Black to Grey to Black: Lessons From Two Decades of Online Activism

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Black to Grey to Black: Lessons From Two Decades of Online Activism
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There's no museum of online activism; its history is told as a series of disconnected events. Without perspective, we are left to guess what will work next, while scrambling to recreate elements of earlier successes. What can we learn from two decades of online protests? What has made these campaigns work where so many others have failed? And how can the bloggers, activists, and others at re:publica take these lessons and apply them to the wild web of today—and tomorrow?
Point (geometry) Context awareness Copula (linguistics) Wage labour Multiplication sign Range (statistics) Set (mathematics) Mereology Independence (probability theory) Web 2.0 Impulse response Spring (hydrology) Strategy game Data acquisition Hill differential equation Descriptive statistics Self-organization Shift operator Sine Civil engineering Bit Digital signal Group action Arithmetic mean Software Personal digital assistant Telecommunication Speech synthesis Video game Pattern language Quicksort Type color Row (database)
Web page Domain name Point (geometry) Slide rule Key (cryptography) File format Multiplication sign Physical law Parallel port Division (mathematics) Mereology Flow separation Power (physics) Goodness of fit Mathematics Personal digital assistant Different (Kate Ryan album) Internetworking Hypermedia File archiver Speech synthesis Row (database)
Group action Freeware Forcing (mathematics) Multiplication sign Moment (mathematics) Bit Total S.A. Mass Mereology Perspective (visual) Event horizon Word Spherical cap Different (Kate Ryan album) Internetworking Personal digital assistant Website Software testing
Mashup <Internet> Group action Freeware Multiplication sign Execution unit Sheaf (mathematics) Set (mathematics) Philips CD-i Mereology Number Web 2.0 Medical imaging Estimator Strategy game Internetworking Hypermedia Speech synthesis Arm Physical law Parallel port Sign (mathematics) Word Personal digital assistant Telecommunication Website Speech synthesis Musical ensemble Freeware
Context awareness Group action Code Decision theory Multiplication sign Source code Execution unit 1 (number) Insertion loss Mereology Perspective (visual) Food energy Web 2.0 Avatar (2009 film) Mathematics Strategy game Hypermedia Software framework Physical system Email Elektronisches Marketing Software developer Electronic mailing list Sound effect Ext functor Median Database transaction Cognition Category of being Message passing Googol Angle Hard disk drive Website Pattern language Right angle Summierbarkeit Quicksort Freeware Identical particles Resultant Spacetime Point (geometry) Newton, Isaac Functional (mathematics) Server (computing) Game controller Service (economics) Computer-generated imagery Online help Mass Automatic differentiation Power (physics) Crash (computing) Centralizer and normalizer Internetworking Energy level Computing platform YouTube Computer architecture Focus (optics) Standard deviation Dependent and independent variables Information Weight Physical law Content (media) System call Frame problem Software Speech synthesis Game theory Videoconferencing Routing Family
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the hill let's start with a lot of 2nd session stage 3 and a half year and Poqet this from some from this goal and see if I'm thank you he is 1 of the the lecture with a blob of so Electronic Frontier Foundation and and he here today to allow me to prevent a sufficient about dumb back to gray to black lessons lessons from 2 decades of online activism and he will tell us a little bit more and and he's asking whether we should have a museum of online and to a lot of and dumb I'm very interested in is the answer OK let's start at high everybody this is a little strange and I wanna thank everybody for coming to see me instead of Bianca Jagger at all but 1 year or phonology no she says anything very interesting and so I thank you for coming my barbarians and I work at the Electronic Frontier Foundation and I hope that many of you know my employer EFF by I'm case you don't and we are a were nonprofit based in 7 Cisco it's been working at the intersection of the of civil liberties and technology for over 20 years so we've been doing that for a long time but in as part of that we've been involved a lot of activism campaigns and most recently things like so by an actor in TPP and we've been working on activism in and out legislative and and really caught pushes against the NSA spying so it's a it's a bird and a broad range of things and I'm very proud of my employers to talk about them over and over on but personally I have been a copula reform activist for long before I started there and and I I wanna give a little context and we talking about I say 2 decades sexually 18 years of of activism history and 26 so it's the 1st things I talk about I studied by a guy I sat down I research them and then some of the later things I talked about I talked about and were things that were very formative to me and then and then the the most recent things in things like sober things I've been honored and privileged to to work on myself and so there's 3 and major points that I want to talk about today the 1st was history and I has a say in the in the description we don't keep very good records of the history of online activism and who we remember some of it but it starts to fade I'll be talking about and