Chapter Five. Challenges Facing the IMC Network

5.0 Introduction

            Media activist Andrea Buffa has called the Indymedia movement “the most exciting development in national progressive media of the last 15 years” (“National Progressive Media…”).  Long-time activist and media producer Michael Albert wrote in a Znet commentary that the network is “an amazing and glorious outgrowth of the anti-[corporate] globalization project” (“New Targets”).  Yet these same observers, as well as IMC founders and volunteers at both the local and global levels, also acknowledge that there are significant challenges to overcome before Indymedia can become a viable alternative to mass media.  It is one thing to start a media network based on principles of self-management, solidarity, and communicative democracy and quite another thing to sustain it.

          Much of what follows is based directly on interviews with IMC organizers and e-mail discussions on global Indymedia lists.  I also consulted numerous proposals written by Indymedia volunteers and reviewed articles, essays, and commentaries written by media activists both inside and outside the network.  I’ve organized this chapter into 5 sections, dealing with major challenges facing the network.  The are: (1) Networking the Network, which concerns Indymedia’s social structure, decision-making processes, and internal communication; (2) Refining Open Publishing, which discusses software and editorial issues; (3) Diversifying Technologies, which examines the need to create a better “media mesh” between the Internet and traditional media resources; (4) Diversity, Empowerment, and Physical Space, which looks at the importance of creating an environment where people from diverse cultures and social movements can develop strong personal relationships; and (5) Dealing with Counter-movement Forces, which covers threats to the network from local and national governments and reactionary movements.


5.1 Networking the Network

After experiencing another round of explosive growth in 2002 and early 2003, it appears as though Indymedia is at another critical crossroads.  Despite the global expansion of its digital network, critical structural and administrative issues have gone unresolved.  Some organizers wonder if it’s time to slow down again and re-group so that conflicts can be ironed out and principles clarified.

5.1.1 Structurelessness


One of the most pressing questions is whether or not there should be a formal administrative structure and decision-making process at the global level.  And if so, what kind of structure and process would be appropriate for Indymedia?  Certainly not a corporate- or NGO-style structure, it would seem.  But what other models are available?  Better yet, what sort of models can be created?  Answers to these questions are not easy to come by.  Organizers have attempted on several occasions to devise a formal global decision-making process.  But, with the exception of the new-IMC process, those efforts have all failed.  Many IMC organizers fear that any formalized, overarching process will lead to centralized management structures and hierarchies, which may, in turn, concentrate power in the hands of a small group of volunteers.  Others argue that a formal process with local representation—such as the spokescouncil proposal—as well as transparency and accountability, might actually protect the network from concentrated power. 

This line of thinking recalls Jo Freeman’s aptly titled essay, “The Tyranny of Structurelessness.”  Though Freeman was describing group dynamics in the feminist movement of the late 1960s and early 70s, her arguments have been applied broadly to other activist groups and networks.  Her major contribution was the proposition that all groups, even informal “rap” groups, have some sort of structure that determines how decisions are made.  The more a group adheres to the “ideology of structurelessness,” she wrote, “the more vulnerable it is to being taken over by a group of political comrades.”  Unless structures and decision-making processes are formalized, Freeman argued, elites within the larger group would, by default, make most of the decisions.  It is necessary, then, to make structures explicit and to formalize “the rules of decision-making” so that all have the opportunity to participate, according to Freeman.

The inability of Indymedia to resolve questions of global structure and decision-making has left the network with the multi-level process discussed in chapter 3.  As a result, global working groups attempt to resolve network issues in their respective areas.  Problems that go unresolved are often taken to the IMC-process working group.  Discussions may take place there, but without a formal procedure to follow, issues are either sent back to the working groups for resolution or are left unresolved on the IMC-process list.  Occasionally, it appears that a group of organizers faced with a pressing dilemma that needs immediate resolution will simply reach a decision on their own in an ad-hoc fashion.  The transparency and extensive documentation of the network helps illuminate when and where such decisions are made—unless members do it off-list—however, it does not alleviate the “decision by default” problem that can short-circuit democratic aspirations by empowering core elites at the expense of the larger collective.

