Imagine all the people deepfaked

A person removing a mask

Via Kottke.

This ‘deepfake’ video of lots of current and former world leaders and other famous people is interesting and provokes all sorts of questions. Some suggest legislation against them, which is what the US seems to be pursuing, but that of course asks further questions about how to ‘police’ them and who has agency. There are, perhaps, some interesting resonances with the increasing use of performance holograms to re-animate dead performers – but there, of course, the legal issues are different. Nevertheless, all sorts of ideas, aesthetic, ethical and otherwise, about ‘authenticity’ crop up (e.g. this from New Scientist, or this on trust in ‘evidence’ re ‘deepfakes’), which we will increasingly be provoked into discussing.

It is interesting, I think, that while those of us in what we call ‘critical’ social sciences or humanities have been developing fairly nuanced articulations of identity and subjectivity, arguing they are not necessarily essential and acknowledging how they are performed (for example), contemporary digital/ social media, and our uses of them, have forged new norms of ‘authenticity’ in relation to identity. Facebook wants ‘true’ names, for instance. “Finsta” (‘f’ denoting ‘fake’), the phenomenon of setting up hidden, often pseudonymous, Instagram accounts – only for selected friends (as opposed to your curated “rinsta” account (‘r’ denoting ‘real’)) shows how these two understandings of the performative nature of identity and the construction of a normative insistence on ‘authenticity’ collide. We might reasonably ask, for instance, why the ‘finsta’/’rinsta’ labels don’t actually mean the reverse if the more public of the two accounts is heavily curated and the ‘secret’ one is in some senses then more ‘authentic’.

‘Deepfakes’ are, amongst other things, a sensory ‘trick’, an attempt to somehow fool the conscious and sub-conscious habitual discernment of what feels whatever it is we mean by ‘authentic’, ‘genuine’ or ‘real’. In some senses, ‘deepfakes’ reveal back to us the extent to which digital media may have shifted how we pay attention and how we feel (about ourselves, others and the world around us) with and through them. Digital media cultivate attention in different ways, many of them perhaps oriented towards a capitalist imperative, also, perhaps, with them we cultivate forms of paying attention. If this is the case then, as was argued in terms of the potency of TV advertising, we may begin to ‘see through’ the ‘tricks’ precisely because we are bombarded with them (for example, the Putin bits in the video above are not very convincing to my eye). Or, to be pessimistic, we may simply begin to assume nothing can be trusted, that all media is created in bad faith, which of course prompts discussions of a crisis of democracy because how can a population make informed decisions without ‘trustworthy’ sources.

Bernard Stiegler’s Age of Disruption – out soon

Bernard Stiegler being interviewed

Out next year with Polity, this is one of the earlier of Stiegler’s ‘Anthropocene’ books (in terms of publication in French, see also The Neganthropocene) explicating quite a bit of the themes that come out in the interviews I’ve had a go at translating in the past three years (see: “The time saved through automation must be given to the people”; “How to survive disruption”; “Stop the Uberisation of society!“; and “Only by planning a genuine future can we fight Daesh“). Of further interest, to some, is that it also contains a dialogue with Nancy (another Derrida alumnus). This book is translated by the excellent Daniel Ross.

Details on the Polity website. Here’s the blurb:

Half a century ago Horkheimer and Adorno argued, with great prescience, that our increasingly rationalised and Westernised world was witnessing the emergence of a new kind of barbarism, thanks in part to the stultifying effects of the culture industries. What they could not foresee was that, with the digital revolution and the pervasive automation associated with it, the developments they had discerned would be greatly accentuated and strengthened, giving rise to the loss of reason and to the loss of the reason for living. Individuals are overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of digital information and the speed of digital flows, and profiling and social media satisfy needs before they have even been expressed, all in the service of the data economy. This digital reticulation has led to the disintegration of social relations, replaced by a kind of technological Wild West, in which individuals and groups find themselves increasingly powerless, driven by their lack of agency to the point of madness.
How can we find a way out of this situation? In this book, Bernard Stiegler argues that we must first acknowledge our era as one of fundamental disruption and detachment. We are living in an absence of epokh? in the philosophical sense, by which Stiegler means that we have lost our noetic method, our path of thinking and being. Weaving in powerful accounts from his own life story, including struggles with depression and time spent in prison, Stiegler calls for a new epokh? based on public power. We must forge new circuits of meaning outside of the established algorithmic routes. For only then will forms of thinking and life be able to arise that restore meaning and aspiration to the individual.
Concluding with a substantial dialogue between Stiegler and Jean-Luc Nancy in which they reflect on techniques of selfhood, this book will be of great interest to students and scholars in social and cultural theory, media and cultural studies, philosophy and the humanities generally.

