Passwords are Not Optional.
On April 23, 2013 a single tweet sent the Dow Jones industrial average into a tailspin, losing more than 146 points within minutes. The tweet from @AP (The Associated Press) reported, “Breaking: Two explosions in the White House and Barack Obama is injured.” Within seconds Twitter was ablaze with retweets and users were asking, “is this real or hackers?” My news feed was nearly illegible for five very confusing minutes. The recent attack on the Boston marathon made me a believer in the speed of Twitter to break stories faster than cable news outlets as people tweeting from behind locked doors reported “shots fired” before CNN. Over the weekend, another prominent network news outfit, 60 minutes, also had their twitter account seized. None of the fake tweets of @60minutes attempted to report false news though. Yet, the threat of a crack of @AP “for the lulz” was also a good possibility given the wide scattering of a password across an organization. Of course, obtaining a password from an organization like AP takes skill, but it also requires a non-vigilant user or inefficient protocol.
Passwords are obligatory passage points, as described by Callon (1986), where only some actors have access to information at particular points and can transfer information from local to global domains by using accounts to move between stations. Further, obligatory passage points “have control over all transactions between the local and the global networks” (Bijker and Law 1992, 31). In other words, where there is no access to the password, there is no legitimate way to pass information through the network. However, it only takes one user with a stored password and/or lackluster security practices to disturb the entire enterprise. Passwords are not optional for Twitter users. They are a necessary facet of substantiating an online identity. The password validates the account, or so the audience believes. Without this substantial belief in the power of passwords to legitimate identity, there would be no production of a crisis.
Information exists truthfully in these hybrid moments of cracked identities. At the flash of the tweet from @AP, the White House was bombed, but the market took the hit. Internet sleuths deduced it was a hack, not because they knew the White House was standing, but because of the route of the information. The Associated Press usually tweets through a medium called Social Flow. The shocking tweet came through the web and was thus of a questionable source. This is ironic because sources in journalism are usually thought to be people. Later, it was revealed that a sophisticated phishing email was circulated around the AP offices earlier in the day. Obviously, it worked on at least one user.
Importantly, there is now irrevocable proof that tweeting impacts the stock market if the information comes from a reputable source. While no other news maker was reporting AP’s story, nor were other AP outlets, this missive framed a moment and made itself truthful in its effects. Cracking a twitter account is tantamount to grabbing the microphone in a crowd and blurting something out as fast as can be. It’s really only a matter of time before order is restored and passwords reissued. In the meantime though, it triggers other deleterious effects such as heightened security protocols and possible expulsion or arrest, if caught.
I am going to abstract from this story a small lesson: tweeting has the capacity to produce action. Obviously, not all tweets will, but depending on the nature of the network (including audience) there can be significant causal effects of this simplified communication technique. This marks Twitter as a networked broadcasting tool with real economic, social, and political consequences. Now that I’ve done the messy work of substantiating Twitter as a viable communication tool that mediates action, I’ll describe how it works in the domain of networked social movements in my next post.
Bijker, W. and J. Law (Eds.). (1992). Shaping Technology, Building Society: Studies in Sociotechnical Change. Cambridge, Mass, MIT Press.
Callon, Michel 1986. “Some Elements of a Sociology of Translation: Domestication of the Scallops and the Fishermen of St Brieuc Bay.” pp. 196–233 in Power, Action and Belief: A New Sociology of Knowledge, edited by John Law. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Broadcasting in a moment of Terror
I don’t think I really understood how technology has impacted everyday life until today. A few hours ago, two bombs detonated at the end of the Boston marathon. I was born and raised in Boston; I cut my teeth with the punx on mission hill; walked dogs in Jamaica plain; and ate my share of dumpstered food from Trader Joe’s. I remember the marathons fondly even though runners and fans jammed up the Green Line all day. As I sit here in Los Angeles, the images of static buildings and a screaming crowd enveloped by smoke shake me. Now, the news shows the aftermath of broken glass and bloodied sidewalks.
