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The countercultural potential of citizen science

Abstract from a draft paper submitted for review to  M/C Journal - email me dan [AT] internetartizans.co.uk for a copy. 

In this paper I explore the countercultural potential of citizen science. I identify counterculture by drawing on the ideas of Theodore Roszak, who saw the carnivalesque youth movements of the 1960s as mobilising a vital critique of technocratic society. I characterise the emergence of citizen science as diverse activities that, by contrast, are mainly seeking validation from orthodox science. However I give examples of citizen science projects that open up all parts of the scientific method to participation and have a commitment to social justice.

This is set alongside the historical example of countercultural science, in the form of Science for the People. This loose organisation sprang from opposition to the Vietnam War and infused their science with the ideas from the civil rights and feminist movements. They constructed early critiques of nuclear power and genetic determinism and embodied (in the words of one of the founders) a 'shit kicking' approach. I follow with the claim that citizen science can become more countercultural if it is prepared to question the hegemony of science.

I draw on various sources to look at the weaknesses of that hegemony in terms of scientific practices, culture and epistemology. I also look at examples which have tried to carry some kind of critique of science in to forms of practice. Isabelle Stengers characterised scientific truth as that which has the ability to disqualify and exclude other truth claims. Taking a lead from Deleuze & Guattari, I propose that citizen science become more of a nomadic science. By acknowledging provisional knowledges, citizen science has the opportunity to build a strong complement to orthodox science rather than experiencing its own experiential and reflective aspects as a source of anxiety.

I sum up by setting the proposed shift in citizen science alongside other social movement trends. As in the 1960s there are other social movements who are questioning the hegemony of hegemony and, like Science for the People, these other movements can be a source of support for a nomadic citizen science that shares their affinity for bottom-up and community-led processes. By adding empirical methods to grassroots social movements, a nomadic science could also contribute to a wider cultural change.

Activism and the Internet of Things

Abstract from a draft paper submitted for review to The Fibreculture Journal - email me dan [AT] internetartizans.co.uk for a copy. 
In this paper I examine the entanglement of activism and the Internet of Things. The Internet of Things is one of several terms used to describe a world pervaded by embedded computational devices that are connected to the internet. I define the term and give examples of current Internet of Things devices, as well as the outlining the development of wearables (wearable computing devices). I consider activism to be forms of action aimed at making a direct social change as opposed to, for example, electoral politics. Drawing on Foucault I make the argument that activism and the Internet of Things are always already entangled at both a pragmatic and a philosophical level. From a surveillance point of view, it may be clear that some of this entanglement will inhibit activism. I frame further implications along those lines with regard to governmentality and algorithmic regulation. However, I also claim that the Internet of Things is an opportunity for activism as it as, and for additional forms of activism enabled by these technologies. The practice of an activist Internet of Things is mobilised through the philosophy of de Landa and the practical examples of hacktivism and hackerspaces. Beyond this, I suggest that the broader benefits of the Internet of Things to activism can come through a practical politics of infrastructures. I articulate this through the political philosophy of Gustav Landauer, in particular the notion of structural renewal. I conclude by connecting this structural renewal to the idea of the commons.

Kosovo Science for Change: launch

Kosovo Science for Change co-design event - Prishtina, 20-22nd June 2014

The Kosovo Science for Change project launched in June 2014 with a weekend co-design event at the Unicef Innovations Lab in Prishtina. Participants included young people from several parts of Kosova that are experiencing severe environmental issues, including Plementina (a community right under the polluting power stations), Prishtina (the capital city, downwind of the power stations and with heavy traffic pollution), Drenas (near the Ferronickel plant), Mitrovica (with the legacy of mining) and Hani Elezit (not far from the cement plant).

There were also participants from UN Habitat, KEPA (Kosova Environmental Protection Agency), KOSID (the collaboration of environmental NGOs) and the Municipality of Obilic, which includes Plementina and the power plants.

The core project team is made up of local partner, Unicef Innovations Lab (who also hosted the launch event), Transitions and Internet.Artizans.

what is our kind of citizen science?

The event began on Friday evening with an overview of citizen science and why citizen science has particular potential in Kosova. The Public Lab definition of 'civic science' http://www.publiclab.org/about was used to situate the Kosovo Science for Change project, and a series of examples and videos were shown to illustrate the potential, including the work of Mapping for Change and UCL's Extreme Citizen Science research group (ExCiteS) in London, grassroots balloon mapping, and the AirCasting project in New York. The work of Global Community Monitor and their bucket brigades was used to illustrate the role of citizen science in environmental justice.

It was emphasised that citizen science can be important even when there is statutory monitoring by the authorities, for example when the community knows about hotspots that would be missed by orthodox surveys. The Safecast project http://blog.safecast.org/ was given as an example of the potential scale of citizen sensing, and also to show the usefulness of having a local hackerspace.

The central role of mapping was highlighted with examples from Pennsylvania fracking map, the Louisville air map and the Arvin Bucket Brigade Map.

