| There seems to be an abundance of easy-to-digest stories
portraying normal people as victims of the Weapons of Mass Deception,
fuelling a general state of uncertainty. One can read about media
blacking out a documentary on war crimes in Afghanistan, calls to
nuke Mecca, Why it is right to be anti-American,
9-11 as Information Warfare and the New McCarthyism, about
the U.S. Army luring youths with video games, Homeland Insecurity,
the Pentagon hiring secret PR gurus, its Office for Strategic Influence,
U.S. on verge of electronic martial law, and find out
why New York is starting to feel like Brezhnev's Moscow.
So, please do not forget to type in the pledge, One Internet
Under God, before you log on next timeor Microsofts
Palladium and FBIs Carnivore will notify authorities.
In this climate of fear, the once celebrated Internet is no longer
perceived as a free haven. There is a proliferation of the Singapore
model. In Singapore, high Internet usage and control are no
longer a contradiction. The cyber libertarian promise that the take-up
of the Net would create democracy doesnt quite work. Recognizing
the economic importance of the medium, governments are no longer afraid
that the Internet will foster freedom of speech. In 2000 the IT Security
Unit of Singapore's Ministry of Home Affairs quietly wandered into
the files of 200,000 private computers in what was later explained
as an effort to trace a damaging virus. Trapped into the dense fiber-optic
network of monopolist Singtel, there is little room to route
around watchful government eyes.
While Chinas Internet traffic is growing at an unprecedented
6% a month, so is the grip of the state. After a fire in a Beijing
cyber café on June 16, 2002 that killed 24 people, authorities
announced the closing of about 150,000 unlicensed Internet cafes nationwide.
At the same time, access to some of the blocked Western news sites
has been lifted. Within a few years China has become the second largest
Internet user. Silenced, instead of interacting and contributing they
are the downloading Other, the perfect consumer. Filtering is, in
any case, no longer an exclusive matter of authoritarian regimes.
Its now a standard feature in intranets of both corporations
and universities. On top of that, search engines and directories such
as Google and Yahoo! appear all but transparent.
Parallel to the alarming stories of increased surveillance, the Internet
recently has developed in interesting directions. The crash of the
dotcoms has created space for new, non-commercial approaches to come
to the surface. I would mention the steady rise of free software and
open source concepts, making their way into the cultural sector; peer-to-peer
networks, maturing beyond the Napster music file sharing craze; and
the rise of weblogs, easy to use open publishing platforms. We could
add to this list the use of PC-based video and audio editing systems
spreading like wild fire and tactical SMS messaging on
mobile/cell phones. All these tools add to a democratization of the
media sphere which, despite growing corporate control and government
regulation, is undoubtedly under way worldwide. It in this techno
age, post 1989, that we see the rise of tactical media.
This virtual casebook bears witness of the multitude of stories and
viewpoints these tactical media are recording and distributing.
Attempts by Bin Laden and Bush Jr. in 2001 to highjack all media under
the one sign of Terror (and the war against it) effectively lasted
only a few weeks. Retrospectively, the 9-11 War on Dissent has had
remarkably little impact on tactical media. Quite the opposite, they
have thrived. According to former Internet operator of the independent
radio station B92 in Belgrade, Drazen Pantic, now a researcher at
NYU, tactical media groups are much better suited for conflict, while
they usually decline in less turbulent times. Independent media
thrive in times of war while losing out to the corporate
spirit in peace time. These have indeed been times of extraordinarily
lively debates, with so many raising their voices, expressing their
concerns. Warnings of a New Dark Age however tend to blend out the
paradoxical situation we face between a growing media control and
a flourishing independent news and dialogue structure.
Remarkably, conspiracy theories have moved out of the underground
and into a new, quasi-mainstream media sphere. From there they fuel
paranoia. Bush conspired to create the September 11 attacks for his
own political gain and has been using Osama bin Laden as a scapegoat.
Never heard of the American Legislative Exchange Council or mind control
programs that turn soldiers into zombie robots? Because of the anti-Semitic
and racist undertones of many of the conspiracy theories, alternative
channels have long distanced themselves from such mythologies. Suspicions
about an ultra-conservative US-led World Government elite that would
be behind all the misery in this world, including 9-11
are not mobilizing new segments of society towards dissent. Instead
of reductionism, tactical media break open monolithic analyses and
introduce new, personal voices and cool theory that do
not fit into yesterdays political schemes.
Despite all the criticism, globalization has had an overall positive
effect on the awareness of the issues people deal with around the
world. Conflicts are no longer just regional, local or personal. The
global news industry, of which the independent or alternative channels
are only tiny mirroring particles, are great ways to enter alternative
stories of everyday life. Instead of complaining about mainstream
media censoring, hiding the truth etc., we can use them as portals
that lead to other news sources and opinions. In that sense tactical
media are post-oppositional. They are more driven by their own energy
and desire to mediate, rather then unmasking corporate and state-controlled
media outlets. Get blogged and webcast the night away! Any subversive
news to swap?
Once we have switched channels we can learn about opposition websites
in Pakistan; dissident views on the ethnic violence in Gujarat (India);
ordinary Cubans, sick of politics on both sides, longing for a better
life; Venezuelans, debating the pros and cons of the Chavez government;
alternative voices in Palestine. Globalization, the once mighty, disputed
signifier of our time, is therefore neither a holy cow nor the devil
itself but can be twisted as an opportunity to hear about drought
and salinity problems in the Australian outback; Kurdish migrants
crossing Europes new borders; worsening water supply shortage
in Lagos; declining wages; global power tricks of the pharmaceutical
industry; the dramatic decline in education levels; and the army of
unemployed in Argentine. CNN is not providing this dialogue, obviously.
But the opportunity is only a few clicks away, and already millions
are finding their way to alternative news sites such as Indymedia
and other modern day muckrakers. Tactical media do not
amplify the obvious. Instead they point at cracks in the armor of
the power to be, thereby creating new alliances, both in the real
and the virtual.