5.1.2 Global vs. Local Decisions


One obstacle to resolving structural problems involves conflicts about the proper mission of Indymedia.  Should its priorities be more globally or locally focused?  Attached to this question is another one: Which decisions should be made at the local level and which at the global level, especially with regards to financial matters?  As Morris explains, two camps have emerged within Indymedia, “Globalizers seek to develop Indymedia as an alternative form of media practice, globally.  Localizers see local media collectives as the fundamental mission of IMC and resist global projects” (“Globalization and Media Democracy”).  Members of the first group see the need to develop and finance global projects such as the 2001 conference at which the Principles of Unity were drawn up.  While supporting the idea of having network gatherings and sharing resources, many localizers tend to fear centralized projects out of concern that “bigness” might suppress local autonomy and creativity.  IMCs should be locally supported financially, they contend, adding that they are against the network accepting any grants or establishing a global fund.

The controversy over the Ford Foundation grant discussed in chapter 3 was partly a result of this tension.  Aside from concerns about the foundation’s past involvement with the CIA, some members resisted the idea of centralized fundraising out of fear that it would place too much power in the hands of those applying for and administering the funds and, perhaps, make the network vulnerable to control by outside sources.51  Supporters of the grant argued that the money would come with  “no strings attached” and be administered in a fully transparent manner.  Besides, they also contended, the money would bring diverse organizers—many of whom come from poorer nations with little or no financial resources—together to address pressing structural issues, including the global decision-making process and internal communication breakdowns. 

Though the Ford Foundation grant was dropped, several organizers continued to search for new methods of financing global gatherings and improving internal communication.  They created a Tactical Media Fund (TMF) that would exist outside Indymedia as a funding source for activist-oriented media projects.  As one of its documents states, “[N]o funds from the TMF will go to Indymedia as an organization, but rather to individual, autonomous projects.”52  In December 2002, the TMF applied for a grant from the Open Society Institute (OSI), a foundation established by global financier George Soros.  The funds requested would go to projects designed to improve internal network communication, hold regional gatherings in the global South, conduct technical trainings, and develop new, more flexible open publishing software, all in an effort to “knit the Network together more tightly, while preserving its organizational strengths of open participation and local autonomy.”  However, some IMCs have voiced opposition to the application for money from a foundation connected to a  “predatory capitalist” such as Soros and to the structure of the TMF in general.

It is beyond the scope of this thesis to sift through all the arguments for and against the TMF.  The point here is to highlight a rift within the network between those who see Indymedia as a unified global movement in need of some formal structures and global processes and those who see Indymedia as an informal network or federation requiring little or no explicit global structure and decision-making process.  The fears of those in the latter group may be rooted in historical struggles.  For example, given the Argentinian experience with U.S.-supported terror and, more recently, the U.S. government’s neoliberal economic model, it is natural to expect local IMC organizers to be suspicious of Ford Foundation money offered by well-meaning U.S.-based organizers.  Rightly or wrongly, it could be seen as something akin to American imperialism, which might also make some apprehensive about any formal structure or process being advocated by northerners.  As something of a side note: The TMF grant proposal indicates that its authors favor a shift in leadership of global working groups to organizers in the global South.

It may be quite possible for Indymedia to continue operating and expanding in its organic, ad-hoc fashion.  No doubt it has accomplished a great deal without a formal global process—much more than many NGOs could have accomplished, in the opinion of several organizers.  Perhaps Indymedia has, as Morris suggests, perfected its own brand of  “just-in-time” organizing.  This appears to have served the network well in times of crisis during major events when people’s instincts and skills—as well as their commitment to social justice—have risen to the occasion.  These are, incidentally, occasions when organizers are typically working face-to-face in a convergence center or in the streets.  Considering that such events are rare and that organizers are widely dispersed in countries using different languages, it stands to reason that having an accessible, efficient internal communication system will be crucial to resolving questions about network structure and global decision-making.  As I suggested in chapter 3, there are difficulties with this system and I return to some of those issues now.

