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Swarmwise exposition

Swarmwise – The Tactical Manual To Changing The World. Chapter Nine.

3

Swarm Management

Swarm Management

As much as people would like to disrupt the world by going their own way entirely, you cannot change an existing system without also becoming a little part of it in order to change it from the inside. Everybody can change something, but nobody can change everything. Your swarm’s focus probably isn’t on changing the way oldmedia works, so this is how you deal with them.

When we discuss “oldmedia,” the word is in juxtaposition with “new media” (social media), and thus oldmedia refers to any traditional unidirectional, broadcast-message news reporting where people generally do not contribute, discuss, and talk back. Typical examples of oldmedia would be television, radio, and printed newspapers. These oldmedia still maintain a major say in forming public opinion, especially given the digital generational divide, so mastering this playing field is key. However, the reporters of oldmedia are getting their stories through newmedia channels — and this is where the swarm’s speed advantage comes into play.

Many organizations who want to be seen in newspapers or television think in terms of “getting them to run our story,” and shape their media strategies from there. This is not only ineffective, but counterproductive. Getting your quotes and your swarm’s name into oldmedia is really as easy as helping the reporters write a great story: put yourself in the reporters’ position, and think about what they would need at a given moment.

For example, assume that something newsworthy breaks on Twitter that relates to your swarm, and your gut feeling tells you that oldmedia will probably make a published article out of this piece of news. That’s when the clock starts. The reporters read the same newsfeeds on Twitter as you do, and the appearance of the tweet is when they start writing the story. What do they need at this exact point in time?

They need comments and quotes on the story to provide diversity to their coverage.

They will take about thirty to forty minutes to write the story draft, and it will publish in sixty. You have thirty minutes to provide your comments and quotes. If you do that, you are helping the reporters write a good and balanced story, and your quotes will get into the oldmedia story being written. The clock is already running: tick, tick, tick.

Getting a press release out in thirty minutes is hard, but completely doable. Press releases are expected to follow certain formats and contain certain keywords. I find that one of the most efficient ways of writing a press release in a swarm is to use an Etherpad or other form of multiplayer notepad, where everybody writes the document at the same time. As long as people are familiar with your swarm and its ideas and line of arguing, the volunteers in the swarm who jump in to help write the press release will create a completely OK set of comments at worst, and brilliant comments at best. We’ll be returning later in this chapter to who writes the press releases and why.

You need to practice getting press releases out to aim for about twenty-five minutes from the initial news event to your press release being sent. This is hard, but doable. In the Swedish Pirate Party, the time drilldown was approximately like this:

In the first five minutes from a news event breaking, we had a go or no-go decision on sending a press release about it.

In five minutes more, ten minutes from the newsbreak, we reached agreement on the angle of the press release and the general tone of the quotes from us.

Another ten minutes were needed for writing the actual press release among three to five people, starting from a template. That means we had the raw text ready twenty minutes from the first knowledge of the news.

It took about five minutes more to get three thumbs-ups (a vetting method we used) and to send the finished press release to the press.

These four actions give us twenty-five minutes in total.

Once a draft is finished, it is very easy to polish it forever while the minutes tick by. Every minute lost in this phase increases the probability that the oldmedia reporter will already have finished writing the story — and once it is published, don’t bother sending a press release; the reporters will have moved on to working on another story, and putting your press release in their hands at that point will just irritate.

For transmission to reporters, we use a regular WordPress blog, as people are often familiar with posting articles in WordPress. A special tool picked up anything new posted and mailed it to a long list of reporters, as filtered by the categories set on the article in WordPress. You can use pretty much any tool, as long as it is familiar to the activists in your swarm, persistent (you need a public-facing archive of press releases — WordPress wins again), and quickly transmits the press release.

