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Prank the pranksters! Play around with information in the age of immaterial capi

p | 18.12.2013 15:45 | Occupy Everywhere | Other Press | Social Struggles | Technology

Obstacles for contemporary social struggles, how they connect with the “immaterial” dimension of capitalism, and the need to overcome them.
Communication and hacking techniques: experiments to overcome the repression and new tools for social struggles.
Why these tactics can be useful in our fight against contemporary capitalism.
Proposals for basic experiments.

Prank the pranksters! Play around with information in the age of immaterial capitalism

Obstacles for contemporary social struggles, how they connect with the “immaterial” dimension of capitalism, and the need to overcome them.
Communication and hacking techniques: experiments to overcome the repression and new tools for social struggles.
Why these tactics can be useful in our fight against contemporary capitalism.
Proposals for basic experiments.

For people involved in social struggles and movements, it is a fact-and sometimes a rather bitter one - that as movements grow, the repression that strike is harder and harder to bear. At the same time the new industrial organization is more and more decentralised, flexible and outsourcing-based. The hierarchical structure of companies and institutions is shifting from internalization to outsourcing, based on subcontracting, indirect control, flexible systems of production and precarious jobs. In this framework, many former tactics seem to be sometimes less effective. Let's take the example of strike. If a company is able to deal with the halt of production by quickly recurring to a subcontractor or a temporary agency, it is less affected. Also, it is much more difficult and less clear to organize a strike in a reticular structure with asymmetric and flexible labour relations more than in the classical fordist large company. Some similar reflections can be made about the post-fordist transformation of institutions.

History shows the inventive ways people have found to resist, but we have to realize that these “inventions” are not automatically generated. They are practical answers to issues that appear as well in everyday struggles as in life itself...,In this present moment, in our opinion, there are many issues that become serious obstacles to our struggles, and we consider it vital to evolve our tools of struggle and to experiment different mediums and ways of action to overcome these obstacles. If not, the shortcomings that we do not resolve can come back and haunt us. Capitalism never rests. It always “learns” from our strong and weak points.

This text was written as a result of the reflections of some individuals about the transformation of society and power. We want it to be a contribution to the experiments that we just mentioned. It deals with certain strategies in order to attack the immaterial dimension of capitalism, and thus the informational aspect of power. It is not a coherent work. Theoretical reflections are presented here in a loose way and we don't present something ideologically defined, even though we have our own ideas. This is because we consider that the strategies that we are dealing with are useful instruments for a large range of social struggles and present an opportunity to overcome repression. We don't wish to push a specific strategy as the ultimate right one. Everybody can decide for themselves how they wish to fight. We do not oppose the traditional means of resistance, but we think that many useful tools are sometimes slowing transforming in rooted traditions that stop being questioned. In the end some of these traditions, seen as “safe and politically correct” tend to repress innovative tools and strategies. In this text you will find some ideas about some new strategies that we want to discuss, followed by tips and ideas for undertaking new ones.

More specifically, we base our ideas on the examples of actions throughout, the last years involving communication guerrilla, hacking, the creation of fakes....Some of these practices have been already widely experimented, while others have, in our opinion, a very interesting potential not yet unleashed. Therefore, what is mentioned here can be connected to many different practices but we will focus on what we call Information Guerrilla (IG). (This is just a conventional definition for the clarity of the text).
We define IG as a form of direct action, aimed to diffusing information or creating confusion, in order to cause economical or political damage. IG relates to communication guerrilla and hacking activism, but it has some peculiar features that are worth exploring.
We think that a mix of some basic informatical tools, a mimic of the enemy's communication strategies and information gathering, can produce very interesting and effective tactics, that are often easy to experiment with.

