Ch 12 Global culture

Julilan Assange, editor of Wikileaks. Click thru to Jan. 2012 Rolling Stone interview.

Following the murder of journalists and police at the offices of humor magazine Charlie Hebdo, crowds gathered in the Place de la République on Jan. 7, 2015, (above, by Godefroy Troude ), wondering how on earth global culture is going to reconcile so many conflicts.

For the first time in human history, digital networks allowed billions of people to communicate across national boundaries, instantly, at no cost, in any media format— from text to video.

Within this new global media culture, information about an earthquake in China, violence in Kenya or a protest in the Middle East could be shared between people with only a few hundred dollars worth of technology. Within this new global media culture, a cognitive surplus (as Clay Shirkey calls it) easily creates Wikipedia with a mere 100 million hours of human thought.

And within this new global media culture,  a cartoon that depicts ayatollahs coming from the rear end of a praying Muslim — the kind of humor at Charlie Hebdo — can provoke outrage from people whose exposure to modernity has long been tinged with contempt for freedom.

The idea of an embryonic global culture emerging now raises questions about what will be done — and what could be done better  —  with the extraordinarily powerful new varieties of communication made available by the digital communications revolution.

We can see more of this problem in the way Julian Assange, editor of Wikileaks, used digital media to promote social change and bring down barriers between global cultures.  Assange’s web site allowed disclosures of hundreds of thousands of low-level secrets, triggering the Arab Spring (among other things).   And, as he fought the US government, he  insisted that Americans live in a media bubble which prevents them from learning about the rest of the world.

But by 2016, Assange’s  recklessness in putting innocent sources in harms way earned rebukes from human rights groups. And after leaking Hillary Clinton’s emails in the 2016 campaign, Wired magazine declared that “WikiLeaks Has Officially Lost the Moral High Ground.”

As a US Republican Congress repeatedly used law to start closing down international connections and freedom of the web,  general strikes have taken place. For instance, in  2012, Google, Wikipedia and thousands of other sites simply shut down for a day, and the right-wingers had to back down, for the time being.

It goes to show, said Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia:  “The people are the media.”  Contrast this with  Marshall McLuhan’s deterministic  “medium is the message” theory.  It’s not that one is wrong and the other right. Rather, Wales’ statement can be seen as a milepost in a recognition that media technology has come full circle:  from top-down narrowly deterministic structures to the emerging socially constructed nerve system of a global culture.

“We are rapidly entering into a new world of hyper-connectivity,” said  Carl Bildtis foreign minister of Sweden, in a July 5, 2012 New York Times op-ed. 

We cannot accept that the Internet’s content should be limited or manipulated depending on the flavor-of-the-month of political leaders. Only by securing access to the open and global Internet will true development take place.

The governments of the Human Rights Council now for the first time have confirmed that freedom of expression applies fully to the Internet. A global coalition for a global and open Internet has been formed… The challenge now is to put these words into action to make sure that people all over the world can use and utilize the power of connectivity without having to fear for their safety. This work is far from over.

In 2016, the election of Donald Trump illustrated another kind of flaw in the new structure of hyper-connectivity.  While Trump’s election owed a great deal to Russian interference in the campaign, the new media was an enormous factor for voters.  David Simas, former President Obama’s political director, told a reporter for the New Yorker just after the election: 

“Until recently, religious institutions, academia, and media set out the parameters of acceptable discourse, and it ranged from the unthinkable to the radical to the acceptable to policy,” Simas said. “The continuum has changed. Had Donald Trump said the things he said during the campaign eight years ago—about banning Muslims, about Mexicans, about the disabled, about women—his Republican opponents, faith leaders, academia would have denounced him and there would be no way around those voices. Now, through Facebook and Twitter, you can get around them. There is social permission for this kind of discourse. Plus, through the same social media, you can find people who agree with you, who validate these thoughts and opinions. This creates a whole new permission structure, a sense of social affirmation for what was once thought unthinkable. This is a foundational change.”

