When Google’s electronic glasses were revealed last week, garnering genuflection from outlets from TechCrunch to Al Jazeera, the announcement cemented, it would seem, Google’s corner on the market that is The Future.
There seems to be universal consensus that The Future Brought To You By Google will be an unambiguously positive one. But Google’s non-Glass-related actions over the past couple of months do not seem to suggest a utopian future at all. (more…)
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Peter M. Gunn on Monday, Dec. 3rd
There are times when you look around and wonder if the United States isn’t responsible for all the world’s problems. The World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) that goes from today through December 14 in Dubai is an example of one of those times.
The story of the development of the Internet is one of the great triumphs of the spirit of humanity. Originally developed as a Defense Department research project to facilitate communication inside itself, the scientists responsible saw the power of what they had created, decided that it should be for the people, and specifically structured it so as to not allow one centralized body to control it. This is the part of the story we all agree on. The rest, not so much, and now, America is threatening to take its Internet and go home if it doesn’t get its way. (more…)
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Last month, in a definitive picture of Congressional malfunction, the House failed to pass either the Democrat or the Republican version of a bill that would add an additional 55,000 visas for foreign-born residents who complete an advanced degree in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics. The deadlock came because Republicans wanted to use these visas as a means to keep other undesirable foreigners out of the country (i.e. eliminate the Diversity Visa Lottery program so we don’t make the mistake of, gasp, allowing more immigrants into the country, some of them from Africa). However, though the Republican version happens to be more distasteful, the bill in either form represents a forsaking of the American labor force and a further entrenching of class divisions on the backs of Silicon Valley and its megalomaniacal goals. (more…)
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It would be the perfect media narrative. Barack Obama, a candidate molded in the image of a technocratic Millennial’s fantasy who had a Facebook profile way back in 2006, is losing in the social media theater to William Mittens Romney, who is an actual grandfather. So shocking it has to be true. Cue the contrarian articles and arbitrary data-parsing. There’s only one problem: the debate is totally irrelevant. It makes us feel good to talk about the importance of social media in the presidential election, because it makes us and our Tweets feel important, and while social media is integral to the strategies of campaigns in 2012, that strategy has very little to do with what any of us actually say. (more…)
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No one knows when the next Facebook redesign is going to come, but chances are you’re going to hate it. And if you’re on Twitter, you probably have opinions about the recent decision to excise third-party apps as well. There is always a sense of injustice when these autocratic changes are announced. The libertarians in the crowd will say “well if you don’t like the service, stop using the product” (conveniently ignoring, of course, that in these companies’ business models the user is the product). However, that assessment does not get at the root of the problem, which is that Facebook and Twitter are the new town square, but these services are also private for-profit institutions, who almost by definition, cannot be trusted with administering a public service. The solution, then, is to create a public one.
Now hold up, I know Silicon Valley gon’ kill me, but let me finish. (more…)
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When in the course of buying books made from tumblr blogs, or DVD box sets, or 12 packs of Pop Tarts on Amazon, while marveling at their ability to provide two day free shipping (how do they do it?), you probably don’t pay much attention those other prices listed below the main one, the “More Buying Choices.” After all, who would pay an extra $8.28 just to order the second season of Breaking Bad from a place called Brandon’s House of Fun? However, a whole cottage industry has sprung up around getting third-party sellers into the “More Buying Choices” box, or “Buy Box” as Amazon calls it. Increasingly, the answer seems to be algorithms.
Although anecdotally the lowest prices always seem to come from Amazon directly, third-party sellers now make up over one third, or around $6 billion, of all Amazon sales. Their strategies for competing, absent hiring a 16-year old intern to refresh the “Used & New” sales page every five minutes for all of their products, seem to center on algorithms, or robo-pricing. Most of the articles about robo-pricing imply that these algorithms come from Wall Street, but there’s actually an entire body of academic work focused specifically on pricing algorithms for e-commerce. Some of them are on that Bayesian tip, relying on models of probability. Others prefer game theory or machine learning. In all of them, the goal is to form a competitive price while also maximizing profit through rules based on transaction costs, production costs, and consumer preferences. Here, they differ from Wall Street algorithms, which are mainly about price alone. (more…)
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Google likes to pretend its not your average corporation, you know, “don’t be evil” and all that. Yet for not being your average corporation, it seems to be relatively adept at duplicity. Google announced this month on its blog that it will begin to punish sites that receive an inordinate amount of DMCA takedown notices by banishing them to obscurity on page 2, or worse, page 3. This is apparently not censorship.
This is the same Google that raged against SOPA, including launching this site which called on the masses to rise up and fight for a free and open internet, now admittedly engaging in censorship. A few people have picked up on the inconsistencies at play, but the question remains as to what prompted this change in the rules. The answer lies in the second half of the populism-soaked PR materials Google was distributing back in January: “harmful regulations to American businesses.” Google was against SOPA, and is now playing DMCA hall monitor, for the same reason that any business has done anything since the invention of capitalism. (more…)
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On September 19, a great act of hypocrisy shall take shape. Last month, The National Journal reported the formation of a new Voltron-esque trade group called The Internet Association, which claims it will be “the unified voice of the Internet economy,” dedicated to “advancing public policy solutions to strengthen and protect an open, innovative and free Internet.”
