Free speech, censorship and the Oxford Union

I was invited last year to speak at the Oxford Union, and the event, held last February, perfectly illustrates the current faux debate between hate speech and free speech. The Oxford Union is the self-proclaimed “world’s most prestigious debating society” and “last bastion of free speech” and it rides on a who’s who list of past speakers such as the Dalai Lama, Mother Theresa, Malcolm X, Winston Churchill and Albert Einstein. Membership is open only to Oxford students, and lifetime membership includes a very large selection of the world’s politicians and media moguls. Past Union presidents who went on to lead states include Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan, and UK Prime Ministers Heath, Asquith and Gladstone. The current UK cabinet has more former presidents of the Oxford Union than it has minority ethnicities. This platform is as far as you can get from the egalitarian access of social media.

The Oxford Union serves as a safe space where powerful men who do horrible things can go to speak and be appreciated. Despite the protestations that a platform at Oxford Union is meant to allow unpopular views to be challenged, it doesn’t happen. Speakers ranging from O.J. Simpson after his trial to Oswald Mosley, who led the UK Fascist Party until it was banned in 1940, are welcomed on their own terms. This is the free speech that Boris Johnson (former Oxford Union president) and Jacob Rees-Mogg (current Oxford Union trustee and son of former Oxford Union president) are fighting for. The UK has recently passed a law against Union members or other students exercising their own free speech and expressing opinions on who comes to speak at their club, threatening fines against universities who refuse platforms to those assumed to have a right to one. At the same time, UK lawmakers and media have been fighting against free speech access on every more egalitarian platform. The misogynists who upskirt teenagers on the pages of British tabloids deplore the misogyny of social media. The lawmakers who refuse to conduct a competent inquiry into UK child rape cover-ups by politicians imprison accusers instead. The Official Secrets Act, libel and ‘intellectual property’ laws which protect only the powerful, and non-disclosure agreements available only to those who can afford them, ensure a class strata dictates who may and who may not be criticized or offended.

The Oxford Union is the public face of the Bullingdon Club and the Piers Gaveston Society and looks it, but even this last bastion of entitlement is lately feeling pressure to embellish itself with a sprinkling of darker skin and female pronouns. Identity politics provides the branch managers of tyranny. The endless twaddle of Tories and Trumpkins which usually fills Oxford Union term cards is now supplemented with occasional Serena Joys and Gileadian aunts in the name of ‘feminism’ and occasional corrupt politicians for ‘diversity’. Polite demurs from careerist NGOs and journalists paid to politely demur are occasionally presented as ‘balance’. It is in this context that I was invited. For students of a prestigious university, they have no research skills at all.

Diversity of opinion, or even irrefutable facts, are not acceptable to the “world’s most prestigious debating society”. The purified thought bubble surrounding Oxford students welcomes derision against any weaker members of society but does not permit criticism of those in power. I shared a panel with David Shedd, a former CIA operative who also held the posts of Director of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency and Deputy Director of U.S. National Intelligence. The entire panel was censored from Oxford Union’s YouTube channel at his order, despite their contractual obligation to publish it there and the prior release forms signed by all involved. “It is ironic that we are censoring a Whistleblowing Panel!!” chirped their bursar, Lindsay Warne. Shedd’s objection was not to anything he said, but what I said – a third-party censorship demand which has been granted and upheld by three successive Oxford Union presidents: Laali Vadlamani, Gui Cavalcanti and Stephen Horvath. Those names will no doubt be found in UK parliament and media in five or ten years, drafting even more draconian laws to protect the powerful against speech.

The speech of tyranny is always upheld by tyrants as free speech. The speech of anyone in opposition to tyranny will always be silenced by every means possible. Harmful speech has never in history meant anything other than speech which offends the powerful and it does not today. From the Malleus Malleficarum through to the upskirting tabloids, media controlled by the powerful has existed to uphold the powerful and persecute, threaten and control the weak. It has never been subjected to censure over this. Indeed, protection of the media has been a fundamental pillar of advocates of free society since media was invented and that only increased with the invention of the Internet as a place to stalk and humiliate women and children. Suddenly, this has changed, and I think I can put a date on when it changed.

In 2012, Gawker (before it was permanently silenced by billionaire Peter Thiel) published a story on Michael Brutsch, aka reddit moderator Violentacrez. In 2012, reddit was a cesspool that reflected the free speech of powerful men at the expense of the human dignity and privacy of anyone weaker, and Violentacrez was its most prolific bottom feeder. In the words of journalist Adrian Chen, “His specialty is distributing images of scantily-clad underage girls, but as Violentacrez he also issued an unending fountain of racism, porn, gore, misogyny, incest, and exotic abominations yet unnamed.” Brutsch moderated hundreds of the most predatory sub-reddits, including Creepshots, Jailbait, Chokeabitch, Beatingwomen, Picsofdeadjailbait and even worse, to the glee of reddit users, who voted the child predator site Jailbait as 2008’s “subreddit of the year”. Four years later (as part of a growing reaction) he was outed by Chen, and reddit exploded in outrage, banning all Gawker links from the traffic generating behemoth. The privacy of a man to anonymously violate the privacy of women and children was itself violated, and the balance of power on the Internet was never the same again.

The Internet become a place where, for the first time since the printing press was invented, women and other marginalized people could fight back and get overwhelming results. It was the place where Pax Dickinson, CTO of Business Insider, lost his job for misogynist tweets and was followed by so many others. It was the place where #takedownjulienblanc first created global awareness of the toxic internet manosphere which has spawned such movements as incels, PUAs, MRAs and more. It was the place where victims of sexual assault have rallied again and again, from the #DelhiGangRape to #paedobritain and #opDeathEaters to #MeToo and #Cuéntalo. And it was the place where the powerful libertarian men who controlled all the international media, academia and speaking forums, first decided that free speech should have limitations. This newly commended censorship is presented as a measure needed to protect ‘the marginalized’ even though it was the powerful and their media who marginalized ‘the marginalized’ in the first place and the censorship is directed solely at the forums accessible to ‘the marginalized’. The new censorship, combined with forced public acceptance of platforms for the powerful, is meant to ensure the continuation of the freedom of speech that powerful people have always enjoyed and more easily enforce immunity from the social consequences of either their speech or their actions.

Does anyone really think the current howls for censorship of social media will include censorship of the NY Times writers excusing incel violence or the Atlantic writers who want women to be hung for exercising bodily autonomy? Social media is the only reason these writers are challenged now – censorship of social media will remove all opposition to them. The business model of Facebook and Google is to enable states and corporations to coerce public opinion for the powerful. Tech CEOs are now being ordered to decide which speech and which people are socially acceptable. Does anyone think billionaire tech CEOs will defy their funders and enablers to defend the powerless or censor the powerful? Powerful men who have sadistically raped, tortured, trafficked and murdered women and children are unironically presenting themselves as victims of a witch hunt. Free speech for victims of powerful men is not a witch hunt. A witch hunt was when powerful men and their exclusive access to media inspired a genocide of up to a million women and indigenous people and terrified community and land caregivers into centuries of silence. Today’s social media campaigns are the accused witches finally fighting back, countering the media which called them all ‘crazy’ with sheer numbers.

All genocides and all bigotry begin with hate speech. Hate speech is countered by open communities and communication, never by one-way powerful platforms and definitely not by state or corporate control and manipulation of dialogue. Nazis and fascists in the street are countered by community rejection, never the states which instigate and profit from hate and division. If there was any doubt that this is conscious state policy, that doubt should be removed by the relentless state and corporate campaigns currently sowing hate and division on social media.  Civility and the institutions of civility were invented to control voices opposing the powerful just as the institutions of justice were invented to control defence against the powerful. It is always the voices of women and the lowest classes that civility demands be kept well-modulated and profanity-free.

Identity politics has played a crucial role in the new fight against egalitarian speech. An endless parade of female pundits have been given bylines and panel seats to insist that social media silences them. Censorship is being marketed with the faces of women and children. Now that we finally have a megaphone, we are told it is more than our weak selves can handle. The women who are acceptable to places like the Oxford Union tell the world that the rest of us can’t handle free speech and must be protected by gatekeeping bastions such as … well, such as the Oxford Union. If “the last bastion of free speech” will censor what I said, they will censor anyone who draws outside the lines. Community and land caregivers will be told they are represented by identitarian tokens parroting the words and agenda of fascists, a rainbow of totalitarianists silencing all diversity of views. The next time women feel inclined to accept censorship on the only somewhat egalitarian platforms we have had since the invention of the printing press, remember what you will be left with: corporate media musing whether women should be publicly hung for exercising bodily autonomy or required to provide ‘redistribution of sex’ to men who want to kill them, and representation of us all by Ann Coulter and Marine Le Pen.

Anyone who seeks to represent you will be your tyrant. Your own voice is the only one that can represent your ideas and your ideas are the only part of your voice that matters. When you accept that women and other marginalized people are not capable of defending ourselves on the first platforms where we actually had power, you are accepting an all-powerful, patriarchal, protection racket which has never in history protected women or anyone marginalized from hate. The face of censorship is not women and children. It is Michael Brutsch and Pax Dickinson, Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein, Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.

The primary problems with social media today are caused by state and corporate interference and the personality centred structure, not free speech. It is state and corporate funded social media astroturfing campaigns, libel laws, ‘intellectual property’, non-disclosure agreements, official secrets, state and corporate propaganda, and all other cloaks shielding the powerful which need to be destroyed. Egalitarian access to public platforms must be protected above all, not for identity groups but for every individual voice.

Anyway, this is what you cannot say at “the last bastion of free speech” “the safest space for punching down”. Pay attention, because this is what you will not be able to say anywhere if free speech continues to be restricted to exclusive ‘bastions’.

Here is the current Standing Committee of Oxford Union if you would like to confirm their free speech boundaries for yourself. The presidents (so far) who have supported the censorship are Laali Vadlamani, Gui Cavalcanti and Stephen Horvath. Here is Oxford Union on social media:

https://twitter.com/OxfordUnion

https://www.youtube.com/user/OxfordUnion/videos

https://www.facebook.com/pg/theoxfordunion/posts/?ref=page_internal

https://www.instagram.com/theoxfordunion/

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Transcript of Whistleblowing Panel censored by Oxford Union

This is a transcript and audio of what I said at the Whistleblowing  panel that was censored by the Oxford Union. I was informed by Oxford Union bursar Lindsay Warne that the Standing Committee and then-president Laali Vadlamani had censored the panel in response to a demand from David Shedd and this was confirmed by current Oxford Union president Gui Cavalcanti. All journalists who have inquired about the video have been treated with the utmost disrespect as Warne told me they “owe nothing to journalists”. This is false. The speaker’s contract with the Oxford Union contains the following passage.

“The Union offers a unique combination of tradition and prestige, with our student members constituting an engaged and enthusiastic audience; our events can be tailored to fit almost any format – a speech followed by questions, a prepared Q&A or simply an informal conversation – and last year attracted coverage from the BBC, CNN, New Delhi TV, Russia Today (RT), and most major British national newspapers and international publications including the New York Times and the Economist. Furthermore, all our events can be professionally filmed for our YouTube channel, which has received over 40 million views since it was relaunched last year.”

The sole benefit being offered to speakers at the Oxford Union (other than the censored Youtube channel) is the labour of journalists. Oxford Union certainly do owe respect and cooperation to journalists, and they owe it to speakers as well. Speakers should know that they will be censored at the ”world’s most prestigious debating society” if they say anything challenging to power, despite this being an obvious breach of the contract they are being offered. Anyone who actually believed the Oxford Union was, as their slogan claims, “the last bastion of free speech”, should see how very easy it is to be censored if you punch up instead of down.

This is a full transcript of my part, for the record and for any journalists who were interested. Open copyright CC BY 4.0, share and use in any way you wish.

Introduce yourself

My name is Heather Marsh. I am an author and I write a great deal about mass collaboration and horizontal governance and I’ve worked for many years as an activist and journalist to amplify voices in urgent need of attention, primarily whistleblowers. I am also a software developer and I’m working on a project called Getgee which is a universal database commons that will help us share, audit and amplify open collaborative information, so that we can participate intelligently in our own governance.

My focus has always been human rights and horizontal governance. Of the human rights atrocities I have worked to expose, a very large number are associated with David Shedd and the organizations and allies he represents. As just one example, I fought for over a decade to achieve justice for my fellow Canadian, Omar Khadr who was abducted at 15 years old, subjected to the most horrific torture at the CIA black site Bagram, then trafficked and tortured for another decade at Guantanamo before enduring a show trial of invented court, invented evidence, invented experts and retroactively applied, invented crimes. The hell this Canadian child went through for 12 years was conducted by the organizations represented by David Shedd. It is deeply uncomfortable for me to be here today, on the same panel as someone whose work has established and worked to normalize ever-increasing drone murders, black site disappearances and torture and I hope it is uncomfortable for all of you as well, and for him. Beware of your contribution to the growing banality of evil lest you yourself become a cog in the machinery of terror.

I am here today because I want to talk about how our structures of power are evolving. There is probably only one thing I have in common with David Shedd and that is that we both want a world without whistleblowers. He wants to crush whistleblowers and I want a world where the caregivers of our communities and land hold institutional power, where everyone’s voice is heard and those who terrorize us all with impunity lose the power to do so.

The opening was some generic question about whistleblowers.

If there is one thing I would like people to take home today it is the definition of whistleblower. There seems to have been an effort lately to equate whistleblowers solely with an elite, western, usually male leaking documents. A few days ago I read an article about a program for whistleblowers in the US intelligence agencies. It was a human resources program for employee grievances. The people they were calling whistleblowers were torturers at Bagram who didn’t like having a female boss or assassins who felt overlooked for promotion. And then, there was a cover full of whistleblowers on TIME magazine this year, but they were called Silence Breakers! What is a Silence Breaker if not a whistle blower? You know, there are no female philosophers because a female philosopher is called a feminist. Apparently we have the same sort of thing happening here, there are no whistleblowers outside of this elite demographic because they are called activists or silence breakers or something.

I have worked with many whistleblowers over many years. I worked with Rohingya activists from 2012 on to help convince the world that they were in fact experiencing a genocide. I have worked with victims of trafficking networks and resource corporations and institutions like prisons and care facilities. Whistleblowers are people like the mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina who fought the silence of the dictatorship in defence of the disappeared, and all the movements like them that have followed in their steps, like Central America’s Caravan of Missing Migrants, Nigeria’s Bring Back Our Girls movement, the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women movement in Canada, the Missing Students activists in Mexico and the people standing up against ICE pogroms in the United States right now. They include labour activists like Kim Jinsuk, a woman who in 2011 stayed up a crane for 309 days to protest the lack of labor rights in South Korea, and Hua Haifeng, who was arrested in China recently for exposing abuses against workers in the factories manufacturing Ivanka Trump’s brand. They include Maria del Rosario Fuentes Rubio, who was murdered for her reporting on Mexican cartels in 2014 and Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was killed by a car bomb in Malta last October for her work exposing organized crime, They include the environment caregivers now being killed at a recorded rate of four a week and increasing. They include Helena Maleno who has been credited with saving the lives of at least 10,000 refugees in the Strait of Gibralter and is now facing imprisonment in Morocco and your own MP Jo Cox who was murdered because of her work in caring for refugees.

Obviously we could do this for days. Whistleblowers come from absolutely every demographic but there is one group that is very over represented and that it is the caregivers of our communities and land standing against the impunity enjoyed by powerful criminals. The media coverage depicting whistleblowers as a fairly elite demographic of western male hackers leaking documents is a little disproportionate.

But those in power do understand where the threat to their impunity is coming from. China arrested five women in 2015 just for distributing pamphlets against sexual harassment. Canada openly identifies First Nations communities and environmentalists as target groups to be monitored for terrorist activity and it is obvious in the terrorist definitions of every country. The definition of terrorism in the five eyes is attempting to influence your community or government, which is also the definition of democracy. Participating in your own governance, alerting your neighbours to what is happening, is defined as terrorism. So this redefinition of whistleblowers as scary non-state actors and hostile intelligence services, this will be used against the women and men who are the community and land caregivers of every nation because these are the number one threat to the corporate mafia that wants immunity from prosecution for their crimes. As soon as laws against whistleblowers are passed they will be used against people accusing MPs of rape or people letting the public know that Trudeau has just turned more lakes into toxic waste dumps for mines or people boycotting Israel or the NRA. It is this groundswell of community and land caregivers, the rising up of 7 and a half billion people participating in their own governance, that are the real threat to corrupt power.

