Disclosure of rich information to ignorant audiences

The problem of disclosing rich information when conducting research inquiries without knowing.

DARPA

When I wrote my PhD dissertation about new media activist expertise and emergent political forms of communication from mobs (2012b) as an insider, I knew I had valuable information and insights to deliver to my audience, notably the academic audience.

But I was far to imagine how valuable they would find the production of findings and design I have made about dissent tactics and modes of cooperation into blogs and micro-media, as Twitter, and about their interactions and networks of interdependance with media.

My purpose, working on the interlinking between new forms of expertise and new media appropriation by activist media producers during the G20 (2010) and the Quebecker Spring (2012), is to identify and define a specific type of activism generated by the practices of users into social media through the process of sharing specific contents as cultural contents, legal informations and collective hashtags and themes.

As I explain it wholy in my thesis diss., by doing so, this work aims at extending the production of specific informations and accessible-by-all new forms of knowledges and designs for producing and sharing news to counter media silence in times of crisis.

I also observed, analyzed and designed the multiple ways in which new types of informations, knowledges and news emerge in relation with independent media (Rabble, The Real News) and mainstream media (Toronto Star, CBC, RDC, Le Devoir) production.

This work aimed at enriching also the diversity of the views, voices and perspectives portrayed into public debate by focusing on underrepresented and marginals views from the communities for unveiling certain informations kept secret by authoritarian governments.

I made this work accessible to readers by writing down my findings and by sharing my research design into open formats. Leaking informations in time of emergency is also a way for some people to save their lives.

I explained it very clearly in the detailed procedures involved into the research process as much as I have voiced it in a very comprehensible manner to my PhD dissertation Defense Committee (Debaveye, 2012b).

But some coming here with personal agenda rather ignored my point and falsely pretended I was acting with conspiracy motives – which was pretty ridiculous giving the relevance of my scientific project combining ICTs and STS.

The fact is that the community under investigation was quite recognized for coordinating social justice campaigns into media and technology, for voicing concerns about housing problems, education fees or lack of social access to care and denouncing the influence of financial capitalism so I picked them.

The problem rather appeared to me about the fact that I completely underevaluated the richness of the contribution I was making to an academic audience, who always had analyzed social and political discourses from the top-down or disconnected perspective of the experts, with a more refined and documented perspective.

Through the process of research and enquiry, I shared rich findings (not data) about dissents’ tactics and modes of organization and cooperation that are suitable tools and methods to fight back oppression and repression.

Mostly because academia is supposed to at least have some background about collective action or because that is supposed to be their role, to academics and media, to denounce oppression for whose who can’t speak, I organized my work more about the conceptualization of terms known from collective organizors and activists.

But sadly they didn’t understand anything, and I had to adopt a defensive view about the inquirees.

Secondly they were all having quite a limited knowledge of digital cultures.

Apart of having made sure I wasn’t revealing any secrets that would not have been previously published into public media or putting people at risk, I certainly revealed unwantingly some more that they ever knew about insider views, cultural forms and local ways of producting news and emergent tactics in times of emergency, from an insider perspective, having been in my youth and later part of the community under investigation (or similar).

Some external I remember were outraged that I could have shared an intimate relation with them 😀 (which obviously was not the case).

The fact is that the political establisment and academic milieux appeared to be quite desinformed and ignorant of the activists’ technicality and expertise as they historically denied them as a group of knowledge, as I have observed already in my work (2012b), so they concluded for some kind of plot.

But I have been hacked.

Apart of admitting of the excellence of my PhD research, findings and of attesting of my specific abilities to conduct empirical research, they would keep denying the pertinence of my proposal linking social activism to digital expertise due to bias (all male panel, concerns for activism & other things).

We can see today that the situation hasn’t evolved that much from the perspective of mainstream media and officials dealing with social media polls and desinformation campaigns that keep portraying and labelling social activists as suspects or in some extreme cases related to violent contexts, criminals, spies and terrorists.