5.1.3 Internal Communication


There appear to be four levels of communication within Indymedia; (1) communication among global organizers; (2) communication between local IMCs and global organizers; (3) communication between nearby IMCs; and (4) communication within local IMCs.

For obvious reasons, participants at the fourth level have greater opportunities for face-to-face contact—whether they pursue opportunities or not is another matter—are likely to know the same languages, and share cultural as well as political interests, all of which can lead to stronger personal relationships.  This is not to say that local collectives don’t have problems facilitating effective communication, but rather to suggest that they are fairly well placed to resolve many of them. 

Likewise, communication on the second level is more easily conducted in a horizontal manner through face-to-face gatherings among people with similar cultures.  On this front, important progress appears to have been made in Europe, South America, and some parts of the U.S.  Organizers from IMCs in the UK (“United Kollectives” as they call it) report that they’ve held several gatherings among themselves and with other IMCs on the continent.  Morris indicates that “the Cyprus, Greek, and Turkish IMCs…are cooperating to form a dialog to cover issues of regional solidarity” and that the Brazil IMC coordinates activities among many smaller locals, or affinity groups, in its region.

Most problems seem to arise at the first and second levels of communication.  As the case study in chapter 4 indicated, there were communication breakdowns between the Cleveland IMC and members of the new-IMC working group, and as of this writing, local members were still awaiting new software.  While this may have been largely due to the collective’s unusual status, it still represents a weakness within the network.  Simply put, Indymedia needs to do a better job of shepherding new IMCs into the network, preferably by assigning each new collective a facilitator who has knowledge of the local culture and language.  This, however, would require much greater participation in the new-IMC working, which has been dominated by organizers based in the U.S., Canada, and Europe.  As the network diversifies, perhaps more volunteers from South America and Asia will get involved in global working groups. 

But here again, another problem arises—that of language differences.  Due to the cultural make-up of the global working groups, much of the communication occurs in English.  Members of an IMC in Asia, Africa, or Latin America who have little or no experience with English are not likely to get involved.  In an effort to lower barriers, members of several global lists have begun to translate messages more frequently, and a translations working group has been established.  Still though, language barriers remain for which there are not easy solutions.  Some have suggested the development of more regionally based working groups that could post summaries of their discussions on Web pages, which could be translated into several different languages.  This has strong possibilities, though translation doesn’t always capture the nuance of language or clarify meaning.  Regional groups could also choose liaisons to communicate regularly with the global working group, bringing issues from their part of the world to the rest of the network.  It must be acknowledged that despite the many challenges they face, Indymedia organizers never seem to be at a loss for imaginative ideas.

Looking beyond language barriers, there exists the possibility that Indymedia volunteers suffer from information overload, resulting in confusion about network proposals and practices.  Keeping up with all the messages on one e-mail list can be difficult enough, juggling several seems near impossible.  But short of some magic telepresence device, Indymedia organizers trying to communicate globally, or even across their state or country, don’t have many other options.  Perhaps, then, the problem is not so much the medium being used but the manner in which it is being used or the ways in which Indymedia organizes (or fails to organize) network information.  Is it possible to streamline messaging so that “noise” is reduced?  Volunteers with the Tactical Media Fund have proposed a plan to revamp Indymedia’s messaging system based on a model used by an international network of software developers.  This would be contingent on the OSI grant request being approved.

Changing personal communicative habits might also be part of the solution.  Some IMC volunteers complain that lists are dominated by people who, how shall I say it, drone on and on about irrelevant matters or who argue so aggressively they alienate others.  This problem underscores the importance of listening, which is, of course, one half of communicating—some would argue the most important half.  If more care were taken when posting, even resisting the urge to post sometimes, perhaps there would be less clutter and the lists would be more inviting.  Corresponding to this thought is something IMC co-founder Sheri Herndon expressed in a phone interview.  While advancing the media revolution outside is clearly a priority for IMC activists, the “inner revolution” is no less important.  “What we need more than a formal decision-making process,” Herndon added, is “a communication process” that is based on caring for each other as much as it is focused on resolving issues. 