Discussion questions

  1. Will the creative frontier of the internet be closed off by the new “app” economy? Check out Zittrain’s book The internet and how to stop it, and also the related blog, for an idea of what might be going wrong — or right.
  2. Imagine global digital culture a century from now. How will regular people communicate? How will governments deal with traditional cultures that want freedom but are wary of foreign influences?
  3. Does Wikileaks deserve the same First Amendment / Article 19 protection as traditional journalism organizations?  Why or why not?
  4. In “Looking  for the Mouse,” Clay Shirkey is asked by a TV reporter  where people get the time to participate in Wikipedia.  He’s incredulous. No one who works in television gets to ask that question, he says. Why do you suppose that is?
  5.  What is a cognitive surplus? How does it relate to the idea of “monk power” we discussed in Chapter 1?
  6. How can we protect the Web in the future?  Tim Berners Lee asks those  questions on the 25th anniversary of the web in 2014. See the anniversary website, 
  7. Digital media have created a revolution in American political communication, according to Jill Lepore in this Feb 22, 2016 New Yorker article.    “Revolutions in communication  tend to pull the people away from the élites.  The printing press is the classic example; think of its role in the Reformation. But this happens, to varying degrees, every time the speed and scale of communication makes a leap.”
  8. Is Julian Assange a journalist?   Would a US indictment for leaking documents be a threat to press freedom, as Trevor Timm argues in this Guardian op-ed from April 21, 2017?.

People & Events

Ithiel de Sola Pool, Julian Assange, Jimmy Wales, Jonathan Zittrain,   Clay Shirkey,  Ward Cunningham, Edward Snowden, Mark Zuckerberg,   Pierre Omidyar, Craig Newmark, Brian Chesky, Lawrence Lessig, Jeff Bezos,  Ray Kurzweil, Sean MacBride, 

Documentary Videos

  1. Wikisecrets: The Inside Story of Bradley Manning, Julian Assange, and the largest intelligence breach in US history.  Frontline video. Public Broadcasting Service.  The video was controversial among some hackers, who disliked the emphasis on Manning’s personal issues and protested by hacking the PBS web site in May, 2011.
  2. Digital Nation — PBS documentary on activism and the effects of digital media on society.
  3. Democracy Now talks about the legacy of Aaron Swartz and Robert McChesney’s new book Digital Disconnect.  April 12, 2013.  “Americans pay far more for cellphones, they pay far more for broadband wired access, than any other comparable country in the world, and we get much worse service. It has nothing to do with the technology. It has nothing to do with, quote-unquote, “economics.” It has everything to do with corrupt policy making and the power of these firms.” — McChensey’s comments sound very similar to those made about the Western Union telegraph monopoly a century ago.

brilliant TED Talks about the web and the internet

  1. Lawrence Lessig on Laws the Choke Creativity, 2007.
  2. Tim Berners-Lee on the 20th anniversary of the WWW.    2009.
  3. Clay Shirkey How Social Media are making history.  2009.
  4. Jimmy Wales on the Birth of Wikipedia 2009
  5. Johnathan Zittrain on Random Acts of Internet Kindness. 2009.
  6. Clay Shirkey on How Cognitive Surplus through Social Media is changing the world. 2010.
  7. Markham Nolan, Storyful. How to separate fact from fiction online. 2012.
  8. Sergey Brin on Google Glass – Feb. 2013  TED video.  In the beginning, the idea was to avoid having to look down all the  time.  Then it grew.
  9. Edward Snowden – Here’s how we take back the Internet. 2014.

Further Reading

Media reform

  1. National Conference on Media Reform, 2013, Denver. Featured Evangeline Lilly, Susan Crawford, Craig Aaron,  Amy Goodwin and others.  Final conference report (pdf).
  2. Robert W.  McChesney –– How the media reform movement stalled and what to do about it.  Monthly Review, Feb. 2014.
  3. Media Reform refers to proposed attempts to reform mass media towards an agenda which is more in tune with public needs and away from   corporate  biases.   A related concept, Media Justice, refers to a regional, grassroots movement led by historically disenfranchised communities to transform media in the service of social justice. (Wikipedia text & link)
  4. Marc Andreessen sees eight possible new business models.
  5. Torching the modern-day Library of Alexandria, by James Somers, The Atlantic, April 20, 2017, describes Google’s efforts to digitize all of the world’s books. “Somewhere at Google there is a database containing 25 million books and nobody is allowed to read them.”

