The Synchronized Society: Time and Control From Broadcasting to the Internet

Book by Randall Patnode: “…traces the history of the synchronous broadcast experience of the twentieth century and the transition to the asynchronous media that dominate today. Broadcasting grew out of the latent desire by nineteenth-century industrialists, political thinkers, and social reformers to tame an unruly society by controlling how people used their time. The idea manifested itself in the form of the broadcast schedule, a managed flow of information and entertainment that required audiences to be in a particular place – usually the home – at a particular time and helped to create “water cooler” moments, as audiences reflected on their shared media texts. Audiences began disconnecting from the broadcast schedule at the end of the twentieth century, but promoters of social media and television services still kept audiences under control, replacing the schedule with surveillance of media use. Author Randall Patnode offers compelling new insights into the intermingled roles of broadcasting and industrial/post-industrial work and how Americans spend their time…(More)”.

Exploring data journalism practices in Africa: data politics, media ecosystems and newsroom infrastructures

Paper by Sarah Chiumbu and Allen Munoriyarwa: “Extant research on data journalism in Africa has focused on newsroom factors and the predilections of individual journalists as determinants of the uptake of data journalism on the continent. This article diverts from this literature by examining the slow uptake of data journalism in sub- Saharan Africa through the prisms of non-newsroom factors. Drawing on in-depth interviews with prominent investigative journalists sampled from several African countries, we argue that to understand the slow uptake of data journalism on the continent; there is a need to critique the role of data politics, which encompasses state, market and existing media ecosystems across the continent. Therefore, it is necessary to move beyond newsroom-centric factors that have dominated the contemporary understanding of data journalism practices. A broader, non-newsroom conceptualisation beyond individual journalistic predilections and newsroom resources provides productive clarity on data journalism’s slow uptake on the continent. These arguments are made through the conceptual prisms of materiality, performativity and reflexivity…(More)”.

The Meta Oversight Board’s First Term

Paper by Evelyn Douek: “The Meta Oversight Board was established to oversee one of the most expansive systems of speech regulation in history and to exercise independent review over “some of the most difficult and significant
content decisions” Meta makes. As a voluntary exercise in selfregulation, the Board exercises power over Meta only insofar and for as long as Meta permits it to. And yet, in its inaugural members’ first threeyear term, the Board has in many ways defied its skeptics. The Board has established itself as a regular part of conversations about content moderation governance, receiving significant academic and media attention. It has also instantiated meaningful reforms of Meta’s content moderation systems, and shed light on otherwise completely opaque decisionmaking processes within one of the world’s most powerful
speech regulators. But the Board has also consistently shied away from answering the hardest and most controversial questions that come before it—that is, the very questions it was set up to solve. Although the Board purported to evaluate Meta’s rules under international human rights law, it has almost entirely failed to engage with the necessary the normative question of how international law principles created to constrain governmental power over expression should apply to private content moderation systems. This Essay argues that the Board’s institutional incentives and desire for influence have made it prioritize consensus and simplicity over engagement with the fundamental normative questions that the quest for principled content moderation decisionmaking raises. The result is a tremendous missed opportunity that holds important lessons for the design of future content moderation oversight bodies…(More)”

Foolproof: Why We Fall for Misinformation and How to Build Immunity

Book by Sander van der Linden: “From fake news to conspiracy theories, from pandemics to politics, misinformation may be the defining problem of our era. Like a virus, misinformation infects our minds – altering our beliefs and replicating at astonishing rates. Once the virus takes hold, our primary strategies of fact-checking and debunking are an insufficient cure.

In Foolproof Sander van der Linden describes how to inoculate yourself and others against the spread of misinformation, discern fact from fiction and push back against methods of mass persuasion.

Everyone is susceptible to fake news. There are polarising narratives in society, conspiracy theories are rife, fake experts dole out misleading advice and accuracy is often lost in favour of sensationalist headlines. So how and why does misinformation spread if we’re all aware of its existence? And, more importantly, what can we do about it?…(More)”.