So we need to define whistleblowers properly or we are not going to come up with solutions that will actually meet their needs. A human resources program in the CIA will not help all these people. Even in the case of John Kirakiou, obviously he never should have been imprisoned for pointing out that there was torture at Guantanamo, but everyone in Guantanamo would have and did try to tell us the same thing. It is the people in Guantanamo and every other prison who we should never have allowed to be silenced in the first place and those are the voices we need to make sure we hear.

What do you think the media is missing in their coverage of whistleblowers?

I remembered what I don’t like about the media coverage of whistleblowers. I feel like it is covered in such a personality centred, celebrity focused way that it is like listening to people discussing Harry Styles’ hair. There are important issues to be discussed in the structure of power that allows only some people’s voices to be heard. How can we hear directly from voices which are being silenced? This is something I have been working on for years because it turns out, you can murder millions of people without leaving a paper trail or inspiring an insider whistleblower. How do we make sure we hear all voices? If mining corporations in the Yasuni say indigenous people are just killing each other and it has nothing to do with them, who outside can prove that one way or another? With the Rohingya genocide, ironically the best documentation we could get was from Google maps, which showed villages which had been there earlier and now they were gone. I’ve thought a lot about different solutions for years, like uploading testimony in actionable affidavit format from places like Myanmar or UN peacekeeping camps or anywhere people are silenced and at risk. Like the current Oxfam story. That was absolutely no surprise to anyone who works in human rights, and it is certainly not just Oxfam either. You will find this everywhere you have this same structure of power and secrecy at the top and fear and silencing at the bottom. We’ve seen it in NGO’s, militaries, UN peacekeepers over and over … This is why I am working on a universal database, to try to democratize this access to a megaphone and bring us information from everyone.

It is not new laws we need, we already have so many international laws protecting our human rights, our rights to freedom of expression, our right to knowledge, our rights to not be tortured and murdered, our right to a fair trial, and these are all being ignored. We don’t need to create another witness protection program with the mafia in charge of it. It is our governance that needs to be revamped. We are still governed by a form of democracy created before women or children or indigenous people or labourers were considered persons or part of the demos and before any international networks existed below the level of trade empires.

It’s been almost four hundred years since that awful Cambridge man argued in Patriarcha that an all powerful patriarchal system was the only legitimate form of governance and Robert Filmer was most decisively refuted by Oxford’s own John Locke, who ought to be familiar to anyone from the United States as well, since he was fairly influential in creating the ideology they are supposed to be run by. I did think that western democracies were done with this debate. If you want to live under an all powerful patriarchal form of governance, you move to an absolute monarchy or a dictatorship, not a democracy. Patriarchy and democracy are incompatible. We settled this nearly four hundred years ago. And it is customary for those who uphold this absolute form of secretive tyrannical rule to call people like me anarchists, but if all anarchy means is there are no absolute rulers or centralized authority, then shouldn’t that be a basic tenet of a democracy?

If you do want democracy, it’s not just media that needs to be free. It’s not even just speech. It is knowledge. An uninformed vote is a coerced vote. People without reliable information they can trust will follow ideologies and demagogues blindly and we are seeing more and more of that lately as our access to information and our trust in information is eroded. And when government is conducted in secrecy, the atrocities that have repeated throughout history will happen again, as they always do in the dark. We really don’t need to keep proving this. So we don’t need reactionaries trying to shore up some ancient flailing patriarchy with increasing tyranny and secrecy. We don’t need revolutionaries knocking off figureheads and installing their own messiahs onto the same structure. We need to build a democracy that is right for today, that includes everyone and resists tyranny, and that means democratic access to knowledge and participatory governance.

[At some point another panelist said they liked Obama and I said Obama had paved the road Trump was driving on and pointed out Obama’s intention was not to close Guantanamo but to bring it onto US soil – where ICE detention centres continue to proliferate.]

What do you think motivates whistleblowers to take these risks and why don’t they go through proper channels? I know what you are probably going to say …

Well yes, because the majority of the whistleblowers I deal with don’t have proper channels and they aren’t given any choice over the situation they are in. That is the whole point, they don’t have institutional power and we need institutional power for community and land caregivers and an end to the secrecy and impunity at the top. Because we are told that we need these structures of absolute power and secrecy for our safety, but intelligence agencies are not competent to protect you from ISIS or anyone else. The heads of most of the top intelligence agencies in the US were compromised recently by a 15 year old British boy called Crackas with attitude and he wasn’t hacking, he just guessed his way in. An Australian student just noticed the US military was revealing all their military locations in Syria through the Fitbit app. Australian MP’s just sold a load of Top Secret documents in an old filing cabinet. There are homemade drones taking out military planes that cost more than your health care. They are not competent to keep you safe, but even if they were competent, our safety is not their priority.

I remember in one of the mass shootings in the US, this one involved really tiny kids, and there were two things that really stood out for me about this case. One, the mother was completely blamed for her son’s actions even though she was his first victim. President Obama and the media both left her name off the victim lists as if she was a perpetrator or a non-human. The other thing that struck me was that she was entirely blamed – but she had no community support she could have relied on. This was a single woman, living with an obviously violent and very disturbed adult son, and she had absolutely nowhere to turn for help. How is she supposed to be responsible for something she has no power to stop? And we’ve just seen the same thing happen again in Florida, the students and teachers and community were blamed for not doing enough but they did everything in their power and they were ignored because the politicians are not listening to them. Look at the #ArmMeWith hashtag on social media this week, teachers are asking for books, time, resources, mental health care, a decent adult to child ratio – they are saying they don’t need guns, they need the resources to build community. And the US government is offering guns because that is profit for the only nation they care about, which is the weapons manufacturers and the NRA.

Some people have been really worried in past years about terrorists entering into Europe with refugees and yes, of course, they have. Not nearly as many as some people would like you to believe, because we all have our own homegrown terrorists now, but yes, some have come through camps, and the people in refugee camps will tell you who those people are. Or online communities will tell you. In Canada, we had a man a couple years ago who used to torture kittens to death and upload the videos online. He was reported by most people who saw the videos and they were ignored. Then he went on a gore site – you would think if we have some patriarchal power trying to keep us all safe they must be monitoring gore sites, right? – and he advertised an upcoming murder. He was reported, and the reports were ignored. Then he horrifically murdered someone and uploaded that video. He was reported by so many people. One retired police officer in the US reported him to the RCMP, the FBI and his local sheriff. Everyone ignored all the reports. He took the body out of his own apartment, past the CCTV cameras on his building and street, and put it in a dumpster. Then he took his biometric, smart, Canadian passport, under his own name, which was now all over the international news and on an Interpol warrant, and he boarded an international flight from Canada to France and then to Germany, where he sat in a cyber cafe reading articles about himself until finally a man in the cafe went out and got a police officer to come in and arrest him. Is this blinding incompetence or is our safety maybe not really a great concern for intelligence agencies?

The answer of course is both. They are not competent to keep you safe, but also they aren’t listening. The mothers, the caregivers, the schools, the people online, the people in refugee camps, these people are all ignored. They are listening to corporations like Areva or Shell. Boko Haram took root initially in an area completely overwhelmed by the corruption of Goodluck Jonathan’s government and the devastation brought by Shell and other oil companies. Areas like Mali and Niger were equally devastated by France’s Areva corporation, among others,. The people living on that land were being murdered and left with no means of survival by criminal corporations and complicit government. Again, the lack of power and the extreme abuse of community and land caregivers creates vulnerability to the growth of terrorism. And it is no secret to the intelligence communities that this is the trigger. The minute you hear protests start against Areva, you also start hearing France and the United States talking about growing extremist threat because they know very well that extremism follows backing people into a corner with no way to turn. So again, the solution is to empower the caregivers, listen to them, and end impunity for criminal corporations. If you know corporate policies are going to cause the growth of ideological extremism, maybe change corporate policies before that happens. Protection available only to the highest bidders is not security. Security is strong involved and supportive communities networked with other communities.

Response to David Shedd responding to above by saying “our men and women in uniform” are heroes, invincible, have so much data, etc., etc.

I think if we are going to talk about national security on this panel, we need some context. David Shedd belonged to the most powerful, well-funded, weaponized, international, organized crime syndicate the world has ever seen. Not even counting the other organizations he is affiliated with or those he calls his allies – just looking at the CIA by itself – they are in the business of assassinations, they manage black sites for torture, they work with with local mafias, cartels and militias all over the world, they run operations trafficking weapons, drugs and people all over the world, they have ongoing programs of human experimentation … these are just a few of the things the CIA itself has done, not counting their network of allies. They are part of a vast criminal network that is now planning even greater expansion, more torture, far more disappearances, far more murder. So when these men talk about whistleblowers threatening national security, we need to ask three obvious questions: what is security to them, who is their nation and who are the whistleblowers?

So given that we are dealing with criminals and members of criminal organizations, what they mean by security is immunity from criminal prosecution. And we have seen that. They do not keep us safe, we have plenty of evidence of that, but they certainly do keep themselves safe. The US military bombed an MSF hospital. Can we investigate? No we cannot, they have bulldozed the evidence. They “tortured some folks” and they plan on torturing a lot more, but that’s classified. Jeffrey Epstein is a man in the United States known to have raped and trafficked dozens or hundreds or who knows how many children. The US Attorney General at the time, Alberto Gonzales, said he would have instructed the US Justice Department to “pursue justice without making a political mess”. Epstein’s little black book contains people like Donald Trump, Bill Clinton, Prince Andrew. There is only one way to interpret that directive and that is impunity for anyone above a certain social strata or anyone with blackmail on them. The Pentagon, since 2010, has refused to investigate, at that time it was over 1700 cases, of child abuse media they have found on Pentagon computers. The people in the US are finally starting to talk about all the taxpayer funded NDA’s that protect people in congress against reports of rape and sexual assault. California alone has reportedly paid more than $25 million in the last three years to buy criminal impunity for their politicians. In the UK, you have your own child rape inquiry where UK police have spoken many times of investigations which have a strata they can’t go above – where those above that strata are referred to as the Untouchables, protected by the Official Secrets Act and many other layers of secrecy. Your former Oxford Union president and UK Prime Minister, Ted Heath, how many people came forward and said they were his victims as children, but there was never an investigation during his lifetime.

So security for them means immunity from criminal prosecution, not just for their actions against so-called enemies but against anyone. The current CIA head talks about a bureaucracy that slows down the CIA – that bureaucracy is our human rights and that is how they see our lives – as bureaucracy. If they kill too many of us at once they have to fill out a form. And that slows them down. Pompeo wants ‘agile’ assassins. He wants killers who ‘fail fast and break things’, as if they were writing stupid apps instead of murdering children. He wants ‘disruptive’ terrorism. And their security is the freedom to do this with impunity and in secrecy.

And who is this nation they want security for? The US were supposedly enemies with Syria and allies with Canada when they were abducting Canadians to be tortured in Assad’s prisons. Their allegiances change at the drop of a hat and they all have each other’s secrets anyway. That is the whole point of their industry. The entire supranational intelligence community has access to each other’s secrets – they need security from the rest of us finding out. And their nation is anyone with enough money to pay them, corporations or states. You had Erik Prince speaking here a while back, the crown prince of mercenary contractors. He made his fortune at the top ranks of US military and intelligence and then contracted all that information to supposedly US enemy China. I believe David Shedd is also now in international private practice. Their nations are whoever can pay. We didn’t really need the US Patriot Act to tell us our intelligence agencies may be allies but the people in our states are certainly not their allies.

This is not national security. It is certainly not security for my nation. My nation consists of the caregivers of communities and the environment all over the world. They aren’t spying on corporations and telling communities what corporations are up to, they are spying on communities and selling that information to corporations. The victims of Jeffrey Epstein, all the victims whose abusers are protected by official secrets and taxpayer funded NDA’s, none of these victims are part of their nation. Their nation is the international intelligence community and the politicians and corporations who can afford to pay them. This is not national security. It is a mafia protection racket available to the highest bidder.

Response by David Shedd.

HM: Why are you not doing anything about ICE internment camps in the United States if you care so much for latin americans?

DS: What camps???

HM: Maybe you should read the news.

[Some more back and forth about ICE where I discussed their access to intelligence data and potential to become an intelligence agency and Shedd denied everything and rolled his eyes at the audience. After the panel, the other panelists left and the audience stayed and asked a lot of questions about ICE. I explained that they were comparable to the Gestapo and some of their activities at that point (February).]

DS: Our brave men and women ….

HM: Torturers.

DS: Torture??!? What torture???

HM: Have you not read the Torture Report? Obama declassified part of it, didn’t you know?

DS: Stop. Our brave men and women devoting their lives …

HM: Torturing people.

DS: I asked you to stop.

HM: I asked you for twelve years to stop torturing my friend and you didn’t stop.

THE END

Note: There was a meet and greet before the panel. David Shedd outlined work he was now doing in South America to “ensure compliance” with banking regulations. I asked: “Is that meant to ensure the United States has a monopoly in money laundering?” and he said he didn’t know. Shedd also said he works with a charity to stop trafficking of women in children in South America, overlooking the obvious first step of getting the CIA and its contractors to stop trafficking women in children in South America, and he deplored that Russia was beating the US to the destruction of the Arctic.

 

If you would like to contact the Oxford Union about their censorship criteria, this is the current Standing Committee. The presidents (so far) who have supported the censorship are Laali Vadlamani, Gui Cavalcanti and Stephen Horvath. Here is Oxford Union on social media:

https://twitter.com/OxfordUnion

https://www.youtube.com/user/OxfordUnion/videos

https://www.facebook.com/pg/theoxfordunion/posts/?ref=page_internal

https://www.instagram.com/theoxfordunion/

Democracy vs Cambridge Analytica and Facebook

An interview with Dr. Alex Lambert of Monash University for an academic research project “combining interviews with alternative social media developers with the managers of alternative urban creative spaces, bringing their perspectives on challenging entrenched power – be it in the form of business-focused urban planning or web platforms such as Facebook – into dialogue. In doing this, the study hopes to create practical new knowledge that will assist in the key challenges faced by both communities.” 

Alex Lambert: Talk about what motivated you to develop your concepts of stigmergic action and decentralisation? Feel free to explore the ideologies / values that drive your work.

Heather Marsh: I wrote Binding Chaos and subsequent work in order to articulate what was not working and where I saw potential in various regional and global horizontal movements I was involved in over the last decade. Wikileaks had quickly become a personality focused, hierarchical organization and was both limited and ultimately derailed as a movement by that structure. The horizontal movements such as 15M and Occupy proved all of the problems with direct democracy and group affiliation outlined in the book. Many of these attempts at horizontal movements were easily derailed and dissolved; the rest became smaller, co-operative working groups and have enjoyed specific local success that has not easily scaled. The movements which set specific goals had far more success, at least in the short term achievement of those goals, as they were action based instead of personality based and could use stigmergy instead of hierarchy or cooperation. I used Anonymous to further an action based, stigmergic method of collaboration which followed ideas and it was very obvious that this was by far the most resilient and scaleable method of mass collaboration I had encountered.

In order to create movements which follow ideas, it is necessary to have access to and trust in information. An uninformed vote is a coerced vote; without access to and trust in information we have no alternative in mass movements but to blindly follow demagogues or ideologies or be completely immobilized. We are increasingly seeing all three of the latter situations as our access to and trust in information is increasingly eroded. A framework for developing open, collaborative information which can be transparently audited and receive feedback from everyone is essential for us to proceed in creating participatory governance. Democracy requires informed choice. The form of democracy we are currently governed by is increasingly built with patriarchy (the Robert Filmer kind), tyranny and secrecy, which is why it is giving way to populism and fascism all over the world. If democracy is to survive, it is essential that we create open epistemic communities and knowledge bridges to regain our trust, access and participation in knowledge. The survival of democracy in the face of growing fascism is a very big motivator for me.

AL: How do you see your work interacting with established, powerful platforms such as Facebook?

HM: There is currently a push in the EU and North America to hold tech corporations accountable for the dialogue and social networks built on their architecture. The current ‘quick fix’ to increasing sectarianism and lack of trust in information is to demand that CEOs of social media platforms take on the social responsibility not only of deciding official ‘Truth’ but also for forming our societies. Societies are formed by shunning and inclusion. Using tools ranging from permanent bans to blue check marks, a very few disinterested and unqualified CEOs are now expected to form our societies, to decide who to shun, who to include and who to amplify, by algorithm instead of dialogue. This is an abdication of responsibility by governments who should be providing the framework for societies to create themselves and it is an abdication of responsibility by societies who should never have delegated that responsibility to anyone, governments or corporations.

