Tactical media is a term coined in 1996, to denote a form of media activism that privileges temporary, hit-and-run interventions in the media sphere over the creation of permanent and alternative media outlets. Tactical media describes interventionist media art practices that engage and critique the dominant political and economic order. They were first popularized in Europe and the United States by media theorists and practitioners such as David Garcia, Geert Lovink, Joanne Richardson, and the Critical Art Ensemble.
Geert Lovink was one of the key theorists behind the concept of tactical media – the use of media technologies as a tool for critical theory to become artistic practice. As an Internet activist, he describes tactical media as a “deliberately slippery term, a tool for creating ‘temporary consensus zones’ based on unexpected alliances. A temporary alliance of hackers, artists, critics, journalists and activists.” In essence, he believes that these new resources of which audiences could become participants in actions against higher powers became an area in which many different types of people could unite. Lovink also was a founder of such projects as “nettime”, “organised networks”, “virtual media” and more.
Although tactical media borrows from a number of artistic and political movements, it has been suggested that much of its techniques are rooted in the Situationist idea of detournament , that is, in the critical appropriation and transformation of a preexisting work—be it an artwork, a commercial billboard, or a political campaign. In the case of tactical media, it is the media themselves to be the subject of a detournement.
The dada movement has also been credited as an influence on tactical media, the two often used within activist campaigns. Much like it, tactical media often aims to do the opposite of the media it penetrates: it shocks and reveals an antithesis.
Tactical media also draws from surrealism, borrowing the idea that a “truer” experience than the present one is present. Much like surrealism, tactical media also criticizes social, political and cultural elements of a given society through its domain’s techniques.
As for media-related roots, tactical media partly stem from the alternative media created by the counterculture of the 1960’s. However, due do their temporary nature, tactical media do not tend to construct alternative media outlets, but rather appropriate existing media channels and technology to transform their usage and/or the popular understanding of their messages. In this respect, tactical media are more akin to other temporary forms of cultural and political intervention, such as guerrilla communication and culture jamming.