Getting the message out while staying under the radar

Dave – the editor

Remember the halcyon days of the early internet? Remember ‘Information wants to be free’ and ‘The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it ‘? Remember the freedom to get your message out, across the world? Remember the feeling of a wide open frontier of free expression?

As was predicted, even in those halcyon early days, the corporations would eventually get hold of the internet to monetize and control it. No one thought that the corporations doing this would be what were originally start ups like Google, Amazon, etc. Well here we are with the social media network, Parler, having the plug pulled by Amazon, Google and Apple: MAGA-approved social media platform Parler is taken down — but its demise may be short-lived.

What is also happening is that on platforms such as Twitter, posters critical about the dominant narrative of the COVID-19 crisis and lockdowns are finding themselves increasingly targeted for shadow banning, temporary bans or being kicked off the platform altogether. The response to the crisis has been a divisive issue as we’ve found out the hard way! The point is that debate around it is becoming harder because anything the powers that be deem to be a ‘conspiracy theory’ is facing increased censorship rather than being interrogated by reasoned argument.

In relation to the Parler situation, let’s just say that a fair few of the posters on there air views that are not exactly to our taste! However, those on the left cheering on the taking down of Parler need to take a step back and realise that at some point in the future, the powers that be might turn on some of their online offerings. Fortunately many of the anarchists we follow have taken a more realistic view and not joined in the gloating because they know only too well that it’s just a matter of time before we find the guns are turned on us and our social media and blogging accounts are being taken out.

This has prompted discussion about how we rely too much on platforms owned by the big corporations and how we need to find our own alternatives. The Kolektiva https://kolektiva.social/about server on the Mastodon network is one welcome example of this. However, even this prompts a nagging doubt in the back of our mind about the possibility of it being hacked by state/corporate players.

What’s also being discussed is how over reliant we’ve all become on the internet as a means of communication and getting our message out. A trend that has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis and the subsequent lockdowns and tiered restrictions reducing the opportunities to get out on the streets, have stalls at fairs and generally, just meet face to face.

As an initial response to the lockdowns and tiered restrictions, we shifted a lot of what were physical papers and ‘zines to an online format. It gave us the feeling that we were still able to do something but as the months dragged on, it became clear that all we were doing was preaching to the converted. There’s a general feeling that one way or another, a return to print and physical face to face distribution has to start sooner rather than later. However, there’s a lot more to our activity as anarchists than producing propaganda.

The title of this post is ‘Getting the message out and staying under the radar’. One way of communicating what we do as anarchists is via our practical activity. Actions speak louder than words. A well run, co-operatively organised grassroots project making a real difference to peoples lives will say a lot more than post after post on a blog ever can: You won’t change the world if you’re not organised!

If we’re going to bring about radical change, showing what can be done at the grassroots – essentially the process of building a new world in the shell of the old – is a vital part of doing that. While words are great, actually seeing what can be done is even better: Why what we do IS political and: Some more thoughts on 2021.

A blog or a social media page can all too easily be taken down or hacked by the authorities. While they may get twitchy about some grassroots community projects, they can’t get away with shutting them down because of the ensuing furore. Which is why the diverse range of grassroots and solidarity projects that exist, longstanding and newly formed, are the best testament there is to what we can do as anarchists.

Obviously we have to communicate the results, experiences and lessons of this practical action, and also, our other ideas. However, it’s recognised that pretty much all of the corporate owned platforms we currently have to use are compromised and given the way things are going, can’t be relied on in the future. Trying to build our own alternative is problematic to say the least: The cancellation of Parler. Yes, we know it’s Spiked! writing about Parler – the main point of the article is pointing out how the ownership structure of the infrastructure of the internet makes building any alternative a fraught and difficult business.

Sure, we can carry on using the internet while we can but let’s not be under any illusions that our unfettered access to and reach through it is guaranteed because it most definitely isn’t! So in terms of propaganda by words and images to supplement that offered by our practical action, what does that leave us? Old school print, fly-posting, stickers and even some judicious writing on walls and pavements. Regardless of restrictions, that’s the route we’ll be placing more emphasis on this year. Okay, it doesn’t have the reach of the internet but in terms of localised reach, these methods may actually be far more effective.

We are where we are – in a situation where getting our message across is becoming more beset with difficulties and constraints. To be honest, this piece is us thinking out loud as to how we can go through 2021 and get our message out while managing to fly under the radar of an ever more authoritarian state. A state willingly aided and abetted by their corporate chums in defining and narrowing down the scope of what we can and can’t say and do.

We admit that we haven’t got the answers to this and are only throwing out a few tentative suggestions. So, any comradely suggestions on how we can get through this would be appreciated:) However, there is one caveat… In these weird, increasingly dystopian times, we have to assume that much of what we stick up online is being monitored in one way or another – so please, no trade secrets!

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