Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Musings on The Utility of Open Source Media

Cell phones give people the impression of individual sovereignty though this is only a half-truth. Since the communicative abilities of cell phones allow one to transcend faults of state infrastructure, as Rafael references it removes them from the maybe faulty postal system, or the possibly censored media. However the flaw with this is that people often do not treat things that they have heard through the grapevine of social communication with the same healthy skepticism that they might address to a news source they already know is biased. The rub here is that with what Ursula Lindsey calls “free-wheeling, peer-to-peer, mostly digital networks” there is a huge hurdle to overcome for organization that is accountable. The openness of these networks while being a huge boon, can also flip into an Achilles heel, it can allow organizations interested in corrupting the message to insert their own noise into this channel. Though cell phone users are aware of this dichotomy as the Rafael paper quotes “If the text message [I received] felt like a rumor masquerading as news I didn’t forward it” however this shows how open-source media can fall into the boy who cried wolf phenomenon. An actor does not need to discredit a message, they merely need to plant the seed of doubt in the channel of communication. Though Terranova’s ‘Zero Degree of the Political’ can be seductive it sacrifices accountability. This is especially pertinent when the communication is operating at a great distance, for example showing events happening in the arab spring revolutions to a western audience.

Though governments sometimes try to coopt this doubt inherent to non-reputed news sources, they also sometimes take the more extreme measure of cutting communications entirely. This attack can be very effective, but the pendulum can also swing back on governments when outsiders realize that by the very fact that they are trying to suppress the flow of information there must be some information which they are trying to restrict (whether factual or not). Recently when the Isreali government threatened to shut down internet access to the Gaza region this only amped up the international attention placed on the already unstable region. So the question arises is soft control a more effective means of suppressing revolutions, and the answer lies in the amount of evidence that he opposition party can gather.
I wonder if this broad restriction of messages will actually lead to the creation of individually run parallel internets, built almost like pirate radio stations. Linked to a satellite, or like the design of the xo computers (100$ laptop) extended mesh network, which works by communicating short range between physical computers, and relaying an email or message through this channel rather than via the intermediary of a satellite (for more information see the ‘wireless mesh network’ section of ). A possible response I see to this is a movement towards more analog forms of signal jamming such as just introducing literal noise into the channel to confuse the message. Many hold into the idea that the internet is free and open, but between the top down pressure of governments restricting access, taking down web pages, and the more ephemeral threat of DDoS attacks and actual hacking. 

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