September 11, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Early next year I’ll be discussing strategies for opposing the TPPA at Linux Conference Australia, in Perth:
This presentation suggests a variety of strategies and tactics that the Linux community might adopt when acting on political issues, with the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) being of particular concern at the moment. The TPPA is a multinational free trade agreement (FTA), and will probably build on and extend the damaging provisions imposed by the 2004 Australia-US FTA. The extent of damage likely to be done by the TPPA is not yet known, as only draft copies have been leaked and the negotiations remain secret.
Currently, free and open source communities often find ways deal with problematic laws, such as the copyright extensions and restrictions on circumventing technological restrictions brought in by the 2004 Australia-US FTA, with clever hacks of the legal system (such as copyleft and creative commons licenses); workarounds which meet the letter of the law (such as providing Linux installations without potentially-illegal codecs); or ignoring laws which seem unlikely to be enforced. However, all of these strategies have problems. Hacks can only go so far; relying on a lack of enforcement is risky; and workarounds make free and open source software less accessible for novice users and others who would prefer software that works out of the box. Part of the work of promoting free and open source software must therefore involve activism that is directly aimed at the TPPA and other FTAs.
Important activism did take place around the 2004 Australia-US FTA, including work within Linux Australia led by Rusty Russell, Kimberlee Weatherall and others. Much of this took a similar form to activism currently happening around the TPPA: the focus has been on lobbying, letter-writing, and media relations. Coalition-building and other activism around the TPPA, as with the 2004 FTA, has predominantly taken place within tech communities. However, while this work has been valuable, it may be useful to explore ways to build alliances with other communities and to draw on a broader range of activist tactics. This discussion will draw on some of the lessons learned from relatively successful attempts to oppose FTAs in the past, including protests in the late 1990s around the Multilateral Agreement on Investment and World Trade Organization negotiations, as well more recent FTAs such as those between the US and Malaysia and the Free Trade Area of the Americas proposed by the US. Drawing on this work, I will suggest tactics for effective action, including use of a spectrum of allies model, organizational models which facilitate tiered levels of participation, and creative use of the Overton window. I will also outline some of the key groups opposing the TPPA outside of the tech community in both Australia and the US.
I really enjoyed last year’s LCA, including the commitment by the conference organisers to creating a safe and inclusive space, and it looks like there are some great speakers this year (even from my non-tech perspective). The miniconfs also look well worth checking out.
January 30, 2013 § Leave a Comment
I began the day with a couple of talks looking at FOSS projects for disaster support. Paul Gardner-Stephen started off talking about The Serval Project, which aims to provide secure communications for those in need. Mostly, “in need” means “affected by a disaster”, which was defined broadly as a situation where a community’s ability to respond is overwhelmed. The project allows the set-up of mobile-phone mesh networks that allow encrypted voice telephony, encrypted short messaging, file/data dissemination, and crowd-sourced mapping. Using mesh networks, rather than piggy-backing on existing infrastructure, is useful in situations where mobile networks or other communications services have been taken down by accident, or by the government or other forces. Theoretically, it will be possible to drop a single phone into an area and use it to copy the software onto other phones around the place to create the mesh. It should also be possible to transfer data by moving the phones around, even by bicycle or on foot. They’re also thinking about ways to develop mesh-based social networks which would be able to tie in to existing social networks like Twitter.
Kate Chapman talked next, about open source and open data for humanitarian responses with OpenStreetMap. OpenStreetMap aims to provide a worldwide map produced and available openly – the analogy she gave was ‘like Wikipedia but for maps’. She was talking particularly about the use of OpenStreetMap in humanitarian responses to disaster: mapping data is helpful for marking hazards (including violence), as well as for other tasks like coordinating clean-ups. Open data also helps communities to manage some of these processes themselves. A lot of this work is done with university graduates, particularly in geography, but more skilled volunteers and interns are still needed.
After lunch I spoke on Free and Open Source Software and Activism, to an encouragingly-full room (with, I found out later, more people who wanted to get in but couldn’t because the room was full): there were also plenty of questions. There was also a request for some ‘anarchism 101′ reading. I’ve been meaning to put this together for a while (and failing), but here’s a few starting-points:
- Bob Black’s Anarchism 101 gives a useful overview, from the quick look I’ve had at it.
- We are everywhere, put out by the Notes from Nowhere collective, is great to dip into for more detail. The introductory stories at the beginning of each chapter are particularly useful.
- “Introduction to Anarchism”, parts 1 and 2, in Avenue 1 and 2, give a more in-depth discussion.
