Press "Enter" to skip to content

Tag: global guerrillas

The power of networks: distributed journalism, meme warfare, and collective intelligence

These are the slides for what was perhaps my favorite lecture so far in BCM112. The lecture has three distinct parts, presented by myself and my PhD students Doug Simkin and Travis Wall. I opened by building on the previous lecture which focused on the dynamics of networked participation, and expanded on the shift from passive consumption to produsage. The modalities of this shift are elegantly illustrated by the event-frame-story structure I developed to formalize the process of news production [it applies to any content production]. The event stage is where the original footage appears – it often is user generated, raw, messy, and with indeterminate context. The frame stage provides the filter for interpreting the raw data. The story stage is what is produced after the frame has done its work. In the legacy media paradigm the event and frame stages are closed to everyone except the authority figures responsible for story production – governments, institutions, journalists, academics, intellectuals, corporate content producers. This generates an environment where authority is dominant, and authenticity is whatever authority decides – the audience is passive and in a state of pure consumption. In the distributed media paradigm the entire process is open and can be entered by anyone at any point – event, frame, or story. This generates an environment where multiple event versions, frames, and stories compete for produser attention on an equal footing.

These dynamics have profound effects on information as a tool for persuasion and frame shifting, or in other words – propaganda. In legacy media propaganda is a function of the dynamics of the paradigm: high cost of entry, high cost of failure, minimum experimentation, inherent quality filter, limited competition, cartelization with limited variation, and an inevitable stagnation.

In distributed media propaganda is memes. Here too propaganda is a function of the dynamics of the paradigm, but those are characterized by collective intelligence as the default form of participation in distributed networks. In this configuration users act as a self-coordinating swarm towards an emergent aggregate goal. The swarm has an orders of magnitude faster production time than the legacy media. This results in orders of magnitude faster feedback loops and information dissemination.

The next part of the lecture, delivered by Doug Simkin, focused on a case study of the /SG/ threads on 4chan’s /pol/ board as an illustration of an emergent distributed swarm in action. This is an excellent case study as it focuses on real-world change produced with astonishing speed in a fully distributed manner.

The final part of the lecture, delivered by Travis Wall, focused on a case study of the #draftourdaughters memetic warfare campaign, which occurred on 4chan’s /pol/ board in the days preceding the 2016 US presidential election. This case study is a potent illustration of the ability of networked swarms to leverage fast feedback loops, rapid prototyping, error discovery, and distributed coordination in highly scalable content production.

WikiLeaks and information warfare

Plenty has been happening while I was immersed in the joys of fatherhood. WikiLeaks, and the whole theater of deception surrounding it, has been the most thought-provoking flow of events by far. Plenty to write about, but for now this quote from Raffi Khatchadourian’s excellent piece on Assange:

“He had come to understand the defining human struggle not as left versus right, or faith versus reason, but as individual versus institution. As a student of Kafka, Koestler, and Solzhenitsyn, he believed that truth, creativity, love, and compassion are corrupted by institutional hierarchies, and by “patronage networks”—one of his favorite expressions—that contort the human spirit. He sketched out a manifesto of sorts, titled “Conspiracy as Governance,” which sought to apply graph theory to politics. Assange wrote that illegitimate governance was by definition conspiratorial—the product of functionaries in “collaborative secrecy, working to the detriment of a population.” He argued that, when a regime’s lines of internal communication are disrupted, the information flow among conspirators must dwindle, and that, as the flow approaches zero, the conspiracy dissolves. Leaks were an instrument of information warfare. These ideas soon evolved into WikiLeaks.”

The gold dinar

The following news stories, coupled with the recent unveiling of a gold ATM in Abu Dhabi seem like the first steps on the road to a trend:

1. Apparently the Malaysian state of Kelantan introduced some time ago the gold Dinar and the silver Dirham as legal tender, and the coins are in circulation with at least 3 different banks responsible for coinage and distribution. Interestingly, one of the reasons given by the chief minister of the state of Kelantan for introducing the coins, is that:

“the poor would be protected against inflation by the intrinsic value of the precious metals”

Who would have expected an Islamist party member from provincial Malaysia to speak words straight from an Austrian Economic Theory textbook?

2. An amazing video from Indonesia, where a private Islamic organization is coining – you guessed it – gold Dinars and silver Dirhams. Their explanation for doing it, and the interviews with ordinary people using the coins for their savings, are eye-opening.  One of the interviewees frames it as follows:

“The Dinar and Dirham represent a moral movement of maximum individual freedom”

It seems that this coinage movement sees itself as both enabling individual freedom from banking manipulation and the resulting inflation (obliteration of savings), and as a protest against state corruption and central bank control over individual lives (centrally controlled interest rates).