The long read: As social media has become more inhospitable, the appeal of private online groups has grown. But they hold their own dangers – to those both inside and out.
I am reevaluating my use of certain IndieWeb technologies. In 2018 I added a set of plugins to my website and started using a microformats 2 theme, SemPress to mark up my website so that content could be interpreted by other sites. SemPress is the only theme in the WordPress repository that is fully...
I think of IndieWeb in terms similar to Churchill’s quote about Democracy:
Many forms of social media have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that the IndieWeb is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that IndieWeb is the worst form of social media except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time…
In the decades after America’s founding and the establishment of the Constitution, did the nation get better, more just, more democratic? Or did it double down on violent conquest and exploitation?
Reported, produced, written, and mixed by John Biewen, with series collaborator Chenjerai Kumanyika. The series editor is Loretta Williams. Interviews with Robin Alario, Edward Baptist, Kidada Williams, and Keri Leigh Merritt.
Music by Algiers, John Erik Kaada, Eric Neveux, and Lucas Biewen. Music consulting and production help from Joe Augustine of Narrative Music.
Photo: Cotton bale, Old Slater Mill Historic Site, Pawtucket, Rhode Island. Photo by John Biewen.
What if local newspapers/magazines or other traditional local publishers ran/operated/maintained IndieWeb platforms or hubs (similar to micro.blog, Multi-site WordPress installs, or Mastodon instances) to not only publish, aggregate, curate, and disseminate their local area news, but also provided that social media service for their customers?
Reasonable mass hosting can be done for about $2/month which could be bundled in with regular subscription prices of newspapers. This would solve some of the problems that people face with social media presences on services like Facebook and Twitter while simultaneously solving the problem of newspapers and journalistic enterprises owning and managing their own distribution. It would also give a tighter coupling between journalistic enterprises and the communities they serve.
The decentralization of the process here could also serve to prevent the much larger attack surfaces that global systems like Twitter and Facebook represent from being disinformation targets for hostile governments or hate groups. Tighter community involvement could be a side benefit for local discovery, aggregation, and interaction.
Many journalistic groups are already building and/or maintaining their own websites, why not go a half-step further. Additionally many large newspaper conglomerates have recently been building their own custom CMS platforms not only for their own work, but also to sell to other smaller news organizations that may not have the time or technical expertise to manage them.
A similar idea is that of local government doing this sort of building/hosting and Greg McVerry and I have discussed this being done by local libraries. While this is a laudable idea, I think that the alignment of benefits between customers and newspapers as well as the potential competition put into place could be a bigger beneficial benefit to all sides.
In the American Revolution, the men who revolted were among the wealthiest and most comfortable people in the colonies. What kind of revolution was it, anyway? Was it about a desire to establish democracy—or something else?
By producer/host John Biewen with series collaborator Chenjerai Kumanyika. Interviews with Davy Arch, Barbara Duncan, Rob Shenk, and Woody Holton. Edited by Loretta Williams.
Music by Algiers, John Erik Kaada, Eric Neveux, and Lucas Biewen. Music consulting and production help from Joe Augustine of Narrative Music.
I love the subtleties that are brought up in the additional details about our shared history that aren’t as commonly known or discussed in the mythologized version of the founding of our country.
It was referenced briefly in the episode, but if you haven’t read/heard the Frederick Douglass speech What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July? I recommend you remedy the oversight quickly. There are several versions read by James Earl Jones, Morgan Freeman, and others readily available on the web.
In 1968, Lyndon Johnson appointed a National Commission on Obscenity and Pornography to investigate the supposed sexual scourge corrupting America’s youth...