My phone started buzzing with texts within minutes as friends found out. Here I am, nearly ten years separated from the location, but I can easily recall walking through that section of Boylston on my way to get records at Newbury Comics. The familiarity does not make me feel as if this could have happened to me, but rather that this could happen anywhere to anyone… from Boston to Baghdad. It reminds me that people suffer from violence every day. Here in the US, families are told their loved ones have been killed at war, at school, at the post office, at the hands of their lover. There “anywhere” families find out their kin are victims of ideas turned into action; convictions that overtake the minds of the mad who lack the courage to resist peacefully.
I turn on the Boston Police Scanner. “affirmative…[static]… device… [static]… both locations? …Top of Heartbreak hill… Copy that.” Voices in the WiFi remind me that this attack is on-going. More devices are found as the Governor takes the podium on CNN.
My heart relaxes as I see FaceBook posts from friends who work downtown saying they are okay. A family member posts a video from half a block away from the explosion. A man off screen yells into his phone, “No! Dude! Are you watching the TV right now? Somethin’ happened in Boston. Ah, I don’t know…. There’s fuckin’ bombs going off. Two of ‘em. Turn on the. Turn on the fuckin’ TV man. I swear to God.” I wondered who I would have called if I was there? Which way would I run? What would I do if there was here? Then, I thought about war.
A reporter at the press conference asked the Commissioner of the Boston Police Department, “Is this an act of terrorism?”
“Based on what happened you can reach your own conclusions.” he replied.
MSNBC reporter intervenes [off screen], “This is an act of terrorism. In his mind, he knows inside that this is an act of terrorism.” Why are they afraid to call it war?
I message a friend who works in Cambridge to let her know I am concerned. She responds immediately that her husband is on his way to get her. I worry about them in the city and on the highway, mainly because the only way to get into Boston is over bridges or through tunnels. Obligatory passage points that could easily become choked and tied to this brutal event.
A third bomb is reportedly found at the JFK library. On September 11, 2011, I was sitting in the parking lot at UMASS Boston when the radio lit up with reports about the WTC. The radio said the JFK library would be next. If you know the geography of the city then you know these places are on the same tiny jetty. I turned my car on and began to drive home. Route 93 was packed with cars and I sat on the highway for hours before we moved an inch. I remember turning my engine off to save gas. I had a cell phone then and feverishly texted friends for more information. I did not have access to the internet. But what would it have mattered? Information can do many things, one is set you at ease, but it can also be terrifying.
“Suspicious package up the street. It’s all set. We’re gonna get people’s names on a website if they are lookin’ for their people,” echoes the BPD scanner, “we need an estimate of the number of runners at the war memorial auditorium… We need a four man team to go to the State House.”
I go back to FaceBook to read that there is a bomb at Harvard. Someone else says “they caught an Arab guy in a backpack at Tufts.” I think about how my band used to play both Tufts and Harvard. I wear a backpack nearly every day. The BPD commissioner says on CNN, “Those are false reports. We have no suspects in custody.” I think about racism.
Now, I got all channels blasting and my mind is swarming with confusion. Have I checked on everyone? Why do they keep showing the sidewalk full of blood? It’ll never be over.
I tell myself not to, but I open Twitter anyway. People are reporting that all cell service is shut down at the very same time that the BPD scanner says, “Call the lieutenant on his cell.” Irony.
Yet even with all the confusion, I am grateful to be able to switch channels; to move between broadcasts from my memory, friends, strangers, and even the MSM. While I take the messages from friends as comforting, I will remain skeptical of all information as it circulates, contradicts itself, and becomes a casualty in this war of information.
Technologies of Social Change
Here is a presentation I gave on June 23, 2011 to members of STS Italia on the myriad ways in which the Occupy Network communicates across locations.
YouTube Link, or it Didn’t Happen!
It was surreal standing in the middle of art walk with two friends knowing that Occupy LA were essentially banned from Spring Street due to a police riot that broke out a month before. On July 12, 2011, the LAPD shot rubber bullets into a crowd of art walk attendees mixed with members of Occupy LA, myself included, because some were writing with chalk on the sidewalks. In an effort to avoid any more injuries from police violence, the Occupy LA General Assembly accepted a proposal effectively relegating all activities related to “chalking” to Pershing Square for the August 9th art walk. Occupy LA also called for solidarity “chalking” actions across the World on the same day.
