As a director of SilenceBreakers, a progressive social enterprise I have talked about before on this blog (see here, and here), attending the recent Rebellious Media Conference in London proved to be fruitful as a catalyst of ideas, as well as being essentially interesting. There was a session in particular resolving around the question of “Whose internet is it? Are we losing the war?”. This ties in rather well with our launch of SilenceBreakers’ net neutrality campaign. Innovatively, instead of just focusing upon the traditional issues of net neutrality such as connection speeds – the campaign addresses the attack upon internet freedom from a socio-political resource perspective. In other words, considering the material/physical barriers people have in accessing the internet in the first place. As the campaign literature shows, SilenceBreakers’ own projects attempt to address the inadequate access to computers and the internet through providing disadvantaged communities the opportunity to construct their own computers with the eventual aim of teaching them invaluable social media skills where they can disseminate their ideas and opinions, providing them with a much-needed alternative channel to misconceived mainstream media representations.
The issue of physical limitations was discussed during the panel/debate with the idea of constructing a physical and a virtual commons, and the potential for new forms of participatory action through mediums such as the internet being explored. Doug Rushkoff, streamed through a prerecorded Skype interview, whilst espousing an idealised conception of the internet had some interesting points regarding the importance of the internet for social change. He discussed the importance of education, as ignorance to the capability and potential of the internet for emancipatory action is a major obstacle to maintaining the internet’s freedom. Whilst the valid point was made that he was ignoring the wider structural limitations of corporate companies, a major issue discussed in SilenceBreakers’ net neutrality campaign given the increasing dominance of material interests of internet providers and the government, he highlighted the significance of new forms of media such as Twitter for challenging simplistic analyses of events by the mainstream media. SilenceBreakers also hold this conception of the power of alternative media. However, as the net neutrality campaign shows, neutral spaces of expression are being increasingly challenged by corporate interests.
SilenceBreakers’ localised approach to projects fits well with the localised potential of the internet. This relates to a debate by a panel regarding the riots and media representation. An audience member mentioned the importance of governance systems in relation to media representation. Political systems structure and relations do have an interplay and interdependent relationship with the way media is utilised and the way the media disseminates information. Through more cooperative political systems, where economic, political and social relations aren’t so controlled by capital and consumer excess, the radical potential of the internet for cooperative expressive creative and informative goals could be better realised. The internet should ensure freedom of expression so that a plurality of experiences from a variety of contexts/situations become more commonplace so middle class, white, male conceptions of ‘reality’ no longer dominate.
It relates to the commodification of power and freedom. As shown by the riots, people felt as though they were able to access what society defines as power through commodities; as Zygmunt Bauman discusses, freedom has become conditioned by the access to resources. People feel as though they have control over their life when they access capital, spend money on products with little use value, rather false needs, in order to satisfy the wealth ‘creators’ bank balances. The internet is in the process of increasing commodification. What should be a right is facing increasing corporate and capital pressure, the neutrality of what should be a free space for expression and opportunity is being restricted as sites are blocked or slowed down due to political reasons related mainly to money. This illustrates the importance of a net neutrality campaign, that not only highlights the increasing corporate control of the internet, but also challenges the physical capital constrained access many have to the internet due to the price of computers, the internet and so forth. Only through a more complex and all-encompassing view of internet access, will we radically challenge the relations that restrict internet freedom. However, this is part of a much broader fight against capital and corporate excess and increasing dominance.