Published> A very public cull – the anatomy of an online issue public

Twitter

I am pleased to share that an article I co-authored with Rebecca Sandover (1st author) and Steve Hinchliffe has finally been published in Geoforum. I would like to congratulate my co-author Rebecca Sandover for this achievement – the article went through a lengthy review process but is now available as an open access article. You can read the whole article, for free, on the Geoforum website. To get a sense of the argument, here is the abstract:

Geographers and other social scientists have for some time been interested in how scientific and environmental controversies emerge and become public or collective issues. Social media are now key platforms through which these issues are publicly raised and through which groups or publics can organise themselves. As media that generate data and traces of networking activity, these platforms also provide an opportunity for scholars to study the character and constitution of those groupings. In this paper we lay out a method for studying these ‘issue publics’: emergent groupings involved in publicising an issue. We focus on the controversy surrounding the state-sanctioned cull of wild badgers in England as a contested means of disease management in cattle. We analyse two overlapping groupings to demonstrate how online issue publics function in a variety of ways – from the ‘echo chambers’ of online sharing of information, to the marshalling of agreements on strategies for action, to more dialogic patterns of debate. We demonstrate the ways in which digital media platforms are themselves performative in the formation of issue publics and that, while this creates issues, we should not retreat into debates around the ‘proper object’ of research but rather engage with the productive complications of mapping social media data into knowledge (Whatmore, 2009). In turn, we argue that online issue publics are not homogeneous and that the lines of heterogeneity are neither simple or to be expected and merit study as a means to understand the suite of processes and novel contexts involved in the emergence of a public.

New journal article> A very public cull: the anatomy of an online issue public

Twitter

I am pleased to share that a paper that Rebecca Sandover, Steve Hinchliffe and I have had under review for some time has been accepted for publication. The paper comes from our project “Contagion”, which amongst other things examined the ways issue publics form and spread around public controversies – in this case the English badger cull of 2013/14. The research this article presents comes from mixed methods social media research, focused on Twitter. The methods and conversation have, of course, moved on a little in the last two years but I think the paper makes a contribution to how geographers in particular might think about doing social media-based research. I guess this, as a result, also fits into the recent (re)growth of ‘digital geographies’ too.

The article is titled “A very public cull: the anatomy of an online issue public” and will be published in Geoforum in the not-too-distant future. Feel free to get in touch for a pre-print version.

Abstract:

Geographers and other social scientists have for some time been interested in how scientific and environmental controversies emerge and become public or collective issues. Social media are now key platforms through which these issues are publicly raised and through which groups or publics can organise themselves. As media that generate data and traces of networking activity, these platforms also provide an opportunity for scholars to study the character and constitution of those groupings. In this paper we lay out a method for studying these ‘issue publics’: emergent groupings involved in publicising an issue. We focus on the controversy surrounding the state-sanctioned cull of wild badgers in England as a contested means of disease management in cattle. We analyse two overlapping groupings to demonstrate how online issue publics function in a variety of ways – from the ‘echo chambers’ of online sharing of information, to the marshalling of agreements on strategies for action, to more dialogic patterns of debate. We demonstrate the ways in which digital media platforms are themselves performative in the formation of issue publics and that, while this creates issues, we should not retreat into debates around the ‘proper object’ of research but rather engage with the productive complications of mapping social media data into knowledge (Whatmore 2009). In turn, we argue that online issue publics are not homogeneous and that the lines of heterogeneity are neither simple, or to be expected, and merit study as a means to understand the suite of processes and novel contexts involved in the emergence of a public. 

WhatsApp Research Awards for Social Science and Misinformation

A person removing a mask

Via Moira Weigel. Deadline is 12/08/2018.