In the week leading up to art walk, the LAPD arrested members of Occupy LA for chalking and other public misdemeanors, while the media published various articles debating the LAPD’s use of a vandalism law to arrest people writing with chalk. Early in the morning of August 9th, the cops detained members of Fresh Juice Party shortly after they finished an enormous chalk mural in Pershing Square. Later that day, the LA Times reported that a fist fight broke out between someone from Occupy LA and a visitor from Occupy Oakland over chalking skills. This only compounded the tensions that were amplified in the media over the LAPD “bracing” for Occupy LA’s return to art walk.
Fresh Juice Party’s “I (heart) the First Amendment” mural
“No stopping! No talking! Just buying! Everything’s fine!” I shouted as people passed on the crowded sidewalks of 5th and Spring. My two friends and I posted up near a KCAL reporter on the corner and unfurled our “Class WARhol” banner, while another held a sign that read “Legalize Art.”
Within a few minutes we were asked to move by the LAPD. We crossed the street and stopped again. This time we positioned ourselves behind a parked police car and a fire hydrant, so as not to disrupt the flow of pedestrians. LAPD Sergeant Bogart approached us on his bicycle and said “I’m going to need to ask you to move.”
My friend replied, “Where to? Three feet this way? Three feet that way? We were just told to move from the other corner.”
“I can’t tell you that. You just have to move” repeated the Sergeant.
I was looking down at my feet, a bit nervous to be around so many police, when I saw spit land next to my right foot. I looked up and asked the Sergeant, “Did you just spit at me?”
He smirked and said, “Does that make you feel intimidated?”
Choking on my words, I quietly said, “Why? Should I be?”
The Sergeant spit to my left side and smiled, “Did it look just like that?”
My friend then asked the Sergeant if it was department policy to allow officers to chew tobacco while on duty, to which the Sergeant replied, “I see we are going to have a problem here.” The Sergeant then got off his bike and spit again. This time it landed a little further from me, but still within a few inches.
My recent research into police tactics during protests made it easier to detect what the Sergeant was doing. He wanted either me or my friends to overreact to his taunts, so that we could be arrested and the LAPD could declare a moral victory over Occupy LA in the morning’s press. I stepped back and stated loudly “I am backing up! No need to spit at me!” By this time, there were at least five cameras on us, yet no one intervened. Because the cameras were not there when the altercation began, there is no ‘proof’ of his assault, but because the cameras were present during the aftermath, they may have protected me from further insult. Ironically, I had two cameras on me, but did not want to be shot for “reaching into a pocket” like so many others. Due to the Sergeant’s smugness, I have no doubt that this man has used a similar tactic to force compliance on other occasions. All that remains is my word and those of the witnesses against the Sergeant. I imagine the frustration I experienced is quite common in communities that are forced to interact with the police “for their own safety.”
The situation gives me pause to reflect again on police provocation, testimonies, and cameras. If anyone surrounding me did intervene, the consequences for all could have been tragic. There were no less than 30 police officers in that intersection, some on horses, others on bikes, and many on foot. The build-up by the local media to Occupy LA’s attendance at art walk, like Tyson Vs. Holyfield, put everyone on edge. No one wanted to back down. By spitting at me, Sergeant Bogart could have triggered a much larger reaction that would have provided the rationale for deploying hundreds of extra police to stamp out the vestiges of political speech in Downtown LA.
I remained collected enough to walk away with my body intact, but my dignity obliterated. The next day, The LAist wrote that Occupy LA claimed that the LAPD stood down (which they did because there were no arrests in a chalk covered Pershing Square), while the LAPD claimed that Occupy LA backed off (which they did because they did not go to art walk en mass). Importantly, this battle of Los Angeles has nothing to do with the medium of chalk as reported in the media. For the LAPD, it is really about vilifying those already marginalized and legitimating the increased policing of downtown, but for Occupy LA it is about slowing the gentrification of downtown in defense of the very poor.