Creative cultures 

  1. Mark Zuckerman (Facebook) and,  Bill Moyers, May 2015.
  2. Blodget, Henry. “Interview with Jimmy Wales: How Wikipedia Became a Monster,” Business Insider, May 3, 2010
  3. As the WWW turns 25, a global internet Magna Carta is needed, says Tim Berners Lee.
  4. More Wikipedia editors needed — PC World, August 7, 2011
  5. Like Wikipedia, volunteers created the Oxford English Dictionary in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The best of these volunteers is profiled in The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester.
  6. Wikipedia Foundation needs a new chair. April, 2014.
  7. Creative commons  licenses provide simple, standardized alternatives to the “all rights reserved” paradigm of traditional copyright.
  8. Civic Technologies and the Future of the Internet  —  Jonathan Zittrain
  9. Information technology is not linear – Ray Kurzweil
  10. Tweckling – Heckling by tweet
  11. Craig Newmark talks about Craigslist
  12. Benkler, Yochai. The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2006).
  13. Four “titans” (Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google) are racing to be king of the digital age, says  of the Washington Post, Aug. 16, 2011.
  14. Fast Company: The women of Twitter  Vogue magazine, March 2012.
  15. Oliver Boyd-Barnett, News agencies in the turbulent era of the Internet (Government of Catalonia, 2010). Available as free e-book. European perspective. Translated from Spanish.
  16. A universal library is (finally) within reach, says Pamela Samuelson. Copyright law poses considerable challenges, but any barriers to mass digitization of the world’s books can — and should be — overcome.
  17. Latin America’s information revolution reflects new-found empowerment.  Alfredo Corchado, Dallas News, June 3, 2012
  18. Total Internet regulation proposed in Mexico – June 2012.
  19. Enemies of the Internet” report by RSF, March 2014.
  20. Wikinomics – How mass collaboration changes everything.  A  book by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams first published in 2006.
  21. Uber and Lyft are replacing regulated taxi companies.
  22. The best place they hated to work: Amazon  — New York Times, Aug. 15, 2015.
  23. Inside Facebook’s(Totally Insane,Unintentionally Gigantic,Hyperpartisan) Political-Media Machine,  New York Times, Aug 22, 2016.

  24. College is the new cable bundle, Washington Post, Feb 5, 2016

Free software versus tethered applications (social construction versus determinism)

  1. The Future of the Internet and How to Stop it by Jonathan Zittrain
  2. Brown, Peter. “Free software is a Matter of Liberty, Not Price,” Free Software Foundation, December 27, 2010.
  3. Kulash, Jr, Damian. “Whose Tube?” The New York Times, February 19, 2010, A17.
  4. iPad isn’t the solution for magazines, Rolling Stone publisher says.
  5. Apple’s Darker Side – A revealing article from about pollution and poisonings in the Apple supply chain
  6. Apple iPhone Games for Children Rack up Shocking Bills – Washington Post, Feb. 2, 2011
  7. How the Internet has changed us, interview with Michael Wesch, Vancouver Sun, Oct. 27, 2013.
  8. Open culture: The best free cultural and educational material on the web.
  9. How techno-libertarians took over.   (AlterNet, April 2015).

