Current Berkman People and Projects

Keep track of Berkman-related news and conversations by subscribing to this page using your RSS feed reader. This aggregation of blogs relating to the Berkman Center does not necessarily represent the views of the Berkman Center or Harvard University but is provided as a convenient starting point for those who wish to explore the people and projects in Berkman's orbit. As this is a global exercise, times are in UTC.

The list of blogs being aggregated here can be found at the bottom of this page.

September 27, 2018

MediaBerkman
"Click Here to Kill Everybody": A Book Talk with Bruce Schneier
Bruce Schneier, the author of Click Here to Kill Everybody in conversation with Abby Everett Jaques, MIT. From the description of "Click Here to Kill Everybody": Computer security is no longer about data; it's about life and property. This change makes an enormous difference, and will shake up our industry in many ways. First, data authentication and integrity will become more important than confidentiality. And second, our largely regulation-free Internet will become a thing of the past. Soon we will no longer have a choice between government regulation and no government regulation. Our choice is between smart government regulation and stupid government regulation. Given this future, it's vital that we look back at what we've learned from past attempts to secure these systems, and forward at what technologies, laws, regulations, economic incentives, and social norms we need to secure them in the future. More info on this event here: https://cyber.harvard.edu/events/2018-09-25/click-here-kill-everybody

by the Berkman Klein Center at September 27, 2018 03:37 PM

Platforms, Politics, and Power: Understanding and Shaping the Internet in 2018
Drawing from memes, magazine covers and legal documents from the past 60 years, Jonathan Zittrain gives a lively overview of the Internet since its inception, spanning the debates, concerns, and hopes in the years since, and how the Berkman Klein Center fits into—and contributes to—these conversations. More info on this event here: https://cyber.harvard.edu/events/2018-09-18/platforms-politics-and-power

by the Berkman Klein Center at September 27, 2018 03:36 PM

September 26, 2018

Benjamin Mako Hill
Shannon’s Ghost

I’m spending the 2018-2019 academic year as a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (CASBS) at Stanford.

Claude Shannon on a bicycle.

Every CASBS study is labeled with a list of  “ghosts” who previously occupied the study. This year, I’m spending the year in Study 50 where I’m haunted by an incredible cast that includes many people whose scholarship has influenced and inspired me.

The top part of the list of ghosts in Study #50 at CASBS.

Foremost among this group is Study 50’s third occupant: Claude Shannon

At 21 years old, Shannon’s masters thesis (sometimes cited as the most important masters thesis in history) proved that electrical circuits could encode any relationship expressible in Boolean logic and opened the door to digital computing. Incredibly, this is almost never cited as Shannon’s most important contribution. That came in 1948 when he published a paper titled A Mathematical Theory of Communication which effectively created the field of information theory. Less than a decade after its publication, Aleksandr Khinchin (the mathematician behind my favorite mathematical constant) described the paper saying:

Rarely does it happen in mathematics that a new discipline achieves the character of a mature and developed scientific theory in the first investigation devoted to it…So it was with information theory after the work of Shannon.

As someone whose own research is seeking to advance computation and mathematical study of communication, I find it incredibly propitious to be sharing a study with Shannon.

Although I teach in a communication department, I know Shannon from my background in computing. I’ve always found it curious that, despite the fact Shannon’s 1948 paper is almost certainly the most important single thing ever published with the word “communication” in its title, Shannon is rarely taught in communication curricula is sometimes completely unknown to communication scholars.

In this regard, I’ve thought a lot about this passage in Robert’s Craig’s  influential article “Communication Theory as a Field” which argued:

In establishing itself under the banner of communication, the discipline staked an academic claim to the entire field of communication theory and research—a very big claim indeed, since communication had already been widely studied and theorized. Peters writes that communication research became “an intellectual Taiwan-claiming to be all of China when, in fact, it was isolated on a small island” (p. 545). Perhaps the most egregious case involved Shannon’s mathematical theory of information (Shannon & Weaver, 1948), which communication scholars touted as evidence of their field’s potential scientific status even though they had nothing whatever to do with creating it, often poorly understood it, and seldom found any real use for it in their research.

In preparation for moving into Study 50, I read a new biography of Shannon by Jimmy Soni and Rob Goodman and was excited to find that Craig—although accurately describing many communication scholars’ lack of familiarity—almost certainly understated the importance of Shannon to communication scholarship.

For example, the book form of Shannon’s 1948 article was published by University Illinois on the urging of and editorial supervision of Wilbur Schramm (one of the founders of modern mass communication scholarship) who was a major proponent of Shannon’s work. Everett Rogers (another giant in communication) devotes a chapter of his “History of Communication Studies”² to Shannon and to tracing his impact in communication. Both Schramm and Rogers built on Shannon in parts of their own work. Shannon has had an enormous impact, it turns out, in several subareas of communication research (e.g., attempts to model communication processes).

Although I find these connections exciting. My own research—like most of the rest of communication—is far from the substance of technical communication processes at the center of Shannon’s own work. In this sense, it can be a challenge to explain to my colleagues in communication—and to my fellow CASBS fellows—why I’m so excited to be sharing a space with Shannon this year.

Upon reflection, I think it boils down to two reasons:

  1. Shannon’s work is both mathematically beautiful and incredibly useful. His seminal 1948 article points to concrete ways that his theory can be useful in communication engineering including in compression, error correcting codes, and cryptography. Shannon’s focus on research that pushes forward the most basic type of basic research while remaining dedicated to developing solutions to real problems is a rare trait that I want to feature in my own scholarship.
  2. Shannon was incredibly playful. Shannon played games, juggled constantly, and was always seeking to teach others to do so. He tinkered, rode unicycles, built a flame-throwing trumpet, and so on. With Marvin Minsky, he invented the “ultimate machine”—a machine that’s only function is to turn itself off—which he kept on his desk.

    A version of the Shannon’s “ultimate machine” that is sitting on my desk at CASBS.

I have no misapprehension that I will accomplish anything like Shannon’s greatest intellectual achievements during my year at CASBS. I do hope to be inspired by Shannon’s creativity, focus on impact, and playfulness. In my own little ways, I hope to build something at CASBS that will advance mathematical and computational theory in communication in ways that Shannon might have appreciated.


  1. Incredibly, the year that Shannon was in Study 50, his neighbor in Study 51 was Milton Friedman. Two thoughts: (i) Can you imagine?! (ii) I definitely chose the right study!
  2. Rogers book was written, I found out, during his own stint at CASBS. Alas, it was not written in Study 50.

by Benjamin Mako Hill at September 26, 2018 09:16 PM

September 22, 2018

Justin Reich
From Digital Divide to Innovation Divide?
Failure to address the Digital Divide could result in an innovation divide as access becomes ubiquitous.

by Beth Holland at September 22, 2018 11:00 PM

September 21, 2018

ProjectVRM
The only path from subscription hell to subscription heaven

And from customer service hell to customer service heaven too.

(If you want to jump straight to that path, scroll down to The Path. )

A small example of The Problem…

I subscribe to Vanity Fair magazine. I also get one of its newsletters, replicated on a website called The Hive. At the top of the latest Hive is this come-on: “For all that and more, don’t forget to sign up for our metered paywall, the greatest innovation since Nitroglycerin, the Allman Brothers, and the Hangzhou Grand Canal.”

When I clicked on the metered paywall link (from which I have subtracted the appended tracking cruft), it took me to a plain old subscription page. So I thought, “Hey, since they have tracking cruft on that link, shouldn’t it take me to a page that says something like, “Hi, Doc! Thanks for clicking, but we know you’re already a paying subscriber, so don’t worry about the paywall”?

So I clicked on the Customer Care link to make that suggestion. This took me to a login page, where my password manager filled in the blanks with one of my secondary email addresses. That got me to my account, which says my Condé Nast subscriptions look like this:

Oddly, the email address at the bottom there is my primary one, not the one I just logged in with.  (Also oddly, I still get Wired.)

So I went to the Vanity Fair home page, found myself logged in there, and clicked on “My Account.” This took me to a page that said my email address was my primary one, and provided a way to change my password, to subscribe or unsubscribe to four newsletters, and a way to “Receive a weekly digest of stories featuring the players you care about the most.” The link below said “Start following people.” No way to check my account itself.

So I logged out from the account page I reached through the Customer Care link, and logged in with my primary email address, again using my password manager. That got me to an account page with the same account information you see above.

It’s interesting that I have two logins for one account. But that’s beside more important points, one of which I made with this message I wrote for Customer Care in the box provided for that:

Curious to know where I stand with this new “metered paywall” thing mentioned in the latest Hive newsletter? When I go to the link there — https://subscribe.condenastdigital.com/s… — I get an apparently standard subscription page. I’m guessing I’m covered, but I don’t know. Also, even as a subscriber I’m being followed online by 20 or more trackers (reports Privacy Badger), supposedly for for personalized advertising purposes, but likely also for other purposes by Condé Nast’s third parties. (Meaning not just Google, Facebook and Amazon, but Parsely and indexww, which I’ve never heard of and don’t trust. And frankly I don’t trust those first three either.) As a subscriber I’d want to be followed only by Vanity Fair and Condé Nast for their own service-providing and analytic purposes, and not who-knows-what by all those others. If you could pass that request along, I thank you. Cheers, Doc

When I clicked on the Submit button, I got this:

An error occurred while processing your request.An error occurred while processing your request.

Please call our Customer Care Department at 1-800-667-0015 for immediate assistance or visit Vanity Fair Customer Care online.

Invalid logging session ID (lsid) passed in on the URL. Unable to serve the servlet you’ve requested.

So there ya go: one among .X zillion other examples differing only in details.

Fortunately, there is a better way. Read on.

The Path

The only way to pave a path from subscription and customer service hell to the heaven we’ve never had is by  normalizing the ways both work, across all of business. And we can only do this from the individual customer’s side. There is no other way. We need standard VRM tools to deal with the CRM and CX systems that exist on the providers’ side.

We’ve done this before.

We fixed networking, publishing and mailing online with the simple and open standards that gave us the Internet, the Web and email. All those standards were easy for everyone to work with, supported boundless economic and social benefits, and began with the assumption that individuals are full-privilege agents in the world.

The standards we need here should make each individual subscriber the single point of integration for their own data, and the responsible party for for changing that data across multiple entities. (That’s basically the heart of VRM.)

This will give each of us a single way to see and manage many subscriptions, see notifications of changes by providers, and make changes across the board with one move. VRM + CRM.

The same goes for customer care service requests. These should be normalized the same way.

In the absence of normalizing how people manage subscription and customer care relationships, all the companies in the world with customers will have as many different ways of doing both as there are companies. And we’ll languish in the login/password hell we’re in now.

The VRM+CRM cost savings to those companies will also be enormous. For a sense of that, just multiply what I went through above by as many people there are in the world with subscriptions, and  multiply that result by the number of subscriptions those people have — and then do the same for customer service.

We can’t fix this inside the separate CRM systems of the world. There are too many of them, competing in too many silo’d ways to provide similar services that work differently for every customer, even when they use the same back-ends from Oracle, Salesforce, SugarCRM or whomever.

Fortunately, CRM systems are programmable. So I challenge everybody who will be at Salesforce’s Dreamforce conference next week to think about how much easier it will be when individual customers’ VRM meets Salesforce B2B customers’ CRM. I know a number of VRM people  who will be there, including Iain Henderson, of the bonus link below. Let me know you’re interested and I’ll make the connection.

And come work with us on standards. Here’s one.

Bonus link: Me-commerce — from push to pull, by Iain Henderson (@iaianh1)

by Doc Searls at September 21, 2018 10:31 PM

September 18, 2018

ProjectVRM
Weighings

A few years ago I got a Withings bathroom scale: one that knows it’s me, records my weight, body mass index and fat percentage on a graph informed over wi-fi. The graph was in a Withings cloud.

I got it because I liked the product (still do, even though it now just tells me my weight and BMI), and because I trusted Withings, a French company subject to French privacy law, meaning it would store my data in a safe place accessible only to me, and not look inside. Or so I thought.

Here’s the privacy policy, and here are the terms of use, both retrieved from Archive.org. (Same goes for the link in the last paragraph and the image above.)

Then, in 2016, the company was acquired by Nokia and morphed into Nokia Health. Sometime after that, I started to get these:

This told me Nokia Health was watching my weight, which I didn’t like or appreciate. But I wasn’t surprised, since Withings’ original privacy policy featured the lack of assurance long customary to one-sided contracts of adhesion that have been pro forma on the Web since commercial activity exploded there in 1995: “The Service Provider reserves the right to modify all or part of the Service’s Privacy Rules without notice. Use of the Service by the User constitutes full and complete acceptance of any changes made to these Privacy Rules.” (The exact same language appears in the original terms of use.)

Still, I was too busy with other stuff to care more about it until I got this from  community at email.health.nokia two days ago:

Here’s the announcement at the “learn more” link. Sounded encouraging.

So I dug a bit and and saw that Nokia in May planned to sell its Health division to Withings co-founder Éric Carreel (@ecaeca).

Thinking that perhaps Withings would welcome some feedback from a customer, I wrote this in a customer service form:

One big reason I bought my Withings scale was to monitor my own weight, by myself. As I recall the promise from Withings was that my data would remain known only to me (though Withings would store it). Since then I have received many robotic emailings telling me my weight and offering encouragements. This annoys me, and I would like my data to be exclusively my own again — and for that to be among Withings’ enticements to buy the company’s products. Thank you.

Here’s the response I got back, by email:

Hi,

Thank you for contacting Nokia Customer Support about monitoring your own weight. I’ll be glad to help.

Following your request to remove your email address from our mailing lists, and in accordance with data privacy laws, we have created an interface which allows our customers to manage their email preferences and easily opt-out from receiving emails from us. To access this interface, please follow the link below:

Obviously, the person there didn’t understand what I said.

So I’m saying it here. And on Twitter.

What I’m hoping isn’t for Withings to make a minor correction for one customer, but rather that Éric & Withings enter a dialog with the @VRM community and @CustomerCommons about a different approach to #GDPR compliance: one at the end of which Withings might pioneer agreeing to customers’ friendly terms and conditions, such as those starting to appear at Customer Commons.

by Doc Searls at September 18, 2018 09:45 PM

September 16, 2018

Benjamin Mako Hill
Lookalikes

Was my festive shirt the model for the men’s room signs at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Honolulu? Did I see the sign on arrival and subconsciously decide to dress similarly when I returned to the airport to depart Hawaii?

by Benjamin Mako Hill at September 16, 2018 06:21 PM

September 13, 2018

Benjamin Mako Hill
Disappointment on the new commute

Imagine my disappointment when I discovered that signs on Stanford’s campus pointing to their “Enchanted Broccoli Forest” and “Narnia”—both of which that I have been passing daily on my new commute—merely indicate the location of student living groups with whimsical names.

by Benjamin Mako Hill at September 13, 2018 04:35 PM

September 12, 2018

Cyberlaw Clinic - blog
Cyberlaw Clinic Helps Eliminate “Seven Words” Policy for Registration of .US Domain Names

The Clinic has had the honor of working over the past year, along with our friends at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, to support Jeremy Rubin in his efforts to register the domain name, fucknazis.us. Jeremy created his website and registered the domain back in 2017 and began offering a “virtual lapel pin” that allowed Ethereum (a popular digital currency) users to support opposition to anti-semitic and white supremacist conduct in the United States around the time of the tragic events in Charlottesville, Virginia last summer. The domain name registrar initially allowed Jeremy’s registration, then abruptly terminated it (citing the use of the word “fuck” in the name). We are pleased to note that—after a lot of back and forth (and significant patience on Jeremy’s part)—the domain name is now (back) in Jeremy’s hands and the site is now (back) up and running. We are also pleased that this incident prompted re-evaluation of a policy and practice of the United States Department of Commerce with respect to the .us top level domain (or “TLD”) that clearly violated the First Amendment.  

Domain name geeks (do such people exist?!) may be aware that .us is unlike many other TLDs insofar as it serve as the official TLD for the United States of America. Unlike other TLDs (like .gov), it is not limited to use by government entities or organizations—private actors (like Jeremy) can register .us domain names, as long those registrants meet certain basic requirements. Since 1998, the .us TLD has been managed and overseen by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (“NTIA”), which is part of the Department of Commerce.  Neustar serves as domain name registrar with respect to the .us TLD pursuant to agreements with NTIA.

As a general rule, First Amendment law makes clear that the government cannot impose content-based restrictions on speech. The well-known case, Federal Communications Commission v. Pacifica Foundation, 438 U.S. 726 (1978), held that the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) may regulate over-the-air broadcasts of the so-called “seven dirty words” comedic bit made famous by George Carlin. But, that ruling is limited to broadcasts over public airwaves and is inapplicable to other forms of media distribution.

It thus surprised Jeremy (and us) to learn that NTIA and Neustar had a policy of using the Pacifica list of seven words to police domain name registrations. NTIA and Neustar saw fit to cancel Jeremy’s registration in accordance with that policy upon noting that it incorporated the “f-word.”

Jeremy pushed back on his own, then got the EFF and Cyberlaw Clinic teams involved to help communicate our collective dissatisfaction about this policy to Neustar and NTIA. Last month, we learned that Neustar and NTIA were reversing course, allowing Jeremy to proceed with the use of fucknazis.us, and more generally removing these kinds of restrictions from future domain name registrations.  

EFF’s blog post is here—a win for Jeremy, for people who don’t like Nazis, and for speech online!

 

 

by Clinic Staff at September 12, 2018 07:07 PM

Justin Reich
The Side Effects of Education: Research and Practice
If researchers hope to identify programs that will prepare students for the future, then they cannot continue to measure innovation based on the ideas from the past.

by Beth Holland at September 12, 2018 06:51 PM

September 09, 2018

John Palfrey
Start of School 2018

The New York Times published a terrific Magazine this Sunday on education.  The cover reads: “Teachers just want to teach but the classroom has become a battleground.”  I’m not sure that’s exactly “news” this fall but it is absolutely true.

Two of the articles in particular were worth reading and reflecting on as we start our new school year.  The first, “Can Good Teaching be Taught?” by Sara Mosle, tells the story of a struggling school and its persistent, hard-working first-year principal Cynthia Gunner.  The reporter follows Gunner as she goes classroom-to-classroom to inspire, hold accountable, and assist the teachers in her school.  The answer to the opening question is “of course” but the finding is also that it’s much easier said than done.  It’s hard not to be fired up by the work of this principal and the importance of her efforts.

The second that caught my attention was “Watch What You Say,” about the (former?) Friends Seminary teacher Ben Frisch who made a Hitler joke last school year.  This story, told by Jonathan Mahler, is especially sensitive to Frisch’s position and that of his supporters; the voices of those who initially called for Frisch’s removal — other than that of the Head of School Bo Lauder — are essentially silent.  I wonder if those who initially were so upset about the remarks by Frisch have changed their minds, whether they were reluctant to go on the record at this stage, or whether another reason attaches. The hard over-arching question has to do with how to ensure free expression can thrive in schools while also supporting a diverse group of young learners effectively.

It is just these questions that I sought to address in a book last year, Safe Spaces, Brave Spaces: Diversity and Free Expression in Education (free, open access edition here.  I won’t second-guess here the decision of another school, where I don’t know all the facts, but acknowledge instead that these cases are never easy for students, teachers, administrators, and families in close-knit school communities.  We do need to get better at figuring out how to resolve them.  I was intrigued by the emphasis in the article on the Quaker process.

Both articles in the NYT Magazine demonstrate the importance of deep, long-form journalism to explore tricky issues in-depth.

by jgpalfrey at September 09, 2018 05:47 PM

August 31, 2018

Cyberlaw Clinic - blog
Cyberlaw Clinic Welcomes (Back) HLS Students, Preps for AY 2018-19

The Cyberlaw Clinic is pleased to welcome back returning 2Ls and 3Ls and welcome new 1Ls and LLMs to Cambridge for the start of the 2018-19 academic year! We hope that everyone had a restful and reinvigorating summer. As we ramp up for the fall semester, we offer some announcements about the program and thoughts on the coming year.

First, on a bittersweet note, we bid farewell to our dear friend and colleague Vivek Krishnamurthy. Vivek is returning to private practice at the law firm, Foley Hoag LLP, after four years working with us in the Clinic. Vivek joined us from Foley back in 2014, and his practice and teaching activities in the Clinic have focused on international human rights and civil liberties issues. Vivek will be sorely missed, but we are happy to report that he will remain involved at Harvard Law School and the Berkman Klein Center—co-teaching the Counseling and Legal Strategy in the Digital Age seminar at HLS this fall with Chris Bavitz.  Vivek also joins our our illustrious roster of Clinic Advisors, with whom we regularly collaborate. We wish Vivek success in his new endeavors and expect that we will continue to work closely together in the months and years to come.

We are delighted to report that Jessica Fjeld has been promoted to Assistant Director of the Cyberlaw Clinic and will assume a central role in managing our program. Jess has done tremendous work over the past two years in the Clinic, helping to lead our copyright practice and working with students to advise a wide range of individuals and startups with an emphasis on clients in media, arts, and the creative industries. Jess joins the board of the Global Network Initiative and is also a Clinical Instructor and Lecturer on Law at HLS.  She will be co-teaching the Cyberlaw Clinic Seminar this fall and spring.

The Clinic is also thrilled to announce that Mason Kortz, who has been with us for almost two years as a Clinical Fellow, has assumed the role of Clinical Instructor. Mason has deep expertise with civil liberties and privacy issues, and he brings his strong technical background in data science to bear on many of our projects. He is also a key member of the Berkman Klein Center’s research team, contributing to the Center’s Ethics and Governance of Artificial Intelligence initiative and producing valuable scholarship on the role of explanation in law and AI.

