Eric Osiakwan, Managing Partner of Chanzo Capital
Monday, February 20, 2017 at 12:00 pm Eastern Standard Time
Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University
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Monday, February 20, 2017 at 12:00 pm Eastern Standard Time
Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University
There’s a joke out there that when you’re having your first child, you tell everyone personally and update your family and friends about every detail throughout the pregnancy. With Baby #2, there’s an abbreviated notice that goes out about the new addition, all focused on how Baby #1 is excited to have a new sibling. And with Baby #3, you forget to tell people.
I’m a living instantiation of that. If all goes well, I will have my third child in early March and I’ve apparently forgotten to tell anyone since folks are increasingly shocked when I indicate that I can’t help out with XYZ because of an upcoming parental leave. Oops. Sorry!
As noted when I gave a heads up with Baby #1 and Baby #2, I plan on taking parental leave in stride. I don’t know what I’m in for. Each child is different and each recovery is different. What I know for certain is that I don’t want to screw over collaborators or my other baby – Data & Society. As a result, I will be not taking on new commitments and I will be actively working to prioritize my collaborators and team over the next six months.
In the weeks following birth, my response rates may get sporadic and I will probably not respond to non-mission-critical email. I also won’t be scheduling meetings. Although I won’t go completely offline in March (mostly for my own sanity), but I am fairly certain that I will take an email sabbatical in July when my family takes some serious time off** to be with one another and travel.
A change in family configuration is fundamentally walking into the abyss. For as much as our culture around maternity leave focuses on planning, so much is unknown. After my first was born, I got a lot of work done in the first few weeks afterwards because he was sleeping all the time and then things got crazy just as I was supposedly going back to work. That was less true with #2, but with #2 I was going seriously stir crazy being home in the cold winter and so all I wanted was to go to lectures with him to get out of bed and soak up random ideas. Who knows what’s coming down the pike. I’m fortunate enough to have the flexibility to roll with it and I intend to do precisely that.
What’s tricky about being a parent in this ecosystem is that you’re kinda damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Women are pushed to go back to work immediately to prove that they’re serious about their work – or to take serious time off to prove that they’re serious about their kids. Male executives are increasingly publicly talking about taking time off, while they work from home. The stark reality is that I love what I do. And I love my children. Life is always about balancing different commitments and passions within the constraints of reality (time, money, etc.). And there’s nothing like a new child to make that balancing act visible.
So if you need something from me, let me know ASAP! And please understand and respect that I will be navigating a lot of unknown and doing my best to achieve a state of balance in the upcoming months of uncertainty.
** July 2017 vacation. After a baby is born, the entire focus of a family is on adjustment. For the birthing parent, it’s also on recovery because babies kinda wreck your body no matter how they come out. Finding rhythms for sleep and food become key for survival. Folks talk about this time as precious because it can enable bonding. That hasn’t been my experience and so I’ve relished the opportunity with each new addition to schedule some full-family bonding time a few months after birth where we can do what our family likes best – travel and explore as a family. If all goes well in March, we hope to take a long vacation in mid-July where I intend to be completely offline and focused on family. More on that once we meet the new addition.
Imagine a nation with a noble and proud history, but a rough last century. It was occupied by a massive, powerful neighbor to the north, who undermined its political system and land ownership to benefit its national commercial interests. Soon after those occupiers desisted, looted the treasury, slaughtered the opposition and chased away almost everyone with a university degree. Then the advent of AIDS destroyed a burgeoning tourism industry. After the younger madman was forced into exile, a few years of democratic reform were halted when the northern occupier intervened to exile a leftist leader and handed control of the country over to an occupying UN force. That force did little to stabilize the country, and managed to make things significantly worse, bringing a cholera epidemic to the nation. To round out the picture, throw in a massive earthquake that decimated the capital and top it off with a category four hurricane.
That’s Haiti. You wouldn’t wish that string of bad luck on Donald Trump. (Pick your own worst enemy if that doesn’t work for you.)
Now let’s imagine an impoverished neighborhood wracked by gang violence, where gunfire is a common, if not daily event. In the middle of the neighborhood, surrounded on all sides by high-density housing, is a quiet park. It includes a brightly painted truck filled with newspapers and books, a mobile library that can bring reading to communities where few books are found. An elegant waterfall runs down the steps of a garden path past plots of medicinal herbs and community gardens, resplendent in colorfully painted tires. At the base of the garden is an architecturally ambitious library, carefully constructed of geometric bamboo pods, every seat packed with uniformed schoolchildren devouring books in Kreyol, French and English.
That’s Haiti, too. Specifically, that’s Parc de Martissant, the project of FOKAL (The Fondation Connaissance et Liberté), a Haitian foundation that’s part of the Open Society Foundations. Its founder Michèle Pierre Louise (Prime Minister during President Preval’s term) and executive director Lorraine Mangones have offered an unconventional solution to Haiti’s many ills. While they work on combatting cholera, rebuilding the legal system, strengthening agriculture and protecting human rights, they do something most of our foundations don’t do. They build and restore beautiful public spaces, creating sources of neighborhood and national pride. While many international organizations are focused on helping Haitians access the bare minimum of healthcare and education, FOKAL dares to imagine what Haiti could be. And then they go ahead and build it.
Don’t get too comfortable. Because just above the library is a concrete path lined with shards of tile from a factory destroyed in the earthquake. Dark outlines represent the bodies of the fallen. The path leads to a broad, spreading tree. Below neon pink flowers, it bears fruit – heavy, mirrored skulls turning slowly in the breeze. The skulls are cast from the faces of the people in the neighborhood and made of concrete and rebar, the materials that killed tens of thousands of city residents when buildings collapsed in the earthquake of January 2010.
And that’s Haiti as well. Because there’s darkness in the beauty, and beauty in the darkness.
A week in Haiti, spent almost entirely in Port au Prince (and too much of it in the back seat of a bulletproof SUV), is not long enough to get meaningful impression of a nation. What I have are glimpses and fragments, some hopeful, some haunting.
I’m honored to serve on the Global Board of Open Society Foundations, and with our Vice President, Haitian-American Patrick Gaspard (former US ambassador to South Africa) and three fellow board members, I spent a week in Haiti touring FOKAL projects in Port au Prince and in Les Cayes, an agricultural community hit hard by Hurricane Matthew. On my last day in the city, I toured the downtown with a brilliant FOKAL architect, Farah Hyppolite, who has dedicated herself to restoring Port au Prince’s “gingerbread houses”, elegant hybrids of European and tropical architecture built for the city’s wealthy merchants at the beginning of Haiti’s dismal century.
Farah tells me that she had wanted to build the future of Haiti, ambitious structures that reflected the nation’s aspirations. But the earthquake destroyed her landmarks: the small gingerbread house she grew up in, the school she attended, the landmark buildings downtown that oriented her on the Rue Grand. “What will I show my children of where I grew up? Without my city, where is my past?”
For almost two decades, all I knew of Haiti was its art, in a watered-down and derivative form, paintings hawked on the streets of Santo Domingo and hanging in endless airport gift shops throughout the Caribbean. Too bright for New England, the paintings I found beautiful in the tropical sun looked gaudy on my white walls.
That explosion of color is everywhere in Haiti, from the paint on the side of goat-skinned drums, to the fruits in the market and most of all, the tap taps, elaborately painted pickup trucks that make up the capitol’s mass transit system. The ironwork, the cut, painted plywood, the explosive paint job and loud slogans compete to be heard over a visual environment that buzzes and pops at deafening volume.
I wasn’t expecting the color in vodou. In the Bureau D’Ethnologie, Erol Josué, a celebrated dancer and musician who serves as the museum’s curator, shows us bright, elegant dresses donned for rituals, embodying the colors and characteristics of the different spirits. Over lunch, I learn that during a ceremony, men may be taken over by female spirits, and vice versa, a fact that’s helped make vodou a welcoming place for the gay and lesbian community at a moment when charismatic churches are condemning and ostracizing queer Hatians.
I find the darkness I’d anticipated in a different sort of museum downtown. Lodged between a tire shop and an iron fabricator on Rue Dessalines is “Atis Rezistans”, the workshop and gallery of Andre Eugene, an internationally celebrated sculptor. Through a rusted arch and down an alleyway is a warren of courtyards and buildings, packed to the gills with wooden idols, ordained with nails, the guts of discarded computers, auto parts and tin cans. One wall is covered with the dark shapes of animals, serpents and spirits, cut from tires by the students in the neighborhood who Eugene teaches.
Vodou is a syncretic faith, build by slaves who combined elements of worship from Fon, Yoruba and other traditions in west Africa with Catholic rituals learned from the colonizers in the Caribbean: Ogun, orisha of war and metal in Nigera, meets St. George, patron saint of soldiers, and they become a loa. Eugene’s work syncretizes the detritus of post-Aristede Haiti with these ancient spirits into a new pantheon.
Eugene leads me through a curtain of bottle caps into his office, and I nearly trip over a human skull. I ask the artist where he obtained these dark materials. “Oh, skulls were easy after the earthquake. You could find them everywhere.” I ask him why his art is so morbid, expecting reflections on Haiti’s recent slew of tragedies. “It’s good to be different,” he tells me. “I like the dark.”
Indeed, Eugene’s art was dark before the earthquake and the hurricane. One of my companions grew up in the neighborhood and tells me that he always thought Eugene was crazy, a strange man who roamed the streets picking through garbage. Now that strange man shows art around the world and sells pieces for thousands of dollars. Eugene leads me to the unfinished second floor of his gallery and shows me the neighborhoods. He points out the workshops of fellow artists in the neighborhood, but my eye is drawn to the rooftops where scrap metal weighs down roofing sheets, rusting metal that holds the neighborhood together.
The shock of some of Eugene’s pieces wears off as I spent time with them. The gaping skulls with marble eyes begin to remind me of Eddie, Iron Maiden’s macabre, smiling, icon. Other pieces give me a deep sense of dread the longer I spend with them, in particular, those that feature baby dolls, disfigured, in bondage and crucified.
The Centre d’Art, a leafy and green space up the hill from Rue Dessalines, feels like it’s miles away from Atiz Rezistanse, but Haiti’s recent past is present here as well. On the site of a former gingerbread house, collapsed in the 2010 earthquake, are a set of shipping containers and pavillions, now the site for Haiti’s most important art collection. One 40′ box contains the archives of the Centre’s 70 year history. Another is filled with metal sculpture, a third with shelves of paintings and drawings, ornamental boxes and painted screens.
In a shady corner of the garden, a long wall serves as a blackboard, covered with elegant illustrations of the human form, the remnants of a workshop by Lionel St. Eloi, a sculptor and painter whose work includes richly colored canvasses and life-sized figures assembled from scrap metal. I fall in love with his owls, and St. Eloi has to be coaxed down from a nearby rooftop, where he’s wielding a power saw and working on carnival preparations, to sell me the piece.
I’m home from Haiti now, St. Eloi’s owl sits on my kitchen table, as lovely and wise in my snowbound New England home as in its tropical home. This afternoon, I plan to put it on the mantle over my fireplace where it can watch over myself and my guests, and perhaps scare the mice that enjoy the heat from the chimney.
A mask from Eugene’s studio came home with me as well. It’s by one of Eugene’s students, and while it’s as twisted and gruesome as the master’s work, it reminds me of something more comfortable, the unfamiliarity of the shapes of west African masks when I first came to Ghana two decades ago. I’m not sure what corner of the house I want it peering at me from, but I want it near me, to become part of my space over the years, the way things that are dark or broken can become comfortable and familiar.
Haiti is beautiful. Haiti is broken. Haiti is hopeful. Haiti is darkness. Haiti is color. You don’t always get to choose.
Love and respect to my friends at FOKAL, and to everyone who is working to share Haiti’s beauty and hope with the world, and more importantly, with all Haitian people.
All text and images are creative commons licensed, attribution only – please feel free to share, remix and reuse them, but please credit me. Profound thanks to Michèle, Lorraine, Farah, Dmitri and all the staff at FOKAL and OSF who made this visit possible.
The awesome Tim Hwang (disclosure: I am a complete fanboy) has posted an essay
arguing that we should take something like a Keynesian approach to the “marketplace of ideas” that we were promised with the Internet. I think there’s something really helpful about this, but that ultimately the metaphor gets in the way of itself.
The really helpful piece:
…our mental model of the marketplace of ideas has stayed roughly fixed even as the markets themselves have changed dramatically.
…I wonder if we might take a more Keynesian approach to the marketplace of ideas: holding that free economies of ideas are frequently efficient, and functional. But, like economic marketplaces, they are susceptible to persistent recessions and bad, self-reinforcing equilibria that require systemic intervention at critical junctures.
This gives us a way to think about intervening when necessary, rather than continually bemoaning the failure of idea markets or, worse, fleeing from them entirely.
The analogy leads Tim to two major suggestions:
…major, present day idea marketplaces like Facebook are not laissez-faire. They feature deep, constant interventionism on the part of the platform to mediate and shape idea market outcomes through automation and algorithm. Digital Keynesians would resist these designs: marketplaces of ideas are typically functional without heavy mediation and platform involvement, and doing so creates perverse distortions. Roll back algorithmic content curation, roll back friend suggestions, and so on.
Second, we should develop a
clearer definition of the circumstances under which platforms and governments would intervene to right the ship more extensively during a crisis in the marketplace.
There’s no arguing with the desirability of the second suggestion. In fact, we can ask why we haven’t developed these criteria and box of tools already.
“ a way to think about intervening, rather than bemoaning the failure of idea markets”The answer I think is in Tim’s observation that “marketplaces of ideas are typically functional without heavy mediation and platform involvement.” I think that misses the mark both in old-fashioned and new-fangled marketplaces of ideas. All of them assume a particular embodiment of those ideas, and thus those ideas are always mediated by the affordances of their media — one-to-many newspapers, a Republic of Letters that moves at the speed of wind, even backyard fences over which neighbors chat — and by norms and regulations (or architecture, law, markets, and norms, as Larry Lessig says). Facebook and Twitter cannot exist except as interventions. What else can you call Facebook’s decisions about which options to offer about who gets to see your posts, and Twitter’s insistence on a 140 character limit? It seems artificial to me to insist on a difference between those interventions and the algorithmic filtering that Facebook does in order to address its scale issues (as well as to make a buck or two).
As a result, in the Age of the Internet, we have something closer to a marketplace of idea marketplaces “we have something closer to a marketplace of idea marketplaces” that span a spectrum of how laissez their faire is.[note.] (I know that’s wrong) These marketplaces usually can’t “trade” across their boundaries except in quite primitive ways, such as pasting a tweet link into Facebook. And they don’t agree about the most basic analogic elements of an economy: who gets to participate and under what circumstances, what counts as currency, what counts as a transaction, how to measure the equivalence of an exchange, the role of intermediaries, the mechanisms of trust and the recourses for when trust is broken.
So, Twitter, Facebook, and the comments section of Medium are all mediated marketplaces and thus cannot adopt Tim’s first suggestion — that they cease intervening — because they are their policies and mechanisms of intervention.
That’s why I appreciate that towards the end Tim wonders, “Should we accept a transactional market frame in the first place?” Even though I think the disanalogies are strong, I will repeat Tim’s main point because I think it is indeed a very useful framing:
…free economies of ideas are frequently efficient, and functional. But, like economic marketplaces, they are susceptible to persistent recessions and bad, self-reinforcing equilibria that require systemic intervention at critical junctures.
I like this because it places responsibility — and agency — on those providing a marketplace of ideas. If your conversational space isn’t working, it’s your fault. Fix it.
And, yes, it’d be so worth the effort for us to better understand how.
This is a talk in the monthly Digital Health @ Harvard Brown Bag Lunch Series, which is co-hosted by the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics and the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University.
Thursday, February 23, 2017 at 12:00 pm
Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University
23 Everett Street, 2nd Floor Conference Room
RSVP required to attend in person.
Event will be live webcast at 12:00 pm.
With digitization and simultaneous democratization of the global information landscape, plus declining trust in media and health institutions, misinformation is pervasive. Audiences are forming homophilic social networks, reinforcing opportunities for selecting information that conforms to pre-existing beliefs, a phenomenon known as the creation of echo chambers. Echo chambers are not only problematic when misinformation reinforces certain beliefs, but they also make it difficult to disseminate evidence-based information broadly. In order to understand how public health echo chambers manifest themselves online, we used the Media Cloud suite of tools, an open access global archive of 5+ billion sentences from a set of 25,000 online information sources to conduct three mass media case studies on Ebola, Zika, and Vaccination. Our findings show that public health information networks are largely unsuccessful in driving an evidence-based information network narrative around any of our case study topics.
Based on these results, we invite participants to take part in a round table discussion, assessing the role that the online media ecosystem plays in creating, spreading, and reinforcing health information and misinformation. We hope to analyze together how communication theory and network science can support innovation and new online communication strategies for public health.
About Natalie Gyenes
Natalie is a Fellow at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society, and a Research Affiliate at the MIT Media Lab. Her work draws on experience in the fields of human rights, applied epidemiology, and behavioral science. Natalie's research focuses on how digital media portrays and influences issues of health equity and access, human rights and social norms. Natalie works to assess media influence - investigating the effects that different narratives and news frames have on public sentiment for global issues, and highlighting opportunities for impacting broader media dialogues. Before joining Berkman Klein, Natalie worked with the UN Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, developed guidelines for health professionals working with trauma-affected refugees, and, at the Harvard School of Public Health, created frameworks for co-designing health and rights programs.
About Brittany Seymour
Brittany Seymour is an Assistant Professor of Oral Health Policy and Epidemiology at Harvard School of Dental Medicine with a research focus in interdisciplinary collaborations for health through innovative information dissemination and curriculum development. She was the Inaugural Harvard Global Health Institute Fellow, where she launched the Harvard Health and Media collaborative and the Social Media and Health Fellowship program for students; fellows have worked on projects in the US, Rwanda, Uganda, and South Africa. Her work has explored digital communication around water fluoridation, childhood vaccinations, the Ebola epidemic with fellow Berkman colleagues, and adolescent HIV/AIDS. As a Berkman Fellow this year, she will explore online health information/misinformation and patient behaviors in the context of networked media theory and social network analysis. Her long term goals are to develop communication bundling strategies for whole health promotion and prevention.
Widerspruch ist Lebensgeist der Demokratie. Brexit, Trump und die Rechten haben ihn geweckt. Das ist gut gegen die große Erstarrung.
Die Rede des soeben gewählten Bundespräsidenten Frank-Walter Steinmeier hat bei mir eine Antireaktion ausgelöst. Ich möchte nicht zusammenhalten, sondern mich auseinandersetzen, nicht Ruhe bewahren, sondern laut und deutlich für meine Überzeugungen eintreten. Ich möchte auch nicht mit Kitt an der Gesellschaft herumwerkeln, sondern lieber darüber nachdenken, wie man die Bodenkacheln so verlegt, dass sie tragen. Diejenigen, die leichtfüßig darüber gehen, aber auch die, die mal stolpern.
Am Ende sagte Steinmeier: „Lasst uns mutig sein! Dann jedenfalls ist mir um die Zukunft nicht bange.“ Er hätte auch sagen können: Lasst uns etwas trinken. Dann haben wir in Zukunft keinen Durst.
Das ist – zugegeben – etwas gemein. Und doch auch nicht. Seit Jahren wird in der westlichen Welt, Deutschland voran, das Desinteresse am Politischen beklagt. Und jetzt, wo sich endlich wieder unterschiedliche Positionen und Konfrontationslinien zeigen, will man sie schnell zuschmieren. Warum denn eigentlich? Ich kann das ewige Gerede von der Geschlossenheit nicht mehr hören. Geschlossenheit ist ein demokratisches Missverständnis. Eine Ausrede für autoritäre Erwartung an Folgsamkeit. Seit Ende des Kalten Krieges, durch den die Abgrenzungsmöglichkeit der Deutschen gegenüber den undemokratischen Systemen des früheren Ostblocks entfallen ist, hat sich ein Übermaß an Geschlossenheit angestaut. Bis vor Kurzem war überall die Mitte, sie hatte unterschiedliche Namen und meinte doch immer dasselbe.
Das hat unserer Demokratie und Gesellschaft nicht gutgetan. Wenn alle in der Mitte abhängen, ist an den Rändern viel Platz. Und es wird jemand kommen, der sich diesen Platz nimmt. Das geschieht nun in vielen europäischen Ländern, und schon wieder gibt es viel Gejammer. Dabei war das absehbar. Einstimmigkeit war Normalfall. Die Konsensdemokratie hatte das Monopol auf staatliche Organisation. Das treibt den Wert des Widerstands nach oben und macht ihn attraktiv. Entfallen die politischen Unterschiede, so ist das kein Zeichen demokratischer Reife, sondern erstes Anzeichen für Verfall.
Donald Trump beschädigt die amerikanische Demokratie? Warten wir doch mal ab. Im Moment kommt Amerika in Bewegung, Richter sprechen Recht auf Basis der Verfassung, und Hunderttausende demonstrieren auf den Straßen. Der Brexit schadet der EU und dem Binnenmarkt? Abwarten. Er könnte ihr auch neuen Schwung im Angesicht des Abgrunds verleihen.
Es kehrt der politische Wettbewerb zurück, den wir dringend brauchen. Bei allen drei Landtagswahlen 2016 ist die Wahlbeteiligung kräftig angestiegen. Im Büro, in der Familie und beim Sport wird wieder über Politik diskutiert. Das ist großartig. Und die so sichtbaren Differenzen müssen ausgefochten und bloß nicht mit sozialem Kitt zugekleistert werden. Mutig ist es, zuzulassen, dass eine Gesellschaft den Wettbewerb der Positionen aushält. Mutig und selbstbewusst.
On January 24, 2017, the Cyberlaw Clinic filed an amicus brief (pdf) on behalf of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press in the case, Steinmetz v. Coyle & Caron Inc., First Circuit No. 16-1996. The brief supports defendant-appellee in the case, and the Court granted leave to file the brief this week (over the objections of plaintiff-appellant). RCFP was joined on the brief by The Associated Press, Gannett Co., Inc., the New England First Amendment Coalition, and the New England Newspaper & Press Association, Inc. RCFP has summarized the brief on its website.
The Steinmetz case arises out of a public debate over the plaintiffs’ plan to build a house in Cohasset, MA. After a local agency rejected the plan, the plaintiffs sued the defendant architectural firm for allegedly furnishing inaccurate renderings of the proposed structure. The defendant successfully moved to dismiss under the Massachusetts anti-SLAPP statute, Mass. Gen. Laws c. 231, § 59H. On appeal, the plaintiffs challenge, inter alia, the constitutionality of this provision, arguing that it represents a violation of their Seventh Amendment right to a jury trial.
The amicus brief focuses on the animating policies behind Section 59H. Massachusetts, like many other states, passed anti-SLAPP legislation in response to the increased use of litigation to silence constitutionally protected speech and petitioning activities—hence the moniker “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation.” Section 59H provides for the expedited dismissal of claims arising out of protected petitioning activities unless the plaintiff can show that the defendant’s petitioning “was devoid of any reasonable factual support or any arguable basis in law” and “caused actual injury to the responding party.” Relying on case law, legislative history, and academic analysis, RCFP’s amicus brief explains that Section 59H narrowly and properly protects the First Amendment interests of Massachusetts’ citizens. Striking it down, RCFP writes, would “harm freedom of the press and freedom of speech, at a time when the need for protection is great.”
Winter 2017 Harvard Law School Cyberlaw Clinic student Hannah Clark contributed significantly to the brief.
I am surrounded by people who are driven by good intentions. Educators who want to inform students, who passionately believe that people can be empowered through knowledge. Activists who have committed their lives to addressing inequities, who believe that they have a moral responsibility to shine a spotlight on injustice. Journalists who believe their mission is to inform the public, who believe that objectivity is the cornerstone of their profession. I am in awe of their passion and commitment, their dedication and persistence.
Yet, I’m existentially struggling as I watch them fight for what is right. I havelearned that people who view themselves through the lens of good intentions cannot imagine that they could be a pawn in someone else’s game. They cannot imagine that the values and frames that they’ve dedicated their lives towards — free speech, media literacy, truth — could be manipulated or repurposed by others in ways that undermine their good intentions.
