Social Engineering: How Crowdmasters, Phreaks, Hackers, and Trolls Created a New Form of Manipulative Communication

Open Access book by Robert W. Gehl, and Sean T Lawson: “Manipulative communication—from early twentieth-century propaganda to today’s online con artistry—examined through the lens of social engineering. The United States is awash in manipulated information about everything from election results to the effectiveness of medical treatments. Corporate social media is an especially good channel for manipulative communication, with Facebook a particularly willing vehicle for it. In Social Engineering, Robert Gehl and Sean Lawson show that online misinformation has its roots in earlier techniques: mass social engineering of the early twentieth century and interpersonal hacker social engineering of the 1970s, converging today into what they call “masspersonal social engineering.” As Gehl and Lawson trace contemporary manipulative communication back to earlier forms of social engineering, possibilities for amelioration become clearer.

The authors show how specific manipulative communication practices are a mixture of information gathering, deception, and truth-indifferent statements, all with the instrumental goal of getting people to take actions the social engineer wants them to. Yet the term “fake news,” they claim, reduces everything to a true/false binary that fails to encompass the complexity of manipulative communication or to map onto many of its practices. They pay special attention to concepts and terms used by hacker social engineers, including the hacker concept of “bullshitting,” which the authors describe as a truth-indifferent mix of deception, accuracy, and sociability. They conclude with recommendations for how society can undermine masspersonal social engineering and move toward healthier democratic deliberation…(More)”.

Shaping the Future of Small and Medium-Sized Cities: A Framework for Digital Transformation

Report by the World Economic Forum: “Digital transformation is becoming a crucial support mechanism for countries as they respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and undergo economic rebuilding and sustained development. For small and medium-sized cities (SMCs), digital transformation can disrupt traditional business models, breakthrough geographical and spatial boundaries, and create new ways to live in the digital era. However, the digital transformation of SMCs presents challenges such as insufficient digital talent, funds, and resources, poor understanding and application of digital technologies, and a lack of intercity interaction and cooperation mechanisms. This report analyses the challenges, needs, and concerns of SMCs undergoing digital transformation in China, Japan, Brazil, and Singapore, proposes a methodological reference model, and suggests actions for various urban stakeholders…(More)”.

Technology of the Oppressed

Book by David Nemer: “Brazilian favelas are impoverished settlements usually located on hillsides or the outskirts of a city. In Technology of the Oppressed, David Nemer draws on extensive ethnographic fieldwork to provide a rich account of how favela residents engage with technology in community technology centers and in their everyday lives. Their stories reveal the structural violence of the information age. But they also show how those oppressed by technology don’t just reject it, but consciously resist and appropriate it, and how their experiences with digital technologies enable them to navigate both digital and nondigital sources of oppression—and even, at times, to flourish.

Nemer uses a decolonial and intersectional framework called Mundane Technology as an analytical tool to understand how digital technologies can simultaneously be sites of oppression and tools in the fight for freedom. Building on the work of the Brazilian educator and philosopher Paulo Freire, he shows how the favela residents appropriate everyday technologies—technological artifacts (cell phones, Facebook), operations (repair), and spaces (Telecenters and Lan Houses)—and use them to alleviate the oppression in their everyday lives. He also addresses the relationship of misinformation to radicalization and the rise of the new far right. Contrary to the simplistic techno-optimistic belief that technology will save the poor, even with access to technology these marginalized people face numerous sources of oppression, including technological biases, racism, classism, sexism, and censorship. Yet the spirit, love, community, resilience, and resistance of favela residents make possible their pursuit of freedom…(More)”.

Strong Connections: Stories of Resilience from the Far Reaches of the Mobile Phone Revolution

Book by Rosa Wang: “…takes readers to the last frontier of the mobile/digital revolution. While much has been written about breakthrough technologies and early adopters who live where roads are good and smart phones are affordable, this book explores the largely undocumented journey of how digital technologies are entering the lives of those in extreme poverty-people, often women, often illiterate-who live without electricity or running water.