The abundance of police during art walk- and in downtown more generally- has been questioned many times before Occupy LA even existed. In fact, the majority of Occupy LA unknowingly stepped into the debate after the raid on November 30, 2011. For years, the LAPD and The Central City Association’s private security have patrolled art walk to stave off the wayward homeless from neighboring skid row, so that the very poor, with their cries of hunger and untreated open wounds, do not disrupt the roving middle class crowd. Moreover, the art walk crowd is taught to fear skid row as lines of cops audibly warn middle class attendees not to travel far from Main Street.
My “Class WARhol” banner was designed to engage intelligent art walk attendees in conversation about the on-going class war in LA’s historic downtown core. I spoke with some art walk patrons who thought the banner was clever, but did not know much the treatment of the very poor in downtown LA. Others knew about the dangers of life on skid row (including rampant police harassment), but did not know that the police typically searched and arrested homeless people from skid row in preparation for art walk. While the galleries are busy washing their walls white to prepare for new art, the LAPD and CCA security are conducting their own kind of whitewash just outside.
CCA Prepares to “Clean Up” Skid Row
“Clean streets” in downtown LA does not simply mean removing trash and washing human waste into the gutters, it really implies ridding the streets of poor people and what little they own. Recently, it has come to include removing all memory traces of political speech by erasing the most ephemeral form of expression: sidewalk chalk. In the case of Occupy LA, they are getting lambasted by the police for calling attention to the problems of the very poor. Even more disheartening though, the shifting demographics of Occupy LA over the last 3 months are used to justify the actions of the LAPD - the poor, gay, black, and brown are now at the forefront of the Occupy movement and consequently, they bear the brunt of the attacks from the police. These populations are the favored marks of an institution that derives its own authority by depriving the people of their own power.
Lastly, I am beginning to better understand the imperative of ‘camera power’ to new social movements. Footage of cops enforcing their requests does in a flash what it might take years of filing official complaints to accomplish, the images reveal the non-institutionalized means by which compliance is actually accomplished: spitting, hair pulling, arm twisting, finger bending, and so on… all the things that children usually resort to in order to get their way. Resembling Tyson, when faced with an opponent that won’t yield, cops must also resort to cheating. Sadly though, like DNA evidence, future reliance on technology is at a cost to human witnessing itself as people’s testimonies become a comparably less authoritative account of an event. Like I said before, ‘give me the YouTube link, or it didn’t happen!’
Radical Imaginaries: Community Uprisings and the Occupy Movement
The ethics of the Occupy network are loosely based on the principles of Ghandi and Martin Luther King, but there is a strong disagreement on the terms of non-violence as it pertains to property. This disagreement about respecting and not respecting private property has led to intense in-fighting, which has split many local occupations interested in developing new tactics post-camping. In addition to separating those who may find close affinity on other values, the disagreement about tactics covers over another important discussion: what is the difference between protests that adhere to the ethics of Occupy and community uprisings? The uprising in Anaheim CA provides an opportunity to look closely at the relationship between the semi-structured organization of Occupy and the tactics of a community besieged by police violence.
On July 21, outraged over the Anaheim police shooting an unarmed Latino man, residents in the neighborhood of the deceased took to the streets demanding answers. The APD responded by shooting rubber bullets and unleashed a dog on the group of men, women, and children. Since the incident, many more residents of Anaheim and the greater Los Angeles area took to the streets to shout down police brutality, but they too were met with a violent reaction by the APD. The next day APD shot another young Latino man.
On the evening of July 24th, many residents were turned away from a city council meeting, only to be chased through the streets by APD firing beanbags, rubber bullets, and other projectiles indiscriminately. Numerous pictures and videos of injuries from the melee show impact wounds. One widely shared video shows a man shot in the chest at close range. Allegations surfaced that one of the main provocateurs in the crowd (throwing bottles at the cops) was actually a police plant intent on creating a flash point for mob violence. The MSM chose to focus on property damage to business windows, but it is unclear if the windows were broken by protesters or police projectiles.
Contrary to Occupy, those participating in the Anaheim uprising have no agreement on non-violence because communities are amorphous groups of people with divergent interests, values, and ideas about direct action. Therefore, the Anaheim demonstrators have recourse to insurrectionist tactics that members protesting under the banner of Occupy do not. Some of the tactics available to the Anaheim protesters include property destruction, dumpster fires, and throwing bottles, bricks, and rocks at human targets. That is to say, during moments of collective action in community uprisings, many in the crowd do not feel a shared sense of values or accountability. While protesters may be in the streets for the same reason (to protest police brutality and/or express outrage at the deaths of minority men), there is not shared goal. For example, some believe redistributing community resources is necessary. Others believe that redistricting the votes for city council members will help. Many seek the prosecution of officers involved in the shootings.
