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”
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”
Mike Caulfield has written a handy (and free!) classroom-ready book about fact-checking and provides useful case studies for students and anyone who wants to fine-tune their bullshit detector. Also, he has explained why simply studying a document for clues (a checklist approach) doesn’t work and four moves you can make instead: corroborate, trace the story’s origin, confirm (aka “read laterally”), and don’t get stuck in a rabbit hole (“circle back”). I have to also give a tip of the hat to Marc Meola who made a very similar point back in 2004, though we didn’t need it quite so badly back then.
Continue reading “from schooled skepticism to informed trust”
Reposted from Inside Higher Ed; image courtesy of Dan Lingard.
There’s another fascinating study out from the Stanford History Education Group, the folks who studied high school and college students’ capacity to figure out what news is fake, finding that they don’t really know how to do that. Turns out – surprise! – trained historians don’t really know how to do that, either. Historians tend to focus on critiquing textual evidence, unlike trained fact checkers who immediately confirm and corroborate with other sources, something the report calls “reading laterally.” No doubt historians would have gotten the answers eventually, but on a timed test, close reading didn’t work as well as lateral reading. We rely too much on training and trust.
Continue reading “the black box problem”
Battle For The Net Video Bumper from FFTF on Vimeo.
This essay is reprinted from Inside Higher Ed.
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.
Continue reading “fahrenheit 404”
Reposted from Inside Higher Ed; photo courtesy of Toshiyuki IMAI
Here’s another interesting thing about the origins of American public libraries. We have women to thank for most of them.
Oh, sure, Andrew Carnegie had something to do with it. Unlike his fellow mega-rich philanthropists who built libraries, he didn’t want to build palaces. He wanted to produce relatively humble public libraries on an industrial scale, promoting the establishment of libraries in neighborhoods and small town throughout the country using a common set of standards, processes, and even architectural plans. He thought access to libraries could improve those among the working classes who wanted to improve themselves. They could be better workers, and some of them might even rise above their circumstances and become rich.
Continue reading “how libraries became public II”
Reposted from Inside Higher Ed. Image courtesy of JwvanEck.
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?”