With powerful stories, Wang brings you to the front lines of the revolution-to join meetings with small-holder farmers in raucous town halls in remote parts of Tanzania, and to sit on dirt floors alongside non-literate women in rural India. The book chronicles the exponential trajectory of the mobile phone through the arc of the author’s own journey, an Asian-American woman from Mississippi navigating male-dominated environments and cultures, while changing the digital world without a background in technology. Readers will learn of the challenges that come with life on less than two dollars a day, and in that world, the transformative power of digital technologies: to give identity, improve finances, and to bring some degree of empowerment.

Along the way, the author introduces memorable individuals and guides them on their journey across the digital divide to join the mobile generation. These people, poor in monetary resources and literacy, are rich in social connections, warmth, and wisdom. Their day-to-day lives seem implausibly hard, and their resilience humbles at every turn. This book is about them. At its heart, this is their story…(More)”.

Paradoxes of Media and Information Literacy

Open Access book by Jutta Haider, Olof Sundin: “Paradoxes of Media and Information Literacy contributes to ongoing conversations about control of knowledge and different ways of knowing. It does so by analysing why media and information literacy (MIL) is proposed as a solution for addressing the current information crisis.

Questioning why MIL is commonly believed to wield such power, the book throws into sharp relief several paradoxes that are built into common understandings of such literacies. Haider and Sundin take the reader on a journey across different fields of practice, research and policymaking, including librarianship, information studies, teaching and journalism, media and communication and the educational sciences. The authors also consider national information policy proposals and the recommendations of NGOs or international bodies, such as UNESCO and the OECD. Showing that MIL plays an active role in contemporary controversies, such as those on climate change or vaccination, Haider and Sundin argue that such controversies challenge existing notions of fact and ignorance, trust and doubt, and our understanding of information access and information control. The book thus argues for the need to unpack and understand the contradictions forming around these notions in relation to MIL, rather than attempting to arrive at a single, comprehensive definition.

Paradoxes of Media and Information Literacy combines careful analytical and conceptual discussions with an in-depth understanding of information practices and of the contemporary information infrastructure. It is essential reading for scholars and students engaged in library and information studies, media and communication, journalism studies and the educational sciences….(More)”.

The Modem World: A Prehistory of Social Media

Book by Kevin Driscoll: “Fifteen years before the commercialization of the internet, millions of amateurs across North America created more than 100,000 small-scale computer networks. The people who built and maintained these dial-up bulletin board systems (BBSs) in the 1980s laid the groundwork for millions of others who would bring their lives online in the 1990s and beyond. From ham radio operators to HIV/AIDS activists, these modem enthusiasts developed novel forms of community moderation, governance, and commercialization. The Modem World tells an alternative origin story for social media, centered not in the office parks of Silicon Valley or the meeting rooms of military contractors, but rather on the online communities of hobbyists, activists, and entrepreneurs. Over time, countless social media platforms have appropriated the social and technical innovations of the BBS community. How can these untold stories from the internet’s past inspire more inclusive visions of its future?…(More)”.

How Smart Tech Tried to Solve the Mental Health Crisis and Only Made It Worse

Article by Emma Bedor Hiland: “Crisis Text Line was supposed to be the exception. Skyrocketing rates of depression, anxiety, and mental distress over the last decade demanded new, innovative solutions. The non-profit organization was founded in 2013 with the mission of providing free mental health text messaging services and crisis intervention tools. It seemed like the right moment to use technology to make the world a better place. Over the following years, the accolades and praise the platform received reflected its success. But their sterling reputation was tarnished overnight at the beginning of 2022 when Politico published an investigation into the way Crisis Text Line had handled and shared user data. The problem with the organization, however, goes well beyond its alleged mishandling of user information.