Kendra Albert begins their second year with us as a Clinical Fellow, managing projects that related to computer security research, vulnerability disclosure, circumvention, and a host of related issues. Kendra was instrumental this past year in overseeing the Clinic’s involvement in the Copyright Office’s Section 1201 triennial rulemaking proceedings, leading a student team that represented the Software Preservation Network in filing comments and testifying before the Library of Congress about the need for exemptions from liability to promote archival activities.  Kendra has also been the Clinic’s point person in managing work relating to voting technology and election security in the runup to the November 2018 midterms. In the spring, Kendra will be co-teaching Advanced Constitutional Law: New Issues in Speech, Press, and Religion with Professor Martha Minow.

Project Coordinator Hannah Hilligoss will continue to keep the Clinic’s trains running on time while contributing to BKC research efforts on topics ranging from telecommunications policy to the human rights implications of AI technologies. Hannah has also played a major role in the launch of Harvard’s new “Techtopia” initiative, which promises to connect faculty and students across Harvard with an interest in the ethical, social, political, and legal implications of emerging digital technology.

Susan Crawford and Chris Bavitz round out the Clinic team, managing student projects and teaching courses about law and regulation as they relate to communications, music and digital media, autonomous vehicles, and the Internet.

We kept projects afloat this summer with an all-star cast of law school interns, and we expect more than thirty students to join us for the fall term (including three advanced clinical students, returning after working with us this past spring). The Clinic’s substantive docket will cover our usual wide variety of projects, with a few practice areas being especially active. Those include:

  • answering questions about bias in the use of algorithms and machine learning technologies by companies and government actors;
  • addressing legal issues raised by existing and future art-generating AI technologies, as we consider the interaction between algorithmic tech, the human creative process, and our system of intellectual property laws;
  • supporting efforts to promote government transparency and accountability through targeted use of freedom of information laws and broader open government initiatives; and
  • advising digital archives on questions surrounding online access to materials, particularly around IP issues that arise in connection with cross-border operations.

We could not be more excited to welcome our incoming students next week.  Best wishes to all for a fruitful 2018-19 academic year!

by Clinic Staff at August 31, 2018 11:17 AM

August 30, 2018

Justin Reich
The Side Effects of Education: Understanding Perspectives
Examining problems of practice through multiple lenses provides a better sense not only of what may be possible but also the unintended consequences.

by Beth Holland at August 30, 2018 12:27 PM

August 28, 2018

Cyberlaw Clinic - blog
Cyberlaw Clinic Supports Engine Advocacy in Challenge to Net Neutrality Rollback

The Cyberlaw Clinic filed an amicus brief (pdf) this week in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, on behalf of Engine Advocacy, supporting petitioners in a set of consolidated cases challenging the Federal Communications Commissions’ rollback of Obama-era net neutrality protections. Engine—a non-profit organization that advocates on behalf of the startup community—previously filed comments and reply comments with the FCC in the runup to the 2018 “Restoring Internet Freedom Order” (pdf) that is the subject of these proceedings. The brief highlighted Engine’s prior comments and noted instances where the FCC mischaracterized, failed to consider, or improperly discounted the interests of the startup community and the harms to innovators and venture investors of eliminating clear ex ante rules against throttling, blocking, and paid prioritization. Engine has its own post about the substance of the brief, here.

A number of other amici filed briefs in support of petitioners, including eBay; two law professor coalitions (1, 2); a pair of former FCC Chief Technologists; the American Council on Education and other education and library associations; the City of New York and other mayors and municipal / local government organizations; a coalition that includes Common Cause among other organizations; Consumers Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Members of Congress, and Twilio. Chris Bavitz took the lead on the brief within the Clinic, working closely with Evan Engstrom and Kate Tummarello of Engine, and with support from the Clinic’s summer intern team (including Christina Chen from Penn Law).

by Clinic Staff at August 28, 2018 05:51 PM

August 24, 2018

Benjamin Mako Hill
Heading to the Bay Area

On September 4th, I’ll be starting a fellowship at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences (CASBS), a wonderful social science research institute at Stanford that’s perched on a hill overlooking Palo Alto and the San Francisco Bay. The fellowship is a one-year gig and I’ll be back in Seattle next June.

A CASBS fellowship is an incredible gift in several senses. In the most basic sense, it will mean time to focus on research and writing. I’ll be using my time there to continuing my research on the social scientific study of peer production and cooperation. More importantly though, the fellowship will give me access to a community of truly incredible social social scientists who be my “fellow fellows” next year.

Finally, being invited for a CASBS fellowship is a huge honor. I’ve been preparing by reading a list of Wikipedia articles I built about the previous occupants of the study that I’ll be working out of next year (the third fellow to work out of my study was Claude Shannon!). It’s rare for junior faculty like myself to be invited and I’m truly humbled.

The only real downside of the fellowship is that it means that I’ll be spending the academic year away from Seattle. I’m going to miss working out of UW, my department, and the Community Data Science Collective lab here enormously.

In a personal sense, it means I’ll be leaving a wonderful community in Seattle in and around my home at Extraordinary Least Squares. I’m going to miss folks deeply and I look forward to returning.

Of course, I’m also pretty excited about moving to Palo Alto. It will be the first time either Mika or I have lived in California and we hope to take advantage of the opportunity.

Please help us do so!  If you’re at Stanford, in Silicon Valley, or are anywhere in the Bay Area and want to meet up, please don’t hesitate to get in contact! We’ll be arriving with very little community and I’m really interested in meeting and making friends  and taking advantage of my nine-months in the area to make connections!

by Benjamin Mako Hill at August 24, 2018 02:39 AM

August 17, 2018

Justin Reich
The Side Effects of Education: A History Lesson
Without a deep understanding of the history of American Education, perhaps policymakers are doomed to repeat mistakes of the past.

by Beth Holland at August 17, 2018 04:43 PM

August 14, 2018

Cyberlaw Clinic - blog
Ninth Circuit Holds Cross-Border Killing Violated Victim’s 4th Am Rights

The Ninth Circuit issued an important decision last week in Rodriguez v. Swartz, allowing a Mexican mother to sue a United States government official over a cross-border shooting. The Court held that the defendant — Border Patrol agent Lonnie Swartz — violated the Fourth Amendment rights of 16-year-old Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez when Swartz shot and killed Rodriguez. The shooting took place while Rodriguez was in Nogales, Mexico and Swartz was on the US side of the border.  The Cyberlaw Clinic and attorney Mahesha Subbaraman of Subbaraman PLLC submitted an amicus brief in the case on behalf of civil liberties advocacy organization, Restore the Fourth. Although the case did not directly concern cyber- or tech-related issues, the court’s reasoning may have long-term implications with respect to government activities in a wide range of contexts where actions occur on US soil but have extraterritorial effects.

by Clinic Staff at August 14, 2018 05:57 PM

August 07, 2018

Benjamin Mako Hill
Lookalikes

Am I leading a double life as an actor in several critically acclaimed television series?

I ask because I was recently accused of being Paul Sparks—the actor who played gangster Mickey Doyle on Boardwalk Empire and writer Thomas Yates in the Netflix version of House of Cards. My accuser reacted to my protestations with incredulity. Confronted with the evidence, I’m a little incredulous myself.


Previous lookalikes are here.

by Benjamin Mako Hill at August 07, 2018 09:06 PM

Wayne Marshall
Prisma Tropical Liner Notes

As I mention below, I’ve been a Balún fan for over a decade, so I was utterly thrilled when the band wrote to me earlier this year and asked if I would write the liner notes for their stunning new album, Prisma Tropical. It was a dream(pop) assignment, especially since it’s their best work to date and, though I may be biased, it is my favorite recording of 2018, hands down.

A gorgeous, meticulous combination of dreampop, Puerto Rican styles old and new, and a world of music more, Prisma Tropical finds Balún exploring the space between Puerto Rico and Brooklyn that they traverse physically, imaginatively, and emotionally. I won’t say much more, since I say enough below, but I am delighted that so many outlets — from NPR, to Remezcla, to Bandcamp — have already recognized what a great, interesting, and important record this is. (And I confess to some satisfaction in seeing my liners helping to shape the music’s reception.) This project obviously pushes a LOT of my buttons, and I hope it will for you too.

If you’re a physical media person, you’ll be glad to know that vinyl and other versions are coming, and I’m psyched that my liners will appear there as well. In classic style too: the band was inspired by the format Ansonia Records used for their back covers, which always included an album description in English and Spanish (e.g., the Arsenio album above). Toward that end, my liner notes have been felicitously translated by Mariné Pérez, and they also have been published online en español at 80grados.

Ok, that’s plenty preamble — here’s the text. Go listen along (and support)!

When I first heard Balún over a decade ago, I was enthralled by reggaeton and wondered about other electronic music from Puerto Rico. What a thrill to discover a group of musicians making sparkling, shape-shifting synth-pop with nary a nod to dembow — as if I had found reggaeton’s chill cousin, humming techno lullabies and painting in the cool palettes of Berlin, London, or Reykjavík. San Juan? Not as obviously. But sights shift as sites shift.

Prisma Tropical reveals the band residing in Borinquen, Brooklyn, and in between — and making the most of it. Music of old cities and new ones. Sites and sounds of love and longing, home and away — electronic and acoustic, vintage and vanguard, roots and routes. Deeply local but never provincial. Heavy as luggage yet lighter than air.

Imagine all the Caribbean on one island. The saturation of the tropical prism. New York as tropical base. Resounding alongside dancehall, bachata, konpa, salsa, soca, and hip-hop, reggaeton sounds different in diasporic Greenpoint than in hometown Carolina. No longer the dominant soundscape presence, that old dembow might be recalled fondly, even missed. Lejos, más cerca.

While dreampop often evokes nonplaces, here Balún ground their otherworldly sound in Puerto Rican folk music, from the dembow to the cuatro. The band does not dabble in such traditions as guaracha, salsa, or reggaeton, however, nor do they nod in those directions without love and respect. They approach such sounds and instruments as deeply resonant resources, a musical palette charged with the power of accumulated listening, singing, and dancing. A repertory ripe for reinterpretation. Home as port of departure. Dreambow.

The opening track, “Vaivén,” sets the tone. Coquís chirping in the background. A slow melody plucked out on the cuatro. An idea from home. (To be processed elsewhere.) As the tones ring out into an enveloping wash, we’re transported. Going and coming, coming and going. A submerged dancehall beat builds steam, heralding the majestic, mysterious vistas of “La Nueva Ciudad.” Strange but familiar shapes come into focus as wispy vocals, dembow fragments, and fluttering bass tones conjure a new city, another planet, a hidden place. When the dembow loop finally fully drops for the chorus, cherished snare samples shifting every four measures like a maratón mixtape, we know we’ve arrived somewhere special. Far from a facile or ironic nod to reggaeton, the classic timbres and patterns support a new song of a different sort—a song of buoyant vocals and intimate thoughts, whispered aloud, of uplifting harmonies billowed by outboard synths, of swirling guitar ornaments channeling Reich and Fripp, of bomba barrel drums and jíbaro guitarrillos.

The album’s expansive, evocative sound is a consequence of each member playing and writing for a rotating cast of instruments and effects, from programmed synths and robotic percussion to accordions and guitar pedals, string quartets and traditional Puerto Rican lutes. Either the cuatro or its older, soprano cousin, the tiple — one built by Noraliz no less! — appear on nearly every track. (The tiple’s distinctive ring might be processed with delay inspired by the Cocteau Twins, of course, and while that may not be típico, for Balún it’s typical.) Between Nora fingerpicking across acoustic heritage, José on the beats and synths (ever in conversation with electronic subgenres old and new), Angélica’s clarion voice and soaring string arrangements, and Raúl providing mesmerizing, percussive guitar lines, Balún bring a wealth of resources and references into the mix.

This time around the lead instruments on each song are acoustic and meant to be played live. Producer Lawson White encouraged Balún to bring acoustic instruments to the fore and explore what they had to say. The approach speaks volumes, infusing the band’s music with new (and old) idioms. White, who has added countless ideas and production touches, horn arrangements and marimba lines, deserves praise for pushing the band to realize such an ambitious vision. The album is brilliantly conceived, recorded, mixed, and sequenced. It shines as it should.

While Angélica, Nora, José, Raúl, and Lawson steer the ship, Prisma Tropical is an extended ensemble work, including Antibalas horns, an all-female string quartet, drummer Henry Cole accompanying programmed loops with panache, and among other contributions, numerous appearances by Obanilú Allende playing bomba drums, Enrique Bayoan on Andean panpipes and an Argentinian drum that can be heard a league away, and various friends pitching in on production and backup vocals.

It would be a fool’s errand to list all that is packed into these songs, so dense is the album with allusion, collaboration, and inspiration. A multitude of colors and contrasts appear within and across tracks, a distinctive and remarkable stylistic versatility and fluency at the service of some wonderful songs. Cruzando bordes sin pensarlo. Whimsical turns make forms that delight and surprise, while a pop sensibility smooths experimental edges (but not too much). That Balún pack so much into a single hour of music is no small achievement. Listen closely and make the connections you need to make yourself.

But don’t miss the nod to the customary son montuno opening of “El Flamboyán,” a guaracha popularized by El Cuarteto Mayarí, on “Coralina,” which opens the B-side of the album. Or the glorious jungle coda of “El Espanto”! Or the way that “Pulsos” glides from Afrobeat to prog rock before building into a disco-era Salsoul burner that I wish David Mancuso could have lived to hear. Or the shimmering outro, “Reflejo,” five reverberant minutes of rippling guitar, occasionally interrupted by blasts of effects — a moment to gaze at one’s shoes and reflect, to wonder where we’ve been, where we’re at, where we’re going.

Wayne Marshall
May 2018

by wayneandwax at August 07, 2018 01:50 PM

August 06, 2018

Wayne Marshall
More Re:ggaeton

The “Despacito” effect continues. That is to say, I continue to receive media inquiries about reggaeton a good year after the song’s triumphant run. And while I’ve started to get a little tired of the same questions, this newfound enthusiasm over and curiosity about reggaeton has also resulted in some cool invitations and some strong media. Allow me to round up a little of it here.

First, I want to say that I had an absolute blast talking with Uproot Andy, Riobamba, Isabelia Herrera, and, of course, reggaeton pioneer DJ Nelson at the Redbull Music Festival back in May. We did a live version of Andy’s and Sara’s internet radio show, “Bien Buena,” where the three of us essentially took turns asking Nelson to recount some of the highlights of his career and the genre’s history. Alas, I don’t think the audio is available, though I’m hoping it might one day appear. Really, though, I would die for a video of the event, especially the moment where Nelson reached over and played classic reggaeton drum sounds that I had loaded on my laptop, noting which particular drums he himself had sampled! (I was in reggaeton scholar heaven at that moment, as anyone who was there will attest.) At least I’ve got this sweet photo to show for it —

That said, I do have some excellent video to share courtesy of Al-Jazeera Plus, who recently produced two short pieces about reggaeton, race, gender, and a host of other issues. In addition to yours truly looking academic in a Berklee classroom, there are some really wonderful performers and scholars who contribute to the videos (and AJ+ was fortunate to find out about the Redbull festival in time to catch up with the likes of DJ Negro and Ivy Queen). Here’s the first one —

The second video, focused on the role of women in reggaeton, does not appear to be on YouTube, but you can watch it on Twitter or FB.

While I’m here collecting reggaetony media, I’ve got to put in another shoutout to Eddie Cepeda for his work in this vein. His piece for Redbull on the history of the Noise is required reading, and I was glad to see some my ol’ words appear in his piece on Luny Tunes. I also spoke with Eddie for a piece he wrote about perreo and its wider Afrodiasporic genealogy — a topic I’ve written about before and which I’ve thought about in greater historical depth through the “American Social Dance” class I’ve been teaching at Berklee.

Recently, Eddie tweeted that “We need more reggaeton scholars.” I absolutely agree, though I can’t help but feel that Eddie is a little sick of citing me LOL. Anyway, the game is wide open, and work is being done. I hope all this activity can help to stimulate a next generation of people writing about this music, and I remain humbled by the contributions I’ve made as an engaged outsider.

Ok, one more thing, as reggaeton does figure in it (yet again). Below I will embed a video of my keynote, “From Breakbeats to Fruity Loops. Small Sounds and Scenes in the Age of the DAW,” delivered last December at the “Future Sound of Pop Music” symposium at Bern University of the Arts. As the title suggests, I’m interested in a variety of scenes in which creative re-use of communal, cherished sounds becomes absolutely central. In the keynote I discuss reggaeton in those terms (and demonstrate some dembow), alongside hip-hop, bubbling, and ballroom. Here’s the abstract for a little more detail:

In contrast to the aesthetics fostered by turntable practice in the 1970s and by the first generation of digital samplers in the 80s – both oriented toward vinyl-based repertories and familiar grooves – a more atomized approach to sample-based music has emerged over the last decade in the wake of widespread access to music software and broadband access to a global musical archive. The advent of the digital audio workstation (DAW), especially the virtual step-sequencer known as FL Studio (or Fruity Loops), has served to extend and intensify the sample-based practices of previous generations. This is especially audible in the establishment of new canons of cherished, iconic samples among certain circles of producers and of listening, dancing publics. A genre or musical public may now be based as much around a small set of samples – and their distinctive timbres – as, say, conventions of rhythm, tempo, harmony, or form. Notably, such samples can be surprisingly small as they speak volumes.

The resonant snares of reggaeton, the tamborzao toolkit of Brazilian funk, the “Ha” stab of the ballroom/vogue scene, the “Ice Rink” clink percolating through UK club music and beyond – and let’s not forget the myriad emulations of practically every drum machine Roland produced in the 1980s – all of these serve as potent cultural dogwhistles, addressing musical publics and shared among private and public networks of producers. Today, musical publics gathered around all manner of popular (and obscure) electronic dance music are more likely to be hailed by a set of brief sonic signifiers than by looping breakbeats or well-worn melodies; the new instrument of choice, the DAW, looms as large over this ascendant approach as the turntable or the guitar did in their own heydays.

This atomized, “timbral” turn in musical production would thus seem to reiterate the familiar story of how profoundly an instrument can shape the sound of music through its particular affordances and constraints – even an instrument so seemingly “neutral” as an “empty” DAW. At the same time, we also bear witness to the ways musicians (and the listening/dancing publics implicated by their productions) inevitably use instruments according to particular cultural logics, political economies, and social contexts. This lecture will explore and examine some of these scenes and sounds, probing the implications for creativity and authorship, ownership and participation, repertory and community.

by wayneandwax at August 06, 2018 08:52 PM

Listening to the Sound of Culture

Last summer I was invited by Small Axe, a journal I have long wanted to write for, to take part in a book discussion of Louis Chude-Sokei’s engrossing, ambitious The Sound of Culture: Diaspora and Black Technopoetics. I’ve enjoyed Chude-Sokei’s perspectives on dancehall, Nigerian 419 scammers, and Bert Williams for years, and I was already planning to give the new book a good read, so this was an excellent opportunity. The journal was looking for more of a “response” than a traditional review, so I decided to focus on the critical musical threads of the book and, in particular, how they might contribute to discussions in music (and sound) studies, especially for those of us concerned with histories of diaspora and race (and, yes, reggae–among other things).

My response, “Listening to the Sound of Culture,” appeared in Small Axe 55, and you can read it in context here alongside some great articles. But here is a separate PDF of the proofs for your convenience, and I will paste the introduction below to whet appetites. Read my response — then read Louis’s book!

Louis Chude-Sokei’s The Sound of Culture: Diaspora and Black Technopoetics offers an intricately nested account of the historical relationship between race and technology, or in his words, “a broader reading of the historical and cultural context that allowed those equivalences between blacks and machines to be sensible in the first place” (5). As that framing suggests, the work offers an entwined genealogy of black claims to humanity and human fears of robot uprisings, with profound implications for how we continue to imagine the boundaries of humanity. Works of science fiction and key historical vignettes serve as Chude-Sokei’s primary exegetical texts, but he notably places black music–or more specifically, sound production–at the center of his account. What makes such an approach “structurally and philosophically possible,” he argues, “is the awareness that black music–from jazz to reggae, hip-hop to electronic dance music–has always been the primary space of direct black interaction with technology and informatics” (5).

Chude-Sokei is careful to stress, therefore, that “this is not a book about music”; rather, music serves as “a thread linking the various texts and contexts, secondary only to science fiction, which itself is subordinate to the mutually constitutive dyad of race and technology” (6). More to the point, this is not a book about music because the author is more concerned with sound, which is to say, with black music as media, or as audible interaction with technology. Without dismissing other forms of black invention, Chude-Sokei contends that music represents an exceptional domain of black technological practice: “the primary zone where blacks have directly functioned as innovators in technology’s usage” and “a space where black inventiveness has rarely or successfully been questioned” (5). Hence, to focus on music “as a space of sound and sound production is to reorient our listening … toward how blacks directly engage information and technology through sound” (5).

This focus on sound brings into relief a rich and complex history of interaction undercutting the persistent myth that blacks and technology are somehow opposed, or that blacks enjoy so little access to technology that such interactions can seem “either rare or adversarial, as in the well-known folktale of John Henry” (6). Chude-Sokei cites the so-called “digital divide” as a recent reiteration of this spurious story of black technological lack, a story that withers quickly in the face of the musical record: “Funny thing about these notions of race or blacks as having been victims of a digital divide is that in the very period that term gained such currency as to have become cliché, blacks in the Caribbean, America, and Europe were busy generating the most sophisticated electronic music and technology-obsessed music subcultures in history” (6). As that jump from the Caribbean to the wider world would suggest to scholars of electronic music, this is an analysis that builds on the remarkable resonance and influence of the Jamaican soundsystem and all that follows. It is more than convenient that one vernacular name for a soundsystem is simply a sound, a term that, as Chude-Sokei is quick to emphasize, “foregrounds technology and specific cultural interactions with it” (7) not unlike a great deal of Jamaican music itself, especially dub.

