Responses: Sharing on the internet

Breitbart-led right-wing media ecosystem altered broader media agenda

This analysis sought to examine the media ecosystems during the 2016 election cycle that led to Trump’s ascendance using “hyperlinking patterns, social media sharing patterns on Facebook and Twitter, and topic and language patterns in the content of the 1.25 million stories.” The study points to social media “as a backbone to transmit a hyper-partisan perspective to the world,” with Breitbart at the center. The authors present evidence of the role of social media platforms and the right-wing online media, something that I think many were attuned to at the time–after Trump’s election I cringed and navigated to Breitbart for the first time.

While the authors note (and this is clearly observable by living online) that disinformation is common, they found that political and media polarization online was asymmetric–the right-oriented people got more of their news from newer, more polarized sites. I didn’t realize that right-wing media was younger in general. In the mid-2000s, when I was horrified that the adults elected Bush (twice!) I had imagined the right as Fox-news consumers. Now, even Fox is vilified by this new right wing media. From the comparison of patterns on Facebook and Twitter the authors suggest, “human choices and political campaigning, not one company’s algorithm, were responsible for the patterns we observe,” although both are dependent on click-driven revenue. Regardless, the result is scary and unprecedented:

…the insulation of the partisan right-wing media from traditional journalistic media sources, and the vehemence of its attacks on journalism in common cause with a similarly outspoken president, is new and distinctive.

Rebuilding a basis on which Americans can form a shared belief about what is going on is a precondition of democracy, and the most important task confronting the press going forward.

 

Rebuilding the Web We Lost

It was so interesting to read Anil Dash’s perspective on the nature and promise of the old social web: from self-hosting your online identity, the importance of flickr, search, and non-monetized links, to norms around data use and tracking, and crowdfunding. My tween experience was mainly around AOL and AIM.  He wrote a companion piece outlining what could be done to bring the most valuable elements of what was lost back. The main things that stood out were diversity and funding: it seems like a combination of an insular industry and its ad-based funding streams resulted in these negative trends.

The biggest reason the social web drifted from many of the core values of that early era was the insularity and arrogance of many of us who created the tools of the time… Another way of looking at the exclusionary tendencies of typical Silicon Valley startups is by considering the extraordinary privilege of most tech tycoons as a weakness to be exploited.

Dash is hopeful about ways we can address these problems, suggesting that the insularity of Silicon Valley provides an opportunity to create something better that would compete with their flawed strategies. But to me this seems like such massive, ingrained problem that it will take several years if they are ever addressed. There are definitely people promoting diversity in tech, but I seldom hear this value espoused at high levels of the industry, where the power of culture change is manifest. The idea that we can promote blue-collar coding is actually somewhat alarming–like the value of the service is different dependent on who does it. It makes sense that industry partners are invested in teaching computer science for this exact reason.

And then there’s funding: is anyone working on funding websites a different way? Is this even possible for the conglomerates that have already taken over? Or do we have to wait for them to be unseated?

…the fundamental reason these sites refused to accommodate so many user demands is because of economics. Those sites make their revenues on models dictated by the terms of funding from the firms that backed them.

 

Habits of Leaking: Of Sluts and Network Cards

Wendy Chun’s piece addresses many aspects, traditions, and values of western culture, born out out of its colonial, racist, and patriarchal history, that give proper context to abuse (the focus is mainly abuse towards white women) on the web. One of the more salient arguments is around the right to space and the right to citizenship on the web, and how this is connected to the right to exist in public, to loiter.

We need an online public in which women are not victims but loiterers, actively engaging in its public sphere without a discourse of predators, pornographers, and slut-shamers waiting there to ruin them…we need to fight for the right to be vulnerable–to be in public–and not be attacked.

… mass loitering […] creates mixtures and possibilities that erode boundaries and establishes spaces that do not leak because boundaries are not compromised.

I was reminded of Jillian York’s piece on harassment and censorship, because she argues that women expressing themselves, existing, “shout[ing] louder over the din,” is one helpful way to address this abuse. A harmful and effective aspect of online abuse, before it begins to threaten physical bodies, is the way shame is utilized. There’s no a priori reason to feel shame as a victim outside of a culture that hoists shame upon women for existing in public–this does seem like something we could change to strip power of the people that weaponize this against women online, but if possible, will take a long time.

I’ll always remember how network cards work thanks to Chun’s description of how they operate “promiscuously.”

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