Despite Crisis Text Line’s assurance that its platform was anonymous, Politico’s January report showed that the company’s private messaging sessions were not actually anonymous. Data about users, including what they shared with Crisis Text Line’s volunteers, had been provided and sold to an entirely different company called, a tech startup that specializes in artificial intelligence software for human resources and customer service. The report brought to light a troubling relationship between the two organizations. Both had previously been headed by the same CEO, Nancy Lublin. In 2019, however, Lublin had stepped down from Loris, and in 2020 Crisis Text Line’s board ousted her following allegations that she had engaged in workplace racism.

But the troubles that enveloped Crisis Text Line can’t be blamed on one bad apple. Crisis Text Line’s board of directors had approved the relationship between the entities. In the technology and big data sectors, commodification of user data is fundamental to a platform or toolset’s economic survival, and by sharing data with, Crisis Text Line was able to provide needed services. The harsh reality revealed by the Politico report was that even mental healthcare is not immune from commodification, despite the risks of aggregating and sharing information about experiences and topics which continue to be stigmatized.

In the case of the Crisis Text partnership, Loris used the nonprofit’s data to improve its own, for-profit development of machine learning algorithms sold to corporations and governments. Although Crisis Text Line maintains that all of the data shared with Loris was anonymized, the transactional nature of the relationship between the two was still fundamentally an economic one. As the website states, “Crisis Text Line is a Loris shareholder. Our success offers material benefit to CTL, helping this non-profit organization continue its important work. We believe this model is a blueprint for ways for-profit companies can infuse social good into their culture and operations, and for nonprofits to prosper.”…(More)”.

Towards Public Digital Infrastructure

Report by Katja Bego: “…We already have the technical and governance building blocks at our disposal to make this Public Digital InfrastructureI model a reality. We also have the political momentum on our side through a number of ambitious policy proposals and funding agendas on the European level. The challenge now is to integrate these building blocks into a single cohesive system, and to ensure we put into place the right institutions and rules to ensure the DPI can achieve trust, scale and openness. This approach is made up of three key pillars: 

  1. Generating an ecosystem of healthy, interoperable alternatives:
    Public Digital Infrastructure could help us move away from a platform economy, where one actor owns a whole suite of tools and can unilaterally set the rules, towards a protocol-based economy, in which we could see a collaborative ecosystem of smaller, interoperable solutions and applications emerge, built on top of a shared set of rules and open protocols. We could see this as an alternative, parallel infrastructure, made up of open, trustworthy solutions and public goods. Through collaborative interoperability, solutions built on top of the Public Digital Infrastructure would proactively set out to integrate their solutions with other tools built on the framework.

    To help this ecosystem thrive, the Commission and other governing bodies (from the local level to the supra-national) would seek to leverage their own market shaping-levers, for example through strengthening rule-setting through procurement, and moving their own solutions on top of the system. The European Commission would further provide the funds for an independent Public Technology Fund, which would support the development of applications on top of the Public Digital Infrastructure, as well as fund public goods to support the wider ecosystem.  
  2. Designing governance models fit for purpose: No single centralised entity – public or private – would control the underlying Public Digital Infrastructure model; instead, the system would be governed on the basis of a shared set of rules and protocols for, for example, interoperability, data sharing and online identity management. In this model, civil society, trusted public institutions, academia, and the public-interest technology community would be empowered to collaboratively shape the rules, standards and governance models underpinning this shared logic. 

To ensure these decision-making processes remain open and representative, but also geared towards effective decision-making, the European Commission would provide the funding for the establishment of a fully independent Public Digital Infrastructure Agency, tasked with bringing together the community, and providing resources for maintenance and auditing of the PDI’s components. 

  1. Opening up data and identity: Every internet user would be provided with the means to control their own digital identity and personal data online, empowering them to share what they want, with whomever they want, on their own terms. To do this, each user of the Public Digital Infrastructure model would have the right to be issued their own portable online identity and personal data wallet, which would allow them to share and pool data on a case by case, consent-based basis. 