So what does a press release look like, and what is its purpose? A press release, in its simplest form, is just mail sent to a reporter. (You will need to maintain a list of reporters writing on topics related to your swarm.) The template we used in the Swedish Pirate Party looked like this:

Press release — organization name — date and time
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Header

Lead paragraph (opens with location)

Quote

Fact

Quote

Fact

End Quote

For More Information

About the Organization

ENDS

These items have certain specific meanings to them. The words “For Immediate Release” at the top are a key phrase that tells oldmedia that they are allowed to print the story immediately, which will be the case for practically all your press releases. Next, the purpose of the header is to get the reporter to read the rest of the mail, so it need not be a perfect title for the story, just accurate enough and interesting enough. The body follows, starting with a lead paragraph that summarizes the story, then quotes and facts interwoven. The “For More Information” part is critical — this must be a phone number and/or e-mail address (or other means of direct contact) where the reporter can get hold of a person for immediate and exclusive quotes.

The press release should read as closely to a finished article as possible. The more the oldmedia reporter can cut and paste, the more work you are doing for them, and the higher the probability of becoming part of the story.

Some would argue that the entire point of the press release is to get a reporter to write an entirely new story. We’ll return to this a little later in this chapter, when we talk about avatars of the swarm.

Here’s a sample press release:

Press Release — The Swedish Pirate Party — July 2, 2010
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

PIRATE PARTY: “WE’LL RUN THE PIRATE BAY FROM INSIDE PARLIAMENT”

Stockholm, Sweden — The Pirate Party issued a surprise election promise today, saying its future Members of Parliament will run the Pirate Bay from the inside of parliament itself. By doing this, they are invoking parliamentary immunity against prosecution for political work, giving the Pirate Bay complete legal immunity.

“Today, we are taking bold new steps to protect the next generation of entrepreneurs”, says Rick Falkvinge, leader of the Pirate Party. “By protecting the Pirate Bay from torrents of legal shelling, we would send a sending a strong signal to the world that Sweden is at the forefront of next generation’s services. Therefore, this is a loud and clear election promise.”

By issuing this election promise, the party turns running the Pirate Bay into political work, by definition — and Members of Parliament can never be prosecuted or sued for doing political work in parliament, as part of Sweden’s constitution.

“We cannot and will not accept the copyright industry’s systematic way of torpedoing our future entrepreneurs,” says Falkvinge. “Their legal carpet bombing should be illegal — professional saboteurs are professional criminals, regardless of where they get their paycheck.”

The Pirate Bay had trouble finding a stable Internet service provider this spring, before the Pirate Party stepped up to the plate and became the Pirate Bay’s new ISP. After that, the copyright lobby stepped back its harassment, not wanting to put the Pirate Party in the spotlight before the elections. Falkvinge comments:

“The Swedish Pirate Party is taking responsibility for Sweden’s future economy and entrepreneurship,” ends Falkvinge. “We show that not in words, but in personal action. Every day.”

For More Information:
Rick Falkvinge, phone +46 708 303600
See http://press.piratpartiet.se/ for publicity photos, stock footage, etc.

About the Pirate Party:
The Swedish Pirate Party was the largest party in the below-thirty group in the European Elections, taking two seats in the European Parliament, and will be contesting the September 19, 2010, parliamentary elections on all levels. It fights for civil rights and next-generation entrepreneurship.

ENDS

This sample press release, which portrays an authentic event that rendered good coverage in oldmedia in all conceivable languages from English to Thai to Greek to Chinese, leads us to the next point: be provocative. If you’re not making somebody angry, you’re probably not doing anything useful. Have fun and make your adversaries angry at the same time: this does not only lead to more activists in the swarm, as we saw in chapters 7 and 8, but it also makes you really enjoy your work in the swarm. Plus, it guarantees you a load of media. Oldmedia just love provocative.

Let’s take that again, because it is important: if you’re not making somebody angry, you’re probably not doing anything useful. Don’t be afraid of people yelling. That’s a sign you’re doing something right.