The latter two maps were also used to introduce the idea of using qualitative data and citizens' observations alongside numerical data. The Kosovo Science for Change project will ask participating communities to reflect on the collected data in order to establish what it means for them. This is related to ideas of post-normal science which suggests the need for local knowledge and soft (qualitatve) data as part of a process of 'extended peer review'.

The session concluded by looking at the ways open source software, open hardware, hackerspaces and sensor networks have lowered the barriers to citizen science and opened up new possibilities for bottom-up participation and DIY impact.

why is citizen science right for kosova?

The introductory evening session also looked at the specific relevance of citizen science for Kosova, especially the overlap of serious environmental threats with a motivated and mobilised youth population.

The known health costs to Kosova from environmental issues, as documented in the World Bank's 2013 report "Kosovo - Country Environmental Analysis", come from air quality, lead exposure, water-borne infections and waste disposal.

The power plants produce PM10 particulates, SO2 (sulphur dioxide) and NOx (nitrous oxides). In the north near Mitrovice, research shows that lead exposure is affecting the IQ of young children. Nonpower SO2 emissions are mainly attributed to Ferronikeli, and Sharrcem cement factory is also an important NOx generator. However, the most recent KEPA report says that current data on these issues is either not of a good quality or is incomplete, and that there is a lack of capacity for environmental protection at a local level.

This contrasts with the importance placed on the environment in Kosova's consitution and laws (and also in everyday conversations with Kosovans). For example, the Law on air protection (no. 2004/30) assigns responsibility for setting air quality and emissions standards; identifies main air quality indicators; and sets obligations for protection of air quality. In the context of Kosova's aspirations to join the EU, it was also pointed out that the Aarhus convention mandates citizens' right of access to information about the environment and to participation in envirnmental decisions. This is mirrored in Kosovo's environmental protection law which identifies the principle of public access to information and participation; for example, Environmental Impact Assessments's are supposed to have citizen participation.

In contrast, the potential for making a difference with citizen science in Kosova is increased by being able to draw on motivated young people who have experience of participatory innovation (through the Innovations Lab) and a strong interest in digital technologies, especially via the recent series of Kosovo Social Innovation Camps and self-organised initiatives like FLOSSK (Free Libre Open Source Software Kosova). This opens up the potential for a citizen science project where the air monitoring can be low-fi, partly digital and participatory, in contrast to the €2,000,000 of EU funds it took to establish the semi-functioning government air quality monitoring network.

hearing from the communities

Saturday began with a session called 'hearing from the communities'. The participants were given a set of guiding questions and worked in small randomly assigned groups to generate the issues that most concerned them. Each person in the group had 5 minutes to talk through their responses to the questions while the other group members jotted down key ideas and terms on post-it notes. After 5 minutes the post-its were added to the main sheet and the next person had their say. After everyone was done, the group as a whole reflected on the issues that had come up and tried to group them in to themes for feedback. It was clearly a powerful experience for participants and a tremendous diversity of issues emerged from the discussions. Noise came up early as a problem from several sources, as did industrial concerns dumping in rivers. There were some direct observations about problems, such as being able to smell the bad air on certain days, and finding particulates like sand in the drinking water supplies.

An analysis afterwards of the post-it notes on the showed the following concerns;

air: Dust from power plant, rooftops turned white. Lead presence in air. Private operators filters not fully functional. No catalytic converters in cars. Acid rain.

water: Poor quality, undrinkable. Sand-like presence in tap water. Water losses due to old infrastructure. Water shortages (several hours a day/night).

sewage: Old infrastructure. Sewers overflow in rainfall. Poor improvement work being done by municipality. Infrastructure improvements for cable TV, KEK, roads, house construction etc., damage existing pipes and never repair them or repairs are done poorly.

rivers: Sewage end in the river. Trash thrown in the river by people Riverbeds ruined by private operators who dig out gravel for commercial purposes
No fish in our rivers anymore

land: Landfills. Trash thrown everywhere, contaminates soil quality. Lack of proper landfills, trash cans, containers in open spaces. Burning of trash is common. Lack of green spaces. Illegal, unregulated construction. Noise pollution. Traffic noise.

health related issues: Asthma. Respiratory diseases. Cancer incidence high. Lack of information. Inaccessible information. Lack of awareness of existing studies.

environment & health panel

After coffee, there was an Environment & Health Q&A session with a panel made up of representatives from KEPA (Kosova Environmental Protection Agency), KOSID (the collaboration of environmental NGOs) and the Municipality of Obilic. The moderator's questions were intended to draw out both what the known environmental problems are and what actions have already be taken.

