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.
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”→
We’ve been watching the new documentary series on the Vietnam War, which is excellent but also exhausting and upsetting and full of sparks of memory: Oh, that guy! I remember him. Wait, this thing is about to happen. Look how skinny those soldiers are, carrying all that equipment, just like those guys we knew. It also fills in gaps in memory. I never knew much about the Vietnamese experience. I didn’t realize how many Americans were opposed to the anti-war movement, even after the Kent State killings. A poll at the time found over half of Americans thought the dead students had it coming. I suppose that included the two students shot dead at Jackson State University eleven days later, though they didn’t get as much attention.
We have always been at war with the Internet. No, I’m not talking about trolls or flamewars but efforts to keep this globally interconnected digital space a place where freedom can thrive. What that freedom looks like, of course, is endlessly debatable. There’s the problem of the digital divide, the cultural factors that can make the internet friendly or hostile, and the fact that the values underpinning sentiments like John Perry Barlow’s libertarian Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace do not guarantee its citizens will act with wisdom or justice. Throw in mass surveillance and cybercrime and the fact that setting up your home router is just about as defeating as running your VHS system was thirty years ago. It’s complicated, but net neutrality is a foundational feature of the internet that we should preserve – and it’s under threat yet again.
I suppose it’s inevitable, given that information-driven tech-centered global corporations dominate the list of Big Rich Companies, that information systems play a significant role in 21st century terrorism. ISIS has famously made effective use of social media platforms for recruitment purposes. So have white nationalists and neo-Nazis. The responses have been fumbling, partly because the job of moderating messages that globally flow by the billions is difficult and partly because that flow is the current that produces power and money for these companies. Our devices and platforms want to seize and retain our attention and categorize our passions; building in methods to check the flow adds cost and conflicts with their very design. So that’s one thing: our most powerful information channels today are unprecedented in their usefulness for creating global connections among people who seek people who feel the same anger – and in their design-driven capacity for fanning those flames.
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”→
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.