A Happier Internet: Searching for creativity in a profoundly uncreative medium

Article by Jonathan D. Teubner: “Twitch is a social media platform where people can livestream themselves playing video games. Its streaming stars, who seem to dress mostly either in cosplay or for a day at Miami Beach, bring their fans directly into their homes and, in many cases, actual bedrooms. Twitch encourages its streaming stars to engage more personally with their followers. These “fans,” as they are called, can start to feel as though they have an actual relationship with the stars.

Connecting with others while playing video games apparently has its appeal, and monetary rewards. Top stars make as much as $120,000 per month. Twitch streamers with more modest followings can easily earn a living wage playing video games in full view of the world online. As one streaming star, Sweet Anita, told a New York Times reporter recently, “I laugh every day. I get paid to play video games. It’s a surreal world.”

Surreal doesn’t quite seem to capture it. Occasionally fans don’t see it merely for the money-making conceit that it is. Stalking is a common problem. One streamer known as DizzyKitten had the understandably alarming experience of one of her followers traveling from Washington State to her small town in Arkansas on the pretense that they were married. Others have received death threats against themselves and their families for considering moving onto a different platform. The online world rarely, if ever, stays online.

By now we are all accustomed to the problems presented by social media. The mental health maladies associated with heavy use can give one pause—depression, memory loss, sleeplessness. But perhaps the more disturbing consequences occur when social media erupts into our everyday lives: stalking, death threats, violence. This, too, is the world social media has wrought.

It’s become somewhat standard to say that Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and smaller platforms like Twitch are a novum—something completely new our society must grapple with. Our best psychologists, neuroscientists, and epidemiologists are on the case. But as Kevin Driscoll charts in The Modem World, social media has a history. The premise behind his book is that this history is worth reconstructing, if for no other reason than that it discloses a different way to be online, one that is less corporate and more participatory….(More)”.

The Fifth Estate: The Power Shift of the Digital Age

Book by William H. Dutton: “In the eighteenth century, the printing press enabled the rise of an independent press–the Fourth Estate–that helped check the power of governments, business, and industry. In similar ways, the internet is forming a more independent collectivity of networked individuals, which William H. Dutton identifies as the Fifth Estate. Their network power is contributing to a more pluralist role of individuals in democratic political processes and society, which is not only shaping political accountability but nearly every sector of society. Yet a chorus of critics have dismissed the internet’s more democratic potentials, demonizing social media and user-generated-content as simply sources of fake news and populism. So, is the internet a tool for democracy or anarchy?

In The Fifth Estate, Dutton uses estate theory to illuminate the most important power shift of the digital age. He argues that this network power shift is not only enabling greater democratic accountability in politics and governance but is also empowering networked individuals in their everyday life and work, from checking facts to making civic-minded social interventions. By marshalling world leading research and case studies in a wide range of contexts, Dutton demonstrates that the internet and related digital media are enabling ordinary individuals to search, create, network, collaborate, and leak information in such independent and strategic ways that they enhance their informational and communicative power vis-à-vis other actors and institutions. Dutton also makes the case that internet policy interventions across the globe have increased censorship of users and introduced levels of surveillance that will challenge the vitality of the internet and the Fifth Estate, along with its more pluralist distribution of power. Ambitious and timely, Dutton provides an understanding of the Fifth Estate and its democratic potential so that networked individuals and institutions around the world can maintain and enhance its role in our digital age…(More)”.

Semantic Media: Mapping Meaning on the Internet

Book by Andrew Iliadis: “Media technologies now provide facts, answers, and “knowledge” to people – search engines, apps, and virtual assistants increasingly articulate responses rather than direct people to other sources. 

 Semantic Media is about this emerging era of meaning-making technologies. Companies like Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft organize information in new media products that seek to “intuitively” grasp what people want to know and the actions they want to take. This book describes some of the insidious technological practices through which organizations achieve this while addressing the changing contexts of internet searches, and examines the social and political consequences of what happens when large companies become primary sources of information…(More)”.

How to spot AI-generated text

Article by Melissa Heikkilä: “This sentence was written by an AI—or was it? OpenAI’s new chatbot, ChatGPT, presents us with a problem: How will we know whether what we read online is written by a human or a machine?