📑 Highlights and Annotations
For the parallels between the fight against harmful and hateful speech online today and the crusade against sexual speech 50 years ago are stunning: the paternalistic belief that the powerless masses (but never the powerful) are vulnerable to corruption and evil with mere exposure to content; the presumption of harm without evidence and data; cries calling for government to stamp out the threat; confusion about the definitions of what’s to be forbidden; arguments about who should be responsible; the belief that by censoring content other worries can also be erased. ❧
Annotated on January 18, 2020 at 08:29AM
One of the essays comes from Charles Keating, Jr., a conservative whom Nixon added to the body after having created a vacancy by dispatching another commissioner to be ambassador to India. Keating was founder of Citizens for Decent Literature and a frequent filer of amicus curiae briefs to the Supreme Court in the Ginzberg, Mishkin, and Fanny Hill obscenity cases. Later, Keating was at the center of the 1989 savings and loan scandal — a foretelling of the 2008 financial crisis — which landed him in prison. Funny how our supposed moral guardians — Nixon or Keating, Pence or Graham — end up disgracing themselves; but I digress. ❧
Annotated on January 18, 2020 at 08:40AM
The fear then was the corruption of the masses; the fear now is microtargeting drilling directly into the heads of a strategic few. ❧
Annotated on January 18, 2020 at 08:42AM
McCarthy next asks: “Who selects what is to be recorded or transmitted to others, since not everything can be recorded?” But now, everything can be recorded and transmitted. That is the new fear: too much speech. ❧
Annotated on January 18, 2020 at 08:42AM
Many of the book’s essayists defend freedom of expression over freedom from obscenity. Says Rabbi Arthur Lelyveld (father of Joseph, who would become executive editor of The New York Times): “Freedom of expression, if it is to be meaningful at all, must include freedom for ‘that which we loathe,’ for it is obvious that it is no great virtue and presents no great difficulty for one to accord freedom to what we approve or to that to which we are indifferent.” I hear too few voices today defending speech of which they disapprove. ❧
I might take issue with this statement and possibly a piece of Jarvis’ argument here. I agree that it’s moral panic that there could be such a thing as “too much speech” because humans have a hard limit for how much they can individually consume.
The issue I see is that while anyone can say almost anything, the problem becomes when a handful of monopolistic players like Facebook or YouTube can use algorithms to programattically entice people to click on and consume fringe content in mass quantities and that subtly, but assuredly nudges the populace and electorate in an unnatural direction. Most of the history of human society and interaction has long tended toward a centralizing consensus in which we can manage to cohere. The large scale effects of algorithmic-based companies putting a heavy hand on the scales are sure to create unintended consequences and they’re able to do it at scales that the Johnson and Nixon administrations only wish they had access to.
If we look at as an analogy to the evolution of weaponry, I might suggest we’ve just passed the border of single shot handguns and into the era of machine guns. What is society to do when the next evolution occurs into the era of social media atomic weapons?
Annotated on January 18, 2020 at 10:42AM
Truth is hard. ❧
Annotated on January 18, 2020 at 10:42AM
As an American and a staunch defender of the First Amendment, I’m allergic to the notion of forbidden speech. But if government is going to forbid it, it damned well better clearly define what is forbidden or else the penumbra of prohibition will cast a shadow and chill on much more speech. ❧
Perhaps it’s not what people are saying so much as platforms are accelerating it algorithmically? It’s one thing for someone to foment sedition, praise Hitler, or yell their religious screed on the public street corner. The problem comes when powerful interests in the form of governments, corporations, or others provide them with megaphones and tacitly force audiences to listen to it.
When Facebook or Youtube optimize for clicks keyed on social and psychological constructs using fringe content, we’re essentially saying that machines, bots, and extreme fringe elements are not only people, but that they’ve got free speech rights, and they can be prioritized with the reach and exposure of major national newspapers and national television in the media model of the 80’s.
I highly suspect that if real people’s social media reach were linear and unaccelerated by algorithms we wouldn’t be in the morass we’re generally seeing on many platforms.
Annotated on January 18, 2020 at 11:08AM
“Privacy in law means various things,” he writes; “and one of the things it means is protection from intrusion.” He argues that in advertising, open performance, and public-address systems, “these may validly be regulated” to prevent porn from being thrust upon the unsuspecting and unwilling. It is an extension of broadcast regulation.
And that is something we grapple with still: What is shown to us, whether we want it shown to us, and how it gets there: by way of algorithm or editor or bot. What is our right not to see? ❧
Privacy as freedom from is an important thing. I like this idea.
Annotated on January 18, 2020 at 11:20AM
The Twenty-Six Words that Created the Internet is Jeff Kosseff’s definitive history and analysis of the current fight over Section 230, the fight over who will be held responsible to forbid speech. In it, Kosseff explains how debate over intermediary liability, as this issue is called, stretches back to a 1950s court fight, Smith v. California, about whether an L.A. bookseller should have been responsible for knowing the content of every volume on his shelves. ❧
For me this is the probably the key idea. Facebook doesn’t need to be responsible for everything that their users post, but when they cross the line into actively algorithmically promoting and pushing that content into their users’ feeds for active consumption, then they **do** have a responsibility for that content.