My goal is to remove both the burden and the authority of deciding official ‘Truth’ and facilitating shunning and inclusion of ideas or people from tech platforms. The responsibility and power of creating communal knowledge and society needs to be returned to our communities. Knowledge should be created by epistemic communities in open collaboration with affected user groups. The architecture of social media platforms is itself wrong for building knowledge. It is personality centred instead of information centred. In stigmergic movements, a personality centred platform will encourage people to follow demagogues and celebrities instead of ideas. Serious discussion needs to happen in information centred platforms. Societies should also have the power and fluidity to associate freely with the groups and individuals they choose which is the only way to avoid thought bubbles and increasing sectarianism. Allowing (or forcing) tech CEOs to replace these fundamental rights with an algorithmic dictatorship violates our basic freedoms in a democracy.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

Article 19.

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Article 20.

(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.
(2) No one may be compelled to belong to an association.

AL: I am interested in the relationship between network design and culture. In your mind, what kind of culture does your work foster?

HM: Hopefully, open and collaborative culture! I want the right to access, use and modify information to be recognized as a human right, as necessary to attain our full potential or participate in our societies. Our societies are already far too complex and require far too much information processing for individual comprehension of any big topic. We now require mass collaboration to understand any aspect of society or to be able to rationally govern ourselves. I am trying to create a framework for a societal singularity, where expertise can be transparently audited and shared so we can regain not only access but also trust in information. To be trustworthy, the ability to create a body of knowledge must not be restricted to closed groups and the entire interested group must have the ability to audit and contribute feedback. An information centred platform can break the rigidity of social media thought bubbles to allow overlaying and cross-sectioning of different societies and belief systems. Horizontal governance means we can have democratic, regional choice, but transparent epistemic communities allow all of our choices to be informed by all of the information available.

AL: You mentioned your engagement with artistic projects, can you talk more about these?

HM: During breaks in my programming career I have been an artist in a variety of mediums. Artistic projects can sometimes express ideas in a far more more powerful and immediate fashion than words ever could. As a connoisseur of information with years of experience trying to amplify seldom heard voices, I believe art is an important and necessary facet of communication. Memes, cartoons, photographs and other work are extremely important as short information bursts that trigger an emotive or logical response in people, but they can also be used to manipulate people into responding contrary to the facts or their best interests. The use of memes to manipulate our responses has been extensively researched and refined by advertising and intelligence agencies for many decades. The use of memes cannot be avoided as no one has the ability, time, access or interest to research and analyze all information they encounter, so to avoid manipulation, memes must be easily linked to a body of knowledge that can be transparently and collaboratively audited. This is something I explored in information packages for Anonymous which would include a press release summary, collections of pre-made tweets with linked source information, short videos and memes, so people could choose their level of research before sharing the topic and it could be shared in any format. The powerful messages of work such as Ai Wei Wei’s Remembering, lies in the accuracy and facts of the numbers and history it represents. Art has the ability to instantly illuminate truth and make it easily accessible but the power of art is eroded and truth becomes propaganda if the audience cannot trust the underlying facts.

AL: What great challenges have you faced? What solutions have you developed?

HM: My ongoing challenge has been to amplify the most silenced voices in our societies. Atrocities happen in silence. Structures with power and secrecy at the top and fear and silence at the bottom have filled the world with atrocities against occupied people: those at the mercy of militaries, UN peacekeepers, churches or NGOs, those silenced by prisons, care facilities and criminal organizations, and those with no media access or respect. People are coerced by information far more than they are by military and empathy follows media exposure. Equal votes are meaningless without equal voices.

Lately the media has focused on ‘whistleblowers’ which are depicted almost exclusively as members of military or intelligence agencies reporting wrongdoing in their own organizations. This is despite the scarcity of such insider whistleblowers and the vast amount of victim whistleblowers who could and do also tell of the atrocities committed by these same organizations. Millions can be killed without leaving a paper trail or inspiring an insider whistleblower. While the imprisonment of John Kirakiou for reporting torture at Guantanamo was an abomination, the solution is not to create more places for CIA agents to inform their superiors or even the world of what they are doing. It is the people in Guantanamo and all the other CIA black sites that the world should never have left in silence. If we ensure no voices are ever silenced there will be no more need for institutional whistleblowers as intermediaries.

From 2010 until 2012 I was the administrator and editor in chief of Wikileaks Central, a global news site which was requested, announced, promoted, endorsed and hosted by Wikileaks but run autonomously and separately by myself. In 2010, mainstream news audiences and outlets largely refused to cover any news that was not focused on men with guns or interpreted by western male pundits and politicians discussing men with guns. Wikileaks was very useful as a vehicle to amplify voices and human rights stories that would normally be ignored. I could cover almost any human rights or protest topic by tying the news to information in the US state cables or other Wikileaks releases. Even the most tenuous connection would encourage journalists to pick up stories they would never normally touch so they could publish them with a picture of Julian Assange at the top and a quote from a US military source. After Wikileaks lost its usefulness for me, Anonymous became my preferred vehicle. Again, editors would publish human rights stories from around the world if they could use Anonymous in the headline and photo, allowing readers to project their assumptions onto the hooded silhouette and assume it was a story with an elite western man protagonist. The advantage to Anonymous is that anyone, from any demographic, could use it directly to obtain a platform.

In the last decade, the people and topics considered news worthy have undergone a transformation. Audiences are far more willing to listen to voices and stories they ignored ten years ago. Now the challenge is to move from personality-centric news amplification of social media to an information-centric framework and to move from a transient news cycle to the creation of permanent knowledge repositories. This will hopefully remove the focus on celebrities and trends and allow collaborative knowledge that can accommodate all voices and present a complete view of any topic.

AL: You critiqued the highly personal, ego-centric nature of social media, and this resonates with your point abut building epistemic bridges. What would social relations and identity look like in a non-ego centric or social group-centric network?

HM: The terminology I use is personality-centric vs idea-centric. An idea-centric knowledge structure would be built around points of knowledge: ideas, evidence, auditing, counter-analysis, etc., and the social relations, the people contributing ideas or research or the trust networks supporting their expertise, would be attached to the ideas and evidence as subsidiary information. In the personality-centric structures we have now, this is reversed. Ideas are promoted because they come from an official person or organization or celebrity. The source of the information, or the supporting facts and research, are subsidiary to the personality or unavailable to the public. We are being governed by ideas, and our access to ideas and information is currently controlled by those with social power. This creates an oligarchy instead of a democracy, as an uninformed or misinformed vote is a coerced vote.

In an idea-centric system the ideas and information receive the focus and those producing the best information (usually experts or those most affected) are promoted along with their ideas, without having to go through celebrity intermediaries or official channels. This freedom to bypass oligarchy is necessary in a democracy.

AL: My colleague who researches teen use of social media finds that young people call platforms like Instagram a ‘second home’. Can social media be both a home and a radical democratic epistemic community? 

HM: No. An epistemic community should not in itself be a social grouping any more than any current scientific or journalist communities should be social groupings. Social groupings are personality-centric and somewhat closed; epistemic communities should be idea-centric and open. Social groupings are built around the need for social inclusion; epistemic communities must allow rejection of any work not deemed satisfactory. Ideas are not people; they have completely different requirements. One of the worst parts of platforms such as Twitter is this mixing of the two objectives so respect for a person leads to promotion of their ideas and rejection of a person results in rejection of their ideas.

From personal observation and the trend studies I have read, I don’t believe that young people currently still see social media such as Snapchat or Instagram as a second home – what year was your colleagues research? I think the current generation (Z?) is much more security conscious and bored or revolted by the Instagram-filtered, microcelebrity culture of their older peers. As advancements are made in collaborative education I believe we will see far more young people using social knowledge platforms (when we have one) for idea collaboration and secure messaging for their social interactions. Social media as a microcelebrity fame vehicle will hopefully become more specialized to the entertainment field it is suited to.

AL: You talk about the necessity of transparency. I have been thinking about this in terms of identity as well, as I feel anonymity can amplify trolling and other forms of ‘cyber-hate’ that negate democratic dialogues. Have you thought about this?

HM: Yes, of course! And I disagree, at least with the world as it currently is. As I mentioned earlier, the only way I could get editors and audiences to look at the stories I considered the most urgent in the world was by passing information through a western male avatar. Anonymity in the world today is the only way to bypass existing bigotries. A lack of anonymity in a personality-focused system will also very frequently inspire very misplaced trust based on reputation instead of work. As a woman and a career programmer, I can say with certainty that my work is judged in my field based on my reproductive organs and is far more accepted when they are assumed to be male. Or in the words of Alan Turing, “Turing believes machines think. Turing lies with men. Therefore, machines can’t think.”

The vast majority of hate in the world, from the Malleus Malleficarum forward, has been printed, published and promoted by powerful men under their own names. Anonymity is necessary to criticize the powerful, not to preach hate against those with less power. History and the fact that ’free speech’ is suddenly and for the first time since the printing press was invented taking a back seat to ‘fighting hate speech’ gives the following definitions for your terms:

cyber-hate: democratic speech

democratic dialogue: public discourse controlled by the powerful

AL: To answer your question, my colleague has actually been studying a group have been ‘growing up’ on social media for a while. Hence perhaps they are not the young generation anymore. Cultural context comes into these attitudes as well, I presume.

The cyber-hate (for lack of a better term) problem is by far the one that interests me the most. I agree that it is thoroughly gendered. These days in media and comms in Australia our classes are about 95% female.

HM: Wow!! Is that an anomaly? Where are the men? Are they not applying? How and when has this changed and why do you think? Do you feel this is temporary? How do you feel this has affected the classes, in terms of being a thought bubble, etc etc. How are your computer science classes?

AL: When #gamergate hit many students were writing about the fact that they felt silenced on platforms like Twitter.

HM: They were writing that they felt silenced … and you heard them …. and everyone heard all the other female journalists saying the same thing. I have been on twitter since it started and I have been a female journalist for many years and a woman offline all my life. Twitter is the first time I have ever been able to (if I wanted) say that I get daily messages from people who want to cut my head off and rape my neck, etc., etc. The messages aren’t new, I would get them in my desk at school even. This is just the first time there has been a platform I could say anything on or an audience who would listen. Twitter is the first predominantly female important media platform and created the audience for all those female journalism students you now have. Twitter forced Pax Dickinson, the Business Insider CTO, out of a job in 2013 for misogynist comments and many more since, including those on #ShittyMediaMen. (And that was when libertarian media men started suddenly being concerned about ‘the limits of free speech’ and paying women to write op-eds about awful bullying on Twitter. And ignoring the awful bullying of women in corporate media.) Twitter has also brought forward the #MeToo movement and many other campaigns such as #BringBackOurGirls #DelhiRape #TakeDownJulienBlanc or many I launched around 2013 such as #opRohingya, #opDeathEaters, and #opGabon. Michael Salter’s Crime, Justice and Social Media is worth a read on those campaigns.

I think using the fact that many women are saying they feel silenced on Twitter to blame Twitter is like using the fact that women are saying #MeToo on Twitter to blame Twitter. No one heard any of us say we were silenced for centuries by the printing press. Anonymity is a tool of the weak – women have used it for years online, as do any Rohingya activists giving evidence of the ongoing genocide. Monk Wirathu does not need or use anonymity to preach genocide and Putin / Trump / Kadyrov / Bannon do not need or use anonymity to preach misogyny.

AL: This seems to me to indicate democracy for men (at least in the gaming community), but not for women. Similar to your point about journalism.

HM: Of course, democracy everywhere was always for men (and includes race and class boundaries as well) but now we have platforms for talking about it.

There is another aspect to this topic though and it is a bit huge for this question, it would take books (some of which I am currently writing, will be posted on my blog eventually). Gamergate, and gaming in general, and social media, and for that matter the internet, has very strong ties with the intelligence communities of the world and the men’s rights movement which grew on the internet was probably the least organic or democratic social movement ever created. This is a huge topic but there is a bit of one aspect here and a bit of another aspect (specifically manufactured division around ‘white feminism’ and ‘trans rights activists’) alluded to in this quote from the Cambridge Analytica supergrass on Steve Bannon: “Smart. Interesting. Really interested in ideas. He’s the only straight man I’ve ever talked to about intersectional feminist theory. He saw its relevance straightaway to the oppressions that conservative, young white men feel. There was also a very large push in the intelligence communities of the west for many decades to strengthen patriarchal religions (along with associated misogyny) in an effort to subvert communism. This is still happening even though it has already been overwhelmingly successful and even China is attempting to force women back into ‘traditional’ unpaid caregiver roles. A very large majority of the most extreme hatred I have experienced online and off contains biblical or other religious references, even from street drunks when I was a child in a very secular place. I don’t see that changing with the rise of Bannon types pushing end-times religious wars and terrified of the fall of patriarchy. . (The former head of the US DIA linked in the video earlier also believes in end times prophecy with a giant religious war between ‘good’ and ‘evil’ – these are the people steering online dialogue. The ‘cyber war’ budgets are allocated for them to steer online dialogue in the directions they choose.)

The tl;dr is that the gender divide has been initiated and promoted at every step of the way by very undemocratic forces (see Malleus Malleficarum), and ‘feminism’ has been regularly co-opted, at least from the 1970s forward, to work for its enemies. What you are seeing, especially on the internet, does not necessarily have anything to do with democracy or human nature or organic social tendencies. It has much more to do with allowing secretive governance to control our online dialogue and access to information. Re gamergate trolls.

AL: Are epistemic, idea-centric, annonymous networks enough to stem this ingrained sexism (as well as other forms of bigotry)? Can these networks be coupled with progressive forms of governance? 

HM: Anonymous networks alone would never work, they would be spammed to death. Pseudonymous networks supported by a trust network would work, when necessary, and that can make it difficult for group affiliation bigotries to take precedence over information. Concentric circles of epistemic communities and knowledge bridges are a framework, they are not a solution. The solution must of course rely on the people using that framework. This framework of transparent, audited, open, permeable information is, in my opinion, essential for horizontal governance and to avoid rule by demagogues and ideology. Voting is a tool; we are governed by information and it is open, collaborative information that needs to be a human right in a democratic government.

AL: In designing such a database architecture, do you also take into account the structural struggles that must enable equitable access and skilled use of the database? For example, struggles for internet infrastructure, technical skills training, and even training in critical humanities (say, around political philosophy)? 

HM: Yes, because equitable access and benefit is the primary motivation for the project. It is essential that we not only avoid repeating the mistakes of the web but also work to correct them. There are two factors involved in equitable access, one architectural and one societal. Architecturally, it is my hope that organizing knowledge around subjects instead of organizations or people will create a more equitable and collaborative environment. Giving people the ability to create their own trust networks will hopefully result in networks of expertise beyond the institutional ones already established and allow more personal control and diversity of perspectives.

There is also a large societal shift that will need to happen before equitable access to use and create knowledge is a reality and recognized and supported as a basic human right. While I don’t believe this societal shift is possible without the architecture to support it, the architecture alone is not sufficient to change societal structure. It is my hope that collaborative, transparent, knowledge repositories will increase awareness of the need for information transparency and access, and result in an end to knowledge ownership and gatekeeping. This is a bit of a catch-22; people will hopefully realize that open, collaborative knowledge is necessary when they have it, but they will not work for it until they realize it is necessary. This is similar to internet access which had very little public interest initially but is now recognized as a basic human right for all. I think that lack of initial public interest and diverse perspectives harmed the creation of the web and is harming the creation of new internet structure as well. My plan is to create this project with a rotating board of directors, diverse both in background and geographically, and seek the input and involvement of as many people as possible throughout the early stages. That is very difficult to accomplish with no funding or institutional power. We also are in a time where the world’s governments are punishing tech behemoths for abusing control over our data by demanding that they exercise even more control over our data, a very cynical and ultimately disastrous approach. I am not sure what will convince the public how disastrous this road will be. Politically, there is no motivation for democratizing access to information since control over information is how we are governed.

The internet exacerbated existing power structures and created new ones through both access and initial interest. While outreach to prevent such power imbalances are necessary, it will never provide complete equality of access or understanding for every person on the planet and neither should it. Lack of equality in interest or ability should not cause an imbalance in power the way access to the internet has today. That is the point of the concentric circles of expertise and the layers of diverse interest and involvement in Getgee. Everyone can benefit equally from transparent, publicly audited knowledge without every person devoting the same personal resources to it in a system where knowledge is a shared commons instead of a resource to be hoarded and filtered in the sealed wells of corporate owned databases.

There is more about power structures and knowledge in the ‘Science, isolation and control’ section here and a lot more coming. Personality focused governance vs knowledge based governance here.