This particular sample press release wasn’t time sensitive — you will find that there are four types of press releases in terms of planning ahead:

The first kind is the reactive press release, when you’re responding to something that happens and you are providing comments. You should be prepared to send these 24/7, by keeping enough activists in some kind of virtual media room that knows how to handle oldmedia. If enough activists are there — say, some thirty activists (as per the group size rules we learned in chapter 3) — then enough of them will always be awake at any time of day to deal with incoming events. Trim the response time down to thirty minutes or less, and remember that people will want to polish it to no end, which costs time. Keep the spelling correct and the message good enough; time is of the essence here.

The second kind is when you comment on a large event, the time of which is known in advance, but not its outcome (such as an important court verdict). In this case, reporters will have multiple stories ready to run at a moment’s notice — the usual sixty minutes of lead time do not apply. You, too, should have multiple press releases ready to go, up to four different ones for different outcomes. Time to send must be below five minutes in this category, and ideally within 120 seconds. This means that one person must be selecting the appropriate prewritten release, filling in a couple of blanks (such as details from a court verdict), and posting/sending it immediately.

The third kind is when you tell oldmedia about something you will do later in the day, like when you stage rallies or send flowers to adversaries (“if you can’t convince them, confuse them”). The timing of this press release depends on your action. If oldmedia have the ability to send photographers to your action, you should send it early in the morning of the day in question, in time for the editorial morning meeting — if sent the night before, it would be an old press release by the morning meeting. In my experience, around 6:30 a.m. is a good time. On the other hand, if oldmedia cannot be expected to send photographers, you are expected to make photos and/or video from the event available yourself, which will vastly increase your chances of becoming a good story (compare the discussion in chapter 4 on filming rallies with a HD camera on a tripod). These kinds of press releases can be written in no rush the day or evening before and scheduled for release (using WordPress or similar) at 6:30 the next morning.

The fourth kind is when you remind oldmedia about something that you’re about to do. Reporters are people, and people need reminders when something important is about to happen. For a political party, this could be the election night dinner, where a press release about location, time, and accreditations could be sent fourteen days ahead of the election night, and then followed up with a reminder some seven days ahead.

It should be noted here that there are few instructions here concerning how you can tell oldmedia about what you think or feel in general, but there are instructions for telling them what you do. Oldmedia are not interested in what people think or feel; they are interested in what people do. There is some room for people commenting on what other people do, but there is never editorial room to say what people think without a context of somebody who did something.

(A notable exception to this is opinion pieces, so called op-eds, which we’ll return to later in this chapter.)

OWNING YOUR ISSUE IN OLDMEDIA

A key concept in dealing with oldmedia is “owning the issue.” Basically, it means that your swarm needs to be so tightly associated with the issues you drive or things you sell that whenever oldmedia come across a story on the topic, they call you for comments.

This is strategically crucial, and it can literally take years to get into this position if others are also fighting for that particular beachhead on the particular issue. The Swedish Pirate Party quickly owned the issue of file sharing in oldmedia, but it took years for us to own the bigger picture — that of privacy and civil liberties in legislation. Specifically, it took us from January 1, 2006, to June 18, 2008, when we staged unignorable rallies against a new sweeping surveillance law in Sweden.

Ideally, you want to get into a position where reporters of oldmedia call you regularly just to check if there’s any story on your topic that hasn’t been published yet. We were in this position for a week following the raid on the Pirate Bay on May 31, 2006, as we sat on a ton of material. When you’re being called like that and are able to give the reporters stories that haven’t been published yet, you’re basically in charge of the newsflow on your topic.

MEDIA BREAKTHROUGHS

Oldmedia won’t even mention a new swarm by name until it does something significant. Just existing and having opinions is not interesting. You will likely need to work diligently for several months before hitting an interesting breakthrough to oldmedia — the net is much, much quicker than oldmedia in discovering new talent.