5.2 Refining Open Publishing

            Much like the debate over global vs. local structure and process, there are divisions within Indymedia over open publishing.  Specifically, whether or not the network should institute some global speech standards, or at least clarify the Principles of Unity to state more precisely what its political, and hence speech, values are.  The problems with the IMC's vague politics,” writes IMC activist Chuck Munson, “is (sic) not so much what ideology it should embrace, rather what ideologies and content the IMC Network rejects and opposes” (“The Sad Decline of Indymedia”).  As a result of this vagueness, Munson argues, Indymedia has left its Web sites open to abuse from “an international network of right wingers and racists” who have periodically flooded the network with hate speech and misinformation.  The Principles of Unity clearly state that IMCs “shall not discriminate” with regards to race, sex, gender, age, or economic class, and they require IMCs to use open publishing software so that the editorial process is transparent.  In the absence of any explicit rule defining hate speech, or telling local IMCs they are prohibited from removing or “hiding” posts, many locals have implemented their own policies for dealing with offensive material.  In several European countries this has become essential due to hate speech laws that have been enforced on some IMCs.53

            Matthew Arnison, a member of the technology collective that developed the original Indymedia open publishing software, prefers to let local IMCs fashion their own editing guidelines.  Along with giving them the freedom to respond to national laws and cultural norms, Arnison argues that local autonomy enables IMC software developers to improve their code to make it possible for users to perform what he calls “open editing” (“Open Editing”).  Taking a cue from Arnison, Dru Oja Jay, an IMC organizer from Canada, describes open editing as an elaborate system of user-defined filters, story update modules, and content ratings that would transform Indymedia stories “into living documents that can be collaborated on” by Web users (“Open Edit Proposal”).  Software capable of doing all of this in a manner that is accessible to non-geeks has not yet been developed, at least not by IMC techs, though some have created elements of it in a promising new program called Dada that many new sites are using. 

            Another argument in support of open editing is the fear that serious inaccuracies, rumors and de-contextualized information, if not corrected, might drive away new visitors or convince them that Indymedia is just a collection of “kooks” and conspiracy theorists.  Case in point illustrated by Schechter: During the 2000 Republican convention in Philadelphia, a story claiming that progressives had abandoned the struggle of disabled people was posted on the IMC web site and stirred up quite a storm before it was finally dismissed as an inaccurate rant (“As Republicans Meet…”).  With a more flexible open editing system in place, a fact-checking visitor or local organizer might have been able to correct the post.

            Both Jay and Arnison contend that open editing is the next stage in the evolution of open publishing and suggest that it will help local IMCs manage hate speech without resorting to censorship.  Others, including Munson, are not so sure that technology will solve what they consider to be a social problem within Indymedia. “This is a project about people,” Munson said in a telephone interview, “If IMC hasn’t explained itself, no technology will solve problems.”                    Concerning matters of content created by IMC volunteers—the Features columns—many volunteers support the establishment of training programs to improve research, interviewing, and writing skills.  The goal would be to teach basic reporting skills to IMC members—or anyone else in the community for that matter—without “beating the voice out of them,” as so often happens in college journalism programs (Rosenbaum, “Columbia’s J-school…”).  Such training projects, of course, are largely contingent on local IMCs having physical space.   If spaces are secured, IMCs could also tap experienced alternative media producers to teach a whole variety of skills including: Web design; videography; digital photography; and audio production.  In the end, this could bring new voices and perspectives to the network, creating more diverse content and going a long way toward the goal of community empowerment.  With this in mind, several collectives have sponsored workshops that include sessions such as “The Basics of News Writing,” “Information Gathering,” and how to use the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act to obtain government documents.54 


