Skip navigation

Category Archives: Hunter’s section

We’ve touched on the distinction between strategy and tactics in this class a few times (using de Certeau’s formulation: the former signifies a delineation of goals and means to achieve them, and implies a high level of organization often linked to powerful institutions, while the latter is a less structured, more opportunistic and flexible way of acting, used by individuals without much power). Coleman argues that Anonymous operates in the realm of tactics, acting “on the wing,” which gives them much of their flexibility. As she points out, this flexibility is also inherently tied up in the logic of place and space: strategy, according to de Certeau, “postulates a place that can be delimited as its own and serve as the base from which relations with an exteriority composed of targets or threats … can be managed.”

A crucial dimension of Anonymous’s character is the fact that it doesn’t exist in any one place: the idea of an “Anonymous HQ” seems precisely against the point. No central servers can be compromised, no “war room” can be bugged — only the dark corners of various IRC channels and 4chan boards can Anonymous members be watched. Though these virtual locations are in a sense quite public (as anyone can access them), they also require a specialized language to participate in, and they can also be discarded and recreated elsewhere — Coleman describes one of the IRC channels she was in “vanishing” for the period of a month. It seems to me that this lack of a defined place is what makes Anonymous so threatening — the are “legion”, they are a swarm or hive whose blurry spacial boundaries make it difficult to position ourselves with respect to. The internet, by distributing and decentralizing communication, has also allowed for the creation of a non-space for Anonymous to exist in.

 

(Not immanently related, but something I’ve been thinking about a lot this week: how should we legislate revenge porn? I was a bit surprised to see Sarah Jeong’s stance on it: http://www.wired.com/2013/10/why-criminalizing-revenge-porn-is-a-bad-idea/)

In last week’s blog post, I addressed the blurry boundaries which new media facilitates. After attending this week’s lectures and watching CitizenFour, I noticed how they also explicitly deal with a certain blurriness between the public and the private and how those notions have transformed through time. CitizenFour portrays Snowden as a private actor as reflected by the cinematography (close-up shots of his face, shots from inside his hotel room into the Hong Kong skyline) who acts politically, thus becoming public. In fact, the documentary includes many shots Snowden as an anxiety-ridden individual behind his hotel room window, relating to Keenan’s notion of the window as a connection between the public and private. Throughout the documentary, Snowden also deals with the question of celebrity and his ambiguous view on coming out is ever-present. While he explains his rationale behind seeking journalists to provide a non-biased view of the subject, he also links his “coming out” to his story’s legitimacy.

This week’s focus on surveillance shed a new light on the topic for me. I have never been concerned about my privacy online, and to be honest, after learning about all of the issues and Ed Snowden’s work, I am still not too concerned about it. I have never felt restricted by the fact that the government or other organizations can access what I say or how I behave. Yet, I do understand how this capture of information can become a major violation of privacy and liberty rights of citizens.

What I do find more intriguing is anonymity. In Citizenfour, the matter of personality and identity surfaced numerous times, emphasizing that anyone can paint one’s “personality” from the information being collected, such as credit card transactions and online conversation metadata. On the other hand, in the article “Our Weirdness is Free,” Coleman illustrates how the Internet allows for an anonymity that puts the spotlight more on the act rather than the person’s character. Just as Ed Snowden managed to stay as an anonymous source for a few days during the incident, the multiple layers of media and cyberspace of the Internet allows for people to stay without name or specific identity; this balance between public and private reflects the tension between the content and the character.

Another point that I found interesting from Coleman’s piece was the use of languages such as “lulz.” Though I am exposed to the use of such words and the so described “trolls” on the Internet, I have never associated them with political action or masked people. With these characteristics of anonymous users, I agree that it is extremely easy for these Anons to become offensive and hurt others.

This week brought up issues of surveillance, that which we aid in and that which we have no conscious understanding. I thought it was extremely interesting to introduce the fact that most internet technologies were created to further porn and sexual activities in the digital realm (for example, e-commerce was heavily furthered due to the porn industry), so on the foundation, the internet deals and struggles to find a line between exposure, consent, and privacy in such an intimate, personal space. Faith Holland, an artist who spoke in my “Art in Digital Culture” course, speaks about how the main foundation and expansion of the internet is due to “pussys,” both women in porn and cats.
But, beyond that note, I found that the readings and topics from this week focus on how to find a voice in the vast space of the internet and technology and how there’s such a strong pull to connect through these networks while always staying hidden and private. The internet is embedded with so many juxtaposing wants and issues regarding over- and under- exposure. We want to be visible to those we give permission to (like on Facebook), but find it problematic that the government watches over and collects our actions; we operate as masses, like Anonymous, or power and knowledge is concentrated into the hands of a few; we either find ourselves as Deleuze’s “dividuals,” just another set of metadata or as personal beings. But I find that the internet cannot truly connect these two. For the data that is collected via Google searches and taking the 6 subway to Astor Pl. do not equate to a the intricacies of a human beings; it equates to a potential, skeleton that is in the shape of a human with no flesh to give it personality or uniqueness. Our actions recorded via the digital do not, as was stated by Appelbaum in Citizenfour, mean that we committed the crime, but we were just in the same location. This highlights the most potent disconnect, for me, in the digital: the sense of the specific individual being created, through social platforms, messages, etc. and the metadata we create. It almost seems like there is no middle ground between these two, just signals and networks that link the two personalities we create. The internet offers the individual an intimate space, condensed into one screen for personal use, while at the same time almost dehumanizing us and making us one in a million, not in a unique, but in a qualitative understanding.