AL: I see something like a global workers movement, demanding education, universal income, and an end to inequality as perhaps necessary  to ensure that a kind of Platonic ‘philosopher elite’ don’t become the experts that capture the network. 

HM: Why global? Governance, in my opinion, should always be by the user group, which is usually local communities. My goal is to create epistemic communities that provide transparent, accessible, two-way knowledge for local communities to use as a resource. Epistemic communities are global but advisory only and information-centric, not closed, elite communities. With access to information, people can govern locally and collaborate globally. All information is available, but communities choose for themselves how they want to utilize that information. An example is the ebola crisis – global experts provided advice but made crucial errors, largely because the information flow was one-way. Local communities were able to assess that advice and replace the parts that were not working with their own solutions. A permeable and transparent epistemic community would have instantly incorporated the feedback of the local communities into available knowledge. Resilience against error requires diversity. The global blight of capitalism would be a lot easier to eradicate if we had a healthy selection of diverse alternative communities that already had mid-scale experience with different methods of resource allocation. A global ‘workers’ movement is communist internationalism centred around a trade economy and it requires a totalitarian state because many diverse communities will not agree on homogeneous government. Let’s not do that.

What is a worker? The traditional definition of that term is a person employed in the trade economy. That is someone fully invested in trade exploitation and willing to destroy communities and environment for ‘job creation’ and strengthening of corporations. Trade economy ‘workers’ are their own elite who act against the interests of community and land caregivers. ‘Workers’ are also people like the autonomous miners in Bolivia who recently abducted and murdered a Bolivian government minister because the government was trying to implement legislation to protect the environment and workers’ rights. The so-called ‘independent’ miners sell resources to multinationals while bypassing human rights and environmental legislation. ‘Workers’ in the eastern DRC mines are also militias that terrorize their communities and ‘workers’ in Nigeria’s Niger Delta destroy the surrounding drinking water and farmland by tapping pipelines. In a more regulated country like Uruguay, ‘workers’ garbage collection unions refuse to allow the country to recycle, cattle rancher ‘workers’ lobby to ensure that the price of seafood is sky high in a country that is mostly coastline and people are restricted from working on their own houses because that may cost jobs for the ‘workers’. In Canada, the ‘workers’ support destroying an area bigger than Greece to dig tar from an open pit mine and demand that other provinces allow their tar passage through other people’s environments. ‘Workers’ are the people who enable and fight for trade economy exploitation. I am much more interested in the needs of community and land caregivers than ‘workers’. I also want the needs of the elderly, children, those suffering health problems and any other non-’workers’ to be included.

Who would they be demanding this from? Participatory governance would mean they would be making their own decisions and creating their own solutions.

What is ‘education’? If you mean enforced state propaganda, it can be replaced by the kind of education you get from concentric circles and transparent, accessible knowledge. Knowledge bridges are educators. Open, transparent, epistemic communities would bring an end to the gatekeeping of expertise by academic institutions. As a current example, open software allows people to teach themselves to code and their code repositories and community reputations replace academic certification.

What is the income for and how does that relate to knowledge repositories? Why would we have universal basic income (which must be allocated by some centralized power and will not prevent goods from being priced out of reach) instead of free essentials (something which is only impossible now because of intellectual property claims and government regulation)? Why are education and medical care currently free in many places but not food and housing when only the last three are essential for life and health? https://georgiebc.wordpress.com/2013/02/13/a-world-without-a-financial-system/ https://georgiebc.wordpress.com/2012/10/07/society-vs-systems-of-dissociation/

Why should inequality be ended and how would that be possible? My goal is to support inequality (otherwise known as diversity) and prevent inequality from creating inequity. So-called equality is really survival of the fittest since it does not recognize diversity of ability or interest. Forcing our diverse communities to live under an egalitarian trade economy has created great inequity. https://georgiebc.wordpress.com/2013/02/28/an-economy-for-all/

Philosopher elites are what we have now, except they are bought and paid for by states and corporations. Their expertise is a commodity available only to the elite and their expertise is not fit to use the name as it is incomplete without all the perspectives locked outside the circle of approved knowledge.

In an information driven system, it is expertise that is promoted, not experts. Expertise cannot be complete without input from all knowledge sources. It is to the benefit of anyone interested in an epistemic community to ensure the expertise is as complete and diverse as possible, encouraging greater input, not gatekeeping. Prima facie, no one can capture a network that is open, transparent and available as a universal human right. In today’s lived reality, your concerns are well grounded, however, as we see even in the free software movement. The best software does not win. The software that can afford to pay the best engineers to work the most hours wins. This is, however, a fault of the trade economy, not open information. Wikipedia bias and imbalance is a fault of the structure of the web, not open information. Open information is a first step to resolving these issues.

There is more information here under the Science, isolation and control section, and as usual, more coming when I ever get time. https://georgiebc.wordpress.com/2017/01/30/autonomy-diversity-society-book/

 

Response to EU Commission on fake news

In your opinion, which criteria should be used to define fake news for the purposes of scoping the problem?

A simpler method would be to define non-fake news. Non-fake news is that which emanates from complete, open, sourced, audited information on a topic. By this definition, almost all news is fake news, but it doesn’t have to be. If we create platform-independent knowledge repositories which link, source and verify news from all sources by topic, any news which emanates from that source is not fake news. This will allow us to share news that may be as simplistic and incomplete as a meme, but still links to a complete, verifiable source. It also allows information from epistemic communities whose knowledge is at an elite level to be distilled down to any level of interest without losing truth, context or verifiability.

Please specify which categories of fake news are more likely to cause harm to society.

All categories of intentional disinformation are harmful. You could add corporate advertising and state propaganda but intentional disinformation should stand alone without qualifiers. Knowledge is necessary for democracy and must be recognized as a human right along with free speech and free press. An uninformed vote is a coerced vote. People who have lost trust or access to knowledge will blindly follow demagogues and ideology as we are increasingly seeing.

What are the main economic, social and technology-related factors which, in the current news media landscape, contribute to the increasing spread of fake news?

The design of the web is centred around personalities and organizations (instead of information) which makes it impossible to collaborate at the data level or have platform-independent information. This allows information to be owned by technology companies and locked away from information on other platforms. This contributes greatly to self-perpetuating thought bubbles of biased information which translates to increased bigotry and misunderstanding offline.

Additionally, platform dependency means there is no way to link all perspectives on a topic together or easily source where an information snippet originated. Information filtering is left up to easily manipulated corporate algorithms instead of human trust networks which allows bot farms to flood platforms and make real news impossible to find. Celebrity is amplified over expertise.

Why are measures taken by tech companies not so effective in combating fake news?

They are far more easily manipulated by tech savvy misinformation campaigns than by the casual users who are a target of misinformation and they just decrease the public trust in information which is already at a crisis level. People do not have time to verify all the news they read so they will stop believing anything, especially since ‘debunking’ claims are now a favourite way to spread misinformation.

What precautions should readers take when reading and sharing news online?

It is unrealistic to expect all readers to invest all of the time required to fact check all of the information they ingest every day. Expecting this of them will just further erode their trust in any information and their engagement on important topics.

A study to measure the level of factual news believed by users of each platform would be very helpful in identifying the thought bubbles created on each platform and how resilient each is against fact checking.

What should be done to reduce the spread of disinformation online?

The current lack of trust in information is the single biggest crisis facing democracies. A universal database commons is needed which can help to create a platform-independent, collaborative, knowledge repository as explained in the links at end and on http://www.getgee.xyz/

Which measures could online platforms take in order to improve users’ access to reliable information and prevent the spread of disinformation online?

It isn’t the job of online platforms. Corporate monopolies over information filtering is a very bad idea. We need independent collaborative knowledge repositories which are only possible with a platform-independent universal database.

We need a platform-independent universal database commons.

Also, if dedicated bot armies are detected, they should not be just deleted. Those streams should be archived and accessible to researchers who want to compare what ideas and stories are being pushed by what networks.

In your view, which measures could news media organizations take in order to improve the reach of reliable information and prevent the spread of disinformation online?

Participate in creating online collaborative knowledge repositories. Collaborate with other news organizations and other news sources. Encourage a more educated public with more in-depth articles.

New organizations are barely keeping their heads above water and must forego valuable investigative reporting for clickbait. A universal database would give them a new business model and more collaborative journalism, but governments need to recognize access to trustworthy information as an essential right under a democracy, as important as the right to vote, and support access to reliable information. This is not something news organizations can or will do on their own.

In your view, which measures could civil society organizations take in order to support reliable information and prevent the spread of disinformation online?

Again, this is not their job. Access to reliable information is a fundamental core of democracy and it is government’s job to ensure that the public can create information that is open, permeable, audited by the public and not controlled by corporate platforms. EU governments should support the infrastructure to create a universal database. Civil society organizations would then have a reasonable place to create verified, open knowledge which they do not have presently.

What actions, if any, should be taken by public authorities to counter the spread of fake news, and at what level (global, EU, national/regional) should such actions be taken?

We need a universal database commons which will allow us platform independent collaboration on information. Democratic public authorities should support this platform independent access to information as they support access to the internet, as a universal human right.

Well, I tried. Final report. Corporations and states manipulate social media to spread disinformation and escalate division and use that as a reason that corporations and states need more control over online dialogue.

#MeToo, #TimesUp and all that … but also #opDeathEaters

sweden sweatshirt opdeThese are snippets from interviews I did with Australian criminologist Dr. Michael Salter in 2014-15 for his 2017 book ‘Crime, Justice and Social Media’ which looks broadly at the role of social media in both crime and justice. In the final chapter, he used #OpGabon and #OpDeatheaters to examine how social media can challenge national/regional boundaries around justice and provide new ways of understanding and acting on injustice. He also wrote a chapter on media coverage of organised sexual abuse for an encyclopedia from Oxford University Press, and discussed OpDeatheaters in various academic presentations. This is a very late post to share his work. My apologies for not sharing it earlier but it is still very current information. Apologies as well for the choppiness, questions are condensed and answers are pieced together from several places including tweets. The book is available here. For more information, follow #opDeathEaters, @opDeathEaters@opDeathEatersUS and @opGabon on Twitter.

MS: Can you tell me how and why “Death Eaters” was selected as a key symbol for the op?

HM: I have been in a propaganda war with PIE and similar organizations forever. Their propaganda has been so all-pervasive on the Internet and the earlier bulletin boards that all I could ever do was debate within the dialogue they created and using their words, a losing battle that always descended into hysteria about free speech, sexual freedom and every other so-called freedom presented from the perpetrators point of view. The hardest thing about OpDeathEaters has been getting past the language, all manipulated to trigger the ‘educated’:

1. No acknowledged word for Death Eaters so every attempt at conversation is reduced to Illuminati/Masons/Satanists/lizards.

2. “Conspiracy theory” used as a synonym for outlandish lies.

3. Paedosadists misdefined as a sexual orientation / child love and completely conflated with homosexuality.

4. Sadism reduced to “Sex positive!!!” and sparkly pink handcuffs.

5. Attempts to bring powerful torturers to justice labeled ‘a witch hunt’ – I’ll bet the priests laughed at that one.

Words are not facts, they are just a framework used to create social norms. We should examine them carefully and choose the framework we want to use. The first step for OpDeatheaters had to be to remove control of the dialogue from the perpetrators. For me, it was a very personal challenge to reframe the debate and to create a space for dialogue from my own viewpoint. PIE rhetoric ruled the Internet. If we replace their ‘child love’ with ‘death eaters’, we win the Internet and they will never recover from having their years of propaganda stripped away. Who controls the words controls your thoughts.

OpDeatheaters is not about an individual disorder, it is about the norms of an international society. There are people who are very much part of death eaters society who are not paedosadists or even involved in trafficking. They just live within, enable and protect the society and allow it to exist. It is this structure that I want exposed, not just individual paedosadists. Paedosadists are a created market, often mentally ill or weak and often former victims. They are not driving the industry. Initiatives like #WeProtect arrest low level paedosadists and leave those who created and run the industry untouched. As soon as anyone mentions a powerful society, their listeners demand to know who the group is and the conversation descends into ‘the Illuminati’ or ‘the Masons’ or ‘the Satanists’. We really don’t have a term to describe this network and that has been used to block this story for years.

So I had a choice, invent a completely new gobbledegook word or use one which everyone understands and is also a completely accurate term for what I mean. The alternative terms were rationalizing, normalizing and completely false terminology like ‘paedophile’, comforting to listeners and allowing them to settle back into slumber in familiar surroundings. We have seen this normalizing in the lies presenting child torture and murder around the world as ‘war’, ‘national security’, ‘policing’, etc., and the word ‘paedophile’ had already almost fully buried this story in the UK. These people do not love children, they feed off of pain and death and they do not act individually, they are a fully functioning society. I wanted to not use false rationalizing terms and I wanted people to confront the fact that we are in fact ruled by death eaters – a collaborative society of sociopaths.

Looking for logic in the indiscriminate bombing, imprisonment and starvation of people around the world is exactly like looking for logic in OpDeatheaters. People who gather socially to torture and murder children for fun, gather professionally to mass murder for fun. This shouldn’t be shocking and it’s not like the phenomenon isn’t well documented in the origins of the word sadism. Sociopaths have no motives in common with socially healthy people and sociopaths rule the world because the entire global social structure is set up to reward and promote sociopaths. The point of OpDeathEaters is to provide irrefutable proof that those at the top are sociopaths and force an examination of how they got there. OpDeatheaters is just one manifestation of the social cannibalism we have been going through. Everything wrong with the world is because it is governed by sociopaths. ‘Arrest paedosadists’ just scratches the surface of what is wrong.

It is also important to dispel the ‘one lonely man’ and ‘social outcast’ myths so carefully planted because paedosadism and trafficking are not an ‘individual sexual orientation’, they are a massive criminal industry with more in common with drugs and weapons trafficking than a sexual orientation. While every drug bust is reported in the media as being part of a global network, every paedosadist case is presented as an individual and isolated case. Reporting on high level paedosadism as a personal problem instead of part of a networked international industry is inaccurate. The battle for the Internet was hardly just about “sexual orientation”. A massive criminal industry was created, not born.

Porn and violent or risky sex addictions are well established, and known to be created, but unlike drug addictions (which typically harm only the addicted person) sex addictions are treated as personal freedoms and individual problems. In fact, the drastic growth of the paedosadism industry, and of sadism in war zones and criminal gangs, clearly show it is environmental and created and it needs to be dismantled as an industry and through social change. We have ample evidence of genocides in every time and place to prove near ‘normal’ populations can be turned largely sociopathic. Look at the US military in Bagram: was torturing prisoners and raping their children a sexual orientation? Or was it environmental? Yes many psychopaths are born, but far more sociopaths are created and neither is a sexual orientation. Paedosadism is no more ‘natural’ than children in militias killing people is ‘natural’.

I also wanted to challenge the idea of ‘paedophilia’ as a sexual orientation, a completely irrational idea that has been used for years to conflate paedosadists with homosexuals and other relationships between consenting adults. The legal term for ‘sex’ with children in most of the world is rape and attraction to rape is paraphilic coercive disorder. Can you even imagine if people discussed rape of women as a ‘sexual orientation’ as they do the rape of babies and children? Or referred to the mass rape of women as ‘historical women sex’? The idea of the rape, torture and murder of children being ‘a sexual orientation’ is possible only in a world which dehumanizes the children and focuses solely on the point of view of the rapist. No one pretends being raped, tortured or murdered is a sexual orientation. ‘Pedophilia’ has no word for the child. Consensual love does not end when one party reaches puberty. ‘Child sex’ is even worse as it pretends the children are having sex when they are being raped, tortured and murdered.

Crimes are called ‘violent extremism’ if they are directed at corporate assets or powerful men but terrorism of children is called ‘a sexual orientation’. Key to that is viewing the children as objects, not recognizing them as part of a so-called ‘sexual orientation’ which victimizes them. A potential rape victim is not a ‘crush’, they are ‘prey’. ‘Minor-attracted men’ are ‘sadism / violent porn addicted men’. Peter Righton , the founder of the UK government funded Paedophile Information Exchange, one of the most influential propaganda organizations depicting paedosadism as ‘child love’, has been accused of extremely sadistic murder of children.

These words that are entirely based on the point of view of powerful men then affect our legal systems. Killers are depicted as ‘terrorists’ or ‘paedophiles’ to create separate legal systems for the same acts committed against different groups of people. The ICC can then say the murder of adult men is ‘terrorism’ that requires UN resolutions and ICC trials but mass paedosadism by the Catholic Church is not a “serious crime of concern to the international community as a whole.” Children are not part of their international community.

