I left Twitter today. I can’t stay when it will be controlled by a billionaire reactionary who wants to restore “free speech” (meaning Trump and his fellow travelers). He’s popular on Twitter because he’s rich and he’s a mega-shitposter, and it will be his personal plaything, like Mars. I’ve had an emotional go-bag ready for years, but things seemed to be getting a little better. Today was the time to grab that bag and go.
For some reason the phrase “cost per conversion” came into my head the other day. There’s a whole lexicon of internet marketing lingo that is gibberish to me, speaking in tongues while praising the pursuit of wealth. This phrase has to do with how much it costs to place a digital ad that actually results in someone doing what you want them to do, like buy a thing or do a thing. It’s built into the everyday experience of social media, where all of our interactions are measured and rewarded in terms of whether people looked at what we post or share, whether they clicked or shared or commented. And it’s very much shapes our political discourse online.
As usual, my online mystery reading group collects our top ten crime fiction reads of the year. I’ll note them here out of a sense of tradition, along with some notes on other books I read and enjoyed in 2021. Someday I’ll look back on all of these and map out how my tastes have changed (and/or how the genre has changed). My impression is that I’m reading more women and BIPOC authors and have mellowed from my more hard-boiled days. I even read a cozy this year – it didn’t make my top ten, but I did finish it.
Minitex, our local library cooperative (consortium? collaboration?) is fifty years old, and I got to speak at a virtual party, where there were videos submitted by member libraries, some speakers, and a fun breakout Jeopardy game where I got a couple right but otherwise made a fool of myself. All in a good cause – cheers for fifty years! And cheers for a well-organized Zoom gathering. Here’s the text of what I said.
Fifty/Fifty: Drawing on the Past to Envision the Future of Minitex
I’m delighted to be part of this wonderful anniversary celebration. Like all of you, I’ve benefitted immeasurably from Minitex, both as a librarian and as a citizen. My relatively small college library couldn’t possibly afford to provide all the information our students and faculty want. Interlibrary loan is the most public-facing Minitex service our community enjoys, but we also benefit behind the scenes from cataloging training and development, cooperative purchasing of things like tattletape, licensing of databases, ELM (now eLibrary), and recently the Minnesota Library Publishing Project, which several of our faculty embraced for publishing local histories or creating class projects, and so on.
Updated: What a fun conversation! Under the able moderation by Gus Andrews, we started out with a big-picture discussion of the problem – it’s not just the fault of technology, it’s social, with social media amplifying messages and those tools being used deliberately by political actors. Then we heard from Christopher Tuckwood about how the Sentinel Project uses trusted local figures to squelch false rumors circulating in Burma and East African nations where sectarian or political violence is a risk and from Ashley Westpheling, who works with girls in Dublin to develop information for peers (and in this case, the girls decided to focus on misinformation around reproductive health). It was refreshing to hear about work being done at the grassroots level outside the place we pay so much attention to, the U.S.
This is a talk I prepared for ChALS, a Swedish information literacy conference hosted at Chalmers University. Avancez!
Thank you for inviting me to be part of this conference, and I appreciate your willingness to listen to an American who has not learned Swedish; my apologies.
I am speaking to you from southern Minnesota, in the north-central United States on land that was taken from the Dakota people of the Očhéthi Šakówiŋ. Following a broken treaty and exile, it was settled by Europeans like my Norwegian grandfather as well as Irish, Germans, Finns, and Swedes. When I grew up I heard stories about pioneers, but not much about what happened to the people whose land was taken. Pioneer stories had a purpose: at best, they taught us the United States was a place many people from different backgrounds could call home. It also was a story about how we took something wild and turned it into farms and cities. Indians were part of a romantic, mythic past, not part of our modern history, or our present society. (Of course, the Indians didn’t disappear. They are still here, like the Sami people.)
In honor of the tenth anniversary of Occupy Wall Street, I’m reposting a piece from Library Journal from when I wrote a weekly column that was open access but is now a bunch of 404: Not Founds. Thank you, Internet Archive, for saving it! And congratulations on your 25th anniversary.
Why the Occupy Wall Street Movement Has Libraries | Peer to Peer Review
Oct 27, 2011
In the first news stories, the fact that Occupy Wall Street had a library seemed a bit whimsical, sort of like that iconic photo of a dancer perched on the back of the equally iconic statue of a charging bull. How funny! A library for a group that has no leaders and no rules? It seemed to some a contradiction in terms. Aren’t libraries all about rules and organization?
Well . . . no. Libraries are fundamentally about something quite different. It seems natural to me that a social movement that springs up locally and without any centralized organizing body or criteria for membership would create a library. This is an impulse so ingrained in the idea of books that people are creating tiny lending libraries to put in public places as signals that sharing books is an important act, something that creates community.
I’ve thought for years that we need to help students do more than find and use information, we need to help them know where it comes from and what traditions and practices influence it. (I published an article making this argument the year before Mark Zuckerberg scraped the Harvard student directory and made a “hot or not” app that eventually became Facebook, and designed and taught a seminar starting in 2005 that tried to address this notion.) So it’s not a new burr under my saddle, but it has been aggravated by the flourishing of our epistemological crisis. It was honestly kind of exhilarating to draft the first PIL Provocation essay on this theme, using the meta-conspiracy theory QAnon as an example. It fascinates me that “doing the research” and “thinking critically” can lead to … where QAnoners have gone.
It’s here! You Are Here: A Field Guide for Navigating Polarized Speech, Conspiracy Theories, and Our Polluted Media Landscape by Whitney Phillips and Ryan M. Milner has been published this week (MIT Press, March 2) and it’s wonderful. Throughout the book, the authors use the natural world and the threats it faces as a metaphor for the network “pollution” that we all experience, pollution that hardens polarization, distributes misinformation, and knows no borders. This metaphor allows the authors to focus on how polluted information spreads and what to do about it rather than examining motives or assigning political blame; it also points to the unequal social burden of this pollution, similar to environmental racism. Polluted information is nothing new, but in recent years we’ve built a network system that amplifies and spreads it with great efficiency. This polluted environment (one the US is particularly responsible for building) is one that is interconnected and one we all share, so it requires a communal effort to restore it to health. You’re here. I’m here. What we do affects us all. The authors write:
One of the stickiest issues we face is how to fix the internet so it isn’t a democracy-threatening amplifier of disinformation and a tool to incite racist, fascist hate and violence. It’s an old problem. While John Perry Barlow’s Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace argued against any curbs on speech online, appealing to the naïve yet foundational myth that speech, like markets, would regulate itself wisely out of enlightened self-interest, there has never been a prelapsarian Internet where there was no garbage to take out. Email wouldn’t function without some spam controls, and platforms have had to learn how to limit the spread of child pornography and unauthorized sharing of copyrighted material, however imperfectly, because the legal costs of not doing so were significant. The harder job is deciding what speech is unacceptable when the scale of these platforms is global and vast and both Mammon and mischief drive what speech gets the most reach. Jillian C. York takes on the complexity of that challenge in Silicon Values: The Future of Free Speech Under Surveillance Capitalism (Verso, March 2).