Topics in Emerging Media and Communications

Archive for April 2011

Balance of Powers and Privacy

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To balance freedom versus control on the Internet, we must acknowledge historical norms and meanings that cross physical borders. This is especially true when we give credence to the fact that we now live in multiple communities that have various ethical, financial, and value structures.  But what then is the thread that will weave all participates on the Internet together in a harmonious unit?

I will not lie, reading and comprehending Lawrence Lessig’s  “Code 2.0” was a challenge. It was even more of a challenge to flesh out what Lessig felt was a sufficient answer to the blending of the online community.  He speaks of how social control can be embedded in the code that works in the background of the Internet, but that code has a bias inherent by the writers of the code. The engineers hold the balance of power. Do we trust technology engineers with the infrastructure of future society, those hackers and cyberpunks inserting their will by wielding their technical knowledge?  No. Saying we are uncomfortable with the idea is a drastic understatement. Look at Wiki-Links, which in essence was created by the hacker culture and is now infamous for their tactical movements online and off.

One of the more important effects of the Wiki-Links scandal was that it helped the general public realize that our view of both the Internet and physical space has changed forever, and with that shift comes the framing of new community values.  But each community whether real or Internet based has the freedom to decide what their values will look like and the freedom to ignore other community’s chosen structure. Lessig says “When we live in multiple communities, accountability becomes a way for one community to impose its view of propriety on another. Because we do not live in a single community, we do not live by a single set of values. And perfect accountability can only undermine this mix of values (219).” He does not believe there is one solution, or one structure that works across the network space.

One way to argue the parameters of this mix of values is to look closely at copyright law, which is hotly debated as it effects every level of communication, networked technology. Lessig says “We are not entering a time when copyright is more threatened than it is in real space. We are instead entering a time when copyright is more effectively protected than at any time since Gutenberg (175).” This power of regulation is only becoming more fine-tuned as corporations, government entities, and media understand the flow of the networked space better. They will use that flow to their advantage, which relates to my topic of research, how corporations harness connected communities through crowd sourcing. But then what about copyright?

If corporations use collective intelligence and creativity to bring about change, who or what is the source? In the case of crowd sourcing, the corporate sponsor takes ownership over any participants’ contribution immediately. There is no room for legal dispute, but that goes against the nature of creativity. The goal of crowd sourcing is to promote collaboration, but with zero possibility of attributing authorship to those deserving, In this way, it seems that freedom of expression could be threatened by the craze of crowdsourcing and all copyrighted property, intellectual or otherwise, is locked down.

What we think is a new method of utilizing the new reality of connectedness online and off seems like freedom because of its participatory nature, but is it really a promoter of freedom? My opinion is if we involve a corporate structure of any kind the answer is no. A resounding NO.

Lessig, I think would agree; “Creativity activity that never needed to grapple with copyright regulation must now, to be legal, clear a whole host of hurdles, some of which, because of insanely inefficient property system that copyright is, technically impossible. A significant portion of creative activity has now moved from free culture to permission culture. And the question of values of free speech is whether that expanded regulation should be allowed to occur unchecked (269).” Corporations take on the responsibility of copyright, along with the perks of ownership over creative product and actual and residual products, but what happens to the artist? 
What happens to the individual with a brilliant solution to a real-world problem? They willingly give up their creative rights without understanding the impact. And they don’t understand the impact because current ownership rights and copyright laws did not have the complications of the Internet in mind when they were established. Similar to Lessig’s constitutionalist view, it is impossible to know what the framers of the constitution would say about laws relating to privacy and free speech on the Internet because they had no way of knowing what questions to ask.

We still are unsure of what questions to ask, and both the physical and networked space is convoluted and exciting. It’s easy to get swept up in a movement to effect change, the Internet makes collaboration a breeze, but we must be careful about who is making decisions in the background. The arguments over copyright and freedom of creativity we are involved in now will shape the future of utilization and information gathering/sharing.

What Lessig warns is that we have to acknowledge there must be a multi-layered system of protections inherently built in the collective networked community online and off. There are entities that push back against the system in small and big ways, and they are necessary for restructuring. With regards to copyright protections and corporate interests, awareness of individual creative rights is key to enacting and enforcing those rights.


Written by HiuHiMedia

April 26, 2011 at 10:07 pm

Please Vote! Vote! Vote! Thank you.

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This last week I’ve been doing some investigating for my research topic. I’ve decided to focus my attention on Kohl’s Cares and Pepsi Refresh campaigns, as they are the most prominent users of crowd sourcing for corporate philanthropy and they primarily focus their efforts on voter campaigns.