Just exactly which companies belong to the Internet Association will remain unknown until it officially launches, but already word has slipped about the four main founding companies, which are Google, Facebook, eBay, and Amazon. Indeed, these four have come together to lobby Washington to for a free and open Internet for the people. Hmmm. (more…)
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Peter M. Gunn on Friday, Apr. 13th
Social media is becoming an increasingly valuable tool for social justice advocates, not through oft-maligned “slacktivism” campaigns such as changing one’s profile picture for a cause or through making a topic trend — but through its capability to help shape the national discourse surrounding issues, as two recent examples from two very different spheres of the web prove.
On February 9, 2012, XXLMag.com posted a video called “Fatherly Advice from Too $hort.” Too $hort is the Bay Area hip-hop stalwart known for his sexually explicit lyrics. To say that the video’s content was controversial would be to imply that there was anyone, Too $hort included, who actually agreed with its content in the first place. The video contained an exhortation for young teenage boys to commit what falls under the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network‘s definition of sexual assault in an effort to “turn girls out.” The initial response from XXLMag and Too $hort were straight out of the PR handbook for identity-related crisis management, with a distancing statement from editor-in-chief from Vanessa Satten and a non-apology from Too $hort.
The usual narrative of these incidents consists of the offending party trying to move on as quickly as possible, and the advocacy group pushing the issue walking away with at best a firing and at worst with “I am not a racist/sexist/homophobe,” but either way the underlying issues surrounding the gaffe or video in question largely remain unaddressed. However, just two weeks after its initial posting, Too $hort called the video “a blessing in disguise” and considered himself “schooled” in an interview with allhiphop.com. His change of heart was due, in some part, to the potential of social media.
In the time between the initial apology and the interview, a group of activists, professors, and writers formed a group called the We Are The 44% Coalition and published this note on Facebook, which led to this conversation in Ebony with member dream hampton, and this appearance at a town hall meeting in Oakland three weeks later. Achieving a mindset shift of this magnitude in this short a time frame from an MC who, by his own admission, could be the poster boy for misogyny in hip-hop is a feat that many activists would probably have considered impossible.
A week later, the Kony 2012 campaign hit, its rhetoric firmly steeped in the power of social media. Naturally, then, a great deal of the criticism surrounding it would come through the same channels. Indeed, some of the most detailed and informed criticism came from Visible Children, which is a tumblr page created in response to the video. In its response video, “Kony 2012: Part II – Beyond Famous,” Invisible Children mentioned of some of that criticism, but the criticism they showed was strictly from professional media outlets. What the response video fails to acknowledge: social media,
the very same outlets that Invisible Children exhorted its followers to use for its campaign, drove the direction of much of that criticism.
One of the most widely shared and effective pieces of criticism on Kony 2012 was the article ”The White Savior Industrial Complex ” by Teju Cole, a Nigerian-American novelist that ran on The Atlantic. 39 seconds into “Beyond Famous,” the filmmakers end their montage of criticism lingering on footage of CNN anchor Becky Anderson saying “there are these white Westerners sort of getting on a bandwagon, and actually, they haven’t got a clue what they’re talking about,” footage that came from a broadcast on March 9. On March 8, Teju Cole tweeted the eight tweets that got The Atlantic’s attention and led to the publication of “The White Savior Industrial Complex.” On that broadcast, the contributors make repeated references to the discussion on Twitter surrounding the campaign, a discussion that Teju Cole’s tweets had a significant impact on.
The crux of Cole’s criticism apparently resonated with Invisible Children, because in “Beyond Famous” they put a much greater emphasis on the local efforts Ugandans have been making to stop the Lord’s Resistance Army, and they redirect their focus from the actions of the U.S. military to the
actions of the African Union, in essence, to shift the narrative away from ”white Westerners heroically coming in to save the Ugandan children.” Now indeed, this shift was more of a change in rhetoric than it was in policy; the campaign to arrest Joseph Kony has not substantively changed, but this
change in rhetoric is important, not the least because Invisible Children has taken it upon themselves to be the principal framers of the issue. The tone of their rhetoric will have a profound impact on how many Americans understand the nature of conflict in central Africa and Uganda.
In the case of the Too $hort video, Facebook provided a platform that allowed a group of activists to organize on the fly and to broadcast their message while still being able to fit into the news cycle. By the same token, an author’s eight tweets were able to affect the national conversation with an immediacy that traditional forms of publication never allow. Also relevant, both situations consisted of trenchant and unflinching analyses of power and privilege usually not found outside of the realm of academia. Too often, such analyses would be considered too radical for traditional media outlets. Such analyses, then, would often be ignored, and the underlying patterns that they sought to elucidate would remain hidden.
Though social media has been largely ineffective in this country in fulfilling its ascribed role in social change a la the Egyptian or Iranian Revolution, it is proving to be useful in facilitating the kinds of conversations surround issues that social justice advocates say need to happen and is able to do so in a way that can actually shape public opinion about the issue as it is developing, instead of as ex facto academic analysis, and in turn evolve the nation’s discourse. Social media is not a panacea, and it can be as much a repository for ignorance as much as it is for enlightenment, but from memes about white privilege to the formidable feminist blogosphere, social justice advocates are finding social media as a means to achieve that fleeting, nebulous word: “progress.”
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