While it is true that the “mutually constitutive dyad of race and technology” persists as the core subject of Chude-Sokei’s book, I would like to focus on the text’s crucial musical threads in order to highlight how The Sound of Culture reorients specific histories of music, offers new openings for musicology and sound studies, and makes a case that the power of an audible, creole technopoetics can remake our very conception of the human. If, as Chude-Sokei posits, the black diaspora has generated the “most necessary theorizing and politicizing” of where we draw the lines between humans and machines “as a product of its extensive thinking about the African slave as an automaton” (8), and if, as he elaborates, this profound philosophical work has been no more forcefully put forward than by dub reggae, then there is a great deal to listen for in this work and all it brings into the mix.

[Read the rest…]

by wayneandwax at August 06, 2018 08:14 PM

Get on the Good Foot

The following piece was published in December 2016 in The Wire‘s special issue, Spirits Rejoice: Sacred Songs, Divine Drones, and Ritual Rhythms (#394). I was excited by the call for pitches because I’ve been connecting lots of dots in my music history courses at Berklee between sacred and secular traditions, and I’ve become more and more impressed by the profundity of their imbrication and the global heritage that has resulted from so many people insisting on what we might think of as a “funky” form of sacred, spiritual experience. (I was also delighted that they liked my title, which seemed quite irresistible in its own connecting of dots and blurring of lines.) As usual, I’m posting a slightly enhanced version here. You can download a scan if you prefer.

“The devil should not be allowed to keep all this good rhythm,” said an unattributed but oft quoted elder of the Holiness church. Staking claim to a cherished heritage of music and movement, this intent to worship funkily, it turns out, has carried the benefits of such practices well beyond the church. If not for the Holiness, Sanctified, and Pentecostal churches in the United States—particularly those embraced and transformed by African Americans–if not for their insistence on keeping rhythmic, ecstatic movement central to religious experience, the whole world might dance differently.

In traditional west and central African cosmologies, we are told, there is no song or dance that is not sacred, as there is no abstraction called music apart from communal singing and dancing. The sacred can be erotic and the erotic can be sacred. Why relegate the celebration of the body as a site of fertility, strength, and beauty to the secular? Why consider profane such forms of embodied worship, social communion, and ritual mythology? Why let the devil have all these good moves?

Prior to the Civil War, enslaved Africans creolized and reimagined traditional forms of song, dance, and ritual, most notably in the sometimes surreptitious institution of the Ring Shout. Here, to shout is not to yell but, essentially, to move together. A circle of participants shuffle counter-clockwise singing call-response refrains to polyrhythms produced with any available object, from broom sticks and washboards, to hands clapping, to feet on floors—often studiously avoiding lifting the feet off the ground, crossing legs, or other movements connoting the supposedly secular realm of “dance.”

Whatever we call such ritual movement, and wherever we draw the line between the sacred and secular, these practices nurtured by the “invisible church” of the enslaved would proceed to inform all manner of music and dance related activities across the United States and, eventually, with the circulation of popular, commercial media, far further afield.

While we don’t tend to associate the spirituals of the nineteenth century with dance music any longer, in accounts of the Camp Meetings where the genre emerged—rural, interracial gatherings of thousands that could last for days on end (sometimes with Ring Shouts in the wee hours)–contemporary observers hear the spirituals possessing a troubling connection to the rhythms of work and play. As John Watson noted in Methodist Error (1819): “the coloured people get together, and sing for hours together, short scraps of disjointed affirmations, pledges, or prayers, lengthened out with long repetition choruses.” Mashing up the hymns of the day with call-response refrains, African American worshipers enlivened these songs with the synchronizing, syncopating rhythms of work songs and hoe-downs (that is, breaks from work). “These are all sung in the merry chorus-manner of the southern harvest field, or husking-frolic method, of the slave blacks,” laments Watson, and they had “already visibly affected the religious manners of some whites.”

Scandalizing the orthodox with sacred songs that historian Eileen Southern calls “dangerously near to being dance tunes,” many spirituals share the same polyrhythms–syncretized and strengthened in the common crucibles of work and worship–as those that underpin the contemporary “secular” movements of country dances from the Virginia jig to the square dance to the Cakewalk, their caricatures in blackface minstrelsy, and their rebirth with ragtime, propelling the turn-of-the-century pop hits that got the whole nation dancing the same thrilling dances.

While the likes of Eubie Blake, Sydney Bechet, and Louis Armstrong all connect ragtime to the music of the church,* ragtime also emerges as secular dance culture via the post-emancipation rise of the jook–a new, autonomous, decidedly secular dance institution. In these raucous, raunchy spaces, group dances were pushed aside by simple steps for couples like the funky butt and the slow drag. Notably, the jook enabled a reinterpretation of time-honored ritual dances: here the buzzard lope–a form of danced mythology depicting a vulture circling carrion–could be reimagined as a coquettish flirtation with a partner. But for some, this movement from sacred to profane–is that a tailfeather or a moneymaker?–was a shame. Devil’s music. But others knew these rhythms never belonged exclusively to the devil.

Despite the jook’s ostensible monopoly on “dance,” it would be foolish to underestimate the ongoing interaction and influence between secular styles and sacred practices, especially with the rise of Sanctified and Pentecostal churches. “According to the evidence,” writes Southern, “the musical practices of the slave ‘invisible church’ were passed on to the post-emancipation folk churches with full vigor.” The Pentecostal church called for “full participation of the congregation in all its worship activities” and employed music “to a degree that probably is not attained in any other denomination.” In time, the increasing use of instrumental ensembles in churches brought “the kind of rhythmic intensity formerly associated with dance music” even more directly into sacred contexts—and vice versa. Lindy Hoppers doing the Big Apple in the late 30s broke from couples to form a ring and swing themselves around the ballroom counter-clockwise

By the time we get to the early 1960s and the Twist, a song and dance conceived by a black gospel quartet, one could argue that the dance–and the craze of related steps that soon followed–“owed a notable debt to black churchgoers,” as Elijah Wald contends: “steps that looked a lot like the mashed potato and the pony had been commonplace for decades in the less sedate black churches, where congregants seized by the spirit kicked out in footwork that the go-go dancers of the 1960s could only envy.” How ironic that Duke Ellington could be “amused to see his upscale white fans doing moves that had once been reserved for Cotton Club chorus girls” yet these same moves might be indistinguishable from movement otherwise construed as ecstatic, sacred practice.

A simple step that almost single-handedly ushered in the de-coupling of America’s dancefloors, the Twist gave women the freedom to dance on their own and to take the lead. It initiated a seismic shift in social dance norms culminating in the rise and eventual dominance of solo club dancing, an approach that comes into full flower in the 1970s underground dance scene that spawns disco–a genre with a striking penchant for churchy “divas” exploiting the full-range of gospel expressivity. Shifting from a single partner to a dynamic relationship with the dancing collective, this form of social dance can resemble a platonic ecstatic-cathartic release that even some church elders might approve. According to historian Tim Lawrence who argues that “the dance experience of the 1970s was experienced as a spiritual affair,” dancers at such seminal, proto-disco spots as the Sanctuary (a former church), the Loft, the Gallery, and other venues did not understand such dance as “the first stage of seduction”; instead, “[r]evelers refigured the dance floor not as a site of foreplay … but of spiritual communion.”

In this light, it should come as no surprise that many clubgoers, especially devotees of house and techno, think about going out dancing as “going to church.” This overlap convinced architects of Chicago’s post-disco underground to enlist powerful, church-steeped singers to belt songs over booming, entrancing beats. Jesse Saunders recounts how central “very soulful and uplifting,” gospel-inflected vocals were to the transcendent sets of Frankie Knuckles. When Saunders collaborated with Vince Lawrence on the breakthrough hit “Love Can’t Turn Around,” they recruited locally renowned choir performer Darryl Pandy for revealing reasons. “He was very churchy,” remembers Lawrence, “and we thought that the kids were into that spiritual shit, man, motherfuckers yelling and screaming on the records. So we thought that he would go over like gangbusters in the club.”

If it still seems farfetched that ecstatic religious movement could so closely resemble raving, simply seek out one of the various video mashups on YouTube tagged “church rave.” Juxtaposing footage of worshippers catching the spirit with vintage drum’n’bass sessions, these videos cheekily but compellingly make the case for the sacred, ecstatic roots of modern club dance. (Musical kinship too: check out some unadulterated “praise breaks,” often hovering between 180-200 bpm, to hear the sacred counterpoint to gabber or punk.)

Although the sacred and secular can seem so separate as to suggest such parallels are purely comical, it is important to remember how blurred these lines have long been. The ragged-up funeral marches and second-line festivities that prefigured jazz, and which continue to provide communal solace and celebration, offer enduring examples of African Americans’ persistent efforts to maintain a certain spiritual holism. Today in New Orleans that torch is carried not only by brass bands but by Big Freedia and other bounce artists who conduct twerking parties as part of a memorial service. The profanity and explicit sexuality of bounce would seem at odds with solemn religious ritual, but the elemental act of shaking one’s ass–at once, ecstatic, cathartic, expressive, and free–apparently taps into appropriately deep connections to ourselves and each other. Formerly a church choir director and still a pious Christian, Freedia has described what she does as “spreading the gospel of shaking your ass.”

Like so many of her musical forbears, Big Freedia approaches this mission generously, an ambassador of booty shaking and a believer in its therapeutic benefits. She’s even happy for the Mileys and Beckies** of the world to get their twerk on, if less sanguine about being unattributed while quoted. Forged and nurtured amidst all manner of repressions and travesties, the priceless joys of such dances constitute a hard-won prize for many, yet these deeply resonant forms have traveled beyond the circle rapidly at every historical juncture. They now stand as a kind of global cultural heritage, a way for all to dance together and transcend. If the devil were allowed to keep all this good rhythm, we’d all be damned.

Wayne Marshall

///

* the paragraph has been condensed but I’ll paste the original here for the quotes from Bechet, et al.–

The New Orleans clarinetist Sydney Bechet resisted the term jazz as a sordid sign of white commodification and insisted that he played ragtime, a musical style he explicitly connected to the spiritual tradition: “When I tell you ragtime,” Bechet wrote in his memoir, “you can feel it, there’s a spirit right in the word. It comes out of the Negro spirituals, out of [my grandfather] Omar’s way of singing, out of his rhythm.” Fellow New Orleans legend Louis Armstrong noted similar connections between popular, secular music–from ragtime to rock’n’roll–and sacred traditions: “At one time they was calling it levee camp music, then in my day it was ragtime. … And all these different kinds of fantastic music you hear today–‘course its all guitars now–used to hear that way back in the old sanctified churches where the sisters used to shout til their petticoats fell down.” According to historian Dave Gilbert, the ragtime composer and piano virtuoso Eubie Blake “claimed to have first heard ragtime at his mother’s church, even though she would not have considered it that way.” This musical kinship also turns up in the popular compositions–some directly tied to downright dance crazes–of James P. Johnson, the pioneering stride pianist who wrote the “Charleston” and the tellingly titled “Carolina Shout” and who, like Blake and so many others, got his start playing piano and organ in church.

** ahem, and Drakes

by wayneandwax at August 06, 2018 07:41 PM

August 02, 2018

Benjamin Mako Hill
I have no friends or colleagues

ICA "You have no friends or colleagues."Although it’s never fun to have the most important professional association in your field tell you that “you have no friends or colleagues,” being able to make one’s very first submission to screenshots of despair softens the blow a little.

by Benjamin Mako Hill at August 02, 2018 02:25 AM

July 20, 2018

Justin Reich
Open Education Science and Challenges for Evidence-Based Teaching
Some recently discovered problems with social science and academic research, and new strategies for a better future for education research.

by Justin Reich at July 20, 2018 04:22 PM

July 18, 2018

Cyberlaw Clinic - blog
D.C. Circuit Reverses Lower Court re: Copyright in Laws and Codes

We previously reported about the Clinic’s amicus advocacy in a pair of cases concerning copyrights in legal standards and model codes incorporated into law. We are pleased to report that the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued a ruling yesterday in favor of Public.Resource.Org, the organization that we supported (on behalf of two different groups of amici) in the district and circuit courts.  By way of background, private standards development organizations (or “SDOs”) promulgate model codes and standards to address the needs of technical fields — for example, model building codes or electrical codes. Those codes may be adopted or incorporated into law by legislative bodies, often at the local level. Some SDOs maintain that they have copyright interests in the codes they create and that such interests persist beyond the point when those codes become law. This can lead to some troubling outcomes for litigants, journalists, researchers, and other members of the general public who seek to use and rely on the text of binding law.

Public.Resource.Org is dedicated to making government information accessible to the public. In an effort to advance its mission of promoting and protecting, “the right of the public to know and speak the laws that govern it,” Public Resource made codes developed by plaintiffs  in these cases available online.  Two sets of plaintiffs — one led by the American Society for Testing and Materials (“ASTM”) and another led by the American Educational Resource Association (“AERA”) — sued Public Resource for copyright and trademark infringement in separate cases in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

The parties cross-moved for summary judgment, and the Clinic filed briefs in both cases (brief in ASTM here, brief in AERA here). Those briefs were filed on behalf of coalitions of law scholars. The briefs focused on the issue of copyrightability, asking that the District Court find the model codes at issue are not proper subjects of copyright protection. The Court ruled in favor of plaintiffs in both cases, finding that Public Resource infringed plaintiffs’ copyrights and trademarks by posting these materials online.

The cases were consolidated on appeal to the D.C. Circuit, where the Clinic filed an amicus brief on behalf of Representatives Zoe Lofgren and Darrell Issa.  The brief for these two  Members of Congress addressed the public policy implications of the lower courts’ decisions, including possible constitutional due process issues relating to SDOs’ use of copyright to restrict access to laws. Amici also expressed concerns about the impact of copyright restrictions on general welfare, noting that allowing SDOs to maintain copyright interests would open the floodgates to litigation and pose threats to public safety.

The D.C. Circuit reversed and remanded to the district court for further proceedings.  Of particular note:

  • The Court focused its analysis not on copyrightability but on fair use, noting that the doctrine “may provide a full defense to some, if not all, of the SDO’s infringement claims in this case.”
  • Specifically, the Court noted that there is “reason to believe ‘as a matter of law’ that [Public Resource’s] reproduction of certain standards ‘qualif[ies] as a fair use of the copyrighted work.”
  • The Court addressed each of the four fair use factors in turn — noting as to the especially important first factor that “[t]he district court . . . failed to adequately consider whether, in certain circumstances, distributing copies of the law for purposes of facilitating public access could constitute transformative use.”

The Court vacated injunctions that the district court issued against Public Resource.

The Clinic will monitor the case and keep tabs on further developments.  In the meantime, we are glad that Public Resource will have the opportunity to continue its advocacy for access to laws as the case returns to the district court.

 

by Christopher Bavitz at July 18, 2018 01:32 PM

July 13, 2018

Cyberlaw Clinic - blog
Clinic Supports Pakistani NGO in Shaping New Data Protection Bill

This month, Pakistan’s Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication released a draft Personal Data Protection Bill for public comment. The bill has a wide scope, encompassing at a basic level the commercial usage of data from which an individual is identifiable, and creates a key role for user consent. While not without areas for possible improvement, the bill represents a positive step for Pakistan’s internet-connected populace. With support from Cyberlaw Clinic, the Digital Rights Foundation (DRF), a Pakistani NGO that works in support of human rights and democratic processes online, submitted a policy brief to the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication while the initial drafting of the bill was underway. DRF founder Nighat Dad said, “Working with the Harvard Cyberlaw Clinic was a unique experience, both personally and professionally… I believe that such platforms add indispensable value to the global advocacy endeavours and tremendously help in successful attempts at making the internet more inclusive and approachable.”

The Clinic provided DRF with a high-level comparative analysis of data privacy regulations in jurisdictions around the globe, including the European Union and the United States as well as Argentina, Morocco, and South Korea. The regimes analyzed were selected to represent a range of perspectives, having both commonalities and contrasts with Pakistan, and DRF attorneys consulted the research in shaping their recommendations, a number of which were incorporated in to the bill’s present form. Clinic students Audrey Adu-Appiah and Sheeva Nesva, both Harvard Law School Class of 2018, working under the supervision of Clinical Instructor and Acting Assistant Director Jessica Fjeld, authored the report.

This bill is particularly important in the sense that it may be seen as a shift in momentum from Pakistan’s most recent efforts to regulate cyberspace. In 2016, Pakistan enacted the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, which was widely criticized for the broad powers it granted the government to censor content determined to be “illegal,” and for harsh penalties it imposed.

DRF is already at work on its submission for the public comment period, and the Clinic joins them in commending the Ministry for opening up the bill for comment, and hoping that engagement with various stakeholders and civil society at large results in an even more effective piece of legislation.

by jessicafjeld at July 13, 2018 06:25 PM

July 12, 2018

Justin Reich
Design Thinking: From Process to Culture
If imagination is bound by culture, how might we reimagine a culture of school that deeply values the tenets of design thinking?

by Beth Holland at July 12, 2018 12:31 PM

July 10, 2018

ProjectVRM
Privacy = personal agency + respect by others for personal dignity

Privacy is a state each of us enjoys to the degrees others respect it.

And they respect what economists call signals. We send those signals through our behavior (hand signals, facial expressions) and technologies. Both are expressions of agency: the ability to act with effect in the world.

So, for example, we signal a need not to reveal our private parts  by wearing clothes. We signal a need not to have our private spaces invaded by buttoning our clothes, closing doors, setting locks on those doors, and pulling closed curtains or shades. We signal a need not to be known by name to everybody by not wearing name tags as we walk about the world. (That we are naturally anonymous is a civic grace, but a whole ‘nuther thread.)

All of this has been well understood in the physical world for as long as we’ve had civilization—and perhaps longer. It varies by culture, but remained remarkably non-controversial—until we added the digital world to the physical one.

The digital world, like the physical one, came without privacy. We had to invent privacy in the physical world with technologies (clothing, shelter, doors, locks) and norms such as respect for the simple need for personal dignity.

We have not yet done the same in the digital world. We did, however, invent administrative identities for people, because administrative systems need to know who they’re interested in and dealing with.

These systems are not our own. They belong to administrative entities: companies, government agencies, churches, civic groups, whatever. Nearly 100% of conversation about both identity and privacy take place inside the administrative context. All questions  come down to “How can this system with ways of identifying us give us privacy?” Even Privacy By Design (PbD) is about administrative systems. It is not something you and I have. Not in the way we have clothes.

And that’s what we need: the digital equivalents of clothing and ways of signaling what’s okay and what’s not okay.  Norms should follow, and then laws and regulations restricting violations of those norms.

Unfortunately, we got the laws (e.g. the EU’s GDPR and California’s AB 375) before we got the tech and the norms.

But I’m encouraged about getting both, for two reasons. One is the work going on here among VRM-ish developers. The other is that @GregAEngineer gave a talk this morning on exactly this topic, at the IEEE #InDITA conference in Bangalore.

Oh, and lest we think privacy matters only to those in the fully privileged world, watch Privacy on the Line, a video just shared here.

by Doc Searls at July 10, 2018 05:17 AM

June 29, 2018

Justin Reich
The Purpose of Education: Workforce Development or Lifelong Learning?
Instead of creating a Department of Education and Workforce Development, what if we considered a Department of Education and Lifelong Learning?

by Beth Holland at June 29, 2018 06:30 PM

June 28, 2018

Cyberlaw Clinic - blog
Harvard Law Bulletin Highlights Artificial Intelligence Initiative

The Harvard Law Bulletin‘s Summer 2018 issue highlights the work of the Ethics and Governance of Artificial Intelligence Initiative, a project based jointly at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society and the MIT Media Lab. Members of the Cyberlaw Clinic team have been actively involved in many aspects of the Initiative, including Chris Bavitz and Kira Hessekiel (who have spearheaded the Center’s work on government use of algorithmic tools); Mason Kortz and Jess Fjeld (who have worked on cutting-edge issues around the intersection of artificial intelligence and the arts); Kendra Albert (who has played the role of product counsel on a number of innovative AI-related projects); and Vivek Krishnamurthy and Hannah Hilligoss (who have led the charge on the Center’s ongoing work examining the human rights implications of AI). This work has also become integrated into the Clinic docket — students have assisted with an open letter sent to members of the MA legislature about pre-trial risk assessments, advised the developer of an art-generating AI system in license negotiations, and provided legal support for teams in the BKC / MITML “Assembly” program.

 

by Clinic Staff at June 28, 2018 07:24 PM

Miriam Meckel
Mein Kopf gehört mir

Eine Reise durch die schöne neue Welt des Brainhacking

Pieper, 2018
ISBN: 978-3492059077

Jetzt bei Amazon bestellen.

by Miriam Meckel at June 28, 2018 12:25 PM

Wir verschwinden

Der Mensch im digitalen Zeitalter

Kein & Aber, 2013
ISBN: 978-3036956527

Jetzt bei Amazon bestellen.

by Miriam Meckel at June 28, 2018 12:19 PM

June 26, 2018

Benjamin Mako Hill
Forming, storming, norming, performing, and …chloroforming?

In 1965, Bruce Tuckman proposed a “developmental sequence in small groups.” According to his influential theory, most successful groups go through four stages with rhyming names:

  1. Forming: Group members get to know each other and define their task.
  2. Storming: Through argument and disagreement, power dynamics emerge and are negotiated.
  3. Norming: After conflict, groups seek to avoid conflict and focus on cooperation and setting norms for acceptable behavior.
  4. Performing: There is both cooperation and productive dissent as the team performs the task at a high level.

Fortunately for organizational science, 1965 was hardly the last stage of development for Tuckman’s theory!

Twelve years later, Tuckman suggested that adjourning or mourning reflected potential fifth stages (Tuckman and Jensen 1977). Since then, other organizational researchers have suggested other stages including transforming and reforming (White 2009), re-norming (Biggs), and outperforming (Rickards and Moger 2002).

What does the future hold for this line of research?

To help answer this question, we wrote a regular expression to identify candidate words and placed the full list is at this page in the Community Data Science Collective wiki.

