And Taking the OWS Protests Online
Doug Bernard | Washington DC
Periodically we like to share a few of the stories and posts from across the web that caught our eye. There are no editorial threads implied connecting these items together, other than being interesting.
#1: Anonymous vs. the Zetas. Over the last year, the hacker collective Anonymous has gone after a wide range of targets – the Sony Corporation, the CIA (the U.S. intelligence agency), and Barney the Dinosaur to name a few. But now, they’re facing a very different adversary: Mexico’s vicious Zetas drug cartel.
In several videos posted online, presumed members of Anonymous threaten the Zeta cartel with revealing the names and addresses of their top supporters, including journalists and police members, unless the Zetas release a member of the hacker group allegedly kidnapped. “You have made a great mistake taking one of us. Free him,” warns one masked messenger.
There are no confirmed details of the kidnapping, or little else about this story; which is no surprise, considering it pits a lawless “hacktivist” community against a powerful drug mob. One Anonymous spokesperson says the kidnapping happened in October in the Mexican city of Veracruz. In fact, that region is the power base of the illegal drug ring known as “Los Zetas.” The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency labels the Zetas as the most violent drug cartel and paramilitary operating in Mexico, and in the past the Zetas have kidnapped, tortured and killed several journalists and online activists working to expose the cartel’s activities. On the other side, it’s presumed parts of the Anonymous collective are working in Mexico and may have information on the cartel’s supporters, but because of the hidden and highly decentralized nature of the group, it’s hard to know for sure.
It’s also not unusual for online activists to do battle with the drug cartels. “El Blog Del Narco” was one of the first, and still among the most popular, documenting the comings and goings of members and supporters of the Sinaloa drug cartel, a rival smuggling operation to the Zetas. And the cartels have violently struck back, recently hanging and mutilating several online activists from a bridge with signs warning that “this is going to happen to all of those posting funny things on the Internet.” The drug lords do not fool around.
But neither does Anonymous, which is why the threat is being taken seriously. If the group carries out its threat to post on November 4th, both members of the media and the drug cartels will work to confirm the information – the media to document it, and rival cartels to target their opponents. And spreading the risk around, any hackers the cartels have worked with in the past will also come under a shadow of suspicion. In the words of the masked Anonymous spokesperson, “Wait and see.”
#2: Taking the “Occupy” Protests Online. There are currently dozens of real-life protests in the real world streets of many major cities: New York, London, Toronto, Tokyo, and many others. Beginning in New York a few months back, “Occupy Wall Street” (OWS) protesters cite inspiration in part from the massive rallies of the Arab Spring earlier this year. While no governments have yet toppled, the protest encampments quickly grew and spread, generating lots of media coverage but little else so far.
And now, again like the rallies in Cairo and Bahrain, protest supporters are working to document the movement online. The head of MIT’s Center for Civic Media, Ethan Zuckerman, writes of a new joint project between the People’s Production House, or PPH, and NewsMotion.org to bring civic journalism to the protest tent cities.
People’s Production House is a nonprofit journalism training operation working to bring digital tools to the street and help individuals tell and share their own stories. PPH creative director Marisa Jahn, a self-described citizen activist, has joined with NewsMotion’s Julian Rubenstein, a former Washington Post reporter and longtime journalist and documentarian. Together they tell Zuckerman they’re launching a project tentatively titled Basta!, a web platform specifically designed to cover OWS from the protesters point of view. Says Zuckerman:
“The platform seeks to combine original content and curated aggregation, to identify the best, most relevant and accurate sources, whether they’re official, unofficial or citizen sources. One of the key challenges of the system is finding a way to both tell the broad story – seeing the various points on a map where people are participating in the movement – and the deep story. The group is commissioning and serializing portraits of individuals to show off the complexities of these issues, with the goal of being able to tell subtle, multifaceted stories related to the issues.”
Many of the protests, including OWS, already have their own websites, and there are thousands of videos posted online by individuals taping events; perhaps most memorably when protester and Iraq war veteran Scott Olsen was seriously injured in a confrontation with police in Oakland, California. Basta! is not yet online, but you can view some of the coverage PPH has been assembling at their website.
#3: “Open Intern@t” For years, the German artist Aram Bartholl has made the web – and our interaction with it – a major theme of his work. In “Dead Drops,” he embedded real, working flashdrives in buildings and public spaces, allowing daring passersby to upload or download documents. For “WoW,” he constructed enormous signs bearing the names of volunteers, who agreed to walk through major cities with someone else holding the sign above them, much as players do in the online game World of Warcraft (or WoW). Now in “Open Intern@t,” he’s carrying around those ubiquitous LED “OPEN” and “INTERN@T” signs seen hanging in shops around the world. And his signs don’t lie: he also carries a mobile 3G hotspot around with him, allowing people on the street near him to log onto the Internet for free. However, this is art…or a “public intervention,” in his words. So part of the deal is that Bartholl keeps moving, forcing people either to follow around close to him or get pushed off the web.
As art goes, we’re not so sure. But we’re considering buying his “work” and taking it on trips with us.