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Wednesday, 18 November 2009 - 12:33pm

Criminalizing US protesters' uses of Twitter, or, how to get your home raided by the FBI

reposted from hastac

In case you missed this news over the past month or so due to the continual onslaught of digital information, there has been a disturbing--to put it lightly--incident involving Twitter, its use by protesters, and the exertion of state force. Briefly, the situation is as follows: During the recent G20 protests in Pittsburgh, PA in late September, a group of protesters were monitoring public police scanners, incoming information from people on the ground, as well as Twitter feeds, in order to post information on Twitter that would hopefully be of use to those on the ground. This tactic of having an off-site monitoring of public sources is a common one within protests. Equally common, of course, are police raids on this so-called "communication team" in order to shut them down and disrupt the means of communication, which is what happened in this case. Usually that is the end of the story. In this case, however, the two people involved (Elliot Madison and Michael Wallschlaeger) were charged under Pennsylvania law with what can only properly be called Orwellian offences: namely that they were "hindering prosecution" by posting on Twitter that an "order to disperse" had been made. According to Madison's lawyer this would be like criminalizing someone on the street telling another, "Don't go down that street; the police are rounding up protesters and arresting them".

Of course, the grand and most-horrible irony in all of this is that the US State Department, just earlier this summer had been lauding the use of Twitter in the protests in Iran and had allegedly even intervened to ask Twitter to delay regular maintenance. Yet when these same techniques are used locally, the response is to press criminal charges.

The story only gets worse; a week after their arrest (and, I should say, the state charges have now been dropped) their home in Queens, NY, an anarchist commune, was raided by the FBI, purportedly to do with "violations" of little-used anti-rioting laws (the same laws used against the Chicago 8). You can read about the incident on their solidarity blog. As far as anyone can tell, the raid is directly related to their actions in Pittsburgh. However, with the exception of a few documents that the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has been able to obtain, the actual reasons for the raid are still under seal. In the words of the Tortuga house members:

bq. There is a pending federal grand jury in the Eastern District Federal Court of New York investigating somethingwhat? We dont know. We do not know how long it has been going on or if it directly involves us. We do not know what is in the sealed affidavits that are the basis for the search warrants that authorized the raid on our house. We do not know if we will be indicted by this federal grand jury or when. We do not know (although we can guess the answer) if the government will be allowed to search through our things. [This, unfortunately, has just been granted.] And so, we give you the condition of the citizen-subject experiencing the thrill of justice under Democracy! We know that we dont know anything!

I think the implications here are obvious. We have a situation where the use of a new technology is originally lauded overseas, but is criminalized when used at home. We have the preemptive use of the law and force that would aim to silence the use of this technology in the future, and where we can see that the original charges (in PA) were dropped because of the shakiness of their case. We have a situation where, as the developer of a similar tool I too am worried about the ways in which these laws can be used against me. And, most importantly for the this community, we have a situation that complicates in no uncertain terms any sort of valorization of social media tools as inherently democratic. Democracy, for whom, when, where? What types of democracy? Who has the power to define the discourse surrounding democratic use of technology? Social media tools are now being invested in by the CIA, and, as this case has shown, are being heavily monitored for activity that would fall outside of "normal" and "acceptable" channels. As users of these technologies are of course implicated. We, as scholars, should be very careful then of how much support we give to social media companies---and here I mean support in terms of our time, our looking at and engaging with other people's posts on these services, our scholarly attention where we use their trademarked terms within our work and could potentially be examining other non-commercial options (such as and crabgrass). As young scholars and intellectuals in this area, we have the ability to help define the conversations surrounding use of these tools, to denounce heavy-handed attempts to preemptively limit their usefulness, and, through our discursive and practical work, foment the construction of alternatives.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008 - 10:44pm

Blogs on HASTAC

I don't have a long time to write at the moment, but I wanted to post a bit about some of the blog entries I've made at the "HASTAC": website, as I'm "officially" a "HASTAC scholar": for the next year. Read these posts to get an idea of what I'm thinking about these days :-) "Shell Oil and the Privatization of the University": "Pouissance in Malaysia":
Monday, 11 August 2008 - 7:17am