The good news is that despite the active stream of research producing new stages that end or rhyme with -orming, there are tons of great words left!

For example, stages in a group’s development might include:

  • Scorning: In this stage, group members begin mocking each other!
  • Misinforming: Group that reach this stage start producing fake news.
  • Shoehorning: These groups try to make their products fit into ridiculous constraints.
  • Chloroforming: Groups become languid and fatigued?

One benefit of keeping our list in the wiki is that the organizational research community can use it to coordinate! If you are planning to use one of these terms—or if you know of a paper that has—feel free to edit the page in our wiki to “claim” it!


Also posted on the Community Data Science Collective blog. Although credit for this post goes primarily to Jeremy Foote and Benjamin Mako Hill, the other Community Data Science Collective members can’t really be called blameless in the matter either.

by Benjamin Mako Hill at June 26, 2018 02:21 AM

June 25, 2018

Cyberlaw Clinic - blog
Supreme Court Holds Warrant Required for Cell Site Location Information

The United States Supreme Court has issued its long-awaited ruling in Carpenter v. United States, holding that the government must get a warrant before obtaining cell site location information from an individual’s cell phone provider. The decision marks a significant development in Fourth Amendment jurisprudence in the digital age, and the Court commented extensively on the unique nature of cell phones and cell phone location records. The Court’s ruling has important implications for the future of the third-party doctrine, as the Court held, “the fact that the information is held by a third party does not by itself overcome the user’s claim to Fourth Amendment protection.”

Prior to joining the Clinic last year, our own Kendra Albert helped to draft and file an amicus brief in Carpenter on behalf of Data & Society and fifteen individual scholars—including a number of members of the extended Berkman Klein Center community (Ifoema Ajunwa, Meryl Alper, and danah boyd, among others). The Cyberlaw Clinic previously filed amicus briefs in a pair of Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court cases that addressed similar issues — Commonwealth v. Augustine (brief filed on behalf of the Electronic Frontier Foundation) and Commonwealth v. Estabrook —  (brief filed on behalf of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts).The outcomes in those cases presaged the majority’s decision in Carpenter.

To quote Paul Ohm, it seems likely that Carpenter represents a significant “inflection point” in Fourth Amendment jurisprudence and that we will talk about Fourth Amendment law “before-Carpenter and after-Carpenter for a long time, at least for cases involving technology.” The Clinic looks forward to watching (and being involved with) future developments on behalf of our many clients and collaborators with a keen interest in privacy and government surveillance.

Supreme Court image courtesy Pixabay user, Skeeze, CC0.

 

by Clinic Staff at June 25, 2018 10:35 PM

June 23, 2018

ProjectVRM
Why personal agency matters more than personal data

Lately a lot of thought, work and advocacy has been going into valuing personal data as a fungible commodity: one that can be made scarce, bought, sold, traded and so on.  That’s all fine, but I also think it steers attention away from a far more important issue it would be best to solve first: personal agency.

I see two reasons why personal agency matters more than personal data.

The first reason is that we have far too little agency in the networked world, mostly because we settled, way back in 1995, on a model for websites called client-server, which should have been called calf-cow or slave-master, because we’re always the weaker party. Fortunately the Net’s and the Web’s base protocols remain mostly peer-to-peer, by design. We can still build on those. It’s early.

A critical start in that direction is making each of us the first party rather than the second when we deal with the sites, services, companies and apps of the world—and doing that at scale across all of them.

Think about how much more simple and sane it is for websites to accept our terms and our privacy policies, rather than to force each of us, all the time, to accept their terms, all expressed in their own different ways. (Because they are advised by different lawyers, equipped by different third parties, and generally confused anyway.)

Getting sites to agree to our own personal terms and policies is not a stretch, because that’s exactly what we have in the way we deal with each other in the physical world.

For example, the clothes that we wear are privacy technologies. We also have  norms that discourage others from, for example sticking their hands inside our clothes without permission.

The fact that adtech plants tracking beacons on our naked digital selves and tracks us like animals across the digital frontier may be a norm for now, but it is also morally wrong, massively rude and now illegal under the  GDPR.

We can easily create privacy tech, personal terms and personal privacy policies that are normative and scale for each of us across all the entities that deal with us. (This is what ProjectVRM’s nonprofit spin-off, Customer Commons is all about.)

Businesses can’t give us privacy if we’re always the second parties clicking “agree.” It doesn’t matter how well-meaning and GDPR-compliant those businesses are. Making people second parties is a design flaw in every standing “agreement” we “accept,” and we need to correct that.

The second reason agency matters more than data is that nearly the entire market for personal data today is adtech, and adtech is too dysfunctional, too corrupt, too drunk on the data it already has, and absolutely awful at doing what they’ve harvested that data for, which is so machines can guess at what we might want before they shoot “relevant” and “interest-based” ads at our tracked eyeballs.

Not only do tracking-based ads fail to convince us to do a damn thing 99.xx+% of the time, but we’re also not buying something most of the time as well.

As incentive alignments go, adtech’s failure to serve the actual interests of its targets verges on the absolute. (It’s no coincidence that more than a year ago, 1.7 billion people were already blocking ads online.)

And hell, what they do also isn’t really advertising, even though it’s called that. It’s direct marketing, which gives us junk mail and is the model for spam. (For more on this, see Separating Advertising’s Wheat and Chaff.)

Privacy is personal. That means privacy is an effect of personal agency, projected by personal tech and personal expressions of intent that others can respect without working at it. We have that in the offline world. We can have it in the online world too.

Privacy is not something given to us by companies or governments, no matter how well they do Privacy by Design or craft their privacy policies. It simply can’t work.

In the physical world we got privacy tech and norms before we got privacy law. In the networked world we got the law first. That’s why the GDPR has caused so much confusion. It’s the regulatory cart in front of the technology horse. In the absence of privacy tech, we also failed to get and the norms that would normally and naturally guide lawmaking.

So let’s get the tech horse back in front of the lawmaking cart. With the tech working, the market for personal data will be one we control.  For real.

If we don’t do that first, adtech will stay in contol. And we know how that movie goes, because it’s a horror show and we’re living in it now.

 

by Doc Searls at June 23, 2018 10:10 PM

June 22, 2018

Benjamin Mako Hill
I’m a maker, baby

 

What does the “maker movement” think of the song “Maker” by Fink?

Is it an accidental anthem or just unfortunate evidence of the semantic ambiguity around an overloaded term?

by Benjamin Mako Hill at June 22, 2018 11:34 PM

Ethan Zuckerman
Media and provenance

On Wednesday, June 20th, Matt Smith and Aura Bogado broke a harrowing story about the Shiloh Treatment Center, south of Houston, TX, one of the contractors the Trump administration is using to house migrant children who were separated from their parents. Their report for Reveal, a Center for Investigative Reporting publication, and The Texas Tribune is based on an analysis of federal court filings, which allege that children held at Shiloh have been forcibly subdued with powerful psychiatric drugs. Released at a moment when media attention has been focused on separation of children from their families at the US/Mexico border, the story was widely shared online – as of this morning, Reveal’s tweet about the story had been retweeted 22,000 times.

The story gained attention for reasons other than its harrowing revelations. When Reveal tried to “boost” their post on Facebook, the platform alerted them that they were “Not Authorized for Ads with Political Content”. This is a new safety feature implemented by Facebook in the wake of scrutiny towards the company’s role in the 2016, permitting over 3000 ads to be illegally posted by the Russia-based Internet Research Agency, with the goal of sowing discontent in the US. Facebook is in a tough bind – they need to vet purchasers of political ads far more carefully than they have been, but thus far, their algorithmic review process is flagging some stories as ads, and allowing some ads to pass through unscreened. And Facebook Ads VP, Rob Goldman, didn’t help clarify matters by telling Reveal “…this ad, not the story, was flagged because it contains political content.”

Last night, one of the authors of the Reveal story, Aura Bogado, pointed to another problem she and Matt Smith are experiencing:

One of the long-standing patterns of the news industry is the tendency to copy reporting someone has already done. In the days when most people subscribed to a single newspaper, this copying served a helpful civic function – it helped spread news to multiple audiences, helping citizens have a common basis of news to inform democratic participation. A very clear journalistic ethic emerged around this practice: you prominently credit the publication that broke the story. You’ll see even fierce competitors, like the New York Times and the Washington Post, do this with their biggest scoops.

The internet has changed these dynamics. On the one hand, there’s no longer any civic need to copy stories – you could simply link to them instead. But there’s also a powerful financial incentive to make any story your own – the ad clicks. This story, written by Andrew Hay and bylined “Reuters staff”, shows how easily original reporters and outlets can disappear – it contains original reporting, in that it has a novel quote from Carlos Holguin, a lawyer for the Center for Human Rights & Constitutional Law, who’s cited in the Reveal piece… but it doesn’t mention Smith and Bogado, the Texas Tribune or Reveal. (Reuters is not the only outlet that’s scrubbed provenance from this story. But they are a publicly traded company with 45,000 employees, $11 billion in annual revenue, and have been in the news industry since 1851. They should know better.)

This is not only a shitty thing to do, it’s a profitable thing to do. Reuters gets the ad views from the story they largely rewrote, while the two non-profits responsible for the original reporting get nothing, not even credit.

I’ve been thinking about this problem for some time, because the origins of important news stories is one of the main uses for Media Cloud, the system we’ve been developing for almost a decade at Center for Civic Media and the Berkman Klein Center. One of our first publications, “The Battle for Trayvon Martin: Mapping a Media Controversy online and offline” is at its heart a provenance paper, trying to understand who first reported on Trayvon’s death as a way of understanding how the story turned into a national conversation on race and violence. (TL;DR: Trayvon’s family worked with civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump to pitch the story to Reuters and CBS: This Morning. It was well over a week before the internet began amplifying the story with petitions and protests.) Rob Faris and Yochai Benkler’s massive Media Cloud analysis of the 2016 US Presidential elections focuses on provenance, tracing influential stories in mainstream media publications to their origins in the fringes of the right-wing blogosphere that surround Breitbart, Gateway Pundit and others.

Media Cloud works by ingesting (usually via RSS, sometimes via scraping) all the stories from tens of thousands of media publications, multiple times a day. We can often trace the provenance of a story by identifying an appropriate search string – “Shiloh” AND (migrant* OR drug*) might work in this case – and looking to see what stories hit our database first. Often a story breaks in several places simultaneously – that’s often an indicator that it was written in reaction to a statement made by a public official or a corporate leader, not the result of long investigative reporting. This process is imperfect and requires the input of knowledgeable humans to create search strings. What if we could automate it?

We’re working on this problem, looking to create automatic signatures that identify clusters of related stories. Duncan Watts is working on it at MSR as well, generating “fingerprints” for these clusters that rely in part on named entities. And obviously Google has a clustering system working that they use to organize related stories in Google News. With automated signatures and clustering, combined with a deep database of stories collected many times a day, we might be able to identify the initial stream that leads to a later media cascade.


Attention in US mainstream media to “Larry Nassar” from January 2017 to present, via mediacloud.org

What then? Well, that would depend on what media platforms did with this data. Consider a major, ongoing story like Dr. Larry Nassar’s abuse of US gymnasts. That horrific story was uncovered by the Indy Star, who began a massive investigative series on sexual abuse within US gymnastics in August 2017, months before Nassar’s name became a household word. When platforms that aggregate, distribute and monetize news – Apple, Google, Facebook – share revenues with publishers, maybe they should check against a provenance service to find out whether they’re rewarding someone who did original journalism, or someone who’s simply chasing clicks. Perhaps one or more platform would end up sharing revenues between the publisher that captured the clicks and the one that initially sponsored the investigation.

Could this ever really happen? Yes, but it would require not only the technology to work, but for there to be pressure from readers for ethically sourced journalism. It took a great deal of work for consumers to demand that their coffee be sustainably grown and that Apple look into whether suppliers are using child labor. What Bogado and her colleagues are asking for is good for anyone who cares about the long-term future of journalism. We need more resources to investigate stories like the abuse of children at the hands of the US government. We don’t need hundreds of news outlets rushing to cover the same stories. Establishing – and rewarding – provenance of stories that start with investigative journalism could help shift the playing field for original reporting.

by Ethan at June 22, 2018 07:21 PM

June 21, 2018

danah boyd
The Messy Fourth Estate

(This post was originally posted on Medium.)

For the second time in a week, my phone buzzed with a New York Times alert, notifying me that another celebrity had died by suicide. My heart sank. I tuned into the Crisis Text Line Slack channel to see how many people were waiting for a counselor’s help. Volunteer crisis counselors were pouring in, but the queue kept growing.

Celebrity suicides trigger people who are already on edge to wonder whether or not they too should seek death. Since the Werther effect study, in 1974, countless studies have conclusively and repeatedly shown that how the news media reports on suicide matters. The World Health Organization has adetailed set of recommendations for journalists and news media organizations on how to responsibly report on suicide so as to not trigger copycats. Yet in the past few years, few news organizations have bothered to abide by them, even as recent data shows that the reporting on Robin Williams’ death triggered an additional 10 percent increase in suicide and a 32 percent increase in people copying his method of death. The recommendations aren’t hard to follow — they focus on how to convey important information without adding to the problem.

Crisis counselors at the Crisis Text Line are on the front lines. As a board member, I’m in awe of their commitment and their willingness to help those who desperately need support and can’t find it anywhere else. But it pains me to watch as elite media amplifiers make counselors’ lives more difficult under the guise of reporting the news or entertaining the public.

Through data, we can see the pain triggered by 13 Reasons Why and the New York Times. We see how salacious reporting on method prompts people to consider that pathway of self-injury. Our volunteer counselors are desperately trying to keep people alive and get them help, while for-profit companies reap in dollars and clicks. If we’re lucky, the outlets triggering unstable people write off their guilt by providing a link to our services, with no consideration of how much pain they’ve caused or the costs we must endure.

I want to believe in journalism. But my faith is waning.

I want to believe in journalism. I want to believe in the idealized mandate of the fourth estateI want to trust that editors and journalists are doing their best to responsibly inform the public and help create a more perfect union.But my faith is waning.

Many Americans — especially conservative Americans — do not trust contemporary news organizations. This “crisis” is well-trod territory, but the focus on fact-checking, media literacy, and business models tends to obscure three features of the contemporary information landscape that I think are poorly understood:

  1. Differences in worldview are being weaponized to polarize society.
  2. We cannot trust organizations, institutions, or professions when they’re abstracted away from us.
  3. Economic structures built on value extraction cannot enable healthy information ecosystems.

Let me begin by apologizing for the heady article, but the issues that we’re grappling with are too heady for a hot take. Please read this to challenge me, debate me, offer data to show that I’m wrong. I think we’ve got an ugly fight in front of us, and I think we need to get more sophisticated about our thinking, especially in a world where foreign policy is being boiled down to 140 characters.

1. Your Worldview Is Being Weaponized

I was a teenager when I showed up at a church wearing jeans and a T-shirt to see my friend perform in her choir. The pastor told me that I was not welcomebecause this was a house of God, and we must dress in a manner that honors Him. Not good at following rules, I responded flatly, “God made me naked. Should I strip now?” Needless to say, I did not get to see my friend sing.

Faith is an anchor for many people in the United States, but the norms that surround religious institutions are man-made, designed to help people make sense of the world in which we operate. Many religions encourage interrogation and questioning, but only within a well-established framework.Children learn those boundaries, just as they learn what is acceptable insecular society. They learn that talking about race is taboo and that questioning the existence of God may leave them ostracized.

Like many teenagers before and after me, I was obsessed with taboos and forbidden knowledge. I sought out the music Tipper Gore hated, read the books my school banned, and tried to get answers to any question that made adults gasp. Anonymously, I spent late nights engaged in conversations on Usenet, determined to push boundaries and make sense of adult hypocrisy.

Following a template learned in Model UN, I took on strong positions in order to debate and learn. Having already lost faith in the religious leaders in my community, I saw no reason to respect the dogma of any institution. And because I made a hobby out of proving teachers wrong, I had little patience for the so-called experts in my hometown. I was intellectually ravenous, but utterly impatient with, if not outright cruel to the adults around me. I rebelled against hierarchy and was determined to carve my own path at any cost.

have an amazing amount of empathy for those who do not trust the institutions that elders have told them they must respect. Rage against the machine. We don’t need no education, no thought control. I’m also fully aware that you don’t garner trust in institutions through coercion or rational discussion. Instead, trust often emerges from extreme situations.

Many people have a moment where they wake up and feel like the world doesn’t really work like they once thought or like they were once told. That moment of cognitive reckoning is overwhelming. It can be triggered by any number of things — a breakup, a death, depression, a humiliating experience.Everything comes undone, and you feel like you’re in the middle of a tornado, unable to find the ground. This is the basis of countless literary classics, the crux of humanity. But it’s also a pivotal feature in how a society comes together to function.

Everyone needs solid ground, so that when your world has just been destabilized, what comes next matters. Who is the friend that picks you up and helps you put together the pieces? What institution — or its representatives — steps in to help you organize your thinking? What information do you grab onto in order to make sense of your experiences?

Contemporary propaganda isn’t about convincing someone to believe something, but convincing them to doubt what they think they know.

Countless organizations and movements exist to pick you up during your personal tornado and provide structure and a framework. Take a look at how Alcoholics Anonymous works. Other institutions and social bodies know how to trigger that instability and then help you find groundCheck out the dynamics underpinning military basic training. Organizations, movements, and institutions that can manipulate psychological tendencies toward a sociological end have significant power. Religious organizations, social movements, and educational institutions all play this role, whether or not they want to understand themselves as doing so.

Because there is power in defining a framework for people, there is good reason to be wary of any body that pulls people in when they are most vulnerable. Of course, that power is not inherently malevolentThere is fundamental goodness in providing structures to help those who are hurting make sense of the world around them. Where there be dragons is when these processes are weaponized, when these processes are designed to produce societal hatred alongside personal stability. After all, one of the fastest ways to bond people and help them find purpose is to offer up an enemy.

And here’s where we’re in a sticky spot right now. Many large institutions — government, the church, educational institutions, news organizations — are brazenly asserting their moral authority without grappling with their own shit.They’re ignoring those among them who are using hate as a tool, and they’re ignoring their own best practices and ethics, all to help feed a bottom line. Each of these institutions justifies itself by blaming someone or something to explain why they’re not actually that powerful, why they’re actually the victim. And so they’re all poised to be weaponized in a cultural war rooted in how we stabilize American insecurity.And if we’re completely honest with ourselves, what we’re really up against is how we collectively come to terms with a dying empire. But that’s a longer tangent.

Any teacher knows that it only takes a few students to completely disrupt a classroom. Forest fires spark easily under certain conditions, and the ripple effects are huge. As a child, when I raged against everyone and everything, it was my mother who held me into the night. When I was a teenager chatting my nights away on Usenet, the two people who most memorably picked me up and helped me find stable ground were a deployed soldier and a transgender woman, both of whom held me as I asked insane questions. They absorbed the impact and showed me a different way of thinking. They taught me the power of strangers counseling someone in crisis. As a college freshman, when I was spinning out of control, a computer science professor kept me solid and taught me how profoundly important a true mentor could be. Everyone needs someone to hold them when their world spins, whether that person be a friend, family, mentor, or stranger.

Fifteen years ago, when parents and the news media were panicking about online bullying, I saw a different risk. I saw countless kids crying out online in pain only to be ignored by those who preferred to prevent teachers from engaging with students online or to create laws punishing online bullies. We saw the suicides triggered as youth tried to make “It Gets Better” videos to find community, only to be further harassed at school. We saw teens studying the acts of Columbine shooters, seeking out community among those with hateful agendas and relishing the power of lashing out at those they perceived to be benefiting at their expense. But it all just seemed like a peculiar online phenomenon, proof that the internet was cruel. Too few of us tried to hold those youth who were unquestionably in pain.

Teens who are coming of age today are already ripe for instability. Their parents are stressed; even if they have jobs, nothing feels certain or stable. There doesn’t seem to be a path toward economic stability that doesn’t involve college, but there doesn’t seem to be a path toward college that doesn’t involve mind-bending debt. Opioids seem like a reasonable way to numb the pain in far too many communities. School doesn’t seem like a safe place, so teenagers look around and whisper among friends about who they believe to be the most likely shooter in their community. As Stephanie Georgopulos notesthe idea that any institution can offer security seems like a farce.

When I look around at who’s “holding” these youth, I can’t help but notice the presence of people with a hateful agenda. And they terrify me, in no small part because I remember an earlier incarnation.

In 1995, when I was trying to make sense of my sexuality, I turned to various online forums and asked a lot of idiotic questions. I was adopted by the aforementioned transgender woman and numerous other folks who heard me out, gave me pointers, and helped me think through what I felt. In 2001, when I tried to figure out what the next generation did, I realized thatstruggling youth were more likely to encounter a Christian gay “conversion therapy” group than a supportive queer peer. Queer folks were sick of being attacked by anti-LGBT groups, and so they had created safe spaces on private mailing lists that were hard for lost queer youth to find. And so it was that in their darkest hours, these youth were getting picked up by those with a hurtful agenda.

Teens who are trying to make sense of social issues aren’t finding progressive activists. They’re finding the so-called alt-right.

Fast-forward 15 years, and teens who are trying to make sense of social issues aren’t finding progressive activists willing to pick them up. They’re finding the so-called alt-right. I can’t tell you how many youth we’ve seen asking questions like I asked being rejected by people identifying with progressive social movements, only to find camaraderie among hate groupsWhat’s most striking is how many people with extreme ideas are willing to spend time engaging with folks who are in the tornado.