The police have turned to “community leaders” to quell the emotions of the protesters, but it is unclear how their pleas for peace will resonate with those most dissatisfied with community policing policies. In addition, the APD’s use of ‘less-lethal’ weapons on crowds causes much of the chaos they admonish. This only adds fuel to the fire of the MSM, who describe demonstrators as an “angry mob” or “unruly crowd” peppered with references to “gang members” and “potential violence.” These descriptions justify the violent tactics used by the Anaheim police department to disperse the protesters, including firing pepper balls, bean bags, and rubber bullets without warning.
Importantly, the subsequent connection between the Anaheim uprising and Occupiers in Southern California is well-documented. People from the camp at Occupy LA are participating in the Anaheim protests, while also providing organizing and technological support. Because many of the people who attended the camps and continue to attend the general assemblies were invested in social justice issues prior to Occupy, it is not surprising that Occupiers would become engrossed in many protest movements at once. In fact, the only real time coverage of Anaheim on 7/24/12 belonged to streamers Sky Adams, Tim Pool, and Occupy Orange County. While they streamed to thousands of viewers, many tweeted pictures, locations, and information about the goings-on in Anaheim. While the 11pm MSM concluded the protests were “over,” streamers and tweeters showed the very ugly face of police brutality and a community on the brink.
As well as being present in Anaheim, Occupy LA had a conflict with riot police on July 12 during the city’s monthly art walk event, where protesters were arrested for writing with chalk in the sidewalk. News of the arrests angered many on-lookers who spilled into the streets as the LAPD mounted a massive army of riot police to clear downtown. This situation led to police shooting “stinger balls” into the growing crowd and some bottle throwing, but nascent property damage. One food truck and a few police cars were tagged by graffiti artists who seized the opportunity during the chaotic situation. Towards the end of the demo, chants of “we are peaceful” from occupiers were drowned out by screams of “fuck the police” from the mobile mass of art walk attendees.
Noticeably without the camps, local occupations have difficulty maintaining community agreements not just about the terms of non-violent protest, but also about what issues/actions to take up and how best to conduct community outreach. Much of the confusion is due to the fact that community agreements are largely unenforceable. Shunning, shaming, and as a last resort, exile are the preferred tactics for imposing boundaries within Occupy, but in the midst of social unrest these tactics fail to stop bottles from being thrown by protesters.
In both of these instances of community insurgency, many occupiers retroactively justified the destructive actions of the mass by insisting, “but, the cops fired first.” The police are an arm of the state and consequently, their violence against the public is legitimated by the role they play in maintaining moral order. This means that to the State and the MSM, it really does not matter if the police fire first or second because they will undoubtedly also fire last.
Another familiar refrain is that those committing the acts against property and/or people “were not Occupiers.” But like the notion of ‘community,’ there is no requirement for membership in Occupy and adherence to shared values does not always extend to agreements about tactics. Concretely, this shows that some property destruction and violence against police is tolerated by Occupiers during broad community insurrections, even many who are strict adherents to non-violence who publicly condemned property destruction during Occupy protests.
Therefore, organizers wanting to impose an agreement of non-violence that devalues property destruction must in the first instance, plan their protests in such a way that both values and tactics are well disseminated amongst the participants. In this situation, facebook event pages become integral for setting tacit community agreements about what tactics will be tolerated by organizers.
For example, there are no less than four event pages for anti-police demos in Anaheim each with a different set of tactics including teach-ins, marches, pickets, and rallies. Police have set up barricades around the station anticipating large crowds. Statements appearing on facebook event pages already condemn anarchists for acts that have not yet happened. As one person writes, “We do not need the anarchists jeopardizing the protesters or the cause of justice. We do not need crazy disorder from the cops or the anarchists to destroy the purpose of our peaceful protest. We need a disciplined protest to let the whole world know of the racist and lawless Anaheim police department.” Statements such as the one above illustrate that insurrectionary tactics are expected, but there does not seem to be a plan in place to prevent them from occurring.