By analogy image the trusted local bookstore mentioned. If there are millions of books there and the user has choice when they walk in to make their selection in some logical manner. But if the bookseller has the secret ability to consistently walk up to children and put porn into their hands or actively herding them into the adult sections to force that exposure on them (and they have the ability to do it without anyone else realizing it), then that is the problem. Society at large would further think that this is even more reprehensible if they realized that local governments or political parties had the ability to pay the bookseller to do this activity.
In case the reader isn’t following the analogy, this is exactly what some social platforms like Facebook are allowing our politicans to do. They’re taking payment from politicans to actively lie, tell untruths, and create fear in a highly targeted manner without the rest of society to see or hear those messages. Some of these sorts of messages are of the type that if they were picked up on an open microphone and broadcast outside of the private group they were intended for would have been a career ending event.
Without this, then we’re actively stifling conversation in the public sphere and actively empowering the fringes. This sort of active targeted fringecasting is preventing social cohesion, consensus, and comprimise and instead pulling us apart.
Perhaps the answer for Facebook is to allow them to take the political ad money for these niche ads and then not just cast to the small niche audience, but to force them to broadcast them to everyone on the platform instead? Then we could all see who our politicians really are?
Annotated on January 18, 2020 at 11:50AM
Of course, it’s even more absurd to expect Facebook or Twitter or Youtube to know and act on every word or image on their services than it was to expect bookseller Eleazer Smith to know the naughty bits in every book on his shelves. ❧
Here’s the point! We shouldn’t expect them to know, but similarly if they don’t know, then they should not be allowed to randomly privilege some messages over others for how those messages are distributed on the platform. Why is YouTube accelerating messages about Nazis instead of videos of my ham sandwich at lunch? It’s because they’re making money on the Nazis.
Annotated on January 18, 2020 at 12:07PM
there must be other factors that got us Trump ❧
Primarily people not really knowing how racisit and horrible he really was in addition to his inability to think clearly, logically, or linearly. He espoused a dozen or so simple aphorisms like “Build the wall,” but was absolutely unable to indicate a plan that went beyond the aphorism. How will it be implemented, funded, what will the short and long term issues that result. He had none of those things that many others presumed would be worked out as details by smart and intelligent people rather than the “just do it” managerial style he has been shown to espouse.
Too many republicans, particularly at the end said, “he’s not really that bad” and now that he’s in power and more authoritarian than they expected are too weak to admit their mistake.
Annotated on January 18, 2020 at 12:28PM
Axel Bruns’ dismantling of the filter bubble. ❧
research to read
Annotated on January 18, 2020 at 12:45PM
“To affirm freedom is not to applaud that which is done under its sign,” Lelyveld writes. ❧
Annotated on January 18, 2020 at 12:51PM
On the press's role to educate the public about participating in democracy.
As part of a month-long campaign called the Purple Project for Democracy, (a strictly non-partisan, apolitical effort that a number of other large news organizations have also contributed to) we are featuring a series of conversations about an alarming loss of trust, faith and devotion by Americans for American democracy — and what to do about it. Bob is one of the Purple Project organizers. In episode four, Bob examines the media’s responsibility for instilling devotion, or at least perspective, for our democracy.
A 2014 National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, showed only 23 percent of eighth graders in the United States attained “proficient” status in civics. A 2011 Newsweek survey found that 70 percent of Americans didn’t even know that the Constitution is the supreme law of the land. And only 26% of those surveyed in 2017 by the University of Pennsylvania could name all three branches of government. And no wonder: with STEM curriculum and standardized testing squeezing the school day, civics has become the snow leopard of the social studies curriculum.
So if the knowledge vacuum is otherwise filled by misinformation and disinformation, and the result is a loss of faith and trust in democracy itself, who is left to intervene? Jan Schaffer — ombudsman for the Corporation of Public Broadcasting, Pulitzer Prize–winning former journalist and founder of The Institute for Interactive Journalism — talks to Bob about what responsibility the media have to become educators, and maybe even re-assurers, of last resort.
How a propaganda war by the private sector led to a decline of trust in government.
As part of a month-long campaign called the Purple Project for Democracy, OTM is using its podcast feed for a series of conversations about an alarming loss of trust, faith and devotion by Americans for American democracy — and what to do about it. Bob himself is one of the Purple Project organizers. We recommend that you listen to this four-part mini-series in order. In this third episode he explores some of the causes for disaffection.
One of the reasons so many Americans have lost trust and faith is democratic institutions is simple misunderstanding about how the system is designed to work. Another, however, is familiarity with how the system does work— which isn’t exactly of, by and for the People. Anand Giridharadas is author of Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World. He says the founders also didn’t plan on politicians constantly trash-talking government itself and that a decline in trust in government is the result of a concerted, private sector propaganda war waged over the last four decades.