Spend time reading the comments below the YouTube videos of youth struggling to make sense of the world around them. You’ll quickly find comments by people who spend time in the manosphere or subscribe to white supremacist thinking. They are diving in and talking to these youth, offering a framework to make sense of the world, one rooted in deeply hateful ideas.These self-fashioned self-help actors are grooming people to see that their pain and confusion isn’t their fault, but the fault of feminists, immigrants, people of color. They’re helping them believe that the institutions they already distrust — the news media, Hollywood, government, school, even the church — are actually working to oppress them.

Most people who encounter these ideas won’t embrace them, but some will. Still, even those who don’t will never let go of the doubt that has been instilled in the institutions around them. It just takes a spark.

So how do we collectively make sense of the world around us? There isn’t one universal way of thinking, but even the act of constructing knowledge is becoming polarized. Responding to the uproar in the news media over “alternative facts,” Cory Doctorow noted:

We’re not living through a crisis about what is true, we’re living through a crisis about how we know whether something is true. We’re not disagreeing about facts, we’re disagreeing about epistemology. The “establishment” version of epistemology is, “We use evidence to arrive at the truth, vetted by independent verification (but trust us when we tell you that it’s all been independently verified by people who were properly skeptical and not the bosom buddies of the people they were supposed to be fact-checking).

The “alternative facts” epistemological method goes like this: “The ‘independent’ experts who were supposed to be verifying the ‘evidence-based’ truth were actually in bed with the people they were supposed to be fact-checking. In the end, it’s all a matter of faith, then: you either have faith that ‘their’ experts are being truthful, or you have faith that we are. Ask your gut, what version feels more truthful?”

Doctorow creates these oppositional positions to make a point and to highlight that there is a war over epistemology, or the way in which we produce knowledge.

The reality is much messier, because what’s at stake isn’t simply about resolving two competing worldviews. Rather, what’s at stake is how there is no universal way of knowing, and we have reached a stage in our political climate where there is more power in seeding doubt, destabilizing knowledge, and encouraging others to distrust other systems of knowledge production.

Contemporary propaganda isn’t about convincing someone to believe something, but convincing them to doubt what they think they know. Andonce people’s assumptions have come undone, who is going to pick them up and help them create a coherent worldview?

2. You Can’t Trust Abstractions

Deeply committed to democratic governance, George Washington believed that a representative government could only work if the public knew their representatives. As a result, our Constitution states that each member of the House should represent no more than 30,000 constituents. When we stopped adding additional representatives to the House in 1913 (frozen at 435), each member represented roughly 225,000 constituents. Today, the ratio of congresspeople to constituents is more than 700,000:1Most people will never meet their representative, and few feel as though Washington truly represents their interests. The democracy that we have is representational only in ideal, not in practice.

As our Founding Fathers knew, it’s hard to trust an institution when it feels inaccessible and abstract. All around us, institutions are increasingly divorced from the community in which they operate, with often devastating costs.Thanks to new models of law enforcement, police officers don’t typically come from the community they serve. In many poor communities, teachers also don’t come from the community in which they teach. The volunteer U.S. military hardly draws from all communities, and those who don’t know a solider are less likely to trust or respect the military.

Journalism can only function as the fourth estate when it serves as a tool to voice the concerns of the people and to inform those people of the issues that matter. Throughout the 20th century, communities of color challenged mainstream media’s limitations and highlighted that few newsrooms represented the diverse backgrounds of their audiences. As such, we saw the rise of ethnic media and a challenge to newsrooms to be smarter about their coverage. But let’s be real — even as news organizations articulate a commitment to the concerns of everyone, newsrooms have done a dreadful job of becoming more representativeOver the past decade, we’ve seen racial justice activists challenge newsrooms for their failure to cover Ferguson, Standing Rock, and other stories that affect communities of color.

Meanwhile, local journalism has nearly died. The success of local journalismdidn’t just matter because those media outlets reported the news, but because it meant that many more people were likely to know journalists. It’s easier to trust an institution when it has a human face that you know and respect. Andas fewer and fewer people know journalists, they trust the institution less and less. Meanwhile, the rise of social media, blogging, and new forms of talk radio has meant that countless individuals have stepped in to cover issues not being covered by mainstream news, often using a style and voice that is quite unlike that deployed by mainstream news media.

We’ve also seen the rise of celebrity news hosts. These hosts help push the boundaries of parasocial interactions, allowing the audience to feel deep affinity toward these individuals, as though they are true friends. Tabloid papers have long capitalized on people’s desire to feel close to celebrities by helping people feel like they know the royal family or the Kardashians. Talking heads capitalize on this, in no small part by how they communicate with their audiences. So, when people watch Rachel Maddow or listen to Alex Jones, they feel more connected to the message than they would when reading a news article. They begin to trust these people as though they are neighbors. They feel real.

No amount of drop-in journalism will make up for the loss of journalists within the fabric of local communities.

People want to be informed, but who they trust to inform them is rooted in social networks, not institutions. The trust of institutions stems from trust in people. The loss of the local paper means a loss of trusted journalists and a connection to the practices of the newsroom. As always, people turn to their social networks to get information, but what flows through those social networks is less and less likely to be mainstream news. But here’s where you also get an epistemological divide.

As Francesca Tripodi points out, many conservative Christians have developed a media literacy practice that emphasizes the “original” text rather than an intermediary. Tripodi points out that the same type of scriptural inference that Christians apply in Bible study is often also applied to reading the Constitution, tax reform bills, and Google results. This approach is radically different than the approach others take when they rely on intermediaries to interpret news for them.

As the institutional construction of news media becomes more and more proximately divorced from the vast majority of people in the United States, we can and should expect trust in news to decline. No amount of fact-checking will make up for a widespread feeling that coverage is biased. No amount of articulated ethical commitments will make up for the feeling that you are being fed clickbait headlines.

No amount of drop-in journalism will make up for the loss of journalists within the fabric of local communities. And while the population who believes that CNN and the New York Times are “fake news” are not demographically representative, the questionable tactics that news organizations use are bound to increase distrust among those who still have faith in them.

3. The Fourth Estate and Financialization Are Incompatible

If you’re still with me at this point, you’re probably deeply invested in scholarship or journalism. And, unless you’re one of my friends, you’re probably bursting at the seams to tell me that the reason journalism is all screwed up is because the internet screwed news media’s business model. So I want to ask a favor: Quiet that voice in your head, take a deep breath, and let me offer an alternative perspective.

There are many types of capitalism. After all, the only thing that defines capitalism is the private control of industry (as opposed to government control). Most Americans have been socialized into believing that all forms of capitalism are inherently good (which, by the way, was a propaganda project). But few are encouraged to untangle the different types of capitalism and different dynamics that unfold depending on which structure is operating.

I grew up in mom-and-pop America, where many people dreamed of becoming small business owners. The model was simple: Go to the bank and get a loan to open a store or a company. Pay back that loan at a reasonable interest rate — knowing that the bank was making money — until eventually you owned the company outright. Build up assets, grow your company, and create something of value that you could pass on to your children.

In the 1980s, franchises became all the rage. Wannabe entrepreneurs saw a less risky path to owning their own business. Rather than having to figure it out alone, you could open a franchise with a known brand and a clear process for running the business. In return, you had to pay some overhead to the parent company. Sure, there were rules to follow and you could only buy supplies from known suppliers and you didn’t actually have full control, but it kinda felt like you did. Like being an Uber driver, it was the illusion of entrepreneurship that was so appealing. And most new franchise owners didn’t know any better, nor were they able to read the writing on the wall when the water all around them started boiling their froggy self. I watched my mother nearly drown, and the scars are still visible all over her body.

I will never forget the U.S. Savings & Loan crisis, not because I understood it, but because it was when I first realized that my Richard Scarry impression of how banks worked was way wrong. Only two decades later did I learn to seethe FIRE industries (Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate) as extractive ones.They aren’t there to help mom-and-pop companies build responsible businesses, but to extract value from their naiveté. Like today’s post-college youth are learning, loans aren’t there to help you be smart, but to bend your will.

It doesn’t take a quasi-documentary to realize thatMcDonald’s is not a fast-food franchise; it’s a real estate business that uses a franchise structure to extract capital from naive entrepreneurs. Go talk to a wannabe restaurant owner in New York City and ask them what it takes to start a business these days. You can’t even get a bank loan or lease in 2018 without significant investor backing, which means that the system isn’t set up for you to build a business and pay back the bank, pay a reasonable rent, and develop a valuable asset.You are simply a pawn in a financialized game between your investors, the real estate companies, the insurance companies, and the bank, all of which want to extract as much value from your effort as possible. You’re just another brick in the wall.

Now let’s look at the local news ecosystem. Starting in the 1980s, savvy investors realized that many local newspapers owned prime real estate in the center of key towns. These prized assets would make for great condos and office rentals. Throughout the country, local news shops started getting eaten up by private equity and hedge funds — or consolidated by organizations controlled by the same forces. Media conglomerates sold off their newsrooms as they felt increased pressure to increase profits quarter over quarter.

Building a sustainable news business was hard enough when the news had a wealthy patron who valued the goals of the enterprise. But the finance industry doesn’t care about sustaining the news business; it wants a return on investment. And the extractive financiers who targeted the news business weren’t looking to keep the news alive. They wanted to extract as much value from those business as possible. Taking a page out of McDonald’s, they forced the newsrooms to sell their real estate. Often, news organizations had to rent from new landlords who wanted obscene sums, often forcing them to move out of their buildings. News outlets were forced to reduce staff, reproduce more junk content, sell more ads, and find countless ways to cut costs. Of course the news suffered — the goal was to push news outlets into bankruptcy or sell, especially if the companies had pensions or other costs that couldn’t be excised.

Yes, the fragmentation of the advertising industry due to the internet hastened this process. And let’s also be clear that business models in the news business have never been cleanBut no amount of innovative new business models will make up for the fact that you can’t sustain responsible journalism within a business structure that requires newsrooms to make more money quarter over quarter to appease investors. This does not mean that you can’t build a sustainable news business, but if the news is beholden to investors trying to extract value, it’s going to impossible. And if news companies have no assets to rely on (such as their now-sold real estate), they are fundamentally unstable and likely to engage in unhealthy business practices out of economic desperation.

Untangling our country from this current version of capitalism is going to be as difficult as curbing our addiction to fossil fuels. I’m not sure it can be done, but as long as we look at companies and blame their business models without looking at the infrastructure in which they are embedded, we won’t even begin taking the first steps. Fundamentally, both the New York Times and Facebook are public companies, beholden to investors and desperate to increase their market cap. Employees in both organizations believe themselves to be doing something important for society.

Of course, journalists don’t get paid well, while Facebook’s employees can easily threaten to walk out if the stock doesn’t keep rising, since they’re also investors. But we also need to recognize that the vast majority of Americans have a stake in the stock market. Pension plans, endowments, and retirement plans all depend on stocks going up — and those public companies depend on big investors investing in them. Financial managers don’t invest in news organizations that are happy to be stable break-even businesses. Heck, even Facebook is in deep trouble if it can’t continue to increase ROI, whether through attracting new customers (advertisers and users), increasing revenue per user, or diversifying its businesses. At some point, it too will get desperate, because no business can increase ROI forever.

ROI capitalism isn’t the only version of capitalism out there. We take it for granted and tacitly accept its weaknesses by creating binaries, as though the only alternative is Cold War Soviet Union–styled communism. We’re all frogs in an ocean that’s quickly getting warmer. Two degrees will affect a lot more than oceanfront properties.

Reclaiming Trust

In my mind, we have a hard road ahead of us if we actually want to rebuild trust in American society and its key institutions (which, TBH, I’m not sure is everyone’s goal). There are three key higher-order next steps, all of which are at the scale of the New Deal.

  1. Create a sustainable business structure for information intermediaries (like news organizations) that allows them to be profitable without the pressure of ROI. In the case of local journalism, this could involve subsidized rent, restrictions on types of investors or takeovers, or a smartly structured double bottom-line model. But the focus should be on strategically building news organizations as a national project to meet the needs of the fourth estateIt means moving away from a journalism model that is built on competition for scarce resources (ads, attention) to one that’s incentivized by societal benefits.
  2. Actively and strategically rebuild the social networks of America.Create programs beyond the military that incentivize people from different walks of life to come together and achieve something great for this country. This could be connected to job training programs or rooted in community service, but it cannot be done through the government alone or, perhaps, at all. We need the private sector, religious organizations, and educational institutions to come together and commit to designing programs that knit together America while also providing the tools of opportunity.
  3. Find new ways of holding those who are struggling. We don’t have a social safety net in America. For many, the church provides the only accessible net when folks are lost and struggling, but we need a lot more.We need to work together to build networks that can catch people when they’re falling. We’ve relied on volunteer labor for a long time in this domain—women, churches, volunteer civic organizations—but our current social configuration makes this extraordinarily difficult. We’re in the middle of an opiate crisis for a reason. We need to think smartly about how these structures or networks can be built and sustained so that we can collectively reach out to those who are falling through the cracks.

Fundamentally, we need to stop triggering one another because we’re facing our own perceived pain. This means we need to build large-scale cultural resilience. While we may be teaching our children “social-emotional learning”in the classroom, we also need to start taking responsibility at scale.Individually, we need to step back and empathize with others’ worldviews and reach out to support those who are struggling. But our institutions also have important work to do.

At the end of the day, if journalistic ethics means anythingnewsrooms cannot justify creating spectacle out of their reporting on suicide or other topics just because they feel pressure to create clicks. They have the privilege of choosing what to amplify, and they should focus on what is beneficial. If they can’t operate by those values, they don’t deserve our trust. While I strongly believe that technology companies have a lot of important work to do to be socially beneficial, I hold news organizations to a higher standard because of their own articulated commitments and expectations that they serve as the fourth estateAnd if they can’t operationalize ethical practices, I fear the society that must be knitted together to self-govern is bound to fragment even further.

Trust cannot be demanded. It’s only earned by being there at critical junctures when people are in crisis and need help. You don’t earn trust when things are going well; you earn trust by being a rock during a tornado. The winds are blowing really hard right now. Look around. Who is helping us find solid ground?

by zephoria at June 21, 2018 01:26 AM

June 19, 2018

Justin Reich
Strategies for Supporting Girls in Computer Science
By focusing on providing positive female role models for computer science in our schools, and supporting girls and young women in their endeavors, we can send a strong message that computer science is for everyone.

by Douglas Kiang at June 19, 2018 11:18 PM

Benjamin Mako Hill
How markets coopted free software’s most powerful weapon (LibrePlanet 2018 Keynote)

Several months ago, I gave the closing keynote address at LibrePlanet 2018. The talk was about the thing that scares me most about the future of free culture, free software, and peer production.

A video of the talk is online on Youtube and available as WebM video file (both links should skip the first 3m 19s of thanks and introductions).

Here’s a summary of the talk:

App stores and the so-called “sharing economy” are two examples of business models that rely on techniques for the mass aggregation of distributed participation over the Internet and that simply didn’t exist a decade ago. In my talk, I argue that the firms pioneering these new models have learned and adapted processes from commons-based peer production projects like free software, Wikipedia, and CouchSurfing.

The result is an important shift: A decade ago,  the kind of mass collaboration that made Wikipedia, GNU/Linux, or Couchsurfing possible was the exclusive domain of people producing freely and openly in commons. Not only is this no longer true, new proprietary, firm-controlled, and money-based models are increasingly replacing, displacing, outcompeting, and potentially reducing what’s available in the commons. For example, the number of people joining Couchsurfing to host others seems to have been in decline since Airbnb began its own meteoric growth.

In the talk, I talk about how this happened and what I think it means for folks of that are committed to working in commons. I talk a little bit about the free culture and free software should do now that mass collaboration, these communities’ most powerful weapon, is being used against them.

I’m very much interested in feedback provided any way you want to reach me including in person, over email, in comments on my blog, on Mastodon, on Twitter, etc.


Work on the research that is reflected and described in this talk was supported by the National Science Foundation (awards IIS-1617129 and IIS-1617468). Some of the initial ideas behind this talk were developed while working on this paper (official link) which was led by Maximilian Klein and contributed to by Jinhao Zhao, Jiajun Ni, Isaac Johnson, and Haiyi Zhu.

by Benjamin Mako Hill at June 19, 2018 06:03 PM

Honey Buckets

When I was growing up in Washington state, a company called Honey Bucket held a dominant position in the local portable toilet market. Their toilets are still a common sight in the American West.

Honey Bucket brand portable toilet. Photo by donielle. (CC BY-SA)

They were so widespread when I was a child that I didn’t know that “Honey Bucket” was the name of a company at all until I moved to Massachusetts for college. I thought “honey bucket” was just the generic term for toilets that could be moved from place-to-place!

So for the first five years that I lived in Massachusetts, I continued to call all portable toilets “honey buckets.”

Until somebody asked me why I called them that—five years after moving!—all my friends in Massachusetts thought that “honey bucket” was just a personal, idiosyncratic, and somewhat gross, euphemism.

by Benjamin Mako Hill at June 19, 2018 05:36 PM

June 18, 2018

Joseph Reagle
Ditch your word processor: Write prose like code in a text editor

In this video I show the benefits of writing in a text editor. I link to descriptions of these things which you can find in Sublime Text and Atom.

Two things I forgot to demo but which I rely upon for navigation are bookmarks and being able to navigate forward and backward between previous cursor positions.

by Joseph Reagle at June 18, 2018 04:00 AM

June 13, 2018

Berkman Center front page
Coming in from the Cold: A Safe Harbor from the CFAA and DMCA §1201

Teaser

The Assembly program is pleased to announce a new publication proposing a statutory safe harbor from the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act for security research activities using a constructed communication protocol based on a responsible disclosure model.

Publication Date

1 Jun 2018

Thumbnail Image: 
Authored by Daniel Etcovitch and Thyla van der Merwe
 
The Assembly program is pleased to announce a new publication, titled Coming in from the Cold: A Safe Harbor from the CFAA and DMCA §1201, written by Harvard Law School student Daniel Etcovitch and 2017 Assembly cohort member Thyla van der Merwe.  
 
The paper proposes a statutory safe harbor from the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act for security research activities using a constructed communication protocol based on a responsible disclosure model. The authors explore how such a safe harbor could provide security researchers a greater degree of control over the vulnerability research publication timeline and guarantee researchers safety from legal consequence if they complied with the proposed safe harbor process. ​
 
The collaboration between Daniel and Thyla was born out of the 2017 Assembly program and the Internet & Society class co-taught by Harvard Law School Professor Jonathan Zittrain and MIT Media Lab Director Joi Ito, where they first met.  As the authors describe it, they “found a common interest in legal barriers to security” during the Internet & Society course and together “began to engage with the reality that some security researchers – particularly academics – were concerned about potential legal liability under computer crime laws.” 
 
Abstract
In our paper, we propose a statutory safe harbor from the CFAA and DMCA §1201 for security research activities. Based on a responsible disclosure model in which a researcher and vendor engage in a carefully constructed communication process and vulnerability classification system, our solution would enable security researchers to have a greater degree of control over the vulnerability research publication timeline, allowing for publication regardless of whether or not the vendor in question has effectuated a patch. Any researcher would be guaranteed safety from legal consequences if they comply with the proposed safe harbor process. 
 
About the Berkman Klein Assembly 
Assembly, at the Berkman Klein Center & MIT Media Lab, gathers developers, managers, and tech industry professionals for a rigorous spring term course on internet policy and a twelve-week collaborative development period to explore hard problems with running code. Each Assembly cohort comes together around a defined challenge. In 2017, the Assembly cohort focused on digital security. In 2018, the program focused on the ethics and governance of artificial intelligence. For more information, visit the program website, http://bkmla.org.
 
 

Producer Intro

Authored by

by gweber at June 13, 2018 07:40 PM

June 11, 2018

Justin Reich
Critically Thinking About Critical Thinking
Despite being an objective of education since before the start of the 21st century, critical thinking continues to be an increasingly important skill.

by Beth Holland at June 11, 2018 11:10 PM

June 07, 2018

Cyberlaw Clinic - blog
Wrapping Up Academic Year 2017-18 — Congratulations, Graduates!

Steve Meil (HLS JD ’18), Vinitra Rangan (HLS JD ’18), and Frederick Ding (HLS JD ’18), with Chris Bavitz from the Cyberlaw Clinic at the Clinic’s Year-End Event

The beginning of June marks the arrival of summer interns — affectionately known as “Berkterns” — at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society and the Cyberlaw Clinic. As we begin to settle into our summer routine, we wanted to look back at the 2017-18 academic year and bid a fond farewell to our graduating Cyberlaw Clinic alumni from the Harvard Law School class of ’18. It has been a remarkable year at the Clinic — a year of remarkable work spearheaded by our remarkable students.

Alexa Singh (HLS JD ’18), with Jess Fjeld from the Cyberlaw Clinic

The Law School held its annual “Class Day” festivities on Wednesday, May 23, the day before Harvard’s formal commencement.  The HLS-wide Class Day celebration included remarks from HLS Dean John Manning; winner of the Albert M. Sacks-Paul A. Freund Award for Teaching Excellence, HLS Professor Carol Steiker; winner of the Staff Appreciation Award, Edgar Kley Filho; and U.S. Senator Jeff Flake (among many others).  The Clinic held its annual year-end event that day for students and their families on the front steps of the Berkman Klein Center’s offices in the little yellow house at 23 Everett Street.  Attendees included students who had worked with the Clinic on a wide variety of matters during their time at the Law School, from amicus briefs, to direct client advising, to transactional work, litigation, and policy advocacy.  It is always a pleasure to meet the families of students we have come to know so well during their time at HLS and see them off as they prepare to apply their well-earned skills and knowledge in service of new clients and constituencies.