When the oldmedia breakthrough happens, though, you will not miss it. It will quite likely coincide with an activist verticality that we discussed in chapter 7 — when a movement grows dramatically as a result of some big event, that’s always interesting to oldmedia. You will be on television every hour on the hour for a week across pretty much all channels, and there will be no end of invitations to submit op-ed articles large and small. (We’ll be returning to op-eds shortly.)

THE GANDHI SCALE IS ACCURATE

Gandhi once said, “First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win.” This is eerily accurate in oldmedia’s portrayal of any disruptive or provocative swarm.

The results of this can be very counterintuitive. When you have been fighting through months and months of hard work to get any attention, and articles that portray you as stupid clowns start appearing in oldmedia, it is very easy and logical to feel disheartened. You need to know — to logically understand — that being ridiculed is a significant step forward from not being mentioned at all, and a necessary stepping-stone on the path to winning. We would talk about G2 articles, G3 articles, and G4 articles — G2 being level two on the Gandhi scale, an article ridiculing your swarm and your efforts.

WHO WRITES THE PRESS RELEASE?

As mentioned earlier, you will need a media subswarm of thirty people at the most. These people could reside in a chat channel of your choice — Skype, IRC, XMPP, Mumble, etc. — and should ideally be a mix of people that are active during different times of day, so you’ll statistically always have at least three people ready to respond to an event with a reactive press release.

This subswarm should be autonomous and have full authorization to speak independently on behalf of the swarm, just like individual activists have, as we discussed in chapter 4 about diversity. If you want a tradeoff, you can create a three-activist rule, that three people in the media subswarm need to approve a press release before sending it. However, named people should never be gatekeepers, as they can be unavailable for a myriad of reasons, and therefore bottlenecks.

One problem with such a group is that media responsibility is seen as a high-profile assignment — read “high-status” assignment — by one type of activists, and such people will tend to get themselves into the media group for the sake of being in the media group, rather than for working efficiently with oldmedia. You will need to make sure that people who become part of this subswarm are not blocking a position for somebody else that you’d rather have there.

AVATAR FACES OF THE SWARM

This leads us to the question about avatar faces of the swarm. When working with oldmedia, the swarm needs one outward face, and one face only. This would typically be the swarm leader or founder (you). It is important to realize that this is an avatar face — it is not you as a person, but a face that represents a larger and very specific movement.

We see this face in the sample press release earlier in this chapter: “Rick Falkvinge, leader of the Pirate Party, says….”

Several swarms have tried to abstain from having this avatar face, and they quickly discover that it works very poorly against oldmedia. Put simply, every swarm needs an avatar — an embodiment of the swarm — to get represented in oldmedia.

Very soon after a media breakthrough, some of the activists who joined the media group for the sake of being able to say they’re “working with the media” will demand that they should be the person speaking in the press release. After all, they wrote it, why shouldn’t they be the one speaking in it? (Some would describe such people as attention junkies. While derogatory, it describes the condition rather accurately from a purely lexical standpoint.)

At this point, it becomes important to remember that the function of a press release is to get the swarm’s name in oldmedia, and that it is the oldmedia rules that you need to play by. One organization, one face. There are exceptions, but those exceptions are so large and well-established that they won’t apply to your swarm.

On the contrary, you need to teach the media subswarm to write quotes and attribute them to you, the swarm leader or founder, for these reasons. If you’ve taken enough part in the media group and written enough press releases yourself, the subswarm will know the kind of things you say and be able to send out a press release with quotes in your name without needing you as a bottleneck. You’ll be amazed at how smart you can sound when you let other people make up the quotes you say without asking you first.

GETTING FACE TIME: BE WHERE THE CAMERAS ARE

As much as possible, you will want to be on location where the most important things to your swarm happen. “Sending somebody” is not enough — the avatar faces of the swarm, typically you, have to be at the most important events. There are several reasons for you being there personally.

