LinkedIn: Hyperlinks Subvert Hierarchies #95Thesis

Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy

Wait, what? Weren’t we just talking about markets and the internet and conversation? Where now all of a sudden does the ontology  of hyperlinks come into play. If you’ll remember last time, Johanna, Les, Myself and Jakob wrote these pieces dealing with thesis 5, namely: The Internet is enabling conversations among human beings that were simply not possible in the era of mass media.

How do we get from there to Hyperlinks Subvert Hierarchy? At face value, for the radical, this is all well and good. For the critical thinker this seems like a digital equalizer. But do hyperlinks actually subvert hierarchies? This article from SEOBOOK seems to posit that hyperlinks are a Google phenomenon in the new age of search. This then becomes tricky especially when it comes to books and their publishers producing digital content.

In fact another blogger has posited that hyperlinks do not in fact, subvert hierarchies.

I don’t agree with either. In fact, I’m going to side with Johanna’s previous post and say hyperlinks de facto are powerful, and can do much, but they are inherently politically apolitical. A hyperlink of Kim Kardashian selling milkshakes is as subversive as a coupon clipping from a newspaper. Although I admire the ambition and the optimism about redefining our spaces through digital content, let us remember that power structures are not so easily bested. In fact, just like television, hyperlinks can be used as promotional tools, for propaganda, and for disinformation.

I did some cursory reasearch on what others had said, and saw an interesting analysis that stated that hierarchies are just networks.

The ability of the internet to link to additional information – information which might exist beyond the formal hierarchy of organizational structure or published material from such an organization – acts as a means of subverting, or bypassing, formal hierarchies.

I mean, sure, we have examples of this, we have wikileaks, and anonymous, and other hacker groups. We have the Steubenville case, various information sources on that, and Local Leaks. We’re still witnessing the Arab Spring play out in Syria, Bahrain, and now Iraq. We have evidence on both sides of this little thesis. Here’s another example of how hyperlinks do subvert hierarchy.

Then there’s Barret Brown‘s case. Barrett faces charges for hyperlinking to stolen credit card data.

His Indictment states:

Brown transferred the hyperlink ‘’ from the Internet Relay Chat (IRC) channel called ‘#AnonOps’ to an IRC channel under Brown’s control called ‘#ProjectPM’… [B]y transferring and posting the hyperlink, Brown caused the data to be made available to other persons online without the knowledge and authorization of Stratfor Global Intelligence and the card holders.

The data linked to over 5,000 credit card account numbers, the card holders’ identification information and authentication codes, but Brown himself had not compiled or categorized this information.

Yes, in case you didn’t know: Hyperlinking can get you into big trouble. So, here we find ourselves with two very different ends of a spectrum that prove both the truth and falsehood of the given thesis.

Instead of positing one over the other, or saying how awesome it is that fascism is creep-cropping into the way we internet, I’m going to instead try my best to rewrite the little thesis.

Johanna said:

The internet is as revolutionary a force for social change as the process of industrialization. And it is no longer new – it has, in fact, had over two decades of brutal, ruthless, ceaseless, overwhelming and subversive effect on the world we live in. It has ravaged, transformed, made inprofitable and in any other imaginable way made the practices that depended on a few, well ordered and well controlled monopoly medias that much harder to maintain. It has empowered people and disempowered elites, and will continue to do so until we no longer recognize the monopoly of communication we call the past.

This statement can be read in either one of two ways. It can either be read as a radical political statement amounting to a declaration of war on the old order, or as a matter of fact statement without any political underpinnings whatsoever.

There’s so much good in her post, but since we’re talking about hyperlinks, hierarchy and more, let’s just let her say this:

Either you see the internet as a threat, or as a set of useful tools for getting communication done. And it tends to be that this ‘either’ is very depending on your relation to the old monopolies. Either you think it’s a good thing that humans from all over the world suddenly have access to a very large percentage of the accumulated cultural heritage of the world, or you don’t.

Then there’s the counter-argument, that despite our best attempts to read revolutionary history into hyperlinking, we find ourselves dealing with an illusion. And just for good measure, here’s another interesting read.

Hyperlinks might in fact subvert hierarchy, but they just as readily do not. What can happen on the other side, is we find ourselves in intellectual ghettos, sequestered off into cubby holes where we read our preferred digest: The New Yorker, Gawker, The Atlantic, Alex Jones, The Gothamist and so on and so on.

So what are we to make of this unbridled power of hyperlinks and all their discontents?

I’d rewrite the thesis as follows: Hyperlinks Be.

There’s not much more we can or should say. Hyperlinks obviously have huge political implications, having links to pornography in a hacked email inbox can make or break a political campaign, sharing certain ones can land you in jail, sharing others can define you as astute, well informed or able to conduct extensive wide sweeping effective internet searches.

Maybe my agnosticism about the nature of hyperlinks is too much. But here’s a hyperlink to a social network that de facto maintains hierarchy by being an exclusively paid service. What about hyperlinks that promote propaganda, lies, disinformation, injustice, racism?

Hyperlinks, like markets, are conversations, which is why what they say matters. I suppose the more important question than whether or not hyperlinks are subversive is the ways in which hyperlinks lend themselves to politics one way or another. Hyperlinks like conversations happen in culture, and they say a lot about what we intend to say and who we intend to be.

Instead of a hard and fast proof of the binary creating thesis, let’s just ask a series of questions:

What sort of hyperlinks am I creating?

What are my links saying about me as a person?

Do my hyperlinks reflect the ethics and politics I hold? Why or why not?

What do my hyperlinks say about the culture I’m integrating with?

What sort of politics are my links promoting? Are they creating injustice, or are they spreading truth?

What could my links be doing to lend themselves to subverting injustices?

I’m just going to leave my rewrite of thesis 7 right here: Hyperlinks are extensions of ourselves and our politics, they have a lot to say about who we are.

And just for fun, here are some hyperlinks everyone should be exposed to:

The No Excuse List

The Gutenberg Project

Wired Magazine Creative Commons

John Paul II’s Theology of the Body

Maybe with some clarity we no longer need to assert that Hyperlinks Subvert Hierarchies.