Anyone who chooses to view paedosadism as ‘a sexual orientation’ and believes that ‘orientation’ ought to be a factor considered by courts and society should answer: Do you consider children consenting partners? or Do you consider all rape a sexual orientation? If all rape is a sexual orientation, what about murder? The fact that the perpetrator is sexually aroused does not make paedosadism a sexual orientation or profugaphilia would be a sexual orientation too, called ‘homeless attracted persons’. If sexual orientation should be taken into consideration legally and socially, why should not a tendency to violence?

The tone difference between the DSM and typical psychiatry papers on paedosadism and paraphilic coercive disorder is remarkable. Unless the DSM has decided that sex with children is not rape, pedophilia should not exist as a separate category or why would we stop there? What about “My sexual orientation is poisoning people with oil spills. I was born this way. I just need understanding.” Sexual arousal is a stimulus response to anything from inherent or developed hormones to parasites. Sexual arousal is, and should be judged, as simply social or anti-social, not natural or unnatural. Our extinction is perfectly natural, but let’s try to stop it anyway.

“It’s a sexual orientation, they can’t help it” is a constant in the propaganda, but the word ‘historic’ is also always used to reassure us that they all got over it at the same time, with no arrests or investigations, despite it supposedly being a sexual orientation they were born with.

PIE and their ilk have managed the media depiction of the rape, torture and murder of children, first by conflating it with homosexuality, then by creating a ‘sexual orientation’ called pedophilia, now by changing the definition and public perception of sadism. The major problem in the world is not rape culture, it is sadism culture. Sexual sadism disorder you will never hear about in the media except as cutesy co-option of the word as “Sex Positive!!” BDSM, sparkly pink handcuffs and 50 Shades Of Grey, but sexual sadism disorder is running the world. Death eaters are people who experience sexual arousal from the torture, death, dismemberment of others. Since the philosophy of the Marquis de Sade, sadism has been depicted as freedom, complete liberty for the fraternity at the top and dehumanization of those at the bottom. The governance paradigm we follow was greatly influenced by the people responsible for the Terror in France and they are also the root of the idea of conflating torture and murder with sexual freedom. From the Marquis de Sade’s “Social order at the expense of liberty is hardly a bargain” to Sir Anthony Duff’s “Risks of political embarrassment to the government is rather greater than the security danger”, liberty and equality have always been solely for the fraternity. US and French revolutionary rhetoric was pivotal in the propaganda shift into high gear away from society and into personal liberty, codified in law and reserved for powerful men. You will hear it still everywhere paedosadists are defending child abuse documentation as ‘porn’ and ‘free speech’.

The idea that a powerful caucasian man is always more credible than their victims is part of this outlook. Wealth is seen as a virtue in our societies. The reputations of powerful men are valued more. The fact that they are sociopathically unaffected by suffering is seen as strength. It is a recurring pattern in OpDeathEaters that many former victims are now in jail, destitute, or with mental health problems while the sadists have it all. It is like the world decided to follow de Sade’s ‘Justine: The Misfortunes of Virtue‘: Let’s put the worst at the top and reward the guilty. The concerns against OpDeatheaters are all about protecting the privacy of powerful men instead of about protecting the victims because the propaganda itself is almost entirely from the point of view of the perpetrators. We are told not to spread rumours but everything is ‘just a rumour’ if it is never investigated. People have forgotten how transparent justice systems work:

1. The aggrieved makes a public accusation.

2. There is a trial to decide guilt or innocence.

Right now all accusations are shrouded in secrecy, media pretends that paedosadism rumours are homosexual rumours, accusers are jailed, any accusations against the powerful are forbidden. This is the opposite of justice. This is tyranny, secrecy and a political, tiered, chokehold on justice. The top are too powerful to be accused, the middle are accused and tried, and for the powerless, no accusation is necessary, they are shot in the street for suspicion.

From the FAQ:

Q: What is the difference between a paedosadist and the sexual orientation of paedophilia?

A: There is no such thing as a sexual orientation called paedophilia. A sexual orientation, or sex, requires consenting partners. It is not sex if some of those involved are called victims, that is rape. Someone attracted to rape has sexual sadism disorder or paraphilic coercive disorder. Someone attracted to the rape of children is a paedosadist. A paedosadist who acts on their impulses is a criminal paedosadist, one who does not is a non-offending paedosadist.

MS: In your political writings, are there particular schools of thought or writers that influence you?

HM: I was raised as a girl in Canada’s far north in a First Nations community that had first European contact in 1838. Regular outside contact wasn’t until the 1900’s and the first road in was built in 1972. The schools of thought and writers that have made it to influential status influence me only as a source of extreme frustration. Reading Engel’s complete misinterpretation of Morgan’s misinterpretation of matriarchal First Nations societies was like being forced to learn the end result of a game of telephone when you were standing beside the original speaker. All officially sanctioned knowledge we have been force fed has been filtered through the lens of powerful caucasian men, so even views which are written by people who were not from that demographic are always centred around them and acceptable to them.

Professionally I am a programmer, so I see our societies as whole systems governed by algorithms or principles. Changing the people at the top of the paradigm or adding bug fixes to an algorithm that is completely wrong in the first place will obviously never bring real change. Feminism that fights for women to join a masculinist universe in the trade economy or indigenous fights for political influence within the existing political structures only serve to strengthen the existing paradigm which is why those are the fights always permitted or endorsed.

A background with direct personal experience of so much of what is not working in the world influenced me. The perspective from the very bottom does not have schools of thought or writers. The reason I have focused so much of my energy for the past many years on media, on amplification of those who need it instead of being “the voice of the voiceless”, is because we need those perspectives. We don’t need another revolutionary leader, we need strength and resistance from the bottom and a society that reaches down to help those at the bottom instead of up to the current ponzi schemes of celebrity, wealth and power. Social media has the potential to finally allow those voices to be heard directly, so that is what I have been working towards. When those voices are loud enough to influence society we will have real change because they will influence others as they influenced me.

MS: Can you tell me if there’s been progress towards establishing victim-led inquiries other than the UK? I saw a tweet from the OpDE twitter account in March indicating that the Australian branch of the op had filed a complaint with the ICC. I’ve contacted them for more info. I was wondering if you had any thoughts on the challenges of establishing these tribunals/inquiries?

HM: There are many tribunals and inquiries globally in various states of inadequacy and various levels of victim input. The Truth and Reconciliation report in Canada, the Catholic Church, the UN, Pakistan and many more have inquiries.

The primary challenge for OpDeatheaters is to convince the public in each part of the world that the existing systems of justice will not work without transparency and that where the existing systems are corrupt they can be replaced. Like the words we use, none of the justice systems are set in stone and they all originated somewhere. They can all be challenged and replaced with something more effective when necessary. There is a lot of fear around the idea of challenging existing systems of justice, fed by hysteria about ‘mob rule’ and ‘witch hunts’. People who have been infantilized since birth or have had their lives shattered and are suffering from ptsd, drug addiction and more are naturally afraid of challenging existing systems of authority but most justice systems were established as co-option of social justice by the powerful, created to appoint judges, silence witnesses and control outcomes, and they need to be challenged.

MS: Although there’s been a lot of social media activity around OpDeathEaters, it seems like it’s been harder to get people onto the streets, in comparison to OpGabon where there seemed to be a lot of momentum around the rallies. I was wondering if you had any thoughts on why?

HM: The protests in Gabon are also protests against Ali Bongo and the reasons for the dissatisfaction are economically motivated as well. From the beginning of the social media influenced mass protests, the motivations for street mobilization have been economic much more frequently than direct reactions to human rights violations, Syria and several Chinese protests being exceptions. Greece obviously was reacting to their economic collapse, then Tunisia with Mohammed Bouazizi and on. Economic struggle is of course also a fight for dignity or a fight against the violence of poverty, but by proxy. When we started a global protest for September 17, 2011 it was supposed to be a continuation of the M15 self-governance mobilization in Spain with an ‘antibanks’ theme, just a step in the progression of self-governance encampments. This was co-opted almost from the beginning to become the ‘Occupy’ movement, rebranded and completely controlled by the US who used the platform for reactionary rhetoric such as calling for a debt jubilee, a great solution for reinstating the status quo and of no use whatsoever for those who have never had the privilege of acquiring debt.

The financial system is used for dissociation, money was used to replace society. If people fight for the financial system instead of each other and their society, the resistance can be easily co-opted as we saw when ‘self-governance’ for colonies resulted in imperial military control replaced by imperial financial control. People are taught a cradle to grave obsession with money instead of each other, and in the trade economy, the financial system always supports a ponzi scheme which encourages service to the powerful, never those on the bottom. When I started Wikileaks Central, people were very unaccustomed to hearing human rights news. That was a fringe topic, of interest only to human rights activists, as the environment was only discussed by environmentalists. Corporate media focused on the exceptional lives at the top of the ponzi schemes, the economy and corporations, and the protests were not much different with their focus on caucasian male hackers, whistleblowers and new media stars. Internet surveillance received vastly more attention than the stories happening to people with no Internet, money fluctuations caused far more panic than refugees in the ocean with no food or water.

Every time I tried to focus any of the 2011 movements on human rights instead of economic matters, I was shouted down by those dominating the assembleas online and off, accused of everything from promoting the UN (because they also supposedly promote human rights) to wanting to disrupt the utopian anarchy with rules. Anyone who did listen to my concerns would insist we didn’t need to think about them because once student loans in the US were cancelled the rest of the world would benefit from trickle down human rights. One of the most significant Occupy events of 2011 winter was the Sandy hurricane, which appeared in all media and Occupy type forums depicted as a disaster that only hit the US. For me, that was a perfect symbol of the reactionary nature of the protests and how most were only seeking to support or replace those at the top, not change the paradigm.  This is nothing new, almost all of our attempts at change have been reactionary or revolutionary. My goal for years has been resistance, strengthening those at the very bottom until we have a mesh network governance instead of ponzi schemes, but we are a very long way off. Every human rights cause can still only dream of the support given to celebrity activists or the economy.

This is partly because of the tools we have been given. Twitter, Bitcoin and all the rest start with the same libertarian idea of equality and even more freedom, resulting in even faster and more extreme ponzi schemes. In 2010 and earlier, everyone was begging for a retweet from the large social media accounts which became larger by retweeting each other, so of course the protests revolved around the concerns of the powerful. This is another reason I am writing a tool designed around trust networks and original sources instead of ponzi schemes and popularity.

There are also many triggers used in the propaganda surrounding paedosadism to warn people off, phrases like ‘his private life’, ‘witch hunt’, ‘mob rule’, plus the fact that so many perpetrators are the Great Men that everyone has been taught to revere and trust to govern them and make all decisions for them. An attack on the entire society at the top is an attack on the structure we live within and the paradigm from which we have pulled all the principles we use in our daily lives. Such deep social change is very, very difficult and does not happen overnight. Most stories, particularly in the US, have a Good Guy and a Bad Guy and the Bad Guy dies at the end. “Kill all the Bad Guys” will not fix this. Anyone who still thinks we can jail all paedosadists, hasn’t been looking. These are social problems but it is far easier to throw Zoloft or law enforcement at a problem than deep social change. Social change doesn’t sell because social change is very difficult and complex. If we question free will, then the death penalty, wars, crime and punishment all must be questioned. It also means convincing the most heavily coerced and manipulated population on earth that they do not have absolute free will, something they are absolutely convinced they have. In fact, humans are the most programmable systems on earth. We were all programmed and can be reprogrammed. We were also programmed to recoil in horror from the idea that we were programmed, so that fight must be won before we can change how we were programmed.

MS: I’ve been trying to get some info on the database.

HM: The database is an old project I tried to do in 2011 called Global Square. I don’t want this only for opDeathEaters but many long term projects. As one example besides OpDeatheaters, OpFrackOff was a conflict in New Brunswick with a resource corporation which had it’s offices in Houston. Instead of trying to get people in Houston to protest those offices, I looked at all the other ties and found the Houston company was leasing from New Brunswick’s Irving family who own vast and varied corporations. I chose McCain fries as a product of one of their corporations and OpFrackOff boycotted Wendy’s restaurants as they are a major client of McCain (explained in the video). It may seem strange to boycott Wendy’s restaurants for fracking, but the exact same people are behind both, so it is a new way of being heard when perpetrators are protected by layers of corporations.

This year and next I will restart #OpCanary to map connections and encourage international class action lawsuits against resource corporations and also start to track militias, state and otherwise, weapons dealers etc (how many police forces are currently being trained by IDF?) and rename or relaunch #opGtmo to include prisons globally. This will give us far more power than we have ever had before to unmask and combat corruption and counter the use of borders to corral those at the bottom and protect those at the top, but there is no tool available that can help me do this (I’ve tried them all) so I have to write it from scratch (which is better anyway since it needs to be free software).

One method I used to think about for privacy and social shunning online (like against criminal activity using the Tor network) was proxies that would be available only with community support, which is interestingly the same way powerful paedosadist rings work. Lose support of your powerful friends and your cloak is lifted. That’s why the cover ups and obstruction of justice are far more interesting than the actual paedosadist crimes, it’s the obstruction of justice and influence peddling that will bring them all down. Allowing the network to decide who is revealed is currently used for mafia wars or to threaten victims and witnesses, not justice. It is the victims who are currently sentenced for ‘obstructing the course of justice’ by accusing the powerful. Instructions to sentence Epstein by ‘pursuing justice without making a political mess’ for Trump, Clintons, Prince Andrew et al meant no justice. And the only way to counteract that on an entire network is to remove all proxies for them. No more secrecy in powerful networks.

MS: My sense is that you were the driving force behind OpGabon too. Is that right?

Me: Gabon has had activists, journalists and parents trying to expose ritual killings for a very long time at great personal risk (the same can be said for opDeathEaters topics in any country). Gabonese activists who knew I worked around those topics and was reporting on their cases asked for some help around the time I was doing #opRohingya so we created #opGabon. At the time, Ali Bongo was on the UNSC and chairing the UNHCR and attending personal meetings with Obama in the US and there was almost no coverage of ritual killings in English media, partly because English media is very lazy about translating stories from other languages and partly because the story (like the Rohingya genocide, Buddhists monks killing babies and promoting genocide, or opDeathEaters itself) was really incredible and difficult to convince people of in one msm article.

I did a lot of initial research with the Gabonese activists, put it together in a package with reliable sources for everything, helped them set up a campaign in English, French, Spanish, and more and brought it to a more global audience. I also helped get them mainstream media interviews and Anonymous attention because it is incredibly difficult to get global media to cover African stories from Africans, they were more willing if they could run them with a picture of a hacker in a mask and hoodie rather than the Gabonese activists themselves.

OpGabon was in that sense a joint effort but the campaign and account has always been run by Gabonese activists, the risk is theirs and the story is theirs. The megaphone I helped with a bit.

With Anonymous and other global activists, I just linked the Gabonese activists to my global trust network. Those that trust my research and sources trusted the campaign and supported it. Global Anonymous was a great help, they made their presence and support known very clearly to the Gabonese government and the changes in policy were instant. The scheduled protest by Gabonese activists had been outlawed and the existence of ritual killings was completely denied by the government. Within days, the protest was co-opted by the President’s wife, complete with t-shirts and a speech by the president announcing a new law against ritual killings. The Gabonese president was scheduled to have a personal meeting with Obama that suddenly disappeared from all the official websites and did not happen. But ritual killings still exist, none of the powerful have been arrested and the daily slog and risk of activism in the years since opGabon started has been all by Gabonese activists.

MS: It’s clear that the intervention in Gabon was important – there was already a network of activists mobilised around these issues and Anonymous was able to amplify their efforts, provide support etc.

It seems to me like it’s been harder with OpDeatheaters, because, unlike the Gabon ritual killings, there aren’t a lot of existing groups/networks that have politicised the ‘deatheaters’ and are working against them. So part of the challenge with OpDeatheaters has been trying to create or trigger networks of support to form around this issue. That’s my sense of things at least – does that correspond with your experience?

Me: Hmm. I may have overstated the Gabon campaign prior to opGabon. The initial march we were supporting was small and in fact had decided it would be futile to continue with the march until they saw the backing from Anonymous. Being an activist against ritual killings in a country which jails you for suggesting they exist has never attracted a lot of people. Even now _______ is in exile for it, after fleeing for his life. I believe he lost a child that way, that is usually the motivation for the activists there, they are parents. I think opGabon helped a lot by making it an accepted mainstream topic of conversation though, as I think opDeathEaters has as well.

