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Virtual Revolution episode two - Enemy of the State?

Virtual Revolution Episode Two - Enemy of the State? will transmit on BBC Two - Saturday 6 February 2010.

Most of the content produced during the open source production process: blogs, rushes, research links, can be found through the main episode page for programme two: Enemy of the State?.

1 - Twitter challenges Iran, Tehran, June 2009

During the production Aleks Krotoski blogged about the challenges the web posed to the traditional notions of the nation state, and you can watch the rushes of our interview with Twitter founders Biz Stone and Evan Williams.

Building around the argument of the web's challenge to governments is Bill Thompson, who spoke eloquently of the web's potential at the Web at 20 launch event in July 2009:

Worth noting is that Andrew Keen strongly disagrees with such ideas.

2 - The internet and its history with (D)Arpanet - we have more rushes of the father of the internet, Vint Cerf, speaking to Virtual Revolution; we also spent some time trying to track down the owner of this film for inclusion as archive footage in the programme.

The visit to the main .com servers at VeriSign might pique your interest in a story/urban legend we found ourselves intrigued by during the production - that of the mysterious 14th Server.

Re Wikileaks: we have rushes from Daniel Schmitt's interview available on our site. Further info of interest is that while Wikileaks was shut down briefly in February 2008 by a US Court ruling (but opened again shortly afterwards), Wikileaks has recently succumbed to the pressures, not of law, but of finance, and shut down due to lack of funding.

Mitch Kapoor introduces John Gilmour's famous quote that the Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it - an interesting concept made famous as 'The Streisand Effect'.

China and the web raises a number of fascinating issues in the series, and anyone wishing to delve deeper into the topic, the rushes interviews of Xiao Qiang (describing 50 cent bloggers) and Professor Ross Anderson  are essential viewing.

Ross Anderson's rushes also provide an excellent counterpoint to the matters discussed in President of Estonia's, Toomas Ilves' rushes clip, wherein he describes the cyber attacks which so damaged Estonia in 2007.

That's just a few of the links we should have shared during the programme. All this info and much more debate around the series - including concepts which we were considering, but never actually made the final script (so dissuaded were we by the responses from users and other bloggers), such as the notion that eBay was an emerging eNation in its own right - all are available through our site.

So... Over to you. What do you think about the internet and web's threat or support to governments and nations?


  • Comment number 1.

    Iran's government wants to limit the Internet because they cannot have their slice ...
    Government and their supporter in Iran cannot produce as much content as their competitor do ... Content and participating in digital world is not something government can have by their staff , People are the real participant. As a result they use their power to conquer what they think is the castle of enemies .

    I think every other government will do so if they face the same problem Even US (as they are doing it now on satellite TV)

  • Comment number 2.

    I thoroughly enjoyed Episode 1 of The Virtual Revolution and am really looking forward to tonight’s episode. This has been an exceptional well researched and presented programme.

    Radio Times reviewer David Butcher says "When TV viewers hear a presenter rumble on about "forces that challenge our real-world ideas of identity, nationality and community", our eyes may glaze over." However I can not agree with this point of view. Certainly the programme is more taxing that reality pop contest but it is not difficult to follow, indeed I would say that the programme succeeds because it pulls together many complex ideas and presents them in a straight forward and cohesive fashion. The Virtual Revolution is nothing but engaging, go on treat yourself.

  • Comment number 3.

    Whilst the democracy of the web is considered in great detail in this series and other media, is this not just another class system of the 'technocracy' controlling information released to the masses?

  • Comment number 4.

    I am enjoying the series a great deal. However I wonder if it doesn't use the term "The Web" too widely. "The Web" is not the same as "The Modern Internet"; it's not even good shorthand for "Web 2.0 application".

    For example, yes, Twitter has a web site, but most people use other apps to access it - it's better regarded as an "Internet service" or "Internet application". Similarly, Second Life has a web site, but you don't access it with a web browser (currently?); it's also an "Internet-based app". I think we need to be careful with the terminology here.

    I must add that this is a tiny niggle. I think the series is absolutely excellent, and just what I pay my licence fee for. This is what the BBC (and evidently Dr Aleks) is good at! Keep up the good work!

  • Comment number 5.

    @StevieBeadmill - hopefully that was part of the argument considered in episode one: that for all the 'levelling' and 'democratisation' the real power and influence remains in the hands of the few. We also reflect upon this 'worldwide' phenomenon as being only (currently) being accessed by of 25% of the world.