I find it frustrating to bear witness to good intentions getting manipulated,but it’s even harder to watch how those who are wedded to good intentions are often unwilling to acknowledge this, let alone start imagining how to develop the appropriate antibodies. Too many folks that I love dearly just want to double down on the approaches they’ve taken and the commitments they’ve made. On one hand, I get it — folks’ life-work and identities are caught up in these issues.
But this is where I think we’re going to get ourselves into loads of trouble.
The world is full of people with all sorts of intentions. Their practices and values, ideologies and belief systems collide in all sorts of complex way. Sometimes, the fight is about combating horrible intentions, but often it is not. In college, my roommate used to pound a mantra into my head whenever I would get spun up about something: “Do not attribute to maliciousness what you can attribute to stupidity.” I return to this statement a lot when I think about how to build resilience and challenge injustices, especially when things look so corrupt and horribly intended — or when people who should be allies see each other as combatants. But as I think about how we should resist manipulation and fight prejudice, I also think that it’s imperative to move away from simply relying on “good intentions.”
I don’t want to undermine those with good intentions, but I also don’t want good intentions to be a tool that can be used against people. So I want to think about how good intentions get embedded in various practices and the implications of how we view the different actors involved.
The Good Intentions of Media Literacy
When I penned my essay “Did Media Literacy Backfire?”, I wanted to ask those who were committed to media literacy to think about how their good intentions — situated in a broader cultural context — might not play out as they would like. Folks who critiqued my essay on media literacy pushed back in all sorts of ways, both online and off. Many made me think, but some also reminded me that my way of writing was off-putting. I was accused of using the question “Did media literacy backfire?” to stoke clicks.Some snarkily challenged my suggestion that media literacy was even meaningfully in existence, asked me to be specific about which instantiations I meant (because I used the phrase “standard implementations”), and otherwise pushed for the need to double down on “good” or “high quality” media literacy. The reality is that I’m a huge proponent of their good intentions — and have long shared them, but I wrote this piece because I’m worried that good intentions can backfire.
While I was researching youth culture, I never set out to understand what curricula teachers used in the classroom. I wasn’t there to assess the quality of the teachers or the efficacy of their formal educational approaches. I simply wanted to understand what students heard and how they incorporated the lessons they received into their lives. Although the teens that I met had a lot of choice words to offer about their teachers, I’ve always assumed that most teachers entered the profession with the best of intentions, even if their students couldn’t see that. But I spent my days listening to students’ frustrations and misperceptions of the messages teachers offered.
I’ve never met an educator who thinks that the process of educating is easy or formulaic. (Heck, this is why most educators roll their eyes when they hear talk of computerized systems that can educate better than teachers.) So why do we assume that well-intended classroom lessons — or even well-designed curricula — might not play out as we imagine? This isn’t simply about the efficacy of the lesson or the skill of the teacher, but the cultural context in which these conversations occur.
In many communities in which I’ve done research, the authority of teachers is often questioned. Nowhere is this more painfully visible than when well-intended highly educated (often white) teachers come to teach in poorer communities of color. Yet, how often are pedagogical interventions designed by researchers really taking into account the doubt that students and their parents have of these teachers? And how do we as educators and scholars grapple with how we might have made mistakes?
I’m not asking “Did Media Literacy Backfire?” to be a pain in the toosh, but to genuinely highlight how the ripple effects of good intentions may not play out as imagined on the ground for all sorts of reasons.
From the outside, companies like Facebook and Google seem pretty evil to many people. They’re situated in a capitalist logic that many advocates and progressives despise. They’re opaque and they don’t engage the public in their decision-making processes, even when those decisions have huge implications for what people read and think. They’re extremely powerful and they’ve made a lot of people rich in an environment where financial inequality and instability is front and center. Primarily located in one small part of the country, they also seem like a monolithic beast.
As a result, it’s not surprising to me that many people assume that engineers and product designers have evil (or at least financially motivated) intentions. There’s an irony here because my experience is the opposite.Most product teams have painfully good intentions, shaped by utopic visions of how the ideal person would interact with the ideal system. Nothing is more painful than sitting through a product design session with design personae that have been plucked from a collection of clichés.
I’ve seen a lot of terribly naive product plans, with user experience mockups that lack any sense of how or why people might interact with a system in unexpected ways. I spent years tracking how people did unintended things with social media, such as the rise of “Fakesters,” or of teenagers who gamed Facebook’s system by inserting brand names into their posts, realizing that this would make their posts rise higher in the social network’s news feed. It has always boggled my mind how difficult it is for engineers and product designers to imagine how their systems would get gamed. I actually genuinely loved product work because I couldn’t help but think about how to break a system through unexpected social practices.
Most products and features that get released start with good intentions, but they too get munged by the system, framed by marketing plans, and manipulated by users. And then there’s the dance of chaos as companies seek to clean up PR messes (which often involves non-technical actors telling insane fictions about the product), patch bugs to prevent abuse, and throw bandaids on parts of the code that didn’t play out as intended. There’s a reason that no one can tell you exactly how Google’s search engine or Facebook’s news feed works. Sure, the PR folks will tell you that it’s proprietary code. But the ugly truth is that the code has been patched to smithereens to address countless types of manipulation and gamification(e.g., SEO to bots). It’s quaint to read the original “page rank” paper that Brin and Page wrote when they envisioned how a search engine could ideally work. That’s so not how the system works today.
The good intentions of engineers and product people, especially those embedded in large companies, are often doubted as sheen for a capitalist agenda. Yet, like many other well-intended actors, I often find that makers feel misunderstood and maligned, assumed to have evil thoughts. And I often think that when non-tech people start by assuming that they’re evil, we lose a significant opportunity to address problems.
I’ve been harsh on journalists lately, mostly because I find it so infuriating that a profession that is dedicated to being a check to power could be so ill-equipped to be self-reflexive about its own practices.
Yet, I know that I’m being unfair. Their codes of conduct and idealistic visions of their profession help journalists and editors and publishers stay strong in an environment where they are accustomed to being attacked. It just kills me that the cultural of journalism makes those who have an important role to play unable to see how they can be manipulated at scale.
Sure, plenty of top-notch journalists are used to negotiating deception and avoidance. You gotta love a profession that persistently bangs its head against a wall of “no comment.” But journalism has grown up as an individual sport; a competition for leads and attention that can get fugly in the best of configurations. Time is rarely on a journalist’s side, just as nuance is rarely valued by editors. Trying to find “balance” in this ecosystem has always been a pipe dream, but objectivity is a shared hallucination that keeps well-intended journalists going.
Powerful actors have always tried to manipulate the news media, especially State actors. This is why the fourth estate is seen as so important in the American context. Yet, the game has changed, in part because of the distributed power of the masses. Social media marketers quickly figured out that manufacturing outrage and spectacle would give them a pathway to attention, attracting news media like bees to honey. Most folks rolled their eyes, watching as monied people played the same games as State actors. But what about the long tail? How do we grapple with the long tail? How should journalists respond to those who are hacking the attention economy?
I am genuinely struggling to figure out how journalists, editors, and news media should respond in an environment in which they are getting gamed.What I do know from 12-steps is that the first step is to admit that you have a problem. And we aren’t there yet. And sadly, that means that good intentions are getting gamed.
I’m in awe of how many of the folks I vehemently disagree with are willing to align themselves with others they vehemently disagree with when they have a shared interest in the next step. Some conservative and hate groups are willing to be odd bedfellows because they’re willing to share tactics, even if they don’t share end goals. Many progressives can’t even imagine coming together with folks who have a slightly different vision, let alone a different end goal, to even imagine various tactics. Why is that?
My goal in writing these essays is not because I know the solutions to some of the most complex problems that we face — I don’t — but because I think that we need to start thinking about these puzzles sideways, upside down, and from non-Euclidean spaces. In short, I keep thinking that we need more well-intended folks to start thinking like hackers.
Think just as much about how you build an ideal system as how it might be corrupted, destroyed, manipulated, or gamed. Think about unintended consequences, not simply to stop a bad idea but to build resilience into the model.
As a developer, I always loved the notion of “extensibility” because it was an ideal of building a system that could take unimagined future development into consideration. Part of why I love the notion is that it’s bloody impossible to implement. Sure, I (poorly) comment my code and build object-oriented structures that would allow for some level of technical flexibility. But, at the end of the day, I’d always end up kicking myself for not imagining a particular use case in my original design and, as a result, doing a lot more band-aiding than I’d like to admit. The masters of software engineering extensibility are inspiring because they don’t just hold onto the task at hand, but have a vision for all sorts of different future directions that may never come into fruition. That thinking is so key to building anything, whether it be software or a campaign or a policy. And yet, it’s not a muscle that we train people to develop.
If we want to address some of the major challenges in civil society, we need the types of people who think 10 steps ahead in chess, imagine innovative ways of breaking things, and think with extensibility at their core. More importantly, we all need to develop that sensibility in ourselves. This is the hacker mindset.
This post was originally posted on Points. It builds off of a series of essays on topics affecting the public sphere written by folks at Data & Society. As expected, my earlier posts ruffled some feathers, and I’ve been trying to think about how to respond in a productive manner. This is my attempt.Flickr Image: CC BY 2.0-licensed image by DaveBleasdale.
Tuesday, February 14, 2017 at 12:00 pm
Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University
Harvard Law School campus, Wasserstein Hall
This event is co-sponsored by Harvard Journal of Law & Technology and the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University.
In 2013, Elon Musk proposed an "open source transportation concept" of levitating vehicles zooming passengers through vacuum tubes at 760 miles an hour. It would be weatherproof, energy-efficient, relatively inexpensive, have autonomous controls.Its impact on urban and inter-city transport could reshape economies and families.
Since Musk's proposal, a company in Los Angeles, Hyperloop One, has secured 160 million in financing, hired 220 employees, and began engineering and testing to make the hyperloop concept a reality. But engineers aren't the company's only inventors. A hyperloop transport system is so different from an airplane, train, or bus that a new legal regime is necessary. Lawyers and government officials in the US, Dubai, and elsewhere have been working on creating a new framework that could govern the deployment of hyperloop systems.
Hyperloop One General Counsel Marvin Ammori will discuss the challenges and opportunities for crafting this new legal framework.
As General Counsel of Hyperloop One, Marvin lead the legal team and served on the senior business leadership. Hyperloop One is working to make ultra-highspeed ground transportation a reality. The legal and business issues they deal with include infrastructure finance, procurement, regulatory, transactions, and everything else. Their team includes five lawyers.
Before joining Hyperloop One, Marvin spent over a decade representing top technology giants and startups concerning their most important legal issues. He led the pro-net neutrality coalitions. He advised Google in its antitrust investigation, Apple in its disagreement with the FBI over iPhone encryption, and many in the tech community to kill SOPA. From 2011 to 2015, he did this as the head of his own firm representing companies including Google, Apple, Dropbox, and SoftBank, and startups like OpenDNS and Layer. Before that, he represented advocacy groups, including leading the Comcast-BitTorrent case as general counsel of Free Press, which is among the most important litigations concerning Internet policy in the past two decades. In 2014-2015, he led the fight to Title II for net neutrality, organizing hundreds of companies and nonprofits, and helped secure a victory on appeal against administrative and first-impression constitutional challenges.
Marvin has been named among Politico's 50 visionaries for 2015, Fast Company's 100 Most Creative in Business in 2012, a Washingtonian Magazine "Tech Titan" in 2015, and has also been profiled on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and the Philadelphia Inquirer. He has published in the Harvard Law Review, Foreign Affairs, and the New York Times, and appeared as an expert on MSNBC, CNN, and Fox, and testified before several government agencies around the world.
A former law professor, Marvin has written on First Amendment theory. His article "First Amendment Architecture" sets out my primary arguments. He graduated from Harvard Law School in 2003, cum laude.
[NO SPOILERS YET] Ricky Gervais’ new TV movie, Life on the Road, now on Netflix, suffers from the sort of mortifying errors committed by its protagonist, David Brent, the manager of The Office with whom the movie catches us up.
[TINY SPOILERS THAT WON’T SPOIL ANYTHING] The movie is amusing in some of the main ways the original The Office was. David Brent is an unself-knowing narcissist surrounded by people who see through him. It lacks the utterly charming office romance between Tim and Dawn (Jim and Pam in the US version). It lacks any other villain than Brent, unlike Gareth in the original (Dwight in the US version). It lacks the satire of office life, offering instead a satire of self-funded, doomed rock tour by an unknown, pudgy, middle-aged man. That’s not a thing, so you can’t really satirize it.
Still, Gervais is great as Brent, having honed uncomfortable self-presentation to an art, complete with a squealing giggle that alerts us to his inability to be ashamed of himself. And Gervais sings surprisingly well.
[SPOILERS] But then it ends suddenly with Brent being accepted by his band, by the office where he’s been working as a bathroom-supply salesperson, and by a woman. Nothing prepares us for this except that it’s the end of the movie and Gervais wants to give his character some peace and dignity. It’s some extraordinarily sloppy writing.
Worse, the ending seems way too close to what Gervais himself seems to want. Like Brent, he wants to be taken seriously as a musician and singer, except that Gervais’s songs are self-knowingly bad, in the style of Spinal Tap except racist. Still, you leave the movie surprised that he’s that good a singer and that the songs are quite good as comic songs. Brent-Gervais has achieved his goal.
Likewise, you leave thinking that Gervais has given us a happy ending because he, Gervais, wants to be liked, just as Brent does. It’s not the angry fuck-the-hicks sort of attitude Gervais exhibited during and immediately after The Office.
And you leave thinking that, like Brent, Gervais really wants to carry the show solely on his shoulders. The Office was an ensemble performance with some fantastic acting by Martin Freeman (!) as Tim and Lucy Davis as Dawn, as well as by Gervais. Life on the Road only cares about one character, as if Gervais wanted to prove he could do it all by his lonesome. But he can’t.
Ricky Gervais pulls his punches in this, not for the first time. Let Ricky be Ricky. Or, more exactly, Let Ricky be David.
Griechenland verlangt erneut nach Rettung. Lässt sich Berlin wieder auf einen Deal ein, ist das Verrat an der Bevölkerung und an Europa.
Wer es 25 Jahre miteinander ausgehalten hat, der wird ja wohl auch noch den Rest schaffen. Das gilt vielleicht für menschliche Beziehungen, nicht aber zwangsläufig auch für wirtschaftliche oder gar politische. Die Mitgliedstaaten der Europäischen Union haben in dieser Woche für den Vertrag von Maastricht Silberhochzeit gefeiert. Aber die Stimmung ist wie nach einer jahrelangen, vergebens geführten Paartherapie. Keiner hat mehr richtig Bock auf den anderen. Gemeinsamkeit ist sexyer als Alleingang? Die EU entfaltet ihre Anziehungskraft seit Jahren – wenn überhaupt – nur mehr im Kopf. Ohne Bauch und Herz aber wird Vereinigung zur abstrakten Gedankengymnastik.
Es scheint nur oberflächlich als Widerspruch, dass nun einer Hoffnungsträger sein soll, der sein politisches Leben bislang in der Brüsseler Blase verbracht hatte: Martin Schulz, fast 25 Jahre Mitglied im Europäischen Parlament und fünf Jahre dessen Präsident. Auf Schulz ruht mehr als die Zukunft der SPD. In ihm steckt die Hoffnung für eine Wiederbelebung europäischer Paarbeziehungen.
Das Gedankenspiel ist einfach: Sollte Schulz gegen Angela Merkel gewinnen (erste Umfragen sehen beide gleichauf), ist das nur ein Schritt. Zuvor könnte Emmanuel Macron in Frankreich das Rennen um die Präsidentschaft machen. Und dann kommt womöglich auch Italiens Ex-Premier Matteo Renzi wieder ans Ruder. Der flotte europäische Dreier würde der EU-Fiskal- und -Haushaltspolitik eine Wende inmitten der Schussfahrt verordnen: mehr öffentliche Investitionen, (noch) mehr Ausnahmeregeln bei den Stabilitätskriterien, Schluss mit Sparsamkeit und Haushaltsdisziplin. Solch ein Ende der Enthaltsamkeit löst in manch einem südeuropäischen Land schon wilde Träume aus.
Es wäre besser, dieses Szenario konsequent zu durchdenken, als es mit selbstgewisser Regierungshand beiseite zu wischen. Der Prüfstein weiterer Bindung liegt nämlich schon wieder vor unserer Tür. Im Juli muss Griechenland rund sieben Milliarden Euro an Krediten zurückzahlen. Das wird nur gelingen, wenn jemand den Griechen das Geld vorher zusteckt. Und darüber ist ein heftiger Streit zwischen EU und dem Internationalen Währungsfonds (IWF) entbrannt. Der IWF soll sich am dritten Rettungspaket für Griechenland über bis zu 86 Milliarden Euro beteiligen. Dessen aktuelle Einschätzung zu Griechenland lautet aber: nicht satisfaktionsfähig. Zu hohe Schuldenlasten und ein zu hoch angesetzter erwarteter Primärüberschuss ab 2018.
Wenn der IWF ausbüxt, müsste die Bundesregierung die weiteren Griechenlandhilfen durch den Bundestag absegnen lassen. Ein riskantes Spiel, das man lieber auf die Zeit nach der Bundestagswahl verschieben möchte. Ein klares Bekenntnis zum Schuldenschnitt oder eine Trennung auf Zeit – Deutschland muss sich entscheiden. Geschieht das nicht, entscheidet das Volk mit Liebesentzug. Der nächste Deal wird dann unversöhnlich enden – für Angela Merkel und die EU.
Efforts to create more space for free expression in Africa have been strengthened by the Kenyan Judiciary. In the case of Jacqueline Okuta & Anor vs. AG & Others, the High Court of Kenya on 6 of February 2017 annulled section 194 of the Penal Code that provides for the offence of criminal defamation. This decision is significant in safeguarding the fundamental rights of Kenyans, particularly in light of the forthcoming general elections. It curtails the misuse of criminal law provisions by political figures to curtail speech they consider unfavorable. Journalists especially have been victims of criminal defamation sanctions for exposing corruption and unlawful activities of public officials.
“The harmful and undesirable consequences of criminalizing defamation, viz. the chilling possibilities of arrest, detention and two years’ imprisonment, are manifestly excessive in their effect and unjustifiable in a modern democratic society,” Judge Mativo of the High Court of Kenya pronounced in his judgment.
The Judge noted that upon promulgation of the Constitution of Kenya in 2010, it was expected that certain provisions in Kenya’s existing laws were to be amended to align them to the letter and spirit of the Constitution. However, seven years later, this expectation had not been met. Relying on regional and international standards on freedom of expression, the Court concluded that criminal defamation is unconstitutional, reasoning that “the chilling effect of criminalizing defamation is exacerbated by the maximum punishment of two years’ imprisonment imposable for any contravention which is clearly excessive and patently disproportionate for the purpose of suppressing objectionable or opprobrious statements. The Court further held that imprisonment as a sanction was not “reasonably justifiable in a democratic society” and that the availability of civil remedies afforded sufficient redress for injury to one’s reputation.
Criminal defamation continues to prominently feature in Penal Codes of African countries especially in East Africa. The High Court of Kenya is the first court in the region to declare that criminal defamation violates the right to freedom of expression.
The case in Kenya arose from the indictment of two petitioners, Jacqueline Okuta and Jackson Njeru, who were each charged with criminal defamation for allegedly publishing defamatory statements on their Facebook account “Buyer beware-Kenya.” The case complaint was based on a post in which the complainants were pictured and named as being wanted for illegal possession and handling of property, and misuse of a telecommunication device. The petitioners then sought to challenge section 194 of the Penal Code before the Constitutional and Human Rights division of the High Court, arguing that the provision was unconstitutional and violated the right to freedom of expression.
A key question is what impact the decision from Kenya’s High Court will have in East Africa, and possibly in the wider African region. The judgment follows and references the landmark decision of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights in the case of Lohé Issa Konaté v. Burkina Faso, but goes further than that Court’s finding that criminal defamation laws should only be used as a last resort when there is a serious threat to the enjoyment of other human rights in exceptional circumstances such as hate speech and incitement. It does so by finding that “any continued enforcement of criminal defamation laws by the government would be a violation of the fundamental and constitutionally guaranteed right to the freedom of expression.”
This corresponds with the minority dissenting opinion in the African Court case, in which 4 of the 10-judge bench found that the “’State’s duty to enforce collective security, morality and common interest’ cannot justify the criminalization of expression of speech by way of criminal defamation laws of any kind, whether punishable by incarceration or not. Access to civil action, civil sanctions together with specifically defined crimes for safeguarding national security, public peace and the common interest should be sufficient.”
The Kenyan case highlights the potential of strategic litigation as an effective tool in bringing about social change where lobbying efforts have failed. It reinforces the efforts of other national courts in Africa like Zimbabwe that have decriminalized defamation twice, once under its previous and once under its current constitution. Other countries in the region, such as Ghana, abolished criminal defamation laws through law reform. This is in line with the continental campaign to decriminalize defamation by the African Union Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression. Efforts to do the same in East Africa have so far been without result, especially where countries like Uganda previously upheld the constitutionality of criminal defamation laws on grounds that they are “relevant” in protecting reputation.
A challenge to Uganda’s criminal defamation laws is currently pending before the East African Court of Justice. The case, brought on behalf of the now-deceased Ugandan journalist Ronald Ssembuusi, argues that his conviction to a prison sentence of one year was in violation of Uganda’s obligations under the East African Community Treaty. The matter has garnered much interest from the international community, with not only the African Union and United Nations Special Rapporteurs on freedom of expression having requested to make amicus submissions in the case, but also a coalition of 20 African and international NGOs. It will be interesting to see what impact the Kenyan judgment might have on the case. If the East African Court rules in favor of Ssembuusi, the judgment will positively impact all East African Community countries, which include Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda Burundi and South Sudan.
Nani Jansen Reventlow is a fellow at the Berkman Klein Center and an Associate Tenant at Doughty Street Chambers. She serves as an Advisor to the Cyberlaw Clinic and was lead counsel on the Konaté case. Catherine Anite is a human rights lawyer from Uganda and part of the legal team litigating the Ssembuusi case.
Radiotopia turns three this month, and to celebrate we launched a fancy new website! We also commissioned our first-ever original ad music from DJ, producer and musician JD Samson, who leads the band MEN and is one-third of the electronic-punk-feminist performance project, Le Tigre. Besides writing some fantastic music for us, JD kindly answered a few questions about working on the project.
I love Radiotopia’s programming, and felt really excited to be seen as an articulation of their aesthetic. Creating this kind of accompaniment was extremely meditative and exploratory for me, which is something I like to challenge myself with often.
The process was really interesting to me because there were so many aspects of the music that needed to make sense for ALL the producers. Some people wanted happier tunes, some people sad, so I had to really make sure the music was atmospheric, but not a “song”. I had to ensure the tone was kind of dull. Not too extreme in either direction, and make sure there weren’t a lot of melodies crowding the space. It was fun for me to break down my compositions after I made them and often heard the comment “make it more boring.” I honestly loved this direction because it forced me to see aspects of my production that were unnecessary in this case.
Tuesday, February 7, 2017 at 12:00 pm
Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University
Harvard Law School campus
The question is whether we can observe the emergence of a new constitutional right of the Internet, a right that does not only protect individuals in their communication online but a right protecting also the Internet as an institution. What would be the forum where such a process of constitutionalisation is taking place? Can fundamental rights also emerge bottom-up, from civil society rather than from a formally legitimised constitution maker?
Christoph B. Graber, Ph.D. (Law), Professor of Law, studied law at the Universities of Bern and St. Gallen, received his admission to the bar in Switzerland, a Ph.D. from the European University Institute (Florence) and his Habilitation from the University of Bern. He holds the Chair for Legal Sociology with particular focus on Media Law at the University of Zurich, Faculty of Law. He is a member of the executive committee of the Executive Master in Art Market Studies at the University of Zurich.
Prior to joining the law faculty at the University of Zurich, he taught at the University of Lucerne, where he was a founding member of the Faculty of Law. He has been a visiting professor/scholar at Georgetown University Law Center, Institute of International Economic Law, University of Wollongong, Faculty of Law, and University of California, Berkeley, Center for the Study of Law and Society. He is currently Faculty Associate at The Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University. He teaches in the fields of legal sociology and theory, cyberspace and media law, intellectual property and art law. His main research interests relate to analysing issues of normativity on the internet in relation to technology, intellectual property and freedom of expression and information from a law and society perspective.