The first reason is that if you witnessed firsthand what happened, you are able to report on it, discuss it, and debate it in the first person. This is crucial for credibility; saying “I was there, and you weren’t” wins major points in any debate. The second reason is that you’ll want your own media footage of important events, with the swarm’s avatar face in it, to make such footage available as stock cutaways for oldmedia later.

But the third and crucial reason, if there are TV news crews there, is that those TV crews will be looking for some footage worth their while. They will likely have set up their camera well in advance, trimming light and sound, and then doing nothing but waiting for whatever-it-is to happen. If your swarm is seen as owning the issue of what’s happening at this location, getting TV time is usually as easy as walking up to the TV crews, introducing yourself, handing over a business card, and saying, “If you’d like me to comment on what’s happening here, I’d be happy to do so.” Don’t be any kind of pushy — media crews hate that — but be friendly and simply tell them that you’re here and available.

More often than not, they’ll jump at the opportunity of getting your comment right away. After all, it’s much-better-spent time for them to get your comments than just wait around and get absolutely nothing produced. The win for you, obviously, is that your comment goes to the cutting board of the TV evening news — and more often than not, a comment of yours makes it to the broadcast, just from you walking up to the TV crews and saying hi.

SCORING THOSE OP-EDS

An op-ed is usually a full-page print in a newspaper. It is not news reporting, but an opinion piece; it can be regarded as a blog post in oldmedia, and it has quite a bit of reach. (The word “op-ed” has a very simple explanation: it stands for opposite editorial page, as op-eds were traditionally printed there.)

Newspapers usually try to get interesting talking points about current events on these pages, and it can be a great way for your swarm to be seen. There are basically four different opportunities for getting an op-ed into a newspaper.

But before we start looking at those four different ways, let’s address one thing that’s in common between all of them: you never, ever send an op-ed to more than one newspaper in some kind of hope of getting it published in more than one location. Newspapers hate people who do that. You pick one paper that you think will have the right reach and audience, and then address that newspaper only. If they decline to publish, you are free to move on to other papers, and only then.

The first kind of opportunity for getting op-eds is when there’s something big and public coming up, or an anniversary of some significant event, or anything that prompts a specific subject to be discussed on that date that you know of well in advance. This is typically the easiest route for new players. One to three weeks ahead of the date you aim for, you mail the editorial office and pitch a subject for their op-ed page. You do that by explaining what you want to write about, why you want to write about it on that particular date, and give them the first part of your intended op-ed article, so they get a feel for your message and writing style. Include the subject in the subject line of the mail.

Here’s an example from when I successfully pitched an op-ed for the first day of the trial against the operators of the Pirate Bay:

TO: [email protected]
SUBJECT: The Pirate Bay trial: “Political Trial of the Decade”
DATE: February 9, 2009

Dear Editor,

Considering the trial against the operators of the Pirate Bay that begins in a week, on February 16, I’d like to submit an op-ed with this title and introduction, for publication before the trial, as close to the first date of the trial as possible. Would you find this interesting?

Sincerely,
[signature]

Political Trial of the Decade

This Monday, the largest political trial of the decade begins in Sweden — probably the largest political trial since the IB trials in the 1970s. In one corner of the ring, we find the Catholic Church, trying to ban the printing press at any cost, this new machine that threatens the monopolies of the Church over knowledge and culture. In the other corner, we find those who have given culture and knowledge to the people. In the jury box, we find the feudal lords who lend their power to the Church, and who are rewarded in turn by the Church telling ordinary people to obey their feudal lords.

Even though the scene above comes from France in the 1500s, the exact same scene will take place in the District Court of Stockholm, beginning on February 16. The power play is identical, the upheaval of structures as large. Only the players are different.

If the editors are interested, as they were with the pitch above, they will respond by asking for a word count and give you a deadline for delivery of the final piece. You need to adhere almost religiously to this word count, and it is usually shorter than you think: you will need to shorten, shorten, and shorten your message again.