- Refusing to wait: anarchism and intersectionality is a good look at feminism and anarchism.
If you’re interested in anything I raised in my talk, please feel free to contact me on here, Twitter, or elsewhere.
After me, ironically, there was a talk by the DSD guy, which apparently LCA wasn’t allowed to film. From the looks of it (on Twitter), I probably should have snuck over to the other room and seen Geoff Huston’s talk on the IPocalypse. Ben Powell also covered copyright issues in the final session, looking at how recent changes to legislation will affect the future of cloud-based and streaming services.
The day will end with Birds of a Feather meetups. We already snuck in one BoF, looking at FOSS and humanitarian responses, over afternoon tea. While there wasn’t much time available, Tim McNamara had some useful things to say about ‘hfoss’: there’s a lot of need for good documentation and bug reporting, and for venues with wifi to provide support for teams on the ground. For those interested, there’s a list of helpful links on the lca2013 wiki. I’ll probably end up at the free software activism meetup for the BoFs, surprising no-one.
January 24, 2013 § 1 Comment
Next week I’ll be heading over to Canberra for Linux Conference Australia, where I’ll be giving a couple of talks. These will have a slightly less academic focus than many of my conference presentations: while they still draw significantly on my research, I’ll be giving a freer rein to my activist interests. During the main program I’ll be talking about free and open source software and activism:
Wikileaks, the Arab Spring, and the Occupy movement have made the need for user-controlled digital technologies clear, as activists have used the Internet and mobile phones to organise and to communicate with each other and with potential supporters. The consequences of failures in these systems, particularly security breaches, can be extreme: activists may face fines, jail time, or even death. Free and open source software (FOSS) provides one potential solution to these problems, as it is focused on users’ needs. FOSS communities also already overlap significantly with many other activist communities, and are working to develop cross-movement connections as well as useful tools. However, many FOSS communities, and particularly those defined by a commitment to open source, rather than than free, software, are reluctant to take overt political stands. Similarly, many activists on both the left and the right have an aversion to digital technologies for both ideological and practical reasons. This means that there are frequently significant barriers to increasing the links between FOSS and progressive political movements. This presentation explores the connections between FOSS communities and the broader activist landscape. It looks at the politics of FOSS, the ways in which global movements and FOSS communities are building links, and the potential benefits of actively seeking cross-fertilisation of ideas and politics between FOSS and progressive movements.
I’ll also be speaking at the Haecksen mini-conference that runs alongside the main programme. Haecksen, organised by the Oceania Women of Open Technology group, will “feature women speakers and panellists on technical and community topics related to free software and women in free software.” I’ll be talking about feminism, anarchism, and FOSS:
The language of open software is increasingly being applied to politics, as people talk about and develop “open government” projects. However, much of this discussion does not unpack the politics of “openness”, instead taking for granted that it involves a technologically-enhanced model of existing liberal democratic ideals. However, there are other ways to interpret what free and open source politics might look like. One is to more thoroughly apply the politics espoused by key figures within the free and open software movements, such as Stallman and Raymond. Another, more radical, route is to take the commitment to decentralisation of power that lies at the heart of free and open source software and apply it not only to an analysis of politics, but also to the existing free and open source software movement. This route demonstrates that there are useful lessons to be learned from looking at the interaction between free software principles, anarchism, and feminism.
This will be my first time at Linux Conference, and the mailing list has made it clear that the conference has a vibrant community around it. I’m also really happy to see that Linux Conference has a great Code of Conduct and is offering free childcare. While I don’t have kids, things like this seem like a good sign that the conference organisers are taking active steps to being an inclusive space that allows space for parents and supports groups that might otherwise be marginalised. I wish more academic conferences did this. If you’re going, please feel free to say hi to me!
IR13 Sunday highlights: mobile ecologies, Instagram, disruptive spaces, teaching on Facebook…and a bit more activism
October 24, 2012 § Leave a Comment
The day began with ‘Mobile ecologies: mobile phones and young people’s online participation in public access venues in Cape Town’ from Marion Walton and Jonathan Donner. Walton started by saying that mobile Internet in South Africa doesn’t, for the most part, mean smart phones, the Web, or Twitter: it means “feature phones”, and probably platforms like Mxit. Southern ecologies of use for mobile phones are also very different from Northern contexts: most public schools don’t have the resources to provide training in technology, and the overlap between mobile use and the spheres of tertiary education and the workplace is limited (since many people don’t have the opportunity to study further and unemployment is high). Those who are poorest pay the highest costs for data, as prepaid data access is far more expensive than broadband access. Putting this together allows a better understanding of mobile Internet use beyond well-off users in the North: as Internet handsets become more accessible, they amplify some people’s participation more than others, interacting with existing inequalities in diverse ways.