Prof. Graber has been a long-time member of the Swiss Federal Arbitration Commission for the Exploitation of Author’s Rights and Neighbouring Rights (2004-2011), a member of the research commission of the Swiss National Science Foundation at the University of Lucerne (2004-2014) and advisor to various branches of the Swiss Government, as well as OECD on legal issues related to IP, trade and culture. He is the author of numerous publications, editor of medialex, the Swiss journal of media law (2002-2014), and a member of the editorial advisory board of the University of Western Australia Law Review. He is also a member of the board of directors of the Solothurn Film Festival and a member of the council of the Centro Giacometti Foundation.
After building a fiber optic network throughout its service territory, the city-owned electric utility in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in 2010 became the first U.S. company to offer fiber-to-the-home Internet access at speeds of 1 gigabit per second. The fiber also serves as the backbone of a sophisticated smart grid which modernized the utility’s electricity infrastructure. This report from the Municipal Fiber Initiative examines paybacks on the smart grid.
After building a fiber optic network throughout its service territory, in 2010 the city-owned electric utility in Chattanooga, Tennessee, became the first U.S. company to offer fiber-to-the-home Internet access at speeds of 1 gigabit per second. The fiber also serves as the backbone of a sophisticated smart grid which modernized the utility’s electricity infrastructure. This report from the Municipal Fiber Initiative examines paybacks on the smart grid. Recent data from the utility, Electric Power Board (EPB) of Chattanooga, show that the savings produced by the smart grid, plus revenue from access fees paid by the utility’s Internet access business, more than cover the financing and operating costs of the smart grid, and would do so even if the utility hadn’t received a $111.6 million federal stimulus grant. (A companion report, Citizens Take Charge: Concord, Massachusetts Builds a Fiber Network, describes the earlier-stage municipal smart grid and fiber-to-the-home Internet access project in the town of Concord, Massachusetts.)
In this case study, the authors describe the municipal smart grid and fiber-to-the-home Internet access project in the town of Concord, Massachusetts, and quantify early paybacks on the town’s investments.
In this case study, the authors chronicle the creation of the municipal smart grid and fiber-to-the-home Internet access project in the town of Concord, Massachusetts, and quantify early paybacks on the town’s investments. (A companion report, Smart Grid Paybacks: The Chattanooga Example, describes paybacks on a national model for such a project, in Chattanooga, Tennessee.) In 2009, Concord voters authorized the town’s municipally-owned electric utility (Concord Municipal Light Plant, or CMLP) to build a $3.9 million smart grid which included a 100-mile fiber-optic network passing 95 percent of premises in town. Next, in 2013, the town borrowed $600,000 to fund the startup of an Internet access business, called Concord Light Broadband. The town began making fiber connections to subscribers’ premises in early 2015.
By the end of 2016 CMLP was serving about 750 customers with service of up to 200 Mbps upload and download. Today the town’s network has added reliability to elements of the town’s electricity grid, helped the town avoid $108,000 in annual communications costs, and generated $88,000 in annual leasing revenue. The town has recently begun a strategic planning process in part to help identify how the smart grid can best be used to reduce expensive peak-hour electricity demand, reduce operating costs, enhance revenue, and cut greenhouse gas emissions. One vendor estimates that CMLP could earn $125,000 in revenue by allowing the regional transmission system to use the town’s smart grid to help balance regional electricity supply and demand. Although the financial paybacks on the town’s project are not yet fully covering debt service and operating costs, the long-term prospects are bright, especially given that the fiber will last 30 or more years, and debts on the smart grid will be paid off after 15 years.
A publication of the Municipal Fiber Initiative
Scratch is a block-based programming language created by the Lifelong Kindergarten Group (LLK) at the MIT Media Lab. Scratch gives kids the power to use programming to create their own interactive animations and computer games. Since 2007, the online community that allows Scratch programmers to share, remix, and socialize around their projects has drawn more than 16 million users who have shared nearly 20 million projects and more than 100 million comments. It is one of the most popular ways for kids to learn programming and among the larger online communities for kids in general.
Since 2010, I have published a series of papers using quantitative data collected from the database behind the Scratch online community. As the source of data for many of my first quantitative and data scientific papers, it’s not a major exaggeration to say that I have built my academic career on the dataset.
I was able to do this work because I happened to be doing my masters in a research group that shared a physical space (“The Cube”) with LLK and because I was friends with Andrés Monroy-Hernández, who started in my masters cohort at the Media Lab. A year or so after we met, Andrés conceived of the Scratch online community and created the first version for his masters thesis project. Because I was at MIT and because I knew the right people, I was able to get added to the IRB protocols and jump through the hoops necessary to get access to the database.
Over the years, Andrés and I have heard over and over, in conversation and in reviews of our papers, that we were privileged to have access to such a rich dataset. More than three years ago, Andrés and I began trying to figure out how we might broaden this access. Andrés had the idea of taking advantage of the launch of Scratch 2.0 in 2013 to focus on trying to release the first five years of Scratch 1.x online community data (March 2007 through March 2012) — most of the period that the codebase he had written ran the site.
After more work than I have put into any single research paper or project, Andrés and I have published a data descriptor in Nature’s new journal Scientific Data. This means that the data is now accessible to other researchers. The data includes five years of detailed longitudinal data organized in 32 tables with information drawn from more than 1 million Scratch users, nearly 2 million Scratch projects, more than 10 million comments, more than 30 million visits to Scratch projects, and much more. The dataset includes metadata on user behavior as well the full source code for every project. Alongside the data is the source code for all of the software that ran the website and that users used to create the projects as well as the code used to produce the dataset we’ve released.
Releasing the dataset was a complicated process. First, we had navigate important ethical concerns about the the impact that a release of any data might have on Scratch’s users. Toward that end, we worked closely with the Scratch team and the the ethics board at MIT to design a protocol for the release that balanced these risks with the benefit of a release. The most important features of our approach in this regard is that the dataset we’re releasing is limited to only public data. Although the data is public, we understand that computational access to data is different in important ways to access via a browser or API. As a result, we’re requiring anybody interested in the data to tell us who they are and agree to a detailed usage agreement. The Scratch team will vet these applicants. Although we’re worried that this creates a barrier to access, we think this approach strikes a reasonable balance.
Beyond the the social and ethical issues, creating the dataset was an enormous task. Andrés and I spent Sunday afternoons over much of the last three years going column-by-column through the MySQL database that ran Scratch. We looked through the source code and the version control system to figure out how the data was created. We spent an enormous amount of time trying to figure out which columns and rows were public. Most of our work went into creating detailed codebooks and documentation that we hope makes the process of using this data much easier for others (the data descriptor is just a brief overview of what’s available). Serializing some of the larger tables took days of computer time.
In this process, we had a huge amount of help from many others including an enormous amount of time and support from Mitch Resnick, Natalie Rusk, Sayamindu Dasgupta, and Benjamin Berg at MIT as well as from many other on the Scratch Team. We also had an enormous amount of feedback from a group of a couple dozen researchers who tested the release as well as others who helped us work through through the technical, social, and ethical challenges. The National Science Foundation funded both my work on the project and the creation of Scratch itself.
Because access to data has been limited, there has been less research on Scratch than the importance of the system warrants. We hope our work will change this. We can imagine studies using the dataset by scholars in communication, computer science, education, sociology, network science, and beyond. We’re hoping that by opening up this dataset to others, scholars with different interests, different questions, and in different fields can benefit in the way that Andrés and I have. I suspect that there are other careers waiting to be made with this dataset and I’m excited by the prospect of watching those careers develop.
You can find out more about the dataset, and how to apply for access, by reading the data descriptor on Nature’s website.
Donald Trump betreibt eine Politik systematischer Verunsicherung. Das erinnert an das Europa des Absolutismus.
Alle großen weltgeschichtlichen Tatsachen ereignen sich zweimal, schrieb Karl Marx einst in Anlehnung an Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel: das eine Mal als Tragödie, das andere Mal als Farce. Diese Sätze können in diesen Tagen Horror und Hoffnung in einem sein. In den USA wird ein Weltbühnenstück gegeben, bei dem die Annahme, es handele sich um eine Farce, schon echter Hoffnungsschimmer ist. Nicht irgendein reicher Irrer, nicht ein wild gewordener Anhänger der Alt-Right-Bewegung, nein, der amerikanische Präsident führt es auf in einer Weise, die Tragödie und Farce womöglich gar in einer Person und dem durch sie geschaffenen historischen Augenblick zusammenbringt.
Stehen wir also am Beginn einer neuen Zeit, die rückwärts läuft? Nach dem Verfassungskreislauf des griechischen Historikers Polybios (2. Jahrhundert v. Chr.) gibt es einen zwingenden Verfallsprozess von aufeinanderfolgenden Staatsverfassungen, getrieben durch Dekadenz, den Verfall der Tugend. Dekadenz ist mehr als Stillosigkeit. Dafür reicht es nicht, dass Donald Trumps Inszenierung von Macht im Oval Office an die des nordkoreanischen Diktators Kim Jong-un erinnert.
Die Verkommenheit des politischen Handelns zeigt sich an stärkeren Signalen. Ein solches war das Einreisedekret, das Bürgern aus sieben vorwiegend muslimischen Staaten die Tür nach Amerika vor der Nase zuschlug. Religiöse Diskriminierung ist ein wichtiges Element von Rassismus. Deshalb verbietet sie die Verfassung der USA. Den Präsidenten ficht das nicht an. Staatsdiener, die auf die Einhaltung der Verfassung pochen, fliegen raus: „You’re fired!“ Trump nimmt die Institutionen unter Feuer, die Ordnung sichern. Das Ziel: systematische Verunsicherung. Wo sich niemand mehr seiner Rechte sicher sein kann, da beginnen Rückzug und Beschwichtigung.
In seiner Wirtschaftspolitik bewegt sich Donald Trump zurück in die Zeiten des Merkantilismus. Es liegt einige Hundert Jahre zurück, dass die Nationalstaaten internationalen Handel als Nullsummenspiel angingen. Wer mehr exportiert als importiert, dem geht es besser. Das ist der gedankliche Vater der neuen US-Handelspolitik: bestehende Abkommen kündigen, neue nur noch bilateral aufsetzen, Einfuhrzölle erheben. Und das US-Steuersystem so umbauen, dass Importe bestraft werden, weil Importkosten nicht mehr steuerlich geltend gemacht werden können, während Exporterlöse steuerfrei gestellt werden. Das ist Handelspolitik, die mit einem Schwung hinter die Erkenntnisse kluger Ökonomen wie Adam Smith und David Ricardo im 18. und 19. Jahrhundert zurückfällt.
Das alles mag manch einem Beobachter noch immer als Farce erscheinen, aber es wird bitterernste Folgen haben. In der europäischen Geschichte nannte man die Gesellschaftsform, an der Trump so offenbar arbeitet, Absolutismus. Das war zu einer Zeit, als Amerika noch in den Geburtswehen lag. Kann Erinnerung verhindern, dass Geschichte sich wiederholt? Dann ist es jetzt Zeit für Europa aufzuwachen.
The President’s Executive Orders on immigration have prompted calls of concern from students, parents, alumni, faculty, and staff at Andover. I’m sure that is true at all schools that are committed to a diverse student body and faculty. Last year, we had applicants from 96 different countries around the world. Every year, we admit students from dozens of countries. We explicitly seek students from a broad range of families, including when it comes to religious and cultural backgrounds, and once they are here, we seek to offer a school environment that values equity and inclusion as a core commitment. During this admissions season, I felt it important to state my personal reflections on these policies and how they relate to the goals I believe are at the heart of my job as a head of school. I speak here in my personal capacity.
These Executive Orders have given rise to chaos, uncertainty, and fear. They have caused people to wonder whether coming to the United States to study at a school like Andover makes sense these days. They make our current students wonder if they should travel abroad for college interviews, spring break, and Learning in the World trips we have organized to expose our students to other cultures. They cause real confusion for adults who seek to give good advice to our students.
No one can predict how long these new rules on immigration and travel will stand, whether the legal challenges from states and individuals might succeed, or what might follow them. In each community, we can and should make very clear our values and how we can be expected to act. We can create, in our own academic homes, a sense of clarity against the backdrop of rapid policy changes. Andover is blessed to have clear and well-expressed values to guide those of us entrusted to run it.
The first and most obvious value that must govern how we act is our commitment to Youth from Every Quarter. Our Constitution is explicit on this front: our Academy is to be ever equally open to youth from every quarter of requisite merit. This 230+ year old commitment is not to youth from some or many quarters, it is to youth from every quarter. Today, we speak also of educating all youth regardless of their religion, not youth of some religions. We proudly have students who are Muslim as well as Jewish students, students who practice many Christian faiths, students who are Hindu, and students who tell us they are agnostic or atheist and more. We welcome them all to Andover and celebrate their presence with us. No action by the government can make us change this policy of inclusion.
The second value that has been much on my mind is the notion of in loco parentis. This idea is not so much a founding value as it is a commitment between our school and the parents who entrust their children to our care for the school year. We promise to care for their children as if we were their parents. We do that in partnership with parents and guardians, near and far. We take this trust to be a sacred one. It keeps me up more nights than I’d care to admit. We worry like parents about the kids in our care. And so: if someone were to come for one of our students, I would act like a parent would act if someone were to come after one of my children. We should stand up to threats to our students. Of course we must follow the law as an institution, but we also can and should use the law and lawyers to resist any attempts to harm our students and their places at Andover and their right to religious freedom.
There has been much talk of universities and schools committing to be “sanctuaries” for students. There is merit in this idea but there is also a lot of debate as to what it means, in a legal sense. I would simplify how I see it: I aspire for our school to be a home for our students–a home away from home to be sure–one where our youth from every quarter and from every religion know that they will have every protection we can manage, just as we would offer our own children at home.
Our schools should redouble our efforts to be caring, inclusive, loving places where every student is valued. As I have listened to our students and adults on campus, I have heard an outpouring of this positive spirit–pure and simple compassion for one another regardless of background. Many of us are finding few silver linings in the chaos of these policies when it comes to running schools, but surely this outpouring is one of them.
And we should teach. Our commitment to academic excellence must not waver at these times; instead, we should stay laser-focused on our core task. I resist the idea that any academic community should become distracted from this central endeavor. These are teaching moments. There are legitimate discussions that we can and should have about immigration law and policy and their implications. Our students will jump at this chance to engage in interesting work and to have agency. Of all the ways to make a difference, a life lived with young people in pursuit of knowledge, the truth, character, justice, and all that is right and good in the world is an awfully good one. What a chance we have in this way, in this moment, with these kids and these colleagues. Let’s not squander it.
My site has been down while I’ve tried to figure out (i.e., google someone else’s solution) to a crash caused by WordFence, an excellent utility that, ironically, protects your WordPress blog from various maladies.
The problem is severe: Users of your blog see naught but an error message of this form:
Fatal error: Unknown: Failed opening required ‘/home/dezi3014/public_html/wordfence-waf.php’ (include_path=’…/usr/lib/php /usr/local/lib/php’) in Unknown on line 0
The exact path will vary, but the meaning is the same. It is looking for a file that doesn’t exist. You’ll see the same message when you try to open your WordPress site as administrator. You’ll see it even when you manually uninstall WordPress by logging into your host and deleting the wordfence folder from the wp-content/plugins folder
If you look inside the wordfence-waf.php file (which is in whatever folder you’ve installed WordPress into), it warns you that “Before removing this file, please verify the PHP ini setting `auto_prepend_file` does not point to this.”
Helpful, except my php.ini file doesn’t have any reference to this. (I use MediaTemple.com as my host.) Some easy googling disclosed that the command to look for the file may not be in php.ini, but may be in .htaccess or .user.ini instead. And now you have to find those files.
At least for me, the .user.ini file is in the main folder into which you’ve installed WordPress. In fact, the only line in that file was the one that has the “auto_prepend_file” command. Remove that line and you have your site back.
I assume all of this is too obvious to write about for technically competent people. This post is for the rest of us.
The post How to fix the WordFence wordfence-waf.php problem appeared first on Joho the Blog.
Mark your calendars and put off your homework assignments, Andover! The Gorilla has an exclusive scoop on when the fabled Head of School Day will be this year. It’s tomorrow. Don’t believe us? Wait…
Tuesday, January 31, 2017 at 12:00 pm
Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University
Harvard Law School campus, Wasserstein Hall
How did we learn that we need to learn to code—or else? This talk draws on three years of fieldwork among Washington, D.C.’s public libraries, and interviews with librarians and homeless patrons, to explore how poverty comes to be understood as a ‘digital divide’ and how that framework changes the nature and purpose of public institutions in an era of skyrocketing inequality.
Dan Greene is a Postdoctoral Researcher with the Social Media Collective at Microsoft Research New England. His research focuses on the future of work and its shadow--the future of unemployment. A former social worker, Dan received his PhD in American Studies from the University of Maryland, where he was also a University Flagship Fellow and a member of the EViD (Ethics and Values in Design) Lab. His dissertation (and current book project, tentatively titled The Promise of Access: Hope and Inequality in the Information Economy) draws on extensive ethnographic fieldwork to explore the reproduction of the digital divide and how urban institutions like startups, charter schools, and public libraries make the problem of poverty a problem of technology and remake themselves in the process. At Microsoft Research, he’s beginning his next project: A history of technologies used for hiring and firing, and the automation of human resource management. Dan’s research has been published in journals such as the International Journal of Communication, Surveillance & Society, and TripleC. You can find him online at dmgreene.net.
As children use digital media to learn and socialize, others are collecting and analyzing data about these activities. In school and at play, these children find that they are the subjects of data science. As believers in the power of data analysis, we believe that this approach falls short of data science’s potential to promote innovation, learning, and power.
Motivated by this fact, we have been working over the last three years as part of a team at the MIT Media Lab and the University of Washington to design and build a system that attempts to support an alternative vision: children as data scientists. The system we have built is described in a new paper—Scratch Community Blocks: Supporting Children as Data Scientists—that will be published in the proceedings of CHI 2017.
Our system is built on top of Scratch, a visual, block-based programming language designed for children and youth. Scratch is also an online community with over 15 million registered members who share their Scratch projects, remix each others’ work, have conversations, provide feedback, bookmark or “love” projects they like, follow other users, and more. Over the last decade, researchers—including us—have used the Scratch online community’s database to study the youth using Scratch. With Scratch Community Blocks, we attempt to put the power to programmatically analyze these data into the hands of the users themselves.
To do so, our new system adds a set of new programming primitives (blocks) to Scratch so that users can access public data from the Scratch website from inside Scratch. Blocks in the new system gives users access to project and user metadata, information about social interaction, and data about what types of code are used in projects. The full palette of blocks to access different categories of data is shown below.
The new blocks allow users to programmatically access, filter, and analyze data about their own participation in the community. For example, with the simple script below, we can find whether we have followers in Scratch who report themselves to be from Spain, and what their usernames are.
In designing the system, we had two primary motivations. First, we wanted to support avenues through which children can engage in curiosity-driven, creative explorations of public Scratch data. Second, we wanted to foster self-reflection with data. As children looked back upon their own participation and coding activity in Scratch through the project they and their peers made, we wanted them to reflect on their own behavior and learning in ways that shaped their future behavior and promoted exploration.
After designing and building the system over 2014 and 2015, we invited a group of active Scratch users to beta test the system in early 2016. Over four months, 700 users created more than 1,600 projects. The diversity and depth of users creativity with the new blocks surprised us. Children created projects that gave the viewer of the project a personalized doughnut-chart visualization of their coding vocabulary on Scratch, rendered the viewer’s number of followers as scoops of ice-cream on a cone, attempted to find whether “love-its” for projects are more common on Scratch than “favorites”, and told users how “talkative” they were by counting the cumulative string-length of project titles and descriptions.
We found that children, rather than making canonical visualizations such as pie-charts or bar-graphs, frequently made information representations that spoke to their own identities and aesthetic sensibilities. A 13-year-old girl had made a virtual doll dress-up game where the player’s ability to buy virtual clothes and accessories for the doll was determined by the level of their activity in the Scratch community. When we asked about her motivation for making such a project, she said:
I was trying to think of something that somebody hadn’t done yet, and I didn’t see that. And also I really like to do art on Scratch and that was a good opportunity to use that and mix the two [art and data] together.
We also found at least some evidence that the system supported self-reflection with data. For example, after seeing a project that showed its viewers a visualization of their past coding vocabulary, a 15-year-old realized that he does not do much programming with the pen-related primitives in Scratch, and wrote in a comment, “epic! looks like we need to use more pen blocks. :D.”
Additionally, we noted that that as children made and interacted with projects made with Scratch Community Blocks, they started to critically think about the implications of data collection and analysis. These conversations are the subject of another paper (also being published in CHI 2017).
In a 1971 article called “Teaching Children to be Mathematicians vs. Teaching About Mathematics”, Seymour Papert argued for the need for children doing mathematics vs. learning about it. He showed how Logo, the programming language he was developing at that time with his colleagues, could offer children a space to use and engage with mathematical ideas in creative and personally motivated ways. This, he argued, enabled children to go beyond knowing about mathematics to “doing” mathematics, as a mathematician would.
Scratch Community Blocks has not yet been launched for all Scratch users and has several important limitations we discuss in the paper. That said, we feel that the projects created by children in our the beta test demonstrate the real potential for children to do data science, and not just know about it, provide data for it, and to have their behavior nudged and shaped by it.
One bit of good news for those thoroughly freaked out by the Trump presidency: there’s anger, passion and drive on the left that’s unprecedented in recent memory. Two weekends ago, my girlfriend, a veteran of Occupy Houston, warned me that it was difficult to mobilize people in that car-centric city and thought we might find a few hundred marchers for the post-inauguration march. The crowd we joined was 22,000 strong, and as we assembled in front of Houston city hall, the chief of police told us that we were the largest protest in the city’s history. And the Houston protest was a small one compared to massive protests in Boston, New York, Seattle, Denver, Chicago, LA and DC.
This weekend featured a wave of demonstrations at airports around the US against the racist and unconstitutional Muslim ban. The ACLU, leaders in fighting the ban, raised more than $24 million over the weekend, demonstrating that activists are willing to put money where their hearts are. And an army of lawyers is occupying airport food courts, offering legal representation to anyone prevented from entering the US. The outpouring of progressive efforts has been so massive that journalists are beginning to refer to it as “the surge”.
Here’s the bad news: thus far, we’re not very good at channeling that energy. There’s so much to react to, from fundamental questions about the legitimacy of the election to concern about concrete steps Trump is taking in office that it’s hard to know what to proactively work on. And there’s a danger in reactive activism: your opponent gets to choose and frame the issues for you. For all its weaknesses, the Trump administration is masterful at framing issues to its advantage, as the left is just now beginning to understand how powerful a tool this can be.
Immediately after the US election, “fake news” emerged as a major story, a partial explanation for Trump’s surprise electoral victory. Within a week, I’d been invited to four different conferences, brainstorms or hackathons to combat fake news, done a dozen media interviews and briefed the heads of two major progressive foundations on the issue. Fake news was a problem for American democracy and progressive leaders were on it!
Unfortunately, so was the Trump administration. On January 11th, Trump offered his first press conference since the election, and refused a question from CNN’s Jim Acosta, criticizing the network and declaring “You are fake news.” This week, the President expanded the fake news camp to include the nation’s “paper of record”.
The failing @nytimes has been wrong about me from the very beginning. Said I would lose the primaries, then the general election. FAKE NEWS!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 28, 2017
Somebody with aptitude and conviction should buy the FAKE NEWS and failing @nytimes and either run it correctly or let it fold with dignity!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 29, 2017
Media Cloud, the tool we developed at the MIT Media Lab and Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center to track the spread of ideas in news media, shows that “fake news” was associated primarily with Facebook in the months of November and December. Coverage of fake news focused on Buzzfeed’s excellent reporting on for-profit news sites in Macedonia that created “news” out of whole cloth in hopes of attracting US right-wing eyeballs and ad dollars by designing news stories likely to be spread on Facebook. In January, the fake news narrative has shifted to CNN as a result of the President’s adoption of the term, wielded against CNN in revenge for their decision to cover (though not reproduce) the Steele dossier.