Since it was released in late November, ChatGPT has been used by over a million people. It has the AI community enthralled, and it is clear the internet is increasingly being flooded with AI-generated text. People are using it to come up with jokes, write children’s stories, and craft better emails. 

ChatGPT is OpenAI’s spin-off of its large language model GPT-3, which generates remarkably human-sounding answers to questions that it’s asked. The magic—and danger—of these large language models lies in the illusion of correctness. The sentences they produce look right—they use the right kinds of words in the correct order. But the AI doesn’t know what any of it means. These models work by predicting the most likely next word in a sentence. They haven’t a clue whether something is correct or false, and they confidently present information as true even when it is not. 

In an already polarized, politically fraught online world, these AI tools could further distort the information we consume. If they are rolled out into the real world in real products, the consequences could be devastating. 

We’re in desperate need of ways to differentiate between human- and AI-written text in order to counter potential misuses of the technology, says Irene Solaiman, policy director at AI startup Hugging Face, who used to be an AI researcher at OpenAI and studied AI output detection for the release of GPT-3’s predecessor GPT-2. 

New tools will also be crucial to enforcing bans on AI-generated text and code, like the one recently announced by Stack Overflow, a website where coders can ask for help. ChatGPT can confidently regurgitate answers to software problems, but it’s not foolproof. Getting code wrong can lead to buggy and broken software, which is expensive and potentially chaotic to fix…(More)”.

Critical Ignoring as a Core Competence for Digital Citizens

Paper by Anastasia Kozyreva, et al: “Low-quality and misleading information online can hijack people’s attention, often by evoking curiosity, outrage, or anger. Resisting certain types of information and actors online requires people to adopt new mental habits that help them avoid being tempted by attention-grabbing and potentially harmful content. We argue that digital information literacy must include the competence of critical ignoring—choosing what to ignore and where to invest one’s limited attentional capacities. We review three types of cognitive strategies for implementing critical ignoring: self-nudging, in which one ignores temptations by removing them from one’s digital environments; lateral reading, in which one vets information by leaving the source and verifying its credibility elsewhere online; and the do-not-feed-the-trolls heuristic, which advises one to not reward malicious actors with attention. We argue that these strategies implementing critical ignoring should be part of school curricula on digital information literacy. Teaching the competence of critical ignoring requires a paradigm shift in educators’ thinking, from a sole focus on the power and promise of paying close attention to an additional emphasis on the power of ignoring. Encouraging students and other online users to embrace critical ignoring can empower them to shield themselves from the excesses, traps, and information disorders of today’s attention economy…(More)”.

A CERN Model for Studying the Information Environment

Article by Alicia Wanless: “After the Second World War, European science was suffering. Scientists were leaving Europe in pursuit of safety and work opportunities, among other reasons. To stem the exodus and unite the community around a vision of science for peace, in 1949, a transatlantic group of scholars proposed the creation of a world-class physics research facility in Europe. The grand vision was for this center to unlock the mysteries of the universe. Their white paper laid the foundation for the European Center for Nuclear Research (CERN), which today supports fundamental research in physics across an international community of more than 10,000 scientists from twenty-three member states and more than seventy other nations. Together, researchers at CERN built cutting-edge instruments to observe dozens of subatomic particles for the first time. And along the way they invented the World Wide Web, which was originally conceived as a tool to empower CERN’s distributed teams.

Such large-scale collaboration is once again needed to connect scholars, policymakers, and practitioners internationally and to accelerate research, this time to unlock the mysteries of the information environment. Democracies around the world are grappling with how to safeguard democratic values against online abuse, the proliferation of illiberal and xenophobic narratives, malign interference, and a host of other challenges related to a rapidly evolving information environment. What are the conditions within the information environment that can foster democratic societies and encourage active citizen participation? Sadly, the evidence needed to guide policymaking and social action in this domain is sorely lacking.

Researchers, governments, and civil society must come together to help. This paper explores how CERN can serve as a model for developing the Institute for Research on the Information Environment (IRIE). By connecting disciplines and providing shared engineering resources and capacity-building across the world’s democracies, IRIE will scale up applied research to enable evidence-based policymaking and implementation…(More)”.