particularly online activism that's about online speech to speech about speech centered on the sofa blackouts of 2012 great Tuesday which was a 2004 and campaign in the Black World Wide Web protests against the the Communications Decency Act on which which took place in 1996 and I expect everybody here probably knows that a fair bit about the the Sobel blackouts and the probably fewer people are familiar with great Tuesday and even fewer know about the CDA blackouts and that's fine and I think that's because of the 2nd point which is context and that we tend to overestimate the lasting place in public consciousness city to the campaigns that we work on a take part in that will hold and then at the same time we underestimated the importance of earlier campaigns so people who were affected by sober took part in the act of protest I think that that will last a long time and in in a sense it will I I do think that it will have a major impact but I think the details start to fade pretty quickly I'm and then at the same time by not looking at earlier campaigns that we tend to focus on the wrong things so when we talk about that what worked with so but we talk about so baptism we look at the tactics we resale was a blackout and it was a major companies that apart and and I and I think that that's a mistake and particularly because that we should look to patterns for strategy so we should look to patterns strategy not just tactics but the most effective campaigns over the decades and picking 3 but there are many and could take from that have been the 1 set of harnessed essential qualities in the network and those essential quality shift over time meaning that the tactics will have to change the impulses underlying them remain the same and I think that we duplicate a lot of labor if we don't have we don't learn this time and then a sort of a bonus item I wanna talk about it a few at sort of Evergreen tips and and and the way that path dependence has affected online activism which on PAC later on so starting with the history of life I
wanna be and I wanna just give a shout out real quick and as I said earlier that we don't keep very good records of online active and campaign I think that's true but I could even begun to do this research without the internet archive an archive . org and things like news articles by campaign pages on domains that didn't get renewed and then even by intentional historical revisionism where someone who's lost died from active and campaign goes back and changes things and that all gets captured by archive so I think that when we talk about a learning that history this is a very important resource in the case of soap in particular there is a division of of archive it's it's power volunteer part run by Jason Scott there and called the Archive Team and they grab a huge collection of web pages and did that were that were blacked out on that on the protest and so but that's a that's going to be a major major resource for future researchers so I wanna thank them and the but that there are many and can but 1 of the slides was to be a joke but so there are many key examples of activism online speech and I think these 3 because they encapsulate well the rise of different major themes and formats of activism so the parallels between the Sobel blackouts in the CA blackouts I hope to draw the are the striking and even though these 2 campaigns were separated by 20 years and boat what what's really striking to me is the differences between the 2 what changes over 20 years and and then at the same time I wanna talk about how these might take place now so I don't think the the great Tuesday campaign would be possible today which is frustrating and I think something that we ought to examine the yeah so being was so but I'm not going go into too much detail here because I think everyone knows about it but do I make a few points on 1st it's it's easy to forget that the sense of inevitability that a lot of people felt about so but this was something I was going to happen and that's because at beginning in
1982 by the US past 15 separate anti-piracy laws and that's 1 every 2 years for the 1st 3 decades and and then that's the media lobby is a powerful lobbying was pushing for these laws and in the public interest had basically been ignored and so but that was that was that was kind the background against which we approach this and In the blackout tactic that that we
ended up there and up being so popular on so many sites it was from proposed by a lot of different people and the Wikipedia was the 1st come major player 2 by 2 to propose it would blackouts on-site really was Jimmy Wales saying that light on his on his personal page and and he mentioned it specifically as a reference people people forget this as a reference to something that the Italian Wikipedia had done by just so the previous year so and this is not this was a new tactic and and I bring this up as a way to say that the ways in which a so but because of a protest were they get described all time is unprecedented and I do think that the ways in which the president unprecedented but in other ways by the very well historically established and it forward this movement beating such a powerful lobbying and in such a dramatic way did a lot to galvanize the online active in community 1 and part of the thinking that sparked my research on this talk over the past 2 years basically since the blackout and thinking about this sort of thing and has been the continuing drumbeat for other issues to have as its describe their own sober moments and then it's obvious to me that uh we can't replicate the perfect storm that led to the soap opera tests on but if we understand from historical perspective what did we do that I think that we can come closer to to capturing those forces and so on and I just did as as a little bit of after mass in the wake
