Madrid. November 5, 2012.
Over twenty years ago, CNN brought us live war in the living room. And not just war, they brought every kind of live news, from all corners of the globe. Television had turned into a real time ‘window on the world’.
Back then, it was amazing. But to make it possible, CNN had to maintain an army of reporters, cameramen, editors and additional crew, working on different news desks in different countries. It was still Internet prehistory, and to lighten up the window with news was a very costly operation.
Now, November 2012, anyone, anywhere, can create CNN on his or her laptop. All you need is a decent Internet connection. The content won’t be provided by professional reporters or cameramen, but by the people themselves.
In occasion of Agora 99 we are launching ‘Occupy the Comms’, the ultimate toolkit for popular news reporting.
Occupy the Comms has been developed over the past five months by a dozen people in New York, California, Brussels, France, Madrid and elsewhere. The beta version has been online for a few weeks.
So what is Occupy the Comms?
In the first place, it’s a statement. The commons belong to everybody. You cannot occupy them. The only thing you can do is make them available, to all, as a means to cover the news and to spread it.
For the last decade and a half, step by step, Internet has offered people all the necessary tools to report on the news themselves. First came weblogs, then came photo and video sharing, then social networking greatly enhanced the quick exchange of information. The latest development has been live stream, the opportunity to broadcast video directly from your mobile phone.
Occupy the Comms is the next step in this evolution. It brings everything together. It allows everyone to participate in a horizontal way. And there’s no catch. Money is not an issue.
In short OtC works on three different levels. The first level is real time news, the second is editing, the third is all-round broadcasting.
The site is structured around groups. You create a group for a certain event. Automated bots can scan the Internet for all content related to that event, like live streams. The users watching those streams can collaborate by creating a pad that indexes what happens at what time and what additional information like photos, tweets and blog posts is available.
On the second level, contributors from around the world can use the primary information to create videos or articles that capture the event from any perspective in word and image. The site features a chat which enables online editors to work together on a project, to divide the tasks, and to minimise the time necessary to finish it.
On the third level, streams and edited content can be broadcast and mixed on specific channels like GlobalRevolution.TV, or any other channel you want to create yourself. Aside from those, they can be distributed through regular outlets like YouTube and Vimeo.
These are the basics. There are even more interesting features which make OtC a formidable weapon of 21st century news reporting.
For one, participation is completely anonymous, if desired. You don’t need a valid email to sign up. A fake one will do. You will not be asked to confirm. All communication is encrypted and will be automatically deleted after an hour. For two, a special application has been developed which anonymises the streamer. He or she will be known only by username. This will ensure the safety of people who are reporting from particularly repressive societies, where news casting is a dangerous activity. For three, the application features direct anonymous group chat from mobile phones. This will allow people not only to coordinate their coverage, but also to prepare and execute specific actions.
In many countries, journalists get threatened, molested or even killed every day, because their reports embarrass the powers that be. Through Occupy the Comms it’s no longer necessary for people to risk their lives to expose the truth.
The most powerful tool of contemporary media is live streaming. It’s still a very recent technology, we have only just started to understand the way it works and the limitless possibilities it creates. Technologically we are already able to live stream HD quality video, capable of matching professional broadcasting. The next step is to package it in a way that can rival any existing television station, and that can break the stranglehold of authorities and corporations on the dissemination of news.
Occupy the Comms creates the potential for popular media to compete with corporate media, and eventually to obliterate them. Corporate media can be made irrelevant by a joint popular effort in the same way that Wikipedia has made the Encyclopaedia Britannica and every other authority-based knowledge repository practically obsolete.
The reasons why this is possible are few and simple. First, we are omnipresent. At the moment there are almost a thousand streamers covering worldwide resistance. This number will keep growing fast. Streamers will invariably get to the scene before their professional colleagues will. Second, and most important, we have an immeasurable economic advantage. Because we don’t need to pay an army of journalists, we are completely cost effective. And third, we will be able to bring the news much quicker than any traditional news outlet. Streams will be live, and collaboratively edited videos or articles can be up in a matter of hours, sometimes even minutes. Once they go viral, we will reach millions of people, and we will ‘define the story’. No corporate medium will be able to manipulate the truth without being exposed almost instantaneously.
The Internet is reaching maturity. We are becoming aware of the full impact this will have, not just on the way we communicate, but also on the very structure of our society.
The nature of Internet calls for a society based on unity, equality and collaboration. It has already cancelled out borders, it has opened the doors to universal knowledge, and it is exposing corruption, manipulation, and oppression. In every sense it is causing a revolution.
Many of the features of OtC have been available for some time, thanks to websites like Facebook, Google, YouTube, Flickr etc. But all of these platforms have a fundamental flaw. They are hierarchical corporate entities. They will sell out data for profit. They will forcefully or voluntarily collaborate with authorities. They will extradite their users to any malevolent government in order to protect themselves, their shareholders, their revenues.
Occupy the Comms is not an organisation, it doesn’t have a board, it doesn’t serve any shareholders. It doesn’t respond to any authority. It’s a toolbox for people, and nothing else.
Obviously this is an enormous potential danger for anyone interested in maintaining the status quo. Powerful people may seek to destroy it. For this reason, most of the effort in developing OtC was spent on security.
The physical machine itself is invisible. It doesn’t have an IP address. It serves to run various virtual machines which host the content and the communications. There is a backup server in a safe country. Neither of the physical machines are located in the United States.
Instant torrents will be created for all the important content which is uploaded. In case of cyberattack, it can easily be mirrored on dozens of other sites. OtC is like a mythological creature. You can cut off its head, but then ten new heads will sprout up on the spot.
The communications part is not yet completely secure. Last month, Anonymous was asked to scan it for holes, and they found more than one. These issues are being addressed. They will be solved. Once they are, it will be extremely hard for even the most advanced intelligence agency to lay their hands on the communications. They would have to freeze the memory of the physical machine. And even if they did, they would have nothing more than a heap of encrypted data, which in general will not be linked to any personal identity, and which will only be related to the last hour of activity.
During the past few weeks I have had the privilege to witness the development of this ground breaking tool. The backbone of the project was created by comrade ‘Jack’, the man who started the Audiovisual commissions of Acampada Sol and Occupy Wall Street, and who continues to play a vital role in training people in the art of tactical media. He is a Russian-born mathematician who used to work as a Wall Street banker. In the 1990s he was among those who created the infamous collateralised debt obligations. “Dude, I was one of the people who built the bomb that blew up the economy.”
With Occupy the Comms, he has created a device that is potentially even more devastating.
OtC was built specifically for tactical media purposes, but its uses go far beyond the coverage of news. Collaborative art, science and entertainment projects are next. With all visual content generated around the world, and the evolving communications possibilities, you will soon be able to make feature length movies and documentaries on practically everything, at home, at zero cost.
Still, Occupy the Comms is very primitive. For the moment it even lacks an accessible, intuitive interface. But appearance is beside the point. Contrary to any institution, OtC doesn’t aim to last. People will create better technology to take its place in the years to come. What counts is that collaborative efforts can cover reality in all its dimensions. They can change our views, and in doing so they can change the world.
The tools to make it happen are already available. The revolution is already here. All you need to do, is plug in, and play the game.
Check out the OtC Manual