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<nettime> The Sad Decline of Indymedia
dr.woooo on Mon, 9 Dec 2002 14:11:53 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> The Sad Decline of Indymedia


posted by Reverend Chuck0 on Sunday December 08 2002  {AT}  10:35AM PST 
The Sad Decline of Indymedia

by Chuck0
for Infoshop News 

It was a great idea when the Independent Media Center opened up its first
website for the Seattle anti-WTO protests in December 1999. The first IMC
website came out of years of alternative and grassroots media activism. By
a strange quirk of fate, the Seattle IMC also included something called
the "open newswire," an experiment that allowed every reader to be a
reporter, if they wanted to get involved in DIY, participatory media
production. The IMC network recently observed its 3rd anniversary and the
100th IMC went online, but the IMC project is facing some serious problems
which, if they aren't addressed by the supporters of the IMC network, will
eventually destroy the wonderful idea that is Indymedia.

There are some that would argue that the Indymedia network needs a
stronger organization to address its current and persistent problems. This
may be somewhat true, but those of us who have pressed for reforms find
ourselves at the mercy of a network of people who are afraid to step
forward and make tough decisions. It might help if there were some more
organized processes, but I see the chief problem with Indymedia these days
to be a political one, not an organizational or technical problem.

The IMC Network has a statement of principles and so do most local IMCs.
However, the political orientation of the IMC has never been firmly
established. Other IMC volunteers and myself have strongly argued for a
series of regional IMC meetings and conventions to resolve these
questions. The problems with the IMC's vague politics is not so much what
ideology it should embrace, rather what ideologies and content the IMC
Network rejects and opposes. This vagueness on politics has allowed an
international network of right wingers and racists to abuse and disrupt
the IMC websites, which has harmed the IMC's functionality and reputation
in ways that may not be fixable without stepping on lots of toes.

If you are a regular visitor to the IMC-Global website
(http://www.indymedia.org), you may have noticed some big changes earlier
this year. The "open" newswire was moved off the front page for a variety
of reasons. The most diplomatic reason was that many felt that the
features being created by local IMCs should be featured on the Global
website. This was a solid idea and should have been implemented despite
the other reasons. The messier reason why the open newsire was relocated
was because the IMC Global volunteers were fighting a losing campaign
against right wing disruption of the website. This disruption aimed to
establish "free speech" space on the Indymedia websites for right wing
views and racist posts--the people doing this knew that the liberal free
speech attitudes of most IMC volunteers would paralyze them from
implementing consistent moderation. This right wing attack also included
the posting of constant anti-semitic content, right wing op-eds and
articles (caref! ully stripped of their source infromation), conspiracy
theories, and other crap designed to ruin the reputation of the
Independent Media Network.

I was part of the IMC Global Newswire collective during this period and
made proposals concerning a process to deal with this problems. I also
painstakenly documented the attack patterns by the right wingers and
showed that certain individuals were posting similar content at the same
time to various IMCs. This campaign by our enemies was successful because
the IMC volunteers refused to implement aggressive moderation and
otherwise dragged their feet until the changes were made earlier this

What did we lose when the right-wingers won? First, we lost the Indymedia
network as a public space for our activists. If you remember what the IMC
websites were like in the year after Seattle, you will remember them as
places where activists came together to talk about issues. After the right
wingers had their way for a year, you would commonly hear activists
complain about Indymedia and say that they didn't bother with Indymedia

Secondly, the inability of the IMC network to take aggresive action
against racist and anti-semitic posts further damaged the Indymedia's
reputation with Jewish people and people of color. We understand that some
pro-Israel extremists think that any criticism of Israel is anti-semitic,
but the IMC network became a hotbed of just plain anti-Jewish articles,
opinions, and comments. Part of the problem within the IMC network is that
most activists refused to stand up to the free speech totalitarians within
the network, who argued that everything posted should stay visible to the
public. I've been a free speech advocate for many years and often
considered myself to be a free speech zealot, but not even I would argue
that our websites should provide any space for right wing and racist
views. The racists have their websites--we don't need to use our limited
resources to promote their hideous and offensive views.

The net result of this inaction is that racist and anti-semitic views
became normalized on Indymedia websites. Sure, newswire moderators would
remove the occasional racist rant or picture, but lots of stuff was left
online. This normalization of racist content showed the racists and right
wingers that they could have their way with Indymedia. It also alienated
lots of potential Indymedia supporters. Why should a Jewish activist
participate in an alternative media project that tolerates hate speech
against that person?

I'm also convinced that the right wing posted lots of conspiracy content
to ruin the repuation of Indymedia. I have no problem with the occasional
conspiracy-type article posted to an IMC website, but I think there was
good circumstantial evidence that the right wing was posted conspiracy
content with the aim of damaging the reputation of Indymedia, not just in
the eyes of the public, but in the eyes of the chief stakeholders: the
activist community (and movements).

I still remain a big supporter of the Indymedia project. The Indymedia
project has become a revolutionary force that has greatly empowered DIY
journalists, rank-and-file activists, and average working people. This
essay is not meant to criticize IMC volunteers, rather to call out to
supporters of alternative media projects to speak up and demand that the
IMC make some tough decisions to address these vexing and persistent
problems. The Indymedia project has great potential. Let's not throw out
the baby with bathwater in our efforts not to step on toes.



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