Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Next Political Movement: The Web Party

There is a sea change happening online today, and if you are not aware (or are over the age of 30), then you are merely sleeping but will soon be awakened to a new reality.

I wrote the other day that calling Al Qaeda a "top-down, systematic institution was a fallacy because there is no such structure. The prevailing narrative is that the US "took out the head of Al Qaeda in Bahrain" for example, as though that is a quantifiable victory for our side - but it's not. Al Qaeda is more like an idea than it is an actual army, where Generals sit in the bunker cave, deploying missions to their soldiers on the ground. The sea change of the internet and Web 2.0 (or Web 2.2 maybe) is that there are cultural and political flares on the horizon that I am suggesting will grow stronger and louder over time, not quieter and diminished.

There are basically two prevailing thoughts as to how/what the web should be doing, by some very powerful people whom you might not have heard of until now.  Infographic link.

On one end of the spectrum is Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook. Mr. Zuckerberg believes in content management and ownership. In this way, Zuckerberg is a free market capitalist, in that he believes that if you made it and you produce it, that you should benefit from the work you put into it. (This might explain why he hasn't taken Facebook public yet - because he is still cashing in on the hard work). Bill Gates and Steve Jobs would agree with Zuckerberg, I think. They too believe that they should be capitalizing on the hard work that they put into their products, 25 years ago. That would explain why they are still intricately involved with their companies brands, and why, like Zuckerberg, we have personal associations with their names and likenesses to their products. Copyright law is in place for a reason and if you break copyright law, then you should be penalized, that would be a part of their world view.

On the other end of the spectrum are the real free market guys - with an emphasis on free! This group cannot be epitomized by a single individual, and that is on purpose. The closest that you can come to pegging a person like Mark Zuckerberg to an organization is Christopher Poole, the 22-year-old founder of 4chan. You might not have heard of 4Chan until now, but don't feel bad. I wouldn't have heard of it either, except that Vanity Fair ran a profile article on Christopher Poole in their December issue, which was what got me thinking about this topic in the first place.

Is Christopher Poole important? Should you know about him? You bet. He was named Time magazine's most influential person in the world in 2010. Not only did he beat out legendary athletes for the tops spot, he also beat out world leaders and important and influential opinion-makers as well, like Barack Obama, Vladamir Putin and Oprah Winfrey. Mr. Poole sat down for an interview with NY Times Tech corespondent Nick Bilton in 2010. During the interview he showed just how influential 4Chan is in viewer and user-ship. Poole says:
"We started with 20 users. Now we’re the largest active forum in the United States, with 8.2 million unique visitors every month and 600 million page loads per month. People are on the site are on for an average of 19 minutes at a time and look at 30 pages each. On top of that, we’re currently getting 800,000 new posts a day" (NY Times, 2010).
Before you go out and check on 4Chan for yourself, you should know that if you pass the "over 20-years-old" test, then it might not be for you. According to Poole, the site is full of Japanese Anime, raunchy porn and oodles and oodles of "cute cat pictures."  That is apparently a part of the draw for people who browse and share content on 4Chan, it is a place to lay out your eccentricities without judgement from others - it's all good on the site.

4Chan is also "inadvertently responsible" for launching the hacker group, Anonymous. If you haven't heard of Anonymous, then you need to slow down and take a load off, because these guys are wild. Anonymous hackers have tapped Mastercard, Paypal, and Visa security as well as Spanish law enforcement, databases of the Egyptian and Iranian government and recently hit the PBS web site, leaking content and data from it. They have been attributed for hacking the Sony web site, the U.S. Senate web site, but neither of those were conducted by Anonymous. They are announcing that they intend to target the Federal Reserve this month for attack. In this respect, Anonymous is like Al Qaeda: There is no there, there. That's to say that Spanish police have made arrests as have Turkish authorities, but I do not have any faith that it will stop this very, very loose network of "anonymous" hackers, in part because they technically don't know each other. That's the point!

Anonymous, love em or like em, have also been responsible for continuing the Wikileaks lanes open for processing and dissemination while Julian Assange is being investigated for unrelated crimes. Anonymous is power and they are personal! They don't attack anyone at random - it is deliberate targeting. Anonymous launched a campaign titled "TitStorm" after they caught wind that the Australian government was going to pass "porn censorship" legislation. According to the Austrailian government, the hackers were not able to infiltrate their security firewalls, so they did the next best thing and swamped the government servers with requests which brought their pages down for a time. The attack was effective and sent a message: if you intend to constrict the flow of information and material, we will come after you!

If Anonymous sounds too radical and too much like cyber-terrorism, then you might want to join the Swedish Pirate Party instead. The Pirate Party says that it has two agendas to set on their political platform: copyright reform and abolish the patent system. On their web site, the Pirate Party says this about their first pillar of governing, copyright reform:
"The official aim of the copyright system has always been to find a balance in order to promote culture being created and spread. Today that balance has been completely lost, to a point where the copyright laws severely restrict the very thing they are supposed to promote""
The Pirate Party has no official alliance to The Pirate Bay, a torrent-trading site of all kinds of media, but they seem to share the same values.The Pirate Party does is far from conservative and does not shy away from controversy. In what seemed like a very unlikely victory, Pirate Party candidate Christian Engstrom was elected to the European parliament in 2009. A big victory for the party, but a drop in the political bucket for the 785 seat parliament. Engstrom told Reuters that he attributed his victory to voters, under the age of 30, who "are the ones who understand the new world the best. And they have now signaled they don't like how the big parties deal with these issues."

So, what does this all mean? It is far too soon to tell. If you look at this strictly from a monetary bend, then it would appear that Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs have the upper hand. Both men are very smart and both of whom have a stranglehold on their companies content and messaging. At the same time, there is a ground swell of millions of online users, downloading content, streaming movies, music and pictures, and all of whom demand transparency and freedom of choice and access to their favorite media.

The smart money is to believe that "this too shall pass," and that the 4Chan's and Pirate Bay's of the world will exist as new technologies pop up, allowing us more access to all of the media that we like, but that they will eventually wash away. But, the clever money is to bet on the loose organization of hackers who will penalize any institution which tries to curtail their "rights" as they see them. And for anyone under the age of 30 who has grown up with downloading content online through torrent servers and the like, it's going to be a hard habit to break. And as anyone in sales will tell you, there is no track record for getting someone to pay for something that they have been getting for free up and until now.

My vote is with The Pirate Party! I might have worked hard for this blog, but I want it to be freely disseminated to anyone with eyes to see!

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