Despite being a meticulously crafted and Oscar winning documentary, Citizenfour still embraces one of our favorite visual tropes: digital text whizzing across the screen, a la the green letters and numbers in The Matrix. These signify the hyperreality of cyberspace.

But as we know, Citizenfour is not a science fiction film. While it emulates the visual we know and love, the actions themselves are not simulation. The digital space where encryption and instant messaging occur exists outside of physical and tactile reality, but these actions are occurring and in fact did occur — between users and servers, between Snowden and Poitras, between Poitras and Greenwald, and so on.

I worry that the choice to include these visuals in Citizenfour connote spooky, Keanu Reeves technobabble rather than the actual gravity of the situation. Aesthetically speaking, they provide a welcome break from the footage. And they are often accompanied by that terrifying, droning sound. It certainly produces a fearful affect among viewers — but is this a result of a legitimate fear of NSA surveillance or the remnants of generalized cultural anxieties about cyberspace/feelings of cyberspace as hyperreal? Are there alternative methods of visually signifying cyberspace that depart from associations with campy science fiction?

Still, I acknowledge the utility in this visual decision. Snowden’s leaks are massive, and the technological scope that accompanies the events is highly complex — it is not the responsibility of Poitras to answer every question in Citizenfour, including how exactly encryption works. I think a section on that would have bored us.

Citizenfour is an incredibly informative and valuable documentary, but it seems to rely on some distracting practices with concerning consequences for our imaginings of government-mediated surveillance. Even though The Matrix‘s visuals might have been the only option.

Today’s screening of Citizenfour was definitely an eye-opening. Of course I am familiar with the Snowden case as is anyone who follows the news. Watching the documentary, however, I realized how truly omniscient the NSA is and how scary the surveillance methods are no matter the intentions. Not only are suspects followed closely by the NSA officers but millions of other foreigners and US citizens are under a passive watch. The data from credit cards, online transactions, and private messages or calls are recorded to a database that can easily analyze each person’s whereabouts and can recall this information whenever deemed necessary. It makes you think twice about every interaction you have online and any action that can be monitored. The last scene in which Glenn and Snowden cannot even communicate fully when in the same room, but resort to scribbling on pieces of notebook that are torn up after, shows the extent to which they must precaution that they are not surveilled.

But I was even more shocked by something else: we have known much of the information presented to us in Citizenfour since Snowden released the information of the NSA’s programs, however, we have still not done anything meaningful to combat this. It is as if we have come to terms with the constant surveillance of our movements, actions and interactions.

This weekend, I got an email about this social networking site that some students at Dartmouth made called like Repcoin or something, that was basically a combination of Facebook, LinkedIn and Bitcoin – a real modern day application.  Seeing that our reading this week was about Anonymous, naturally I was inspired to become a h4x0r and see what website vulnerabilities I could find.

On my first peek at source code, I found out that literally every page not only has a list of every user of the site, but loads every person’s profile picture.  If you aren’t technical, this might not sound that bad, but trust me it’s CRAZY.  It was pretty clear that the people who made this didn’t really build it with security in mind.   

(Note:  If you want to see all their users, go to repcoin.com, then right click anywhere on the background and click on Inspect Element, and you will get a little box at the bottom of your browser with HTML.  There should be something that says <div class=“links” style=“display…….>, just click the little arrow to the left of that to twirl it down and you will see all the users’ names. )

After that, it took less than an hour to crash the entire website.  They got it back up pretty quickly and deleted my account, but like whatever it’s probably some freshman from Dartmouth.  Since then, they have fixed none of their security vulnerabilities.

This investigation was definitely just for the “lulz,” and I didn’t really do anything malicious to their website.  However, in about 15 more minutes, there is a good chance that I could have had access to all of the files on their personal computer, and the ability to execute arbitrary code on there too.  This is probably not good for them.

Anyway, I think the point of this story, is that when I was reading the Anonymous article, I guess I never realized how most of their stuff is jokes.  Most of what I hear about is how terrifying they are, and how we should fear them, but this article made me feel like the people who identify as anonymous are more like me, who a lot of the time don’t really have anything huge in mind and are just sort of screwing around.  Clearly they have the power to do really malicious things, and have, but not always.

What I found particularly interesting was how they said that there are people who are part of anonymous who aren’t technical, and just edit videos or pen manifestos. I think that this has some decent political implications.  A group that is just screwing around for lulz doesn’t need anyone to edit their videos or pen manifestos for them, so maybe that is why I thought they were scary and not a joke group.  But then their videos are often pretty humorous too, so that just confuses me a little too, which I guess the article discussed too. Cool reading.

