, but the story got
picked up and repeated until the entire world was watching. And
because people are repeating things in their own words, it allows for
information resonance instead of one-way broadcast like you get with
traditional corporate media.

posted February 2, 2010

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