The President’s embrace of the term “fake news” should be reason enough for the left to stop organizing conferences and projects on the topic. It’s a vague and ambiguous term that spans everything from false balance (actual news that doesn’t deserve our attention), propaganda (weaponized speech designed to support one party over another) and disinformatzya (information designed to sow doubt and increase mistrust in institutions) – I wrote at length about the complexities of the term for Deutsche Welle last week.
But that’s not the real problem. The problem is that the very concept of fake news helps the Trump administration.
Many pundits complained that Trump campaigned without a platform, just a set of audience-tested applause lines. While that may be true, the campaign was not without a strategy. Trump and his advisors realized that the dominant political mood of the moment is one of mistrust. The primary locus of this mistrust is the government in Washington – in 1964, 77% of Americans trusted the government in Washington to do the right thing all or most of the time. By 2011, that number was down to 19%. But this collapse in trust affects all large, bureaucratic systems, from universities and hospitals to the military and churches. And people really mistrust media: in 1979, 51% of people trusted newspapers all or most of the time. By 2013, only 24% of people trusted newspapers, and 21% trusted television news.
It’s deeply uncomfortable when the President refers to the media, a constitutionally-protected institution critical to monitoring a representative democracy, as the “opposition party”.
Where was all the outrage from Democrats and the opposition party (the media) when our jobs were fleeing our country?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 30, 2017
But it shouldn’t be that surprising – in many ways, Trump ran against the media as much as he ran against Hillary Clinton. The chant of “CNN Sucks!” was a common feature of his rallies, one he encouraged by railing against the unfairness of the coverage he was receiving.
Elected as a revolutionary, Trump is governing as an insurrectionist, moving to sideline or disable much of the federal government. For those of us uncertain as to whether Trump was a conventional Republican with inflammatory rhetoric or a genuine rebel, his cabinet choices made things very clear. The nominees he has proposed are a wrecking crew, in many cases explicitly dedicated to the destruction of the agencies they oversee. This is strategy, specifically Steve Bannon’s strategy. As Ronald Radosh reported last summer, Bannon identifies as a Leninist, dedicated to the destruction of establishment institutions through Tea Party populism.
Some of the mainstream Republicans who supported Trump because it was a way to defeat Clinton are feeling very uncomfortable about how the President is governing. But many in Trump’s base are pleased to see that he genuinely wants to overturn and abolish institutions they feel have not served them well. (Uncomfortably, they have a point. Rising inequality means that the economic recovery under Obama hasn’t reached many households. Not that voting in a plutocracy is an especially good way to combat this.)
The best way to defeat insurrectionism is with strong institutions. We’ve got to celebrate the ones that are working well and reform the ones that are broken. We may even need to tear some down and replace them with something better. And we have to humanize all of them, identifying and celebrating the people who are working hard to make these institutions function, and to fix them when they decay. It’s easy to hate an institution – it’s harder to hate the people within it. That’s the power of Twitter accounts like @RogueNASA and @AltUSNatParkService. They remind us that real people work within government institutions, that they’re proud of what they do, and that we need to get beyond our understandable mistrust of agencies, bureaucracies and hierarchies, and celebrate the things they do well.
That’s the problem with a focus on fake news. By adopting the frame, we remind people of the difficulty of reporting in a digital age, the real problems of verifying information and the times our journalistic institutions have failed. We should fix our failures, we should get better at stopping misinformation before it starts to spread, but we can’t do this in a way that supports a Trump attack on the very notion of independent media institutions.
There’s another thing, too. Fake news is not the problem. My colleagues at Harvard are releasing a study of news during the 2016 election next month. They looked at how influential thousands of different news outlets had been during the cycle. They found dozens of news outlets that have been flagged by academics as purveyors of fake news, publishers that create stories from whole cloth for profit. While those sites exist, they were not very influential in the 2016 election – the most influential don’t even rank in the top 100 sites in the analysis. Far more people have been influenced by talk about fake news than by fake news itself.
Why? Because progressives love the idea of fake news. Most progressives – myself included – find it hard to understand how fellow Americans can view the world so differently. By blaming the results of the election on fake news, we have an easy explanation for an incomprehensible situation. If we could just eliminate misinformation, everyone would agree with us!
As Michael Schudson points out in his brilliant The Good Citizen, central to the progressive movement was the idea of the informed citizen. Crusading newspapers reported on malfeasance, and citizens were expected to spend hours informing themselves on candidates and propositions. The net result? The voting rate dropped by 50%. Unfortunately, political decisions are seldom rational, fact-based ones as much as we’d like them to be.
The uncomfortable truth is that support for Trump’s insurrectionist agenda is real, and that there’s a ferocious appetite for news that confirms our existing biases – on both sides of the aisle. Yes, we should find a way to battle deceptive misinformation. But we need to work harder on building media that pushes us to see different perspectives and helps us understand the complex political reality we live in. The answer is not to fight fake news – it’s to build wide news, media that helps us understand people we disagree with and people we seldom hear from.
Die US-Regierung führt „alternative Fakten“ ein. Opposition wird in Medien und Politik zur unerlässlichen demokratischen Tugend.
Seit der Wende zum 20. Jahrhundert gibt es Bewiesenes und Unbewiesenes, was so viel heißt wie Gerüchte, Fälschungen oder auch neudeutsch: Fakes. Dazwischen gab es nichts. Bis zum vergangenen Sonntag. Da brachte Kellyanne Conway, Beraterin des neuen US-Präsidenten, live in einer US-Fernsehsendung das Konzept der „alternativen Fakten“ in die Diskussion ein.
„Alternative Fakten sind keine Fakten, sondern Lügen“, antwortete der Moderator der Sendung. Damit wäre das Thema unter normalen Umständen erledigt. Aber wir haben keine normalen Umstände.
Die glasklare Unterscheidung zwischen faktenbasierter Wahrheit und Lügen zieht sich durch die aufgeklärte Zivilisation. Der französische Philosoph René Descartes hat vor rund 400 Jahren gesagt: „Ich denke, also bin ich.“ Er hat nicht gesagt „ich denke, also bin ich im Recht“.
Für eine aufgeklärte demokratische Gesellschaft ist die Bereitschaft, alles infrage zu stellen und nach Beweisen für das Angenommene zu suchen, eine wesentliche Voraussetzung. Karl Popper, ebenfalls Philosoph, hat das in den Satz gegossen, „dass ich mich irren kann, dass du recht haben kannst und dass wir zusammen vielleicht der Wahrheit auf die Spur kommen werden“.
Damit ist es erst einmal vorbei. Der US-Präsident und seine Berater streiten allen Ernstes seit Tagen mit Medien und Bevölkerung darüber, wie groß die Menschenmenge bei seiner Vereidigung war. Millionen von illegalen Wählerstimmen sollen schuld sein, dass er bei den Direktstimmen („popular vote“) zurücklag.
Weil es den Klimawandel nicht geben soll, werden alle Verweise darauf von der Website des Weißen Hauses gelöscht. Aber es bleibt nicht bei Worten. Zu Pressekonferenzen, ja selbst zum ersten Auftritt vor den Geheimdiensten sind Claqueure zur Stelle, die schon einmal für Stimmung sorgen. Der Präsident bewirtschaftet die „Faktenlage“ so variantenreich, wie man ein Immobilienimperium in kürzester Zeit aufbaut. Mit allen Mitteln.
Für die Medien liegt in alledem eine Chance. Ihr Geschäftsmodell ist unter Druck geraten, auch durch die Angebote der großen Internetfirmen, auf deren Seiten allerdings auch die Gerüchteküche brodelt. Professionell arbeitender Journalismus resultiert aus der Erkenntnis, dass Macht Opposition braucht. Wenn in den USA das Orwell’sche „Neusprech“ seine Blüte erlebt, wird Widerspruch zur demokratischen Tugend. Deshalb darf Journalismus das Faktenchecken nicht an Facebook delegieren.
Gleiches gilt für die Politik. Kommunikativ mag es eine glatte Sechs sein, dass selbst die SPD-Führung erst über die Medien von Sigmar Gabriels Entscheidung erfahren hat, nun doch nicht als Kanzlerkandidat anzutreten. Aber ihm gebührt Respekt dafür, dass er zugunsten der SPD verzichtet. Ob die tatsächlich noch zum Regieren geeignet ist, darüber kann man nach dieser Volte erneut streiten. Aber zu einer neuen und frischeren Opposition könnte sie werden. Das ist kein alternatives Faktum, sondern meine Meinung. Und dazu nehme ich Ihren Widerspruch freudig entgegen.
Yesterday, Steve Bannon clearly articulated what many people have felt and known for quite some time when he told journalists, “You’re the opposition party. Not the Democratic Party… The media’s the opposition party.” This builds on earlier remarks by Trump, who said, “I have a running war with the media.”
Journalists have covered this with their “objective” voice as though it was another news story in the crazy first week of WTF moments. Many of those who value the media have looked at this with wide eyes, struggling to assess which of the many news stories they should be more horrified by. Far too few are getting the point:
The news media have become a pawn in a big chess game of an information war.
News agencies, long trained to focus on reporting information and maintaining a conceptual model of standards, are ill-equipped to understand that they may have a role in this war, that their actions and decisions are shaping the way the war plays out.
When Kellyanne Conway argued that they were operating with “alternative facts,” the media mocked her. They tried to dismiss her comment that the media has a 14% approval rating by fact-correcting this to point out that this was only a Gallup poll concerning the media’s approval rating among Republicans. But they missed her greater point: there’s no cost to the administration to be helpful to the media because the people the Trump Administration cares about don’t trust the media anyhow.
How many years did it take for the US military to learn that waging war with tribal networks couldn’t be fought with traditional military strategies? How long will it take for the news media to wake up and recognize that they’re being played? And how long after that will it take for editors and publishers to start evolving their strategies?
As I wrote in “Hacking the Attention Economy,” manipulating the media for profit, ideology, and lulz has evolved over time. The strategies that hackers, hoaxers, and haters have taken have become more sophisticated. The campaigns have gotten more intense. And now many of the actors most set on undermining institutionalized information intermediaries are in the most powerful office in the land. They are waging war on the media and the media doesn’t know what to do other than to report on it.
We’ve built an information ecosystem where information can fly through social networks (both technical and personal). Folks keep looking to the architects of technical networks to solve the problem. I’m confident that these companies can do a lot to curb some of the groups who have capitalized on what’s happening to seek financial gain. But the battles over ideology and attention are going to be far trickier. What’s at stake isn’t “fake news.” What’s at stake is the increasing capacity of those committed to a form of isolationist and hate-driven tribalism that has been around for a very long time. They have evolved with the information landscape, becoming sophisticated in leveraging whatever tools are available to achieve power, status, and attention. And those seeking a progressive and inclusive agenda, those seeking to combat tribalism to form a more perfect union — they haven’t kept up.
The information war has begun. Normative approaches to challenging the system will not work. What will it take for news media to wake up? What will it take for progressives to start developing skills to fight back?
Five Things is an ongoing live series at the PRX Podcast Garage hosted by Julie Shapiro (EP, Radiotopia). The series invites some of today’s most talented and successful producers, artists, writers and thinkers to share five things —audio, visuals, books, objects or something else entirely — that have shaped their creative practice over time, and inform how they approach work today. In short: interesting people share cool stuff they love.
For the second installment of Five Things, we welcomed Jody Avirgan, host of the FiveThirtyEight politics podcast, producer of the upcoming Thirty for Thirty documentary podcast from ESPN, ultimate frisbee enthusiast and champion of sesame sticks and dried mango. Watch a video of the conversation and recap Jody’s Five Things below.
“This is my favorite YouTube video of all time. It happens to include one of my favorite songs of all time, but more than anything it’s a random captured moment of peace that gives a window into a stranger’s life. If you read the comments you learn a tragic coda. I’ve never really brought myself to look into the life of Calab, but I’m grateful for this moment.”
“This book sometimes slips into corporate-CEO speak, but there’s a lot of wisdom here. I’ve learned more from sports than almost anything. Two ideas in particular stick with me. One is the idea of “competitive greatness,” which is basically another name for “grace under pressure.” I think that your capacity to learn and perform under pressure is far more important than talent or skillset. The other thing I love about Wooden is his focus on process over outcomes. Winning/success is almost a byproduct, and afterthought, of doing all the steps along the way with attention and enthusiasm.”
“A beautiful radio piece that listens as much as it talks. I love how it just goes to a place and sits. It’s un-narrated, which I don’t think people do enough, and it’s full of great moments. It’s also incredibly indulgent! Take an indie rock singer, have them write a song about a bird, make it over 10 minutes? Why not! But there’s a valuable lesson here, if someone’s going to let you get away with a piece like this, go for it.”
“The basic idea here is that some art is full of all the perfect elements of content, composition, execution… but still somehow lack that thing that “shoots out of it like an arrow.” Thinking about this taught me to be strategic about trying to create these moments in my work. When you have something that you think can be a punctum, make sure you’re getting out of the way and letting it do its thing.”
“Just one of my favorite songs from what I think is the best moment in musical history: 1960s Jamaica. I love that many of the early reggae songs were soul covers, which is a reminder that every artist, even the ones we think of as sui generis, starts out as a deep fan. Fandom is a perfectly good place to start – it’s kind of the only place to start. So, copy the stuff you love.”
Prompted by Julie, Jody also shared responses to a call out on the What’s the Point podcast for listeners to track, visualize and illustrate a week’s worth of podcast listening via postcard.
March 22nd: Jenna Weiss-Berman (podcast producer, co-founder of Pineapple Street Media, former director of audio for BuzzFeed).
About Jody Avirgan
Jody is the host of the FiveThirtyEight politics podcast. His next venture is a series of sports-related audio docs under the “30 for 30” umbrella, coming spring 2017. Before ESPN, he was at WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show, did reporting for the WNYC newsroom, and went on air and asked you for money during the pledge drive. He’s worked with On The Media, Radiolab, 99% Invisible, Marketplace, Studio 360 and many more. On the side, he hosts the comedy and storytelling show Ask Roulette, where strangers ask each other questions live on stage. He lives in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. Find him online at @jodyavirgan and www.jodyavirgan.com.
About Julie Shapiro
Julie Shapiro is the executive producer of Radiotopia. From 2014–15, she was the executive producer of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Creative Audio Unit. In 2000 she co-founded the Third Coast International Audio Festival, where as artistic director, she prioritized innovative audio and a cross-pollinating international listening culture. Shapiro has taught radio to university students, presented at conferences all over the globe, and produced stories for the airwaves and podcasts in the US and beyond. You can find her on twitter @jatomic.
This is a talk in the monthly Digital Health @ Harvard Brown Bag Lunch Series, which is co-hosted by the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics and the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University.
Thursday, January 26, 2017 at 12:00 pm
Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University
23 Everett Street, 2nd Floor Conference Room
Dr. Adrian Gropper is working to put patients in charge of their health records, arguably the most valuable and most personal kinds of connected information about a person. They encompass elements of anonymous, pseudonymous, and verified identity and they interact with both regulated institutions and licensed professionals. Gropper’s research centers on self-sovereign technology for management of personal information both in control of the individual and as hosted or curated by others. The HIE of One project is a free software reference implementation and currently the only standards-based patient-centered record. The work implements a self-sovereign UMA Authorization Server and is adding blockchain identity as self-sovereign technology to enable licensed practitioners to authenticate and, for example, write a compliant prescription directly into the patient’s self-sovereign health record.
The public interest threads through many aspects of this work. Detailed health records are valuable sources for medical research, social justice, machine learning, big data, as well as directly related to 5-20% of the activity in terms of GDP. Identity and related aspects of this work, including security, are of global importance including refugees and societies with weak government and private institutions.
About Dr. Gropper
Dr. Gropper is a pioneer in patient-centered and patient-controlled health records on the Internet. He holds an engineering degree from MIT and an MD from Harvard Medical School. Early work on telemedicine and picture archiving and communications systems (PACS) with Massachusetts General Hospital also introduced him to MIT’s Guardian Angel project that many consider the parent of many of today’s patient-facing technologies. In 1995, Dr. Gropper founded AMICAS (NAS:AMCS) as the first Web-based radiology PACS and the first to provide direct links to diagnostic imaging in electronic health records.
Dr. Gropper founded MedCommons in 2004 to develop software for image-enabled, patient-centered health records supporting all of a patient’s caregivers. Dr. Gropper participated in many early standardization efforts including IHE, HITSP, Liberty Alliance and the Continuity of Care Record steering committee. He also serves on the Massachusetts Health Information Exchange Technology Workgroup, the Massachusetts Medical Society Committee for Information Technology and Markle Foundation panels. Currently he participates as a patient-access advocate in the NwHIN Direct Project, Blue Button Plus health information exchange, and the NSTIC / IDESG cyber ID initiative. His focus is technology that applies fair information practice to our new world of continuous surveillance and predictive analytics.
Dr. Gropper is also CTO of the non-profit Patient Privacy Rights foundation where he represents the interest of physicians and patients in the technology standards and policies that are an ever growing part of our lives. He founded the HIE of One open source reference implementation project and a co-founder of OpenID HEAlth Relationship Trust (HEART). His paper won a prize at ONC’s 2016 Blockchain Health competition.
Tuesday, January 24 2017 at 4:00 pm
Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University
Harvard Law School campus
Outgoing Chair of the Federal Communications Commission Tom Wheeler speaks with Harvard Law School Professor Susan Crawford about his work at the FCC, and where telecommunications might go under the next administration.
About Mr. Wheeler
Tom Wheeler became the 31st Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on November 4, 2013. Chairman Wheeler was appointed by President Barack Obama and unanimously confirmed by the United States Senate. Chairman Wheeler is widely viewed as having been one of the most consequential leaders of the FCC since the agency's creation in the 1930s.
For over three decades, Chairman Wheeler has been involved with new telecommunications networks and services, experiencing the revolution in telecommunications as a policy expert, an advocate, and a businessman. As an entrepreneur, he started or helped start multiple companies offering innovative cable, wireless, and video communications services. He is the only person to be selected to both the Cable Television Hall of Fame and The Wireless Hall of Fame, a fact President Obama joked made him “The Bo Jackson of Telecom.”
Prior to joining the FCC, Chairman Wheeler was Managing Director at Core Capital Partners, a venture capital firm investing in early stage Internet Protocol (IP)-based companies. He served as President and CEO of Shiloh Group, LLC, a strategy development and private investment company specializing in telecommunications services and co-founded SmartBrief, the internet’s largest electronic information service for vertical markets. From 1976 to 1984, Chairman Wheeler was associated with the National Cable Television Association (NCTA), where he was President and CEO from 1979 to 1984. Following NCTA, Chairman Wheeler was CEO of several high tech companies, including the first company to offer high speed delivery of data to home computers and the first digital video satellite service. From 1992 to 2004, Chairman Wheeler served as President and CEO of the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA).
Chairman Wheeler wrote Take Command: Leadership Lessons of the Civil War (Doubleday, 2000) and Mr. Lincoln's T-Mails: The Untold Story of How Abraham Lincoln Used the Telegraph to Win the Civil War (HarperCollins, 2006). His commentaries on current events have been published in the Washington Post, USA Today, Los Angeles Times, Newsday, and other leading publications.Presidents Clinton and Bush each appointed Chairman Wheeler a Trustee of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, where he served for 12 years. He is also the former Chairman and President of the Foundation for the National Archives, the non-profit organization dedicated to telling the American Story through its documents, and a former board member of the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS).
Chairman Wheeler is a proud graduate of The Ohio State University and the recipient of its Alumni Medal. He resides in Washington, D.C.
About Professor Crawford
Susan Crawford is John A. Reilly Clinical Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and a co-director of the Berkman Klein Center. She is the author of Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age, co-author of The Responsive City: Engaging Communities Through Data-Smart Governance, and a contributor to Medium.com’s Backchannel. She served as Special Assistant to the President for Science, Technology, and Innovation Policy (2009) and co-led the FCC transition team between the Bush and Obama administrations. She also served as a member of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Advisory Council on Technology and Innovation and is now a member of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Broadband Task Force. Ms. Crawford was formerly a (Visiting) Stanton Professor of the First Amendment at Harvard’s Kennedy School, a Visiting Professor at Harvard Law School, and a Professor at the University of Michigan Law School (2008-2010). As an academic, she teaches Internet law and communications law. She was a member of the board of directors of ICANN from 2005-2008 and is the founder of OneWebDay, a global Earth Day for the internet that takes place each Sept. 22. One of Politico’s 50 Thinkers, Doers and Visionaries Transforming Politics in 2015; one of Fast Company’s Most Influential Women in Technology (2009); IP3 Awardee (2010); one of Prospect Magazine’s Top Ten Brains of the Digital Future (2011); and one of TIME Magazine’s Tech 40: The Most Influential Minds in Tech (2013). Ms. Crawford received her B.A. and J.D. from Yale University. She served as a clerk for Judge Raymond J. Dearie of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, and was a partner at Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering (now WilmerHale) (Washington, D.C.) until the end of 2002, when she left that firm to enter the legal academy. Susan lives in New York City and Cambridge, MA.
Welcome to a very special Tuesday talk here at Pound Hall, across the street from the Berkman Klein Center. As with a lot of our events on campus, this is being live webcast and recorded. Please just keep that in mind if and when you ask questions, which I hope you will toward the end. I have the privilege and the pleasure of being able to introduce Prof. Susan Crawford and Chairman Tom Wheeler this afternoon. As I'm sure you know, Prof. Crawford teaches here at HLS, works with us a lot in the Cyberlaw Clinic, and works a lot on issues related to telecom as well as civic innovation, government innovation, and helping cities think through data-smart governance and policies. Joining Susan today, Chairman Tom Wheeler who spent three decades working in telecom on both the business side and law and policy side. In November of 2013, he was appointed by President Obama to the position of FCC chairman, where he was unanimously confirmed. His tenure as FCC chair was one of the extraordinary accomplishments on a wide range of issues, and it's particularly well-known for ushering in the FCC's final rule on net neutrality in April 2015, which I'm sure is one of many things that Susan and Chairman Wheeler will talk about. Without further ado, I'm going to turn things over to Prof. Crawford and FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. Thanks so much.
Thanks so much, Chris.
Thank you, Chris.
It is indeed a singular pleasure and honor to have Tom Wheeler here as the country goes through this whirlwind over the last few days. The 31st FCC chairman, a proud graduate of the Ohio State University and a recipient ...
You got that right, the ...
The Ohio State University and a recipient of its Alumni Medal, a former president and chairman of the National Archives Foundation, a student of history, who cares about America's documents and America's future and America's past, and the most consequential FCC chairman since a 35-year old Newt Minow went to the Sheraton Park Hotel, to the lion's den, to the National Association of Broadcasters in 1961, the beginning of the Kennedy Administration, and told those broadcasters that they were supposed to be serving the public interest.
Interesting concept …
Isn't that something? Tom Wheeler told four companies that want to control our destinies that they should be serving the public interest as well and was active on a huge range of issues, as Chris mentioned.
Tom, I know that someone you revered was your grandfather. Pretend you're speaking to your grandfather right now, someone with absolute compassion and affection for you, and tell him what you're really proud of in your tenure at the FCC.
What are you really proud of? What did you do?
I think we did a lot of things.
Okay. You did.
Let's start with the basic. Note that I said, "We did a lot of things," because what I'm most proud of is the team that did these things. Here's the silly thing. You're chairman. You're the guy who ends up in the newspaper or in front of the Congress or whatever the case may be, but you're just the band leader. I mean the people who are making the music and playing the instruments are the people who were doing the real work. We were just incredibly fortunate to be able to attract to the commission a team of new senior folks, bureau chiefs, folks in the Office of the Chairman, General Council, et cetera, to work with a really strong staff. I mean they are really dedicated, really bright, really caring people on the staff of the FCC.
What am I proudest about? I got to work with them. I went around on the last couple of days, and I met with every bureau, and I had one thing that I said in common to all of them, and that was that I was proud of the fact that I was able to say I was their colleague because there's a lot to be proud of in that agency. I think you have to put everything in perspective because it basically boils down to it's all about people. Now, really what you're going for is ...
How do you know?
Let's talk about net neutrality. Let's talk about privacy. Let's talk about …
Actually, I wanted to put the personal angle on it, but really the human pride here.