Rebecca Rechtszaid (HLS JD ’17) and Abi Riddle (HLS JD ’17), with Chris Bavitz, visit Scratch at the MIT Media Lab

Austin Bohn (HLS JD ’17) and Erin Thomas (HLS JD ’17), with Kendra Albert from the Cyberlaw Clinic at the Copyright Office Section 1201 Proceedings

Taking stock of the 2017-18 academic year — students worked on four amicus briefs, including three U.S. Supreme Court briefs and a D.C. Circuit brief on behalf of two members of Congress.  They helped represent a coalition of librarians and archivists in a large administrative proceeding before the United States Copyright Office at the Library of Congress; supported advocacy to the Massachusetts Legislature around the use of risk assessment tools; and developed publicly-accessible resources on protest art.  In their spare time, students who worked with us in the Clinic wrote Law Review notes and participated as finalists in the fall 2017 Ames moot court competition. Fifty-nine students came through the Cyberlaw Clinic during AY 2017-18, and sixty-two 2018 HLS graduates had enrolled in the Clinic during their time at the Law School.

Cayman Mitchell (HLS JD ’18), with Chris Bavitz

Lydia Lichlyter (HLS JD ’18), with Jess Fjeld

2017-18 saw the Clinic’s teaching team contributing to publications on the role of explanation in artificial intelligence, zero rating and Internet adoption, and harmful speech online.  They presented  at South By Southwest, Harvard’s Fair Use / Fair Dealing Week festivitiesRightsCon 2018, the University of Montreal Cyberjustice Laboratory, and beyond.

Aaron Marks (HLS JD ’18) and Filippo Raso (HLS JD ’18)

Over the summer, the Clinic team plans to keep ongoing active matters afloat with an all-star team of interns hailing from law schools around the country. We will also de-brief after a busy year, build out course materials for the 2018-19 installments of the Cyberlaw Clinic Seminar, and participate in research and writing projects at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society (including projects related to artificial intelligence ethics and governance).  We also plan to do some horizon scanning to identify emerging issues that will become central to our practice and teaching activities in the years to come.

Congratulations, again, to the graduating Cyberlaw Clinic alums and to all HLS students in the class of 2018!

by Clinic Staff at June 07, 2018 01:19 PM

June 02, 2018

Juan Carlos De Martin
Norberto Bobbio sulla democrazia (1958)
Questo testo di Norberto Bobbio comparve nel 1958 su "Risorgimento" che, in occasione del primo decennale della Costituzione, aveva promosso un'inchiesta. Venne poi pubblicato, nello stesso anno, sul bollettino dell' Ateneo di Torino.

“Quando parliamo di democrazia, non ci riferiamo soltanto a un insieme di istituzioni, ma indichiamo anche una generale concezione della vita. Nella democrazia siamo impegnati non soltanto come cittadini aventi certi diritti e certi doveri, ma anche come uomini che debbono ispirarsi a un certo modo di vivere e di comportarsi con se stessi e con gli altri.

Come regime politico la democrazia moderna è fondata sul riconoscimento e la garanzia della libertà sotto tre aspetti fondamentali: la libertà civile, la libertà politica e la libertà sociale. Per libertà civile s' intende la facoltà, attribuita ad ogni cittadino, di fare scelte personali senza ingerenza da parte dei pubblici poteri, in quei campi della vita spirituale ed economica, entro i quali si spiega, si esprime, si rafforza la personalità di ciascuno. Attraverso la libertà politica, che è il diritto di partecipare direttamente o indirettamente alla formazione delle leggi, viene riconosciuto al cittadino il potere di contribuire alle scelte politiche che determinano l' orientamento del governo, e di discutere e magari di modificare le scelte politiche fatte da altri, in modo che il potere politico perda il carattere odioso di oppressione dall' alto. Inoltre, oggi siamo convinti che libertà civile e libertà politica siano nomi vani qualora non vengano integrate dalla libertà sociale, che sola può dare al cittadino un potere effettivo e non solo astratto o formale, e gli consente di soddisfare i propri bisogni fondamentali e di sviluppare le proprie capacità naturali.

Queste tre libertà sono l' espressione di una compiuta concezione della vita e della storia, della più alta e umanamente più ricca concezione della vita e della storia che gli uomini abbiano creato nel corso dei secoli. Dietro la libertà civile c' è il riconoscimento dell' uomo come persona, e quindi il principio che società giusta è soltanto quella in cui il potere dello stato ha dei limiti ben stabiliti e invalicabili, e ogni abuso di potere può essere legittimamente, cioè con mezzi giuridici, respinto, e vi domina lo spirito del dialogo, il metodo della persuasione contro ogni forma di dogmatismo delle idee, di fanatismo, di oppressione spirituale, di violenza fisica e morale. Dietro la libertà politica c' è l' idea della fondamentale eguaglianza degli uomini di fronte al potere politico, il principio che dinanzi al compito di governare, essenziale per la sopravvivenza stessa e per lo sviluppo della società umana, non vi sono eletti e reprobi, governanti e governati per destinazione, potenti incontrollati e servi rassegnati, classi inferiori e classi superiori, ma tutti possono essere, a volta a volta, governanti o governati, e gli uni e gli altri si avvicendano secondo gli eventi, gli interessi, le ideologie. Infine, dietro la libertà sociale c' è il principio, tardi e faticosamente apparso, ma non più rifiutabile, che gli uomini contano, devono contare, non per quello che hanno, ma per quello che fanno, e il lavoro, non la proprietà, il contributo effettivo che ciascuno può dare secondo le proprie capacità allo sviluppo sociale, e non il possesso che ciascuno detiene senza merito o in misura non proporzionata al merito, costituisce la dignità civile dell' uomo in società.

Una democrazia ha bisogno, certo, di istituzioni adatte, ma non vive se queste istituzioni non sono alimentate da saldi principi. Là dove i principi che hanno ispirato le istituzioni perdono vigore negli animi, anche le istituzioni decadono, diventano, prima, vuoti scheletri, e rischiano poi al primo urto di finire in polvere. Se oggi c' è un problema della democrazia in Italia, è più un problema di principi che di istituzioni. A dieci anni dalla promulgazione della costituzione possiamo dire che le principali istituzioni per il funzionamento di uno stato democratico esistono. Ma possiamo dire con altrettanta sicurezza che i principi delle democrazia siano diventati parte viva del nostro costume?

Non posso non esprimere su questo punto qualche apprensione. Il cammino della democrazia non è un cammino facile. Per questo bisogna essere continuamente vigilanti, non rassegnarsi al peggio, ma neppure abbandonarsi ad una tranquilla fiducia nelle sorti fatalmente progressive dell' umanità. Oggi non crediamo, come credevano i liberali, i democratici, i socialisti al principio del secolo, che la democrazia sia un cammino fatale. Io appartengo alla generazione che ha appreso dalla Resistenza europea qual somma di sofferenze sia stata necessaria per restituire l' Europa alla vita civile.

La differenza tra la mia generazione e quella dei nostri padri è che loro erano democratici ottimisti. Noi siamo, dobbiamo essere, democratici sempre in allarme.”

(da un post su Facebook del prof. Riccardo Bellofiore, che ringrazio.)

by Juan Carlos De Martin at June 02, 2018 09:48 AM

danah boyd
The case for quarantining extremist ideas

(Joan Donovan and I wrote the following op-ed for The Guardian.) 

When confronted with white supremacists, newspaper editors should consider ‘strategic silence’

kkk
 ‘The KKK of the 1920s considered media coverage their most effective recruitment tactic.’ Photograph: Library of Congress

George Lincoln Rockwell, the head of the American Nazi party, had a simple media strategy in the 1960s. He wrote in his autobiography: “Only by forcing the Jews to spread our message with their facilities could we have any hope of success in counteracting their left-wing, racemixing propaganda!”

Campus by campus, from Harvard to Brown to Columbia, he would use the violence of his ideas and brawn of his followers to become headline news. To compel media coverage, Rockwell needed: “(1) A smashing, dramatic approach which could not be ignored, without exposing the most blatant press censorship, and (2) a super-tough, hard-core of young fighting men to enable such a dramatic presentation to the public.” He understood what other groups competing for media attention knew too well: a movement could only be successful if the media amplified their message.

Contemporary Jewish community groups challenged journalists to consider not covering white supremacists’ ideas. They called this strategy “quarantine”, and it involved working with community organizations to minimize public confrontations and provide local journalists with enough context to understand why the American Nazi party was not newsworthy.

In regions where quarantine was deployed successfully, violence remained minimal and Rockwell was unable to recruit new party members. The press in those areas was aware that amplification served the agenda of the American Nazi party, so informed journalists employed strategic silence to reduce public harm.

The Media Manipulation research initiative at the Data & Society institute is concerned precisely with the legacy of this battle in discourse and the way that modern extremists undermine journalists and set media agendas. Media has always had the ability to publish or amplify particular voices, perspectives and incidents. In choosing stories and voices they will or will not prioritize, editors weigh the benefits and costs of coverage against potential social consequences. In doing so, they help create broader societal values. We call this willingness to avoid amplifying extremist messages “strategic silence”.

Editors used to engage in strategic silence – set agendas, omit extremist ideas and manage voices – without knowing they were doing so. Yet the online context has enhanced extremists’ abilities to create controversies, prompting newsrooms to justify covering their spectacles. Because competition for audience is increasingly fierce and financially consequential, longstanding newsroom norms have come undone. We believe that journalists do not rebuild reputation through a race to the bottom. Rather, we think that it’s imperative that newsrooms actively take the high ground and re-embrace strategic silence in order to defy extremists’ platforms for spreading hate.

Strategic silence is not a new idea. The Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s considered media coverage their most effective recruitment tactic and accordingly cultivated friendly journalists. According to Felix Harcourt, thousands of readers joined the KKK after the New York World ran a three-week chronicle of the group in 1921. Catholic, Jewish and black presses of the 1920s consciously differed from Protestant-owned mainstream papers in their coverage of the Klan, conspicuously avoiding giving the group unnecessary attention. The black press called this use of editorial discretion in the public interest “dignified silence”, and limited their reporting to KKK follies, such as canceled parades, rejected donations and resignations. Some mainstream journalists also grew suspicious of the KKK’s attempts to bait them with camera-ready spectacles. Eventually coverage declined.

The KKK was so intent on getting the coverage they sought that they threatened violence and white boycotts of advertisers. Knowing they could bait coverage with violence, white vigilante groups of the 1960s staged cross burnings and engaged in high-profile murders and church bombings. Civil rights protesters countered white violence with black stillness, especially during lunch counter sit-ins. Journalists and editors had to make moral choices of which voices to privilege, and they chose those of peace and justice, championing stories of black resilience and shutting out white extremism. This was strategic silence in action, and it saved lives.

The emphasis of strategic silence must be placed on the strategic over the silencing. Every story requires a choice and the recent turn toward providing equal coverage to dangerous, antisocial opinions requires acknowledging the suffering that such reporting causes. Even attempts to cover extremism critically can result in the media disseminating the methods that hate groups aim to spread, such as when Virginia’s Westmoreland News reproduced in full a local KKK recruitment flier on its front page. Media outlets who cannot argue that their reporting benefits the goal of a just and ethical society must opt for silence.

Newsrooms must understand that even with the best of intentions, they can find themselves being used by extremists. By contrast, they must also understand they have the power to defy the goals of hate groups by optimizing for core American values of equality, respect and civil discourse. All Americans have the right to speak their minds, but not every person deserves to have their opinions amplified, particularly when their goals are to sow violence, hatred and chaos.

If telling stories didn’t change lives, journalists would never have started in their careers. We know that words matter and that coverage makes a difference. In this era of increasing violence and extremism, we appeal to editors to choose strategic silence over publishing stories that fuel the radicalization of their readers.

(Visit the original version at The Guardian to read the comments and help support their organization, as a sign of appreciation for their willingness to publish our work.)

by zephoria at June 02, 2018 01:39 AM

June 01, 2018

Justin Reich
From Final Exam to Defense of Learning
Instead of regurgitating information on a summative exam, what if students had to defend their understanding of a body of knowledge.

by Beth Holland at June 01, 2018 03:38 PM

May 30, 2018

Ethan Zuckerman
Six or Seven Things Social Media Can Do For Democracy

Social media doesn’t work the way we think it should. That’s the conclusion many people have come to in the wake of revelations about Cambridge Analytica’s mining of Facebook data to build political profiles and sway elections. Perhaps the concerns go further back, to the election of a US president in 2016 who seems fueled by social media, the more polarizing and divisive the better. Or perhaps it was Brexit that broke you. Or a gunman “self-investigating” the Comet Ping Pong pizza parlor, spurious accusations of crisis actors at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas and the amazingly inventive web of conspiracies the internet seems to engender. The cyberutopians have retreated, the creators of the modern internet are doing penance and we’re all social media critics now.


Photo by Tim Green, Flickr

Those critics include (suddenly) self-reflective executives at social media platforms, who are desperate for ideas on how their tools can return to society’s good graces. Having learned that platforms manage to metrics, making business decisions to maximize revenues, pageviews or engagement, there’s a new urgency to create a metric that will give us better social media, tools less likely to isolate, polarize and radicalize us. Tristan Harris has preached the gospel of Time Well Spent to newly receptive audiences at Facebook. At Cortico, my MIT colleague Deb Roy is working to define measures of healthy online communities, so Twitter and other platforms can optimize to encourage these behaviors.

These are worthy projects, and I am following both with optimism and interest. But I am concerned that we’ve not had a robust conversation about what we want social media to do for us.

We know what social media does for platform companies like Facebook and Twitter: it generates enormous masses of user-generated content that can be monetized with advertising, and reams of behavioral data that make that advertising more valuable. Perhaps we have a sense for what social media does for us as individuals, connecting us to distant friends, helping us maintain a lightweight awareness of each other’s lives even when we are not co-present. Or perhaps it’s a machine for disappointment and envy, a window into lives better lived than our own. It’s likely that what social media does for us personally is a deeply idiosyncratic question, dependent on our own lives, psyches and decisions, better discussed with our therapists than spoken about in generalities.

I’m interested in what social media should do for us as citizens in a democracy. We talk about social media as a digital public sphere, invoking Habermas and coffeehouses frequented by the bourgeoisie. Before we ask whether the internet succeeds as a public sphere, we ought to ask whether that’s actually what we want it to be.

I take my lead here from journalism scholar Michael Schudson, who took issue with a hyperbolic statement made by media critic James Carey: “journalism as a practice is unthinkable except in the context of democracy; in fact, journalism is usefully understood as another name for democracy.” For Schudson, this was a step too far. Journalism may be necessary for democracy to function well, but journalism by itself is not democracy and cannot produce democracy. Instead, we should work to understand the “Six or Seven Things News Can Do for Democracy”, the title of an incisive essay Schudson wrote to anchor his book, Why Democracies Need an Unloveable Press.

The six things Schudson sees news currently doing for democracy are presented in order of their frequency – as a result, the first three functions Schudson sees are straightforward and unsurprising. The news informs us about events, locally and globally, that we need to know about as citizens. The news investigates issues that are not immediately obvious, doing the hard work of excavating truths that someone did not want told. News provides analysis, knitting reported facts into complex possible narratives of significance and direction.

Schudson wades into deeper waters with the next three functions. News can serve as a public forum, allowing citizens to raise their voices through letters to the editor, op-eds and (when they’re still permitted) through comments. The news can serve as a tool for social empathy, helping us feel the importance of social issues through careful storytelling, appealing to our hearts as well as our heads. Controversially, Schudson argues, news can be a force for mobilization, urging readers to take action, voting, marching, protesting, boycotting, or using any of the other tools we have access to as citizens.

His essay closes with a seventh role that Schudson believes the news should fill, even if it has yet to embrace it. The news can be a force for the promotion of representative democracy. For Schudson, this includes the idea of protecting minority rights against the excesses of populism, and he sees a possible role for journalists in ensuring that these key protections remain in force.

This is perhaps not an exhaustive list, nor is the news required to do all that Schudson believes it can do. Neither does the list include things that the news tries to do that aren’t necessarily connected to democracy, like providing an advertising platform for local businesses, providing revenue for publishers, or entertaining audiences. And Schudson acknowledges that these functions can come into conflict – the more a news organization engages in mobilization, the more likely it is that it will compromise their ability to inform impartially.

In this same spirit, I’d like to suggest six or seven things social media can do for democracy. I am neither as learned or as wise as Schudson, so I fully expect readers to offer half a dozen functions that I’ve missed. In the spirit of Schudson’s public forum and Benkler’s digital public sphere, I offer these in the hopes of starting, not ending, a conversation.

Social media can inform us.

Many of us have heard the statistic that a majority of young people see Facebook as a primary source for news, and virtually every newsroom now considers Facebook as an important distributor of their content (sometimes to their peril.) But that’s not what’s most important in considering social media as a tool for democracy. Because social media is participatory, it is a tool people use to create and share information with friends and family, and potentially the wider world. Usually this information is of interest only to a few people – it’s what you had for lunch, or the antics of the squirrel in your backyard. But sometimes the news you see is of intense importance to the rest of the world.

When protesters took to the streets of Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia, they were visible to the world through Facebook even though the Tunisian government had prevented journalists from coming to the town. Videos from Facebook made their way to Al Jazeera through Tunisian activists in the diaspora, and Al Jazeera rebroadcast footage, helping spread the protests to Tunis and beyond. The importance of social media in informing us is that it provides a channel for those excluded by the news – whether through censorship, as in Tunisia, or through disinterest or ignorance – to have their voices and issues heard.

Places don’t need to be as far away as Tunisia for social media to be a conduit for information – when Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, Missouri, many people learned of his death, the protests that unfolded in the wake, and the militarized response to those protests, via Twitter. (And as news reporters were arrested for covering events in Ferguson, they turned to Twitter to share news of their own detention.) Social media is critically important in giving voice to communities who’ve been systemically excluded from media – people of color, women, LGBTQIA people, poor people. By giving people a chance to share their under-covered perspectives with broadcast media, social media has a possible role in making the media ecosystem more inclusive and fair.

Finally, social media may be in helping replace or augment local information, as people connect directly with their children’s schools or with community organizations. This function is increasingly important as local newspapers shed staff or close altogether, as social media may become the primary conduit for local information.

Social media can amplify important voices and issues.

In traditional (broadcast or newspaper) media, editors decide what topics are worth the readers’ attention. This “agenda setting” function has enormous political importance – as Max McCombs and Donald Shaw observed in 1972, the news doesn’t tell us what to think, but it’s very good at telling us what to think about.

That agenda-setting power takes a different shape in the era of social media. Instead of a linear process from an editor’s desk through a reporter to the paper on your front porch, social media works with news media through a set of feedback loops. Readers make stories more visible by sharing them on social media (and help ensure invisibility by failing to share stories). Editors and writers respond to sharing as a signal of popularity and interest, and will often write more stories to capitalize on this interest. Readers may respond to stories by becoming authors, injecting their stories into the mix and competing with professional stories for attention and amplification.

Amplification has become a new form of exercising political power. In 2012, we watched Invisible Children use a carefully crafted campaign, built around a manipulative video and a strategy of sharing the video with online influencers. Within an few days, roughly half of American young people had seen the video, and US funding for the Ugandan military – the goal of the campaign – was being supported by powerful people in the US Congress and military. (That the organization’s director had a nervous breakdown, leading to the group’s implosion, was not a coincidence – Invisible Children managed to amplify an issue to a level of visibility where powerful backlash was inevitable.)

Amplification works within much smaller circles that those surrounding US foreign policy. By sharing content with small personal networks on social media, individuals signal the issues they see as most important and engage in a constant process of self-definition. In the process, they advocate for friends to pay attention to these issues as well. Essentially, social media provides an efficient mechanism for the two-step flow of communication, documented by Paul Lazarsfeld and Elihu Katz, to unfold online. We are less influenced by mass media than we are by opinion leaders, who share their opinions about mass media. Social media invites all of us to become opinion leaders, at least for our circles of friends, and makes the process entertaining, gamifying our role as influencers by rewarding us with up to the second numbers on how our tweets and posts have been liked and shared by our friends.

Social media can be a tool for connection and solidarity.

The pre-web internet of the 1980s and 1990s was organized around topics of interest, rather than offline friendships, as social networks like Facebook organize. Some of the most long-lasting communities that emerged from the Usenet era of the internet were communities of interest that connected people who had a hard time finding each other offline: young people questioning their sexuality, religious and ethnic minorities, people with esoteric or specialized interests. The spirit of the community of interest and identity continued through Scott Hefferman’s meetup.com, which helped poodle owners or Bernie supporters in Des Moines find each other, and now surfaces again in Facebook Groups, semi-private spaces designed to allow people to connect with likeminded individuals in safe, restricted spaces.

Social critics, notably Robert Putnam, have worried that the internet is undermining our sense of community and lessening people’s abilities to engage in civic behavior. Another possibility is that we’re forming new bonds of solidarity based on shared interests than on shared geographies. I think of Jen Brea, whose academic career at Harvard was cut short by myalgic encephalomyelitis, who used the internet to build an online community of fellow disease sufferers, a powerful documentary film that premiered at Sundance, and a powerful campaign calling attention to the ways diseases that disproportionately affect women are systemically misdiagnosed. Brea’s disease makes it difficult for her to connect with her local, physical community, but social media has made it possible to build a powerful community of interest that is working on helping people live with their disease.

One of the major worries voiced about social media is the ways in which it can increase political polarization. Communities of solidarity can both exacerbate and combat that problem. We may end up more firmly rooted in our existing opinions, or we may create a new set of weak ties to people who we may disagree with in terms of traditional political categories, but with whom we share powerful bonds around shared interests, identities and struggles.

Social media can be a space for mobilization

The power of social media to raise money for candidates, recruit people to participate in marches and rallies, to organize boycotts of products or the overthrow of governments is one of the best-documented – and most debated – powers of social media. From Clay Shirky’s examination of group formation and mobilization in Here Comes Everybody to endless analyses of the power of Facebook and Twitter in mobilizing youth in Tahrir Square or Gezi Park, including Zeynep Tufekçi’s Twitter and Tear Gas, the power of social media to both recruit people to social movements and to organize actions offline has been well documented. It’s also been heartily critiqued, from Malcolm Gladwell, who believes that online connections can never be as powerful as real-world strong ties for leading people to protest, or by thinkers like Tufekçi, who readily admit that the ease of mobilizing people online is an Achille’s heel, teaching leaders like Erdogan to discount the importance of citizens protesting in the streets.