Fake news and cyber wars 

  1. From Headline to Photograph, a Fake News Masterpiece, NY Times Jan. 18, 2017 article about fraudulent news about Hilary Clinton that affected the election.
  2. The true history of fake news, by Robert Darnton, NY review, Feb 12, 2017, describes fake news in France and Britain in the 1700s.   “Much of this muckraking concerned little more than the sexual peccadillos of the great, but some of it had political implications, just as today in the case of the fake news about supposed orgies involving Hillary Clinton.”  Sophisticates knew not to believe it, but some of the fake news items had political impacts.
  3. Commenting and trolling in news articles — and what can be done about it. “Me and my troll” by Jason Ponton, MIT Technology Review, April 12, 2017.  Interesting review of commenting software and (believe it or not) a link to a Princeton professor’s paper “On Bullshit.”
  4. Facing down the Russian trolls gets a Finn journalist in trouble. New York Times, May 30, 2016.
  5. The Information War is Real, and We are Losing it,” Seattle Times, March 29, 2017, about study of the dark web by Kate Starbir
  6. Experts Paint Sinister Picture of Russian Meddling, Associated Press, March 30, 2017   
  7. Fake news is affecting the way people read Facebook, according to Nieman Reports April 13, 2017.
  8. Five ways to spot fake news, March 3, 2016.
  9. Fake news is trending, CBS 60 minutes, March 30, 2017.
  10. The Problem with Facts, Financial Times, March 3, 2017.  The problem, as seen in the 1950s – 60 tobacco / cancer “debate,” is that authoritative institutions and detailed studies are not enough to overcome smokescreens of doubt.

International free speech / technology issues

  1. Global internet Magna Carta needed, says Tim Berners Lee.
  2. Google’s “Dont Be Evil” creedo,  published 2004.

    Don’t be evil. We believe strongly that in the long term, we will be better served-as shareholders and in all other ways-by a company that does good things for the world even if we forgo some short term gains. This is an important aspect of our culture and is broadly shared within the company.

  3. China threatens its own future with repression, Sacramento Bee, Dec. 14, 2013.
  4. China’s  bloggers under attack.  New York Times, Oct. 16, 2013.
  5. Scheeres, Julia. “Lech Walesa: Tech Freedom Fighter,” Wired, June 19, 2002.
  6. Iran Vows to Unplug Internet – May, 2011
  7. Saleh, Basel. “Tunisia: IMF ‘Economic Medicine’ has resulted in Mass Poverty and Unemployment; Protest by Suicide as a Symbol of Resistance,” Center for Research on Globalization, December 31, 2010.
  8. Columbia University President and First Amendment scholar Lee C.  Bollinger proposes an American World Service in the July/August 2011 issue of Columbia Journalism Review.   “Now, with globalization well underway, it is imperative that we begin to think more systematically about how we will build and develop the concept of a free press for a new global public forum.”
  9. Facebook Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg derived the company’s name  from  the generic term “facebook,” usually a magazine of classmate mugshots, names and home towns distributed to incoming college freshmen. In August, 2011, Facebook claimed that it owns the rights to “___ book” in a lawsuit against Teachbook.
  10. The “Occupy Wall Street” movement relies on the rapid exchange of videos of pepper spraying, club wielding police.”Instead of being reliant on information given to the public through media channels, we are now able to instigate our own broadcasts. Immediately connected to a global audience, two YouTube videos alone are prime examples of how witness reports to scenarios like this are no longer chained to censorship or secrecy.” This is something to celebrate, says the Sacramento Bee newspaper — and something to be wary about.
  11. Twitter censorship policy announced January 2012 is an interesting victory for freedom of speech.  Twitter’s policy and its transparency pledge with the censorship watchdog Chilling Effects  “is the most thoughtful, honest and realistic policy to come out of a technology company in a long time. Even an unsympathetic reading of the new censorship policy bears that out.” So says Paul Smalera of Reuters.   
  12. Google also  adds a feature to overcome China’s search engine censorship. May 2012.
  13. Cat and mouse censorship game over internet  mentions of dissident Cheng Guangcheng in China. Washington Post,  May 1, 2012.
  14. Security of cyberspace – Special report by Washington Post, June 3, 2012.
  15. How to criticize the government on Chinese social media. Foreign Policy, June 10, 2012.  Also see How the Chinese Outwit a Vast Army of Censors. May, 2014. BigYellowDuck
  16. The assumption that communication technologies will lead to freedom is foolish “iPod liberalism” says Evgeny Morozov.  LA Times June 21, 2012.
  17. Battle for internet freedom looms in December 2012. Associated Press, June 24, 2012.
  18. Draconian restrictions may result from Pacific trade talks. Vancouver Sun, June 27, 2012.
  19. When has China blocked internet sites, and why?  Washington Post Oct. 29, 2012.
  20. Evgeny Morozov notes that the bastion of openness and counterculture is just another bit of discreetly imposed conservatism.   
  21. Controversy at the International Telecommunications Union in December, 2012.  SF Chronicle and Bloomberg coverage.  Also the LA Times weighs in.  Looks like the MacBride Commission all over again.
  22. Reddit’s online witch hunts  following Boston Marathon bombings. NYTimes, April 29, 2013.
  23. The right to anonymity by Bill Keller, April 29, 2013.
  24. A double non-sequiter about people supposedly  ‘self-radicalized’ through Internet sites. Thomas Friedman, NY Times, April 27, 2013.
  25. What if the digital future is so efficient there are  no more jobs? Google’s Larry Page worries that 9 out of 10 existing jobs will be eliminated.
  26. Transferring ICANN to an independent international body presents problems for freedom of expression, opines the Washington Post on Jan. 5, 2015.
  27. Jimmy Wales on Wikipedia censorship in China. HuffPo, Sept. 14, 2015.
  28. The Secret Rules of the Internet, The Verge, April 2016.  Excellent article about moderating YouTube video in the early days.
  29. Censorship doesnt work, Cuban activists say — Voice of America, July, 2017

