12-12-2011 mag 6 /




From the Sunday newspaper ritual to the digital informative overload, media procedures have changed. So who has the power and who manages our “right to know” in the current networked society?

On Saturday, 5 November 2011, Impakt festival was featuring the “Right to Know” summit: “Getting Rough with Media”. The insightful symposium took place in the theater Kikker Grote Zaal and was curated by Stephen Kovats. The highlight of the day was Rui Guerra’s position on the involvement of protocols in public organizations’ practice of communication and networking.

The summit dealt with questions about our “right to know”. 

How sincere are we when using the Internet? What are the implications of this on the social and political orders? Are they shifting? Do we blind trust the Net as we trusted newspapers and television? How transparent can the Net be? Is our freedom of speech guaranteed? Is this phenomenon of hacktivism for real or “corporatised”? Who has the power?

The first question attempted to be answered was the one concerning openness and transparency in networks. Sunil Abraham, Executive Director of the Centre for Internet and Society in Bangalore, India discussed their serving as right or as a distraction. The next to take the floor was Rui Guerra, a critical open cultures advocate that focused on protocols and public organizations relations. Alejandra Perez Nunez a.k.a. Elpueblodechina, a sound artist, critical writer and performer, examined the case of the student movement in Chile 2006-2011, and stressed the problem of ”visagéification” in such social movements created by mass media, while she suggested the need for radical media.

After the short break the symposium continued with Christopher Adams, publisher and developer based in Beijing and Taipei, Tatiana Bazzichelli, PhD Scholar at Aarhus University, and Alejo Duque, a theorist, media activist and frequency analyst based in Switzerland. The most lively discussions amongst the speakers and the audience during this part where about the ongoing debate on sharing and the outdated copyright law, and on how oppositional practices like hacktivism and the business of social networking may challenge power and hegemony. The speakers’ circle closed with Foundland, a young multi-disciplinary art and design practice group based in Amsterdam, which presented their acute art project on Syria: “Watching revolution through a hole in the wall”.

However, the lecture that showed that the questions of the symposium were really urgent was shown best in the speech of Rui Guerra. 

In his lecture “How to create a perverse social network in 3 steps” he described how power, depending on protocol and on whether a network is centralized or peer to peer, affects our choices of online communication.

Rui Guerra is the co-founder of ʻItʼs not that kindʼ(INKT), a studio which focuses on developing online strategies primarily for the cultural and creative sector. He used as an example the way cultural organizations choose to use online technologies as a tool of communication. Museums are more and more focusing on and developing their online presence. For example, Tate, a public institution responsible for the national Collections of British art and of international art from 1900, is deeply involved in making its website accessible and usable (http://www.tate.org.uk/). As a result, it has dramatically increased its online visitors, compared to its offline visitors during the last years. The goal is to access more people. Of course, one cannot compare the real-time with the online-simulated experience, but the latter has many benefits to offer, such as the digital representation of artifacts that were until now stored in some basement, or the ability it offers people in distant places to get to see the museum’s collection.

Guerra underlined the importance of protocols, by showing Tate’s Facebook page, where users can explore aspects of the museum and get informed about the ongoing and future exhibitions. Protocols are the set of procedures to be followed when communicating, in other words, a set of rules. Within Facebook, one does not have many choices of how he/she will communicate, but has to follow the creators’ “indications”. So the inevitable question is: who is in control of the way network users interact?

In a centralized network, such as Facebook, the servers’ controllers share a part of the power over the users. Still, in such an open distributed network, everyone can post whatever he/she desires. Therefore, control shifts from the center of the network to the protocol. In this mindset no one will censor the user, but the protocol will primarily define how the interaction and communication will occur and progress.

To make his argument clearer Guerra held a little experiment during the presentation. He created an ad-hoc peer to peer network within the audience, in order to demonstrate the sense of equality that such a network conveys. Then, he converted it into a centralized network, by making his laptop work as the server, and gave the audience an example of how easy it is to censor communication’s content by protocol.

It is, thus, understood, that cultural and other organizations need to develop their own, unique protocols, and not just follow the existing ones, like Facebook. This solution, would offer many opportunities for more focused and in-depth communication.

This issue is very important, especially now that society is in transition. Industrial society has already turned into an information society. And, above all, mass society is turning into a network society. Ways of communication have radically changed. The way we see communication has also changed. Suddenly, everyone is talking about communications, new media and social media and so on and so forth. Whereas fifty years ago, our grandparents did not talk about the newspaper as medium, they would just read it! Or with television, they would just watch it! Every Sunday, the whole family would gather around the table and read the newspaper, and this would take the dimensions of a ritual.

But now, you do not just read or watch or hear the news, you are part of the news. Digital media enable citizens to add, post, and comment. The whole process of distributing and consuming news has evolved, and gone down different paths. And with Guerra, this summit explored and explained these paths very well.