Post Singapore/Malaysia Update

Just got back last week from a great vacation in Singapore and Malaysia, the police-state nature of Singapore notwithstanding (more on that in a later post). ISEA was most definitely a mixed bag, with most of the bag holding bad, with a few good here and there. Look for a review of the conference in the next month or so. I'm now at the "Values in Design": workshop at Santa Clara University, returning to Ithaca next Sunday/Monday. For the moment, here's a copy of the paper I presented at ISEA, entitled "Reinterpreting networks of people as fluid for political purposes": . I hope to expand upon this paper by the time this year is out.
Friday, 11 April 2008 - 4:18pm

First view of Fluid Nexus on Android

I've been working on porting "Fluid Nexus": to the "Google Android": platform, partially, yes, because of their "challenge":, but also because I want to support a platform that aims to try and open up the world of mobile phones. Here's a short video with some of the interface features I've developed so far. I still have to write the code that deals with Bluetooth sending and receiving; this is more complicated than it should be, because the emulator doesn't support Bluetooth yet :-(
Fluid Nexus on Android, early test. from Nick Knouf on Vimeo.
Wednesday, 2 April 2008 - 8:24pm

Article about the Goldsen Archive

I'm happy to say that my first freelance article _ever_ is now up on the "Ithaca Times": website. It's about the "Rose Goldsen New Media Archive": and titled "Archiving the Present": The format on the website is a little wacky, but I think you get the point. Definitely check it out in print as well, if you can!
Monday, 24 March 2008 - 3:57pm

Upcoming and ongoing calls

h3. Interactivos?'08 · Juegos de la visión: Convocatoria de proyectos Medialab-Prado convoca a la presentación de proyectos para su producción dentro del evento Interactivos?'08: Juegos de la Visión, que se llevará a cabo en Madrid entre el 30 de mayo y el 14 de junio de 2008. "": h3. Call for Artist in Residence Programme 2008 at LABoral Centro de Arte y Creacion Industrial LABoral Centro de Arte y Creacion Industrial is calling for proposals from artists to develop a research and production project at LABoral for two months during 2008. LABoral Centro de Arte y Creacion Industrial is an interdisciplinary art centre created in Gijon, in the north of Spain in 2007. Its main objective is to become a research, educational, exhibition and production centre in the area of art, science and technology. "": h3. Kitchen Budapest: 08 Return of the Periphery Kitchen Budapest is offering guest researcher positions in 2008 for dedicated profesisonals, artist, engineers, interested in the convergence of new media and actual spaces, cultural experiences, new communities, and are highly motivated to create such projects in teams. Beyond personal skills we are very much interested in team work and collaboration skills, as all projects at our lab have to be produced in teams. It is the task of the researchers to raise interest within our community and get others on board. "":
Thursday, 20 March 2008 - 9:50pm

Fluid Nexus Project Video

I've already posted this on the "Fluid Nexus blog":, but I wanted to post it here as well: my final project video for the workshop.
Fluid Nexus Project Video from Nick Knouf on Vimeo.
Monday, 17 March 2008 - 9:38pm

FLEFF 2008

Just as an FYI, there's a really great festival coming up at the end of March--beginning of April called the "Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival": or FLEFF. Coincidentally, I'm giving a talk there on Thursday the 3rd from 4-6PM on a great panel with Stephanie Rothenberg, Sharon Lin Tay, and Dale Hudson. I'll be talking about mobile media, non-representational networks, and the "Fluid Nexus": project.
Monday, 10 March 2008 - 12:56am

Fluid Nexus Blog at Medialab-Prado

Julian, Pix, and the rest of the great crew at "Medialab-Prado": set up blogs for our projects a couple of days ago, and I've just made the "first post": to it. I don't know how much time I'll have to post over the next few days, but I'll do my best to put up some info as the project comes to (some form of) completion!
Friday, 22 February 2008 - 12:38am

Circuit bending instructable

I just finished and posted an "instructable": about "simple circuit bending for a sound-making toy": This toy was used in a piece for violin and toy that I wrote for a course in "electroacoustic composition": It's part of a broader goal to create "open-source" compositions, where not only the scores but also other components of my compositions are documented and released for others to see and modify. Soon I'll post the score and performance notes for this piece...but for now, a nap. *UPDATE* The instructable was just featured on the front page of "": ...yay! *UPDATE* The hat trick is complete! Earlier this week my instructable was made "popular" and again was featured on the home page, and just last night I saw it in the weekly "Weekend Builder" e-mail that goes out to tons of people! I'm quite stoked about this, especially since I didn't expect it to be that popular or interesting for people. Guess I'm going to be making more instructables in the future :-)