Communication and Civil Society (II). Politics in the Internet age (II)

Notes from the Civil Society and Politics transformation in the Internet Age, organized by the Communication and Civil Society seminar of the IN3 in in Barcelona, Spain, in October 26-27, 2011. More notes on this event: comsc.

Panel: Politics in the Internet age (II)
Arnau Monterde (chair), Marta G. Franco (Acampada Sol participant), Javier Toret (Democracia Real Ya Barcelona participant), Mayo Fuster (Berkman center for Internet & Society)

Arnau Monterde

The different movements that have been born on the Internet (especially) during 2011 have many things in common, and not only about the form, but also in what are their goals, their purposes, the reasons and causes behind their protests, etc.

On the other hand, forms also matter. There is, beyond the organization of the protests, a sort of metaorganization linking and binding together the sprawl of local movements at a global level, thus contributing in the emergence of a global movement and its organization.

The globalization of the movement, or the collectivization of the movement, have also meant that despair due to lack of a clear horizon has turned out into hope due to the openness of the movement itself.

Javier Toret

Technopolitics and the 15M: flow, power, hack, translate, sensibility.

Nowadays, communication and organization are increasingly tied together: most communications actually invite people to engage in a specific action, and do not only give a piece of information or news to a passive receiver.

Our literacies are determined by new technologies that require new literacies. Indeed, these new literacies determine our habits, the way we interact, the way we consume… the way we live.

In this framework, how were the 15m protests in Spain organized?

In February 2011, a group of people meets on Face book and creates a platform to coordinate their actions and to call the citizenry to action. The reaction of people fed back the project and, in many senses, helped in defining what was acceptable in a society and what was bearable (or unbearable, as a matter of fact). The definition of what was unbearable became the actual message to spread and driver for further mobilizations.

Especially, the first big success was building a communicative ball that succeeded in going through the communication wall of mass media.

The movement took the plazas partly because there was an actual list of social demands, but more importantly because it succeeded in creating a collective frame of mind about specific issues and its broad context.

There was a collective building of a Twitter strategy, where many different Twitter users swarmed together to globally broadcast a few, direct, clear messages and a huge debate around them. The openness and simplicity of the process (Twitter + camp) helped the movement to be replicated all around the world. And the fact that most information could be geolocalized also contributed in making the different local initiatives be part of a global movement.

An interesting outcome of the movements has been the reflection about the process of organization and the proliferation of free software tools to empower and boost the optimization of such processes and its cheap and fast replication.

Marta G. Franco

Acampada Sol started as a way to reflect together and settle things down after the demonstration of 15m. The idea behind the acampada was not to stay or not, but to stay together and try to overcome everyone’s fears.

This sense of collective spreads beyond the geographical bounds of the acampadas, as they begin to link and talk one to another one, share fears, ideas, doubts, feelings.

The challenge was how to have a single voice without centralizing the thousand of voices of the movement. That became particularly evident when it came to registering the Internet domain(s) where to publish a website. In the end, there were as many domains/pages as camps or initiatives that joined the movement implicitly.

Another challenge was how to put together the online and offline worlds, each one with their one procedures and processes and ways of acting. A certain degree of success came whenever it was possible to take the best of both worlds, but that was not always an easy thing to do.

In general, mass media missed the way the Indignants were organized, what they were claiming, etc. In fact, most of them ended up taking Acampada Sol (the Madrid Camp of the Indignants) as their unique source of news and information, thus forgetting that Acampada Sol did not represent anyone (any other acampada) but themselves. On the other hand, though, many journalists would be more confident reporting from the sources of user generated media rather than form “official” communicates, even citing verbatim non-official declaration by particular individuals taking part in the protests. Twitter was used to hack the mass media system.

Alternative tools, like the social networking site N-1, were used to stand free from the potential control of third parties, in a sort of techno-political strategies of activism.

Mayo Fuster

Most of social movements are thought as ways to challenge the political agenda and the conventional political organization. Another dimension is challenging the established productive model and the cultural codes.

Besides the usual ways to manage the resources by either the State or the market, a third way is a model of management and provision of resources by the civil society: the commons.

The origin of the new digital commons can be tracked back until the 1950s with the hacker culture and the hippy contraculture, the free software ideology and communities, the Creative Commons, etc. The logic of the commons is opposite to the corporate logic, the former one based on openness, freedom and autonomy. In this sense, the system becomes an open one with a governance that enables participation. The conflict between both logics is the reason behind the free culture (and knowledge) movement.

If we link the 15M movement with the free culture movement, it is easy to find out that beyond the specific demands, there is a very important — arguably the most important one — goal that aims at changing the productive model, and it is a goal that goes implicit in the way the protests and the organization if performed: freely, openly, heavily relying on the idea of the public commons.

Some examples of these are Lawrence Lessig’s move from Creative Commons to Change Congress, or, in the case of Spain, the move from the campaign against the “Ley Sinde” to the “No les votes” campaign. In both cases, especially the latter, the free culture movement merges itself with the Indignants movement. There is somewhat the acknowledgement that there will be no “free culture” unless the whole system is transformed, thus why the change of target from culture itself (the “what”) to the political institutions (the “why”).

It is important to note that this change of the system is non-partisan, and being non-partisan is an explicit tactic so that the movement can be comprehensive and inclusive.


Òscar Mateos: in a certain way, the 15M movements have witnessed the coexistence of the traditional civic movements with a more post-modern ones. How has this happened or been made possible? Toret: Democracia Real Ya was more a platform than an institution, and this implied that as there was no central message to be imposed over the members, anyone felt free to contribute with their own voice, either at the individual level or organized in traditional movements. Notwithstanding, there have been clashes between a more chaotic or networked way of working and the vertical and traditional ways to organize civil movements. Franco: the crisis of media and political parties — and their dependence from ideological and economic lobbies — definitely helped the movement to be something plural, a window open to fresh and unfiltered information, which was something that every citizen, despite their origin (traditional or post-modern) was in very much need of.

Gala Pin: how can the digital divide be overcome so that no people is left behind? Toret: the digital divide is addressed on a peer-to-peer basis. Many workshops and training sessions are being organized so that everyone catches up with the state-of-the art skills and technologies.

Q: how was the offline linked with he online? Toret: there was continuous feedback between both worlds. Many documents were printed or distributed in many analogue ways, but also some creations in paper or in speech were digitized (photos, footage, etc.) and spread through social networking sites.

Gala Pin: how can we focus, how can be optimize the energies poured into the movement so that they are more efficient (how can be participation optimized)? Franco: there is an ongoing challenge on how to be able to map, link and somehow organize the zillion platforms where the conversation takes place. Castells: maybe a solution could be to get in touch with research centres that are specialized in just that, so that synergies can be built between activists and people willing to do research on activism.

More information


Civil Society and Politics transformation in the Internet Age (2011)

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

Peña-López, I. (2011) “Communication and Civil Society (II). Politics in the Internet age (II)” In ICTlogy, #97, October 2011. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
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