We consider these tactics interesting or effective for several reasons.
Information is profit. Or to say it differently, an increasing amount of profit is based on information. In the current phase of capitalism, the cognitive dimension is increasingly important. The immaterial dimension of production is taking a central role in the process of valorisation. At the same time every aspect of life is increasingly becoming commodified. Be it about social relations, values or imaginaries, knowledge has become a very valuable source of profit. The image of a firm with customers, retailers, shareholders, and its capacity of generating immaterial value are often more important than the efficiency in physical production of goods. Information is an important resource for companies to control customers, foresee the strategies of other companies and to be able to drawing scenarios for the financial market. Furthermore, the success of a financial institution is based on its capacity to influence the flows of information on financial markets and accessing them in real time.

In the post fordist economy, the creation of flexible marketing strategies targeted to every single consumer is a central aspect of profitability, and this is the reason why the constant control and the traceability of the individual behaviours of everyone are so valuable. For instance, Google is collecting its huge profits by spying on the Internet users habits, selling them and providing targeted advertisements.
As the complexity of the world economic system and the uncertainty are increasing, access to information in order to make a good forecast of the future, has an immense economic value. Especially in financial markets, -where the valorisation process is based on the expectations of the financial actors and strategies are based on a behavioral rationality-, information gathering and rapid scenario play a crucial role. The expectations regarding a company and the courses of its stocks, its reputation and the information circulating about the company are heavily influencing the attitude of the market towards the shares and therefore the plus valences related to financial valorisation.

As profit is becoming more and more dependent on immaterial production, the tactics aimed to hit the immaterial aspect of profit will become increasingly more powerful. If a company spends millions building their reputation, building up a good marketing strategy and a good information management system, that is a weakness to hit.
Furthermore, this kind of actions may lead firms or institutions to rearrange their operative procedure/communication system/working environment, leading to higher costs.
Even physical sabotages or attacks against property, are often producing more indirect damage (loss of reputation, the need to rearrange a working procedure) than direct damage (often company goods are insured, and anyway property damage is often negligible compared to the large turnover of a company). In a post fordist capitalist system, post fordist tactics of struggle might give us some new ways to fight back effectively.

Capitalism exploits our brain - our rationality, our social skills and emotions – and our whole life- as a source for profit. It exploits our cognitive functions, not just during work-time, but also during all of our life span. Our daily behaviour, our imagination, our intellectual creations, become easily - directly or indirectly - appropriated. As they use our brains in their immaterial production, we often acquire several information and skills (eg. people who work in a company at the same time know the policy and the language of a company and possess the skills to use its technology and systems). Why not share this information and the skills to counter attack?

Furthermore, some people find it difficult to be openly involved in social struggles. Many don't feel like taking part in a social struggle or exposing themselves, but have relevant information and can be keen in smuggling them out. In a precarious condition (in a broad sense), not everyone wants to start an open struggle. But the struggle can also be in sharing information we have and using it to conspire against the companies.
Loyalty is a growing strategy of corporate and institutional power in controlling people, and refusing it can be a form of resistance. In the 70th's, the massive disloyalty in the work environment proved to have a huge impact, and it is sure we assume that all the people who were claiming sick or finding tricks to escape their job obligations had the same political ideas..

Finally, the social movement often faces a dilemma: how to deal with the mainstream media? Refusing to communicate with them – as they are completely embedded in the capitalism - involves a risk of having our message deformed or our action less visible. Communicating with them, involve the risk of being manipulated and the message deformed. What about striking back and trying to invert the relation between radical movements and press, trying to turn their constant disinformation on them? What about trying for once to use media as a vector for spreading fake information?
Media are rewriting the reality every day, they are submitted to the political and economical powers and have an almost religious reliance on big press agencies. Many journalists let themselves to believe and reproduce all the information they get from certain sources.
Why not take advantage of this weakness for a subversive use, and use the media without being manipulated for once? Why not playing around with media and intervene in their all day and all night propaganda?

For the mentioned reasons, information is a strategically fit terrain to attack. In the last decades of course many people have already experimented in this field: hacktivism, communication guerrilla, subvertising, etc...