    The issue of an emerging digital divide - the haves and have nots of web and other connected resources - is very much a concern of reports such as Digital Britain, and in the work of Martha Lane Fox's Digital Inclusion Task Force, the work of which (I believe) she discusses in future episodes of the series. And a subject which is discussed as a global matter in Ep1 in the context of Aleks and Tim Berners-Lee's visit to Ghana.

    Many thanks,

  • Comment number 6.

    Agreed about RT (Butcher said a similar thing in last week's edition). But as they say, BBC4 is the new BBC2. Oh, wait...

    A small typo appeared on screen: [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]should be kremlin.

  • Comment number 7.

    @ Richard E, I agree with your point there seems to be a lot of blurring the lines, I know today a lot of people think the Internet is only Google, eBay, MSN or whatever the current web craze is :-), it is interesting that so far the whole focus is on web 2.0 commercial user centric front end application's and ideology, with no mention of some of the biggest players that benefit most from the expansion of the Internet or the www revolution our good friend's @ Cisco and Juniper who provide the core systems that power a lot of the Telco's Internet infrastructure's and the backbone's globally.

    I myself work for an Application Networking vendor in deploying some of the technology globally that powers the web 1.0, 2.0 and know that approximately 75% of the worlds Internet traffic passes through our systems daily, I agree that the web applications and the users drive some of the the infrastructure, but in reality there are a lot more protocols and use's of the net than just simple http(s) that share the communications backbone's voip, ipsec, rtsp to name but a few ok these are quite technical subjects and would not make great viewing but hey without us there would still be only dial up :-(

    It would be good if you could include a deep dive on who really powers the internet / web now and technologies that have helped kick start it's commercialisation like ADSL, 3G.

    Also on a side note I think "Virtual" is not the greatest word to use in the title catchy yes but playing on the back of the current trend's of Virtual App's, Servers and DeskTop's in the enterprise not really the Web, "The Cloud Revolution" now there's a title.

    This is not meant to be a rant, and I'm still a big fan of the show, keep it up.


    Andy Gravett

  • Comment number 8.

    I agree, this has been a good series so far. One niggle is the DOS attack example, no mention was made of the fact that for this to succeed the 'bot' needs to infect thousands of third party computers. This can only happen by exploiting a weakness in an operating system. We know which OS is widely used, we know which OS is poor security wise. We know they are one and the same.

  • Comment number 9.

    well, there was this lady with unreal red hair in underground car parks, who looked like an out of work art student until she opened her mouth .... the case histories were slightly biased, including what happened at power stations ... my 84 year old mother lives near kingsnorth and the behaviour of the protesters there was frankly criminal.. and also not that new since another programme showed people in the seventies being dragged off railings .. i don't think the internet has changed protest that much, since people have to physically displace themselves and face tear gas and police batons ... i have had enough of the west's views on iran, and other countries, which are battling with these issues too

  • Comment number 10.

    This shown seems to give a very pro American, cold war flavoured, bias coverage of events. No mention is made of Australian censorship is yet Russia and China are piled into the same ‘regime’. One section of the show tells us how impossible it is to censor or block ‘the web’ then somehow Estonia manages to shut it down. All in all the show is a very over simplified somewhat distorted view of ‘the web’ that seems to be simply a platform for founders of web technology like pay-pal and twitter to sprout how amasing and world changing their inventions are. Let’s hope the show improves as the production is quite good 

  • Comment number 11.

    @IanIlly yeah very basic, also most DDoS attack's have moved on since then and now look for broken logic in the web server, so it can only take one or two probing requests to kill a site, also a lot more attackers are operating a L7 to try and extract data (SQL Injection, Cross Site Scripting) not take the site off line any more, though I saw news of an ISP taken down a few weeks back with a massive DOS attack.

    I remember tackling some of the earliest DDoS attack's by eastern European Mafia against Sport's Betting sites and payment sites for extortion, but once these sites got wise and deployed attack protection the attacker's then turned their sites on the ISP's and DNS name servers.

    The issue with DDoS is that there are potential ways that we could stop it for good by large scale filtering but it would take too much inter co-operation and public buy in combined with education, hacker's go for soft target's (home user's un-patched and unprotected pc's).

    But saying that these activities are a crime just because it is on line and there is no apparent victim does not make it right!

    @Julia Harpum, what made me laugh was that the climate change protesters were burning a hell of a lot of energy with their Mac Book pro's, camera's, phones, TV's and equipment! complaining about a power station?

    Seriously it is one issue that we really need to investigate further the Internet is already a vast powerful network that is still growing and spreading all over the planet, all of those server's, routers, switches and end user's systems use power (and a lot of it)so every node that is added is draining precious resources! we are all guilty (I run three laptop's and an ADSL router, but know colleagues who have whole server farm's at home), this is one are the virtualisation and green computing are becoming key issues (do more with less).

    This is not another rant, just some thought's :-)

    Andy G

  • Comment number 12.

    Big thanks to the BBC for producing this series, wished I had seen part 1. There are however some things that need some commenting.

    1. I hope that this is not too much off-topic. But part 2 shows a lot of images that are just plain there because the editors are probably afraid that having talking heads too long might bore us. If Mitch Kapor is talking I want to see him all the time and defintely not a CU of the presenter wearing sunglasses driving a car and shots of cars endlessly driving over complicated highway systems. I understand the function of these images as a visual metaphore, why they are choosen, but I do NOT like this way of documentary making.

    If the relationship between the images and the soundtrack is broken, if there is no direct connection then the informative value of the item is deminished. The message is not coming across as it could have come across. See: Bernhard Wember "Wie informiert das Frensehen" (1975)

    2. In this same way: Could we have less presenter images aimlessly walking about. I am not trying to offend her, but I want images that tell me really something about the matter at hand.

    3. Clay Shirky: "In the 20th century, if you had something to say in public you couldn't. Period. If you were a civilian, a citizen, but not a media professional, you could not broadcast a message, no matter how hard you tried, as a matter of fact people who tried to get messages out through amateur channels like holding up signs on the streets were widely regarded as of their rockers"

    Pardon, mr Shirky! You seem to forget the sixties. Were were you? Berkeley? Paris? Amsterdam? OK, I know you were about four by then, but you should know history. People climbing on soapboxes had limited broadcasting but were heard!

    What stopped the war in Vietnam was a growing nationwide protest of ordinary citizens, of civlians, the mediaprofessionals HAD to report about it. It was slow but it was a slow cooking flashmob. The messages were broadcasted even if one did not hold a microphone or swayed with a videocamera. BTW you know when the first Sony portable videoset came on the market? The AV-3420CE went on sale in 1973. And, yes, we tried! Local television and media made a start.

    These amateur channel you mentioned did have effect and to say that these people holding up signs were widely regarded as of their rockers is demeaning their effort and for some maybe even insulting.

    Come on, mr. Shirky, you can do better then that!
    Ave, Evocatus

  • Comment number 13.

    I have something more on my chest. The Internet: Enemy of the State? It could be, but is it true, is it going to happen? Basically most people want leaders or they think that they want leaders, or they think that they need, I mean NEED them. If that is the case then eroding the old power structures will be an almost impossible task.

    Replacing the leaders of states by other leaders, like leaders of Green Peace or other NGO's or B.I.G. Internet companies does not make a difference at all.

    Of some of them I hope they will never be accepted as leader. Take e.g. the CEO of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg at this link: https://bit.ly/PrivacyOutdated

    "People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people. That social norm is just something that has evolved over time." Quite a necessary opinion if you try to justify the way you changed dramatically the privacy settings of your members.

    The Internet is sometimes called an anarchist medium. Unfortunately far from it, as far as I can see.
    Ave, Evocatus

  • Comment number 14.

    Got to agree with @tox1 about the rather blatant negative bias towards Russia and China. It is of course absolutely true that these countries do their best to control, manipulate and censor information on the net.
    However to completely leave out Australia and the advance of a so-called "Tiered Internet" web architecture in the USA seems very odd.

    The "Macintyre investage" bit with the presenter finding the supposed culprit of the net attack was equally sad and hilarious. For all we know the guy was the barman at the local pub........

    Maybe concentrate on making a more balanced documentary next time and skip on getting the girl presenter in focus.............

  • Comment number 15.

    The Virtual landscape in which we as individuals and societies define our inner nature is nothing new.

    Just as then we weave our Demons from the smoke and watch the shadows by our children.

    This realm belongs to our ghosts and their dance.

    Robin Rowlands Guildford Surrey

  • Comment number 16.

