Digital tailspin: rules for the internet after Snowden

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In the ‘old game’, the analogue world of centralised knowledge institutions, knowledge was power. But now that knowledge is everywhere, the rules of the game have changed.

In his essay “Digital tailspin: 10 rules for the internet after Snowden” writer and activist Michael Seemann (@mspro) examines how we’ve lost our ability to control the way information is spread online.

Discussing everything from flashmobs to whistle-blowers, twitter to email encryption. Michael takes us from the ‘old game’ into the ‘new game’ – where information is no longer easily controlled.

Anyone who has been the victim of revenge porn, or found themselves the star of a viral video is acutely aware of how helpless we are to fight the spread of information in the ‘new game’.

What’s more, with sites like Wikileaks even governments and large corporations have found themselves similarly powerless.

In his essay, Michael calls this idea the ‘kontrolverlust’ (‘loss of control’ – German) or ‘digital tailspin’, and lays out ten strategies for how to deal with it, including:

  • You can’t fight the digital tailspin
  • Knowledge is asking the right questions
  • You are the freedom of the other
  • Data control creates hegemony

How we – users, scholars, journalists or politicians – understand the digital tailspin can alter how we interpret and ultimately use the internet. In effect our understanding ends up shaping governmental and institutional policies, crafting our social interactions and creating a wide range of networked based phenomena.

In this podcast Michael Seemann and Adriene Lilly discuss the significance of the Kontrolverlust; some of the factors causing the loss of control; the role of social media platforms in policing our online interactions; and how to be hospitable online.

One key part of their conversation centres on privacy – how the concept of privacy has been fundamentally altered. As Michael says, we used to have walls and distances – in the ‘old game’ privacy was not just a right, it was the default setting. It took a lot of effort to bring information to someone outside the room in which you were speaking. Now things have changed dramatically and it is the other way around – you have to make a great effort NOT to distribute information all over the world.

We have to understand the new order, he says, assume it. We have to adapt to the new situation, but not surrender to it. Traditional institutions and concepts of freedom are threatened by the digital tailspin. But that doesn’t mean we are lost. A new game emerges, where a different set of rules applies.

Photo: Olivia Bennett


Michael Seemann is a cultural theorist based in Berlin. He blogs and hosts a German language podcast on digital policy (in German) which can be found online at The Digital Tailspin can be accessed and downloaded (in English) for free at the Institute of Network Cultures.

You may also be interested to know about Netzpolitik,one of the voices in Germany on privacy and internet policy – demonstrations have been in held in Germany in solidarity with two of it’s journalists who are under investigation for a piece they published. A detailed article on the journalists under investigation can be found at The Intercept. Here is an RT post about the demonstrations that have taken place July/August 2015.

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