[iDC] MySpace as hotbed of media activism

Trebor Scholz trebor at thing.net
Tue May 29 07:12:30 EDT 2007


I came across this recent text by Lovink and Rossiter at 

They claim that "YouTube and MySpace are fueled with no shortage of
desire. Rightly or not, they are considered the apogee of participatory
media. But they are hardly hotbeds of media activism."

What's your take on that? There are, of course, thousands of activist
groups on MySpace. Perhaps we can dig up some examples and consider how
they differ from activism 1.0.

Ten Theses on Non-Democratic Electronics Organized Networks Updated
By Geert Lovink and Ned Rossiter


Welcome to the politics of diversion. There is a growing paradox between
the real existing looseness, the ‘tyranny of structurelessness’ on the
one hand, and desire to organize in familiar structures such as the
trade union, party and movement on the other. Both options are
problematic. Activists, especially those from the baby boom generation,
do not like to speculate on the potential of networks as they fluctuate
too much - an anxiety perhaps fuelled by the instability of their
pension funds. Networks are known for their unreliability and
unsustainability. Even though they can scale up in unprecedented ways,
and have the potential to perform real-time global politics from below,
they also disintegrate in the same speed. Like Protestant churches and
Christian sects, leftist political parties and traditional union
structures can give people a much needed structure to their life. It is
hard to argue against the healing, therapeutic value that such
organisations can have on societies and neighbourhoods that are under
severe pressure of disintegration. What we observe is that these two
strategies are diverging models. They do not compete, but they do not
necessarily overlap either.


Uphold the synthesis. Think Global, Act Local. It sounds obvious, and so
it should be. But what is to be done in a situation of growing gaps,
ruptures and tensions? It is naive to think that old trade union bosses
are likely to give up their positions, in the same way as political
parties will not risk their institutional commitments for some digital
hipsters. The question then becomes how to arrange temporary coalitions,
being well aware of the diverging interests and cultures. We see this
happening in unique ways amongst activist bloggers and, for instance,
the Muslim Brothers in Egypt. Instead of ‘managing’ disruptive
technologies, it should be also taken into consideration to radically
take sides with the new generations and join the disruption. It is high
time for radical politics to take the driver’s seat and suppress the
compulsive response to point at ‘damaging consequences’. Let’s get rid
of moral pedagogies and shape the social change we envision.


Applied scalability is the new technics. How to crack the mystery of
scalability and transformation of issues into a critical proliferation
of protest with revolutionary potential? With the tendency of networks
to regress into ghettoes of self-affirmation (the multitudes are all
men), we can say that in many ways networks have yet to engage ‘the
political’. The coalition building that attends the process of
trans-scalar movement will by design create an immanent relation between
networks and the political. Moreover, it will greatly facilitate the
theoretical and analytical understanding of networks. Tension
precipitates the will to utterance, to express and to act. And it is
time for networks to go to work.


Dream up Indymedia 2.0. No more Wikipedia neutrality. Where are the
social networking sites for activists? The Internet flagship of the
‘other globalization movement’, Indymedia, has not changed since its
inception in late 1999. Of course the website has grown - there are now
editions in dozens of language, with a variety of local and national
nodes that we rarely see on the Net. But the conceptual basics are still
the same. The problems have been identified a long time ago: there is an
ongoing confusion between the alternative news agent model, the
practical community organization level and strategic debates. All too
often Indymedia is used as an ‘alternative CNN’. There is nothing wrong
with that, except that the nature of the corporate news industry itself
is changing.


The revolution will be participatory or she will not be. It there is no
desire addressed, not much will happen. YouTube and MySpace are fueled
with no shortage of desire. Rightly or not, they are considered the
apogee of participatory media. But they are hardly hotbeds of media
activism. Linux geeks - leave the ecosphere of servicing free software
cartels. The abbreviation policy, from G8 to WTO, has failed, precisely
because abstract complex arrangements within global capitalism do not
translate well into the messy everyday. By contrast, the NGO movements,
at their best (we won’t go into a catalogue of failures here), have
proven the efficacy of situated networks. The problem of trans-scalar
movement, however, remains. This was made clear in the multi-stakeholder
governance model adopted by government, business and civil society
organizations throughout the UN’s World Summit on the Information
Society (2003-2005). Here we saw a few CSOs find a seat at the
negotiating table, but it didn’t amount to much more than a temporary
gestural economy. At the same time, as CSO participants scaled the
ladder of political/discursive legitimacy, the logic of their networks
began to fade away. This is the problematic we speak of between
seemingly structureless networks and structured organizations. The
obsession with democracy provides another register of this
social-technical condition.