It only happens because of the people. You mentioned this small struggling educational institution called the Ohio State University. When I was in graduate school there, I was Assistant Alumni Director, and my job was the care and feeding of Woody Hayes. It was a fabulous experience. That's an overstatement. My job was that I would, I traveled the state with the coaches including Woody, and so I got to know Woody Hayes up close and personal.
It was, "Son." "Yes, coach." Woody used to say, "You win with people," and there's nothing more true than that, "You win with people," and so the reason why Woody really gets some things done so we had really good, really dedicated people who busted their ass, who believed in things and busted their ass.
Let me tick off a few things then.
Bringing fiber access to about 50% of America's schools, the ...
More than that.
What, more than? We're at about 50 now?
Here's where we are. When I came in, two-thirds of the schools in America did not have fiber connections and the third that did did not have Wi-Fi; only half of them had Wi-Fi to the student's desk. The latest report out of EducationSuperHighway says that 90% of the school districts in America now have the standard, the 100 megabits per student to the student's desk.
That's because of a team that worked together to overhaul a program that had originally been envisioned by Al Gore but had atrophied as a narrowband program that wasn't making sense in a broadband world. I'm very proud of that.
Big one and revolutionizing the idea of subsidizing low cost phone service, changing that over to high speed Internet access, that's a big deal.
We've always had a program where, starting with the Reagan administration, we have had a program that subsidized low income Americans to be able to have phone service because how are you going to dial 911, but same story. It atrophied as dial-up telephone service, when the world had gone broadband. How do we make sure that the same kind of concept supports subsidies for low income Americans for broadband. The champion for that was Commissioner Mignon Clyburn. She was the person that was constantly, constantly pushing on that, and she was my conscience on that issue.
It's a wonderful issue. There are some things that didn't happen, before we get to the Title II discussion, the Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger.
That didn't happen, and T-Mobile Sprint didn't happen.
T-Mobile Sprint, that’s the one that didn't happen.
We had dinner last night with former Assistant Attorney General for Antitrust Bill Baer and his deputy Renata Hesse and then my two key folks who had been involved, Phil Verveer and Jon Sallet. We had dinner to reflect on not only the substance of the issues we had worked on but, again, back to this people angle, I don't think there had ever been a better working relationship between the Antitrust Division and the FCC because we all shared a common belief, and we all liked each other and liked working together with each other.
A lot of learning on both sides. Everything depended on a lot of information trading around.
No. I mean the Comcast-Time Warner decision broke some new ground.
There's a really simple issue that I think that we're going to have to face again because of the new administration, and that is that privacy is a civil rights issue of the 21st century, of the connected era. Let me give you an example of it. We had, for decades, rules that applied to telephone companies that said that the information that was transmitted in order to set up the call could not be used by the telephone companies. For instance, if I call Air France, Verizon can't turn around and sell that information to some tour operator or hotel company in Paris.
That doesn't exist in the broadband world. You had that strange situation where your smartphone, if you used it to make a voice call, your privacy was protected. If you use that same device and the same network to go on the web and go to the Air France website, that information was for sale. It was not your information anymore. The very fact that you had used the network meant you were giving that information. We said no. This is the consumers' information, and so we put a rule in place that said that the consumer gets to make the choice as to how the network is going to use the information. That was another one of our three to two votes.
We'll talk about party line in a bit. I want to get there. I'm still ticking off the great moments of Tom Wheeler.
Do you want me to keep talking about it? Are you interested?
The idea of labeling an Internet service provider as a common carriage Title II entity. That was pretty big. I've always wanted to know, what is it like to hear from 3.7 million Americans? What's that feel like?
They crashed our servers.
You don't always want to hear everything they say about you. I've heard more descriptions about what could I do to myself with a pineapple than I ever want to hear. The whole open Internet discussion debate was fascinating. You're a part of this because you and I, we're on the phone discussing this. For me, it was kind of a Damascus Road experience. You go back, and let's put it in perspective that twice before the commissioner tried to do something and twice before the broadband companies, the carriers, took it to the court and the court said, "No, you can't do that."
Let's see. I walked in in November, and then in February the court came down with a rising decision that threw out the previous attempts at open Internet. It seemed to me that the court was leading us in a certain direction built around Section 706 and protecting what's the virtuous circle of, if you have good broadband that'll drive more services, which will drive more broadband, and the job of the commission is to protect that.
Initially, my proposal was that we should follow what I thought the court was trying to signal to us. At the same point in time, I asked in the notice proposed rule I can ask about Title II and other areas. It became clear over the debate, the discussion, that that wasn't going to be sufficient, 706 wasn't going to be sufficient. People like to point to John Oliver and all that. I will show you one thing here that my daughter gave me. This is my cell phone case. It says, "I am not a dingo."
Dingo is inherently funny no matter what.
Dingo is inherently funny until you stand up and say, "You know, I've decided I'm not a dingo." That's not funny. Do not mess with that guy who is funny for a living.
One of the things that you and Chris didn't mention in my background is that I was the CEO of the Wireless Industry Association for a dozen years. In 1994, 1993, the Wireless Industry went to Congress and said, "Please make us a common carrier but put us under Title II." Because Title II was designed for a different era, with different technology, less competition, et cetera, remove a lot of these old requirements that were in Title II. Congress did that, and the commission followed through, and the Wireless Industry went like this.
The summer of 2014 I guess, I'm going through options, and it's kind of, "Wait a minute. Section 332 of the Communications Act, which is this structure that I subscribed for the wireless industry, is the perfect model for this. Yes, you should be a common carrier with all the responsibilities that come with a common carrier, but at the same point in time you can forbear from some of the most ridiculous things. The statute says you got accounting rules, who's on your board, who you can buy from, and all kinds of things, including ex-ante price regulation. We can forbear from that.
Let's take that as the model of how we implement Title II in a broadband world, and that was the decision that we ended up making. We were constantly working through various iterations of it. The President, of course, came out and said he was a strong Title II supporter, and so we were able to put together three votes and uphold it in court.
A very strong decision.
With a very strong decision that was crucial for that. Third time we got it right because we did it this way, and the court strongly agreed to this.
I got a quote from you, recent speech. You've said recently, "Those who build and operate networks have both the incentive and the ability to use the power of the network to benefit themselves even if doing so harms their own customers and the greater public interest." We're hearing from the Trump Administration today that they're looking forward to getting rid of 75% of regulations. The idea is that they inevitably dampen innovation in the investment. What's your view of that claim, the dampening of investment by regulation?
Part of my experience is that I've made the same argument when I was an advocate.
How about that?
Let me tell you a story. I was CEO of the Wireless Industry Association, and I was proud of the job that I did at the Cable Association when we were taking on the broadcast because they were trying to shut down in the early days of wireless when I was at CTIA. The least proud moment of my public policy life was when I opposed the commission's efforts to have local number affordability so that …
That means for humans?
If you decided you could take your, if you wanted to switch your service from AT&T to T-Mobile that you could take your number with you, it didn't used to be that way. I was imposed by regulation, and I opposed it and you know that. Saying, "Okay. So, I mean, how are we gonna oppose this?" You can't exactly go out and say, "Hey, you know, we think it's a really bad idea that consumers can't, can't leave us, and they're trapped in their carrier because they can't, they're giving everybody their telephone number." That's not an argument that's a real winner.
The argument I made was, "Ah, stalling this is gonna take money that should be spent on infrastructure and expanding connectivity." Unfortunately, that didn't sell. Like I said, I regret that activity, but I'm guilty of this. It is going to slow down our incentive to invest is kind of the first line of defense of everybody and it's balderdash. I clean that up.
That's a strong word.
I clean that up. The reason that you invest is to get a return. You don't say, "Well, I'm not gonna invest because I might trigger some regulations." The question is: Am I going to make a return off of this? Broadband is a high-margin operation. You can make a return off of it.
The facts speak for themselves. Since the open Internet rule went in place, broadband investment is up, fiber connections are up, usage of broadband is up, investment in companies that use broadband is up, and get ready for it, revenues in the broadband providers are up because people are using it more. The reason why you invest is for this reason, to generate more revenues and a good return on those revenues. The oh-my-goodness-it's-gonna-be-a-terrible-thing-for-investment is just the first refuge that everybody makes, and you have to look past that.
As a student of the Civil War, you don't remember that one of the big prizes of 1863 was Chattanooga: railroad hub, three railroad lines, two big rivers, two mountain ranges. What role did Chattanooga play in your tenure?
What a setup. That was well done.
That was real. You want to talk to the Cracker Line that broadened the supplies after Tennessee?
It's an incredible story. We're going to get there but let's start with something related to telecom.
My good friend, Susan Crawford, says to me when I took this job that I should bear three things in mind. I wrote these down. I kept them in my desk. The first was to return the regulatory ideal, that there is a legitimate role for regulation to benefit the broad scope of the population. The second was that we should have a legitimate credible definition of what broadband is because broadband used to be defined as 4 megabits a second. That's hardly broadband. The third was to tackle the outrageous practices that the ISPs, the Internet service providers, the telephone companies, the cable companies, were doing where they were going around the country and going to state legislatures and getting state legislatures to pass laws that prohibited cities in that state from building their own broadband network to compete with.
I thought, "Hey, you know, if the people through their local government decide they don't like the quality of service that they're getting, they ought to be able to organize through their government and say, 'I want something better including the government building it.'" Chattanooga was the case study of a Tennessee law, so we sued Tennessee and North Carolina, making the argument that this was overreach of the states’ authority. Unfortunately, the Sixth Circuit disagreed with us.
The great thing is all the hubbub about this woke up an awful lot of cities, triggered an awful lot of referenda to do things, and there is more activity to build competitive broadband in the municipal levels, never has been. You know what happens? You do know what happens. Of course what happens, I'm talking to Miss Fiber here being about that what happens is when they decide to build, it's just amazing. The cable company decides to go faster and expand their service. It's just incredible. I love this thing called competition.
Private citizen Tom Wheeler, the legislatures of Missouri and Virginia just introduced new snarling bills along these lines. What would you tell a sincere earnest State legislature today about those bills? What would your two talking points be to that legislature?
First of all, that the people do have a right to come together and say, "I want something better for my city." The second political point that I would make is it's not really the Chattanooga’s where this is a big challenge. It's the Wilson, North Carolinas, and it's the areas where the people who voted for Donald Trump do not have access to the Internet and are not getting access by the existing companies. They're the ones who were fed up with the system, and I voted to that they were fed up. You need to be responsive to that.
They voted your way. They have to.
I would hope they want to.
We're still wrestling with this in such a big way that you're 10 times more likely not to have access to reasonable high speed Internet access in a rural area than in an urban area. If we add together wires and wireless, you're just not going to get it in rural areas at all. We have a lot, a lot of progress, I understand.
This is the idea. I think that one of the messages that people were voting for in this campaign is, "I want power back to me. I want decisions." The whole thing about draining the swamp is to get the power back. If the government closest to the people is saying our people would like to have better broadband, then who's to say no?
I talked to you about the vision of the FCC because now we're going to go through the crossroads. I love looking back. Let's walk on. The design of it as FDR’s agency was to be an expert agency insulated from politics. Is that true?
Of course not.
Many of the staffers, people who are working at the FCC, there's a lot of flow back and forth: people who have been staffers end up as commissioners, lobbyists end up as staffers. There's a big circle here. What do we do about all of that?
Let me give a, you deserve a better response ...
Than the smart ass response, I guess. Look. One of my aha moments was how special and independent the agency is. I'll tell you a story. Early in my tenure we said that, for technology reasons, it was no longer necessary to turn off your cellphone on an airplane for fear of interfering with the grounding stations, which is the only reason that rule existed. You own the hubbub of, "Oh my god, we're gonna be 35,000 feet and people are gonna be, the guy next to me is gonna be yacking away." I didn't want that either. We were just doing that technical issue.
Anthony Foxx, the Secretary of Transportation, and I are on the phone because he has the responsibility for the FAA of how consumers behave on the plane. I was just doing the technology. You don't need, without interfering the work of, say, what’s also on the plane. He says, "Well, this is cool. We can work this all out." He said, "You take the technology. I'll take the consumer. We'll solve it." I said, "That's fabulous." I said, "I'm testifying tomorrow in Congress at 10 o'clock and they're going to ask about this. Let's make sure that we've got our language down. That's exactly what you and I just agreed to." He says, "There are staffs at work on that. That's great."
About an hour later, somebody comes in, one of my staff folks comes in and says, "You just got a call from General Council at the Department of Transportation. They can't do it." Why? It was overruled by the White House. Now making a very long story short, there was somebody in the communication shop at the White House that didn't like this idea. The White House ended up approving it. I went and testified when the things moved forward.
The point of the matter is that I made the decision looking at the guy in the mirror in the morning, and the Cabinet Secretary had to run it through, and as a former White House staffer he know how that works. The ability to have an independent agency to be an expert agency and to make independent judgments is really important. That does not mean that there's any political agency, to answer your question, and in particular having an agency that, for the vast majority of my term, was dealing with a Republican Congress that didn't like what we were doing. That helped politicize the activities at the commission.
It is an independent agency, but of course, the commissioners read the newspapers like the Lyman Supreme Court, Grand Supreme Court reads the election. They respond to letters from Congress.
It's an agency made up historically of one agency being glued together with memories of another agency essentially. Now people are talking about taking it apart. Modernizing the FCC is the lingo being used. What's your thought about that?
It's a fraud.
It's interesting. Actually, I was going through some papers this weekend and I ran across a September 2013 article in the Washington Post, the headline of which was something to the effect: "Here's how the networks plan to defang the FCC." It quoted all of the cable and telephone company Washington office heads saying that really the consumer protection and competition work of the FCC should be transferred to the FTC, the Federal Trade Commission. It's no surprise where they want to transfer.
The FTC doesn't have rule-making authority. They've got enforcement authority, and their enforcement authority is whether or not something is unfair or deceptive. First, the only regulation that they would be subject to would be an adjudicatory finding that it's unfair or deceptive, one. Two, you got this agency over here, the FCC, that is constantly worrying about all things in telecom. The FTC has to worry about everything from computer chips to bleach labeling. Of course, you'd want to get lost in that morass. We're, "Okay. We will get to that. We got to get bleach labeling taken care of first." This was the strategy all along.
What surprises me, no, what doesn't surprise me is that, then the Trump transition team, which is basically folks from the American Enterprise Institute who were folks who were ...
True. It's not even funny. It's just true.
Who were long time supporters of this concept, come in and say, "Oh, we oughta, we oughta do away with this." The story gets even more interesting. First of all, it makes no sense to get rid of an expert agency and to throw it over here to an agency with no rule-making that has to compete with everything else that's going on in the economy and can only deal with unfair or deceptive because we're talking about one-sixth of the economy, but more importantly, we're dealing with the network that connects six-sixths of the economy.
Here's what's really bizarre and how the story really gets interesting. We in the FTC brought an action against AT&T and the FTC using their unfair or deceptive standard, us using our broader capabilities. AT&T took the FTC to court and said, "You don't have authority." The FTC statute says that common carriers are exempt from the jurisdiction of the FTC. Now this is the same company that was previously in this Washington Post article, the head of their Washington office arguing how it should only be the FTC that has jurisdiction over their issues.
The court said, "Yes, you are right. And not only are you right about the FTC not having jurisdiction over common carriers, the FTC doesn't have jurisdiction over the non-common carrier activities of common carriers." Now, we have a situation where the carriers and their supporters at the AEI and inside the commission are saying, "We should transfer everything to the FTC,” which is a result of a Ninth Circuit decision on a case brought by the same people that are arguing it should be moved, doesn't have authority. Go figure. That's not modernization.
No. It is ...
That's just hiding the …
It's like escape velocity, no coverage at all. You may not have heard, but there's a new chairman of the FCC.
It just came out. It's news. Ajit Pai. I can't tell who he is because I got these press releases, and they seemed to be talking about two different guys, so from NCTA which used to be called The Cable Association, now called The Internet and Television Association. Michael Powell saying, "During his tenure on the Commission, Chairman Pai has consistently demonstrated a commonsense philosophy that consumers are best served by a robust market place that encourages investment, innovation, and competition. We stand ready to assist Chairman Pai to ensure that America remains a global Internet communications entertainment leader." That's one Ajit Pai.
The other Ajit Pai, according to Free Press, "He's been on the wrong side of just about every major issue that has come before the FCC during his tenure. He’s never met a merger he didn’t like or a public safeguard he didn’t try to undermine. He’s been an opponent of Net Neutrality, expanded broadband access for low-income families, privacy, all kinds of issues. And he's been an obstructionist who," get this, "Has always been eager to push out what the new presidential administration might call alternative facts, in defense of the corporate interest he used to represent in the private sector."
I listened to a radio interview of you just a couple of days ago, when you said that commissioner Pai canceled all the meetings that you set with him.
True. When I came in, we're a five-person commission, and the chairman sets the agenda, and the chairman is a CEO, but there are four other commissioners that are important to relate to, and it takes three votes to do anything. I set up that with every commissioner every other week. We had a date on our calendar that was an hour for the two us just to sit without staff and talk about, if you talk about baseball, they would have talked about baseball, but talk about the issues of the day and other concerns and how do we work our way through a series of problems.
Commissioner Pai and I had early on a lot of those meetings, but for the last 18-24 months he's canceled every meeting. The only point I was making on Marketplace was that it's hard to work for consensus when you won't sit down with each other.
Yeah. Time will tell I suppose, or the next step. I think it's coming up right away, the AT&T-Time Warner merger. There are two Donald Trumps on this one too. There's the Donald Trump in October who said, "This is, you know, distraction of democracy." Then there's the Donald Trump of last week who said, after meeting with AT&T, "I got to get some more facts. We'll see." Do you have any guesses for us about what's likely to happen with that merger?
AT&T has now designed the merger to avoid the FCC. I think the commission probably still has some jurisdiction, but I don't make those decisions anymore. Somebody said to me the other day, "I have lost the Windex to my crystal ball."
Good line. I have determined that you have something in common with Donald Trump. You're maybe surprised to hear this. It is the exclamation point because of your first book, Take Command!: Leadership Lessons From the Civil War. This is the Harvard Leadership School. You may think it's the Harvard Law School. It's actually the Harvard Leadership School. I wanted to get your reflections on leadership in this role because I want everybody to understand what it takes to run an agency with a $388 million budget and 1,700 employees.
I thought I could tie this again back to the Civil War and have you talk to us about Ulysses Grant. You don't have to talk about yourself but you could talk about Gen. Grant because that must be a model leadership for you.
Gen. Grant is my hero and not just because he was from Ohio. The first chapter in the book that you said is called Dare to Fail. I think that's the first rule of leadership, that what the book says is that if you prepare for failure, you will no doubt succeed. One of the things that was so great about Grant was that he was dogged in his, "I just won't fail, I'll get this done," and so he's always been my hero.
I got a little consulting company that I had before the Commission that I just reopened, and it's called Shiloh Group. Why is it called Shiloh Group? It's called Shiloh Group because it was probably the definitive battle of Grant's career, and he lost on the first day. He got creamed. Everybody expected, the rebels expected him to retreat away, but he didn't. He brought more troops up. The OK man saved the day. That night, William Tecumseh Sherman finds Grant sitting under a tree whittling, working at his frustrations on a piece of wood. He says, "Well, Grant. We've had the devil's day." Grant looks up, "We’ll lick 'em tomorrow," and he did.
He sure did.
Persistence is the key, and Ulysses Grant was a great model of persistence.
Gen. Lee and Gen. Grant, I mean, keep going with this. Both went to West Point. Gen. Lee graduates top of his class, no demerits. Gen. Grant, number 21 out of 39, plenty of demerits. Comment.
You're asking a guy who barely got out of Ohio State.
There you go. Moral courage.
You can't criticize me. You can criticize him for being on the wrong side, but you can't criticize him for being a great leader. That's a really good question. Look. I think the bottom line is this. It is what you make of things. Let's go back, and let's take Ulysses Grant after he left West Point. He distinguished himself from the Mexican War.
He met Lee there.
He met Lee, but Lee didn't remember. Lee was a hotshot. He was a quartermaster. Lee was a hotshot engineer because he graduated first in his class. He didn't get posted to various remote posts, particularly out west where Julia, his wife, can't come with him and he starts drinking. He drank himself out of the army. He came back to St. Louis where his wife Julia lived with her parents were and tried to take up farming. That really didn't work.
He was reduced to selling firewood on the streets of St. Louis, wearing his old army greatcoat selling firewood. He finally went back to work for his father in Galena, he and his father never really got along that well, to be a clerk in the tannery. He was passed over for early leadership roles in the Civil War. McClellan was one of the guys who passed him over. Failure, failure, failure, failure, and then all of a sudden, and so the point is, okay, so he failed. Move on. That's the great leadership lesson of Ulysses Grant.
Another part of this is that Ulysses Grant wrote to his wife Julia everyday when he was away from her. They were both invited to see My American Cousin by President Lincoln the night of April 14th. Julia got spooked so they left. Speaking of leading Washington, my segue here, as you walk away from the portals, what's that like to be the chairman, to walk out and no longer be the chairman? What does that feel like?
First of all, you get a long time, you get 77 days to work up to it.
It's not a big surprise. You walk away with just an incredible gratitude for the fact that at a time of such incredible change in how Americans communicate that you got to be the guy who sat there and dealt with how Americans relate to those changes. Because the people who say the problem is government are so wrong, and the government is the people. It's where we come together to solve our common problems. It is a messy process, and it's a painful process, but if we can’t work things out there, we're in a whole hell a lot of trouble.
The fact that I got to sit at the head of that agency in these incredibly changing times and to say, "How do you look at these changes in technology, economics, how people connect and make sure that public interest is represented?" was a terrific privilege. I walk away from there proud that I could do it with the people that I did it with. How fortunate can you be?
Last question as this is about to turn to a Q & A here, but what are you most worried about? There are millions of people who marched over the weekend, and if they knew it, they would be marching about telecom as well. What should they be doing? What should people worried about the concentrated market, the high prices, that inadequate service, all of that, be doing in America?
The most powerful asset of the 21st Century is the networks that connect us; networks have always been important. The railroads ruled the industrial revolution. Networks have always been crucial, and the network will define the 21st Century. These are broadband networks. As I said, we had jurisdiction over one-sixth of the economy but six-sixths of the economy using those networks. I've always used this phrase that how we connect defines who we are both commercially and culturally. That connection and whether or not it is going to be controlled on a gateway basis by essentially four companies is an existential question for American commerce and culture. I am worried about what that future looks like.
What is amazing to me is how the Commission and seemingly the Congress want to do things on behalf of these four companies that will have an impact on tens of thousands of other companies and millions of consumers. I just don't think the debate has gotten to the point where people recognize we're talking about fewer than half a dozen companies here and how should you make policy. That's my concern.
It's the public education moment of huge opportunity. What do you want to ask Chairman Wheeler? Yes. A mic is flying through the air towards you. It's coming.
If you today have been replaced, what about the people who are working under the Civil Rights Commission jobs. What percentage of people in the FCC ...
You mean the Civil Service.
Our government employees, and does Trump think that he can just change everybody?
I'm the last guy to ask what Trump thinks.
You can have that exclamation point.
The reality is you're absolutely correct that the vast majority of the employees of the FCC are civil servants. I imagine that the new chairman will bring in, as I did, a new top tier, and that they will be the ones managing those civil servants.
They have to follow the directions.
What do we, the American people including the people in this room, need to do to protect net neutrality?
Thank you for asking the question, first of all. I think that there are two things. One, we need to be heard but, two, we need to be heard in different ways than before. Susan says 3.7 million emails and comments to the Commission. They were pushing on a door that was already open. The door is locked, latched, bolted, and welded right now.
I think the battering ram is, to paraphrase here, Madison had this great line in Federalist 10 where he said that ambition must be made to counteract ambition. This was the whole concept of how the government was set up. Economic ambition is what is driving this handful of companies. There must be economic ambition that counters them. What we need is we need to hear the voices of those that'll be affected. Yes, the small startups but also the big companies. GE, GM, if there are, so let's just go through a couple of things.