    Watched the series with great anticipation & whilst I appreciate the effort but was disturbed by the plethora of simplifications ; There was the claim that the venerable Berners Lee invented the Internet ... not to my knowledge ... hypertext yes (based on SGML) but the backbone no.
    Also the portrayal of Bill Gates was extremely flattering as he clearly did not see it coming ... also the apocryphal DOS/IBM story was conspicuously absent... No mention of Mosiac/Netscape Marc Andreessen either .. instead we were told IE was the key Internet sw?
    I admire the ambition of the series, must query the knowledge of the(OU?) editors; its ironic that the internet is a notorious weathervane for dodgy information & conspiracy theory, but now its seems the infection is being replicated via TV!

  • Comment number 17.

    Evocatus (and others), you make good points about the presentation. I think they are trying to make it 'friendly' so therefore not too much technical stuff that would frighten the horses. As an example, at work, trying to explain the difference between email and a discussion board goes way over their heads. And I agree with you Tudo... the way Billy was interviewed as if he were some kind of a technical 'expert' when in reality he is a just slick marketer.

  • Comment number 18.

    I find it strange that twitter was mentioned as the 'big way' for Iranians to get their message out. What about WhyWeProtest, AnonNet, and ThePirateBay?

    AnonNet had hundreds of users on their IRC network setting up their computers as proxy servers and working out ways for Iranians to get their messages and videos out. WhyWeProtest (a splinter group of Anonymous) created the Iran forum dedicated to spreading information about the Iranian protests. The Pirate Bay also renamed themselves The Persian Bay to show support for Iran with the option to donate money to help the Iranians.

    All of the above was completely ignored and I don't understand why. After all it was AnonNet and WhyWeProtest (along with ThePirateBay) that helped spread the word onto twitter and find ways for the videos (using TPB's bittorrent tracker) to be spread. Perhaps the BBC ignored these groups because they are associated with illegal activity. The Pirate Bay used to (before it was taken over) be a bastion of internet freedoms with one of (if not the biggest) collection of torrents on the internet. WhyWeProtest being a splinter of Anonymous takes part in anti-scientology protests and of course their parent group has taken part in a wide range of illegal activites. AnonNet is of course the meeting ground for Anonymous.

    The fact that the BBC chose to ignore these groups is rather shameful. Yes they may be involved in illegal activities but what they did in regards to getting information out of Iran was a great achievement. What the BBC did in giving the 'tweeters' the credit for all of this was disappointing.

  • Comment number 19.

    @spaise I had similar thoughts myself.
    There was a section about Austin Heap and how his Haystack encryption program is 'a secure way for ordinary Iranians to load sites blocked by their government'.
    Sounded interesting.
    So I looked at his website and found that it's still 'in the beta stage', and isn't yet available to download (but donations are welcome). In other words, there is no program; but there is a fundraising site. So, how exactly is it helping Iranians avoid net censorship? If I was of a suspicious mind, I might suspect this was some sort of scam. Which raises the question: how much research did the BBC do into Adrain Heap and Haystack, other than have Aleks stare at a screen and say, 'That's a lot of numbers'?

  • Comment number 20.

    @john9newton and spaise, yeah the guy did seem a little out of character for a hacker / programmer LOL so it was either a stunt or they made it up, I have used a similar system called TOR Button from the torproject for years as it let's you hook into a secure secret network at a push of a button.

  • Comment number 21.

    @tudoquemegustaeillegal 'There was the claim that the venerable Berners Lee invented the Internet'

    I don't think so. We assert that Tim Berners-Lee invented the web, not the internet.

    To the comments above re Twitter and the Iranian elections, and Haystack - I have asked Series Producer Russell Barnes for his comments on these issues you raise, and he replies:

    Re: Haystack. It's important to say that this wasn't 'promotion' on our part and we didn't encourage anyone to donate money to anyone else. We cited Haystack and Austin Heap as a compelling and articulate example of how the internet routes around censorship - and how on Iran geeks played David to Goliath. We didn't say that Haystack was the only way that this happened or that it would last forever.

    Re: Twitter. This is a time and space issue. We had 6 minutes of air time to tell the Iran story. We cite YouTube and Twitter (and then Austin talks about Facebook later) as examples of a 'toolbox' the web gives protesters. We're not saying they're the only tools but sadly we haven't got time to list all the possibilities. Twitter caught the public imagination at the time, became a household name and its use is widespread in politics so we felt was worth in-depth analysis. As Stephen Fry says: 'it's a microcosm of the world wide web'.