It’s worth noting that mobilization online does not have to lead to offline action to be effective. A wave of campaigns like Sleeping Giants, which has urged advertisers to pull support from Breitbart, or #metoo, where tens of thousands of women have demonstrated that sexual harassment is a pervasive condition, not just the product of a few Harvey Weinsteins, have connected primarily online action to real-world change. What’s increasingly clear is that online mobilization – like amplification – is simply a tool in the contemporary civic toolkit, alongsite more traditional forms of organizing.

Social media can be a space for deliberation and debate.

Perhaps no promise of social media has been more disappointing than hope that social media would provide the public forum function Schudson celebrated. Newspapers began experimenting with participatory media through open comments fora, and quickly discovered that online discourse was often mean, petty, superficial and worth ignoring. Moving debate from often anonymous comment sections onto real-name social networks like Facebook had less of a mediating effect that many hoped. While conversations less often devolve into insults and shouting, everyone who’s shared political news online has had the experience of a friend or family member ending an online friendship over controversial content. It’s likely that the increasing popularity of closed online spaces, like Facebook groups, has to do with the unwillingness of people to engage in civil deliberation and debate, and the hope that people can find affirmation and support for their views rather than experiencing conflict and tension.

Yet it is possible to create spaces for deliberation and debate within social media. Wael Ghonim was the organizer of the We Are All Khaled Said Facebook page, one of the major groups that mobilized “Tahrir youth” to stand up to the Mubarak regime, leading to the most dramatic changes to come out of the Arab Spring. After the revolution, Ghonim was deeply involved with democratic organizing in Egypt. He became frustrated with Facebook, which was an excellent platform for rallying people and harnessing anger, but far less effective in enabling nuanced debate about political futures. Ghonim went on to build his own social network, Parlio, which focused on civility and respectful debate, featuring dialogs with intellectuals and political leaders rather than updates on what participants were eating for lunch or watching on TV. The network had difficulty scaling, but was acquired by Quora, the question-answering social network, which was attracted to Parlio’s work in building high-value conversations that went beyond questions and answers.

Parlio suggests that the dynamics of social networks as we understand them have to do with the choices made by their founders and governing team. Facebook and Twitter can be such unpleasant places because strong emotions lead to high engagement, and engagement sells ads. Engineer a different social network around different principles, and it’s possible that the deliberation and debate we might hope from a digital public sphere could happen within a platform.

Social media can be a tool for showing us a diversity of views and perspectives.

If the idea of social media as a space for deliberation and polite dialog doesn’t convince you that I’ve been replaced with a cyberutopian dopplegänger of myself, this assertion might. I wrote a book, Rewire, that argues that social media tends to reinforce homophily, the tendency of birds of a feather to flock together. Given the apparent track record of social media as a space where ethnonationalism and racism thrive, is it reasonable to hope for social media to operate as a tool for increasing diversity of views and exposure to alternative perspectives.

Yes, but not without conscious intervention to help social networks operate differently than they do now. Contemporary social networks have an enormous amount of potential diversity, but very little manifest diversity. In theory, you can connect with 2 billion people from virtually every country in the world on Facebook. In practice, you connect with a few hundred people you know offline, who tend to share your national origin, race, religion and politics. But a social network that focused explicitly on broadening your perspectives would have a tremendous foundation to build upon: networks like Facebook know a great deal about who you already pay attention to, and have a deep well of alternative content to draw from. Projects like FlipFeed from MIT’s Laboratory for Social Machines and gobo.social from my group at the MIT Media Lab explicitly re-engineer your social media feeds to encourage encounters with a more diverse set of perspectives. If a network like Twitter or Facebook concluded that increased diversity was a worthy metric to manage to, there’s dozens of ways to accomplish the goal, and rich questions to be solved in combining increased diversity with a user’s interests to accomplish serendipity, rather than increased randomness.

Schudson’s suggestion that news could promote representative democracy was intended as a challenge to news organizations to take their democratic responsibilities more seriously. I offer my seventh suggestion for social media in the same spirit.

Social media can be a model for democratically governed spaces.

Users in social networks like Twitter and Facebook have little control over how those networks are governed, despite the great value they collectively create for platform owners. This disparity has led Rebecca MacKinnon to call for platform owners to seek Consent of the Networked, and Trebor Scholz to call us to recognize participation in social networks as Digital Labor. But some platforms have done more than others to engage their communities in governance.

Reddit is the fourth most popular site on the US internet and sixth most popular site worldwide, as measured by Alexa Internet, and is a daily destination for at least 250 million users. The site is organized into thousands of “subreddits”, each managed by a team of uncompensated, volunteer moderators, who determine what content is allowable in each community. The result is a wildly diverse set of conversations, ranging from insightful conversations about science and politics in some communities, to ugly, racist, misogynistic, hateful speech in others. The difference in outcomes in those communities comes in large part to differences in governance and to the partipants each community attracts.

Some Reddit communities have begun working with scholars to examine scientifically how they could govern their communities more effectively. /r/science, a community of 18 million subscribers and over a thousand volunteer moderators, has worked with communications scholar Nathan Matias to experiment with ways of enforcing their rules to maximize positive discussions and throw out fewer rulebreakers. The ability to experiment with different rules in different parts of a site and to study what rulesets best enable what kinds of conversations could have benefits for supporters of participatory democracy offline as well as online.

It’s fair to point out that the social media platforms we use today don’t fulfill all these functions. Few have taken steps to increase the diversity of opinions users are exposed to, and though many have tried to encourage civil discourse, very few have succeeded. It’s likely that some of these goals are incompatible with current ad supported business models. Political polarization and name-calling may well generate more pageviews than diversity and civil deliberation.

Second, as Schudson observed about the possible functions for media, these democratic functions for social media may be mutually incompatible. It’s likely that the communities that favor solidarity and subgroup identity, or turn that identity into mobilization, aren’t the best ones to support efforts for diversity or for dialog. The ways in which different networks may be necessary to accomplish multiple democratic goals points to the fact that we may not need One Network to Rule Them All, so much as we may need a diversity of networks for different purposes. The place where I swap war stories about continuous glucose monitors with fellow type 1 diabetics may not be the place I argue politics – and it may be a massive mistake to collapse those communities and functions into the same platform

Finally, it’s also fair to note that there’s a dark side to every democratic function I’ve listed. The tools that allow marginalized people to report their news and influence media are the same ones that allow fake news to be injected into the media ecosystem. Amplification is a technique used by everyone from Black Lives Matter to neo-Nazis, as is mobilization, and the spaces for solidarity that allow Jen Brea to manage her disease allow “incels” to push each other towards violence. While I feel comfortable advocating for respectful dialog and diverse points of view, someone will see my advocacy as an attempt to push politically correct multiculturalism down their throat, or to silence the exclusive truth of their perspectives through dialog. The bad news is that making social media work better for democracy likely means making it work better for the Nazis as well. The good news is that there’s a lot more participatory democrats than there are Nazis.

My aim in putting forward seven things social media could do for democracy is two-fold. As we demand that Facebook, Twitter and others do better – and we should – we need to know what we’re asking for. I want Facebook to be more respectful of my personal information, more dedicated to helping me connect with my friends than marketing me to advertisers, but I also want them to be thinking about which of these democratic goals they hope to achieve. Second, I don’t believe we should have only one or two social media networks. My hope is a world where we could have dozens of interoperable social networks focused on different goals and purposes. When I’ve proposed publicly-funded social media networks, it’s not because I believe taxpayers should pay for a replacement for Facebook. It’s because I think we need networks that take seriously problems like deliberation and diversity, and I don’t yet see those projects emerging from the market.

In suggesting the roles news has within a democracy, Michael Schudson had the support of Thomas Jefferson, who declared that if he had to choose between “a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter”. There’s no guarantee that our founders would have embraced social media as a critical pillar of democracy – though I’ve made the case that Franklin, at least, would have found it very familiar. But if our response to the shortcomings of contemporary social media is to move beyond the idea that we should burn it all down, it’s critical that we ask what social media can do for democracy and demand that it play its part.


As I mentioned early in this essay, I’m unconvinced that I’ve identified the correct seven functions for social media in a democracy, or that there’s six or seven. And while I have the intuition that our democracies are better with social media than without them, I’m interested in all arguments, including the argument to burn it all down. I hope you’ll take advantage of participatory media as a space for dialog to offer your thoughts in the comments on this, or in your own writing elsewhere online. Thanks for reading and engaging.

by Ethan at May 30, 2018 03:20 PM

May 29, 2018

MediaBerkman
How Social Network Manipulation Tactics Are Impacting Amazon & Influencing Consumers
Narrative manipulation issues - such as manufactured consensus, brigading, harassment, information laundering, fake accounts, news voids, and more - are increasingly well-documented problems affecting the entire social ecosystem.This has had negative consequences for information integrity, and for trust. In this talk Renee DiResta (Director of Research at New Knowledge, and Head of Policy at nonprofit Data for Democracy) examines the ways that these same manipulative tactics are being deployed on Amazon, which is now the dominant product search engine and a battlefield for economically and ideologically motivated actors. For more info on this event visit: https://cyber.harvard.edu/events/2018/luncheon/05/DiResta

by the Berkman Klein Center at May 29, 2018 06:44 PM

May 23, 2018

Benjamin Mako Hill
Natural experiment showing how “wide walls” can support engagement and learning

Seymour Papert is credited as saying that tools to support learning should have “high ceilings” and “low floors.” The phrase is meant to suggest that tools should allow learners to do complex and intellectually sophisticated things but should also be easy to begin using quickly. Mitchel Resnick extended the metaphor to argue that learning toolkits should also have “wide walls” in that they should appeal to diverse groups of learners and allow for a broad variety of creative outcomes. In a new paper, Sayamindu Dasgupta and I attempted to provide an empirical test of Resnick’s wide walls theory. Using a natural experiment in the Scratch online community, we found causal evidence that “widening walls” can, as Resnick suggested, increase both engagement and learning.

Over the last ten years, the “wide walls” design principle has been widely cited in the design of new systems. For example, Resnick and his collaborators relied heavily on the principle in the design of the Scratch programming language. Scratch allows young learners to produce not only games, but also interactive art, music videos, greetings card, stories, and much more. As part of that team, Sayamindu was guided by “wide walls” principle when he designed and implemented the Scratch cloud variables system in 2011-2012.

While designing the system, Sayamindu hoped to “widen walls” by supporting a broader range of ways to use variables and data structures in Scratch. Scratch cloud variables extend the affordances of the normal Scratch variable by adding persistence and shared-ness. A simple example of something possible with cloud variables, but not without them, is a global high-score leaderboard in a game (example code is below). After the system was launched, we saw many young Scratch users using the system to engage with data structures in new and incredibly creative ways.

cloud-variable-scriptExample of Scratch code that uses a cloud variable to keep track of high-scores among all players of a game.

Although these examples reflected powerful anecdotal evidence, we were also interested in using quantitative data to reflect the causal effect of the system. Understanding the causal effect of a new design in real world settings is a major challenge. To do so, we took advantage of a “natural experiment” and some clever techniques from econometrics to measure how learners’ behavior changed when they were given access to a wider design space.

Understanding the design of our study requires understanding a little bit about how access to the Scratch cloud variable system is granted. Although the system has been accessible to Scratch users since 2013, new Scratch users do not get access immediately. They are granted access only after a certain amount of time and activity on the website (the specific criteria are not public). Our “experiment” involved a sudden change in policy that altered the criteria for who gets access to the cloud variable feature. Through no act of their own, more than 14,000 users were given access to feature, literally overnight. We looked at these Scratch users immediately before and after the policy change to estimate the effect of access to the broader design space that cloud variables afforded.

We found that use of data-related features was, as predicted, increased by both access to and use of cloud variables. We also found that this increase was not only an effect of projects that use cloud variables themselves. In other words, learners with access to cloud variables—and especially those who had used it—were more likely to use “plain-old” data-structures in their projects as well.

The graph below visualizes the results of one of the statistical models in our paper and suggests that we would expect that 33% of projects by a prototypical “average” Scratch user would use data structures if the user in question had never used used cloud variables but that we would expect that 60% of projects by a similar user would if they had used the system.

Model-predicted probability that a project made by a prototypical Scratch user will contain data structures (w/o counting projects with cloud variables)

It is important to note that the estimated effective above is a “local average effect” among people who used the system because they were granted access by the sudden change in policy (this is a subtle but important point that we explain this in some depth in the paper). Although we urge care and skepticism in interpreting our numbers, we believe our results are encouraging evidence in support of the “wide walls” design principle.

Of course, our work is not without important limitations. Critically, we also found that rate of adoption of cloud variables was very low. Although it is hard to pinpoint the exact reason for this from the data we observed, it has been suggested that widening walls may have a potential negative side-effect of making it harder for learners to imagine what the new creative possibilities might be in the absence of targeted support and scaffolding. Also important to remember is that our study measures “wide walls” in a specific way in a specific context and that it is hard to know how well our findings will generalize to other contexts and communities. We discuss these caveats, as well as our methods, models, and theoretical background in detail in our paper which now available for download as an open-access piece from the ACM digital library.


This blog post, and the open access paper that it describes, is a collaborative project with Sayamindu Dasgupta. Financial support came from the eScience Institute and the Department of Communication at the University of Washington. Quantitative analyses for this project were completed using the Hyak high performance computing cluster at the University of Washington.

by Benjamin Mako Hill at May 23, 2018 04:17 PM

May 22, 2018

MediaBerkman
Art that Imitates Art: Computational Creativity and Creative Contracting
Computational creativity—a subdomain of artificial intelligence concerned with systems that replicate or assist human creative endeavors—has been the  subject of academic inquiry for decades. Now, with recent improvements in machine learning techniques and the rising popularity of all things AI, computational creativity is a medium for critically and commercially successful works of art. From a 2016 Rembrandt to Jukedeck’s instant music (or muzak?), AI-assisted and AI-driven works are a reality. This raises mind-bending questions about the nature of creativity, the relationship between the artist and the viewer, even the existence of free will. For many lawyers, it also raises a more immediate question: who owns all of this art? Cyberlaw Clinicians Jess Fjeld and Mason Kortz discuss copyright in AI-generated works, the need for a shared understanding of what is and isn’t up for grabs in a license, and how forward-thinking contracts can prevent AI developers and artists from having their rights decided by our (often notoriously backwards-looking) legal system. Learn more about this event here: https://cyber.harvard.edu/events/2018/luncheon/05/Fjeld_Kortz

by the Berkman Klein Center at May 22, 2018 12:00 AM

May 17, 2018

Berkman Center front page
20 years of the Laws of Cyberspace

Subtitle

Berkman Klein event celebrates how Lawrence Lessig's groundbreaking paper provided structure to the Center's field of study

Teaser

It’s been two decades since Harvard Law School Professor Lawrence Lessig published “The Laws Of Cyberspace,” which, in the words of Professor Jonathan Zittrain, “imposed some structure over the creative chaos of what maybe was a field that we’d call cyberlaw.”

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What if an architecture emerges that permits constant monitoring; an architecture that facilitates the constant tracking of behavior and movement. What if an architecture emerged that would costlessly collect data about individuals, about their behavior, about who they wanted to become. And what if the architecture could do that invisibly, without interfering with an individual’s daily life at all? … This architecture is the world that the net is becoming. This is the picture of control it is growing into. As in real space, we will have passports in cyberspace. As in real space, these passports can be used to track our behavior. But in cyberspace, unlike real space, this monitoring, this tracking, this control of behavior, will all be much less expensive. This control will occur in the background, effectively and invisibly. -Lawrence Lessig, "The Laws of Cyberspace," 1998

It’s been two decades since Harvard Law School Professor Lawrence Lessig published “The Laws Of Cyberspace,” which, in the words of Professor Jonathan Zittrain, “imposed some structure over the creative chaos of what maybe was a field that we’d call cyberlaw.” Lessig’s groundbreaking paper describes four types of constraints that together regulate behavior – law, social norms, the market, and architecture – and argues that due to its special architecture, cyberspace is different from “real” space and thus subject to new possibilities for control by governments and other centers of power. “The world we are entering is not a world where freedom is assured,” Lessig wrote in 1998, but instead, “has the potential to be the most fully, and extensively, regulated space in our history.”

On April 16, the Berkman Klein Center of Internet & Society hosted a special event commemorating the 20th anniversary of the publication of “The Laws of Cyberspace,” with Lessig, Harvard Law School Professors Ruth Okediji and Jonathan Zittrain, and Dr. Laura DeNardis of American University. The panelists reflected on the paper, and where the field of cyberlaw has taken us over the last two decades, and they considered how some of the concerns raised in 1998 might apply today.

“I was sitting on that bench outside the Lewis building,” recollected Okediji of the day 20 years ago when she first read the paper, “and I will never forget both my sense of sheer terror that we were launching something that we had no idea where it would lead us, and then this sense of skepticism: ‘Well, how does he know he’s right?’” She explained that “The Laws of Cyberspace” led to her own work thinking about internet governance, social interaction on the net and the law. “It’s been 20 years, and Larry was right,” she said.

Lessig told the audience that the paper came in part out of a feeling of frustration. He feared that many internet enthusiasts were taking for granted that the freedom the internet allowed in 1998 was the freedom it would always allow, and he wanted to make the point that the regulability of place is a function of its architecture and thus not guaranteed. Without deliberate interventions, the lack of regulation that so many cherished in the early days of the internet could slip away.

“The architecture of the internet as it originally was made it really hard to regulate, but you might imagine the technology evolving to persistently watch everything you’re doing and enable simple traceability,” he said. “All of these evolutions in the architecture increase the regulability of the space, and then we’d need to decide, ‘Do we like that? Do we want that?’”

Lessig explained that even in 1998, governments and private markets seemed to be interested in increasing regulability and the ability to track what people were doing for the purposes of commerce and control.

“Arrangements of technical architecture are arrangements of power,” explained DeNardis. “This often has nothing to do with governments whatsoever.” For example, the World Wide Web Consortium designs accessibility for disabled people into their protocols, she said, which is an example of how technical architecture is determining public interest issues. DeNardis said that often it’s hard for people without a technical background to be involved in decisions like these, but that there’s currently a surge of people from beyond the technical sphere showing interest in participating in the decisions that shape our experience online and affect issues like identity and privacy. However, she said, this increase in public participation coincides with the proliferation of proprietary standards coming out of closed organizations such as the Internet of Things and social media platforms.

Lessig added that as the space of innovation moves into “islands of innovation,” such as the large tech platforms like Google and Facebook, the generativity of innovations become contingent on each platform’s permission, creating the potential scenario where someone would choose not to create something for fear that the company would “pull the rug out.” This is an example of “how technical change and legal ownership work together to change the basic opportunity to innovate,” he said.

DeNardis made the point that while certain platforms might be islands in terms of interoperability, they are tied together in the backend by the third parties that collect and aggregate data about us. It’s important to look below the surface, she said. “That’s where a lot of the power is. The power to do things like censor LGBT people, the power to restrict people based on architecture-embedded intellectual property rights, and the power to monetize us through big data that’s aggregated with companies we’ve never even signed terms of service with.”

Okediji noted that there’s been little innovation in contract law when it comes to technology. “It’s not just that we’re missing the mark in the area of cyberspace. The regimes that surround cyberspace also have not received the attention they should,” she said, suggesting that the rules and norms around what makes a contract and the practice of “signing away all these rights with a click” might not be ideal.

“What troubles me quite significantly is that we have this 911 mentality when it comes to policy,” said Okediji. “Avoiding something in the future requires us to be thinking about it today, not tomorrow when the problem occurs.”  Rather than dealing with problems only as they come up, she said, we need to ask ourselves ‘What’s the vision for what cyberspace should look like 20 years from now?’”

This article originally appeared in Harvard Law Today.

 

by gweber at May 17, 2018 03:16 PM

ProjectVRM
Our time has come

For the first time since we launched ProjectVRM, we have a wave we can ride to a shore.

That wave is the GDPR: Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation. Here’s how it looks to Google Trends:

It crests just eight days from now, on May 25th.

To prep for the GDPR (and to avoid its potentially massive fines), organizations everywhere are working like crazy to get ready, especially in Europe. (Note: the GDPR protects the privacy of EU citizens, and applies worldwide.)

Thanks to the GDPR, there’s a stink on surveillance capitalism, and companies everywhere that once feasted on big data are now going on starvation diets.

Here’s one measure of that wave: my post “GDPR will pop the adtech bubble” got more than 50,000 after it went up during the weekend, when it also hit #1 on Hacker News and Techmeme. And this Hacker News comment thread about the piece is more than 30,000 words long. So far.

The GDPR dominates all conversations here at KuppingerCole‘s EIC conference in Munich where my keynote Tuesday was titled How Customers Will Lead Companies to GDPR Compliance and Beyond. (The video is up, alas behind a registration wall. I’ll see if we can fix that.)

Ten years ago at this same conference, KuppingerCole gaveEIC award ProjectVRM an award (there on the right) that was way ahead of its time.

Back then we really thought the world was ready for tools that would make individuals both independent and better able to engage—and that these tools that would prove a thesis: that free customers are more valuable than captive ones.

But then social media happened, and platforms grew so big and powerful that it was hard to keep imagining a world online where each of us are truly free.