The panel member from KEPA reported on their monitoring of environmental issues, and on some successes, such as getting filters installed at the KEK power stations. However, she also acknowledged that there are still huge problems due to pollution as shown by the much higher incidence of respiritory diseases in the capital Pristhtina, near the power stations, compared to Prizren in the south. The KOSID representative criticised government plans to replace the Kosova A power plant with Kosova C without looking at the external costs of coal power and without looking at renewables or energy efficiency, and referred to the Berkley report on "Sustainable Energy Options for Kosovo". The environmental officer from the municipality gave an account of the difficulties of making a difference at a local level; despite some success in clearning up waste and garbage, other problems still required daily pressure to be applied to KEK with phone calls, meetings and so on.

During the discussion other issues were raised, such as companies illegally taking gravel from riverbeds near Rahovec (the main wine growing area) which had 'nearly killed' the life in the river. When the questioner asked about fines for this she was told that inspectors in the field had been threatened by companies taking the gravel.

The panel members engaged open to discussion with the audience of motivated and critically-minded young people, which is not the usual way that policy is debated in Kosova. Some explanations were offered by panel members for relatively slow progress on the environment, such as "we had a war, and the post-war focus was on social issues", and "economic development was a priority but now environment will be more of a priority". Overall there was a sense from participants that there has been lots of debate and relatively little concrete action: as one young questioner said "plans, plans it's always plans", with another saying "why are you not panicking?! why can't we do more, why are we waiting for others to solve our problems?". There was a general agreement that we should all ask ourselves questions about where the solutions could and should come from.

methods: tubes, wipes, noise, maps and more

After lunch on Saturday there was an introduction & training sesssion on the use of the proposed non-digital methods, mainly diffusion tubes (to measure levels of SO2 and NO2) and so-called ghost wipes (which can detect the presence of heavy metal contaminants).

The session began with a look at the action research cycle, and examples of various methods were discussed, including diffusion tubes, ghost wipes, noise monitoring, logs and mapping. Overall, the idea of establishing and sticking to a protocol was emphasised, both as good scientific practice and also as one of the key pieces of advice the project had received from Global Community Monitor.

For diffusion tubes, the topics covered were how they work, where to put them, the concept of a chain of custody, where to record details of location, conditions etc and the technique of getting people to 'adopt a tube'. The possibility was raised of using rapid air monitors such as those from Gradko in situations where a snapshot reading is more important than a monthly average. This may be one of the actions triggered by digital readings from the Smart Citizen Kits.

For the ghost wipes, we briefly looked at how they work and the methods of using them, with the aid of the Dust Air Quality Toolkit from Mapping for Change. There was also a joke about these being 'the most expensive wet wipes you'll ever use' (the main cost, of course, being the analysis at the lab).

Noise measurements were not one of the original aims of the pilot project, but because they were mentioned several times during 'Hearing from the Communities' several examples were show, especially the Mapping for Change noise toolkit and the NoiseTube project http://scistarter.com/project/475-NoiseTube. This also opened up a discussion about qualitative measurements, as the Mapping for Change noise monitoring in Royal Docks is a good example of recording qualitative data alongside empirical data.

Following on, the idea of keeping logs was introduced. We looked in detail at an example of a pollution log from Global Community Monitor which included questions for observers about what they saw, heard, smelled, tasted and felt (e.g. "what kind of bad smell and when?"). We looked at map from Global Community Monitor's Louisiana Bucket Brigade to see how these qualitative measurements worked alongside sensor measurements, also re-emphasising the importance of mapping as a way to collate and make sense of the results of our work. The session also looked at example of kite mapping from the Public Lab online community which showed evidence of a company dumping coal in a river, as this was relevant to reports from the 'Hearing from the Communities' session of factories dumping in rivers in Kosova.

smart citizen kit

The second session on Saturday afternoon was led by Alexandre (Alex) Dubor of the Smart Citizen project, who produce the Arduino-based Smart Citizen Kit (SCK) which the Kosovo Science for Change project is using as it's digital sensor device. To put the SCK in context, Alex began with an introduction to Fablabs, their mission and principles, and a description of the way the SCK had been created in Barcelona Fablab. This also gave us an insight in to the nature of prototyping; as Alex said, it took only four days to rapidly prototype the original version of the Smart Citizen Kit but almost two years of refining it to bring it to a stage where it could be deployed in significant numbers in somewhere like Kosova.

Alex then gave a demonstration of the kit and also of the platform where the data will be livestreamed to the internet. This will be an important part of the Science for Change Kosova project.

A discussion followed of how to deploy the kit in practice. Some of the questions were related to the local context; for example, as Kosova still experiences power cuts it was useful to find out that the battery will keep the devices going for up to 24 hours and that sensor data is stored to RAM until the kit is back online and can upload it to the internet. Alex also shared practical tips about the best way to orient the kit and how to tape the usb cable so it doesn't put strain on the usb socket when the kit is hanging on the wall. The Science for Change project won't be using the designer 3D printed enclosures that feature on the Smart Citizen site so there's was a discussion about what kind of boxes would be good for enclosures, what air flow is needed, and so on. There was also a discussion about how best to co-locate the kits with the diffusion tubes, as this is part of the project's strategy for matching digital readings with well-calibrated laboratory readings.

