So, this event is coming up on October 19th – an hour-long discussion on “The Social Life of Misinformation” moderated by Gus Andrews (author of Keep calm and log on: your handbook for surviving the digital revolution, among other things), Sebit Martin (co-founder and Executive Director of the Community Development Centre, South Sudan, which you can find on Facebook if you use Facebook), Christopher Tuckwood (of the Sentinel Project) and me. I’m going to learn a lot. And the hour will seem very short, I’m sure.
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).
It’s been a moment. About five exhausting years of moments. A telescoping sequence of “oh my god” moments, from Muslim bans and kids in cages and Charlottesville and Pizzagate–ha ha, remember that goofiness? ha ha, so weird–to ever more urgent signs of imminent climate catastrophe, to a mishandled pandemic to gamified delusional bonding online to a mass uprising against state violence against black folks to open insurrection by a flag-waving white supremacist alliance. The attack on the Capitol seemed like a bizarre season finale, broadcast live, that got more and more real as the media created by the insurrectionists to memorialize their moment was scraped and assembled. It was so much worse than it first seemed, than we could at first believe. And it’s far from over.
Ever since I joined a discussion group for mysteries some fifteen years ago (4MysteryAddicts, once on Yahoo Groups and now on Groups.io) I’ve participated in the annual tradition of selecting and sharing our top ten mysteries of the year. Seeing what books others enjoyed reading is a great way of getting ideas for what to read next, which if you’re addicted to mysteries is a serious question. I’ll share my list here, as I’ve done most years, along with noting some novels and non-fiction that I also enjoyed reading. Making these lists provide a good opportunity to take stock and look back. Given what a horrid year 2020 was, the reading was surprisingly good.
I finished finishing a book recently. That is, I completed a draft of a mystery ages ago, let it sit in a quiet place for a while to ripen, and then took it out and decided it needed some fairly significant changes. Then it had to sit in a quiet place again. I made more changes, and I thought it was done but as soon as I uploaded the chapters and saw it through a different layout (funny how that works) I discovered a dozen missing words, duplicate phrases, etc. –small mistakes that had hidden in plain sight, so I went through it all again. And when that was done, I made a cover, switched the setting to “public,” and uploaded a copy to the Internet Archive. Though I’m sure there are still some glitches, and possibly some glaring errors, it’s out there now, free for anyone who feels like reading a mystery.
. . . it just eats budgets, deepens inequality, and gathers enormous amounts of data (while often invading students’ privacy in new ways). Earlier this fall I read Justin Reich’s Failure to Disrupt: Why Technology Alone Can’t Transform Education, and I had the opportunity to ask the author some questions as part of Project Information Literacy’s Smart Talk series. The book is a very thorough and even-handed overview of how technology has been introduced into classrooms, first examining how these technologies approach learning (massive online courses, computer-aided personalized learning, and using technology to build learning communities) and then unpacking the problems that have hindered tech’s promise. These have only become more obvious since the pandemic sent students and teachers home and Zoom became a common verb for online interaction.