Piggipedia “Censored”: Internet Constraints on the Revolutionary Imagination
The genius of many of the leaders of the Jan. 25 uprisings, as I have mentioned before, has been their ability to take existing technologies designed for specific social and commercial functions, and find ways to give them a revolutionary twist.
The problem with finding new ways to use existing platforms is that those platforms come with baggage attached. The Piggipedia, a Flickr “group pool” started by Hossam El-Hamalawy to which are being uploaded the photographs and names of members of the state security forces recently ran afoul of this problem when Flickr deleted a large number of the photos they had seized from a raid on state security offices.
As originally conceived, protesters at demonstrations and strikes would snap pictures of police infiltrators and post these,
together with any information they had. Other protesters might post information they had–such as that a particular officer had been involved in torturing them!–so that gradually publicly accessible dossiers would develop and the part of the “secret” would be taken out of the secret police.
Of course, the function has shifted since the revolution began. Now the primary objective is to track former security personnel involved in torture and other criminal acts and try to ensure that they do not move into new positions in the new government.
In March, during a raid on state security offices in Nasr City, Hossam hit a real treasure trove: a two DVD set filled with profile pictures of state security officers. He eagerly added them to the Piggipedia.
But Flickr has rules not only about copyrighted materials but any visual materials to which you do not have clear ownership rights. Activists who took surreptitious photographs of policemen in a public gathering such as a protest or strike effectively own those photos and they can upload them to Flickr. But Hossam clearly did not, by his own admission, “own” these photos, although it is not clear who does.
So he received the letter pictured above, in which Flickr informed him that his files had been deleted, and that he must not upload them again.
Ge.tt is not as useful as Flickr for some of his purposes–there’s no photo-tagging and no search engine, for example. Moreover, the move splits the Piggipedia between the Flickr images and the Ge.tt images.
More significantly, Ge.tt also includes in its legal section a statement that is pretty close to Flickr’s:
In principle, users are permitted to save any file with Ge.tt, regardless of the file format or file content. However, files whose possession and/or distribution is illegal are excluded from this, such as works the download of which violates third party copyrights
One of the problems with the kind of creative revolutionary activities engaged in by Hossam and his compatriots is that the platforms they are using, and the Web itself, are structured by capitalist economic relations, like most other links in the world system. Flickr was pre-emptive in its actions against Piggipedia; other platforms may wait to see if there is a complaint by someone claiming ownership of these materials. But the notion that all expressions of ideas are owned by someone is inherent in the ideology of the Web, which is very much a capitalist ideology.
It gets even more interesting. Ge.tt also says that its free file usage rules are abrogated if the files include “Instructions for criminal offenses against public order.” This is a vague prohibition that could broadly be construed to include the whole idea of the Piggipedia, since it advocated actions against public officials that the existing government declared to be illegal.
Hossam himself has pointed out that under dictatorship, any independent journalism becomes anti-government activism, and any effort to spread information in a transparent way becomes criminal agitation. He may need to add in his next talk the fact that acts like exposing government information may well become criminal acts under neoliberal globalization, with no dictator involved.
For another account of Piggipedia, see this story on The Stream