balancing acts

cover of info lit in the age of algorithms reportThe latest Project Information Literacy report is out, and I hope you’ll have a chance to read it. I was so honored to be able to work on this one and have the opportunity to hear what students have to say about our current information environment. I hope it will contribute in some way to our broadening what we mean by information literacy. These days, as we’re inundated with news and information, we need to prepare students to do more than use libraries for academic purposes. We need to make clearer how the skills students practice in school relate to information use beyond classroom assignments.

I was going to say more about the report, but my attention got waylaid when I listened to an excellent episode of the On the Media podcast (they are all excellent, by the way) that reported from the recent gun rights rally in Richmond, Virginia. The rally was planned for MLK day – yes, that’s symbolic. It also happened to be Lobby Day, when Virginians are encouraged to bring their issues to the capital. That day there was only one issue on the agenda, and only one perspective permitted. Second amendment purists brought their body armor, militia insignia, and long guns to say clearly and loudly “our right to bear arms trumps every other right, including your right to disagree with us.”

Nobody was killed. Hurrah. It was considered a success.

Continue reading “balancing acts”

what kind of free is speech online?

free signReposted 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?”