But we did more than imagine. We worked on customertech that would vastly increase personal agency for each of us, and turn the marketplace into a Marvel-like universe in which all of us are enhanced:

In this liberated marketplace, we would be able to

  1. Make companies agree to our terms, rather than the other way around.
  2. Control our own self-sovereign identities, and manage all the ways we are known to the administrative systems of the world. This means we will be able to —
  3. Get rid of logins and passwords, so we are simply known to others we grace with that privilege. Which we can also withdraw.
  4. Change our email or our home address in the records of every company we deal with, in one move.
  5. Pay what we want, where we want, for whatever we want, in our own ways.
  6. Call for service or support in one simple and straightforward way of our own, rather than in as many ways as there are 800 numbers to call and punch numbers into a phone before we wait on hold while bad music plays.
  7. Express loyalty in our own ways, which are genuine rather than coerced.
  8. Have an Internet of MY Things, which each of us controls for ourselves, and in which every thing we own has its own cloud, which we control as well.
  9. Own and control all our health and fitness records, and how others use them.
  10. Help companies by generously sharing helpful facts about how we use their products and services — but in our own ways, through standard tools that work the same for every company we deal with.
  11. Have wallets of our own, rather than only those provided by platforms.
  12. Have shopping carts of our own, which we could take from store to store and site to site online, rather than ones provided only by the stores themselves.
  13. Have real relationships with companies, based on open standards and code, rather than relationships trapped inside corporate silos.

We’ve done a lot of work on most of those things. (Follow the links.) Now we need to work together to bring attention and interest to all our projects by getting behind what Customer Commons, our first and only spin-off, is doing over the next nine days.

First is a campaign to make an annual celebration of the GDPR, calling May 25th #Privmas.

As part of that (same link), launching a movement to take control of personal privacy online by blocking third party cookies. Hashtag #NoMore3rds. Instructions are here, for six browsers. (It’s easy. I’ve been doing it for weeks on all mine, to no ill effects.)

This is in addition to work following our Hack Day at MIT several weeks ago. Stay tuned for more on that.

Meanwhile, all hands on deck. We need more action than discussion here. Let’s finish getting started making VRM work for the world.

by Doc Searls at May 17, 2018 04:33 AM

May 15, 2018

Berkman Center front page
Shaping Consumption: How Social Network Manipulation Tactics Are Impacting Amazon and Influencing Consumers

Subtitle

featuring Renee DiResta

Teaser

This talk examines the ways that these same manipulative tactics are being deployed on Amazon, which is now the dominant product search engine and a battlefield for economically and ideologically motivated actors.

Parent Event

Berkman Klein Luncheon Series

Event Date

May 15 2018 12:00pm to May 15 2018 12:00pm
Thumbnail Image: 

Tuesday, May 15, 2018 at 12:00 pm
Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University
Harvard Law School campus
 


Narrative manipulation issues - such as manufactured consensus, brigading, harassment, information laundering, fake accounts, news voids, and more - are increasingly well-documented problems affecting the entire social ecosystem. This has had negative consequences for information integrity, and for trust. This talk examines the ways that these same manipulative tactics are being deployed on Amazon, which is now the dominant product search engine and a battlefield for economically and ideologically motivated actors.

About Renee

Renee DiResta is the Director of Research at New Knowledge, and Head of Policy at nonprofit Data for Democracy. Renee investigates the spread of disinformation and manipulated narratives across social networks, and assists policymakers in understanding and responding to the problem. She has advised Congress, the State Department, and other academic, civic, and business organizations about understanding and responding to computational propaganda and information operations. In 2017, Renee was named a Presidential Leadership Scholar, and had the opportunity to continue her work with the support of the Presidents Bush, President Clinton, and the LBJ Foundation. In 2018, she received a Mozilla Foundation fellowship and affiliation with the Berkman-Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University to work on their Media, Misinformation, and Trust project. She is a Founding Advisor to the Center for Humane Technology, and a Staff Associate at Columbia University Data Science Institute.

Previously, Renee was part of the founding team of venture-backed supply chain logistics technology platform Haven, where she ran business development and marketing, and a co-founder of Vaccinate California, a parent-led grassroots legislative advocacy group. Renee has also been an investor at O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures (OATV), focused on hardware and logistics startups, and an emerging markets derivatives trader at Jane Street Capital. Her work and writing have been featured in the New York Times, Politico, Slate, Wired, Fast Company, Inc., and the Economist. She is the author of the O’Reilly book “The Hardware Startup: Building Your Product, Business, and Brand”, and lives on the web at http://reneediresta.com and @noUpside.

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by candersen at May 15, 2018 05:15 PM

May 10, 2018

MediaBerkman
The Law and Ethics of Digital Piracy: Evidence from Harvard Law School Graduates
Harvard Law School is one of the top law schools in the world and educates the intellectual and financial elites. Lawyers are held to the highest professional and ethical standards. And yet, when it comes to digital piracy, they overwhelmingly perceive file sharing as an acceptable social practice – as long as individuals do not derive monetary benefits from it. So should digital files be considered a commons? In this talk, Dariusz and Jerome identify and discuss the social and economic contexts in which file sharing is considered more or less acceptable by law practitioners. In the process, they foster a conversation on the possible changes in regulation that would allow us to catch up with the established social norm. Learn more about this event here: https://cyber.harvard.edu/events/2018/luncheon/05/Jemielniak_Herguex

by the Berkman Klein Center at May 10, 2018 08:37 PM

Governance and Regulation in the land of Crypto-Securities (as told by CryptoKitties)
Founding members of the CryptoKitties team, Dieter Shirley and Alex Shih, discuss the unique governance, legal, and regulatory challenges of putting cats on the Ethereum blockchain. CryptoKitties is an early pioneer in the space, and, having navigated securities law early on in its release, will share unique insights on classifications. They also discuss some of the more ethical challenges they've been facing, and best practices for approach. Learn more about this event here: https://cyber.harvard.edu/events/2018/luncheon/05/CryptoKitties

by the Berkman Klein Center at May 10, 2018 08:33 PM

Berkman Center front page
Art that Imitates Art: Computational Creativity and Creative Contracting

Subtitle

Jessica Fjeld and Mason Kortz, Cyberlaw Clinicians at Harvard Law

Teaser

Join us for our last Tuesday Luncheon of the academic year! Cyberlaw Clinicians Jess Fjeld and Mason Kortz for a discussion about copyright in AI-generated works, the need for a shared understanding of what is and isn’t up for grabs in a license, and how forward-thinking contracts can prevent AI developers and artists from having their rights decided by our (often notoriously backwards-looking) legal system.

Parent Event

Berkman Klein Luncheon Series

Event Date

May 22 2018 12:00pm to May 22 2018 12:00pm
Thumbnail Image: 

Tuesday, May 22, 2018 at 12:00 pm
Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University
[NEW LOCATION] 23 Everett Street,
Second Floor Conference Room

RSVP required to attend in person
Event will be recorded and posted here soon

Complimenary Lunch Served

Computational creativity—a subdomain of artificial intelligence concerned with systems that replicate or assist human creative endeavors—has been the  subject of academic inquiry for decades. Now, with recent improvements in machine learning techniques and the rising popularity of all things AI, computational creativity is a medium for critically and commercially successful works of art. From a 2016 Rembrandt to Jukedeck’s instant music (or muzak?), AI-assisted and AI-driven works are a reality. This raises mind-bending questions about the nature of creativity, the relationship between the artist and the viewer, even the existence of free will. For many lawyers, it also raises a more immediate question: who owns all of this art?

Join Cyberlaw Clinicians Jess Fjeld and Mason Kortz for a discussion about copyright in AI-generated works, the need for a shared understanding of what is and isn’t up for grabs in a license, and how forward-thinking contracts can prevent AI developers and artists from having their rights decided by our (often notoriously backwards-looking) legal system.

About Jessica

Jessica Fjeld is a Clinical Instructor at Harvard Law School's Cyberlaw Clinic. She works in diverse areas including intellectual property, media and entertainment (particularly public media), freedom of expression, and law and policy relating to government and nonprofit entities. Before joining the Clinic, Jessica worked in Business & Legal Affairs for WGBH Educational Foundation, and as an associate at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP focused in corporate transactions. She received a JD from Columbia Law School, where she was a James Kent Scholar and Managing Editor of the Journal of Law and the Arts; an MFA in Poetry from the University of Massachusetts; and a BA from Columbia University.

About Mason

Mason Kortz is a clinical instructional fellow at the Harvard Law School Cyberlaw Clinic, part of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society. His areas of interest include online speech and privacy and the use of data products (big or small) to advance social justice. Mason has worked as a data manager for the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, a legal fellow in the Technology for Liberty Project at the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, and a clerk in the District of Massachusetts. He has a JD from Harvard Law School and a BA in Computer Science and Philosophy from Dartmouth College. In his spare time, he enjoys cooking, reading, and game design.

 

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by candersen at May 10, 2018 04:29 PM

Ethan Zuckerman
Two Bens and a Mark: a talk at Ben Franklin Hall in Philadelphia

I’m speaking today in Ben Franklin Hall in Philadelphia for a conference of Media Impact Funders. And, at the request of the organizers, I’m cosplaying the great hustler himself. My talk builds on one I gave a couple of years ago at Data & Society, but veers in some different directions as I wonder what Franklin might have told an audience of folks with money and good intentions about how to fix some of the problems of our contemporary media environment.

The event is being livestreamed here, if you’d like to tune in.


This is a talk about two Benjamins and a Mark. The first one should be obvious to you. I’m a Franklin fan, and not only because people have observed a resemblance. (Personally, I don’t see it, but whatever.)

Actually, if you’re going to have a favorite founding father, Ben Franklin is not a bad choice. He wasn’t just an inventor, a scientist, a printer and a diplomat — he was a hustler. (As the scholar P. Diddy might have put it, he was all about the Benjamin.) Ben was a businessman, an entrepreneur, and he figured out that one of the best ways to have financial and political power in the Colonies was to control the means of communication. The job he held the longest was as postmaster, starting as postmaster of Philadelphia in 1737 and finally getting fired from his position as postmaster general of the Colonies in 1774, when the British finally figured out that he was a revolutionary who could not be trusted.

(You’d think this might have tipped them off – because Ben had franking privileges he could send letters for free by writing Free – B. Franklin, as he did on this note to John Hancock. But more often, he wrote B. Free Franklin, a coded message to show his support for independence.)

But free and subversive letters weren’t the only privileges Ben got from the post office. He had ample opportunities to hand out patronage jobs to his friends. But his real genius was in seeing the synergies between the family business — printing — and the post. Early in his career as a printer, Franklin bumped into one of the major challenges to publishers in the Colonies — if the postmaster didn’t like what you were writing about, you didn’t get to send your paper out to your subscribers. Once Ben had control over the post, he instituted a policy that was both progressive and profitable. Any publisher could distribute his newspaper via the post for a small, predictable, fixed fee.

What resulted from this policy was the emergence of a public sphere in the United States that was very different from the one Habermas describes, born in the coffee houses of the european bourgeoise. It was a distributed public sphere of newspapers and letters, one that was uniquely well suited to the American experiment. For a nation that spanned the distance between Boston and Charleston, a virtual, asynchronous public sphere mediated by print made more sense that one that centered around meeting face to face.

Franklin died in 1790, but physician and revolutionary – and fellow Philadelphian – Benjamin Rush expanded on Franklin’s vision for a post office that would knit the nation together and provide a space for the political discussions necessary for a nation of self-governing citizens to rule themselves. In 1792, Rush authored The Post Office Act, which is one of the subtlest and most surprising pieces of 18th century legislation that you’ve never heard of.

The Post Office Act established the right of the government to control postal routes and gave citizens rights to privacy of their mail — which was deeply undermined by the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, but hey, who’s counting. But what may be most important about the Post Office Act is that it set up a very powerful cross subsidy. Rather than charging based on weight and distance, as they had before Franklin’s reforms, the US postal system offered tiered service based on the purpose of the speech being exchanged. Exchanging private letters was very costly, while sending newspapers was shockingly cheap: it cost a small fraction of the cost of a private letter to send a newspaper. As a result, newspapers represented 95% of the weight of the mails and 15% of the revenue in 1832. This pricing disparity led to the wonderful phenomenon of cheapskates purchasing newspapers, underlining or pricking holes with a pin under selected words and sending encoded letters home for the price of a paper rather than a letter.

The low cost of mailing newspapers as well as the absence of stamp taxes or caution money, which made it incredibly prohibitively expensive to operate a press in England, allowed half of all American households to have a newspaper subscription in 1820, a rate that was orders of magnitude higher than in England or France. But the really crazy subsidy was the “exchange copy”. Newspapers could send copies to each other for free, with carriage costs paid by the post office. By 1840, The average newspaper received 4300 exchange copies a year — they were swimming in content, and thanks to extremely loose enforcement of copyright laws, a huge percentage of what appeared in the average newspaper was cut and pasted from other newspapers. This giant exchange of content was subsidized by high rates on those who used the posts for personal and commercial purposes.

This system worked really well, creating a postal service that was fiscally sustainable, and which aspired to universal service. By 1831, three quarters of US government civilian jobs were with the postal service. In an almost literal sense, the early US state was a postal service with a small representative government and a tiny military attached to it. But the postal system was huge because it needed to be — there were 8700 post offices by 1830, including over 400 in my home state of Massachusetts alone, which is saying something, as there are only 351 towns in Massachusetts.

I should note here that I don’t really know anything about early American history — I’m cribbing all of this from Paul Starr’s brilliant The Creation of the Media. I also recommend Winnifred Gallagher’s How the Post Office Created America, which continues to modern day and looks at how the post office advances technologies like aviation and, indeed, the internet.

But I teach these stories about the 18th century every year to my students because it helps explain the unique evolution of the public sphere in the US. Our founders built and regulated the postal system in such a way that its function as a sphere of public discourse was primary and its role as a tool for commerce and personal communication was secondary. They took on this massive undertaking explicitly because they believed that to have a self-governing nation, we needed not only representation in Congress, but a public sphere, a space for conversation about what the nation would and could be. And because the US was vast, and because the goal was to expand civic participation far beyond the urban bourgeois, it needed to be a distributed, participatory public sphere. To be clear, this was far than a universal public sphere – the founders saw this as a space for propertied white men – but the infrastructures of post and mail created powerful tools for abolitionists, for newspapers that helped free black men connect across vast distances, that helped carry the case for women’s suffrage.

As we look at the challenge we face today — understanding the influence of algorithms over the public sphere — it’s worth understanding what’s truly novel, and what’s actually got a deep historical basis. The notion of a private, commercial public sphere isn’t a new one. America’s early newspapers had an important civic function, but they were also loaded with advertising — 50–90% of the total content, in the late 18th century, which is why so many of them were called The Advertiser. What is new is our distaste for regulating commercial media. Whether through the subsidies I just described or through explicit mandates like the Fairness Doctrine, we’ve not historically been shy in insisting that the press take on civic functions. The anti-regulatory, corporate libertarian stance, built on the questionable assumptions that any press regulation is a violation of the first amendment and that any regulation of tech-centric industries will retard innovation, would likely have been surprising to our founders.

An increase in inclusivity of the public sphere isn’t new — in England, the press was open only to the wealthy and well-connected, while the situation was radically different in the colonies. And this explosion of media led to problems of information overload. Which means that gatekeeping isn’t new either — those newspapers that sorted through 4300 exchange copies a year to select and reprint content were engaged in curation and gatekeeping. Newspapers sought to give readers what an editor thought they wanted, much as social media algorithms promise to help us cope with the information explosion we face from our friends streams of baby photos. The processes editors have used to filter information were never transparent, hence the enthusiasm of the early 2000s for unfiltered media. What may be new is the pervasiveness of the gatekeeping that algorithms make possible, the invisibility of that filtering and the difficulty of choosing which filters you want shaping your conversation.

Ideological isolation isn’t new either. The press of the 1800s was fiercely opinionated and extremely partisan. In many ways, the Federalist and Republican parties emerged from networks of newspapers that shared ideologically consonant information — rather than a party press, the parties actually emerged from the press. But again, what’s novel now is the lack of transparency — when you read the New York Evening Post in 1801, you knew that Alexander Hamilton had founded it, and you knew it was a Federalist paper. Research by Christian Sandvig and Karrie Karahalios suggests that many users of Facebook don’t know that their friend feed is algorithmically curated, and don’t realize the way it may be shaped by the political leanings of their closest friends.

And finally, fake news certainly wasn’t new. It certainly wasn’t new to Ben Franklin – in fact, fake news reached an early peak in the run up to the English civil war in the 1650s, a half century before Franklin’s birth. You remember, of course, that the English civil war broke out when Charles I married a Catholic, decided to rule without convening parliament, which basically tried to starve him out by denying him money to fight a war with Scotland, leading Charles to arrest five members of the House of Commons and the country to split into warring factions of royalists and parliamentarians, with led to a series of civil wars which the parliamentarians eventually won, executing Charles on 1649 and leading to Oliver Cromwell’s ascent as Lord Protector of the Realm and eventually to the restoration of the monarchy in 1661 by Charles’s son, Charles II. You know all that, of course.

What you may not know is that one of the causes of the civil wars was that Charles, broke and profoundly focused on his own survival, basically could no longer control the press. 1642 – the year the war broke out – “More printed material was published in the year 1642 than in the entire preceding 165 years since William Caxton set up the first London printing press in 1476.” What resulted was a fury of “obnoxious and unlicensed” publications which included satire, complaint literature, lots of radical religious texts. But perhaps the most important publications were “newsbooks”, irregular proto-newspapers, whose content was essentially user-generated, poorly sourced, highly partisan and often shockingly inaccurate. You had two rival orbits of newsbooks, with the parliamentarians in London and the Royalists in Oxford. You had reports of military defeats, reports that the king was dead, all of which were more or less impossible to verify in an age of slow travel on bad roads, long before the telegraph. And you had conspiracy theory – especially anti-Catholic conspiracies – ruling the day. Catholics, of course, were a small minority and an easy target for racial and ethnic hatred, convenient scapegoats for all that was wrong with the kingdom.

Basically, fake news was a significant cause of the English civil war. That’s the bad news. The good news is that England found some ways to recover from the avalanche of fake news. Some are methods we probably wouldn’t endorse – there’s amazing stories of pamphleteers being pilloried and having their ears removed – and the biggest factor in combatting fake news was probably the Great Fire of 1661… which would be like solving Facebook with a California earthquake. But there was also the establishment of the Royal Society.

Michael Hunter’s “Establishing the New Science”, makes the case that the Society was established in part to heal the country, to create a body of knowledge that wasn’t designed to promote either the royalists or the parliamentarians. Writing about the Royal Society, Stephen Marche points out that their motto was – and still is – “Nullius in verba” – take no man’s word for it. Marche suggests that we inscribe this motto on all the world’s cellphones.

When I think of a Royal Society for our age, I don’t think of a central body that checks our facts and tells us what’s true and what’s not – that’s absolutely not what the Royal Society was. Instead, it was a group of thinkers who through experimentation and careful study sought to understand the world how it actually was. This is awfully self serving, but when I look for parallels today, I look towards academics who are trying to build the tools and conduct the studies so that it’s not only the researchers inside Facebook and Twitter who understand these companies and can help hold them responsible.

I mentioned that this talk was about two Bens – Franklin and Rush – and a Mark. Much as we understand the decisions made in the founding of our democracy in terms of archetypical figures – Washington the noble warrior, Franklin the hacker entrepreneur – we think of our contemporary moment through similar personifications. Mark Zuckerberg is the techno-utopian geek we don’t quite trust. He’s very smart, and seems to truly believe that what he’s doing will make the world a better place, but he’s either shockingly naive or profoundly deceptive, because nothing else explains how many times he’s screwed up and how surprised he seems to be every single time something utterly predictable goes wrong.

I feel like the Bens have a lesson or two for Mark. Franklin was an entrepreneur, an inventor. a technical genius and a hustler, much like Mark. He was also a civic visionary, founder of libraries and volunteer fire companies, much as Mark seems to see himself becoming. Franklin ran many successful businesses, including those based around his inventions, but he also published widely, and his work was subject to vigorous public debate in Paris and London. Indeed, while Franklin was made one of the very few non-English members of the Royal Society, his work on lightning rods was the subject of a great deal of controversy, which Franklin followed closely. (As it turns out, he was wrong – pointy lightning rods, which he favored, don’t work as well as blunt ones. But it took over 200 years to figure that out.)

I’d like to see Mark – and the other tech pioneers he’s representing in this talk – do a better job of engaging with their critics, with civil society, with academia, with everyone who sincerely wants them to succeed in making the world a better place and worries they are badly off the mark. I’d like to see Mark learn from Parlio, a brilliant experiment from Egyptian activist Wael Ghonim, a social network build around rules that encourage polite, respectful and serious debate. Or from Mastodon, a decentralized social network that allows different nodes with different rulesets. Or even from Gobo, a project from my lab that lets users control aspects of their newsfeeds – how serious or funny it is, how diverse the political viewpoints are, whether you’d like all the men to shut up and let the women talk for a change.

But I also would like to see us learn from Benjamin Rush, who really brought to fruition Franklin’s vision of the public sphere of print, using the superpower of bureaucracy, regulation and government subsidy to build a public sphere that allowed the peculiar genius of American democracy to evolve. It’s not always enough for a single genius to envision the world – sometimes we need pressure from governments, from activists, from civil society to demand that we live up to aspirations of our tools. Sometimes the free market needs a hand from regulators who have a vision of how they want the world to be, a way that’s more consonant with our vision of how democracy works. With projects like Gobo, I’ve argued that we need many social networks, not just one, and that they can have different rulesets, different audiences and different purposes. I’d love for at least one of those networks to focus on helping us prepare to be citizens in a diverse and complicated world. That network probably needs public support, much as children’s television needs public support if we want it to work well.

So I leave you with a Franklin aphorism: “Well done is better than well said.” It’s well and good for folks like you and me to speculate about what social media is doing well and doing poorly. What we need is vastly more doing, more experiments, more attempts to build the worlds we want to see. I’m glad you’re hearing next from Eli Pariser, a friend who’s both a thinker and an experimenter. And I hope he and I can challenge you to make sure we move from saying to doing, from watching to experimenting, from worrying to making the world better. Thanks for listening.

by Ethan at May 10, 2018 03:03 PM

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