How do we repair our institutions in the age of Pizzagate and flat Earth conspiracy theories?
As part of a month-long campaign called the Purple Project for Democracy, (a strictly non-partisan, apolitical effort that a number of other large news organizations have also contributed to) we are featuring a series of conversations about an alarming loss of trust, faith and devotion by Americans for American democracy –– and what to do about it. Bob is one of the Purple Project organizers.
The Pizzagate pedophile conspiracy, crisis actors at Sandy Hook, the flat Earthers...and on and on. Absolute nonsense peddled by the cynical and the naive, and eagerly lapped up by the gullible. Misinformation is a problem that Brendan Nyhan, professor of government at Dartmouth College, has studied for years. In this interview, Brendan and Bob discuss new research on how Americans form their political beliefs and how civic institutions may begin to win back their trust.
What happens when Americans lose faith in the democracy?
As part of a month-long campaign called the Purple Project for Democracy, (a strictly non-partisan, apolitical effort that a number of other large news organizations have also contributed to) we are featuring a series of conversations about an alarming loss of trust, faith and devotion by Americans for American democracy -- and what to do about it. Bob is one of the Purple Project organizers.
Democracy is in trouble. Not necessarily because of our current political mayhem, or even because of the accumulated sins and failures of American society, but because vast swaths of the public are giving up on the system that has governed us for 243 years.
Here are some alarming data points: One, in 2018 only 33% of the general population expressed trust for government. Two, among 1400 adults asked about the importance of democracy, only 39% of younger participants said “absolutely important.” Three, in a 2018 Democracy Fund survey of 5000 Americans, 24% of respondents expressed support for “a strong leader who doesn’t have to bother with Congress or elections,” and either a “strong leader” and 18% for “army rule.
The more complicated question is what as a society we are to do about it? In this mini-series we’ll be talking that over, but we’ll begin with the actual state of public sentiment and public participation. Eric Liu is the co-founder and CEO of Citizen University and Co-chair of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences Commission on the Practice of Democratic Citizenship. He and Bob discuss potential solutions for taking on widespread disaffection.
Can we govern ourselves? John Adams didn't think so. Brooke speaks with Jill Lepore about her book "These Truths."
As Americans battle for control of the future of the United States, it seems that we're always going back to founding documents and core principles: relying on them and reinterpreting them, in what seems to be an increasingly arduous effort to govern ourselves. It all starts to beg an uncomfortable question: in the end, can we govern ourselves? John Adams didn’t think so. He said that all political systems, whether monarchy, democracy, aristocracy, were equally prey to the brutish nature of mankind.
Harvard historian Jill Lepore wrote a sweeping history of the American experiment called These Truths: A History of the United States. Brooke spoke with Lepore about this country's history and the history of the contested — and supposedly self-evident — truths under-girding our shaky democracy.
This segment is from our November 9th, 2018 episode, We're Not Very Good At This.
A tectonic demographic shift is under way. Can the country hold together?
César Hidalgo has a radical suggestion for fixing our broken political system: automate it! In this provocative talk, he outlines a bold idea to bypass politicians by empowering citizens to create personalized AI representatives that participate directly in democratic decisions. Explore a new way to make collective decisions and expand your understanding of democracy.
“It’s not a communication problem, it’s a cognitive bandwidth problem.”—César Hidalgo
He’s definitely right about the second part, but it’s also a communication problem because most of political speech is nuanced toward the side of untruths and covering up facts and potential outcomes to represent the outcome the speaker wants. There’s also far too much of our leaders saying “Do as I say (and attempt to legislate) and not as I do.” Examples include things like legislators working to actively take away things like abortion or condemn those who are LGBTQ when they actively do those things for themselves or their families or live out those lifestyles in secret.
“One of the reasons why we use Democracy so little may be because Democracy has a very bad user interface and if we improve the user interface of democracy we might be able to use it more.”—César Hidalgo
This is an interesting idea, but definitely has many pitfalls with respect to how we know AI systems currently work. We’d definitely need to start small with simpler problems and build our way up to the more complex. However, even then, I’m not so sure that the complexity issues could ultimately be overcome. On it’s face it sounds like he’s relying too much on the old “clockwork” viewpoint of phyiscs, though I know that obviously isn’t (or couldn’t be) his personal viewpoint. There’s a lot more pathways for this to become a weapon of math destruction currently than the utopian tool he’s envisioning.