of of the soap opera tests members the active you worked on this and got together and whenever uh called the Internet defense League and the idea was to create a cap signal that had that sites could lie in that on their website on all the time and then in case there was an emergency the kind of thing that you're activist would want to get involved on the the groups behind the Internet Defense League could could jump into action in remotely update the little widget on and that never really worked as planned but I think it's important to take care of considering in the totality of the event so have another rankled great Tuesday on which was 8
years before the Internet blackout day and where a lot of the Web 2 Part II in action or that was centered around the mashup album so that the Grey Album which may be mindful of is used by DJ Danger Mouse a mash-up and The Black Album IGC in The White Album by The Beatles and I I have a really important thing I think is that was considered very good it was a really good artistic album that got out of your words and stuff and and as he made it basically for friends there's no way to do this legally and so made and circulated and ended up online on and people who were hosting it started yet takedown letters and from EMI which owns a publishing in The White Album and so I that really frustrated a lot of people who work on a on free speech issues and an online especially music issues and so a group called downhill battle decide to coordinate action against it and they call great Tuesday and and on 1 day February 24th 2004 the convinced hundreds of sites to make the arm available for download and or change the way gray and it was it was hugely successful and the album on that day loan racked up enough downloads that if you if you calculated the same way I would place high in in the Billboard charts for the week and but more importantly the almond approach has got lots of international press coverage and so this is really a major success and for me as a as a budding copper activist it was it was really formative and and so I I wanna talk about later in the 3rd section about why I think it was so successful because I think that encapsulates a lot of strategies that uh if not the tactics everyone talk about and then as an aside just because they're working copyright a lot on the album in the press around this approach has not really launch Danger Mouse is career I when researching this I found he's won 5 Grammys since so he's he's really like in the top stratosphere of music producers and it started with something that that wouldn't be considered legal and an end so going back a without even further to 1996 and there was a set of protest called the Black World Wide Web protests and they were kind of the 1st internet blackouts and it was around the newly passed American law called the communications decency act and and out and was hard to get it was not the time to get exact numbers of how many how many sites were participating on it even more difficult today but the estimates are there is something like 5 to 10 per cent of all sites on the web at the time from taking part time by going black or going offline either and for part or all of 48 hours around the time the President Clinton was set to sign the bill and he did sign a bill that and it was challenged in a lawsuit most of it was later declared unconstitutional and then overturned so that it's it's kind of a delayed victory I don't think there was a major active in victory and but this generate a lot of attention and it has a so so we've got the blackout and I think that looks a lot of very similar to the Sobel blackout and as a historical note and it was in conjunction with this blackout the EFF in in 1986 launched the flow of
free speech online blue ribbon campaign that which we ask people to embed in middle and can ask people to embed in their sights and it was unusual the time we said Hotelling this image really loaded from the afterward and and the idea was that in case there was really another emergency pff could could remotely updated and so they could spread the news so really I think a lot of people didn't realize at the time but it's it's almost an exact parallel to the unit defense lead and and this was very popular but it was throughout the late nineties and early 2 thousands it was really widely embedded in it media 5 . 0 or 1 of the top 10 most link to sites on the entire web and basically on the strength of this for so I wanna talk about
context by these are the campaigns of chosen to highlight from 20 years of activism on and there there are many others I could have chosen from the from the list and the dozens or hundreds of really remarkable piece of activism brothers decades and 1 thing about these 3 in particular is that the US heavy and that's what I'm most familiar with but there but a lot of great campaigns around the world and all but I think a what's important is not just knowing the facts here and it's and it's it's not just a chance to to think about the Grey album if you haven't thought about in 10 years of my 1 of the things in context because they think that without that uh we forget the older efforts and we focus too much on the wrong parts of the new efforts and the active in community as spoken a lot about legislators all over the world were nervous about the the