The Kosovo Science for Change project is fortunate to have a volunteer technical support team made up of participants from FLOSSK (Free Libre Open Source Software Kosova) and the tech community who are established Prishtina Hackerspace.

advocacy & impact

The Sunday morning session set out to develop plans for advocacy & impact. It started with a presentation about the relationship between digital spaces like social media, activism and social change, drawing on global examples like the Arab Spring as well as local examples like recent campaign about the Rectorate at the University of Prishtina, and case studies like the agile Greenpeace campaign about palm oil (URLs).

Trying to answer the question 'what difference can citizen science make?' the group looked at the Pepys noise campaign, the Putney air quality measurements that followed (which highlighted the rat runs and enabled the community to be able to sit down and have a roundtable with council & tfl). The session also looked at the achievements of Global Community Monitor's bucket brigades, which has helped communities be relocated in in Norco, Louisiana, had a school moved and has had companies like the steel facility Claymont, Delaware spend large amounts of money to clean up (some details of which can be found in the REPORT). However, he also emphasised the advice from GCM to understand Science for Change Kosovo is a pilot project, so our expectations of immediate impact should be realistic, while also recognising the larger longer term potential.

It was also pointed out that science doesn't always have the kind of certainty about environmental impacts (or lack of impacts) that is portrayed in public, and that there are a lot of disagreements inside science and a lot of arguments about what data is valid and what isn't. Participants were introduced to Phil Tattersall's Community Based Auditing, a methodical process that doesn't try to disprove the science asserted by the institutions but simply points out the gaps and mismatches (what Phil calls the disconfirmation process). The impact is not only the change but the realisation of the participants that they are agents of change.

personas for impact

The introduction to advocacy & impact was followed by a group exercise, where each local action group was asked to create detailed personas for the individuals they were trying to influence, and to create imaginary strategies for how to do that with the kind of data and qualitative information that the Science for Change project is aiming to produce.

action planning

After lunch on Sunday, the local groups were tasked with producing a one side action plan, with a top level statement about what they wanted to monitor, what they wanted to achieve by doing this, who was going to be involved and what support they needed from the Science for Change project and the Innovations Lab.

It was explained that the core project team would look at all the plans alongside each other and would prioritise which ones could be started straight away and which would be part of a second phase of the project, based on constraints such as money, local support capacity and the currently available methods (which focus on air quality).

The project's closing remarks emphasised the amazing potential revealed by the weekend; the co-existence in Kosova of critical environmental issues alongside savvy youth who are motivated to become active participants in independently tackling these problems. After a group photo and the official closing of the weekend, some people returned to lab for a further working group sessions.

Later that evening, some participants gathered for a meal on a balcony which, coincidentally, overlooked one of the government's fixed air quality monitoring stations in Prishtina. The large LED indicator board above it, which used to display the ambient temperature and the air quality, was completely dark and apparently has been for some time...

(to be continued...)

 

Kosovo Science for Change: background

Kosovo Science for Change

citizen science

'Science for Change' is a pilot citizen science project in Kosovo. It's now possible for people to make measurements of air quality and other forms of pollution in their own communities, and DIY digital measuring devices make it possible to map & share data in real time over the internet. In this project, the community is at the heart of the scientific inquiry; not just measuring data, but deciding what and where it is important to measure, and taking part in analysing the results. The participants will be able to use the data for advocacy to improve their situations, based on the enforcement of legal standards and environmental principles. In the process they will learn skills related to science & technology, increase their understanding of the impact of pollution on health and wellbeing, and feel in a stronger position to ask questions and take action.

smart citizen kit

smart citizen kit

data

While citizen science doesn't solve problems by itself, it is part of a process that is important for the whole of Kosovo, where air quality degradation is estimated by the World Bank to cost the country at least 100 million Euros each year due to deaths, illnesses and time off work{1}. It is also vital for the future to know what is in the environment, as studies have shown that children are the most affected (with lead contamination affecting IQ levels). It is not acceptable for governments and corporations to ignore the issues, either by not monitoring the pollution or by keeping the information secret. One of the first communities the project will work with are people living near the Kosovo A and B power plants.

The methods used to measure the air quality will be a mix of the Smart Citizen arduino-based digital sensor{2} and diffusion tubes which are analysed at the lab for measurements of nitrous oxides and sulphur dioxide{3}. There are also plans to test for heavy metal contamination (such as lead) and particulates - the small particles in the air (labelled PM2.5 and PM10) which are known to have serious health consequences. Data collection points will be decided by the communities, and measurements will be taken over four or five months. Data from the digital sensors will be live on the internet, and will be added to a map along with the lab measurements. The aim is to create open data and make it available online.