In a few of my readings I came across some questions I had not yet considered. One of the major problems with corporate giving campaigns is that they are not legally required to disclose information about their charitable giving. The crowd sourcing component helps alleviate some of this secrecy, but if you peruse either campaign’s website, it is difficult or impossible to find statistics or concrete information about completed projects or where the dollars were distributed.  Both projects provide a spotlight for less visible charities, as well as the possibility for financial support, but from what I’ve observed, there are so many charities vying for the same grant that it feels overwhelming for the voter. After all, Pepsi Refresh’s campaign slogan is “refresh everything”, quite a tall order if you ask me.

Kohl’s focuses their charitable giving efforts on women, children, and environmental causes, while Pepsi Refresh spans the spectrum of social causes, community and nation-wide. What both companies tap into is their customer’s brand loyalty, but could they potentially lose their followers by aggressively promoting voting campaigns? Customers may be confused by the number of charities to vote for, they may question the effectiveness of the grants being distributed, And they feel pressured to constantly vote, they will become apathetic to the cause and overwhelmed. These concerns will likely be a challenge for corporations to overcome as the future of crowd-sourcing  expands.

Written by HiuHiMedia

April 20, 2011 at 12:06 pm

The Tumblr Echo Chamber

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Because of the complicated, multi-networked structure of the Internet, the concept of Freedom of Speech has been put under a microscope. We now conceptualize that freedom differently in a democratic society, simply because of the amount of information available and space in which to share that information.  What is important to understand when talking about Freedom of Speech in the network is that there needs to be parameters set to protect it, but more importantly it needs to be understood as a connector in and of itself.

Let’s first look at what freedom means online.  In his book “Republic 2.0”, Cass Sunstein claims “Freedom should not always be identified with ‘choices.’ Of course free societies usually   respect free choices. But sometimes choices reflect, and can in fact produce, a lack of freedom. But perhaps the argument is rooted in something else: a general hostility to any form of government regulation (Sunstein 153).” One of the primary uses of the Internet space is the spreading of ideas and information, and blogging has become a contributor of this spread, especially with regards to the political landscape.  Blogging provides a platform for individuals to say whatever they want, free of government censorship or corporate media influences.  They amass followers, support grassroots political efforts, and pick fights with the opposition while enjoying virtually no intrusion or censorship. Every voice can be heard, every idea fleshed out, and the consumer has the freedom to access and participate in all sides of the dialogue, all at once.

Now that we have this kind of freedom of expression, it is a natural reaction for us to want to protect it, fight desperately against interference or any form of regulation. What this does, however is open up the floodgates of access to all information. And once the floodgates open, it is extremely difficult for the public to decide on a filtering system for unwanted, unnecessary or damaging information.  Sunstein argues that filtering the system limits sharing of information and compromises freedom “For citizens of the republic, freedom requires exposure to a diverse set of topics and opinions” but he also acknowledges the echo chamber phenomenon that persists, in part to the overwhelming amount of information.

My personal echo chamber is the micro-blogging platform Tumblr.  Tumblr allows users to post text, images, videos, links, quotes and audio to their tumbl-blog and they can follow other Tumblr users, share messages, chat, and re-post content.  The user has a dashboard where they conduct communication and view the tumbl-blog posts of all the other users they follow. This type of blogging platform is designed to promote ease of use and connectivity within the community, and it works quite effectively distributing information. I can track how my posts move across the Tumblr community and the more followers I have, the more my voice is shared with the community, the more social capital and influence I build.

This is what makes Tumblr so appealing, the community of ideas is already set in place and the individual just has to start contributing. The Tumblr community has set up a fund for Japan relief, has organized social cause movements, distributes news in immediate time, and provides support to members. But there is an inevitable opposite to all this social and community good, sharing, happy fuzzy bunny stuff.

The Tumblr community, like most online communities has an echelon of posters who dominate the collective voice of the community. Because of their social weight, it is easier for them to set the tone of the group as a whole.  Tumblr is also open to all types of contributors, which means that voices from corporations, news organizations, fringe groups, individuals, everyone is sharing all the time. Sunstein says “These shared experiences provide a kind of social glue, facilitating efforts to solve fellow citizens, and sometimes helping ensure responsiveness to genuine problems and needs, even helping identify them as such (117).” But the individual has a choice in which blogs they follow. This filtering creates an echo chamber effect that Sunstein discusses at length. The people I follow on my personal Tumblr are people that are like me. They, for the most part share my ethics, interests, even political leanings and I purposely filter out Tumblr’s who don’t. In some ways, the people I communicate with on the platform are simply a reflection me.

