The defence of the Network, hacktivism and other contributions to the source code of the new movements

Notes from the Digital culture, networks and distributed politics in the age of the Internet. From the Global Spring to the Net Democracy, organized by the Communication and Civil Society programme of the IN3 in Barcelona, Spain, in October 24-25, 2012. More notes on this event: comsc.

Round table: The defence of the Network, hacktivism and other contributions to the source code of the new movements
Chairs: Cristina Cullell (Universitat Jaume I)

Technological infrastrucures have changed the landscape of participation and activism. There also is a new hacker ethic or hacker culture that promotes sharing, decentralization, openness, etc. Hacking is not based on an expectation of profits, but on personal pleasure or realization, on prestige and recognition: hacking is better understood in a gift-economy rather than a traditional capitalist economy.

Hacking requires net neutrality and an open network to be able to realize its full potential. But is it the Network a common good or a private service? Depending of how the Internet is understood, different ethics apply and different ethics clash one with each other.

Can hacking provide a new framework that is able to design (alternative) solutions for the economic and political crisis?

Txarlie (Hacktivistas)

How is the Internet born? It’s not the outcome of some amateurs, but the outcome of scholars, scholars trying the get the best of their powerful but underused infrastructures (regardless of the fact that they were directly or indirectly financed with military funding). And, in a scholarly way, technology, research, designs and results are openly shared.

But little by little, and fostered by private investors, infrastructure and its open outcomes are increasingly privatised and released with different licenses that allow different uses and “ownerships”. One of these licenses is the GPL, that uses the hegemonic rules and practices to fight them back.

The GPL and the way of working around the GNU not only provided new outcomes (i.e. an operating system) but also new ways of working, of collaborating, of distributing tasks.

Most of the developments that run the Internet or that run over the Internet are built upon this new way of working, and based on two main pillars:

  • Low consensus: maximum consensus cannot be achieved; thus, practicality and the lowest common denominator is what applies.
  • Running code: things are built upon practice, what is to be applied is what is been worked on, what is being actually coded and run.

This way of working both fits the basic needs of a project and also that dissension can be redirected by means of forking a specific initiative or project. Forking (usually) does not mean splitting a project but actually multiplying it.

[Txarlie implicitly recalls in software what in social movements is called as ‘do-ocracy': activism by doing, not by representation.] The parallelism between free software and (new) (hack)activism is that decisions are taken in a decentralized way, there is no-one (but many people) deciding what initiative or project is being developed and carried on. In this sense, the 15M works as a free software project and the 25S as a fork of the initial 15M project.

The big difference between the 15M movement (aka Indignados) and the Anti-globalization or Alter-globalization movement is having a strong link with the media corporations, so that the message can get out of the insiders, that outsiders to the movement can connect, be informed, understand or interpret the message, resend it, remix it, etc.

Carlos Sánchez Almeida (Bufet Almeida)

When communication media try to explain the phenomenon of “AcampadaSol” (camps in the Spanish squares), they usually forget the whole landscape and context that leads towards Sol: AcampadaSol is not an isolated event, but the outcome of many micro-events and initiatives that had taken place before. A good explanation of the movement is Ciberactivismo: Las nuevas revoluciones de las multitudes conectadas, by Mario Tascón and Yolanda Quintana.

We need to reflect on the new ways of activism and understand their new role and the role of the Net. And this is an urgent need if citizen movements want to fight back the attacks of governments and corporations to these new ways of activism.

Hacking, new activisms, hacktivisms, etc. came up with new ways to circumvent or to hack the law and were able to raise improved ways of participation and protest. In reaction, legislative bodies are changing the law to prevent such circumvention, most of the times attacking not only new practices but the very core of some human and political rights such a freedom of expression or the right of assembly.

Activists need to set up new tools to circumvent the anti-circumvention laws. Society needs no new elites, but distributed and decentralized power. Society needs more hackers, but not technology hackers, but “society” hackers.