Pepys Estate noisemap

Pepys Estate noisemap

impact

Different communities from around Kosovo will be invited to take part in the project launch, a weekend event where we will co-design the pilot project, learn how to use the tools and discuss the different ways to have an impact. The project partners include the Unicef Innovations Lab{4}, which has a track record of participatory work with young people in Kosovo, and the team that has delivered digital innovation by running a series of Social Innovation Camps. It has been advised and inspired by projects such as Excites at UCL{5}, Mapping for Change{6} and Global Community Monitor{7} and is following the model of 'civic science' set out by the innovative Public Lab{8}. If the pilot project is a success it can be extended to look at water quality and soil quality, as well as expanded with a range of techniques ranging from balloon mapping{9} to radiation {10}.

  1. The World Bank, 2013. Kosovo - Country Environmental Analysis (CEA), Available at: http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/2013/01/17485553/kosovo-country-environmental-analysis-kosovo-country-environmental-analysis-cea
  2. Smart Citizen. Available at: http://smartcitizen.me/
  3. Gradko, 2012. Nitrogen Oxide Diffusion Tubes, Nitrogen Dioxide Diffusion Tubes. Available at: http://www.gradko.com/environmental/products/nitrogen-oxides.shtml
  4. UNICEF, Innovations Lab Kosovo. Available at: http://kosovoinnovations.org/
  5. UCL, Extreme Citizen Science (ExCiteS). Available at: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/excites/
  6. Mapping for Change. Mapping for Change. Available at: http://www.mappingforchange.org.uk/
  7. Global Community Monitor. Available at: http://www.gcmonitor.org/
  8. Public Lab: a DIY environmental science community. Available at: http://publiclab.org/
  9. Balloon & Kite Mapping. Available at: http://publiclab.org/wiki/balloon-mapping
  10. Safecast. Available at: http://blog.safecast.org/

Algorithmic States of Exception

REVISED Abstract for a paper submitted to the European Journal of Cultural Studies

In this paper I argue that pervasive tracking and datamining is leading to a shift in governmentality that can be characterised as algorithmic states of exception.  The apparatus that performs this change owes as much to everyday business models as it does to mass surveillance. I look at technical changes at the level of data structures, such as the move to NoSQL databases, and how this combines with datamining and machine learning to accelerate the use of prediction as a form of governance.  The consequent confusion between correlation and causation leads, I assert, to the creation of states of exception. I set out what I mean by states of exception using the ideas of Giorgio Agamben, focusing on the aspects most relevant to algorithmic regulation such as force-of and topology. I argue that the effects of these state of exception escape legal constraints such as concepts of privacy. Having characterised this as a potentially totalising change and an erosion of civil liberties I ask in what way the states of exception can be opposed.  I follow Agamben by drawing on Walter Benjamin's concept of pure means as a tactic that is itself outside the frame of law-producing or law-preserving activity. However, the urgent need to respond requires more than a philosophical stance, and I examine two examples of historical resistance that satisfy Benjamin's criteria. For each in turn I draw connections to contemporary cases of digital dissent that exhibit some of the same characteristics. I conclude that it is possible both theoretically and practically to resist the coming states of exception. I end by warning what is at stake if we do not.

If you would like to read a draft of the paper please drop me a line: dan AT internetartizans DOT co DOT uk

 

Original abstract 

This paper follows the loose thread of the Snowden revelations back through the fog of big data to see what kind of apparatus emerges. Instead of Foucault's disciplinary model rooted in the specifics of relational databases, it finds that the operations of datamining produce a regime of predictions built on the substitution of correlation for causation, manifesting in the world as the emergence of algorithmic regulation. Abandoning relational databases for NoSQL has helped to open up a free field for preemptive prediction across the social field. The historical force of these developments is characterised through Giorgio Agamben's concept of the State of Exception; a state where law, rights and political meaning to life are suspended. The final part of the paper asks what can be done to contest an apparatus that produces algorithmic states of exception. Recognising that law & policy are a priori insufficient, it seeks guidance from historical social movements that have operated during earlier times of exception and their correlates in contemporary forms of digital disruption. It examines in detail the medieval Brethren of the Free Spirit and the contemporary antinomians of Anonymous, and also the moral economy of mid-eighteenth century English food riots and what that might teach us about initiatives like Cryptoparty. It concludes with a call to reverse the current mode of machine learning in order to start 'learning against the machine'.


Cyber War Crimes: speculations on their inevitability

The British Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has announced that the UK is “developing a full-spectrum military cyber capability, including strike capability”. In doing so, has become the first Western politician to publicly acknowledge offensive operations in cyberspace as a state priority, although a few months earlier the head of the NSA spoke of creating cyberwarfare divisions

The context of the British revelation was a Dr. Strangelove style interview in a nuclear bunker beneath Whitehall. The narrative was of “clinical cyber strikes” and claimed that “in contrast with bloody, dangerous and inaccurate bombing raids, entire cities could be conquered without a single loss of life, helping Britain to avoid a military war – and a public relations battle”. 

The reality of cyberwar is likely to be dirty; more like a messy proxy-war than a disciplined confrontation between national armies. What is more, cyberwar arrives draped in the vestments of future war crimes. A closer reading of current evidence suggests it will generate activity across three areas that are definitely unethical and potentially illegal; namely funding dangerous militias, increasing the number of children enrolled in conflict, and poisoning public spaces. 

Firstly, the threat of militias. Despite being a top-end engineering project, Stuxnet seems to have depended on shady private sector engagements. The zero day exploits used to deliver the payload were almost certainly a product of the growing black-market in vulnerabilities. Companies like French firm VUPEN are the Blackwaters of cyberwar, and even civilian law-enforcement agencies are willing to pay for exploits so they can slip spyware onto suspects' mobile phones according to Christopher Soghoian, principal technologist at the American Civil Liberties Union. As a case in point, the Syrian conflict has spawned several digital militias with dubious affiliations, from the established pro-regime Syrian Electronic Army to the spray of opposition splinter groups like the Jabhat Al Nusra Electronic Army. There's a murky nexus of mafia, malware and militias at the core of cyberwar which can only swell as the military ramps up it's budget for offensive capabilities. It's not hard to see what kind of mess can be created by mixing global demand with a militia and proxy wars; just look an the unending strife in Congo where various interests fight for, among other things, control of the mineral coltan which is used in mobile phones & laptops. Moreover, nothing about cyberwar can be separated from the surveillance systems exposed Edward Snowden. As Thomas Rid, Reader in War Studies at King’s College London says in the FT; “Building cyber weapons requires attacking first. You can’t build a cyber weapon without first knowing the target. This requires penetrating the target first, through aggressive probing for intelligence. The effect is escalation, not deterrence.” Cyberwar needs Prism, Bullrun and the rest.

 

The second disturbing trend is the focus on enrolling youth and children. The tabloid article interview with Hammond in which he revealed the switch to a cyber offensive stance also contained references to a new Cyber National Guard of part-time reservists which will be “open to computer whizzkids who cannot pass the current Territorial Army fitness tests, on the basis that press-ups do not aid computer skills. ‘A TA for computer geniuses’, as Mr Hammond called it”. While this may be rhetorical chaff to divert attention from other cuts in the defence budget, cyberwar raises a substantive issue about age and conflict. Hackers start young, and some will be behind those exploits that fetch high prices in the global black markets. We can also ask what part of existing cyber militias consist of kids too young to take up a Kalashnikov. As for the state, what should we make of DARPA's enthusiasm for funding the 'maker' agenda in education (as Tim O'Reilly's tweet says “@make and @otherlab plan to bring making to education … with the help of a DARPA mentor grant” ). In the past, the UK has been criticised by Amnesty International for using 'child soldiers' ("The United Kingdom is the only country in Europe which routinely sends children under the age of 18 into armed conflict”). The government's welcome switch in schools' ICT learning curriculum to make coding a priority is now taking place in a state that considers offensive cyberwar as central to future war strategy. While no-one is suggesting the education agenda has been set by the military, there is some sense in which they are moving in step. At the very least, the expansion of the malware-industrial complex will proliferate job ads like those from Raytheon which boast of youth culture: “Surfboards, pirate flags, and DEFCON black badges decorate our offices, and our Nerf collection dwarfs that of most toy stores. Our research and development projects cover the spectrum of offensive and defensive security technologies.”  

 

A third strand of possible cyber war crimes is the nature of the weapons as indiscrimate rather than surgical. In this arms race, proliferation is baked in; techniques used by Stuxnet have surfaced in code used by regular cyber criminals (“The parallel is dropping the atomic bomb but also leaflets with the design of it” according to one think tank). The fact that Stuxnet itself was discovered by the outside world is attributed to a bug in the malware which led to it spreading beyond its intended target (the centrifuges in Iran's Natanz nuclear plant). A programming error introduced in an update led to the worm infecting an engineer's computer that had been connected to the centrifuges, and spreading further when the engineer returned home and connected his computer to the internet. In the past few months a couple of US-based engineers have exposed vulnerabilities in other SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) systems used to remotely monitor power stations and water utilities. “In the case of one vendor, Mr. Crain found that he could actually infiltrate a power station’s control center from afar. An attacker could use that capability to insert malware to take over the system, like Stuxnet”. This has led to a series of CERT (Cyber Emergency Response Team) advisories, such as: “The affected Triangle MicroWorks products are stand-alone or are third-party components, which communicate to outstation/slave devices using various transmission protocols. According to Triangle MicroWorks, the products are deployed across several sectors including electric utilities, transportation systems, water, and government facilities...The outstation can be sent into an infinite loop by sending a specially crafted TCP packet from the master station on an IP-based network. The device must be shut down and restarted to reset the loop state”.  Sujeet Shenoi of the Cyber Corps Program at the University of Tulsa 'fears the consequences of active strikes against infrastructure. “I think maybe the civilian courts ought to get together and bar these kinds of attacks,” he says'. As the Internet of Things infuses every aspect of our lives well beyond our industrial infrastructure, the potential for attack becomes fractal. If a hobbyist can create a search engine Shodan for exposed devices including traffic lights, security cameras and home heating systems, as well as industrial infrastructure, what will a serious cyberwar agency or militia be able to do? And what will be the inevitable unintended consequences? Despite Hammond's claim that “entire cities could be conquered without a single loss of life” we know that so-called non-lethal weapons like tear gas frequently kill; when, for example, the gas is fired in to enclosed spaces where there are older people or children. Cyberwar will attack the atmospheres of our lives in ways that will unpredictably toxic. 

 

When all this or something similar comes to pass and, too late, we agree that cyber war crimes have occurred – what then? Do we rely on an institutional human rights framework which has failed to adapt to the age of networks? What class of professionals will be qualified to prosecute? In the USA, legislators charged with overseeing surveillance programmes were persuaded that metadata is innocuous, and the judiciary legitimised blanket interception by defining massive data sets as 'targeted facilities'. Perhaps we will look to 'the new politics of the internet', a networked politics which takes the commons as a priority. “What these new political models hope to achieve is not just decentralization, but self-organization...The internet has given not only the tools but also the language and culture required for so many people to participate in self-organized systems at global scales”. Perhaps the peace and anti-nuclear movement will be reinvigorated and combine Menwith Hill peace grannies with Tweets from the Streets. The politics that emerges from the internet also comes with the defence of the internet as a fundamental social good, whereas a notable characteristic shared by surveillance agencies, cyberwar programmes and, for that matter, the defenders of incumbent business models (think SOPA and ACTA) is a willingness to 'break' the internet in pursuit of their goals. The internet was imbued by its university origins with the academic ideals of free expression and the sharing of knowledge. As one of the leaders of Germany’s Pirate Party once said “We don’t offer a ready-made programme, but an entire operating system” and this could describe the internet itself, a space for global collaboration in the face of climate change and energy shocks. In this situation, waging war on the internet itself may at least constitute a crime against the commons. 

The fruit of the Vine?

Why are micro video blogging sites like Vine so popular? TechCrunch's DIY analysis back in March showed a trend in Vine's early growth that's still going strong, although the big media story right now is the battle between Vine and the newer Instagram video offering (fifteen seconds of video instead of six! Filters!!). Sure, social media trends can be as shallow as you like: but can a closer reading of Vine tell us anything more interesting about our times?

The BBC was off the blocks in January with a decent stab at listing 'six things people have learned about six-second video in a week'. Although all social media sites can seem superficial they are also cultural spaces; and people can participate in creating these cultures instead of choosing from cultural forms approved by mainstream taste-makers. Six seconds of video can be banal; but it can also be poetic or political. An aggregation of Vine videos recalls the the Mass Observation social research project of the 1930s. You're seeing the ordinary stuff of people's lives unfold in front of you: in this case, a few dizzying seconds at a time.

What's more, there's something meme-ish about the micro video format. As other people have pointed out, you can see the lineage to animated gifs. Vine videos can have that funny-or-disturbing payload that lends itself to sharing and adaptation. Memes are the DNA of online culture (complete with junk DNA) and they're way we share a common feeling or outlook about everything from cats to the overthrow of Mubarak.

Twitter was dismissed as trivial at the start, it's now a strategic component of politics, business and social uprisings. Imagine a six second looping video of Mohamed Bouazizi setting himself on fire. And if you think Vine and it's ilk are simply the waste pipe of public consciousness, you missed the significance of 4chan's /b/ board.  The images there are like a teenager's toilet humour on Tourette steroids, but the shared grammar of jokes and memes was an important petri dish for the sub-culture that became Anonymous

But of course, like the other spawn of Silicon Valley, the business model is the dark side of Vine and the other sites and may ironically be the source of their ultimate failure. It's no secret that the battle between Vine and Instagram video is a courtship of the advertisers as much as (more than) an appeal to the users. That's the ABC of the tech startup – grow a massive user base by being both cool and free, then sell to a bigger company who can monetise the metrics. You can almost taste the advertiser's saliva when they say "We would be interested in exploring the advertising capabilities, their analytics platform/offering and how granular they can go from a targeting perspective".

Targeting is the key here. The sinister thing about all the video blogging sites is that it's really you, the person making the video, who is being watched.  The companies want to know who all your friends are and what kind of stuff you like so they can target advertising at you (“If the product is free, you are the product”). Thanks to Edward Snowden we also know that the intelligence agencies are hoovering up everything we do online. By making a form of stalking into the engine of social media, Silicon Valley has achieved a Taoist unity of business model and threat model. What will the wider impact of Vine be in the age of PRISM? Remember, it was a video that gave Wikileaks a big kick-off (the one of a helicopter gunship in Afghanistan casually killing a Reuters journalist and some children). Will the micro video sites simply be part of the strangling pondweed of surveillance or will we see some Vine-powered transparency? How about a six-second video from a drone control room in Lincolnshire?

