Mon 23 Nov 2015, 08:00
Steal from the Capitalists, the second episode of Al Jazeera’s Rebel Geeks, profiles Twitter co-creator Evan Henshaw-Plath.
Steal from the Capitalists, the second episode of Al Jazeera’s Rebel Geeks, profiles Evan Henshaw-Plath, a co-creator of Twitter who quit just after it launched.
Henshaw-Plath lives mostly off the grid, partly in a house in Portland and partly in a house in the woods made from recycled paper. He describes himself as “a hacker, a trouble-maker, and an activist,” not to mention a “non-ideological anarchist”.
During the 1999 World Trade Organisation protests, Henshaw-Plath and his fellow activists realised the mainstream media would only present “a pro-corporate view of the protest, and they didn't want to let them do that”.
So before co-creating Twitter, he spent five years setting up computer labs and websites for anti-globalisation groups.
“I was a broke activist travelling around, living in a Volkswagen bus that I bought for $200 and I saw this contract on Craigslist of… a company trying to create a new media of communication. And I was like: ‘I’m all for trying to democratise the media; I’ll do this.’”
Ironically, he admits about Twitter, “The project which I told my friends I was selling out to work at - the start up - had a larger effect on transforming the media” than any of his activism work.
“Very few actual protests are co-ordinated on Twitter but the public sphere and the personal feeling about them is completely driven by it,” he says. “It let people share ideas and memes and share photos and share videos and shape the media and shape their own narrative. To transform the world and the way we make social change.”
He believes activist communications platforms like TXTmob, a message alert system for protests, were “a major precursor to what has become social media…”
As early as 2004, he says activists at the Republican Convention in New York were using TXTmob on their cell phones to send and receive “tweet-like messages, single-sentence, 140-characters-long, that were breaking news updates,” allowing protesters to share information on undercover officers and police tactics.
Henshaw-Plath recently returned to his activist roots, bringing the lessons he learnt from Silicon Valley.
Steal from the Capitalists follows him from OSCON, an open-source conference in the USA, to Chaos Computer Club Camp, a hacker gathering that happens every four years in Germany, to meetings with LEAP, a software project that aims to create secure communications.
But bridging the worlds of hackers, activists and Silicon Valley start-ups isn’t simple, especially since Silicon Valley sees exploiting big data as the key to efficiency, while hackers and activists rather perceive it as a dangerous tool for totalitarian social control.
Steal from the Capitalists premieres on Monday 23 November 2015 at 00:30 CAT.
Steal from the Capitalists is the second episode in Al Jazeera’s new seven-part documentary series, Rebel Geeks, which profiles those techies who are turning away from the corporate mainstream and using their skills to question surveillance, empower activists, and challenge existing power structures.
Meet Your Maker, the first episode of Rebel Geeks, featured Arduino co-creator Massimo Banzi.
Follow @AJRebelDocs on Twitter or use #RebelGeeks to join the discussion.