Artificial intelligence and machine learning, what is it? It is the connectivity of all kinds of database resources. If that connectivity has to worry about gatekeepers, what happens to AI, the Internet of Things? The Internet of Things is going to change the whole economics of the Internet I believe from a push environment to a pull economics. We can talk about that later if you want. Who will be deciding which things get connected and on which terms?
If one of the caregivers says, "Wait a minute. I like my things better, and I'm gonna price differently to them, that I am this competitive provider of this service." What does it mean? We see they already do that because we are waiting on video. This is not a hypothetical. We need to be making sure that the companies that are affected are delivering the message because I think that's what the Congress would be most responsive to.
This is great. We answered every question in the room.
I'm just looking for …
Here she is, over here in the corner.
There in the back.
I think my colleague probably asked this question better than I can, but I'm just going to do it. We work at some rural community access television. I wanted to know a couple of things. One is what is the role, like how can community access television play an important role? What do you think? What do you predict? Can you predict? I know our Windex isn't working anymore, but what the new chairman, what his perspectives are on public access, and how we might stay protected?
Great questions. When I was at NCTA, I was a great supporter of PEG, Public, Educational, and Governmental Access. We actually got it codified for cable ad. Things have changed a lot since ‘84. There had been some intervening legislations and rulings by the Commission. I don't know where Ajit Pai is on that issue. We never had an occasion to discuss it so I'm sorry, but good for you for what you're doing. The diversity of voices is, so the beauty of technology is that it has created the opportunity for a diversity of voices. That is also the vein of the technology because if you're not using things like PEG to express yourself, there are others who are using the opportunities for diversity of voices to do that.
The other thing is that we need to begin to become our own editors where we used to outsource the editorial function to NBC or CBS or New York Times. Now, anybody with web access has as much reach as any of those, and it's going to force consumers to be better consumers of information. I think we'll get there but we're certainly going through a rough period right now.
Over here, yep.
Wait a minute.
FirstNet is Congress's effort to create a fifth cellular network for public safety. We got three million price-sensitive picky cops and firefighters, maybe 12 if we expect it for the second responders but to break even for network is about 40 million users. In Britain, they said priority preemption and quality of service had to be provided by carriers. I can't see a way through the success for FirstNet and this network in the country given the vision of how this will end up.
FirstNet has been controversial since the day that Congress made the decision made by Congress championed by Senator Rockefeller in particular, and it has evolved to a point now where they're going to be buying services from an existing wireless provider and will be getting the kind of priority service that you are referencing is available elsewhere in other countries. It's going to be interesting. Let's see what happened.
We had three jobs with regard to FirstNet. One was to make the spectrum available. We did that. Two was to make sure that they had $7 billion to start the process. We did that out of auction revenues. Three was, in the coming year, there is the option of states to opt out of FirstNet, and we were to be the judge as to whether a state should be allowed to opt out, and that's a decision that the Pai Commission is now going to have to make. That's going to be key because, for instance, if New York opts out or California opts out or Illinois opts out or Texas opts out, the nationwide network collapses. That's something we have to live through. I don't know how it's going to end up.
Last question, anybody? Yes.
Question around wireless spectrum, when one looks on one side, the public benefit revenue from auctions are being able to just type communication and the other side the rights of spectrum holders. There's been a lot of controversy in this area with bankruptcy, spectrums that never used. Do you have any thoughts on do we have the optimal model for how we license or sell and look at the whole life cycle of spectrum management over long periods of time and also take in account innovation that occurs?
We could be here a while, it's so well past dinner time. Let me go through a couple of things. One, spectrum allocation was originally done based on analog physics. A TV signal is a six megahertz waveform, so you need a six megahertz spectrum to put out a TV station. When you go digital, the efficiencies of digitization allow you to get four or five channels into that same spectrum but the problem is that everything that, not everything, the vast majority of the spectrum allocation tables were decided using analog physics, and we're now in a digital time. You can get a lot more out of the spectrum except that it's my spectrum. You can't have my spectrum.
They'd rather give up their babies than give their spectrum.
My cold dead fingers, take my spectrum. This is true internationally. I mean we have troubles in a big international conference allocating spectrum just last year, two years ago I guess. The world is not as sensitive to this as we are. That's kind of issue one. We're operating under old rules that support, "It's mine. I don't wanna leave it."
One of the great things that the national broadband plan came up with, Blair Levin led a team under my predecessor Julius Genachowski to develop a national broadband plan, you had a large hand in that, was to say there ought to be a spectrum auction where we would re-purpose spectrum by having an auction to buy it back and then resell it. The broadcast spectrum was the key there because go back to my ...
Why do you need six megahertz if you can get a bunch of channels in there, get them in there and then sell off the others for wireless applications both licensed and unlicensed by the way? Just literally, my next to the last day on the job, that auction which everybody said, "Oh, it will never work. It will never work."
That auction hit what was called the final stage rule where, in fact, we have created a market where broadcasters have agreed to sell 84 megahertz of spectrum and the wireless carriers have agreed the necessary price to buy that. For the next 39 months, there will be a whole process across the country of reallocating spectrum re-banding and making this spectrum of available. The challenge with spectrum is, A, they're not making any more, and B, is the physics that describe the chart, the spectrum allocation chart or analog physics in a digital era.
Here's a shared challenge I think we have, that for you this is blood and guts entertaining fascinating stuff and for me frankly. How do we reach more people with what are ultimately extraordinarily personal issues? People's phones are very close to their hearts. They would give up a food before they give up a cell phone. What thoughts as you give us a benediction here as you pass into private life? How do we get the resistance going to focus on these issues in a more dramatic way?
You don't ask easy questions.
No. This is important.
I've just sat here and given you a wonk's eye view of telecommunications policy. I love my wife dearly, and she loves me, but I can't hold her interest across the dinner table on these topics. How in the world do we get ahold the interests of the vast majority? We need to get out of discussing this kind of, we need to get out of our technocrat mode and into our mode of Susan's point about how it's the Trump voter who has the worst Internet experience and the key to getting an education to be able to do your homework, the key to being able to get a job, the key to be able to interact with the world around you, is to have broadband, and these people have been denied it.
Why? Because we built things around, again, four companies and we need to be getting the story out that let's talk not about the networks but let us talk about the network effects that the effects are the ability to do your homework, the effects are the ability to get a job. The effects are job creation.
Let me tell you great story, and then I'll shut up. This is a story that more people need to hear. Hal Rogers, who is the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, represents Eastern Kentucky, which is coal country and which is just as you know economically devastated, and Trump made a big play in coal country. Hal Rodgers has said, "Connectivity is key." It kept bringing me back to the district to pump the importance of fiber connectivity, Ms. Fiber.
I’ll tell you two stories. I was in McKee, Kentucky, one stoplight, 900 people, fiber to every home, and business as a result of the Obama stimulus. There are more people employed today in McKee than there were three years ago. Who's getting employed? It's not just the folks who got let go from the coal mines or those who were selling goods and services to them, but it's the disabled. I mean one of the things that we haven't talked about that I'm most proud about is what we did to make technology available for individuals who are disabled, the people who can't get out and about are now working for U-Haul, Avis, and folks like this being online from McKee to West Virginia.
You go down the road to Pikesville where I met with a bunch of ex-coalminers. You shake hands with these guys and you know who are now coding for Apple and others because there's fiber in the Pikesville, the community college has fiber, was teaching coding. These guys who had the gumption to go way underground and go to the coal face had the gumption to say, "I'm going to take charge of my life in the new economy because I can, because there is a fiber connection allowing me to do it." Those are the kinds of stories that we have to be telling because how we connect defines who we are.
Thank you for helping keep America being the Pottersville of the Internet. We appreciate that. Thank you for your leadership. Thank you for your character and for the many, many hours you put in on our behalf. We really appreciate it.
For too long, a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have bore the cost. Washington flourished, but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered but the jobs left and the factories closed.
So said Pres. Trump in his inaugural address, identifying the perpetrators of the Bladerunner-esque hellscape he depicted.
It’s not clear who he means. That’s worrisome.
The “rewards of government” Trump has in mind seem to be monetary, since in the next sentence he talks about wealth, and in the one after that he contrasts prospering politicians with factory workers who have lost their jobs.
So, who does Trump thinks is this shadowy group that has controlled our nation for their own personal monetary profit? Obama and his administration? Especially in terms of personal enrichment, the Obama years were the cleanest in my lifetime. And, of course, Trump’s poised to be the most corrupt in terms of self-enrichment.
It makes me nervous when politicians blame a small unnamed group that controls the country and does so for personal monetary benefit. Sounds like a dogwhistle to me, especially when an anti-Semitic white racist is the president’s chief strategic adviser.
I’m struggling to make sense of this particular paranoid conspiracy theory. I’m only coming up with one answer.
We are excited to kick off the spring 2017 semester at Harvard Law School this week with a brand new member of the Cyberlaw Clinic teaching team, as Mason Kortz joins us as a Clinical Fellow. Mason comes to the Clinic after clerking in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts and working as a legal fellow with our friends at the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts (as part of ACLUM’s Technology for Liberty Project). Mason will be involved in a wide variety of projects at the Clinic, addressing issues that include online speech, privacy, and the use of data products to advance social justice. Mason attended Harvard Law School, where he spent a semester as a student in the Cyberlaw Clinic. Prior to law school, he worked as a data manager for the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. We are thrilled to welcome Mason back into the Clinic fold and look forward to getting him fully immersed in our practice and teaching activities over the coming months. Welcome, Mason!
In just a few minutes, I saw scenes from around the world of what matters to people.
Maybe I was just lucky, but what I saw is what peace is about.
Protektionismus wird wieder salonfähig. Wer das verhindern will, muss die Globalisierung neu austarieren.
Stell dir vor, es ist Globalisierung, und alle gehen hin. So lässt sich seit Jahren das Weltwirtschaftsforum (WEF) in Davos auf einen Satz bringen. 3000 Anführer der internationalen Wirtschaft pilgern in den Schweizer Schnee, um sich manchmal doch etwas zu selbstverständlich gegenseitig auf die Schultern zu klopfen. So war das. Und war doch in diesem Jahr anders. Irgendwer hat den Gästen ihr Förmchen aus dem Treibsandkasten strudelnder Zuversicht geklaut. Es tun sich Risse auf im Anstrich der herrschenden Meinung, die da lautete: Unsere Zukunft liegt in der Globalisierung, denn sie schafft Wachstum und Wohlstand.
Vielleicht werde Davos ja in diesem Jahr wieder richtig bedeutsam, weil letztes Jahr alle mit ihren Prognosen so richtig falsch lagen, ätzte ein amerikanischer Mediendienst. In Davos 2016 galt: Der Brexit kommt nicht, Donald Trump wird nicht US-Präsident, und Freihandel bedeutet Zukunft.
In dieser Woche hat die britische Premierministerin Theresa May den harten Brexit annonciert, Trump ist als US-Präsident vereidigt, und der Protektionismus ist neues Programm. Ausgerechnet der chinesische Staatspräsidenten Xi Jinping musste in Davos dafür werben, Freihandel nicht zu verdammen, sondern neu auszubalancieren.
Es ist sehr einfach, als Begründung für diese Fehlwahrnehmungen in die Kerbe zu schlagen, die Populisten überall auf der Welt längst ins Selbstbewusstsein des internationalen Managements gefräst haben: alles abgehobene Vertreter der oberen Zehntausend, die nicht mehr wissen, was in der Welt wirklich vor sich geht. Vielleicht ist es komplizierter. In den bilateralen Gesprächen, die man am Rande des WEF führen kann, kristallisiert sich ein Gefühl heraus: Verunsicherung. Verbunden mit dem Bewusstsein, dass wir einen wichtigeren Wettbewerb zu bestehen haben als den nationaler Produktionsstandorte. Es ist der Wettbewerb zwischen Liberalismus und Protektionismus.
In einem „Bericht über inklusives Wachstum und Entwicklung“ zeichnet das WEF ein bedenkliches Bild: Unser Wachstumsmodell und seine Messinstrumente müssen dringend überholt werden. Über die vergangenen Jahre betrug das Pro-Kopf-Wachstum in den Industrienationen durchschnittlich weniger als ein Prozent. Das Pro-Kopf-Einkommen ist im selben Zeitraum in den Industrieländern im Jahresmittel sogar um durchschnittlich 2,4 Prozent zurückgegangen.
Wachstum durch Globalisierung stockt also nicht nur, Globalisierung bedeutet für die Mittelschicht Rückschritt.
Im Gespräch mit der WirtschaftsWoche hat der österreichische Bundeskanzler Christian Kern seine Pläne erläutert. Er will den Mittelstand stärken, zum Beispiel durch eine Reparaturprämie, um Wertschöpfung im Land zu halten. Reparieren statt wegschmeißen – das könnte nicht nur für Waschmaschinen eine gute Idee sein, sondern auch für die Weltwirtschaftsbeziehungen. Die sind gerade im Schleudergang, und niemand findet den Ausknopf.
In early December, I spoke at the inaugural conference on Constructive Journalism hosted at Windesheim University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands. The conference is the brainchild of my friend Cathrine Gyldensted, who has been developing the powerful idea that journalism can’t just inform us about the problems of the world, but must help us take action and transform the world for the better. The venerable Christian Science Monitor is refocusing its work around constructive journalism, and ideas like solutions journalism, put forward by David Bornstein at the New York Times are gaining recognition and traction.
My speech followed one by Alan Rusbridger, former editor of The Guardian, who talked about his decision to engage his newspaper in the “Keep It In the Ground” campaign, partnering with 350.org to advocate divestment from fossil fuel companies. My talk intersected inasmuch as I’m also deeply interested in how different organizations can make social change, and what news organization might choose to do at this surprising and scary moment in time.
This is a near-verbatim transcript of my talk, made using rev.com (which I highly recommend.) I’ve touched it up a bit so I sound slightly less stupid. If you want to see me give the talk, or ogle my exciting slides, the video of the talk is available here. (This was fascinating to edit, by the way. I like to think that I write the way I talk – I don’t. I suspect very few of us do…)
Even before I got here and discovered that the theme for this conference is “What nu?” I had titled my talk “What Now?” It’s a sincere question – I really don’t know what we do now. This is a very strange moment in time. Many people have been surprised by what’s happened in 2016, starting with Brexit, but unfolding outside the Anglophone world as well.
I’ve been spending a lot of time these days in Colombia. We just watched a country have a referendum on whether to end a 52-year civil war that completely transformed and destroyed a beautiful nation. People voted “no”, which doesn’t make much sense on its surface until you realize that my country just elected as president a man who has absolutely no interest in governing, no interest in politics, no interest in really anything other than ego and his own power.
What I want to suggest is that this is a moment that is shocking, but it’s not actually surprising for anyone who’s been paying attention. What’s actually going on is the continuation of a number of trends that have been happening for at least a decade now or perhaps significantly longer. The person that I found most useful in trying to navigate this moment in time is, weirdly enough, a television commentator. His name is Chris Hayes, who is on MSNBC in the U.S. He wrote a very good book a couple of years ago called “Twilight of the Elites”.
In the first chapter of this book, he says, “Look, let’s forget about this whole notion of left and right. It’s not actually very helpful at this moment in understanding the world. What’s much more helpful is thinking about institutionalists and insurrectionists.” Institutionalists are people who say, “Look, these big structures of society that we’ve built, whether they’re governments, corporations, or universities, they mostly work. They mostly get the job done. We need new, smart people involved with them. We need to make them stronger. We need to make them more modern, but the basic structures work.”
I would say the institutionalists have been winning for a very long time. Perhaps since World War II, the institutionalists have been firmly in control. Now there’s a new camp of people who are insurrectionists. The insurrectionists basically say, “You’ve got to be kidding me. Have you looked around lately? Do you really think these structures are working? Do you really think government is doing what we want it to do as people? Do you really think unfettered capitalism the way that we have it in the world right now is working especially well? You must be nuts. It is time to knock these things down.”
That’s the tension. More than the tension between left and right is the tension between people who want to make improvements and tweaks to existing systems, and people who largely believe it’s time to pull those systems down, and try something else. I want to make the argument that over the last couple of decades, the institutionalists have gotten quite weak, and the insurrectionists have gotten quite strong.
This is a graph of responses to a question that the Gallup Polling Organization asks American roughly every six months. The question is very simple: “Do you trust the government in Washington to do the right thing all or most of the time?” This graph peaks in 1964 at 77%. If we go back to ’64, the enormous majority of Americans felt like the government is doing the right thing all or most of the time. The most recent version of this poll was at 19%. Now, I would point out that’s a moment of very high popularity in the Obama presidency. It’s actually been down to 9% or 10% over the course of his time in office.
I was born in 1973, and the only time that the majority of Americans have said that they had great confidence in the government in Washington during my entire 43-year lifetime was shortly before we invaded Iraq… which just shows what the American people know. The point is we have had massive decay in confidence in our government. We’ve also had massive decay in confidence in all sorts of other institutions. Asking similar questions about the police, organized religion, the medical systems, public schools, banks, organized labor, and of course newspapers and television news, we’ve seen collapses in confidence, particularly over the last 20 years.
This is not just not happening in the United States. The Netherlands, as it turns out, shows up as a fairly trusting country in Edelman’s Eurobarometer Trust Index. They’ve gone out and asked very similar questions about confidence in government, in NGOs, and all sorts of different sectors. The Netherlands is at the very high end of trusting countries. Trust seems to be increasing in the Netherlands, but it’s worth noting that the Netherlands and Scandinavia are quite rare within democracies. Within most mature democracies, trust is low and it’s going down.
Oddly enough, Northern Europe is in the same bin as autocracies. China, United Arab Emirates, Singapore, those for the most part are the only countries that seem to have very high trust in government. But even in the Netherlands, faith in democracy seems to be waning. Here’s a set of graphs from a forthcoming paper by Yascha Mounk and Roberto Stefan Foa. This graph shows people’s answers to the question, “Is it essential to live in a democracy?”
These graphs are pulled apart by birth decade. Of people in the Netherlands born in the 1930’s, more than 50% said it was utterly essential to live in a democracy. You get down to people born in the 1980’s, it’s much closer to about 35%. You haven’t had the staggering fall that we’ve had in the United States, where we’ve gone from 75% down to the students that I teach, where fewer than 25% tell you that it is essential to live in a democracy.
Something has happened. Our confidence in these institutions has been badly shaken. You could make the argument that it’s been badly shaken, because frankly, these institutions are not doing a very good job right now. In my country at least, our democracy is highly dysfunctional. For the most part, we are not managing to come together and compromise. For the most part, we have oppositions between two parties who will absolutely not see eye to eye, and they end up spending an enormous amount of time and energy blocking each other and not getting very much done.
If you’ve been watching this for the last 20 or 25 years, it’s very easy to understand why people would become frustrated and alienated with this situation. If that’s bad news, I have worse news for us, because we are in the media field and people really don’t like us.
This actually became a common thing at Trump rallies. I’d like to remind you one more time: the person who we somehow have elected as the president of the United States, a common feature of his public appearances are his supporters standing up and chanting specifically about a fairly neutral to conservative media network, and their utter distaste for it. There is incredibly low confidence in our institution, that institution of journalism, very low confidence that we are doing our jobs without fear or favor, without agenda, that somehow what we are saying can be trusted. Instead what ends up happening is in an environment where it’s very, very easy for people to publish almost anything, we start seeing news that looks like this:
I wouldn’t expect you to be following the intricacies of U.S. politics, but about five days before the presidential election, the well known and highly celebrated Denver Guardian published the story stating that an FBI agent who had been investigating Hillary Clinton had committed suicide and burned his house under the incredible pressure that he had come under from Hillary’s sinister forces. This turned into people putting forward memes about Hillary Clinton being responsible for the deaths of dozens of people in her long and sordid career.
As it turns out, this story is entirely fake. There is no Denver Guardian. There has never been a Denver Guardian. The Denver Guardian is a website that someone put up because this was a way to get attention, and frankly a way to make money. Many of the most popular websites in the United States leading up to the election are run out of Macedonia. They are not run out of Macedonia as a giant Macedonian conspiracy to take over the U.S. government. They’re run out of Macedonia because it is a great way to make money.
It turns out that one of the best ways to make money as a Macedonian teenager right now is to aggregate links to pro-Trump, anti-Clinton content. It doesn’t matter whether they are true or false, so long as you put them together in a believable form. Run some Facebook ads on them and watch the money roll in. There are more than a hundred of these websites that are turning out to be a very robust media environment that people are paying an enormous amount of attention to.
My colleague Yochai Benkler over at Harvard is going to release some research in the next couple of weeks. He graphed links within the media environment in the United States leading up to the 2016 election. There are two major clusters to his map. We’re used to thinking of there being a left-wing cluster and a right-wing cluster. In one of these clusters in 2016, there are those noted left-wing sources like the Nation, the Guardian, The New York Times, also those noted left-wing sources like the Wall Street Journal, the National Review, the Independent. Actually, all mainstream media ends up in one cluster.
In the other cluster is Breitbart and all of this stuff being run out of Macedonia, all this stuff that’s basically been made up for internet consumption. We’ve ended up in a moment where there’s very low trust in media, and frankly, there’s a lot of media that we would need to be very worried about trusting. Now, if you feel like this young woman here feels, you’re probably not alone. This is what happens with mistrust. Mistrust is designed to breed helplessness.
If you’re looking for some of the political systems that have tried the hardest to create mistrust, you can look to the media environment in Russia, which is trying very hard to build up a culture of conspiracy theory which makes it very difficult to figure out how to organize and mobilize. In the wake of high mistrust, the natural instinct is to look towards charismatic individuals, anyone who can stand up and say, “I will find you a way through this,” because when you have very low trust in institutions, it’s very hard to mobilize people to participate within those institutions.
If, as in my country, you have a 9% approval rating for Congress, trying to get excited about electing new Congresspeople is not a very easy thing to do. Those Congresspeople will tell you that if they get elected, there’s almost nothing they’re going to be able to do since so little legislation gets passed. In high mistrust societies, you see falling participation rates. You see falling voting rates. You see falling number of people running for political office, because they don’t feel like they can make change that way.
Weirdly enough, you may also lose the ability for protest to have change, because when you protest, you are almost always trying to influence someone who is in power. When you go on a march, when you go to the Capitol, you are marching in the hopes that your leaders will listen to your demands, will listen to your concerns, will take you seriously. Once you lose trust in those institutions, you may even lose some of the most popular avenues for dissent.
I want to suggest that we can understand these strange moments: this decision of our friends in the UK that the EU is not something they were particularly excited about anymore, the decision of my fellow citizens that we wanted a radical change in who is leading our country. You can understand this in terms of efficacy. If people don’t feel like they can be effective, if they don’t feel like they can make change through existing institutions, they will look for ways that they feel like their actions matter. If you look at Brexit, people who were very angry, very frustrated and concerned about directions in which their country was going managed to have an effect.
Will it be the effect that they were looking for? Probably not. It’s probably not going to magically save the UK healthcare system. It’s probably not going to change some of the demographic transformations that the UK is going through. Is the US magically going to become great again because we elected Trump? Almost certainly not. It’s almost certainly going to become more racist. It’s almost certainly going to become very difficult to compete in the global economy, but people felt so alienated, so pissed off at these institutions that being able to make this change felt powerful.
This idea of helping people feel power, helping people feel that they can make an effect on the world, this is the essence of what we try to talk about when we talk about this field of Constructive Journalism.
I’ve been showing this slide for almost 10 years now, before Cathrine was even really building up this idea of Constructive Journalism, but this has been my fear about how media works most of the time. We are very good at documenting things that people should care about. We get them riled up. We get them informed. We get them interested. We get them invested, and then we don’t tell them what to do, because frankly, most people are not as brave as Alan Rusbridger is. Most people are not willing to say, “We’re going to go a step further, and not just tell you what’s going on in the world, but we’re going to tell you ways that you could be effective as a citizen in doing something about it.” The best journalism thinkers out there have been urging us to do this for a while.
If you read one essay coming out of this conference, let me urge you to read this wonderful essay by Michael Schudson, “Six or Seven Things the News can Do for Democracy”. Schudsonbasically says, “Look, some of these are very familiar to us. We know we’re supposed to inform each other. We know we have to do these deep investigations and analysis. We know deep in our hearts, we forget it every time we look at a comment thread, but we know deep in our hearts that we have to provide public fora for people to discuss difficult issues.”