In every place I think the existence of a dedicated group of activists, or even one activist, is essential. This cannot start by appealing to the mainstream or it will be derailed. There has to be an initial dedicated core. Gabon has that, a very few people who are willing to risk their lives by continuing to speak out. In taking on all of the most powerful organizations and states in the world at once, opDeathEaters has far more work cut out to find and support those people in every place. It takes time to grow a cross-cultural network that size and a lot of energy to keep it moving and prevent it from being derailed.

Yes, I agree, Gabon also has a political opposition which can leverage ritual killings as evidence of the corruption of the existing power and present an alternative. Part of the added challenge I see for opDeathEaters in countries like the UK and US, or organizations like the UN or Catholic Church, is there is no higher power for people to turn to, they have to create one. That of course requires far more widespread mobilization and initiative than what Gabon is doing, which is political lobbying, supporting the opposition, and appealing for outside intervention in the form of the ICC or boycotts. It also requires mobilization of the weakest members of society, the survivors, since no political party or institution exists which can be trusted to fight on their behalf. Also, while mainstream media (which is just as influential in Africa as elsewhere) is very willing to accept that ritual killings exist in Africa, they are far more opposed to campaigns exposing corruption in their own circles.

MS: I wonder if OpDeatheaters was ahead of its time in a way. In the UK, people are getting the sense that there is a political context to organised/sadistic abuse, but they don’t have a fully developed political consciousness around this. Most NGOs in the ‘child abuse’ space know about organised abuse but stay quiet about it to avoid backlash and ridicule. The few groups that are outspoken about ritual abuse aren’t very effective at gaining mainstream support.

Are there some key ‘wins’ that OpDeathEaters has achieved that I should make sure I include? What do you think it’s major accomplishments have been to date?

For me opDeathEaters is one step of an evolution on many fronts:

1. Getting people to read about human rights news at all. Five years ago they wouldn’t and I could only publish these stories under the banner of Wikileaks, Occupy or Anonymous. I guess people felt safer listening to these stories under the banners of someone seen as coming to save the underdog instead of asking them to do something themselves. The news has been a passive spectacle for so long, the idea of news, analysis, and then do something about it still hasn’t really caught on.

2. Getting people to care about a story where the protagonist is not a famous/powerful caucasian man from the US or UK and the villains are not confined to a group the readers hate or love, ethnically, politically, religiously or other. I am quite certain if opDeatheaters had targeted only one group we would have powerful support from their enemies, but attacking all powerful groups at once is tricky.

3. Providing a shield for people discussing this topic against those that call them crazy, conspiracy theorists, a witch hunt, etc., etc. and undermining the wall of PIE propaganda that derails discussion of it.

As far as the above points go, I think we were ready for opDeathEaters, and I think it has been accepted far beyond what I could have achieved in prior years. As far as the next steps, actually getting concrete action to result, I think we will. MSF have recently called for independent investigations into war crimes, and many other groups seem to be starting to think that way as well, it is not seen as eccentric as most people thought it was last year. These are the long term goals. It is obviously #4 holding us up which is my own personal bottleneck: When we can get past that, the researchers will be able to move much more quickly and convince people of the need for inquiries much more easily.

I think the most important (and the most difficult) achievements have been in countering deeply entrenched propaganda. Mainstream acceptance of stories of politicians blackmailed for paedosadism, of the vast extent of the industry, the rebuttal of ‘pedophilia’ as a sexual orientation and the backlash against the media framing with words like ‘sex scandals’ and ‘rent boys’ has I think come a very long way in a year. That was the most difficult part, getting people to believe the story and giving them a framework to place it in. Now that is largely done, there is nothing stopping the movement from becoming as big as it needs to (except waiting on me >_<). People investigating or trying to set up inquiries are now just proceeding in a fairly straightforward work with widespread acceptance and an international support network which is slowly growing. (‘Straightforward’ in no way meant to diminish the still very real danger to investigators and activists everywhere.)

That is at least my perspective, ymmv. I am finally hearing very mainstream news watchers talking about the networks and even about opDeathEaters by name, I have seen opDeathEaters graffitti on walls in Argentina and the slogan on a sweatshirt in Sweden, and I saw allegations against a Canadian politician this year accepted with no surprise as a possible part of this wider network. Compared to last year when most of the people I know still considered pedophilia to be a rare ‘sexual orientation’ and talk of powerful paedosadists would destroy anyone’s credibility, I think that is a big step. And we are progressing and I see no loss of interest, the campaign has gone from just me and a huge pushback of disbelief and every form of discrediting to a consistently active and widely respected op which doesn’t really require my involvement any more.

We have free software. We need free databases.

Transcript (more or less) of keynote at RMLL, June 2017: We have free software. We need free databases. Discussing how to create a software ecosystem by decoupling information from applications with a universal database.

My name is Heather Marsh. I am a writer and a programmer and I have been studying and experimenting with methods of mass collaboration and the technology we use for collaboration for many years now. From 2010 to 2012 I was the administrator and editor in chief of the Wikileaks news site Wikileaks Central where I experimented with tying leaks to current news as a catalyst to create informed action. In 2012, I concentrated more on social media collaboration and I wrote a book called Binding Chaos about the methods of mass collaboration that were used to create mass movements. I am currently writing a book called Autonomy, Diversity, Society about some of the social issues and institutional structures preventing effective mass collaboration, particularly those involving knowledge industries like journalism, science and academia. And I am also developing a universal database and trust network called Getgee which will hopefully help with some of the issues I have been having for years around online collaboration.

So today I would like to first talk about how we collaborate online and then I would like to look at the technology we develop and how that affects collaboration. And then I’d like to review what a universal database is and why we need such a thing. These are all very big topics and I want to leave room for discussion at the end so I am going to touch very lightly on some areas. If you would like to know more about them, you can find me on youtube or my blog where these topics are explained in more detail, or read the books which are free online or send me an email.

slide8

What was it about the Internet that was so important and world changing?

Very often we think of the answer in terms of communication, but we don’t really communicate with all the people on the Internet on a one to one basis and reach consensus. This is a picture of what mass collaboration usually looks like, both online and offline. This method is called stigmergy as it says on the slide and I have written and talked a lot about stigmergy so you can find more information in my writing if you like, but basically, it is a method of action based collaboration that follows an idea.

If you look at this, there is no formal structure. There is just an idea or a goal that is reflected to everyone. This is the type of mass movement that can happen more or less spontaneously, sometimes very suddenly and very very effectively. Once this idea is released publicly, if people believe in it, they will follow it across cultures and generations and language barriers and it will be truly unstoppable. We have followed stigmergic movements throughout history for mass migrations, for adopting new technologies like pottery or Facebook, or for instilling moral principles or beliefs.

This isn’t the only method that can cause mass migrations and huge collaborative projects. For the last several thousand years, we have headed very relentlessly towards a very hierarchical and controlled structure for collaboration that happens very formally through appointed official channels and uses a system of sticks and carrots with coercion from military and money as rewards and punishments to drive us through these channels and direct our behaviour.

But the Internet allowed a sudden proliferation of stigmergic movements to spring up instantly and globally and scared a lot of powerful people very much and even removed some of them.

Imagine if these swallows were people – you can see why those trying to maintain authority would be very concerned, it doesn’t look like there is any sort of structure or predictability here. Communication on the Internet allowed us to return to this form of swarm movement which is really powerful, but at the same time very scary. In many ways, this looks like a new age of collaboration. We went from small local collaboration to highly structured so-called civilization and this is a whole new thing, even though stigmergy is a method of collaboration that has been with us forever, it has never been at this scale or speed. So it is important we learn how to help these movements guide themselves, and when we design tools that assume we are going to use direct communication or votes or consensus, they are not going to work for us, not for mass movements.

The single biggest factor I’ve found for whether or not someone will participate in a stigmergic action is whether they are sure of the idea leading it. Not whether it affects them, or if its simple to grasp or easy or even safe to do. I have created many actions where the audience was completely removed from the people affected or where the action was dangerous or very difficult to understand or even initially believe. None of this mattered. All that mattered in whether the action was a success was whether people could be sure the goal is sound. And the easiest way for someone to prevent action is to sow doubt in the goal. So this initial seed that makes up the idea is the key to every mass movement.

If you look at this as a form of governance, we aren’t going to be governed by people, we are going to be governed by ideas. So our job in information technology is world governance. How we present and filter ideas directs these mass movements far more than politicians do. People will run in the mazes we give them to run in, so when we are designing tools for collaboration and communication it is very important that we get this right and think about the implications of what we are building. We have to allow people the freedom to rise above these mazes of official channels but still protect themselves from being coerced by propaganda and ignorance.

Coercion

So with our new scary power of mass collaboration we have also seen a change in how powerful people are attempting to coerce these mass movements. The old way, or the most recent way, of directing movements was with hard coercion. You will follow this idea or you will be burned at the stake. And we can put money in there as hard coercion as well because you will work in this mine or you will starve is pretty violent as well. In this structure ideas were very carefully controlled. After the printing press was invented, only those ideas approved by someone with a printing press got mass dissemination and it was much easier to control what was distributed.

Once we had mass communication, on the Internet, that all changed fairly overnight and took a lot of existing power by surprise. So we instantly saw powerful people attempting to use all the usual hard coercive methods to control these ideas that are starting mass movements, like murdering bloggers and censoring the Internet, but it was pretty apparent that this was not going to be a sustainable long term global solution to keep people in power. So for the last several years we have had a huge focus put on what I call seductive coercion, manipulation of how we think and how we react to these ideas. Seductive coercion uses fear, belonging, shunning, all of our most deeply felt emotions to drive us towards or away from ideas.

The first and easiest way to counter ideas is to conflate the idea with a person or ideology. If someone puts up an idea and other people say oh, that’s funded by so and so, or that’s neoliberalism or Marxism, many people will turn away from the idea before they even try to understand it. Alan Turing once described the campaign against him as: Turing believes machines think. Turing lies with men. Therefore machines cannot think. Anyone who has been on social media long enough can recognize his frustration.

Another favourite counter is noise, you can’t follow an idea you never hear so if you have an idea that powerful people don’t like, they can just drown it out. And another counter is confusion. If an idea is at a level of expertise too specialized for the average person to prove whether it’s true or false, someone can just say it doesn’t work or it has been rebutted. If most of the public can’t prove it one way or another, they can just call it fake news. We are overwhelmed right now with seductive coercion as well as noise and confusion on our current social media platforms and the purpose is to try to control these ideas that are all important in seeding stigmergic mass movements.

I don’t think seductive coercion and noise is a long term solution for guiding people away from or towards ideas. I think most of us are thoroughly fed up with fake news and bot farms yelling at us every time we go near the Internet. We need information we can trust for stigmergic organization to work and we need stigmergic organization because that’s the only way we are going to progress on a large scale in the future. Misleading information will encourage people to act against their own interests but a lack of trust in any information will immobilize them or encourage them to blindly follow demagogues or ideology.

We can’t afford to waste time like this and I think even many powerful people are starting to realize that maybe a very easily led public is not such a great thing after all. Theresa May keeps saying “Make no mistake, the fight is moving from the battlefield to the internet.” but she and others are recommending fighting with the old methods of hard coercion, they are calling for even tighter control over information and more official channels. This is an attempt to go backwards and we have burnt that bridge, we have no path open now but the one forward.

So the third method here is auto-coercion, coercion of each other as an informed society, which is a swarm method of reaching consensus. This is where I would like us to head and this is what, in my opinion, we need to be building technology for. We may or may not have reached a technological singularity yet but we have certainly reached a societal singularity. We need to collaborate with others even just to understand the news. We can’t all be experts at everything. So we can’t keep berating voters for not spending all of their time studying everything that affects them or electing politicians and expecting them to have all the answers. It’s impossible. We need to find a better solution. We need technology that allows us to put our faith wisely in information and this is going to require a completely different set of rules than the hierarchical official channels we have used in the past.

slide10

Ideas need to be audited and promoted by people qualified to understand them so I use this structure of concentric circles with epistemic communities in the centre and knowledge bridges to assist information flow and auditing. With knowledge bridges, you don’t have to have personal expertise on every aspect of society. All you have to do is have a transparent concentric circle that you can look at, you can see the activity, you can get feedback if necessary, and you can say yes, there are a lot of people auditing, there is a lot of discussion, I trust some of the people in these circles, I trust that they know what they are doing. Unless you don’t, in which case experts can also be created by the system itself as users develop knowledge and reputation and move towards the centre. Disagreements can result in a separate concentric circles being formed around the same problem to explore a different solution. If this all sounds familiar, it’s because this is exactly what happens in open source software communities.

Currently, other knowledge communities act like closed, internationally linked, affinity groups at a level of expertise not accessible to the general public. Science, academia and journalism are very far from acting as concentric circles and knowledge bridges integrating ideas back and forth with wider society so stigmergic action rarely results from their work and without stigmergy, their progress is not nearly what it could be. A people with no confidence in either their epistemic communities or their knowledge bridges is a people with no belief in ideas, and with no belief in ideas we will be immobilized or ruled by demagogues or ideology. Science, academia and journalism require two way knowledge bridges, transparency and free information if they are going to truly act as epistemic communities for us all and stimulate and inform mass action and they also require information focused technology to support them in that. So let’s look at where we went wrong.

data new oil

We no longer live in a world dominated by either resource capitalism or industry. We live in a world dominated by information capitalism and information control.

“Data is the new oil” is a quote that has been going around investment circles for over 10 years now but data is more than just a product. With oil you could acquire money to drive people along the paths of hard coercive structures. With data you can lead far more people with seductive coercion or block them with noise and confusion. But even for people who haven’t quite grasped that information in this form can be used to wag the tail of an entire mass of humanity behind it, most people realize data is lucrative.

The last I checked, Alibaba was worth 265 billion US dollars. Amazon is worth over 400 billion. Even Uber is still worth 60 billion. Who has any idea what Facebook and Google are worth because they actually have mastered the true value of information. What makes all of these corporations so powerful and valuable is their control of information. When the world wide web was designed, it was a picture of academia. It was meant to allow isolated papers to cite other isolated papers, but the internet does not look like that. Those early pages have been used to create an Internet as a series of sealed wells. Even if we have access to everything on the surface, we do not have access to the information in these wells and to add insult to injury, we created all the information in those wells. And that data is used for public manipulation and seductive coercion, in ways ranging from monitoring our shopping habits to Facebook deciding to what mood we are in or whether we vote. That data under corporate control decides whether we are talking about political failures or Romphims and whether the resulting stigmergic actions are related to community support or consumerism.

No one should be gifting their innermost thoughts to allow coercion of public opinion by undemocratic entities who have only maximum profit for their shareholders as a guiding principle. No one should risk storing their personal data on a platform that sees their data as ‘the new oil’. Of course, this is not news to anyone here, but even though we all realize this, we haven’t been able to stop it.

The failure to replace the existing data mining platforms is partly the failure to differentiate between different types of data and their different requirements, so let’s go over that first.

information types

Personal data: The goal here is security against dissemination. Ideally, we want to keep this off the Internet and if that is not possible, encrypt it and keep it under your control and easily deleted.

Personal messaging: The goal here is to know who you are talking to and keep your conversation private, so we treat this like personal data and add the fact that we need to be sure of who we are talking to.

Personal information and private messaging have both had had a lot of investment and thought put into them over the years. If we can get this data split out from the corporate data wells, we have a lot of options for this, like personal online data storage, and many similar options. These work but …

personal data

The idea here is you keep all your personal information in your own little PODS and it is always under your control and you choose where to share it and what to share, which is as it should be. But in a way this reminds me of when people were told they no longer had to work as slaves or serfs because they were free and could choose when to work for money. But then they found out that all the food and shelter was controlled by the money sources so it became not much of a choice, work or starve. And if all we do is take control of our own personal information, if we want to access other information and it is controlled by corporate interests, we will end up giving over our keys. And there will be no legal protection because we will be doing it voluntarily. Supposedly. We see this already in data access, we have the ability to block ads or cookies but then we get our access to information blocked so we don’t. So it is not enough to address personal data, we have to address public data as well.

The answer for public data is the same as personal data, we need to decouple application software from the data to regain control and we need some sort of a data commons. There is a huge wealth of data on the internet right now that is not personal data but it shouldn’t be corporate data either, it is our information that we have produced collaboratively over many years. If we are ever going to move towards an open information system with concentric circles and knowledge bridges and collaboration open to everyone, we are going to have to achieve this, off a corporate web platform, so let’s look at our data types again.

Personality focused we don’t really need to look at, we’ve got that covered. The goal in a personality focused platform is promotion of personalities (or brands), so official blue checks and followers assembled around social media reality shows. Social media is almost universally personality focused and that is why social media is so frustrating for anyone attempting to collaborate around information.