Once you’re known to the newspapers and you know their desired word count in advance, you could also send your entire article at once, reducing the workload need for a roundtrip. The easier you make it for newspapers, the more they like you.

Your reward for playing by the oldmedia rules is that you get a large audience for your message. You usually don’t get paid. Don’t expect to get paid, and don’t ask. Your payment is exposure of your message to their audience.

The second kind of opportunity for op-eds is when somebody else gets an op-ed published that you vehemently disagree with. This provides an opportunity for a response from you on the op-ed page. Responses are much shorter than the initial op-ed, but it still gets your swarm’s name and message out there. You still have to ask for it, and this is somewhat harder to get if you’re unknown.

The third kind of opportunity for op-eds is practically impossible to score unless you’re already an established player. That opportunity is reactive — as in, submitting the op-ed in response to a large news event that just occurred. Newspapers will welcome op-eds that discuss current events, but usually only from people and organizations who are already well-known. Speed is absolutely essential here — if you can respond in seconds on Twitter when a newspaper asks for an op-ed there, you can still score it. (Most don’t ask on Twitter from the editorial oldmedia accounts, but some individual editors do from theirs.)

Finally, during those intense breakthrough moments when you’re in the center of attention, it happens that you get requests for op-eds by oldmedia. Always try your utmost to fulfill these requests, keep the word count that is requested, and deliver before the deadline. This sends the message that you’re reliable when oldmedia asks you to provide content for them, and will give you more opportunities down the line.

SET UP A PRESS CENTER

Finally, you’ll also need to set up a press center. In all simplicity, this is somewhere where reporters can go and download pictures of you for publication, get action shots of the organization’s activities, get stock footage from your rallies, and look at an archive of your press releases. (A simple WordPress blog is excellent for this purpose, which is another benefit to using WordPress as a press release launcher as described earlier.)

You remember the footage from rallies that we discussed in chapter 4? When we discussed setting up HD cameras on tripods? The results of that need to go into the press center. As does the footage from high-profile events we discussed above, publicity photos, high-resolution images of your logo, and any fact boxes that you want oldmedia to repeat verbatim when they describe your swarm. You’ll find that having this available without asking means that oldmedia makes a lot more stories about you, when they can splice in stock footage from your activities into their reporting. If you don’t provide such footage…well, they’ll make a story about somebody else.

Don’t forget to include bios and high-resolution photos of any people you want to profile.

The address to this press center should be at the bottom of every single press release, and it should be as simple as http://press.yourswarm.org or http://www.yourswarm.org/press.

Onward to Chapter 10, the last chapter >>

(This article is part of the final edit of the book manuscript. It is Creative Commons, CC-BY-NC.)

EXCERPT FROM PUBLISHED BOOK

This is a part of the book Swarmwise, available for purchase from Amazon (US, UK) or for download as PDF. It is an instruction manual for recruiting and leading tens of thousands of activists on a mission to change the world for the better, without having access to money, resources, or fame. The book is based on Falkvinge’s experiences in leading the Swedish Pirate Party into the European Parliament, starting from nothing, and covers all aspects of leading a swarm of activists into mainstream success.

You've read the whole article. Why not subscribe to the RSS flow using your favorite reader, or even have articles delivered by mail?

About The Author: Rick Falkvinge

Rick is the founder of the first Pirate Party and is a political evangelist, traveling around Europe and the world to talk and write about ideas of a sensible information policy. He has a tech entrepreneur background and loves whisky.

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Contributors take own responsibility for their comments.

3

  1. 1
    Z

    Fascinating; I never suspected there was this much technique to maintaining a relationship with the press! This is the kind of really relevant, practical information that can only come from someone who’s been in the trenches. Thank you, Rick!

  2. 3

    Astonishing article, and I suppose this will go for activists and bloggers working for change as well. Without a swarm, it may not be possible to sustain a turnaround time, but the principle of it – to get in with useful views early – is rooted in how media works and also the human mind, where early inputs that make sense influence how the subject is understood.

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