Indymedia and the Enclosure of the Internet
First, a little bit about me. I live in London, I’m a programmer for a living, and I have been involved with Indymedia since the autumn of 2000. Like many other people, I have been thinking about Indymedia’s technical platforms.
I think that we are in bad shape when compared with the predominantly corporate-owned sites that political organizers are often turning to. People are generally not putting their videos on Indymedia anymore – those go onto Youtube. Photos are going into Flickr. There has been an explosion of good political content being published on the net, but it’s not happening on our sites, because in many cases it’s easier for people to register an account on Blogger.com and put it there instead. Political groups don’t advertise their presence on Indymedia anymore, they set up a MySpace group. For that matter, most political people don’t register email accounts with riseup.net or aktivix.org or one of the other activist-run email services, they get a Gmail or Hotmail account instead. This is a general problem and is much bigger than either Indymedia or left activism, but it’s worth thinking about how we can respond to it.
One necessary response is education. Activists who would never consider eating meat or crossing a picket line think nothing of putting their entire communications infrastructure into the hands of Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, and Rupert Murdoch. There are enormous practical problems with respect to communications security, data ownership, privacy, censorship of content, and data mining by both corporations and law enforcement agencies. From what I can see everyone from the left-liberal NGOs and environmentalists, to the unions, and over into the extraparliamentary anarchist and communist groups all have the same attitude: there is no problem. Move along. Shut up about it, you’re being a geek.
We need to be explaining these issues to people in a consistent and effective way. Perhaps explaining that it’s like holding all your political meetings at McDonalds, and ensuring that the police come and film you while you do so, would be one approach to take.
Education alone will not solve the problem, though. We need to provide self-managed alternatives.