Spanish collective Xnet that helped arrest the former Managing Director of the IMF came to Amsterdam to share their skills, tools and strategies with social movements, civil society organisations from all over Europe.
For a small group of activists based in Barcelona working on free culture, internet neutrality, technopolitics and network democracy as a way to fight against corruption, their work has had more impact than most activists can dream of. Not only have they played a key role in uncovering the political & economical scandals that are shaking Spanish politics today but their campaigns have also taken over 100 bankers & politicians to court – including former IMF’s Managing Director Rodrigo Rato.
Transnational Institute (TNI) and transform! were therefore delighted to host a seminar for social movements for Xnet to share their achievements and examples of successful campaigns. The seminar on 10 and 11 April attracted more than 40 organizations from 11 countries.
The co-founder Simona Levi explained that the Internet is a battlefield and anyone can be a cyberfighter. In this context, it is mandatory for social movements to develop new ways of communicating and learn how to build new and different narratives.
They shared the example of the 15MpaRato device, a citizen platform launched by Xnet in order to collect and spread information that named those responsible for the crisis in Spain. The platform was launched with a communication guerrilla campaign – ‘Put your favourite banker in jail’ – that raised in less than 24 hours 15,000 Euros through crowd-funding to cover the costs to sue Rodrigo Rato and his accomplices. Rato was also former Spanish First Deputy Prime Minister and the former president of Bankia, the biggest bank bailed out by the then Spanish government for 25 billion Euros.
15MpaRato channels actions of organised citizens against the impunity of the Spanish economic elites. Employees and shareholders provide valuable information to the collective that served as evidence in the lawsuit, showing that Bankia and other Spanish banks created financial products – called ‘preferred shares’ – that were a scam that affected almost all Spanish families. The evidence presented to the judiciary has helped thousands of scammed small savers recover their money. Thanks to the lawsuit Mr Rato was arrested in his house on 16 April.
Xnet have also brought to light other scandals that involved misuse of funds by 86 personalities from all major political parties and trade unions. One of the scandals was brought to light, thanks to Xnet’s tool Buzón X (the Xmailbox); a secure channel for citizens to leak important information in an anonymous and secure environment. Developed from the lessons learnt from Wikileaks and working on scaling-up at local level; it deals with dozens of corruption cases per month. The information received is analysed by journalists, lawyers and activists to be later published by the media and also be taken forward in judicial process if necessary.
In September 2014, thanks to a leak sent to Buzón X (based on 8,000 emails sent from Caja Madrid (later Bankia after a merger with other troubled Spanish banks) corporate accounts), the public got to know about criminal manoeuvres carried out by Caja Madrid’s managers. It provided evidence that almost all Caja Madrid’s managers used “Black” Visa credit cards provided by the bank for personal expenses without declaring it to the Treasury. Dozens of the banks councillors (raging from all political parties and main trade unions) are currently under prosecution thanks to the citizens action channelled by Buzón X. A heated debate among social movements is about the implications of using tools owned by US corporations like Facebook and Twitter to organise the resistance against neoliberalism. For Xnet, Facebook is the new Agora, people are there every day talking, therefore social movements should be there also, with a strategy. As Alfa Sanchéz explains: “Facebook is an evil tool but there is where we’ll reach the people”.
Twitter has been a key tool for helping Spanish social movements organise and react fast to cases of violence against citizens, or to share critical information. A distributed system is more efficient and resilient than previous centralized and decentralized systems. Twitter helps to act as a distributed network and also allows us to easily analyse the composition and behaviour of our network. It also helps break down the internal-facing nature of many activist circles and thereby reach more sectors of the population. With the same goal in mind, it is possible to develop various virtual identities that reach different constituencies by adapting to their specific language. Tools such Tweetdeck, SocialBro and Topsy can help to create and maintain a community that supports the causes of social movements.
Activists were reminded of certain basics of online communication, such as Search Engine Optimization (SEO) techniques, Netiquette and how Facebook enhances your content above others (comment, share and like, in this order are the actions that most promote your posts).
The seminar also looked at how to build the tempo of a campaign, develop memes and understand the cycle of the internet. Research and mapping is the first step to initiate a campaign. We have to be experts about what we want to change. We need to understand the structure of the companies and organisations we are fighting, how to get in their way and cost them profits. Then we need to build support amongst the public with a big action, which we escalate until the goal is reached. In all this, it is important to target corporations one-by-one and not try and take them on all at the same time.
Based on the interests of the participants, different working groups were set up to look at how to apply the knowledge: the first focused on TTIP (Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiated by the US and the EU), the second on the UN Climate Summit in Paris COP 21, and the third on mobilising solidarity actions with the Greek people. The working groups are a good picture of the current priorities of European social movements. The Radical Community Manager Seminar closed with a crash course on the basics for online security and alternative networks tools, an increasingly relevant topic since the Snowden and Manning revelations.
All participants shared very positive opinions after the course and Xnet will likely repeat the experience in Austria and Greece after this very successful experience in Amsterdam powered by TNI and the transform! network. The seminar was fully recorded and will be made available very soon.