As well, the author pins imaginary acts of violence on a group with widely divergent views on property destruction, but fail to blame likely culprits such as mischievous youth and the police themselves. Given the contentious issue with a police provocateur, protesters are more likely to encounter block ops than black bloc. Moreover, the property destruction in Anaheim somewhat resembles a tame version a sports riot, which usually involves overturned cars set on fire and the blockading of public transportation. Yet, no one claims the anarchists were involved in those scenes.
Importantly, while many anarchists eschew city council meetings and cooperating with the State as useful strategies, they do have recourse to a laundry list of ‘outside’ tactics that have nothing to do with the destruction of property, lighting fires, and throwing bottles. However, the propensity to perpetuate these stereotypes prevails unquestioningly in many liberal circles. Perhaps, the liberal only becomes an anarchist when city council stops returning their calls. In discussions on facebook, ‘the anarchist’ as a person, tactic, and group is a radical imaginary, a thing that is described in a marginalized way by another group for the purpose of defining and codifying shared values of the group. So, the liberals say the anarchists are just as bad as the cops in causing havoc and defeating the causes, while in turn, the anarchists define the liberals as a bunch of cowards that abandon the cause when politics get messy.
In contrast to structured demos with online discussion forums, protests without a set agenda and a set end time become open to co-option and derailment by those who do not share values or goals. This is further complicated when a community is loosely tied together by a shared location and desire for justice, but have not had the opportunity to discuss tactics. For instance, the uprising on July 24th was a rather spontaneous emotional reaction to being shut out of city hall. The disorganization opened up a space for the police to usher in a provocateur to incite the crowd and make a spectacle for the media. In fact on that night, the MSM were reporting from behind the police line, so rarely were the views or faces of residents showcased. The MSM anti-messaging of the protesters makes it difficult for on-lookers to understand the point of view of the public and reaffirms the need for less-lethal force. As well, the positioning of the MSM behind police lines draws a boundary between the orderly movements of the State and the public who are seen as a disorganized cloud of screaming outsiders. This view is substantiated as police chief Welter claims that 2/3 of the people protesting on July 24th were not Anaheim residents, “I think the vast majority (of people) were from outside, and I think they were here for one reason and one reason only and that is to create havoc, damage property, cause injuries and in effect just attack the democratic way.” However, 20 out of the 24 people arrested that night were residents of Anaheim, which proves a much higher proportion of residents were present. Besides all that, why should we be fooled into believing that because an atrocity happens in one place that people from another place should not get involved? Police brutality is an issue everywhere.
Nonetheless, leaderless protests and community uprisings hold a few things in common. Both are heavily policed which push protesters to hold their ground in the face of severe oppression. In addition, even while the tactics of the protest may be understood prior to the event, shared values do not dictate what tactics will appear to demonstrators as the best course of action at the time. This is why retroactive excuse-making of protesters’ destructive actions are so common amongst Occupiers. While it is difficult to enforce community agreements in peaceful times, it is impossible to do so in the midst of a riot. In addition, the MSM’s inability to find the narrative from the point of view of the crowd is another challenge faced by both groups. That is to say, missed opportunities for messaging are not the fault of tactics gone awry or radical imaginaries, but is purposefully diluted by MSM outlets who hide behind the police story. And lastly, each tries to police the boundaries of action through online discourse when possible, but when actually confronting police power new tolerances emerge.
Here then, I end with a recommendation. Make a sign, poster, or installation that says how you feel. Take a picture of yourself holding it in front of the police line and then brag to your twitter followers that you stood up to police power. When the shit hits the fan, know where your friends are, know an exit route, and do what the situation allows. But remember, police chiefs are not dethroned by burning dumpsters and cops look like heroes when they fire on people who are pelleting them with bottles. It is time to imagine new others. It’s time for our multiple identities to shift as the situation develops. Uprisings are a time to create new tactics, forge solidarities, and strengthen alliances. Or, you can just light trashcan fires. It’s really up to you.
Follow #opanaheim and #Anaheim on twitter for updates.