In this light it's an app like Snapchat that says more about our times than the enhanced video editing  features of Vine's competitors. Although it shares a refreshingly minimalist approach to user interface, Snapchat is mainly interesting because of the promise to forget your images & videos – ten seconds and they're gone. Of course, Snapchat's pitch for privacy was technically fake and it shares pretty much nothing with proper privacy tools. But it's the idea that gave it life. We don't want everything to last forever, to haunt us at our job interviews or to sit in the digital filing cabinet of some spy agency. So maybe the next hot video app won't be a slicker version of Vine but some hybrid of Snapchat and Tor. People want to express themselves freely – and that's what the internet was originally good for.

MA module: Social Media Campaigning

I'm teaching this new MA module on Social Media Campaigning this term (Spring 2013). I'll update the list of lecture links each week as we go through the course. The hashtag is #smcampn

introduction

"This course will immerse participants in the latest developments around social media campaigning. It will explore the underlying dynamics of change around political and social campaigns and their interactions with companies and government. This participatory module will explore the affordances of technology, digitally-enabled crowdsourcing and participation, and new practices of prototyping and agile campaigning. This course will be relevant to students from a range of disciplines including political science, media & communications, and entrepreneurship. It will engage with external communities and take a connectivist approach to learning. Lectures will be combined with peer-to-peer group work and hands-on experiments with a range of tools".

syllabus

1. social media as a platform. Tracing a path from "Grass Horse Mud Style" past the "Sh!t Online Organizers Say" we find that social media has escaped the organisation while becoming strategic enough for war. Along the way we pick up some useful terms (striation, affordances and hacktivism) with which to dig deeper in to these changes. lecture 1 links

2. agile campaigns and social movements. "Agile movements are continually emerging from the underlying flow of micro-political acts" - in particular we look at NOTW, UK Uncut, and the mobilisation against cuts in disability benefits. We uncover parallels with Spain's 15-M movement and trace the characters of these movements through the mobilising affect of the hashtag. lecture 2 links

3. crowds and participatory tools. The response to hurricane Katrina was a snapshot of early crowdsourcing and a lesson in institutional striation. While some projects require bespoke platforms, we explore the crowdsourcing tools that are to hand, and the implications for self-organisation. While Crowdflower has captured crowdsourcing for corporate benefit, we look at counter-examples of learning and capacitation such as Crop Mob and The Good Gym. lecture 3 links

4. mapping as campaigning. Digital cartography blends the technical descdendents of web 2.0 (ajax, APIs) with the political interventions of Dronestagram and the Syria Tracker crowdmap. We look in some detail at the machinery behind Google Maps and Open Street Map to find affordances for campaigning and community empowerment. "Most people think [maps] represent the world. My argument is maps propose the world, then bring it into being through enforcement policies."(Denis Wood). lecture 4 links

5. social business and openness. Rather than focus on campaigns against specific businesses, we examine changes in the form of business itself. Starting with the Cluetrain Manifesto, we see that "all organizations are social, but few are social organizations" and that "there is no such thing as a social media strategy, there are only business strategies that understand networks". Following the passage of 'open' through open source & open innovation, and the rise of crowdfunding, we hear the call for social business to tackle society's biggest problems. lecture 5 links

6. making as campaigning. It's time for campaigners to 'get excited and make things', especially as 'making is connecting'. Through examples, we see how  biomapping, 3D printing and experiments with Arduino are crossing over in to campaigning, underwritten by an emerging infrastructure of hackerspaces & makerspaces. This starts to look like a critical form of Citizen Science, and we extrapolate what this might mean for the Internet of Things and the possibility of community #drones. lecture 6 links

7. hacktivism & internet freedom. Going back to hacktivist roots in Hactivismo/Cult of the Dead Cow (programmer culture), and the Electronic Disturbance Theater (progressive artist-activists) we try to delineate the idea of hactivism as something outside the old catogories of civil disobedience, criminality and activism. Identifying core issues (from free speech to 'keeping things up and running') we follow it forward through 4chan, Anonymous and Wikileaks, arriving at the campaigns against SOPA & ACTA and the spread of self-organised activities like CryptoParty. lecture 7 links

8. prototyping and prefigurative politics. Where orthodox campaigning seeks to influence political decision makers, we look at the direct impact of network politics. Starting with the Pirate Party (“We don’t offer a ready-made programme, but an entire operating system") and ideas of liquid democracy, we fmove to a broader view of post-SOPA politics. Is internet politics the new environmentalism - a epochal consciousness change like that of 1968? We trace the link between hacktivism's policy circumvention and the post #OWS practices of Occupy, and suggest a connection in 'non-excludable benefits' and the production of the Commons. Plus, we practice Occupy hand signals ('jazz hands'). lecture 8 links

9. breaks & flows: the post-structural philosophers of social media campaigning lecture 9 links

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