Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Popular Opinion: The Role of the Digital Journalist

Again, critique encouraged.

“Anonymous”: A manifestation of the Popular Opinion. Via “Anonymous”, any member of the public can socially take part in any political or economic cause that they deem to be important from the comfort of their home computer.

“Anonymous” is responsible for attacking the Church of Scientology and the Westburo Baptist Church. They took down the websites of major corporations that they had identified as harming the institution of Wikileaks; five arrests were made in the aftermath. “They” took down the websites of Egypt’s Ministry of Information and President Muburak’s personal site during the 2011 Egyptian Revolution.

“They” have a way to deal with those who claim to circumvent their group. In February 2011, “Anonymous” attacked the security firm of HBGary Federal, wrecking their internal IT infrastructure. They hacked the Twitter account of the companies CEO, tweeting his home address and Social Security number.

But what is “Anonymous”? Simply put, Anonymous is a manifestation of the Popular Opinion. Anonymous is not a group. Anonymous is as undefined as the identities of it’s members. Anonymous is a concept that grows in strength as it grows in individuals. The Anonymous that attacked Mastercard in 2010 post-Wikigate is not the same Anonymous that attacked Scientology in 2008. This, in turn, is not the same Anonymous that raided the Habbo Hotel videogame servers in 2006. The concept of total anonymity on the Internet has allowed a channel through which the Popular Opinion is able to, at least partially, flow.

Anonymous is anarchy. Anonymous is a group of totally random individuals who, despite some of them probably hating one another were their identities known, are able to bind together in a movement that ignores everything about each other to work towards a common goal. The only thing that qualifies you to be in Anonymous is that you happen to agree with that specific instance of “Anonymous”. All you need is an interest. All you need is an opinion.

At time of writing, one of the top stories on Reddit is promoting a new instance of “Anonymous”; a new manifestation of the Popular Opinion. “Operation Skankbag” is bringing attention to designer Louis Vuitton for the their legal action against Danish artist Nadia Plesner. For a charity promoting the fate of Darfur, the artist created a line of clothing of featuring “an African child holding a Chihuahua and a handbag.”

The promotion reads: “The well known producer of mediocre overpriced handbags, Louis Vuitton, decided to react by suing Nadia. In their opinion the bag resembled one of their shitty handbags, despite being devoid of any logo… Of course, Nadia makes no money from the art; all money goes towards charities for Darfur. This case illustrates how corporations can effectively end our free speech the moment we say something that conflicts with their own agenda, like the anti-materialist message of Nadia’s ‘Simple Living’ campaign.

“It is time that we retaliate.” Addressing the concern that the presumed demography of Anonymous is predominantly males age 15-27, the poster-style JPG image continues; “As young angry males… we cant just stop buying these handbags. However, there is a solution to this problem. We will have to destroy the image of Louis Vuitton. Objective: Financial damage to Louis Vuitton. The more, the better.

This “call-to-arms” is a point of recruitment for this particular instance of “Anonymous”. The poster, in the form of a JPG image posted on Reddit, advocates that any individual in alignment with these beliefs to do anything they can to (non-violently) destroy Louis Vuitton. They suggest methods such as attacking their websites, spray-painting graffiti and Google bombing the search terms “Louis Vuitton” with “whores”. It ends: “We will do anything we can to punish Louis Vuitton for infringing on our freedom of artistic expression, for we are Anonymous. We do not forgive, we do not forget. Expect us.”

At the time of writing, the poster had a score of 1184 votes on the Reddit, easily making the front page. There is only one problem with this call-to-arms bringing a group of anonymous individuals together in an aggressive manifestation of the force-of-will that is the Popular Opinion: it’s premise might not be entirely true.

In the article’s discussion page on Reddit, the highest rated comment goes on to explain someone else’s side of the story. It cites as saying that the Danish artist was not as selfless as the poster claims. It claims that originally only 30% of the profits went to a Darfur charity, and that when the artist received the initial legal notification from Louis Vuitton she not only ignored it but also published it on her site. That was why the fashion design firm decided to demand $5000 for every day that the “Simple Living” line was on sale.

It shows a comparison between the artist’s Darfur design and the Louis Vuitton bag it was allegedly copied from. They were completely identical.

This is where the journalistic 4th estate will come to exist within the realm of social news. While a community itself can sometimes catch on to what information is false, there must always be an investigative institution to check the validity, accuracy and neutrality of statements presented as fact.

When the predominant creators of relevant news content are no longer the small group of media giants which dominated pre-digital era, it will be the role of the Journalist to maintain a purity of Truth; to promote that which is fact, and point out false information. It is the Journalist that who will investigate for the benefit of all, and return with information that could determine the next president or war.

Without the institution of the journalistic 4th estate, there will never exist a neutral voice from which to judge all others. There will never be a point of reference for objective reality. Without the Journalist, the role of fact finder would be played out by random individuals doing their own research, much like it currently is on Reddit. But on the Internet, no voice is any more trustworthy than any other. With the melding of the journalistic 4th estate with social news, something new emerges which never before existed. The journalistic systems from which the People receive the information most important of their daily lives become entirely transparent.

The Journalist will maintain the reputation of the Truth, and the People will maintain the reputation of the Journalist.
Whenever there is the need for a “neutral” perspective, the Journalist will provide. Whenever Journalist cannot be trusted, the People will provide. Without the reference to objective reality provided by a journalistic 4th estate, any manifestation of the Public Opinion will be guideless, random and in the direction of chaos.

With the dawn of the digital era, the journalists will become the guardians of the Popular Opinion. They will investigate and shed light. They will be loved. They will be hated. Regardless of all, they will be essential.

1 comment:

Gin A. Ando said...

As a social movement, Anon is the awakening of progressives. Vigilantes, almost. They've been able to harness technology in a way that provides an outlet to those with the knowledge of wrongdoing to publish such facts.

But the problem I see is this: Unless there is some sort of cohesion, some type of unified purpose whether idealistic or not, they will continue to be known as a group of anarchist hackers. While that might not seem bad to some people, just being classified as such will ultimately dilute any kind of relevance and reputation for information and authority and cultivate a citizen-wide distaste.

Like it or not, America is run by a government. The institutions themselves are sound. The problems that arise are due to the people holding positions of power, not the positions themselves. It is the catch 22 Plato mentioned with the philosopher kings. Those who are truly perfect for positions of authority do not wish to hold them. Therefore, those who are in positions of power are not qualified for their posts.

Whether or not Anon can organize in a way that transforms them from rogue hackers associated with 4chan, which, although it may very well be their rightful home and a place that can allow such discussion and organization, it's going to be hard to see them as anything but those who wish to defy the law and create widespread panic.

Organization is key. Those who truly wish to create an independent organ that exposes wrongdoing and rights worldwide injustice must break free and be associated with whistleblowing and watchdog mentalities. In a way, it may be more effective in deterring than any sort of police force because law enforcement must adhere to the law. If Anon can somehow establish itself as a separate organ and get serious (no more doing things for the lulz, no more trolling) and do what they can for a cause that is, albeit unethical perhaps, uncovering deception and corruption, I honestly can see it as a digital policing group.

As for journalists being involved, well, if you can get whoever is able to make such a decision to agree, it's for the best. But as I said before, as it stands now, it's bad news. But if they can somehow break away from the mentality of doing it because they can to doing it because it should be done, then, well, Castro said it best. History will absolve them all.