The borders of networks comprise the “‘non-democratic” element of
democracy’ (Balibar/Mezzadra). This insight is particularly helpful when
thinking ‘the political’ of networks, since it signals the fact that
networks are not by default open, horizontal and global. This is the
mistake of much of the discourse on networks. There is no politics of
networks if there are no borders of networks. Instead of forcing
‘democracy’ onto networks, either through policing or installed
software, we should investigate its nature. This does not mean that we
have to openly support ‘benevolent dictatorships’ or enlightened
totalitarian rule. Usually networks thrive on small-scale informality,
particularly in the early existence of social structures.


The borders of networks are the spacings of politics. As networks
undergo the transversal process of scalar transformation, the borders of
networks are revealed as both limits and possibilities. Whereas in
Organized Networks 1 we emphasized what happened to the ‘inside’ of a
network, we will look here at what happens to the edges. In the process
of growth the kernel of a network crystallizes a high energy. After some
months or, for the lucky ones, a few years, there is longer an inside of
networks, only the ruins of the border. This is an enormous challenge
for networks - how to engage the border as the condition of
transformation and renewal?


There are no citizens of the media. Find and replace the citizen with
users. Users have rights too. The user is not a non-historical category
but rather a system-specific actor that holds no relationship to
modernity’s institutions and their corresponding discourse on rights.
What is needed, then, is total reengineering of user-rights within the
logic of networks. As much as ‘citizen journalists’, liberal democratic
governments, big media and global institutions are endlessly effusive
about their democratic credentials, organized networks are equally
insistent in maintaining a ‘non-democratic’ politics. A politics without
representation - since how do networks represent anything? - and instead
a non- representational politics of relations. Non-democratic does not
mean anti-democratic or elitist. It has proven of strategic importance
to loosen ties between ‘democracy’ and ‘the media’. Let’s us remember
that the citizen journalist is always tied to the media organs of the
nation-state. Networks are not nations. In times of an abundance of
channels, platforms and networks, it is no longer necessary to claim
‘access’. The democratization of the media has come to an end. People
are tired of reading the same old critique of NYT, CNN and other news
outlets that are so obviously Western and neo-liberal biased. It is time
to concentrate our efforts on the politics of filtering. What
information do we want to read and pass on? What happens when you find
out that I am filtering you out? Do we only link to ‘friends’? And what
to make of this obsessive compulsion to collect ‘friends’? Would it be
alright if we replaced friends with comrades? What could object against
the tendency to build social networks? Wasn’t this what so many
activists dreamt of?


 Governance requires protocols of dissensus. The governance of networks
is most clearly brought into question at the borders of networks.
Control is the issue here. Borders function to at once regulate entry,
but they also invite secret societies to infiltrate by other means. The
contest between these two dynamics can be understood as the battle
between governmental regimes and non- governmental desires. We do not
have to decide here as we have split agendas: we long for order in times
of chaos and simultaneously overload and dream of free information
streams. This brings us to the related issue of sustainability. If the
borders of networks consist of governmental and non-governmental
elements (administration vs. inspired sabotage and the will to
infiltrate), then we can also say that the borders of networks highlight
their inherent fragility. How can this be turned into a strength for the
future of networks? There are always overlaps of identity and social


Design your education. At the current conjuncture we find inspiration in
the proliferation of education-centred networks, of non-aligned
initiatives, of militant research. Education, of course, has always been
about the cultivation of minds and bodies in order supply capital with
its required labour-power. Organized networks have a crucial role to
play in the refusal of subjugating labour and life to the mind-numbing
and life-depleting demands of post-Fordist capital. And it is through
these ‘edu-networks’ that we see some of the most inspiring activities
of new institutional invention. This, we believe, is where energies can
be directed that engage in practices of creative collaboration. What we
need is a conceptual push and a subsequent ‘art of translation’ in order
to migrate critical concepts from one context to the next. It is time to
reclaim an avant-garde position and not leave the further development of
such vital techno-social tools to the neo-liberal corporate sector. What
we say here about new media and Internet can also be transposed to other
sectors of education and research. Over the next decade, half of the
world population will use a mobile phone and two billion the Internet.
How are we going to use this potential?

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