With Information focused data, the goal is research, auditing and dissemination of information. At best we can use Wikipedia, mainstream media sometimes and specialized research platforms. There is a huge need for information centred solutions, especially when you consider how many people are trying to facilitate this work on personality focused social media and how frustrating this is. Social media was created in a time when we left all information focused work to the experts, but especially twitter immediately became a place where everyone got involved and tried to create concentric circles of auditing, feedback and amplification, but because it is focused around personalities instead of information it is forever frustrating for this use.

Public data. The goal here is freedom from censorship or other deletion or modification. So the dead opposite of what should be the goals for personal data and if someone is offering you the solution to both on one platform, run as fast as you can. Most applications with a primary goal of making data public use peer to peer with or without blockchain, or censorship resilient platforms of some sort. It is very easy to put up public data in a very resilient and even semi-immutable way on a peer to peer system.

The problem is, if you combine this need with Broadcasting we have an added goal of wide dissemination. You can put information up, but getting a lot of people to find it is difficult unless traditionally you have some sort of index that will search through this data and offer some sort of centralized list. The last time someone did that on a large scale they called it Google. As soon as you have a centralized index like that, your data can be as decentralized as you like, all that means is you get to pay for hosting. If you still can’t be found except by going through the indexing server then we still have a problem of centralization. There are other methods of finding each other, but with other issues, which we’ll get to under collaboration.

Broadcasting is also where we get too much misinformation, spam, noise, confusion, seductive coercion, all those things we talked about earlier. The way many information producers and politicians, and sadly some regulatory bodies, want to tackle this is to attach DRM at the data level with the goal of preventing copying or facilitating built in micro-payments. This is again an attempt to take us back to that highly regulated structure that we already burned the bridge from and the implications in this case are too seriously dystopian for me to even start to get into here.

If we want a world where the general public is both participating in and trusts expert information – and we do, the lack of an informed public is the biggest issue facing us today – we need to get away from this idea that anyone is going to own information or the access to it. Information has to be a basic human right for all, it is our key to understanding our world. There is no point in being able to vote if we don’t understand what we are voting for.

Another point we have to deal with for public data is the typical peer to peer application is Read only for fairly obvious reasons. If you want to design a Collaborative platform that can scale, your concerns are going to be things like latency compensation, optimistic UI, speed, and the ability for multiple simultaneous editors. All these goals of a seamless collaborative front end performance do not correlate with a back end trying to serve peer to peer data. So broadcasting collaborative public data is a tough one.

Then we have the whole structural issue. A lot of people feel the solution to the data mining wells we saw earlier is federation or a form of decentralization that allows everyone to run their own instance of an application. First of all, we can all stand up our own wikis but Wikipedia exists, centralization happens. Second, the goal here is to escape dependency on one server or platform, but most of these solutions just create multiple little centralized servers or platforms, each with their own tyrannical or benevolent admins. They also make your data impossible to delete if they are linked to other instances and by eliminating central control they also eliminate central responsibility that you can complain to.

These alternatives are usually addressing technical issues and ignoring the personal ones. A microblogging instance, a sub-reddit and an irc channel are all technically very different but they all feel very alike and they are all trying to be all things to all people. Their users do not have control of the data, but it isn’t truly public either. They aren’t the right choice for private messaging, but neither are they the best choice for public broadcasting. They are personality focused and hopeless for information gathering but they are not a good celebrity vehicle either. They are decentralized by server (theoretically) but the data is not decoupled from software. They don’t support mass collaboration and they create thought bubbles where outside opinions aren’t welcomed.

So Decoupled data is where I think we need to go before anything to handle all the very different and frequently opposing requirements of these different types of information. The goal here is freedom from corporate ownership of data, freedom from software dependency, data reusability and versatility of use. Data is separated from application software and is agnostic to what applications are used to access it. For this we need a universal database which is why I am working on that.

Our greatest need is for a collaborative information commons, for open journalism, for open science, and just for fun. We need a place where the data is not personal data but it is not corporate data either. We need a place where the application software is decoupled from the data but the data is all still linked. And I really believe that this isn’t a “here is a great marketing opportunity” need it is a “will we avoid human extinction” need, we are completely programmed by the information we receive and if we want to avoid errors on a massive scale we need to provide our new mass movements with accurate information that they can trust.

Now we have covered what we need and why we need it, all we have to is design it with the technology available to us today.

core data

We need a set of core data objects to be in a public data commons. These are the objects that link all of our information together. In my research with existing applications, there are five types of data object that we deal with which are Person, Event, Organization, Idea and Thing. In addition to this there are media objects which we use as sources for our information. So our public, universally accessible, read only, data consists of these objects.

We also have classification standards of different types of these data objects and the possible relationships between them. Again, anyone can create classification trees but once they are used by a third party they can’t be deleted or modified. Once you share an idea you can’t delete it from anyone else’s brain, it is now commons data.

littlesis

Universal data objects are pretty meaningless if we don’t actually say anything about them. So constellations are a collaborative space where we establish relationships between data objects, link media sources to support the relationships and classify data objects and their relationships. This is our own autonomous space but if you click on a universal data object it will show you all the constellations that have used that data object. If you clicked on an event node for this conference, it could show a constellation for all free software conferences this year, all software conferences in France, all events in St Etienne in July, any constellation that included this event node would be listed. So even though this is a collaborative space which allows you to decide who you want to work with, the results are transparent and easily found by anyone looking at any topics that you’ve referenced.

Which is nice except we really don’t want to see all the data on the Internet. Neither do we want to leave it up to a centralized index what we see, so we need a trust network to help us filter spam and people we don’t find very knowledgeable and that trust network needs to be under our control. A trust network means if we set our search to 0 degrees of trust we will only see data that we personally have explicitly trusted. If we set it to one degree we will see data trusted by those we trust and so on. This is great for those people who say they want open science and open knowledge but really they are uncomfortable without official accreditation. They can filter their own information by whatever accreditation they choose, but they can’t stop the other information from existing and they can’t stop anyone else from seeing it.

This also brings mass collaboration back because we don’t have to personally know everyone we are working with if we are careful with our trust network. If someone sabotages a work project, obviously they are going to be untrusted very quickly by whoever brought them in or that person will be untrusted themselves, but there is no need to reach consensus over who is or isn’t trustworthy and assign them a blue check, we all decide for ourselves whether someone else’s network is worth linking to our own.

So now we have all of this information in a data commons which can be linked together and sourced, so we have transparency and multiple viewpoints. No one can create a thought bubble and filter out information but they can choose not to see it themselves or work with it if their network deems it untrustworthy.

G ecosystem

So now we have broken everything up and we no longer have a web page or an app, we have an ecosystem. At the bottom we have a universal data commons of public data which contains all of our core data objects. Also universal are the classification trees which data analysts can create to help us provide more meaning and classification standards. Then we have our collaborative space where researchers, journalists, scientists, lawmakers, organizers, or anyone else can create meaningful information from all this data without harassment from spam but with full transparency to the public. And we have our personal trust networks where if we choose, we can set filters on what we see.

Now you can search, merge, and filter that data to get only the information you need. Suppose you want a taxi driver. You can merge taxi driver collective constellations, you can search for ones in your area and then you can filter them within two degrees of your trust network. Then you can download that read only galaxy onto your phone, download an app that shows you which of them are near and pays them. And we just took the last sixty billion dollars worth of value from Uber and put local control back with taxi driver collectives. Software application become simply that, easily replaceable applications which provide some functionality such as paying a taxi driver or buying a product. They have no control over data any more and they can be easily replaced.

Applications

Instead of transient news, new information is added to a permanent knowledge repository so it encourages deeper research over trivial updates. There is no need to cut and paste the same news repeatedly if it is all linked. We can have more fluid collaboration between journalists because they retain autonomy and credit for their own work but their research is automatically linked with everyone working on the same topic and it can be combined in galaxies. Because the data is in a usable format instead of just wall of text articles, we can import it to other applications and combine and filter it to create more information. So we get far deeper meaning and more context and usability and collaboration from the same research effort.

Organizations can use constellations and galaxies for dynamic reorganization. The responsible person can change at the constellation level and the change will be instantly reflected in all associated galaxies. It is also easy to plug in collaborative apps at the galaxy or the constellation levels to allow groups to work without outside noise but remain completely transparent to the public.

Rather than relying on site reviews and trust algorithms we can rely on our own personal trust networks for recommendations. Local or specialized merchants can create constellations to link each other together in a trust network as well, adding another local layer of accountability and control over industry and the ability to allow regional diversity for local laws or customs.

Instead of relying on NGOs, charities and non-profits, we can use our own trust networks to provide aid directly where it is needed and receive feedback directly from those receiving aid.

We can establish direct trade relationships between communities which will allow consumers to see the immediate impact of our trade choices.

Instead of a closed circle of academia in which paper citations can be reflections of power or reciprocity, Idea nodes can be set up around any topic and all contributions heard.

Principles of a society from constitutions and bills of rights can be easily accessible for every member of society and we can then ensure that all law in that society flows naturally from the accepted root principles. It is also possible to use accepted principles to choose association, for instance to refuse trade with a corporation that refuses to accept certain environmental or human rights practices.

With a universal data commons we can collaborate effectively and intelligently and solve the problems we are facing with far greater speed and accuracy. We can all be much better informed and able to easily see the original sources and all related information on a subject from all perspectives. This will provide us with the ability to be self correcting, even in our mass movements. We can have auto-coercion.

The Internet is being redesigned. This is a moment when we urgently need to design our own Charter of the Forest and establish our rights around our commons information. We had this moment before when the Internet first appeared and it seemed destined to become a corporate controlled platform and we made possibly the best decision in our history by having the Internet be a global commons, which is now recognized as a universal human right, but the only reason access to the Internet is important is because it provides access to information. The only reason freedom of speech is important it it allows us to transmit information. We need to recognize information itself as a universal human right and write code that facilitates that. I think I’d better stop here so there is hopefully some time for questions but if anyone is interested in this project, or you know someone who may be interested with this project, please contact me.

Questions and answers are not transcribed.

More information: http://www.getgee.xyz/

 

 

The evolution of democracy

Transcript (more or less) from The evolution of democracy: Explaining Trump, Brexit and the Colombia peace deal, a keynote at Inteligencia Colectiva para la Democracia’ in Madrid, November, 2016.

My name is Heather Marsh. I am a writer and a programmer and I have been studying and experimenting with both local activism and methods of mass communication and collaboration for many years now. From 2010 to 2012 I was the administrator and editor in chief of the Wikileaks news site Wikileaks Central where I experimented with creating knowledge repositories, tying that information to things that were happening in the news and creating action based on that information. News without action is just voyeurism and action without information creates a very easily manipulated public, so I was trying to bring the two together in one place. In 2012 I concentrated more social media collaboration and I wrote a first book called Binding Chaos about all the problems I had seen while working with Wikileaks, Occupy, Anonymous, M15 and many other mass movements in recent years. We all seemed to be coming up against the same issues with hierarchy, direct democracy, consensus and collaboration. As I kept working on various projects it became apparent that we as societies had been butting heads for millenia on these same issues which really come down to trying to create a balance between autonomy, diversity and society, which is the title of my next book. And along the way I have been thinking of what tools we would require to help us achieve this balance, and the primary one I have been working on is a universal database and trust network called Getgee.

So today what I would like to talk about are some ideas from Binding Chaos and a little bit from Autonomy, Diversity, Society which will hopefully help when we are thinking about creating products for mass communication and mass collaboration. The focus is on creating a balance between personal autonomy of those doing the work, diversity of ideas and solutions and allowing the participation of the whole society.

slide1

How many people here have heard of a technological singularity? A technological singularity is something IT people and science fiction writers have liked to talk about for years. The idea is that we will reach a point, or have already reached a point, where technology is beyond the scope of human understanding and artificial intelligence will be programming itself, in a Skynet sort of world. It’s funny, people have been talking about this for years, but not many have noticed or acknowledged that we have instead reached a completely different type of singularity which is a societal singularity. We have reached a point where no one can understand every aspect of society which affects them. If you go back in history, crafts people could know everything there is to know about their jobs and people could know everything that went on in their villages but this is just not true any more. And even our villages and neighbourhoods are not autonomous, they are all connected now at some level with all the other communities in the whole world, even uncontacted tribes.

We need to collaborate with others not only to develop tools but even just to understand the news. We have to put our faith in other people and believe in what they tell us or trust in their skill to create their components if we are building a product. As programmers we have been used to working as an ecosystem like this for years, we always have to incorporate other people’s work and their bugs into our own, but this has spread to almost every aspect of public life. And this is one of the biggest challenges in creating tools for democracy. We can’t have real direct democracy or self governance any more because none of us can understand every aspect of everything. We need to rely on collaboration instead and this is going to require a completely different set of rules than we have used in the past. We need more than simple referendums and voting to govern ourselves this way. We need to somehow create nuanced and detailed information we can trust and we need to coordinate goals with people we will never speak to.

There are two main areas to talk about which are idea based collaboration and action based collaboration. The challenge in a societal singularity is how to allow all people to participate and communicate but still be able to filter signal from noise and how to allow people democratic choice but still retain worker autonomy.

First of all, let’s look at mass action based collaboration.

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For action based tasks, the model that has become almost ubiquitous is the competitive hierarchical model. Most of us are all too familiar with this model. The typical response to a situation which requires an action is to create a noun, in the form of an organization, government body, or an official person and the focus is always on the organization and the personalities involved instead of the action. The hierarchy creates what I call personality based systems, as opposed to idea or action based systems. A new idea in a personality based system remains completely bound to the owner until it is legally transferred to another owner. All contributors work for the owner, not the idea, and you have to wait on one specific person for approval or direction at each level so there are bottle necks everywhere.

Most workers do not enjoy hierarchical systems as they lose autonomy, mastery and creative control over their own work, they just become an instrument under somebody else’s direction. The orders come from the top down and so there is very little diversity of ideas and we lose all the talent and ideas downstream. Because it is a closed system, collaboration between people does not happen unless they are hired by the same project. Competition is the opposite of mass collaboration. It’s really people working against each other, not together. So there is no autonomy, no diversity and no society.

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The alternative to competition has traditionally been cooperation. Cooperative groups try to replace the top down hierarchy with a group consensus driven system which allows diversity of opinion at the top.

This is most effective only in groups of two to eight people. For groups larger than 25, cooperation is extremely slow. It is still a personality based system. An idea in a cooperative must be approved by the entire group, both on initiation and at each stage of development. The majority of energy and resources are spent on communication, persuasion, and personality management, and a power struggle can derail the whole project.

It can be dominated by extroverted personalities who make decisions to control the work of others and are very justly resented by those doing the actual work. Cooperatives frequently use consensus or votes to make decisions for the entire group. These methods may not produce the best results, particularly in large groups, as many people may not understand the work if they are not actually doing it and they may demand things they would never be willing to do themselves. The feeling of the workers at the bottom is no different whether there is a horizontal or a hierarchical structure making the decisions, the workers still have no personal autonomy.

Both competitive and cooperative projects will die if the group that runs the project leaves and both will attract or repel contributors based on the personalities of the existing group. Both are hierarchical systems where individuals need to seek permission to contribute. Both focus on the authority of personalities to approve a decision instead of focusing on the idea or action itself. So we have a society, at least within the group, but not without, but we still have no autonomy and because of the need to reach consensus there is also no diversity of product.

This isn’t in any way to say that cooperative and consensus driven systems are bad. They are actually the most comfortable way of working in small groups who know each other and have similar styles and share a goal, but they are very difficult to scale. As soon as you have a very large group of people with opposing viewpoints and personalities that don’t mesh, it is very difficult to get anything done.

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I use stigmergy to describe a method of action based collaboration that is suitable for mass movements. I didn’t make up this awful word by the way, it is lifted from biology where it describes indirect communication and collaboration among ants and termites and various other creatures. In human movements, it allows diversity of methods and autonomy for workers while still putting the ultimate authority of choice with the whole society, to try to achieve that balance we talked of earlier. It is neither competitive nor cooperative. It is action based collaboration instead of personality based.

A system is stigmergic if

– it follows one goal

– it is completely transparent

– it is open to everyone to participate, at least within the user group

– the output is free for anyone to use and improve on

Stigmergy gives people autonomy over their own work. With stigmergy, an initial idea is freely given, and the project is driven by the idea, not by a personality or group of personalities. So no one needs permission, like they would in a competitive system, or consensus like they would in a cooperative, to initiate a project. There is no need to discuss or vote on the idea. If an idea is exciting or necessary it will attract interest and the interest attracted will be from people willing to contribute so those with more involvement in the idea will automatically have greater influence through their contributions.