Francisco Jurado: Why hacktivism? Why going against the system and not contributing to it? Txarlie: The traditional creators of content, of information, of knowledge (e.g. the academia) are no more able to be the only engines that empower the society. So, it is not exactly a matter of going against something or someone, but contributing to the work of the institutions… despite they wanting it or not. Carlos Sánchez Almeida: sometimes, though, some things need to be fought as they directly attack some human rights or some tools that enable the practice of some humand rights (e.g. P2P technologies).

Marga Padilla: what is the difference between activism P2P and activism Free Culture / Creative Commons? P2P is more based on protocols, on sharing initiatives, and Free Culture / Creative Commons activism is more based on creating more content, more information, and sharing and diffusing it.

Q: What exactly is the Internet? Does the definition determines what is cyberactivism? Txarlie: Internet is a network of computers. The problem is that over this network there are sub-networks that often isolate themselves from the rest of networks. So, when we talk about the Internet we should talk at both levels: the physical network and the logical or social sub-networks that coexist within. Almeida: Internet is a constitution written by hackers, and the Internet is a neutral network: a neutral network lets all bytes flow equally.

Q: Why hacktivism is many times not proud of its own actions? Why anonymity? Why not “full” civil disobedience instead of a rough approximation to civil disobedience? Txarlie: this is not a decision that an individual can take, but that the whole collective have to agree upon. And, at the moment, it seems like collective action on the Net is easier to do this way. It is not a matter of shyness or hiding, but a matter of efficacy (or so perceived efficacy). Almeida: we should differentiate hiding and anonymity or “not full” civil disobedience, from unfair laws and how these turn some legal actions into illegal ones. But, of course, civil disobedience has its consequences and hacktivism has to acknowledge them.

Ismael Peña-López: are we fostering hacktivism or rather cracktivism? If a hacker is someone inside the system and a cracker someone trying to (violently) enter it, are we really trying to change the system from within or to crack it? Where are politicians and parties and NGOs and other institutions in this hacktivism or activism from within? Or is it rather cracktivism? Txarlie: most cracking is useful for hacking, so sometimes there is a need for a prior cracking that enables the hacking that follows. Some institutions need to be cracked first so that then the insiders can hack it from within. Almeida: the best insider is the one that hacks and builds bridges with the outsiders. But this hacker-insider has to assume that they will often fall into civil disobedience and acknowledge the consequences… which they usually don’t. We do not want a switch of elites, but a transformation of the system.

Q: is it fair to use private tools (e.g. Facebook) for hacktivism? Almeida: it is fair because it is the best way to contaminate the system without the system being able to disable it. On the other hand, there is not a single tool for hacktivism, but a toolbox, with several tools to be used at different times and scenarios.

Q: what are the technological and economic requisites of hacktivism? Almeida: activism has to fight against the monopolies of power: economic and political power. This means that (1) activism will never fight in equal conditions but (2) activism does need some economic and political resources (armies march on their stomachs, Napoleon). It is very important, though, that these resources are transparent and accountable.

Q: the new constitutions that have to be written, shouldn’t they focus more on the procedures and protocols rather than on “content”? Txarlie: opening procedures and protocols is crucial in activism. But content is also important: if there is nothing “constituted” before a “destitution” process, the outcome of such process can be a worst situation than the former. Almeida: more than protocols and content, decision-making has to be very agile, transparent and executive. This is the way to keep constitutions simple but effective. And this includes a good judicial power, efficient, independent, legitimated.

Digital culture, networks and distributed politics in the age of the Internet (2012)

If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:

Peña-López, I. (2012) “The defence of the Network, hacktivism and other contributions to the source code of the new movements” In ICTlogy, #109, October 2012. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
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About Me

    I am Ismael Peña-López.

    I am professor at the School of Law and Political Science of the Open University of Catalonia, and researcher at the Internet Interdisciplinary Institute and the eLearn Center of that university. Since november 2013 I am on a partial leave to join Open Evidence as a senior researcher and analyst. I am also the director of the Open Innovation project at Fundació Jaume Bofill.