Developers of applications and services would be able to tap into the user-generated data commons that would result from this pooling in a way that is accountable and fair, rather than feel compelled to amass their own proprietary data lakes in order to compete. We should not imagine these commons as one single enormous, distributed data lake, but rather as a set of data governance mechanisms, ranging from data commons to trusts, which would be employed and governed depending on the use case and sensitivity and utility of the data at hand. Users would be able to pick and choose which commons to participate in, and solutions would contribute to these commons as a condition of being part of the PDI….(More)”

The Food Aid Delivery App

Essay by Trish Bendix: “Between 30 and 40 percent of the US food supply goes to waste each year. The US Environmental Protection Agency estimates that nearly 80 billion pounds of food end up in landfills annually. This figure takes on a greater significance in the context of another food crisis: food insecurity. More than 10 percent of US households are food insecure, and the nonprofit Feeding America reports that this number will increase due to the economic and unemployment consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The food waste crisis is not new. Wasted, a 2012 report from the Natural Resources Defense Council, recorded Americans’ annual food waste at 40 percent. Horrified by the report’s findings, Leah Lizarondo, a food and health advocate who began her career working in consumer-packaged goods and technology, was inspired to find a solution.

“I tried to figure out why this inefficiency was happening—where the failing was in the supply chain,” Lizarondo says. She knew that consumer-facing businesses such as grocery stores and restaurants were the second-biggest culprits of food waste—behind American households. And even though these businesses didn’t intend to waste food, they lacked the logistics, structures, or incentives to redirect the food surplus to people experiencing food insecurity. Furthermore, because most wasted food is perishable, traditional waste methods didn’t work within the food-banking structure.

“It was so cheap to just throw food in a landfill,” Lizarondo comments. “There’s no legislation [in the United States] that prevents us from doing that, unlike other countries.” For example, France banned food waste in 2016, while Norway has stores that sell food past their sell-by dates, and Asian countries like Japan and South Korea have adopted their own regulations, including the latter charging a fee to citizens for each pound of food waste. Currently, California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont are the only US states with legislation enforcing organic waste bans.

In 2016, Lizarondo launched the nonprofit Food Rescue Hero, a technology platform that redirects food waste to the food insecure in cities across America.

Since its launch, Food Rescue Hero has given more than 68 million pounds of food to people in need. Currently, it operates in 12 cities in the United States and Canada, with more than 22,000 drivers volunteering their time….(More)”.

The Digital, Data and Technology Playbook

Guidance by the UK Government: “Digital, data and technology (DDaT) underpins everything we do and the government provides vital services for millions of citizens every day. The public sector is estimated to spend £46 billion on digital in 2021/22. To ensure that spend meets the needs of our users in this rapidly evolving world, we need to continually strive for excellence by thinking about our products and services in new ways.

The Digital, Data and Technology Playbook is focused on getting things right from the start. Setting projects and programmes up for success can take more time upfront but we know from past experience that this early investment can be repaid many times over by enabling us to avoid costly mistakes later on.

Changing our approach to procurement in this sector will allow us to learn from successes and failures across government and industry. In order to decide on the correct delivery model, a robust assessment needs to be done of the options available (see Delivery Model Assessment in Chapter 5).

This mixed model of delivery is key. We will use the market’s expertise and capability to supplement agile teams and our commercial processes must be designed to enable this. Following the policies and principles in this Playbook, we will work with our suppliers to take an outcome-based approach and deliver innovative solutions which are focused on the user and create the best possible value for our citizens.

The Digital, Data and Technology Playbook sets out 11 key policy reforms which will transform how we assess, procure and manage our products and services. This includes:

  • online public services such as applying for a driver’s licence
  • business systems ranging from simple database applications through to large transactional systems supporting the operation of tax collection and benefits payments.
  • back-office systems such as finance, human resources, and facilities management systems
  • infrastructure which provides all the basic tools of the modern working environment such as computers and email

We will work together across government and industry to implement and drive the consistent application of the best practice and policies set out in this Playbook and deliver transformational change….(More)”.