A Pew Research has just published a fascinating in-depth report titled “The Future of Free Speech Online.” (The PDF version of the study is 75 pages – there’s a lot to it.) Lee Rainie, Janna Anderson, and Jonathan Albright surveyed a number of tech experts to get their predictions about where online discourse is headed. And while nearly 20 percent of the experts are optimistic, most of them think the climate for online discourse will either stay the same or get worse.
The framing of study seems . . . odd, though. The implication is that we can either design online platforms that control behavior (by doing things like prohibiting anonymity, developing reputation systems, or using artificial intelligence to moderate contributions) or we can have freedom. This is where some of internet culture seems to intersect with libertarianism: any attempt to shape the overall tenor of a group conversation is a restriction on individuals’ right of free expression. Or to put it differently, the power to shape the tone of a social interaction is liable to be misused by the powerful. Continue reading “what kind of free is speech online?”
I think I’m getting the hang of this Newsletter plugin for WordPress. It sent out a nicely-formatted email yesterday – April Fool’s Day, appropriately enough, given that the common thread of the links I selected was what we talk about when we talk about “fake news.” (One think I’ve learned – I need to check my spelling, because it wasn’t automatically checked for me. Sorry about that, newletterers.) Here are the links I shared:
The Fake News Course (A Sillybus) This satirical project is subtitled How to Write and Read Fake News: Journullism in the Age of Trump. While it’s the Onion of syllabi, it actually goes a long way toward showing how false narratives are created. The course is the work of Talan Memmott and Mark C. Marino and is part of UnderAcademy College, an artistic adventure in tongue-in-cheek critique.
I like to point out, whenever possible, how library systems encode bias just as newer algorithmic search systems literally encode it while seeming blissfully, mechanically, inhumanly incapable of being anything but neutral. I’m reminded of something one of our faculty members said when discussing what critical concepts about information our students should grasp.
Information has to be organized and how it is organized matters.
That’s profoundly true, and so easy to forget when helping students find information in systems that are complicated enough without explaining how they got that way. The exoskeleton of the library stacks is hidden from view unless you step back and wonder about why this subject is next to that, or why there’s loads of room for one subject but not for another.
Abstract: Why do we encourage students to read widely, think critically, and conduct their own research? We are preparing them for lives in a world filled with ambiguity and complexity, where we don’t actually know the answers to what’s on the test. The surprising outcome of the recent election has prompted us to examine our assumptions about how knowledge is arrived at and shared – and why it matters. Librarians and faculty in the disciplines have long helped students learn how to find and assess scholarly information, but we haven’t always been explicit about why it matters. What we’ve come to call “information literacy” must be more than learning how to evaluate websites and recognize “fake news” as an information consumer. It’s gaining an understanding of the ways information systems shape our world while gaining the confidence and conviction that we ourselves can shape the world for the better. Paulo Freire urged us to think of education as the practice of freedom. We will explore ways to prepare students to enter a world saturated with personalized propaganda and “alternative facts” as free human beings and motivated citizens.
Remember “truthiness”? Stephen Cobert, in his parodic role of a brash conservative talk show personality, coined it in 2005 and it seemed to nail a fact of political life: politicians often said things that seemed true, that felt true, that appealed to an audience as true while sliding off to one side of demonstrable facts. He was giving a name to the political polarization that made Americans line up behind different sets of known “facts” along with a tendency to prefer assertions that carried an emotional charge.
“Truthiness,” named the 2005 Word of the Year by the American Dialect Society, has given way to the Oxford Dictionaries 2016 Word of the Year, “Post-Truth,” which was a bit depressing until it was eclipsed by the furor over “fake news.” That last shape-shifting phrase means all kinds of things, including any news you don’t like. Entire news organizations have been labeled “fake news” by our president. Continue reading “matter of facts”
This has been one hell of a week. I suspect there will be many more like it. The bad news is that we’re this close to a coup led by nihilistic Nazi, Steve Bannon. The good news is that a lot of people are taking to the streets. We are not alone. We are not accepting this. We are paying attention.
So what a weird time to start up a newsletter, eh? I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling as if I’m dog-paddling as fast as I can in a fast-running current of massive amounts of information. I probably shouldn’t add to it. Continue reading “commonplace newsletter #1”
Woody Guthrie famously had a sign on his guitar: THIS MACHINE KILLS FASCISTS. I’ve been thinking about that line a lot in the past week, this strange new world in which a man-child signs orders written by a nihilistic Nazi, throwing the world into chaos gleefully and viciously. It’s encouraging to see mass resistance form spontaneously, though I remind myself that there were mass protests against Hitler, too. There’s work to do. There are values to defend. It won’t be an easy road, and I’m not sure where it will all lead.
I am printing up some stickers for my laptop, which is about as close as I get to a guitar. I wimped out and used “fights” instead of “kills” because I’m an angry pacifist who likes to think libraries, books, and writers can all oppose this violence with words and ideas. Continue reading “a Woody Guthrie moment”
A lot of people were disgusted when they heard Simon & Schuster will publish a book by Milo Yiannopoulos, a notorious right-wing troll who makes a career of offending people and hounding his chosen enemies through mass intimidation. He has even been banned from Twitter, which is incredibly difficult to do. He tried to offend his publishers with grotesque jokes as well, to no avail. They really wanted to publish his book.