proposals in this is a phrase that they got used in Washington getting so bad that you know a lot of attention all at once would would change it and I think that's valid but I it's not something that we can count on legislators thinking not for very long and and II personally a little anecdote here is that for 2 years after the civil protest that was how I would I would introduce myself young activist will you do well do you remember that day Wikipedia was like hard to access and Google had the blackout on its logo so that's the sort of thing I do in anecdotally I'll tell you that it may not seem like in this room but people have forgotten about that and people don't really remember somewhat exactly so but was a what exactly the Web did and so and I think I think that something that we have to count on it and we can't we can't really rest on laurels for very long and especially because if we do that we've gotten ourselves into because the worst of all worlds and because we get that we we start to lose the veneer of of the general victory of free speech and by but then we were critical of ourselves and the and the median the prosody remember are critical of our efforts and because they're holding up like I'm unrealistic standard of what we should be aspiring to not actually a successes in these campaigns the when you have the proper context I think the picture in the picture is not as bleak and but we have to remember that the sober protests I didn't show the content industry once-and-for-all but what we're capable of at the high point of the of a very particular kind of protest on but if we're looking for the next Sobel blackouts we should be looking forward to what kind of action will work best on the Internet and the Web of 2014 not work best in 2012 and so that prevented the 2 strategies and what I really think that we can get out of historical work includes context is an idea for what things workers strategies and and and and not just works is tactics so it's not it shouldn't be like a blackout so a really effective it should be what drove that 1 and I think that I think that really the the framework that works best for this is thinking about and the way act in response to the architecture of the system that it's and and and so that's kind of a rephrasing of Lawrence Lessig's famous quote that code is law and what he was saying is the source of speech that were capable of is shaped by decisions that are made by engineers and architects of the platforms that the code they set out it really it functions as law and then the same way that's true we can also craft or speech to take advantage of the same properties in those systems and so we can in week at the same time we can take advantage of things that we know about the people who will be taking part so here's a simple example and I think this is simple and some examples I'm talking about that it's a decision that most social networks have that as part of the way that they're laid out an avatar next every poster you promise networks and it's another decision that users can change those Avataras freeways they want to and and that's not an immutable fact about the way things are it's a design decision it's a pattern that we see over and over and and I and from 0 from a like cognitive perspective and people who identify with the group and system simple action they can take to indicate the in-group status will wanna do that 1 and so as a result users can send a message by coordinating Avataras and and we saw that with green tinged Avataras supporting I rhenium protesters and probably even more with the human rights campaigns massive at the same sex marriage and action and an end there I I 1 encourage you good HOC . org such viral where they talk about this and the effect of this was really huge it move the discussion so much and it was really I think this is derided as 1 of the most and kind of bland examples of clicktivism change Avataras but it really does have an effect and so and I I I I don't I know that it seems like a mn over complicating things and by taking a simple style campaign setting in this framework and I think it makes sense to use that as example for moving on to more complex ones and so because I wanna focus on media quality we consider more fundamental to the Internet and to the web by and that's articulated best by John Gilmore was 1 the founders of EFF and he said that in 1983 said the net introvert censorship as damage and routes around it and and this is think you had the when he said that it was not technically true on a really literal level and it was from from a technical perspective on the network actually didn't distinguish between the information that was gone because someone removed information was gone because a hard drive crash somewhere and so I used to replicated data and it would just it would replace it and our and I think that I think that 1 of the powerful things about the city protest easy inverted this they