    Thank you for your continued comments and analysis of the programme(s). As Russell says, we are limited to four programmes, each one hour in length, to cover a massive subject. This is why we made the production as open and discursive as possible, and why we also continue to create these blog posts: to give a further opportunity for people to highlight new/extra information; to question the content and the arguments made; to offer further information and facts around the issues raised. Your thought and participation in the series is very much appreciated.

    Many thanks,

  • Comment number 22.

    Can anybody tell me what music is used just over 10 minutes into the episode? (the one lead by the bassline)

  • Comment number 23.

    @kingysilvers - This is the section where Aleks descends into the missile silo, yes? I'll try to find out for you.


  • Comment number 24.

    That's the one Dan, it's been driving my crazy since I heard it.

    ps, really enjoying the show!

  • Comment number 25.

    hi dan, sorry 2 trade semantiks but most people don't make a distinction between the web & net ?

  • Comment number 26.

    @tudoquemegustaeillegal 'hi dan, sorry 2 trade semantiks but most people don't make a distinction between the web & net ?'

    Possibly true, but that's not the point I was addressing - you said we claimed 'the venerable Berners Lee invented the Internet'. We didn't. You can't say we were wrong to make a correct statement, any more than you could claim we'd be wrong to state that there are [currently] eight planets in our solar system - just because some people may not know that the previous 9th planet, Pluto, has (relatively recently) lost its status as a true planet. That someone receiving a fact may not be all knowing does not render the fact redundant. It may require some contextualizing to increase its impact and reach...

    Documentary is a narrative process, not an instant download. Indeed, for those who previously may not have made the distinction between internet and web, we did explain the difference between the two entities in programme one (though not at the top of the programme) - something discussed on our blog post for episode one.

    Many thanks,

  • Comment number 27.

    @kingysilvers - that track you're wondering about is 'The Lurch' by Two Lone Swordsmen.


  • Comment number 28.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 29.

    It was interesting to see how all the blog discussion about this episode and interviews got put into the TV programme making process and came out the other end as a fairly coherent programme, which informed, but didn't bamboozle. I thought there was a bit too much of Aleks wandering around, but then I can see the difficulty of illustrating abstract concepts without overdoing all the website screenshots.

  • Comment number 30.

    @Paulmorriss 'I can see the difficulty of illustrating abstract concepts without overdoing all the website screenshots.'

    That's true. We had to keep the visuals as far from repeated mouse clicks, keyboard tappings and flickering screenshots as possible. There are instances of those, of course, but we could have ended up with a lot more which would have made for tougher viewing.


  • Comment number 31.

    It looks like Austin Heap did something re. Iran last summer. He’s also quite good at self promotion too. (If you Google his name you’ll find more articles etc.) https://therumpus.net/2009/06/austin-heap-rerouting-iranians-on-the-web/

    Oddly, Heap's much what I’d expect a teen coder geek to look like. I assume their all pretty much EMOs.

    Having watched both episodes so far, Vint Cerf has been described as the father of the Internet, Berners-Lee as the inventor of the Web.
    I thought episode two explained the early days of the Internet quite well.

    I know what people mean about the shots of Aleks going walkabout.
    My concern when the interviews began going up on the blog was each episode would consist of an endless series of talking heads. (Well done on editing those down to get what you wanted BTW, it can’t have been an easy or quick job.)

    Conveying concepts and making these glowing beige boxes we use interesting is a difficult task for TV to tackle. (History series [Simon Schama, David Starkey et al] suffer the same problems.)
    I’m not sure there is an ideal solution other than using voice-over to fill in the gaps.

  • Comment number 32.

    Hi dan,

    I take on board what you meant but in my role as self-ordained Cyber QC , when you use such a degraded term like web ensuring confusion is surely inevitable?
    Re documentary there was so much rewriting of events/technologies that the series is more aptly described as commentary rather than documentary (=Fictomentary?), which is fair enough as long as you don't dress it up as anything else. Rigour is often the enemy of entertainment (all film is propaganda et al) & hence I appreciate the pressures programme makers are under, but those are choices you make & we retain the right to noisily endure .

  • Comment number 33.

    We used to live in local communities where everyone knew who we were and what we had done and who we had relations with and what we did with our lives. Some rural communities are still like this. It had benefits and disbenefits. Is this different?


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