What do you do when the FCC doesn’t care about you?

During last week’s day of action for net neutrality, I called, petitioned, and emailed my representatives. Then I switched my profile picture to a ninja cat on a unicorn with lasers for eyes.

The picture above is terribly cliched. But that could be a good thing, in context. It could even be meaningful.

No corporate interests drove the cultural triumph of pixelated rainbows or feline ronin. But these memes are rooted in our psyches to an almost oppressive degree nonetheless. That we can look at the above image and think “well, duh, that’s the internet for you, gee whillikers” and yawn to ourselves or roll our eyes says something powerful.

That something is the glorious and surprising online hegemony of participatory culture.

Participatory culture is Professor Henry Jenkins’ term of art for grassroots communities that grow, share, and create via technology. Jenkins views participatory culture as primarily something that young people do; for the purposes of this blog, it is age-unrestricted.

The web may be the ur-example of modern participatory culture. The internet is strange because strange people banded together and worked hard to make it strange. Not all of these weirdos have corporate money to throw around. Not all of them have access to avenues for organizing or communicating offline. But they know how to use the internet. And they are worth protecting.

Internet-mediated participatory culture impacts a tremendous and growing swath of modernity. In recent years, the power of the internet to unify and concentrate cultural movements has borne sometimes delightful, sometimes alarming fruit in the form of participatory politics. Participatory politics is also Henry Jenkins’ coinage, and it’s just what it sounds like: using technology on a grassroots level to connect with likeminded individuals and effect political change.

You encountered participatory politics during the 2016 presidential election. You have been living with the fallout ever since.

Participatory politics is like any other tool or process: how it is used depends on the intent of those who use it. Participatory politics has fueled, among other things, Black Lives Matter, Occupy Wall Street, the MP expense account scandal, Gamergate and the alt-right, Bernie bros, ISIS, and the Arab Spring.

Last week, Battle for the Net contributors including the EFF used participatory politics to defend the FCC’s current policy on net neutrality. We did a pretty good job, if you judge such things by engagement numbers and records broken. We sent more than five million emails to Congress and left more than nine million comments to the FCC. On July 12, we actually broke the record for most comments left for the FCC in a single day. The previous record was held by–wait for it–Battle for the Net as well!

So clearly we did a good job, right? I mean, apparently we did an awesome job…so the FCC is going to respond to our concerns any day now, right?

Unfortunately, the current chairman of the FCC appears to be just as committed to open dialogue, bipartisan politics, and responsivity to the needs of the populace as the man who appointed him. Under Ajit Pai’s leadership, the FCC is ignoring not just the record-breaking millions of comments, but also poll results showing strong bipartisan support for current net neutrality regulations among U.S. citizens.

Sounds pretty crazy, right? But it gets crazier.

Because the FCC is ignoring the whole zombie commenter problem. Because zombie commenters are, sigh, a thing now.

A few months ago, a third party (probably working for an ISP) used names from old voter registration sheets to leave fraudulent comments with the FCC. How many fake comments? About 500,000.

Check to see if your name was used here

It gets crazier. Some of these fake comments were signed by dead people. This seems like cause for consternation, right? Especially on the part of the regulatory agency. So the FCC developed a comment screening process and pledged to overhaul problems in its comment collection system. Just kidding!

The FCC publicly declared that the agency would make no attempt to discern between real and fake comments unless the signatories were obviously fake names such as King Kong or Napoleon Bonaparte, a position that categorically excluded the real names of real dead people who didn’t sign up for any of this, because they’re dead. Really.

Now, given the last six months and just, uh, everything, let’s make something clear. Ajit Pai is not suffering from dementia. Mr. Pai is not just an old decrepit husk of a man tottering about the Court of Appeals in a bathrobe with Fox and Friends on blast. His agency’s statements are not the strenuous but doomed attempts of staffers to make sense of Ajit Pai’s word salad. No one at the FCC is sundowning, okay? Pai and pals are more than mentally competent to perform in their appointed positions. They know what they’re doing here. That means they’re doing it on purpose.

So what do we do when our leaders won’t respond to us? Do we just give up? Is there even a point to protest under these conditions?

I think there is. In fact, I think there are several.

Through continuing to advocate for our beliefs and our needs, we let other politicians know the constituent demand for net neutrality. This lays a solid groundwork for policy change under future administrations. We also find our own voices in articulating our thoughts to ourselves and others, which is key for sparking genuine innovations and solutions. And we find our kin, the people with whom we can form deep philosophical communion. We are primates, after all. We need community.

Keep fighting. Keep talking. Keep making noise. When our leaders abandon us, all we have are each other.