took advantage of the fact that this isn't really true on the web in the same way I that the public can engage in in a limited and but self-censorship campaign in the information really disappears and and I and because of people's lives you know we have a quality called loss aversion where we think more about we we value more things we might loosen things we might gain on and so that's a it's a really powerful motivator and socio blackout show people what they stood to lose and energy any inverted this I think that's powerful and and Tuesday took this quality and and kind of took it to get from another angle and it said OK so this may not be strictly true on the Web from a technical level but in the in the network that we have today the fact that many many many people have individual sites and service a control means the individual webmasters can choose through the human behavior to replicate that quality of the older networks in so individual of and people with this I can say I as soon as the the last copy the greyhound disappears they can put their own copy up and make it available and and at the same time I think the fact that the sum was very good and that it was available elsewhere and made it more of something that was better for some for tapping into people's loss aversion ITER where concrete example of of really the kind of thing that copyright threatens usually you have to say yes to speculate well if we didn't have a slight user kind of thing we might have 1 but with the with the ground we said here's what we actually could have here's a great album that you enjoy that could go away and and I think that was a real that's a real success by the activism group that that found that downhill battle pick that out is a great example and they put together a great campaign but I think taking this this further up to 2012 1 really different situation and that so that the web has largely become centralized in a lotta ways you spend more and more time on fewer and fewer sites and a smaller percentage of access to the server space really control so if you think about how great to my played out today people for example might embedded a youtube video that included a song from the Graham on the side of the of course that means a Google can either choose to leave it up or they can take it down or they can make it available in some countries but not others which I think maybe some people in this room are familiar with and who were they can run ads against it that gives revenues directly to anybody who claims to be the rights holder whether or not the end use that might be considered a fair use or fair dealing in some countries and in the gray album we may say like OK that's not that big a deal you might get some money off this and that but i if the campaign is let's say an environmental group that's repurposing an ad from an oil company or political group that's pointing out that's pointing out flaws in campaign ads on the idea that we depend on google the synapse is rights holders is kind of alarming so the same time that the centralization has properties that we can exploit the lobbies a push for laws like so but sometimes like to frame by frame that effort as a as a top-down campaign that where a hand for massive internet companies just just push their their will and that's not true is a cooperation between a lot of people and and and mostly engineers those companies and we eventually others on board but that really did help is that those companies have a have an enormous reach they could make they could reach millions of people on a single day and as a property the new network on so there's a lot of reasons why I think we should be pushing for a more can really decentralized web and it's a better place for speech and and makes sense it makes more sense technically any upholds unit values that that we really did and we really cherish the same time I think we miss major opportunities if we don't look at the qualities of the web that we have and try use qualities to our advantage so I hope this quick sketch over over 3 kind of disparate campaigns I give you a sense for why some online campaigns work so much better than others are the ones that work use facts about the network to make points about the network and that's a powerful thing and but while things are the I a changing it's also important to note that the technologies and techniques that make these campaigns possible a really old tools what is getting better using them so for example I have working on a silver campaign a major turning point was when all of the groups that were there had been talking about this put set up and you wait for a mailing list and we actually we started mailing lists and and using this this decades-old technology but that was kind of would enable us to take this to the next level and then there were there are a bunch of males each day and this is this is really a thing that that can change the game and its old technology and there are other things that there were new and made easier on you could keep conference calls and the P 5 and we can also use things like the oven Google docs but so much we did we did with tools that we knew well and and so I think really 1 of the reasons why we have to in our history is because it they reminds us that we don't have to wait for better tools we can learn to use our tools better it what I mean is that and the development that makes new campaigns possible is not technology it's learning from experience and is reducing the transaction costs of working together that's why I think learning our history is so important that we can make much more powerful campaigns when we stand on the shoulders of the active in that came before us and this is of course a famous quote the great thing about this is that Isaac Newton said it but so had many other people before and so it's it's it's kind of the the example of what I'm talking about and so I think you for your time
I am happy to take questions it looks like Aaron almost until the end but maybe there's 1 or 2 questions so thank you but the other any questions you know at the end all had but you will also be of the here and of you might go postal questions after other words and then outside of the stage the thank you OK so is not