Many of us know that media at its best is about social empathy. It’s about helping us understand what people are thinking and feeling, but these last two get really radical. Most of us are not used to thinking of journalism as a tool for mobilization, but sometimes when an issue is as big as climate change, then we actually have to step up and say, “You know, there isn’t a meaningful debate about this. What there is is a failure of efficacy, and we have to help people figure out how to be effective in the action that they’re taking.” We have to help readers figure out how they would divest, how they would avoid these companies that stand to profit on an unsustainable way of moving into the future.
Then perhaps the most radical thing that Michael says is that we have to help people understand the value of participatory democracy. This is the place where I want to suggest that Michael doesn’t have it entirely right. That’s because I think we no longer know what we’re talking about when we talk about civics.
When we talk about public participation, we encourage people to participate in the ways we know are “right”. We urge people to inform themselves on issues. We urge people to go out and vote. Sometimes, we urge people to think about issues and potentially go out and protest. Remember, I’m making the argument that at a moment of very low trust in institutions, these things may be valid things to say to the institutionalists, but they do not help you with the insurrectionists.
As for the people who have already concluded these structures just don’t work, when you urge them to participate this way, they lose what little faith they had in you. They end up saying, “You’re part of the system that clearly isn’t helping and clearly isn’t going anywhere. You’re urging us to waste our time, waste our energy on these efforts that we know aren’t going to do anything.”
Here is how I want to suggest the world works these days. This guy is Larry Lessig. When he is not running for the U.S. presidency, he is a pretty good legal scholar. He wrote a book in 2000 called “Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace”. For people like me who study online media, this became something of an almost prophetic text for us. A lot of us read this and said, “Finally, someone actually understands that technology can control our behavior as much as laws do.”
Larry made this case that while we’re used to thinking about passing laws that determine what we can and can’t do, any number of technologies – which he refers to as “code”- can constrain us or enable us to do certain things.
You have all sorts of codes in the Netherlands that enable certain behaviors. You seem to have a fetish for bicycles. They’re rather well supported in your infrastructure. You have lanes for them all over the place. You have parking lots for them all at the train stations. You have a set of social norms that seem to prevent people from stealing them, but it’s a combination of norms and code that make these behaviors possible. Laws help create this environment, but a lot of Holland’s bike-friendliness has to do with the actual technical architectures.
Lessig makes this case that we actually use four different levers to make behaviors happen. We pass laws to make certain things legal and illegal. We use markets to make things expensive or cheap. In my country, gasoline is a whole lot cheaper than it is over here, which is probably why you guys end up riding bicycles.
We have social norms, where in the U.S., we get pissed off with people in bicycles because they’re taking my damn lane, and we take a swipe at them and so on and so forth. That’s not a particularly good thing if you’re a bicyclist. Social norms have a lot to do with how we govern behavior. Then we havetechnological architectures, codes that enable certain behaviors.
Here’s something I call “the inverted Lessig”. All of these ways that we control society turn out to be paths to social change. If we want to make the world a different place, we can pass laws, yes, but that’s really hard these days. At least in the U.S., trying to make change through laws has become highly professionalized and it’s become incredibly difficult. For many people, their chance to be effective, their chance to make social change happens through these three other levers.
Here is what it looks like: Most people note that the people in the US are not actually interested in the rest of world. We are in fact deeply interested in the rest of the world. We’re just interested in the secrets that you’re sending to one another, and because of our deep interest, we’ve been reading your mail, listening to your phone calls, and generally paying quite a bit of attention to the rest of the world, because it’s possible that you’re all terrorists. You may not even know it.
Our National Security Agency provides the helpful service of reading an enormous number of your communications to keep you safe. I as an American are not particularly thrilled about this. I’m rather deeply embarrassed by it. I’m pretty unthrilled that my allegedly progressive president Barack Obama has done very little to change this situation, and there’s not a lot that I’m going to be able to do in a Trump administration to try to provide privacy to all the digital communications that flow through the United States.
However, there are some awfully good hackers out there who are building things like Tor. They’re building things like Signal, which I use every day, a very good encrypted voice and SMS platform. There’s lots of people looking at technological structures that may be able to protect privacy even if we can’t make those protections through law. This is a way to try to make change when you can’t make it in one fashion. If you can’t somehow put surveillance back in the box under U.S. law, is there a way that hackers and coders can come out and make change through other different means?
It turns out there absolutely is. Then the question becomes, “How did people adopt it? How did people pick it up?” Allen [Rusbridger, of the Guardian] has been looking for change through markets. How do we get a group like Gates, like the Wellcome Trust to essentially say, “These large companies cannot to burn the fossil fuels that they’re pulling out of the ground?” There’s other ways to make massive change through markets. Consider a company like Tesla, which is trying to make electric vehicles, not only practical but dead sexy, and trying to figure out how to make solar power, something that everyone is using with power walls in their houses.
This is a way to make change even if governments aren’t willing at this point to pass laws, aren’t willing to sign on to international treaties, aren’t willing to set carbon goals that would help keep us at two centigrade degrees of global warming. A lot of my work centers on this idea that some of the most powerful change that we make is through social norms.
One of the things that’s happening in the United States is that unfortunately, our police shoot a lot of people. In particular, they shoot a disproportionate number of Black people. This is not a matter of law. It has been illegal to shoot people for a whole long time in the United States. It’s been illegal to shoot Black people for at least 100 years or so. We don’t need particularly new laws around this. What we do need is a set of social norms. What ends up happening is that people in the United States have a strong tendency to see people of color, particularly young men, as a threat, and this gets reinforced by the media.
When Michael Brown – a young man in Ferguson, Missouri – got killed by police, the media ended up using a particular mug shot for him. They took this image over to your left off of his Facebook page. Now, what does Mike Brown look like in this image? Just shout something out. What do you see about Mike Brown? How does he look?
Audience member: “A thug.”
Yes, he looks like a thug. He looks tough. Why does he look like a thug? What in that photo is making him look so tough? He shot from below, which makes him look taller. It makes him look bigger. This is a Facebook photo. This is an 18-year-old kid. Of course, he wants to look tough. I want to look tough. He’s put this photo up there to make himself look as badass as possible, and this is the photo the media has grabbed to discuss Michael Brown.
This is another picture of Michael Brown taken around the same time. What does Michael Brown look like in this photo? He’s sweet. He’s a baby. He’s got these baby cheeks. He’s a cute kid. He’s a nice kid. That’s a very different image of who this young man is. Activists looked at this disparity and said, “Let’s go into our Facebook feeds. Let’s find the photo that makes us look at our worst, and the photo that makes us look at our best.”
You look at this young man here, and in one of those photos, he looks like a guy you don’t want to mess with. In the other photo, this looks like a man who you very much want to celebrate about what’s best about America. Over the course of three days, this turned into a national campaign of people taking this on, writing essays about it, writing about why they want to participate in it. Within three days, this was on the front page of the New York Times, and more importantly, it’s very hard to find that first photo of Mike Brown anymore. You simply don’t see it.
Media got the point. They got the point that the way that we portray these victims of police violence has a lot to do with our norms about whether we see Black men and boys as dangerous or not. What’s our role in all of this? As practicing journalists, what should we be doing about this? The first thing I want to say is that if you buy my theory that these are the ways that we make change now, very different people have power than we’re used to thinking about.
Yes, politicians are powerful. They’re really important as far as making change through law, and they have a lot of power in terms of force of norms, but they’re probably not the most powerful actors in terms of norms. Celebrities are much more powerful, but not necessarily just the Angelina Jolie-type celebrities. Celebrities in terms of people who have lots of followers, whether it’s on YouTube or whether it’s on Facebook, people who are able to mobilize large networks of people to work together on an issue or to help people change their thinking have great sway over norms.
Who’s powerful in markets? People who already have money. It’s easier to be Elon Musk when you have millions of dollar to go and start a company. But also powerful are people who are able to raise money through different means, people through crowdfunding, people who are able to get different amounts of money together.
It’s possible to make a great deal of change through code. Platforms like Facebook end up being very powerful at this moment in time, but code is wonderfully asymmetrical, and you have individual hackers who have found ways to put strong encryption into software, proof an individual can make change.
We as journalists need to understand how power is working, who is powerful, and try to figure out how we tell and celebrate those stories. We also need to try to figure out how we get critical and careful about how power works in this news space. The project I’ve been working on for the last decade or so tries to figure out this question of how much influence media really has.
Alan [Rusbridger] told a brilliant story that involves running a campaign, getting it seen by millions of people, and at the end of it, the guy that he was targeting did the thing that he wanted him to do. That’s the best type of story that we can tell about the impact of media, but most stories aren’t that simple. Most stories don’t go from, “I wanted A, I ran a campaign, and I accomplished A.” Most are much more complicated.
Here is one of those complicated stories, and I’ve been trying to figure them out with a tool that we build in my lab called Media Cloud. Media Cloud looks at about half a million media sources, grabs every story that comes out of them, and then allows us to search them and analyze them.
What we wanted to search and analyze is how does English language media talk about people of color in the United States who were unarmed and killed by police. Like I said, there’s a lot of these people. We ended up looking at everyone from 2013 to 2016 to figure out what sort of media coverage they got after they were killed by police. We put a marker in this graph of Mike Brown’s death, because shortly after Mike Brown’s death, we’ve seen the emergence of the social movement called Black Lives Matter.
One of the big foci of Black Lives Matter has been paying attention to police violence against people of color. Before Black Lives Matter, if you are an unarmed person of color shot by the police, the most likely thing that happens is nothing. No one reports it. There are zero media stories. That’s that thick bit at the bottom of the curve. There is a small number of people who get a small number of stories. They basically get a small amount of regional coverage. There’s almost no one who makes it up to the top and becomes the object of national debate.
After Mike Brown, that curve’s very different. There are a lot fewer people who are invisible. Basically, if you get shot by the police as an unarmed person of color, there is going to be a story about it, whether or not it makes it up to the national level, that invisibility starts going away. In fact, that invisibility goes away in such a big way, or to quote my new political leader, “So bigly, so hugely,” that you have 10 times as much coverage shortly after Mike Brown’s death for the average person of color killed by police than you did before.
We see an even bigger effect on Facebook, when we looked at how these stories got shared on Facebook. These stories get shared. They get propagated. They get talked about. Unlike with the media, where frankly we’ve gone back down to ignoring unarmed people of color, on Facebook, we’re still at about four times as much attention as we were before Mike Brown. Audiences are telling journalists, “We still want to see these stories. We still care about this.”
What’s come out of it? Well, we’ve actually seen in most police departments in the United States a willingness to adopt body cameras. We’re up to the point where 95% of police departments are actively working on a program to put body cameras on all of their police. Now, is this as easy saying we had a movement around Mike Brown’s death, and then we paid attention, and then journalism changed, and we got body cameras? No. It’s really complicated. It’s really messy, but if you are working on a movement like Black Lives Matter, and your goal is to change the social norm, this is some pretty good evidence that those sorts of campaigns can work, and that they can work by modifying media and changing what we pay attention to.
I want to ask us to think about these things. Think about can we communicate how power works now, not just in terms of politics and law, but in terms of markets, in terms of technologies, in terms of social norms? Celebrate the successes of people who are doing this work well. Then finally, as Alan made the case, figure out how we link these stories to meaningful action.
So many of us have written stories where we’ve ended up saying, “Now that you know about this, please take action. Write to your senator or congressman. Sign this petition.” Stop doing that. For the insurrectionists, that doesn’t work. That’s a signal that you’re not serious.
Think about the other changes people are trying to make. Think about things that people are trying to do in markets with code, with norms. Think about how we link people to those actions as well as to legal actions.
One final thing: we have this tendency in journalism right now to feel very sorry for ourselves. This is a field that we are all enormously proud to be part of. This is a field that is harder and harder to make a living in, and I see more and more news organizations essentially saying, “You’re going to miss us. We’re going away. I just want to warn you.”
I’m not saying this isn’t true. I think this probably is true, but I also think it’s a lousy way to market ourselves. I think it’s happening in part because people are looking at what we’re doing, and saying, “You’re not helping me. If you were helping me, if you were helping me get over that moment of hopelessness, if you were helping me figure out how to be effective and how to make a change, I would find a way to be there for you.” I want to end with this idea. I don’t think it’s the public’s job to save journalism, but I do think it’s journalism’s job to help save civics.
I think we have to figure out how these changes are taking place, and whether we reach out to the institutionalists and say, “It’s time to make those institutions stronger and better than they ever were before,” or whether, and this is what I’m urging you, we reach out to those insurrectionists, and say, “We hear you. We know why you feel powerless. We want to help you become powerful.” If we can figure out how to save civics, how to get more people who are alienated deeply engaged with this, that’s the first step towards saving journalism. If we help the citizens who rely on us become more powerful and more effective, they’re going to step in, and then try to find a way to be there for us. Thank you.
His key point: “We are returning to an edge-intelligence distributed computing model that’s absolutely thematic with the trends in computing moving from centralized out to distributed,” which he illustrates this way:
Later he adds, “We are absolutely going to return to a peer-to-peer computing model where the edge devices connect together creating a network of end point devices not unlike what we sort of saw in the original distributed computing model.” Here’s a graphic for that one:
I added the face in the middle, because the edge is individuals and not just the technology and data occupying their lives.
Joe Andrieu wrote about this a decade ago in his landmark post VRM: The user as point of integration. An excerpt:
User Centrism as System Architecture
Doc Searls shared a story about his experience getting medical care while at Harvard recently. As a fellow at the Berkman center, he just gave them his Harvard ID card and was immediately ushered into a doctor’s office–minimal paperwork, maximal service. They even called him a cab to go to Mass General and gave him a voucher for the ride. At the hospital, they needed a bit more paperwork, but as everything was in order, they immediately fixed him up. It was excellent service.
But what Doc noticed was that at every point where some sort of paperwork was done, there were errors. His name was spelled wrong. They got the wrong birthdate. Wrong employer. Something. As he shuffled from Berkman to the clinic to the cabbie to the hospital to the pharmacy, a paper (and digital trail) followed him through archaic legacy systems with errors accumulating as he went. What became immediately clear to Doc was that for the files at the clinic, the voucher, the systems at the hospital, for all of these systems, he was the natural point of data integration… he was the only component gauranteed to contact each of these service providers. And yet, his physical person was essentially incidental to the entire data trail being created on his behalf.
User as Point of Integration
But what if those systems were replaced with a VRM approach? What if instead of individual, isolated IT departments and infrastructure, Doc, the user was the integrating agent in the system? That would not only assure that Doc had control over the propagation of his medical history, it would assure all of the service providers in the loop that, in fact, they had access to all of Doc’s medical history. All of his medications. All of his allergies. All of his past surgeries or treatments. His (potentially apocryphal) visits to new age homeopathic healers. His chiropractic treatments. His crazy new diet. All of these things could affect the judgment of the medical professionals charged with his care. And yet, trying to integrate all of those systems from the top down is not only a nightmare, it is a nightmare that apparently continues to fail despite massive federal efforts to re-invent medical care.
(See The Emergence of National Electronic Health Record Architectures in the United States and Australia: Models, Costs, and Questions and Difficulties Implementing an Electronic Medical Record for Diverse Healthcare Service Providers for excellent reviews of what is going on this area, both pro and con.)
Doc’s insight–and that of user-centric systems–isn’t new. What’s new is the possibility to utilize the user-centric Identity meta-system to securely and efficiently provide seamless access to user-managed data stores. With that critical piece coming into place, we have the opportunity to completely re-think what it means to build out our IT infrastructure.
Which brings us to Peter Levine’s final point, and slide:
That world will be comprised of individuals operating with full agency, rather than as peripheral entities, and concerns, of centralized systems. Which is exactly what we’ve been fostering here at ProjectVRM from the start, ten years ago.
To obtain full agency, with control over the data and machine power suffusing our connected lives, we will need what’s been called first person or self-sovereign technologies. Not “personal power as a service” from some centralized system.
One immediate example is Adrian Gropper‘s Free Independent Health Records, which he’ll talk about on Thursday, January 26, at the Berkman Klein Center at Harvard University. At that link: “Gropper’s research centers on self-sovereign technology for management of personal information both in control of the individual and as hosted or curated by others.”
For other efforts in the same direction, see our VRM Development Work page.
In December, the United States Copyright Office released a report on software-enabled consumer products. Prepared pursuant to a request from Senate Judiciary Committee members Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the report clarifies how existing copyright law applies to everyday consumer items, from cameras to pickup trucks, that are sold pre-loaded with software essential to their operation. Copyright is not the only area of law implicated by now-ubiquitous software, and simultaneous work is being undertaken by the FTC, Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Commerce.
Copyright protection over such software calls into question the legality of things consumers have been doing without a second thought. Under laws applicable to personal property, activities like resale, repair, and tinkering are unquestionably kosher. But the presence of software – and therefore of copyright law –introduces new questions not previously asked about dishwashers and the like: can I bootstrap a way to turn it on with my smartphone after I leave the house? Resell it on Craigslist if I decide to renovate? Copyright also impacts research and development with downstream impacts on consumers, notably in the areas of security and interoperability. With the prospect of copyright infringement suits looming improbably over quotidian activities, Grassley and Leahy noted, “[t]he public is rightly seeking clarity.”
Following a long look at these questions (the 69-page report is the result of nearly 14 months of study), the Copyright Office came to the conclusion that that what clarity we can get, we already have. Its report serves as a comprehensive summary of the areas of concern, but it treads lightly as it nears real-world solutions. The Office found that consumers’ and researchers’ resale, repair, tinkering, security research, and interoperability activities are likely within the bounds of the Copyright Act as it presently stands. It argued that proper application by the courts a number of copyright doctrines – including first sale, fair use, the idea/expression dichotomy, merger, and scènes à faire, in addition to the software-related provisions of Section 117 of the Copyright Act and exceptions granted to the anti-circumvention rules under Section 1201 of the DMCA – should allow consumers to use, dispose of, and research a software-enabled product as they would any other.
In relying on the current provisions of the Copyright Act for solutions, the Copyright Office missed an opportunity. Certainly formulating a legislative solution would have been a challenge: few claim to know the perfect means of balancing manufacturers’ and consumers’ rights in the face of rapid evolving technology. However, the assertion (however indirect) that the federal courts are well positioned to offer a better solution is, at best, questionable. It calls to mind a classic curse: “May you win all of your lawsuits.”
The report catalogs the exclusive rights implicated by the activities discussed, each one a possible cause of action against a consumer defendant. Even if that defendant is well-positioned to make and win a defense of, for example, fair use, to do so she’ll need to go to court. That introduces significant costs in money and time. The American Intellectual Property Law Association’s 2015 Report of the Economic Survey found that even where the amount in controversy is below one million dollars, the total cost of a copyright infringement suit averages $250,000, and the figure is about the same for defendants as for plaintiffs. This amount is all the more staggering when you consider that many potential defendants are individuals, and their allegedly infringing activity isn’t a commercial enterprise but off-hours monkeying around with their smartphones or fixing a household appliance. The Copyright Office failed to engage with the potentially significant chilling effects of the threat of such litigation.
Another shortcoming of the report is the abbreviated discussion of the impact of Section 1201 of the DMCA on software-enabled devices. This law prohibits efforts to circumvent technical protection measures. While it applies to all copyrighted material and has implications far outside this particular study, in this context it stops consumers, repair technicians, researches and others from getting around restrictions put in place by device manufacturers to limit access to pre-loaded code. Exceptions to this prohibition are granted by the Copyright Office, but only once every three years and, as we have previously noted, at tremendous expense. As a result, any comfort offered to consumers and researchers by the 1201 rulemaking process is just as cold as that from the prospect of federal litigation.
While the Copyright Office did not lay a clear path forward with this report, its study of Section 1201 is still ongoing, and its substantive treatment of the real issues facing consumers and those representing their interests could form a foundation to build toward change. If you’re an individual or mission-driven organization with legal questions relating to software-enabled consumer products, consider filling out our intake form.
The list of ways Trump’s term might be cut short ranges from impeachment, to the invocation of the 25th Amendment, to personal blackmail, to a Fact Ex Machina that is so awful and indisputable that it picks him up by his ill-fitting suit and kicks him into the Loser’s Suite of his new DC hotel.
But if this past year has taught us anything — and I’m open to the possibility that it has not — it’s that we are very bad at making predictions about specific events that result from complex circumstances. We can’t know if and how Trump’s term might come to early end. For all we know, he might exeunt chased by a bear. (Hint: The bear is Russia.)
Which suggests that the most effective action ordinary janes and joes like us can take is to create the conditions under which several paths are easier to be trod.
Demonstrate the depth and breadth of the opposition by loyal, patriotic US citizens, to embolden Congress to oppose and remove him.
Extend and deepen the bonds among his opponents — emotional as well as political bonds
Expose as many of his lies as we can
Call him on his bullshit and attacks on the Constitution
Make heroes of his opponents, no matter what party they’re in
Frame him as an outsider to the American tradition and to both political parties
Do what we can as citizens, techies, parents, businesspeople, creators, activists, mimes — whatever is our excellence and our joy — to pursue a particular path towards Trump’s removal…and, not incidentally, to repair the damage his administration causes to our neighbors and communities.
When the future is so unknowable, we have no choice but to make it more possible.
My conspiracy theory: The purported dossier on Trump says the Russians have been cultivating him for five years. Suppose they were pressuring him to run. As a true patriot, Trump knew how disastrous it would be to have a Russian puppet as President. So, Trump did everything he could as a candidate to make himself unelectable: in his announcement speech he called Mexicans rapists, he made fun of the disabled, he called McCain a loser for being captured. He just kept upping the ante. And then we elected him.
Put differently, let me pitch a movie idea to you. It’s The Manchurian Candidate meets The Producers.
The Manchurian Producers
No Puppet. No Puppet. You’re the Puppet.
Starring Seth Rogen.
with James Franco as “The Toup”
Opening nationwide on Jan 20.
Die Deutschen reden zu laut miteinander. Wir sollten mehr auf Zwischentöne achten – so wie die Architekten der Elbphilharmonie.
Wer gehört werden will, erhebt gerne die Stimme. Je lauter man spricht, desto durchsetzungsfähiger ist die eigene Position, desto besser hören andere zu. Das Gegenteil ist der Fall. Wer gehört werden will, sollte die Stimme senken, um die Konzentration auf das Gesagte zu richten. Im großen Konzertsaal der in dieser Woche eröffneten Hamburger Elbphilharmonie lässt sich dies ausprobieren, wenn man nach all den ersten Besucheranstürmen einmal die Gelegenheit hat, alleine im Saal zu sein. Er ist der ideale Ort für ein ruhiges, konzentriertes Selbstgespräch, bei dem man nicht die Stimme heben muss, um sich davon zu überzeugen, dass mit dem Saal ein akustisches Meisterwerk gelungen ist.
Betrachtet man die Elbphilharmonie als das, was sie ist – ein Symbol mit Anziehungskraft, das weit über die Stadtgrenzen Hamburgs hinaus wirkt –, entsteht eine Analogie zur Lage des Landes. In Deutschland reden die Deutschen derzeit sehr laut miteinander, so laut, dass einer den anderen immer wieder zu übertönen versucht und irgendwann nur noch Lärm übrig bleibt. Das Bild unseres Landes, das so nach außen geht, ist wenig filigran, wenig zukunftsoffen und nicht sehr sympathisch.
Den Architekten Herzog & de Meuron ist mit dem Hamburger Konzertsaal der gute Gegensatz gelungen: leise Töne in kunstvoller Fassade als Bild eines Landes, das sich doch noch nicht ganz von seiner Tradition als Land der Dichter und Denker, der Offenheit, des freien Denkens und Handelns, der Internationalität verabschiedet hat. Deutschland als Land, das sich noch groß zu denken traut. Die Elbphilharmonie eröffnet ihre Tore und ihre symbolische Programmatik also genau zur rechten Zeit. Ein Statement des Selbstbewusstseins.
Lange genug hat es ja gedauert. Auch dieses Bauwerk gehört, wie so viele andere weltweit, zu den Beispielen dafür, dass der Staat vielleicht manches kann. Planen und Bauen gehören leider nicht dazu. Mehr als 15 Jahre hat es gedauert, bis das Konzerthaus fertiggestellt war. Das Gebäude ist etwa zehn Mal so teuer geworden wie anfänglich veranschlagt. Rückblickend muss man sich eher fragen: Welche außerirdischen Berater hatte die Stadt, die ihr eingeflüstert haben, ein solches architektonisches Glanzstück sei für 77 Millionen Euro zu bauen?