You can start here .

August 14th Meetup – Building the Indieweb

Our speaker this month is Tom Brown. Tom Brown is an open source software developer interested in digital identity, and he often attends Internet Identity Workshop and more recently IndiewebCamps. Tom has added open standards related to identity to several popular software projects. He can be found online as herestomwiththeweather.

Tom will be speaking to us about the Indieweb, a version of the internet that puts people and their direct social interactions at the center of its design. For more than 25 years, the web has provided us tools to be social online. However, as we adopt the same closed platforms, we see our experience change without our consent and we see the terms and services become increasingly antagonistic. This is often a gradual bait and switch by the platform which has locked us in as we were drawn in by network effects. In these silos, we are not in control of our conversations online as Kafkaesque algorithms decide what is seen. What should be a public space is not controlled by the public. Often times, the decentralized systems that try to address these problems are developed by a limited group of people and subsequently may not offer the user experiences sufficient for adoption. There are trade-offs in every design and we can choose which principles to follow.

The Indieweb is a people-focused alternative to the “corporate web” and is motivated by a set of principles including encouraging a plurality of projects, modularity and prioritizing user interface and design before protocols. It is possible to talk to each other online even when we’re on different sites and be in control of our social web software. In this meeting, we’ll see how the emerging Indieweb is expanding our options to regain control of the web and what that experience looks like.

Join us for the discussion from 7:00PM-9:00PM, followed by drinks and camaraderie from 9:00PM-10:00PM at Firehouse Lounge (605 Brazos St).

Capital Factory is located at 701 Brazos Street, on the 16th floor of the Omni Hotel. Once on the 16th floor, there should be a sign at the front desk directing you to our meetup. If there is no sign, and no one is on duty at the desk, we are usually in the room to the left of the front desk.

Talk will be livestreamed at https://www.youtube.com/user/austintechlive

Parking for the Omni Garage can be validated at the Capital Factory front desk, reducing the cost from $16 to $5. Details: https://capitalfactory.com/parking/

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https://www.facebook.com/events/1774392195912231/

Building The Indieweb

Monday, Aug 14, 2017, 7:00 PM

Capital Factory
701 Brazos Street, Suite 1601 Austin, TX

15 Activists Attending

Our speaker this month is Tom Brown. Tom Brown is an open source software developer interested in digital identity, and he often attends Internet Identity Workshop and more recently IndiewebCamps.  Tom has added open standards related to identity to several popular software projects.  He can be found online as herestomwiththeweather.Tom will be sp…

Check out this Meetup →

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July 10th Meetup – The Pre/Post-History of VR, Surveillance, and Swarm Intelligence

EFF-Austin is proud to present for our next monthly meetup a live taping of Future Fossils, Michael Garfield’s wonderfully heady podcast that explores futurist topics at the intersection of science, art, and philosophy! Michael will be leading a panel of four subject area experts in a stream-of-consciousness discussion revolving around the pre-history and post-history of virtual reality, surveillance, and swarm intelligence, namely, the evolution of these concepts and how they impact our lives and our potential futures.

Join us for the discussion and taping from 7:00PM-9:00PM, followed by drinks and camaraderie from 9:00PM-10:00PM at Firehouse Lounge (605 Brazos St).

Capital Factory is located at 701 Brazos Street, on the 16th floor of the Omni Hotel. Once on the 16th floor, there should be a sign at the front desk directing you to our meetup. If there is no sign, and no one is on duty at the desk, we are usually in the room to the left of the front desk.

Talk will be livestreamed at https://www.youtube.com/user/austintechlive

Parking for the Omni Garage can be validated at the Capital Factory front desk, reducing the cost from $16 to $5. Details: https://capitalfactory.com/parking/

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Our Host – Michael Garfield

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Paleontologist turned futurist performance philosopher, Michael Garfield’s boundary-hopping, mind-expanding work maps the evolutionary landscape and our place in it. Host of the Future Fossils Podcast and contributor to countless web publications, Michael writes and speaks about – and from – the intersections of emerging planetary consciousness, accelerating techno-culture, visionary art, and a trans-disciplinary understanding pointing past our evolutionary narratives entirely. The goal: to encourage creative curiosity by showing people how our lives are inextricably a part of something vast, mysterious, and awesome. At the common core of science, art, and spirituality – with equal dedication to both playfulness and rigor – you’ll find Michael and his growing list of brilliant and insightful collaborators.

Learn more at http://patreon.com/michaelgarfield

Follow Michael on Twitter & Instagram: @michaelgarfield

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The Panelists

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Heather Barfield
Head of EFF-Austin Digital Arts Coalition, EFF-Austin Board Member
Associate Artistic Director, Vortex Theater
Director of Finance and Operations, Austin Creative Alliance

Heather Barfield, Ph.D., has an extensive background in theater history, criticism, theory, and practice. Since 1990, she has been an active performer, director, producer, and writer in the Austin theater community. Barfield has been a vital member of VORTEX Repertory Theatre for 25 years and currently serves as Associate Artistic Director. Her artistic work often incorporates intermodal forms of storytelling through digital and analog methods. In her latest critically-praised production, Privacy Settings: A Promethean Tale (2016), Barfield and her cast of devised theater makers explored the complex topics of whistleblowers, digital privacy, and civil liberties alongside audience-immersive interactions. Dr. Barfield also works steadily in the nonprofit arts management sector as CFO/COO for Austin Creative Alliance. She oversees the financial and budgetary aspects of over ninety sponsored project organizations and collaborates with staff on grant writing, marketing, event planning, and production. Barfield believes that a healthy and just social ecosystem critically depends upon vibrant, eclectic, diverse, reflexive, and innovative arts.

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Maggie Duval
Chief Experience Liaison, 7th Generation Labs
Co-Founder and Director, Learning Innovations in Future Education (LIFE)
Senior Developer, Polycot Associates, LLC

Maggie is a technology, web, marketing, strategy and development consultant, educator and event producer whose work supports holistic, personalized approaches to learning. She is an expert in creating, curating, and producing unique, immersive workshops and conferences where business, technology and arts dialogue in innovative ways. Her work includes research, development, creation and production of multimedia, participative learning approaches and projects for experiential education such as the SXSW-related events, Plutopia (The Future of Play, The Science of Music, Living Systems) and Cyberpunk 2014: A Retrospective, as well as The Spectral Panopticon, Showdown at Unobtainium: Tesla vs. Edison, STEAM3: The Future of Experiential Learning, and NextECon.

Maggie brings her multidimensional vision and expertise in both virtual (website and user interface) and physical (events, workshops, happenings) experiential design. A gifted connector, she also serves to foster collaborative alliances between the Austin community, and beyond.

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Paul Toprac
Associate Director of Game Development at UT, RTF Department, and Senior Lecturer

Paul Toprac is currently the Associate Director of Game Development at UT and Senior Lecturer. Before UT, Paul was a Graduate Committee Chair, Institutional Effectiveness Manager, and Lecturer of The Guildhall at Southern Methodist University, a graduate school game development program, where he focused on the research and design of games, particularly game-based learning and motivational environments. Paul has more than the twenty years of experience in the software industry, in roles ranging from CEO to product manager to consultant, including the role of Executive Director of the Austin Technology Council.

Paul holds a Bachelor of Science in Engineering, a Master of Business Administration, and a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction from The University of Texas at Austin.

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Kevin Welch
President of EFF-Austin
Fullstack Web Developer at Texas Legislative Council
Contractor at Polycot Associates, LLC

Kevin Welch is the president of EFF-Austin, a digital rights organization that was founded alongside the Electronic Frontier Foundation and continues to be a member of their Electronic Frontier Alliance. At EFF-Austin, he leads their push to educate the public and politicians about the important digital civil liberties issues of our times. He is a Caltech graduate with degrees in Bioengineering and English. His professional career has consisted of a number of software-related positions ranging from programming the math in slot machine games to full-stack web programming of advanced word-processing/legal software. He follows his bliss via the writing of science fiction, mythology, and poetry, creating music and playing keyboards in a number of bands, building his own analog synthesizers, designing and programming video games, and acting in plays and films. Most recently, he created, designed, and coordinated a cyberpunk-themed party during SXSW that doubled as an educational seminar featuring Cory Doctorow, Bruce Sterling, Neil Harbisson, and Moon Ribas as the keynote speakers. He was born in, raised in, and still lives in Austin, Texas. He believes the future doesn’t have to suck, and that we can make it great for everyone, together.

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https://www.facebook.com/events/1303551829742374/

The Pre/Post-History Of Virtual Reality, Surveillance, and Swarm Intelligence

Monday, Jul 10, 2017, 7:00 PM

Capital Factory
701 Brazos Street, Suite 1601 Austin, TX

11 Activists Attending

EFF-Austin is proud to present for our next monthly meetup a live taping of Future Fossils, Michael Garfield’s wonderfully heady podcast that explores futurist topics at the intersection of science, art, and philosophy! Michael will be leading a panel of four subject area experts in a stream-of-consciousness discussion revolving around the pre-hist…

Check out this Meetup →

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