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Technology serves capitalism. Can it serve us?

from the Sept. 13, 2023 Bulletin

Jes Ciacci and Estrella Soria in México, and Melanie Bush in the US, were among the authors of a recent MayFirst report in which members use their own experiences to explain the politics and processes integral to the MayFirst cooperative.

Digital platforms are umbilical cords connecting us to everything else. How do these platforms impose corporate interests on us without our conscious knowledge?


Jes Ciacci: The current digital platforms promote a model of economic centralization. We all live in this model — it focuses on profits for a few and fails to serve the needs of the majority.

The financial basis of these platforms is opaque to most customers. For example, they tell us were getting a free” service. But if they” are a company with assets of billions, listed on the stock market, and they provide services for free, where do the billions come from?


Their profits come from monetizing our data, gathered whenever we use their platforms, then analyzed and sold to other companies. We arent human beings with our genuine need for connection and choice, we are consumers and the focus of their profit-making. Meanwhile, information technology has expanded and continues to expand — its the big engine of the neoliberal economy.

Melanie Bush: And unfortunately, they dont just serve corporate interests. Around the world, the platforms serve governments, including our so-called democracies.” Through surveillance, they suppress dissent and disable their enemies.

A well-known example — Pegasus spyware was developed in Israel and sold to governments and militaries. This set of programs looks for flaws in your computer, especially if you are active in a liberation or resistance movement. It exploits the flaws to infect programs and enable them to provide information. It's now known that Pegasus had collected the phone numbers of relatives and close friends of the murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The business of spyware and other kinds of surveillance is huge, much more everyday than we ever see.

So is MayFirst Movement Technology developing an alternative to Google, Facebook, and other platforms that surround us?


Jes: MayFirst is not creating an alternative platform, in the sense of competing with corporate services. But it IS an alternative in the values that underpin it. MayFirst offers an option for social movements to participate in creating an infrastructure for communications technology that is based on social principles and values.


Technology is not in itself against liberation — it can serve the social movements. MayFirst builds technology based on the values of the collective good, democratic participation, respect for the abilities and humanity of each one of us

How does your collective process produce a different result, and why is May First a bi-national US/México cooperative?


Jes: The boundaries between nation states are imaginary. Unlike imperialist actors, we recognize that the US and México are integrally connected; the futures of the peoples of these two places are intertwined and interdependent.  And operating as a cooperative is a clear expression of our collectivist values.

Estrella Soria: MayFirst has around 650 members, mostly organizations based in a wide variety of struggles. Only a few are media organizations, such as the Progressive Technology Project; examples of others are Black Lives Matter, NACLA, and the Brecht Forum. Some are big, others are small and local; about 20% of the members are in México, such as La Coperacha, Sursiendo, and Tlatolli Ollin.


You don't have to be a techie to contribute to the project, including in leadership roles. The organizations all have different capacities. Levels of involvement differ as well, from developing technologies to attending monthly meetings (political education and discussion, documentation of our work, mutual support) and getting elected to our governing body.

All meetings are bilingual and we have built simultaneous translation into our free open-source video conferencing software, jitsi. Unlike other platforms, ours focuses on security.

Zoom recently announced they would use conversations on its platform for artificial intelligence training. They later released a clarifying” statement, but the truth is that proprietary software works that way — they can change terms and conditions whenever they want without warning. When they do, because its software cannot be fully reviewed, we are at the mercy of believing” that they tell the truth.

Can you explain how MayFirst’s political vision is the basis for building digital space?

Melanie:  A recent meeting of the Global Tapestry of Alternatives described social movements as territories.” We see technology as a territory that links all struggles — but it is a disputed territory. Technology affects every aspect of our lives. We must acknowledge its presence in order to avoid ceding control to the corporations that dominate digital space as thoroughly as they do physical space. This digital territory —the worldview of indigenous and rural populations understands this better —can be a space where the community is anchored and is connected to the land, to cultural expressions, to spirituality. Technology as a territory implies much more than the infrastructure itself, but it contains it.

Estrella: After Roe v. Wade, we hosted a “get the tech off my body” conversation. The struggle for digital autonomy and bodily autonomy are linked; data about your reproductive health is stored and can be misused. If you track your menstrual cycles with an app, that data can be sold (monetized) to private companies that sell women's reproductive health products. If abortion is criminalized, as it now is in several US states, data about your abortion could be used to prosecute you.

In México, many people are more likely to provide their FB address than their phone numbers when asked for how best to stay in contact. Should we extricate ourselves from these platforms? Can we?


Jes: Its a complex question. Technology continues to reproduce and deepen its role in our lives. Yet gaps in access to it remain, and we continue to be told we are choosing” the technology we want when there is no real choice at all.


In other words, you can grow wonderful fresh organic food, and thats the healthiest option. But you can also make something reasonably close to healthy with the groceries you buy at the big corporate supermarkets. The same is true with technology. What MayFirst does is like the small organic farmer — different from the corporate model, but not a replacement. Not yet!


In our lives, information technology has become a bigger and bigger factor in how we live our daily lives, and we don’t even think about it. It’s just there, and someone else is designing it.  MayFirst gives us the room to think about it. It gives us the chance to design the democratic digital territory that we want to inhabit.