Later in the session, Magdalena Olszanowski looked at Instagram’s spaces of flow. This is one of those talks where I knew absolutely nothing coming in (I don’t use Instagram, let alone study it) , but there were some useful links with the reading I’ve been doing lately on space/place that I want to explore later. It was also lovely seeing the slides, which (as you might expect) were illustrated with beautiful photos.
The next session was a tough choice between ethnographies of online and mobile media and a session on social movements. I ended up going to the latter, but I’ll have to chase down the papers on ethnographies later (and this talk on the ethnography of microblogging and this book and, now that I look again at the program, also the work on social media: technologies of control). There were a couple of good papers in the social movements session on the use of new media in Egypt and Tunisia, questioning the dominant narratives of social media use as key to organising on the ground. Simon Lindgren‘s work on disruptive spaces also looks useful, including the recommendation to look at the edges of networks as well as the cores in research.
There were also a few papers I missed (or other links that turned up in the tweet stream): Agency, Resistance, and Orders of Dissent, Farida Vis‘ Social Media, Social Change, Johnny Unger’s work on Occupy, and an open access special issue on socially mediated publicness,
Tim and I presented in the following panel (slides to come), on politics and civic engagement, so my note-taking was limited. Tim’s paper on ‘#auspol, #qldpol, and #wapol: Twitter and the new Australian political commentariat’ will probably be of interest to some readers (so keep an eye on his site for updates), Sharon Strover and Sujin Choi’s ‘YouTube and civic engagement’ was notable for its examination of reply networks on YouTube, and Sheetal Agarwal et al’s paper (also out of SoMe Lab) provides a good model for understanding OWS as a networked organisation (or a series of interconnected networked organisations).
The day (and the conference) ended with a lively discussion from my colleagues Mike Kent, Tama Leaver, and Kate Raynes-Goldie on the use of Facebook in tertiary education, with Clare Lloyd‘s research presented in absentia. Mike presented the most positive perspective, arguing that while boundaries need to be set, Facebook provides a familiar environment for student engagement that stimulates discussion effectively. Tama’s position was a cautious but still predominantly positive, and focused specifically on Facebook, student engagement, and the ‘Uni Coffee Shop’ group. Clare Lloyd and Kate Raynes-Goldie argued for the need to be careful about context collapses when using Facebook and to avoid getting stuck in a false choice between Facebook and Blackboard. All in all, the panel and following discussion was in favour of using Facebook in a carefully-informed and well-managed way.
October 21, 2012 § Leave a Comment
There have been more talks here on activism than it’s been physically possible for me to attend without splitting into two. Friday afternoon’s session on protest and online activism began with a look at ‘Protest and Internet humour memes in UK universities’ from Gordon Fletcher, which was pleasantly LOL-heavy (even if I was missing the appropriate background for many of them). Fletcher argues that while this is politics of a sort (“politics, but not as we know it”), it’s not necessarily particularly effective politics: it’s not going to start any revolutions.
Next Dan Mercea (co-authoring with Paul Nixon) looked at the use of Twitter and Facebook in attempts to recruit participants to the Occupy movement in the Netherlands. Whereas most participants in our research on Occupy Oakland saw Twitter as the primary online platform for communicating about the movement (even if this was often problematic), participants in Netherlands Occupy sites relied far more on Facebook. Mercea and Nixon also found that both Facebook and Twitter played a role in helping participants to initially learn about the Occupy movement, but wasn’t actively used to try to recruit participants. Participants’ use of both Facebook and Twitter also tended to taper off over time, and lost importance as a source of information or engagement with Occupy.
The talks which followed were a little less relevant to my own research (and, sadly, my note-taking seems to drop off significantly towards the end of the day, especially at conferences that involve international travel): Constance Elizabeth Kampf looked at ‘The past, present and future of online activism towards business’, drawing on some great case studies. I particularly liked the Google Will Eat Itself project, which claims it will use revenue generated from Google ads to buy Google shares, and eventually turn Google into a public trust. (GWEI currently owns 819 shares, totalling USD 405.413,19, meaning it will be 202.345.117 years until GWEI fully owns Google.) Zeena Feldman‘s ‘Beyond freedom and oppression’ looked at practices of resistance to the commodification of the Couchsurfing website, as users tried to continue their engagement without fully capitulating to the site’s shift to for-profit status.