The internet is a facilitator of anarchy and rebellion and must be preserved and celebrated as such, argues Nick Brace FRSA.
So has the fanatical protestation over the WikiLeaks revelations, including bizarre sub-Le Carre misinformation campaigns, started to betray a sinister possibility? The possibility that those whose role it is to maintain and promote the culture of fear are turning their attention towards promoting information, and by extension, knowledge as the next demon we are to be encouraged to mistrust and avoid?
Secret information is fast becoming an oxymoron: a terrifying prospect for corporate and government machinery that already traffics, and certainly has the ability to filter the lion’s share of information on the net. Now this accessibility to information is under attack by the extended family of those who invented it.
Those under the fiercest fire are those who would access and distribute the most hidden. As we speak, hackers (in itself considered a pejorative term), will be writing new programmes and inventing new small scale underground protocols that bypass our current megasystems and enable truly free untraceable and unmonitored information exchange. These are the same guys who can get into NASA. Scared? Or thrilled?
As a society we will, I hope never become comfortable with the idea that anything and everything we do, say, make, see, try, pay for or experience can be recorded, traced, logged, hacked and globally released. While freedom of access is more palatable if a government or media tycoon is under attack, ask any child who’s been cyber-bullied if such activity should be stopped. I suspect everyone’s balance point between total freedom and a policed Internet is different. And rightly so: that’s freedom of thought.
So – as with any successful subversion – the recent drive towards the exposure of hitherto secret information will perhaps in the long term end up the victim of some new rebellion. Crucially though, in the short term, that subversion can provoke others towards change and reform in the way the internet is used and abused and perhaps cause us to reflect on how we should marshal those who would feed us anything they see fit down the IT tube.
Alongside this, the role played by large sections of the media in recent weeks has thrown into relief a complicity innate in the relationship between the press and the powerful. Herein lies an issue concerning our current obsession with accountability within the context of the media’s duty of impartiality.
The WikiLeaks saga gives us a classic example of how news stories, by their very nature are a contradiction or challenge to the status quo. When reporting such stories, media outlets, particularly TV, are required to provide balance. This balance is often offered in the form of a rebuttal, delivered as a dilution of the original challenge, and increasingly put by the voice of the commentator or journalist in the chair. That is the voice of the media.
As an example, recent reports of student protests resulted in a ‘Newsnight’ countering of statements concerning injured protesters making it clear that police officers too had been injured: glossing over, in the heat of the moment, the fact that the police were armed, highly trained, organised and under orders. The pervading impression this leaves is that the programme makers are siding against those creating the news. This exposes the media concerned as collaborators in the perpetration of a party line, rather as John Pilger described recently, embedded war correspondents report in collusion with the armed forces.
So we have a global smoke and mirrors act distracting us, by implying the opposite, from a clear bid for control both of the internet itself and of those who use it. On one hand we have the mechanical – fingerprint login systems and the like – that represent an unambiguous link between computer use and personal identity (I predict this will come to the home market initially as an optional plug-in, and we will be told become increasingly popular and end up as a fundamental part of new operating systems). And on the other hand, the intellectual, where those who explore their rights to freedom of access to information are increasingly pursued, persecuted, and publicly vilified.
In the meantime, as this story unfolds, expect more references to suspicion of new information coming from ‘non-authorised sources’ and ‘consultancies’, and ‘user groups’ recommending closer marshalling of the net as well as an increase in the number of .com/.net/.tv pay-as-you-post type addresses – or worse, and paradoxically the most positive result – no reportage at all.
Nick Brace FRSA is a musician, writer, composer, director and participatory artist.