Wikileaks / Snowden / Panama papers   

Connections to the  Wikileaks website in Switzerland are often overwhelmed or blocked.  However, some news organizations like McClatchy have tried to keep track of  Wikileaks releases and commentary.

  1. David Samuels, “The shameful attacks on Julian Assange,” The Atlantic magazine, Dec. 10, 2010.
  2. Apps, Peter. “Wikileaks Stirs Debate on Info Revolution,” Reuters, December 6, 2010.
  3. Why Shouldn’t Freedom of the Press apply to Wikileaks? — Tim Dickinson, Rolling Stone, Dec. 15, 2010.
  4. U.C. Berkeley forum  (video)  April 2011 on Wikileaks with Assange.
  5. Assange loses extradition appeal, June 2012.
  6. Why Assange applied for asylum in Ecuador,  LA Times June 21, 2012.  (article / video)
  7. Guardian newspaper’s web site covering the Snowden leaks.
  8. Looking Back: One Year after the Snowden leaks.  May 14, 2014.  Common Dreams. Great overview.
  9. The Panama Papers, International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, April 2016.
  10. How reporters pulled off the Panama Papers, Wired Magazine, April 2016
  11. The $2 billion trail that leads to Vladimir Putin, Guardian, April 3, 2016

Arab Spring and social media  

  1. Fractured Lands: How the Arab World Came Apart, excellent in-depth reporting from Scott Anderson at the New York Times, Aug  10, 2016.
  2. Arab Spring and social media – Wikipedia
  3. Arab Spring five years on, Amnesty International, 2016

 Russia, social media and the 2016 election   

Created by Russian trolls during the 2016 election, this post calls for an armed uprising in case Hillary Clinton is elected.

  1. Did Russia’s Facebook Ads Actually Swing the Election?, NY Magazine, Oct  20 2017
  2. Facebook is fixing the system, Slate, Oct 28, 2017
  3. Russian trolls would love the ‘Honest Ads’ act, Bloomberg, Oct 20, 2017.  Argues that proposed disclosure legislation doesnt go far enough.
  4. The US is losing at ‘influence warfare’ Defense One, Dec 5, 2016
  5. Here’s what fake  Russian Facebook posts looked like, Philadelphia Inquirer, Oct 6, 2017.

Unexpected technologies 

  1. SceneTap tells you what’s hot around town, how busy a bar is, the male-female ratio, and the average age. It’s all based on automatic facial recognition software. Some people think its kind of a creepy bro-tard thing.
  2. Google glass and Google Now are just part of the way Google is going to own your brain, says Ray Kurzweil.  (OK, just kidding, but close).  Marketplace, May 5, 2013.
  3. The Globe & Mail’s “Fort McMoney” combines documentary film and video gaming to explore the future of a major environmental justice issue.

Civic information technologies