And maybe this is the fear Sunstein talks about his book. He reiterates his concern about our new concept of freedom and how it actually causes group polarization, “But freedom properly understood consists not simply in the satisfaction of whatever preferences people have, but also in the chance to have preferences and beliefs formed under decent conditions – in the ability to have preferences formed after exposure to a sufficient amount of information and also to an appropriately wide and diverse range of options (45).” The danger is everywhere. It confronts you every time you join a conversation, read information, participate. And confronting the natural tendency to filter the amount of information your exposed to on a daily, hourly basis is exhausting.

Most people in the network don’t take the time to listen outside of their personal echo chambers, which is the real danger we face. So, will I open up my Tumblr following to different points of view? Will I start following Fox News’ Tumblr to balance NPR’s or The Atlantic’s Tumblr? I’ll have to think about that one.

Written by HiuHiMedia

April 20, 2011 at 11:06 am

Posted in Social Media

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Technological Butterfly Effect

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Technology changes all the time; human nature hardly ever (Morozov 315).”

This quote feels like a nice starting place for trying to understand the relationship between how the Internet operates in relation to the individual. It is abstract and has a feeling of inclusivity and a sprinkling of truth that one feels when participating in the Internet space. One can easily spiral down the rabbit hole of questions of change, but for the brevity of this blogpost, I will hold back. Let’s stick to cyber-utopianism, and even smaller, how the battle for cyber-utopianism is failing, and how it needs to change focus with specific regard to how we harvest information from crowd-sourcing tactics.

In the “Net Delusion” by Evgeny Morozov, There is an assertion that Internet is not what media and Government (specifically western form of Government) think it is. “The border between cyber-utopianism and cyber-naivete is a blurry one. In fact, the reason why so many politicians and journalists believe in the power of the Internet is because they have not given this subject much thought. Their faith is is not the result of a careful examination of how the Internet is being used by dictators or how it is changing the culture of resistance and dissent (21).”

The Internet that was once seen as a novel “voice of the people” with the ability to overthrow an oppressive power source is now being used by effectively by the oppressive power source. As the quote above points out, naivete reigns over those nodes that have the ability to spread information faster.  Because in the network space, there is no way to identify and isolate a single power source, and if you cannot isolate the source, how can we fix the problem?  A further issue is if we cannot trust those nodes that are responsible for protecting democratic values, the network will spawn technological fixes that are unable to foresee all effected variables and potentialities.

Morozov applies these questions to democracy and governance on the Internet, but I would like to focus on a single technological fix that corporations are using as a way to gather information, problem solve, and generate high profits.

So what is the issue with corporations (as well as government and non-profit entities) wielding the power of the networked space to collaborate, streamline, innovate, etc. especially when many crowd-sourced projects are used to better communities small and large?
The issue is that everyone has jumped on the crowd-source bandwagon.  I saw this when I attended the Interactive Media Conference at SXSW. Many panels I attended used the buzzword “crowd-source” but no one addressed the potential risk involved.

“As the Internet makes technological fixes cheaper, the temptation to apply them even more aggressively and indiscriminately also grows. And the easier it is to implement them, the hard it is for internal critics to argue that such fixes should not be tried at all (303).”

“The Net Delusion” points this issue out over and over. The excitement of a new technology blinds the network from acknowledging that anything new comes with unknown costs. And those costs will change, while the individuals linked probably wont. Those unseen costs will most likely require sophisticated solutions, and those sophisticated solutions have the potential to aggravate other social problems.

So now, something as simple as crowd-sourcing project proposals to help rebuild a community after natural disaster sounds like a great way to utilize network technology. When I google any topic relating to crowd-sourcing I get an endless list of websites that proclaim crowd-sourcing is the key to solve any problem! In three easy steps! Share this exciting news with your friends! But if you look deeper at the solution, you can see the spiral grow, partly because a technological fix is being used solve a non-technological problem, and partly because of the infinite number of risks.

“Well, perhaps it was a mistake to treat the Internet as a deterministic, one-directional force for either global liberation or oppression, for cosmopolitanism or xenophobia. The reality is the that the Internet will enable all these forces – as well as many others – simultaneously (29).”

I would like to emphasize the last part of this quote “the Internet will enable all these forces – as well as many others – simultaneously” and propose that this is true of all efforts for change made in the networked space, whether defined as good or bad. It is the seemingly abstract, always changing butterfly effect. Our reaction as individuals is to throw bigger, stronger more complex technology fixes at the problem, but what if the solution is smaller than that.

In his conclusion of “The Net Delusion” Morozov suggests that we, the nodes need to look further than utopian solutions and complicated technological fixes, but not look further, look in a more finite way, closer at how networks operate on a small scale. In this regard I agree with his conclusion, we need to first notice the flicker of the butterfly wing.

Written by HiuHiMedia

April 6, 2011 at 5:43 am

Posted in Technology

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