Many actions have already taken place diffusing fake press releases, but they usually had as main goal the creation of awareness over an issue, denouncing the policy of a specific company/institution, detouring the dominant discourse and unmasking the daily order of things (even though some of them had without doubts tangible economical impact).
Other actions involved cracking, blocking servers, defacing websites, etc, causing serious damage.
What activists rarely tried to achieve, however, is causing a negative economical impact by spreading fake information on a company. And doing this may require really simple informatical tools, a meticulous study of the "target", some knowledge of the sector and, sometimes, the help of an "insider" willing to pass some information, templates, etc.

Some ideas could be:

- Fake news to publish in the media in order to affect the reputation of a company and disrupt its communication strategy.
- A fake mail from a boss, a public servant, etc can create conflicts or make evident some usually hidden behavior. It can be a powerful weapon of retaliation.
- A fake press release from a company reporting some fake financial facts in order to affect the stock market.
- Etc, etc, etc!

These examples can serve for any kind of campaign, social struggle, daily problems...

They exploit our brain - our rationality, our social skills and our emotionality -and our life as an instrument of profit. They mess on a daily basis with our life through financial markets, media spreading irrational fears and rotten ideals, kafkian bureaucracy. Why not counter act at that level and mess up their beautiful models and their wonderful procedures?
Let's organize!
Let's share the information and the skills we have to counter attack!
We can turn their immaterial processes into their material nightmare!


Some practical ideas for sending a fake press release/ communication

Making a fake release means taking in consideration several factors:

Understanding how to protect yourself
Collecting a good email list
Understanding how to send forged mail
Studying your target and understanding and copying its style
Understand how antispam works

Understanding how to protect yourself

Don't hurry...
You should take good security measures for protecting yourself and your investigations .
Tor, proxies, encryption, amnesic operative systems...

Collecting a good email list

A realistic fake communication/list should be received by people that are supposed to receive it. They should receive it in a way so they'll believe it is real.
The best they would be to access the actual press list of your target, or something similar, but that often proved to be difficult.
In the worst case scenario you can try to collect a press list for the concerned country/sector/field.

Understanding how to send forged mail


An extremely easy-to-use program is Telnet. You can find a lot of tutorials on the net.

Finding a proper smtp server for your action

Not all the smtp servers are appropriate. Some servers limit your connection with telnet, the maximum number of recipients, some are flagged in spam blacklists. You should test your server to check if it is an open relay and lets you send your mail to the desired number of recipients, and if the message is properly delivered.
Learn from spammers!

Making a small script

If your mail has to reach a large press list, better use a short script for automatising the use of telnet.

Study your target for learning its style

Mimics need an accurate analysis. Studying the behaviour of your enemy and its communication style is vital for carrying out a successful action. You can do many things: subscribe to the newsletter of your target, checking all the material it puts on-line, making researches.

An easy way to correctly formating the code of a fake release (in order to preserve all the logos and details that make recipients believe the issued statement come from the original source) is to save the source code of an original mail release, and editing the code substituting the original text with the fake one written by you.

Understand how antispam work

One of the biggest risks is that your fake mail ends up in the junk mail folder, or does not even arrive.
This can be caused by several factors.

If you send your mail to a small number of recipients.
If your mail reaches the spam folder this means probably that the data field (the code of the mail) is improperly formatted, or that you have badly set the HELO. Double check the code.

If you send your mail to a large number of recipients
Many e-mail providers have strict criteria which can flag your message as spam if sent to a large number of recipients in a short time.
It should be noted that this risk is much higher for commercial domains (like yahoo, gmail or hotmail) than for institutional or corporate domains, which have looser antispam filters.

You can find on the net the antispam policy of every single provider.

Some good recommendations for reducing the risk of being blocked by anti-spam filters are:
- not to use a spam blacklisted smtp servers / ip addresses
- send each mail one by one / and include the recipient line in the data field
- avoid receiving error messages from your smtp server, for example by making too many connections at the same

Make a lot of tests before acting!