 

Citizenfour – good fun… except that it is a true story. However, the production style of the film did leave me a little disoriented and questioning the truthfulness of the film at times–especially in the beginning (which had to be a reenactment right? and why so many insert shots of the dog?). The cinematography and editing when combined with the cinema verite asthetic read more like a narrative film than a documentary. I wouldn’t say it was of exceptionally high production value that made me feel this way, but it was the asthetic choices that started with the cinematography. A shallow depth of field is something that we don’t typically associate with documentary films. It’s really hasn’t been until the past three to four years that documentary filmmakers have had access to cameras that could produce a shallow DOF like we see in Citizenfour. This look was typically reserved to big budget narratives that could afford and had the time to set up the big cameras capable of this look. Additionally, a shallow DOF is rare in documentary films because it is exponentially more difficult to focus. Instead of your focus puller having a four to five foot safety net, that is reduced to mere centimeters when shooting wide open. Oh yeah, and no autofocus… This cinematic look combined with multiple camera angles and many insert shots also reinforce the asthetic of a narrative film. It all looked nice, but I think these things can become a barrier for the viewer, especially if the main point of the film is convey factual information, and doubly so when it’s on the topic of surveillance.

I was impressed by the way Snowden handled himself and how that he did not want the story to become about him. It reminds me of how Anonymous operates off of the basis of the collective. It is amazing what can be accomplished when no one cares who gets credit, when there is not individual competitition and the collective is focused on the pursuit of “epic wins.” And while these “transgressions” typically have been aimed against [the other of the government], now presidential candidates are trying to capitalize on them. Rand Paul 2016? When you live outside the rules, there are no rules to bend… aka Anonymous. But Presidents have rules. Or do they?

p.s. anddd why does Anonymous quote The Fresh Prince of Bel Air? “West Philadelphia born and raised” – do they even know what that means? No one with “a level of 9000” knows what that means.

The movie this week got me thinking about a lot of issues both during the screening and immediately after. I was simultaneously concerned with the fact that my phone was on in my pocket and occupied with the urge to leave the US (later realizing that the being elsewhere was perhaps worse). But another thing I couldn’t get over during the film was how little we talk today about the issues Snowden brought to light. I suppose this is the role of any documentary–to examine and bring attention to a particular issue–but because of our recent study of EdgeRank and what “stories” get surfaced to us, I was particularly attuned to this issue.
In addition to affinity (closeness to the user) and weight (overall importance of the content), Bucher characterizes a third component of EdgeRank, the algorithm employed by Facebook to choose which news stories to show:

(3) Time decay. Probably the most intuitive component relates to the recency or freshness of the Edge. Older Edges are thus considered less important than new ones. (1167)

This is indeed “probably the most intuitive component” described here. While it is oft-cited that the millenial generation has a “short attention span”, this characterization might characterize the internet (or at least our notions of what “the internet” is) as a whole. We can think of other phenomena similar to Snowden’s coming forward in this light. Just like Snowden’s revelations, SOPA and PIPA captured the attention of the hivemind but attention fell shortly after that. Indeed, it took a large amount of effort to capture “the internet’s” attention in the more recent Net Neutrality debates, perhaps because it is an issue that had been seen before. We were bored of it, unable to generate hype. Instead of focusing on the ruling the day the news broke that the FCC would regulate internet traffic as it does telephone calls, “the internet” was preoccupied with an optical illusion of a dress worn to a wedding, a more compressed version of the hype cycle.

This brings about a larger question that calls into question many of the topics we have studied so far. Are we naturally inclined towards rapid adoption and relinquishment of particular items or is it that our media are causing us to act this way? The notion of time decay is explicitly programmed into digital media, but is it really any different than how we treat issues in general? There is a feedback loop here between what storied Facebook shows us and what we think to be important, because in our current age, we have explicit signs (likes, etc.) being displayed to us to signal us to those salient issues.

It is hard to disentangle this; we don’t have an alternate universe without Facebook and other hype-creating media to compare to. But the idea that these cycles are at least somewhat real and perhaps accelerating–exemplified by the recent dress color incident–should make us question where these hypes come from and what gives them validity.

I was captivated by one particular moment in Citizenfour at the very end of the film: the visual of Glenn Greenwald tearing up his casually jotted correspondence during his final meeting with Snowden.

Screen Shot 2015-04-07 at 10.38.00 PM

 

Looking at a conversation symbolized by a few torn remnants of paper calls into question our discussion of visibility (or a lack thereof) this week, particularly Beth’s questions at the end of Monday’s lecture – When is leaking okay? When is an exposé or an exposure a good thing? Edward Snowden stole and exposed top-secret government documents and decided to immortalize them forever visually in the American media. However, this paper document, even though it only contains partial phrases from Greenwald and Snowden’s conversation, deserved to be torn up for the sole purpose of becoming invisible.

‘Erasure’ in this instance becomes even stranger when Laura Poitras’s camera ends up showing what Greenwald had written anyway. Even though the contents of the this conversation concludes as highly visualized on a grand scale as part of an Academy Award-winning film, the act itself of reducing privileged information to the status of ‘invisible’ still seems important to Greenwald. Such an act takes Beth’s discussion questions one step further – not only do we need to consider “When is leaking okay?” but also “Who deserves to be the leaker?”