Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Anonymous Nationhood

I wanted to continue the set of Anonymous videos that we watched in class with a response to ACTA, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement that was drafted between the US, EU, Australia, Japan and a handful of other countries starting in 2008. In the agreement, intellectual property protection was escalated, including to protect media and content files that are easily copied and shared over the web. The practical approach that the agreement took to limit these files was to criminalize users and their internet service providers in the event that copyrighted material is shared without being purchased.
            Considering that the current iteration of the internet was at stake, Anonymous became involved in the protests – both by attempting to raise awareness in earlier days (VIDEO 1) and by breaking down the political implications of the bill later when it came closer to passing within the EU (VIDEO 2).

Video 1:

     The outright assertion of citizens of internet being distinct from the governments of countries calls to mind Anderson, and suggests that the new mass ritual is electronic,  possibly a result of our proliferated screens? Whereas before a nation all read the paper at the same time, do we all now know how to check for tweets and facebook updates constantly? Is the defining experience of the “digital generation” a constant checking or plugged-inned-ness? Here, Anonymous is going on to declare war to protect the imagined community that the current use of the internet, in its masses, has created (the imagined nation of Anonymous).

Video 2:  

            This second video was posted nearer to the bill’s ultimate failure in the European Parliament, but after a series of large protests across the EU in February. Still, the videos affected and outraged tone are invoked, probably to distract from some of the logical shortcomings of the argument. Mainly, we are outraged at surveillance, the impact of the agreement, for all of the freedoms, rights and liberties that it would encroach on, yet part of what makes the agreement so egregious is that it was done in secret, and that we should have the right to surveil our governments. 

Another interesting implication of the Anonymous identity comes in the aftermath of this bill specifically. Some background is that ACTA was not protested exclusively in the EU, but that the Indian government resisted the agreement’s adoption by taking the issue to the WTO. However, India is primarily concerned with the implications of the agreement on its international generic drug trade, and less with the digital rights that European protesters, including the Anonymous videos here, asserted. So much was India not interested in protecting those rights that they allowed companies to block file sharingsites. Internet users responded in outrage, organizing protests and using DDOS attacks on the companies that were limiting internet access. However, this was not an international response, calling on the same global Anonymous that had protected Europe from ACTA. Rather, this was a response from “Anonymous India” and small one at that.
While Video 1 equates “information with civilization itself” and asserts that the “effort of peoples of the world is necessary to respond to th[e] threat [of ACTA],” that same mass of Anonymous is absent in this case. So, then is the imagined civilization of Anonymous shaken?
            Also, is the network as horizontal as we believe it to be? How do the power relations from geopolitics become replicated in the internet, as providers and users are conditioned to expect different realities from their technology? Is Thrift’s “biocultural contagion” as inert and omnipresent as he suggested, or are there more local factors that help or explain the changing political face of the Western world?

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