I submitted this piece to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, which published it under the headline “Freedom of information and personal data: Big Tech should take cues from public libraries” and the deck “They’ve developed a robust set of core values that strike the right balance.” You nailed it, Strib!
By the end of 2018, whatever faith we may have once placed in the giant technology corporations that we use daily was growing threadbare. YouTube made a show of removing Alex Jones’ breathless conspiracy theories for repeatedly violating their guidelines, but a subsequent report from Data and Society showed the platform continues to promote extremist content through its sensation-seeking algorithm. Amazon has rolled out a powerful facial recognition system, but it is flawed and biased, according to the ACLU, which found it falsely matched members of Congress with criminal mug shots. Facebook was apologetic about personal information scooped up by Cambridge Analytica and claimed it was a one-off violation of policies. Then we found out, thanks to a December New York Times investigation, that Facebook has given over a hundred companies routine access to troves of users’ personal data.
Continue reading “another tech is possible”
As usual, I’m trying to highlight ten books read in 2018 that seemed especially memorable. Most of these have a political edge, with immigration playing a role in several. A couple are more introspective and psychological. Many are by authors making a repeat visit on my Top Ten list. Emma Viskic is the best discovery of the year – compelling writing and a vivid Australian setting.
Previous lists (not sure what happened to 2010 and 2011) – 2017 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2009 2008 2007
Resurrection Bay / Emma Viskic
An Australian private investigator who happens to be deaf has to go home to Resurrection Bay to solve the murder of his associate, and to see if he can reconcile with his wife, an Aboriginal artist. I also loved the sequel, AND FIRE CAME DOWN, but this is one to read in order to sort out the complicated backstory.
Continue reading “2018 in Crime Fiction”
I posted this top ten list over at Inside Higher Ed. I’ll be adding my traditional top ten in crime fiction before too long.
Yochai Benkler, Robert Faris, and Harold Roberts Network Propaganda: Manipulation, Disinformation, and Radicalization in American Poltiics (Oxford).
A thorough examination of the ways technology has been used in recent months to shape our political culture and influence events, based on an analysis of millions of stories posted and shared on networks in three decisive years. I haven’t finished reading it yet, but it’s a lucid, fascinating explanation of how these networks operate and how our news environment has split into two distinct spheres, contributing to polarization and radicalization. If your library’s copy is checked out, you can read the open access version.
Continue reading “Top Ten for 2018 – Non-Fiction”
I was discouraged, hearing Trump repeat the bogus conspiracy theory that George Soros is behind the demonstrations against his Supreme Court nominee, claiming that all of those women storming Congress were paid “crisis actors,” that Trump is channeling Info Wars from the White House. Discouraged, but only with a vestige of shock. His behavior is numbing (intentionally).
I was a bit shocked, though, when that ridiculous and inflammatory claim was picked up by Republicans who could have simply touted their success at confirming a controversial justice, but instead are stooping to absurd false narratives to turn up the heat for their already-inflamed base. I was genuinely shocked this morning, when the same claim popped up on my local television station in an attack ad against the Democratic party candidate in my swing district. I guess I shouldn’t be. The Republican party knows they can’t top Trump, and their best chance is to act like Trump and suppress enough vote to keep their majority. So sure, parrot the line that all opposition is paid for and isn’t genuine even if that means there is no actual debate about issues anymore, just accusations that the people, like the press, are fake.
Continue reading “reductio ad it’s all a conspiracy”
It seems as if Charlottesville was several years ago. It was a shock, seeing Nazis and white supremacists carrying torches on the campus of the University of Virginia campus, then invading the town carrying guns and the kind of gear that you’d think belonged to an angry offshoot of the Society for Creative Anachronism, unleashing threats, violence, beatings, and even murder. There was outrage, but since then there has been a strange drift toward accepting white supremacy. It’s fueling candidates for office. It shows up on talk shows where hosts say America won’t be America if we don’t get rid of immigrants.
This is nothing new. What’s new, I think, is the way in which social media and journalism are trying to negotiate new forms of expression and argument in the midst of the vast and immediate distribution of text, images, and video through new channels. I’m trying to figure out how to help students understand the information they encounter, and our usual discussions of evaluation of sources simply doesn’t apply without a broader grasp of the sociotechnical moment we’re in. Understanding events like Charlottesville and the hate-inspired violence that keeps happening is likewise impossible without understanding the ways information outside the library flows. Continue reading “can’t argue with that”
. . . but if it’s on the internet, who’s to say?
A few days ago, Forbes published a blog post by an economics professor that argued we should close public libraries because Amazon could fill that increasingly insignificant niche, which would help the economy and stop wasting taxes. It turned into a Twitter spectacle.
Continue reading “something is wrong”
This coda to my last blog post is, in part, inspired by John Warner’s latest discussion of replacing human teachers responding to writing with machines that can read for structure and grammar but not for meaning, because meaning is not required to prove you can write. (In fact, according to the people selling this program, being able to write nonsense according to formula is proof you can write well! As if writing and meaning are separate categories.)
It’s also inspired by a piece in the New Yorker about people who believe the earth is flat and have the evidence to prove it – because there’s an abundance of evidence to prove just about anything you want, right now, and being able to “do the research yourself” is somehow affirming, a form of liberty. You don’t have to trust traditional authorities. You can find the truth yourself, online, and you’ll find a community of people who will agree with you to confirm your free thought.
Continue reading “it’s the attention economy, and it’s stupid”