As I also demonstrate, digital activists and social campaigners are pretty good at organizing campaigns, rallying people under concerns for oppression, social justice and freedom and managing information flows and sources (Debaveye, 2012b).

But they are also confronted with increased surveillance and tracking activities (2015) and with the issue of having their views appropriated and distorted by the establishment, notably by the liberal establishment as an historical leader of the cultural production.

Leftist activists targeted by surveillance developped multiple tactics I qualified tactics of sousveillance that aim at revealing the practices of surveillance from the power into mass media and at protecting themselves as sources or protecting their sources (2015).

By conducting a qualitative inquiry of a social justice coalition in Montreal (@CLACMontréal) and by analyzing their interactions within the networks of influence with other groups (@CLASSE) and media producers, I produced a contextual design of the specific nature of the new modes of news production and socialization into social media by social activists to make legitimate claims about inequalities more visible and pressure governments into social change.

This account aims at showing the ways for people to emancipate  from rhetorics and narratives of power in order to empower and improve their conditions.

Never it has been in my intention to monitor or track at the ends of malveillance or for commercial purpose (this work in by the way filed under a non-commercial license agreement and I am the only person who can decide of the future uses of it be it for complementary research to uncover new findings or social benefits. I can attest I have never given my consent to any misuse).

All the scientific procedures have complied in conformity with the law and with the respect of the ethical guidelines and procedures as attested by the Ethical Committee of Laval University. It is based on public data only and excludes all forms of personal and sensitive data from data collection (privacy at the source).

The issue at stake with the disclosure of rich qualitative information produced by the research inquiry is rather with the types of audience you’re adressing by publishing into free accessible media and into social media – who knows what creep reads you.

Tweets despite being a very potent tool for promptly framing a response to an attack or correct flows of flawed information also need to be shared inside a community that is both well informed and equally educated to protect the integrity of the contextual interpretation, especially when representing of insider contents, and not of mainsworld views.

If my work reached such a large audience and public attention (even if not being adequately quoted as a source by commentators), it’s because it caused a schock at the times of its publication giving the dissymetry of views I shared with the commentators of my work.

The shock was sidely due to the switch I made from considering non- experts as regular citizens and dissents as experts and experts as mainstream media, experts and academics as non-experts about the issues adressed (social justice, police violence, housing, education, care, etc) (2012b).

For me this situation is caused by unsufficient or superficial knowledge about grassroots and social grounds by the establishment, well protected behind the high walls of the scientific community; by the stereotypical and arrogant views it promotes causing mesinformation and caricatures about people into the media; by the collusion of many who could help with corrupted power.

What I underevaluated is the little science these guys have about real life problems, individual and collective logics for repression and oppression as well as their complete lack of acknowledgement of the street spirit.

Also I wasn’t expecting science to be so ideologized and polarized, especially in ICTs. I am not an academic but an educated person, I went there, published, went away. I had never imagined that their views about activist communities could be so dismissive of their identities, cultures and honesty.

But as we can see these views are common. Everything I read lately is so bad informed and instrumentalized towards political or electoral ends that it came to a nonsense. Information is under threat.

If I knew thus, at the time I was doing my research, I had probably refrained myself from doing it. But still, in spite of all the bad intended agents having diverted it for multiple actions of political subversion and targeting campaigns and attacks against my community, I am happy with it, because it will teach lost souls involved with engaging into social justice and popular education campaigns how to fight back the oppressive propaganda from the centralized power to re-establish themselves as credible information producers.

We need to end up with this culture of entitlement and privileges causing social inequalities and gaps in the access to ressources, wealth and means, to finish with this culture of violence that uses discriminative technologies to hurt and to exclude, to support and enrich the ones the more in needs and with the most merits.

So now the crisis is here to stay and we need to organize out of the corrupted institutions that target innocents.

By being challenged with more scientifically produced and informed views, the elites – by the time completely compromissed by financial interests – are desperately trying to get back control over the cultural production that they once used to be the tenants of, but with the conscientization we’re observing now into social media from the people, via independent sources, information producers and local journalists, I think this time is over.