Electronic Disturbance Theater
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The Electronic Disturbance Theater (EDT), established in 1997 by performance artist and writer Ricardo Dominguez, is an electronic company of cyber activists, critical theorists, and performance artists who engage in the development of both the theory and practice of non-violent acts of defiance across and between digital and non-digital spaces. Ricardo Dominguez, Brett Stalbaum, Stefan Wray, and Carmin Karasic collectively form EDT. Taking the idea of the American Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, the EDT members have always used their real names. As a collective group they organize and program computer software to show their views against anti-propagandist and military actions, and begin mobilizing micronetworks to act in solidarity by staging virtual sit-ins online and allowing the emergence of a collective presence in direct digital actions.
The EDT created a program called FloodNet to allow electronic civil disobedience (ECD). This was a form of hacktivism which would help create the simulation of a sit-in protest over the Internet simply known as a virtual sit-in demonstration to disrupt Zapatista oppressors' websites, by overloading their computer networks and servers. The Electronic Disturbance Theater group believe that the Internet should not be used purely as a means for communication and data exchange; it is also a forum for direct action.
Electronic Disturbance Theater 2.0
Current active members of the Electronic Disturbance Theater, who refer to themselves as Electronic Disturbance Theater 2.0, include Brett Stalbaum, Amy Sara Carroll, Elle Mehrmand, Micha Cárdenas, and Ricardo Dominguez (professor).
The group has received a storm of media attention for their 2007 project, the Transborder Immigrant Tool (TBT), which sends experimental poetry to users in addition to helping them find water and safe routes when crossing the Mexican-American border. EDT have described this project as the next step of electronic civil disobedience, or ECD 2.0. The Transborder Immigrant Tool was shown in numerous museums and galleries in 2010, including the California Biennial at the Orange County Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, and the Galería de la Raza in San Francisco. The project is maintained by California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology.
The group's objective was, with the use of digital media and internet based technology, to demonstrate nonviolent resistance in support of the Zapatista rebels residing in the state of Chiapas in Mexico. EDT uses both e-mail and the Internet to promote their work around the world, encouraging fellow supporters to download and run a tool based on HTML (Hyper Text Makeup Language) and Java applet (an internet program used to help support interactive web-based features or programs that a HTML cannot provide alone) called FloodNet. FloodNet is a computer-based program, created by members of the Electronic Disturbance theater company Carmin Karasic and Brett Stalbaum.
The FloodNet program would simply reload a URL for short several times, effectively slowing the website and network server down (a DDOS attack), if a high number of protesters were to join in the sit-in at one time. The EDT would first execute the FloodNet software in what would be for them a dress rehearsal before attacking their main targets on April 10, 1998, and a month later, on both Mexican and American government websites, representing both the Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo and American President Bill Clinton.
FloodNet would work on this basic idea taken from street theater practices and political rallies and protest, but instead present it on a much larger and international stage, with the facilitation of macro-networks and non-digital forms of action.
The EDT's mission was to allow the voices of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation to be heard, after the attack on the small remote village of Acteal in Chiapas, Mexico. The Paramilitary, a government-funded military squad, surrounded a Catholic church during a Tsotsil Mayan (a spoken Mexican language from around the Chiapas area of Mexico). For the next several hours the Paramilitary shot everyone to death, those inside the church and any who tried to escape, resulting in the death of fifteen children, nine men, and twenty-one women, four of whom were pregnant, on December 22, 1997. This event became known as the Acteal Massacre. Those who were convicted of this crime were later released in the Supreme Court to the outrage of many, after ignoring eyewitness reports and allowing those who confessed to this crime on humanity. Instead, the Supreme Court focused on the mismanagement of the investigation and the fabrication of evidence.
The Electronic Disturbance Theater took notice of these actions when others did not and arranged their first act of electronic civil disobedience against the Mexican Government. In a subsequent version of FloodNet, those who had downloaded the FloodNet program in support of the Zapatistas were asked to repeatedly input the names of those that had lost their lives at the hands of the Mexican Army in military attacks. This would then target the servers to return an error message each time these URLs would be requested. This data request would be stored in a server's error log and in the eyes of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation and the Electronic Disturbance Theater group, a symbolic list of those 45 Acteal civilians who had died straight to their murderers. If enough people used the FloodNet applet, this would cause the computer server running the website to overload, so that when a regular visitor or someone working within the site tried to access the website or send company based emails and files, the pages would either load extremely slowly or not at all. This worked on the same basis of a real sit-in demonstration, where the protesters block the entrance to a public building of their oppressors and preventing access to the building.
With around 25% of the world's population in one way or another connected to the World Wide Web, with the use of dial-up internet connection, wired or wireless internet broadband connection and even mobile internet technology, every one of these means of communication can allow the internet to be used as a means of non-violent action within human rights, and is viewable around the world, and can be translated into different languages but most importantly not controlled by the government. The EDT networked performances have already opened access and communication between three unlikely micro-networks: net.art, net.activism, and net.hackers. With technology always evolving there is no telling how these areas will grow.
The FloodNet system was used again against the World Trade Organization in 1999, where the group would release their online civil disobedience software to the public under the name "Disturbance Development's Kit".
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The Electronic Disturbance Theater has been, and is likely to remain, a heated topic of debate within its areas of activity such as: political up rise, civil disobedience, hacktivism, and acts which cave been called cyber terrorism. The FloodNet program enables protesters to voice their grievances in a non-violent sit-in style, without having to attend protests and rallies in person. Additionally FloodNet incorporated Usernames which allowed protesters to be protected from potential retaliation, as their real names did not have to be used. There are those who have criticized that FloodNet constitutes an inappropriate use of bandwidth which impinges upon the right of those affected to use the internet which those same detractors claim should be free for anyone to use despite political views. A particular example of FloodNet detractors is The Virtual Republic, their representatives view EDT's blockage of both communications and data as an act of cyber terrorism. The Virtual Republic believes the system should be open for all internet users, and should be accessible with a simple point-and-click, furthermore it is their opinion that those individuals or groups which might impede the free access to internet resources should be banned. Protesters are asked to protest outside of their oppressors' physical location by means which will not affect the business conducted within. Representatives of The Virtual Republic have further opined that actions of the EDT are nothing more than agit-prop and act only to block data in the struggle for the development of democracy and human rights.
- Cardenas, Micha (March 2011). "Lotte senza confini. l'electronic disturbance theatre 2.0" [Struggle Without Borders: The Electronic Disturbance Theater 2.0] (in Italian) (62). Digimag.
- "Arte Útil / Transborder Immigrant Tool". www.arte-util.org. Retrieved 2018-09-08.
- Morlan, Kinsee (September 8, 2010). "After the Storm". San Diego CityBeat.
- "2010 California Biennial". Orange County Museum of Art.
- "Artists announced for Here not there: San Diego art now exhibition – opens june 6, 2010, at Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego in La Jolla". Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego. April 12, 2010. Archived from the original on August 4, 2012.
- "Transborder Immigrant Tool". Galeria de la Raza.
- Goodin, Dan (April 9, 2010). "'Virtual sit-in' tests line between DDoS and free speech". The Register.
- "When Art Meets Cyberwar" Forbes.com, December 14, 1998 12:00AM, Adam Penenberg, https://www.forbes.com/1998/12/14/penenberg_1214.html/
- "Pentagon Deflects Web Assault" wired.com, September 10th, 1998, Niall McKay, http://archive.wired.com/politics/law/news/1998/09/14931/