5.3 Diversifying Media Technologies

            While Indymedia has clearly established itself an innovator in Web-based media production and distribution, opening up new channels for digital discourse, it may be appropriate to ask whether or not it is problematic for a network committed to communicative democracy and the globalization of peace and justice to be relying so heavily on a medium that, according to a report published in late 2002, only about 10% of the world’s population have access to.55  Another survey in 2001 (Bonisteel, “Billions Have…”) indicated that in technologically advanced countries nearly one-third of the people who could be online are not due to either time constraints or lack of interest in the technology.  For those who do go online regularly, mainstream commercial sites affiliated with the largest media conglomerates and portals appear to be the most popular destinations by a wide margin.  In 1999, Adamic and Huberman reported that the most popular 5% of Web sites accounted for almost 75% of user volume.  Huberman  (“Patterns in the World Wide Web”) also observed in 2001 that the top 0.1% of Web sites attracted a staggering 32% of user volume.  “Such a disproportionate distribution of user volume among sites,” Huberman explained, “is characteristic of winner-take-all markets, wherein the top few contenders capture a significant part of the market share.”

Could it be that much of the democratic hype surrounding the Internet, in both its “information superhighway” and “cybermall” incarnations, was just that—hype?  Or is it the case, as McChesney predicted in 1999, that the once wild and competitive Internet frontier has been tamed by a group of vertically integrated media giants, with the help of Washington, knocking out small entrepreneurs in the process and pushing the non-profit, civic sector “to the distant margins of cyberspace” (Rich Media, Poor Democracy 183)?

5.3.1 Digital Enclosure Movement

A string of developments since the mid 1990s appear to confirm McChesney’s predictions and warnings.  First, the original Internet infrastructure, which was built primarily by the public sector through the Department of Defense, was privatized against the wishes of many early designers.  Secondly, corporate network operators are building the new (broadband) architecture on “center-to-end” rather than “end-to-end” principles (Lessig).  For example, download speeds on broadband connections are many times faster than upload speeds and new, discriminatory routing systems and protocols designed to steer consumers to major content providers are being developed.  The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has encouraged these developments by exempting broadband providers from “open access” requirements that had been the standard for Internet service providers.  Finally, major content providers are using hyper-protective new copyright laws to launch what Benkler calls a modern “enclosure movement” (562).  Beyond this, it has been reported that a group of corporate giants and conservative economists has initiated a plan to privatize the entire electromagnetic spectrum, over which nearly all communication in the future will be transmitted (Rifkin, “Mayday, Mayday…”).   

Might these state/corporate policies help us understand the recent weak performance—in strict corporate terms of ad revenue and profit—and subsequent collapse of several “stand-alone” commercial online news ventures, while those affiliated with major media companies have been able, for the most part, to survive the bursting of the tech bubble (Kurtz, “Is Online Journalism…”)?  If so, what will they mean for non-commercial Web-based media, especially those connected to progressive social movements—how much further to the margins can they be pushed?  And do these developments herald a call for IMC organizers to become more involved in policy activism aimed at halting the digital enclosure movement?

Whichever direction the Internet takes, it is clear that even if universal access were miraculously achieved in the short-term, there is no guarantee that new web surfers would find IMC Web sites or even venture far from their commercial portals and “gated” online communities.  Thus Indymedia activists face a critical dilemma: The Internet, as it’s currently structured, has greater interactive potential than any other medium available, and it has the greatest distribution, theoretically, yet it is not very accessible to those whose voices are most noticeably absent from the mass media, and it is unclear when, if ever, it will become widely accessible in the future.  It might even become less accessible, at least in the broadband form, to the information “have-nots” in both the global South and in North America and Europe.

5.3.2 The Power of Radio

            As mentioned in chapter 3, many IMCs have created newspapers and video documentaries to reach wider audiences.  In many instances they’ve empowered audiences to become writers and video producers themselves.  No doubt those projects should continue to grow.  At the same time, though, perhaps the most important medium for Indymedia to develop is radio.  While many IMCs, including Cleveland, have developed relationships with community, campus and microradio stations, more can be done.  Scholars such as Kidd and Gumucio rightly argue that radio is vitally important for achieving communicative democracy because, contrary to the Internet, access is easy and relatively cheap, especially in the global South.  One needs only a small, inexpensive receiver to listen to local stations.  Additionally, radio is portable.  It can be listened to while driving a car, riding a bike, or while simply walking around.  Radio can also be interactive through the use of call-in shows and non-traditional interview formats that invite the guest to question the interviewer; and if it features diverse, native voices, radio has the ability to reproduce the local speech patterns and cultural content of historically underrepresented groups. 

            Finally, from a reporter or broadcaster’s point of view, radio is inexpensive to produce, as well as being more intimate and better suited to logical argument and presentation—there are no images, as with TV, to distract the listener. 


5.4 Diversity, Empowerment, and Physical Space

             Even if multimedia projects expand and the IMCs reach a greater audience, does that make the network a success?  In a mass media sense, yes, it would be considered a success.  But Indymedia is not a mass media network; therefore, it does not measure its success in the same manner.  The goal of Indymedia is not to be just another audience-producing network, but rather an audience-empowering network.  Ideally, each newly empowered audience member would become a regular content producer as well as a more informed and politically involved citizen who would, in turn, reach out to others and empower them, and so on and so on.  This is critically important for any network or movement organized and staffed by volunteers.

            But can the desired level of empowerment be achieved if there is no physical meeting space to go along with the virtual newsrooms, radio broadcasts or newspapers?  And what about diversity: are underrepresented people likely to get involved in a project that doesn’t have a place for them to meet face-to-face on a regular basis?  Co-founder Jeff Perlstein recognizes how important it is for the IMCs to establish community centers similar to the Zapatistas’ “aguascalientes.”56   “Physical and virtual spaces for interaction, dialogue and transformation,” he writes, “are the essential forums where a vital, vibrant, and true democracy can take place” (The IMC Movement”).  Yet very few IMCs have their own permanent, physical space.   This is partly due to high rent costs and difficulty finding available space.  In cases where a major activist mobilization or political event is planned, organizers can raise enough money for a convergence center, but after the event, it’s much harder to keep financing office and meeting space.  This problem underscores the need for most IMCs to develop some kind of permanent, locally based financing model that can generate enough money to pay rent and other expenses.  If this doesn’t happen, it might be possible to work out space arrangements with other local media projects or organizations that work closely with IMCs.57


5.5 Dealing with Counter-movement Forces

            Aside from being occasionally inundated with posts from hate groups and other reactionary elements, Indymedia, like other components of the global justice movement, faces the prospect of increased government surveillance and repression.  On at least one occasion state power has been violently unleashed on IMC volunteers.  In July 2001, members of the Italian state police raided the IMC convergence center in Genoa, Italy where activists and journalists were reporting on protests against a G-8 summit meeting.  Police beat several IMC volunteers and organizers with the Genoa Social Forum, an umbrella organization coordinating the protests (Starhawk, “Fascism in Genoa”). They also damaged and confiscated computer hardware and video equipment in the raid. 

            There have also been other less-violent, or non-violent, episodes where authorities have arrested and threatened violence on Indymedia volunteers, many of whom were covering an event. In other cases, authorities have tried to prevent IMCs from producing and distributing dissident content. An article in the July/August 2001 issue of Clamor magazine documented numerous such incidents, which Indymedia volunteers say are reminiscent of tactics used by the U.S. government during the 1960s and 70s as part of its counter-intelligence program (COINTELPRO).  Here, briefly, is a summary:

·        Seattle, November 1999 – An Indymedia reporter wearing a WTO host committee press pass is pepper-sprayed by a police officer.  Minutes before being sprayed, the reporter had asked the officer if he could cross the street to which the officer responded, “I saw you talking to them [protesters]. You’re not real media.”  Numerous other Indymedia reporters were prevented from entering areas where corporate media reporters and photographers were given access.  Despite the challenges, IMC volunteers often outhustled and out reported their corporate counterparts to cover the protests.


·        Washington D.C., April 2000 – Police attempt to stop IMC volunteers from publishing a daily newspaper, called the Blind Spot, by closing local print shops where volunteers were legally making copies of the paper.  The rationale offered by police: The print shops were in danger of becoming targets of “riot activity.”  In using this tactic, IMC organizers argue that police employed “prior restraint” to curb journalistic freedom.


·        Philadelphia, August 2000 – A police affidavit names the IMC convergence center set up to cover protests at the Republican National Convention as a protest organizing center.  Having established “probable cause,” police were able to enter the convergence center and intimidate volunteers.  The affidavit used the age-old tactic of claiming that the IMC was attached to Communist organizations.


·        Los Angeles, August 2000 – Saying there was a bomb threat involving a nearby van, police blocked access to a satellite truck that was to be used by the IMC to broadcast a live news program.  The Clamor report notes, “Strangely, the police ‘searched’ the van without protective gear or special equipment. For a time, the bomb squad even refused to visit the scene, citing insufficient evidence” (43).


·        Seattle, April 2001 – During protests against the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) summit in Quebec, the Seattle IMC was served with a gag order on the grounds that it had violated Canadian law by obtaining and posting documents detailing security measures for the summit.  The gag order was lifted a few days later.


          In the wake of 9-11, additional concerns about state surveillance and repression have arisen in discussions among IMC organizers.  Of particular concern is the USA-PATRIOT Act, which gives the U.S. government sweeping powers to conduct surveillance of Internet communications.  However, organizers have also been quick to point out that because Indymedia doesn’t have a headquarters or any central office, it would be nearly impossible for the military, or any other government agency, to shut the entire network down.  As one volunteer put it in a phone interview, “Decentralization is against the military paradigm.”  He added that Indymedia survives because it is “illegible” to the state. 

          Several widely circulated papers by military analysts Arquilla and Ronfeldt appear to confirm this sentiment.58  Using numerous case studies, including the Seattle demonstrations and the Zapatistas, the two authors argue that decentralized networks using flexible digital communications tools often have the upper hand over state authorities in what they term “netwar.”  As a consequence, they urge governments to experiment with decentralized approaches when attempting to undermine radical social networks (Networks and Netwars).  Whether or not this approach is antithetical to military or state structures remains to be seen.  It is quite possible, though, that the Indymedia network as a whole can survive increased repression, however, local IMCs, especially those in countries with few formal protections for civil liberties, may increasingly be targeted by local and national authorities.  Given the public nature of its e-mail lists and the loose structure of many collectives, Indymedia is clearly vulnerable to infiltration by agents provacateur.


51 The network did accept a $50,000 donation from the musical group Chumbawumba even though the money originated from General Motors. The band had received the money in exchange for allowing GM to use one of their tunes in a car commercial. Chumbawamba, which is organized much like an anarchist collective, wanted to donate their “dirty money” to activist groups involved in anti-corporate work. IMC organizers accepted because they felt the money was coming more from Chumbawamba than directly from GM. See Iain Aitch, “General Motors gets tub-thumped,” Salon, Jan. 2, 2002,


52 See for all TMF documents quoted in this chapter.

53 In early 2002, the Switzerland IMC was taken offline after being sued by an organization that objected to the posting of what it termed an anti-Semitic cartoon. See Roving, “Indymedia Three Years On.”

54 These particular sessions were part of a one-day media workshop in January 2003 presented by the Pittsburgh IMC. A copy of the program guide can be found on their Web site,


55 See Michael Katz, “Look for 1-billion Web users by ’05,” Media Life Magazine, Aug. 16, 2002

56 Ruggiero (Microradio and Democracy 43) describes aquascalientes as community convergence centers used for holding political meetings, cultural events and sharing news.  For more on the Zapatista movement see Tom Hayden (ed.) The Zapatista Reader. New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press/Nation Books, 2002.


57 In February 2003, the Pittsburgh IMC, for example, obtained office space in a building operated by a local artists’ collective.

58 The authors are analysts with the Rand Corporation, a California-based think tank that advises government and military planners.