There are no official authorities but the power of the user group still exists in the ability to accept or reject the work.

Workers are free to create regardless of acceptance or rejection. Drastically innovative ideas almost never receive instant mainstream acceptance so leaving control of work to group consensus only cripples innovation. When we allow anyone to contribute we also have a great diversity of talent and people can step up to further the goal in ways the originator never imagined.

So here we have full autonomy and diversity but the entire society still has the ultimate choice.

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Where is stigmergy? We have always had stigmergy in our social lives and it has been behind most mass movements that have had any success. You can see it wherever groups of diverse people who do not belong to any formal organization or have any formal communication with each other are all working together to carry out a goal.

If you look at something like the civil rights movement in the United States, that is a multi-generational movement of so many people and so many different methods and everyone who has contributed, whether they are groups or individuals, has decided for themselves how they can be most effective. If this stigmergy chart was for that movement, that big group can be the Million Man March, the square is Malcolm X and his followers, the heart can be MLK, and between them all by themselves is Ruby Bridges or Rosa Parks, none of them had to communicate or come to consensus but they are all trying for the same goal and are more or less aware of each other’s activity. The US still hasn’t reached that goal so they go through periods of great upheaval followed by periods of more calm working, depending on whether an event sparks more action or something blocks progress for a while.

A stigmergic movement will continue as long as the goal is not reached and people still share it, even if it dies down or goes dormant for a bit. That is the advantage to an idea based system over a personality based one, you can’t kill an idea.

Or another stigmergic idea is freedom of information. This has everyone from the free software movement, creative commons and similar open copyright groups, Sci-Hub which liberates scientific papers, other filesharing sites, Wikipedia, even the Internet itself in its original inception might be considered a node in that stigmergic movement.

What keeps these movements from burning out, like so many do in the massive assemblies, is the fact that they are not spending all their energy communicating except in small groups and they are following one clear idea.

It is not often you find one organization or group that is purely stigmergic, but Anonymous is one. This is why they say they are not an organization or group. They usually say they are an idea, but they aren’t really one idea either, they are a method of mass collaboration and the method is stigmergy. That method allows everyone to follow whatever ideas they choose, in groups or individually with perfect autonomy. Anonymous never tries to reach consensus. Anonymous is not unanimous. And there is no organization you can order to do something, Anonymous is also not your personal army. You have to just put an idea out and see who follows it.

It may seem difficult to figure out how stigmergy can be used in a corporate setting where everything is set up around organizations and official people, but it helps if we remember that each of those organizations, no matter how they are organized internally, can be a node under a stigmergic idea. I am often asked if Wikipedia is a good example of stigmergy and no, it is not. Wikipedia is a cooperative. You may contribute work without asking anyone but your work can be thrown out and you can be locked out of contributing, or the topic locked, and there is a definite personality based hierarchy and a need to reach consensus around one final product. There is no diversity of product tolerated and there isn’t any real autonomy either.

But Wikipedia is still one of many nodes under the idea of Freedom of information because what they produce is completely free for anyone else to use or modify. I said earlier that Anonymous was stigmergic but Anonymous very frequently works with other people like news or human rights organizations or other hacking collectives such as Redhack who are themselves internally communist. It doesn’t matter what the internal organization of each node is as long as they are all following the same idea and their work is available for everyone else to use.

So the same methods can be used for corporate work. The key is for corporate style organizations to recognize what stigmergic ecosystem they are a part of and follow the guidelines to make their work contribute smoothly to that idea. One place where stigmergic development has really taken off is in the IT industry because free software has meant that the output is available for everyone to use and improve or modify. If we look at one stigmergic idea: We need better web development tools. If we had left this to Google, and Google had been acting like their competitive corporate selves, we would have just had the Angular framework, and progress would be Angular 2.0. And we do have Angular 2.0, but we also have Facebook’s React, Ember and many others. As long as the user group has not reached consensus over what tools we want for full stack development we have many contributors creating different frameworks for us.

When we start to reach wide consensus in some area, like yes, we don’t want any more black and purple websites with green sparkles and the vast majority of us are going to create websites that are very uniform, we start to see more and more conformity around standards like Twitter’s bootstrap styles but as soon as someone has a very divergent idea that people find interesting again, like Google’s material design, many people will start hacking on it and trying to create different solutions again. The same periodic upheavals of innovation and change are apparent here as in the social movements driven by stigmergy. In this case HTML5 and ES6 stimulated a rush in web development tools in general.

Of course this example of corporate stigmergy has some major issues., first in who is getting paid and who is not. Google employees are and free software programmers frequently are not. And even with free software, when you have players like Facebook and Google and Twitter it is going to be a bit hard for anyone without their development team budget and user groups to compete so it is not a level playing field for all to participate, but as long as the code is commons property we can have consensus without monopoly which is a huge improvement. It is starting to approach stigmergic organization, just from the addition of this one change, of software that is free for anyone to use or modify. You can see this especially as you move away from the big corporations to the later development add ons, in all the diverse people writing packages and tools for React and Angular and the other frameworks.

This is better than academia and science manage. They are supposed to be stigmergic as well, the idea in science and academia is that everyone is supposed to publish and build off each others findings, but because they do not have open source and permissive copyright or even access, their work is frequently corporate IP property, and they don’t allow or reward outside contributions, they are very far from stigmergic and their progress is not nearly what it could be. If we look back at the principles of stigmergic organization, the last three of four points do not apply to science and academia so they both need to change if they are going to truly act as epistemic communities for us all. Which brings us to my next point which is about idea based collaboration.

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We have stigmergy for action based collaboration which follows an idea, but what if we want to collaborate on ideas themselves, to build knowledge and find some most reliable facts? If we look at the 2010-2011 movements, like M15 and later Occupy and all the rest, they were fine with action based collaboration, especially when they used stigmergy, but they really struggled when it came to idea based collaboration, like setting goals. This is kind of important since without the ideas, you don’t have the action. Stigmergy follows ideas and information, so management of the ideas and information here is as important as management of personalities is in competitive or cooperative systems. If you think of this in a governance context, we won’t be electing personalities, we will be electing ideas.

To see what happens when an idea loses its clarity, or its idea has been co-opted, look at feminism. The civil rights movement in the US retained its clarity because it has set specific goals in each cycle whether that is to end slavery, end segregation, or end police violence. When feminism meant fighting for the vote and legal personhood it had a clear goal and was a stigmergic mass movement but second wave feminism allowed itself to become a noun instead of an action, its goals became very loose and because there wasn’t a clear goal it was used to advertise corporate product and promote prominent personalities, primarily from the United States, who felt they could speak for every woman in the world on every topic. A noun is not a stigmergic goal, a noun is an organization, so when feminism became a noun it stopped being a stigmergic movement and became a competitive, personality driven, organization which became completely divided, as is typical, these types of organizations do not scale.

The single biggest factor I’ve found for whether or not someone will participate in a stigmergic action is whether they are sure of the idea behind it. Not whether it affects them, or if its simple to grasp or easy or even safe to do. I have created many actions where the audience was completely removed from the people affected or where the action was dangerous or very difficult to understand or even initially believe. None of this mattered. All that mattered in whether the action was a success was whether people could be sure the goal is sound. And the easiest way for someone to prevent action is to sow doubt in the goal. That initial kernel that makes up the idea looks simple but it is everything. But finding the information we need for conviction in our goals is not easy.

If we think of a large population creating a knowledge repository stigmergicly, we have a picture of a bunch of ants sifting and sorting information and putting the best in a pile. And that’s probably how we thought we were going too do things on Twitter. But that’s not how expert knowledge, like the kind we have in a singularity, works and it’s why a bunch of people in a horizontal group can’t just do that. Especially a personality dominated horizontal group like Occupy or any direct democracy that starts from the premise of all voices and opinions being equal. This goes back to the idea behind a societal singularity, we can’t all be experts at everything and we don’t want to be either. We don’t have the time and we may not have the interest. We can’t keep berating voters for not spending all of their time studying everything that affects them, it’s impossible and it’s not fun either. We need to find a better solution.

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I love this chart because it illustrates exactly why we need concentric circles in a democracy. This space between innovation and acceptance is where demagogues and gate keepers lie in wait to control information before it reaches the public. Like little trolls under the bridge. This is why we need knowledge bridges to replace the gatekeepers because most ideas can’t make it across this chasm on their own.

If you think of recent examples of elite working groups whose ideas were rejected by the wider society, like Brexit in the UK or the peace deal in Colombia, it was because of a failure of the working group to establish effective knowledge bridges between them and the public. The public did not see their viewpoints being heard and responded to and they did not see or understand or trust the decision making process, which gave demagogues on the outside of the process the ability to derail the acceptance of their recommendations. The people had information that was too difficult to audit themselves, and they had no faith in the people offering solutions. People in the UK said repeatedly they were sick of being lied to by the media and experts.

When people lose faith in those who are supposed to be their experts, like politicians, or those who are supposed to be their knowledge bridges like the media, they lose faith in any stigmergic goal these people present and they will block it, as I said earlier. The information from the opposition in both cases was certainly no better, nobody was offering a fully developed and audited plan for an alternative peace deal or a detailed plan to exit the EU, but even very poorly supported information and hyperbole is sufficient to overturn an idea that the public doesn’t trust. We can see this also in most elections, there are just demagogues and hyperbole on both sides, there is no process of reconciling any issues with the public or providing information people can rely on. In fact, the goal seems to be to deliberately confuse and immobilize the public and then just give them a binary vote in the hope they vote against the establishment which has lost so much trust. This is why both sides seem to only be interested in painting the other as the most corrupt establishment.

[On May 8 2017, former US Director of National intelligence James Clapper suggested the solution to the misinformation of the US 2016 election was to further fund USAID and spread more misinformation against US enemies. Those are exactly the actions that caused people to lose faith in information emanating from the US in the first place.]

You may have seen a lot of people blaming this current state of low information on social media and they are partially right but corporate media certainly doesn’t get a free pass either. Most of the tools we have to communicate simulate direct democracy and look for popular ideas, the most retweets and the most readers, but not only is popular not innovative or expert, the two are mutually exclusive. Popular ideas are riding the peak of the wave of socially acceptable opinion. They already appeal to the widest audience. They are not new ideas, by definition, and they aren’t at a level of elite expertise that is difficult for all but a few to understand also by definition. This is why we now elect politicians on the basis of their tweets and this is the secret for politicians like Donald Trump who speaks at a grade 3 level. The more easily understood and the less challenging your message, the wider your appeal will be so an age that amplifies the most popular information, as we do now, will be an age of demagogues.

It is counter intuitive to think popular ideas are what we need to give us the best information. If we need some specialized level of knowledge to explain something like Brexit or a peace deal or the issues in an election, or if we want those making the decisions to hear the voices that are seldom heard, that may expand their Overton windows and give us some fresh perspective, or represent a rare case that will cause their solution to break, amplifying the most popular ideas or people is the exact opposite of what we ought to be doing. And really this is what direct democracy, representative and liquid democracy do, so of course it is also what the tools for democracy have been doing.

We have tools that are very useful to find out what a population thinks and tools that are great for discussing things and coming to consensus, but we need to also go to where their opinions are formed. Opinions are based on information. We need to be able to find expertise and accurate and diverse information that we can trust before we form our opinions and long before we measure them.

Ideas need to be audited and promoted by those users qualified to understand them to allow diversity of ideas and prevent the process from being dominated by celebrities without the expertise required. But if we have an elite discussion group with only elite experts or ideas in it, we are at great risk of having an elite oligarchy based on control of information. This is what we have now. We don’t maintain the necessary balance between autonomy, diversity and society unless this quiet place to talk remains a fully associated part of the wider group. So to avoid a hierarchy and leave control with the entire user group, I use a structure I call concentric circles.

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Concentric circles relate to sound amplification. In a concentric circle, people or ideas promoted to the center by their peer group receive greatest amplification and their findings will be audited, amplified and explained to the general public by outer circles. They are not hierarchical as they have no direct control over the actions of anyone. An epistemic community is a knowledge resource only, authority remains with the entire user group which provides a good incentive for the epistemic community to ensure transparency and knowledge bridges so their ideas are accepted. As in stigmergy, votes in a concentric group are frequently replaced by actions. If this little drop receives no amplification, it is just an idea that goes nowhere.

With knowledge bridges, you don’t have to have personal expertise on every aspect of society. All you have to do is have a transparent concentric circle that you can look at, you can see the activity, you can get feedback if necessary, and you can say yes, there are a lot of people auditing, there is a lot of discussion, I trust some of the people in these circles, I trust that they know what they are doing. Everyone can review the work of the experts both directly and through the review by their peers. Experts can also be created by the system itself as users develop knowledge and reputation and move towards the centre and you will find this happens increasingly if users lose trust, they will realize they need to start auditing this circle.

Communication should not be the full responsibility of the experts in the centre, which is where government initiatives like Brexit and the Colombia peace deal have failed. Ideas should be carried over expertise bridges by full transparency and user participation. The epistemic community in the centre should not need to protect themselves from demands or attacks from completely uninformed users or demagogues. The circles of expertise which promoted them to the centre should also verify and explain their findings to the outer circles. And, concerns and arguments from the user group should be carried back to the epistemic community if the user group finds the points valid. So the epistemic community can work without noise but still receive ongoing feedback from the users and acceptance is a process, not just a binary vote after the fact.

If this all sounds familiar, it’s because this is exactly what happens in open source communities.

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In open source software, the code for each project is available for all to see. Even if the end user cannot understand the code, they can go to discussion groups or listen to programmers who have read and audited the code, they can read the bug reports. Any urgent bugs will be broadcast to the general population and amplified by media as we have seen many times. The people with the greater knowledge of the system will provide knowledge bridges for people at a more novice level and increasingly, that’s how people are learning to code. Good ideas from forum discussions can be read, possibly implemented by the developers as well. Transparency goes both ways.

Open source software with forums open to all are a perfect working example of fully transparent and audited systems of elite knowledge. While the decisions are made by the developers, review and acceptance or rejection of the software is the right of the user group. If the developers refuse to listen to the user group and another development team is willing to work on the project, the original code can be forked and modified to meet the user requirements. Which means you can only be attacked by another fully developed, open and transparent epistemic community which also must be audited by knowledge bridges. You can’t be attacked just by a demagogue and rhetoric, you can only be opposed by another working solution so the user group has a choice between two or more working solutions instead of simply rejection or acceptance. Which means we need the final most important point for concentric circles – the information is free for anyone to use or modify.

Imagine if HTML and Javascript were corporate products that were not available to the public to use, like Bill Gates wanted programming languages to be back in the day. We would not be talking about web development frameworks as a stigmergic system. They would be just one proprietary product delivered by one corporation, probably Microsoft. The fact that we won this fight against Bill Gates and those like him is the single biggest reason that programming and IT have progressed so incredibly far and quickly and the reason IT is the best place to look for corporate examples of stigmergy. Just imagine if we had this same freedom to use the end products of other industries, like pharmaceuticals for instance which Bill Gates is currently pushing oppressive IP laws for.

Intellectual property in a stigmergic system is like an ant that finds food but doesn’t leave any pheromones to tell the other ants. Or worse, actually blocks the other ants and that idea is so ridiculous I can’t even think of a stigmergic example of it. Ownership of ideas is in complete opposition to stigmergy which is to say it is in complete opposition to rapid progress, finding the best solutions and democracy.

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So what we have been looking for here are methods of collaboration that bring us a balance between autonomy, diversity and society. We want to allow the maximum amount of autonomy to those doing the work so we can include all of their ideas and abilities. We want to allow as many diverse solutions as people are inspired to try for each problem. And then we want to allow the entire user group to easily make an informed choice of which solution is best for them as is their right in a democracy. So our methods are stigmergy, which we use for mass action and concentric circles which we use to audit, teach and amplify information.

The best part of stigmergic work and transparent concentric circles for knowledge is our work doesn’t get wasted. When you come to an event like this with a specific project, it is easy to feel as though you are in a competition where you are only associated with one project and your success or failure is tied to that one project and the group around it. But even if you organize your own team in a completely different form, if you follow these principles you will still be contributing to progress as a node in a stigmergic idea. For this two weeks the idea is: Let’s develop better tools for democracy. If you follow these principles, if other people are free to contribute to your project and you to theirs, if you add what you learn to the epistemic community of ideas and act as a knowledge bridge to those learning and most of all if your code is open and free, you will still be part of the community around this idea contributing to the goal we are all working towards. You will be part of the ecosystem.

Q and A not translated.

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