Es ist dem Ersten Bürgermeister Hamburgs, Olaf Scholz, zu verdanken, dass die Elbphilharmonie nun steht. Als er 2011 gewählt wurde, stand das Projekt auf der Kippe. Es regnete durchs Dach, und der Streit mit der Baufirma Hochtief war längst eskaliert. Scholz hat alles auf eine Karte gesetzt – zum Festpreis. Das hätte rasend schiefgehen können, ist aber gut gegangen.
Verrat am Steuerzahler? So einfach ist das nicht. Schon jetzt ist die Elbphilharmonie ein internationaler Tourismusmagnet, die erste Spielzeit ist ausverkauft. Geben wir dem Haus doch mal die Chance, zu zeigen, was es kann – auch ökonomisch. Das Reputationskapital, das in diesem Gebäude steckt, ist riesig: Deutschland traut sich was und muss dafür nicht herumbrüllen.
I went to see my friend Jeff Goldenson — we worked together at the Harvard Library Innovation Lab — at Olin College, where he’s director of the library. Jeff’s taken a library that was an under-utilized resource and, with full Administrative backing, turned it into a playground and a lab…by learning some lessons from community theater. Most importantly, he’s turned it into a place that the community feels it owns.
Olin’s got 350 students, all engineers, half of whom are women. It’s a school that stresses hands-on learning, which turns out to work well for Jeff’s approach. The library’s got two floors, neither of them particularly large, and 15,000 volumes. (Here’s a banana for scale: My local community library has about ten times that many. Yes, it is an affluent community. Nevertheless, please keep in mind that I’m still looking for work.)
Here’s some of what Jeff — who’s background is in architecture and design — has done:
First, he has done the expected things to make the library more inviting — a place as well as a resource, as Jeff puts it. These include a media tools library, maker spaces, coffee spots, some very cool events. (Ask Jeff about the Awkward Family Photobooth :)
Second, he has encouraged students to participate in coming up with new ideas for the library and, since it is a hands-on engineering school, building them.
Third, he has taken some fantastic steps to make the library re-configurable, well beyond the usual putting wheels on everything. For example, he is not only putting things on shelves in the stacks that you won’t find in most libraries, he’s coming up with ways of enabling shelves to be generally repurposable.
Fourth, Jeff being Jeff, everything he thinks of or builds is done in open, shareable ways. (Jeff undoubtedly doesn’t want me to be as cagey as I’m being in this post.)
Fifth, when you have a chance, ask Jeff about cardboard. And vinyl. And other materials that lets him and others alter the physicality of the library — the library as place — the way a local theater company creates sets. For example, once a week the Library turns a structure in the lobby into a coffee shop. It’s very popular, but it still looks like a library structure repurposed as a coffee shop. But with the magic of some cardboard, paint, and just a few inexpensive touches — e.g., some cheap hanging lamps — the structure and the space are transformed. It’s set design, with the library as the theater. This way of thinking lowers the cost and risk of altering the perceived meaning and feel of the place.
The result is not just a supercool library but a model for how existing libraries without lots of resources can give themselves over to their communities…and become a point of pride for them.
The post Olin Library: Library as place, as lab, as local theater appeared first on Joho the Blog.
We’re extending the deadline to apply for 17-18 Berkman Klein Center fellowships through our open call! The new deadline is Tuesday January 31, 2017 at 11:59 p.m. ET.
This week we announced the Berkman Klein Center’s participation in the Ethics and Governance of Artificial Intelligence Fund, supporting interdisciplinary research to ensure that AI develops in a way that is ethical, accountable, and advances the public interest.
We want to give some extra time for people to apply to join our community of fellows in the coming year in light of the announcement and the exciting AI work ahead. Artificial intelligence, autonomous systems, and complex algorithms in general, fueled by big data and deep-learning systems, are quickly changing how we live and work. We look forward to working with people interested in exploring some of the issues detailed in the announcement, and invite people who think about these myriad challenges to consider our fellowship program as one potential avenue for community engagement. We and our partners at the MIT Media Lab are actively developing our joint efforts, and additional occasions for participation will emerge beyond this initial opportunity to apply for the Berkman Klein Center's fellowship program.
Alongside AI, we continue to welcome applications from people working on a broad range of research and activities related to Internet and society until the new January 31, 2017 deadline.
For more information, please find our full call for applications for 2017-2018 academic year fellowships here.
Kishonna Gray [#KishonnaGray] is giving a Berkman-Klein [#BKCHarvard] Tuesday lunch talk . She’s an ass’t prof and ML King Scholar at MIT as well as being a fellow at BKC and the author of Race, Gender and Deviance in Xbox Live. She’s going to talk about a framework, Black Digital Feminism.
NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.
She begins by saying, “I’ve been at a cross roads, personally and intellectually” over the Trump election, the death of black civilians at the hand of police, and the gaming controversies, including gamergate. How did we get to this point? And what point are we at? “What matters most in this moment?” She’s going to talk about the framework that helps her make sense of some of these things.
Imagine we’re celebrating the 50th birthday of the Berkman Klein Center (in 305 yrs or so)? What are we celebrating? The end of online harassment? The dismantling of heteronormative, white supremacy hierarchy? Are we telling survivor narratives?
She was moved by an article the day after the election, titled “Black women were the only ones who tried to save the world Tuesday night,” by Charles D. Ellison. She laughed at first, and retweeted it. She was “overwhelmed by the response of people who didn’t think black women have the capacity to do anything except make babies and collect welfare checks.” She recalled many women, including Sojourner Truth who spoke an important truth to a growing sense in the feminist movement that it was fundamentally a white movement. The norms are so common and hidden that when we notice them we ask how the women broke through the barriers rather than asking why the barriers were there in the first place. It’s as if these women are superhuman. But we need to ask why are there barriers in the first place? [This is a beautifully composed talk. I’m sorry to be butchering it so badly. It will be posted on line in a few days.
In 1869 Frederick Douglass argued that including women in the movement for the vote would reduce the chances of the right to vote being won for black men. “White womenhood has been central in defining white masculinity. ” E.g., in Birth of a Nation, white women need protection. Self-definition is the core of intersectionality. Masculinity has mainly protected its own interests and its own fragility, not women. It uses the protection of women to showcase its own dominance.
“Why do we have to insert our own existences into spaces? Why are we not recognized?.” The marginalized are no longer accepting their marginzalization. For example,look at black women’s digital practices.
Black women have used digital involvement to address marginalization, to breach the boundaries of what’s “normal.” Often that is looked upon as them merely “playing around” with tech. The old frameworks meant that black women couldn’t enter the digital space as who they actually are.
Black Digital Feminism has three elements:
1. Social structural oppression of technology and virtual spaces. Many digital spaces are dominated by assumptions that they are color-blind. Black Lives Matter and Say Her Name are attempts to remind us that blackness is not an intrusion.
2. Intersectional oppressions experience in virtual spaces. Women must work to dismantle the interlocking structures of oppression. Individuals experience oppression in different ways and we don’t want a one-size approach. E.g., the “solidarity is for white women” hashtag is seen as an expression of black women being angry, but it is a reminder that feminism has too often been assumed to be a white issue first.
3. The distinctness of the virtual feminist community. Black Digital Feminism privileges women’s ways of knowing. “NotYourAsianSidekick” is rooted in the radical Asian woman tradition, insisting that they control their own identity. Black women, and others, reject the idea that feminism is the same for all women, disregarding the different forms of oppression women are subject to based upon their race, ethnicity, etc. Women have used social media for social change and to advance critical activism and feminism.
The tenets of Black Digital Feminism cannot detach from the personal, communal, or political, which sets it part from techno- and cyber-feminism.
These new technologies are not creating anything. They are providing an outlet. “These groups have never been voiceless. The people in power simply haven’t been listening.” The digital amplifies these voices.
Q: With the new administration, should we be thinking differently?
A: We need to identify the commonalities. Isolated marches won’t do enough. We need to find a way to bring communities together by figuring out what is the common struggle against structural oppression. Black women sacrificed to support Trump, forgetting the “super-predator” stuff from Hillary, but other groups didn’t make equivalent sacrifices.
Q: Does it mean using hashtags differently?
A: This digital culture is only one of many things we can do. We can’t forget the physical community, connecting with people. There are models for doing this.
Q: Did Net Neutrality play a role in enabling the Black community to participate? Do we need to look at NN from a feminist perspective…NN as making every packet have the same weight.
NN was key for enabling Black Lives Matter because the gov’t couldn’t suppress that movement’s language, its speech.
Q: Is this perceived as a danger insider the black feminist movement?
A: Tech isn’t neutral, is the idea. It lets us do what we need to do.
Q: Given the work you’ve done on women finding pleasure in spaces (like the Xbox) where they’re not expected to be found, what do you think about our occupying commercial spaces?
A: I’m a lifelong gamer and I get asked how I can play where there aren’t players — or developers — who look like me. I started the practice of highlighting the people who are there. We’re there, but we’re not noticed. E.g., Pew Research showed recently that half of gamers are women. The overwhelming population of console gamers are black and brown men. We really have to focus on who is in the spaces, and seek them out. My dissertation focused on finding these people, and finding their shared stories: not being noticed or valued. But we should take the extra steps to make sure we locate them. Some people are going to call 2016 the year of the black gamer, games with black protagonists. This is due to a push from marginalized games. The resistance is paying off. Even the Oscars So White has paid off in a more diverse Golden Globes nominees set.
Q: You navigate between feminist theory and observational work. How did the latter shape the former?
A: When I learned about ethnography I thought it was the most beautiful thing ever created — being immersed in a community and let them tell their own stories. But when it came time to document that, I realized why we sometimes consider ethnography to be voyeuristic and exploitative. When transcribing, I was expected to “clean up” the speech. “Hell no,” she said. E.g. she left “dem” as “dem,” not “them.” “I refer to people as narrators, not ‘research participants.'” They’re part of the process. She showed them the chapter drafts. E.g., she hasn’t published all her Ferguson work because she wants to make sure that she “leaves the place better.” You have to stay true to the transformative, liberatory practices that we say we’re doing.” She’s even been criticized for writing too plainly, eschewing academic jargon. “I wanted to make sure that a community that let me into its space understood every word that I wrote.”
Q: There’s been debate about the people who lead the movement. E.g., if I’m not black, I am not best suited to lead the movement in the fight for those rights. OTOH, if we want to advance the rights of women, we have to move the whole society with us.
A: What you’re saying is important. I stopped caring about hurting peole’s feelings because if they’re devoted to the work that needs to be done, they’ve checked their feelings, their fragility, at the door. There is tons of work for allies to do. If it’s a real ally dedicated to the work, they’ll understand. There’s so much work to do. And Trump isn’t even the president yet.
Q: About the application of Black Digital Feminism to the law. (Intersectionality started in law journals.)
A: It’s hard to see how it translates into actual policy, especially now. I don’t know how we’ll push back against what’s to come. E.g., we know evaluations of women are usually lower than of men. So when are we going to stop valuing the evaluations so highly? At the bottom of my evaluations, I write, “Just so you know, these evaluations are filtered through my black woman’s body.”
Q: What do we get things like”#IamMichelle”, which is like the “I am Spartacus” in the movie Spartacus?
A: It depends on the effect it has. I focus on marginalized folks, and their sense of empowerment and pride. There’s some power there, especially in localized communities.
Q: How can white women be supportive?
A: You’ve to go get your people, the white women who voted. What have you done to change the thinking of the women you know who voted for Trump? That’s where it has to begin. You have to first address your own circle. You may not be able to change them, but you can’t ignore them. That’s step one.
Q: I always like your work because you hearken back to a rich pedigree of black feminism. But the current moment is distinct. E.g., the issues are trans-national. So we need new visions for what we want the future. What is the future that we’re fighting for? What does the digital contribute to that vision?
A: It’s important to acknowledge what’s the same. E.g., the death of black people by police is part of the narrative of lynching. The structural and institutional inequalities are the same. Digital tools let us address this differently. BLM is no different from what happened with Rodney King. What future are we fighting for? I guess I haven’t articulated that. I don’t know how we get there. We should first ask how we transform our own spaces. I don’t want the conversation to get to big. The conservation should be small enough and digestible. We don’t want people to feel helpless.
Q: If I’m a man who asks about Black Digital Feminism [which he is], where can I learn more?
You can go to my Web site: www.kishonnaGray.com. And the Berkman Klein community is awesome and ready to go to work.
Q: You write about the importance of claiming identity online. Early on, people celebrated the fact that you could go online without a known identity. Especially now, how do you balance the important task of claiming identity and establishing solidarity with your smaller group, and bonding with your allies in a larger group? Do we need to shift the balance?
A: I haven’t figured out how to create that balance. The communities I’m in are still distinct. When Mike Brown was killed, I realized how distinct the anti-gamergate crowd was from the BLM. These are not opposing fights. They’re not so distinct that we can’t fight both at the same times. I ended up working with both, and got me thinking about how to bridge them. But I haven’t figured out how to bring them together.
This week, PBS‘s “Independent Lens” is airing a remarkable documentary entitled Containment. Produced by Redacted Pictures and directed by Peter Galison and Robb Moss (working with co-producer and editor Chyld King), the film examines the challenges associated with disposal and storage of the byproducts of nuclear energy production and with conveying risk across generations. We in the Cyberlaw Clinic had the great pleasure of providing legal support to the the team behind Containment during the film’s production.
In the filmmakers’ own words:
Left over from the Cold War are a hundred million gallons of radioactive sludge, covering vast radioactive lands. Governments around the world, desperate to protect future generations, have begun imagining society 10,000 years from now in order to create monuments that will speak across the time. Part observational essay filmed in weapons plants, Fukushima and deep underground — and part graphic novel — Containment weaves between an uneasy present and an imaginative, troubled far future, exploring the idea that over millennia, nothing stays put.
It is an important and timely work — check local public television listings for specific airings throughout the week!
The United States has always been a diverse but segregated country. This has shaped American politics profoundly. Yet, throughout history, Americans have had to grapple with divergent views and opinions, political ideologies, and experiences in order to function as a country. Many of the institutions that underpin American democracy force people in the United States to encounter difference. This does not inherently produce tolerance or result in healthy resolution. Hell, the history of the United States is fraught with countless examples of people enslaving and oppressing other people on the basis of difference. This isn’t about our past; this is about our present. And today’s battles over laws and culture are nothing new.
Ironically, in a world in which we have countless tools to connect, we are also watching fragmentation, polarization, and de-diversification happen en masse. The American public is self-segregating, and this is tearing at the social fabric of the country.
Many in the tech world imagined that the Internet would connect people in unprecedented ways, allow for divisions to be bridged and wounds to heal.It was the kumbaya dream. Today, those same dreamers find it quite unsettling to watch as the tools that were designed to bring people together are used by people to magnify divisions and undermine social solidarity. These tools were built in a bubble, and that bubble has burst.
Nowhere is this more acute than with Facebook. Naive as hell, Mark Zuckerberg dreamed he could build the tools that would connect people at unprecedented scale, both domestically and internationally. I actually feel bad for him as he clings to that hope while facing increasing attacks from people around the world about the role that Facebook is playing in magnifying social divisions. Although critics love to paint him as only motivated by money, he genuinely wants to make the world a better place and sees Facebook as a tool to connect people, not empower them to self-segregate.
The problem is not simply the “filter bubble,” Eli Pariser’s notion that personalization-driven algorithmic systems help silo people into segregated content streams. Facebook’s claim that content personalization plays a small role in shaping what people see compared to their own choices is accurate.And they have every right to be annoyed. I couldn’t imagine TimeWarner being blamed for who watches Duck Dynasty vs. Modern Family. And yet, what Facebook does do is mirror and magnify a trend that’s been unfolding in the United States for the last twenty years, a trend of self-segregation that is enabled by technology in all sorts of complicated ways.
The United States can only function as a healthy democracy if we find a healthy way to diversify our social connections, if we find a way to weave together a strong social fabric that bridges ties across difference.
Yet, we are moving in the opposite direction with serious consequences. To understand this, let’s talk about two contemporary trend lines and then think about the implications going forward.
The voluntary US military is, in many ways, a social engineering project. The public understands the military as a service organization, dedicated to protecting the country’s interests. Yet, when recruits sign up, they are promised training and job opportunities. Individual motivations vary tremendously, but many are enticed by the opportunity to travel the world, participate in a cause with a purpose, and get the heck out of dodge. Everyone expects basic training to be physically hard, but few recognize that some of the most grueling aspects of signing up have to do with the diversification project that is central to the formation of the American military.
When a soldier is in combat, she must trust her fellow soldiers with her life. And she must be willing to do what it takes to protect the rest of her unit. In order to make that possible, the military must wage war on prejudice. This is not an easy task. Plenty of generals fought hard to fight racial desegregation and to limit the role of women in combat. Yet, the US military was desegregated in 1948, six years before Brown v. Board forced desegregation of schools. And the Supreme Court ruled that LGB individuals could openly serve in the military before they could legally marry.
Morale is often raised as the main reason that soldiers should not be forced to entrust their lives to people who are different than them. Yet, time and again, this justification collapses under broader interests to grow the military. As a result, commanders are forced to find ways to build up morale across difference, to actively and intentionally seek to break down barriers to teamwork, and to find a way to gel a group of people whose demographics, values, politics, and ideologies are as varied as the country’s.
In the process, they build one of the most crucial social infrastructures of the country. They build the diverse social fabric that underpins democracy.
Tons of money was poured into defense after 9/11, but the number of people serving in the US military today is far lower than it was throughout the 1980s. Why? Starting in the 1990s and accelerating after 9/11, the US privatized huge chunks of the military. This means that private contractors and their employees play critical roles in everything from providing food services to equipment maintenance to military housing. The impact of this on the role of the military in society is significant. For example, this undermine recruits’ ability to get training to develop critical skills that will be essential for them in civilian life. Instead, while serving on active duty, they spend a much higher amount of time on the front lines and in high-risk battle, increasing the likelihood that they will be physically or psychologically harmed. The impact on skills development and job opportunities is tremendous, but so is the impact on the diversification of the social fabric.
Private vendors are not engaged in the same social engineering project as the military and, as a result, tend to hire and fire people based on their ability to work effectively as a team. Like many companies, they have little incentive to invest in helping diverse teams learn to work together as effectively as possible. Building diverse teams — especially ones in which members depend on each other for their survival — is extremely hard, time-consuming, and emotionally exhausting. As a result, private companies focus on “culture fit,” emphasize teams that get along, and look for people who already have the necessary skills, all of which helps reinforce existing segregation patterns.
The end result is that, in the last 20 years, we’ve watched one of our major structures for diversification collapse without anyone taking notice. And because of how it’s happened, it’s also connected to job opportunities and economic opportunity for many working- and middle-class individuals, seeding resentment and hatred.
If you ask a college admissions officer at an elite institution to describe how they build a class of incoming freshman, you will quickly realize that the American college system is a diversification project. Unlike colleges in most parts of the world, the vast majority of freshman at top tier universities in the United States live on campus with roommates who are assigned to them. Colleges approach housing assignments as an opportunity to pair diverse strangers with one another to build social ties. This makes sense given how many friendships emerge out of freshman dorms. By pairing middle class kids with students from wealthier families, elite institutions help diversify the elites of the future.
This diversification project produces a tremendous amount of conflict. Although plenty of people adore their college roommates and relish the opportunity to get to know people from different walks of life as part of their college experience, there is an amazing amount of angst about dorm assignments and the troubles that brew once folks try to live together in close quarters. At many universities, residential life is often in the business of student therapy as students complain about their roommates and dormmates. Yet, just like in the military, learning how to negotiate conflict and diversity in close quarters can be tremendously effective in sewing the social fabric.
In the springs of 2006, I was doing fieldwork with teenagers at a time when they had just received acceptances to college. I giggled at how many of them immediately wrote to the college in which they intended to enroll, begging for a campus email address so that they could join that school’s Facebook (before Facebook was broadly available). In the previous year, I had watched the previous class look up roommate assignments on MySpace so I was prepared for the fact that they’d use Facebook to do the same. What I wasn’t prepared for was how quickly they would all get on Facebook, map the incoming freshman class, and use this information to ask for a roommate switch. Before they even arrived on campus in August/September of 2006, they had self-segregated as much as possible.
A few years later, I watched another trend hit: cell phones. While these were touted as tools that allowed students to stay connected to parents (which prompted many faculty to complain about “helicopter parents” arriving on campus), they really ended up serving as a crutch to address homesickness, as incoming students focused on maintaining ties to high school friends rather than building new relationships.
Students go to elite universities to “get an education.” Few realize that the true quality product that elite colleges in the US have historically offered is social network diversification. Even when it comes to job acquisition, sociologists have long known that diverse social networks (“weak ties”) are what increase job prospects. By self-segregating on campus, students undermine their own potential while also helping fragment the diversity of the broader social fabric.
Diversity is often touted as highly desirable. Indeed, in professional contexts, we know that more diverse teams often outperform homogeneous teams. Diversity also increases cognitive development, both intellectually and socially. And yet, actually encountering and working through diverse viewpoints, experiences, and perspectives is hard work. It’s uncomfortable. It’s emotionally exhausting. It can be downright frustrating.
Thus, given the opportunity, people typically revert to situations where they can be in homogeneous environments. They look for “safe spaces” and “culture fit.” And systems that are “personalized” are highly desirable. Most people aren’t looking to self-segregate, but they do it anyway. And, increasingly, the technologies and tools around us allow us to self-segregate with ease. Is your uncle annoying you with his political rants? Mute him. Tired of getting ads for irrelevant products? Reveal your preferences. Want your search engine to remember the things that matter to you? Let it capture data. Want to watch a TV show that appeals to your senses? Here are some recommendations.
Any company whose business model is based on advertising revenue and attention is incentivized to engage you by giving you what you want. And what you want in theory is different than what you want in practice.
Consider, for example, what Netflix encountered when it started its streaming offer. Users didn’t watch the movies that they had placed into their queue. Those movies were the movies they thought they wanted, movies that reflected their ideal self — 12 Years a Slave, for example. What they watched when they could stream whatever they were in the mood for at that moment was the equivalent of junk food — reruns of Friends, for example. (This completely undid Netflix’s recommendation infrastructure, which had been trained on people’s idealistic self-images.)
The divisions are not just happening through commercialism though. School choice has led people to self-segregate from childhood on up. The structures of American work life mean that fewer people work alongside others from different socioeconomic backgrounds. Our contemporary culture of retail and service labor means that there’s a huge cultural gap between workers and customers with little opportunity to truly get to know one another. Even many religious institutions are increasingly fragmented such that people have fewer interactions across diverse lines. (Just think about how there are now “family services” and “traditional services” which age-segregate.) In so many parts of public, civic, and professional life, we are self-segregating and the opportunities for doing so are increasing every day.
By and large, the American public wants to have strong connections across divisions. They see the value politically and socially. But they’re not going to work for it. And given the option, they’re going to renew their license remotely, try to get out of jury duty, and use available data to seek out housing and schools that are filled with people like them. This is the conundrum we now face.
Many pundits remarked that, during the 2016 election season, very few Americans were regularly exposed to people whose political ideology conflicted with their own. This is true. But it cannot be fixed by Facebook or news media. Exposing people to content that challenges their perspective doesn’t actually make them more empathetic to those values and perspectives. To the contrary, it polarizes them. What makes people willing to hear difference is knowing and trusting people whose worldview differs from their own. Exposure to content cannot make up for self-segregation.
If we want to develop a healthy democracy, we need a diverse and highly connected social fabric. This requires creating contexts in which the American public voluntarily struggles with the challenges of diversity to build bonds that will last a lifetime. We have been systematically undoing this, and the public has used new technological advances to make their lives easier by self-segregating. This has increased polarization, and we’re going to pay a heavy price for this going forward. Rather than focusing on what media enterprises can and should do, we need to focus instead on building new infrastructures for connection where people have a purpose for coming together across divisions. We need that social infrastructure just as much as we need bridges and roads.
This piece was originally published as part of a series on media, accountability, and the public sphere. See also: