Mirrors of Anonymous
The architecture of the internet and the affordances of digital technologies make replicating and transferring media a core practice of network culture, economics, and politics. Workers in the creative industries regularly copy and paste content from one computer application to another. They often back-up data to the “cloud”—remote hard-drives administered by data companies like Microsoft. New forms of peer-to-peer information sharing such as Wikileaks and the Pirate Bay and novel developments in information activism such as the hacker collective Anonymous exploit the copy-and-paste capacities of the internet and digital data to share immense amounts of information around the world. Politicians in states such as Iceland celebrate these practices and their political implications by reforming state laws to make their nations safe for the digital storage of controversial information. These acts of moving, storing, and replicating data have become daily events for millions of people and a re central to debates around intellectual property, cybersecurity, and global governance. Despite the centrality of these practices little is empirically known about this mirroring. Mirroring is the file synchronization of large or small caches of data. Used to harmonize files across a global media ecology or in servers in different locations around the world, mirroring is a practice intended to secure access to information. As more data is stored, catalogued, and made accessible, the importance of file synchronization—and the social and political implications of this practice—will continue to increase for businesses, governments, and citizen publics throughout the world. As yet, there is no coherent or empirically rich account of the diversity of mirroring practices. Across a specific set of cases, and with a precise mixture of quantitative and qualitative methods, this pilot study empirically documents the architectures and practises of mirroring.
Mirroring is often understood as a technical or infrastructural operation. Yet mirroring actually involves a wide range of social practices, political intentionalities, and geopolitical challenges. Corporations such as Microsoft synchronize their databases at select locations around the globe to enable real-time access to their cloud servers; peer-production communities such as Anonymous YouTube producers mirror each other’s video productions across the YouTube media ecology to maximize visibility; network activists such as Wikileaks encourage supporters to mirror their journalistic data in different legal jurisdictions such as Iceland in order to route-around national censorship laws; and users of cloud computers are beginning to change their use patterns by using applications and information no longer stored in local harddrives but rather in cloud servers throughout the world. Thus from corporate software cultures, to peer-to-peer communities, to hacker activism, and consumer societ y mirroring plays a key role in how computer science, social media businesses, information consumption, and digital civil society work. Spanning such a range of important settings and emergent phenomenon, the cultural practices and discourses of mirroring has received little to no critical scholarship.
In this preliminary phase, researchers in the Sociology Department at Lancaster University are using interviews with Anonymous YouTube video producers, ethnographic participation in Anonymous’ YouTube community, textual analysis of select Anonymous videos, and data analytic techniques to investigate the patterns of mirroring and duplication of YouTube videos by Anonymous. We are using the YouTube Data API (Application Programmer Interface) to build a dataset that shows the frequency and rate of video mirrors. We are corroborating this quantitative data with the data from interviews with Anonymous YouTube video producers. The intention is to build a map of mirroring practices from which to theorize this important digital cultural practice. Towards this goal of analysing YouTube Anonymous videos we are aggregating a list of Anonymous operations. These operation names form searchable key words that enable us to query YouTube’s API and quantify Anonymous videos on YouTube as well as their mirrors.
Cool! Anonymous can be very ephemeral, but any archive — however temporal — is key to creating the time necessary to properly study and understand it.
I agree, archives are ideal for studying (at least a part of) ephemeral online interactions and phenomena.