WhatsApp Research Awards for Social Science and Misinformation

WhatsApp cares about the safety of our users and is seeking to inform our understanding of the safety problems people encounter on WhatsApp and what more we can do within WhatsApp and in partnership with civil society to address the problem. For this first phase of our program, WhatsApp is commissioning a competitive set of awards to researchers interested in exploring issues that are related to misinformation on WhatsApp. We welcome proposals from any social science or related discipline that foster insights into the impact of technology on contemporary society in this problem space. The WhatsApp Research Awards will provide funding for independent research proposals that are designed to be shared with WhatsApp, Facebook, and wider scholarly and policy communities. These are unrestricted monetary awards that offer investigators the freedom to deepen and extend their existing research portfolio. Applications are welcome from individuals with established experience studying online interaction and information technologies, as well as from persons seeking to expand their existing research into these areas.

Core Areas of Exploration

We will seriously consider proposals from any social science and technological perspective that propose projects that enrich our understanding of the problem of misinformation on WhatsApp. High priority areas include (but are not limited to):

  • Information processing of problematic content: We welcome proposals that explore the social, cognitive, and information processing variables involved in the consumption of content received on WhatsApp, its relation to the content’s credibility, and the decision to promote that content with others. This includes social cues and relationships, personal value systems, features of the content, content source etc. We are interested in understanding what aspects of the experience might help individuals engage more critically with potentially problematic content.
  • Election related information: We welcome proposals that examine how political actors are leveraging WhatsApp to organize and potentially influence elections in their constituencies. WhatsApp is a powerful medium for political actors to connect and communicate with their constituents. However, it can also be misused to share inaccurate or inflammatory political content. We are interested in understanding this space both from the perspective of political actors and the voter base. This includes understanding the unique characteristics of WhatsApp for political activity and its place in the ecosystem of social media and messaging platforms, distribution channels for political content, targeting strategies, etc.
  • Network effects and virality: We welcome proposals that explore the characteristics of networks and content. WhatsApp is designed to be a private, personal communication space and is not designed to facilitate trends or virality through algorithms or feedback. However, these behaviors do organically occur along social dimensions. We are interested in projects that inform our understanding of the spread of information through WhatsApp networks.
  • Digital literacy and misinformation: We welcome proposals that explore the relation between digital literacy and vulnerability to misinformation on WhatsApp. WhatsApp is very popular in some emerging markets, and especially so among new to Internet and populations with lower exposure to technology. We are interested in research that informs our efforts to bring technology safely and effectively into underserved geographical regions. This includes studies of individuals, families and communities, but also wider inquiries into factors that shape the context for the user experience online.
  • Detection of problematic behavior within encrypted systems: We welcome proposals that examine technical solutions to detecting problematic behavior within the restrictions of and in keeping with the principles of encryption. WhatsApp’s end-to-end encrypted system facilitates privacy and security for all WhatsApp users, including people who might be using the platform for illegal activities. How might we detect illegal activity without monitoring the content of all our users? We are particularly interested in understanding and deterring activities that facilitate the distribution of verifiably false information.

Program Format

Our preference is for proposals based on independent research, in which the applicant develops conceptual tools, gathers and analyzes data, and/or investigates relevant issues. Each awardee will retain all intellectual property rights to their data and analyses. WhatsApp staff may provide guidance, but investigators are responsible for carrying out the scope of work.

The program will make unrestricted awards of up to $50,000 per research proposal. All applications will be reviewed by WhatsApp research staff, with consultation from external experts. Payment will be made to the proposer’s host university or organization as an unrestricted gift.

In addition to the award monies, WhatsApp invites award recipients to attend two workshops:

  1. The first workshop will provide awardees with a detailed introduction to how the WhatsApp product works as well as context on the focus area of misinformation. It will also enable participants to receive feedback from WhatsApp research staff and invited guests on their research proposals. We hope this will facilitate international collaborations across researchers and teams in this area. The tentative date for this event is October 29-30, in Menlo Park, CA.
  2. A second workshop will allow awardees to present their initial research findings to WhatsApp and other awardees, providing an opportunity to contextualize their findings with each other. Our hope is that upon completion of the research, award recipients will seek to share their research with the wider public. Tentative date is April 2019, exact date will be updated on this page at a later time.

WhatsApp will arrange and pay for the travel and accommodation of one representative from each awardee. This will be in addition to the research award amount.

Data

  • No WhatsApp data will be provided to award recipients;
  • All data from award research efforts will be owned by the researcher, and need not be shared with WhatsApp.

Applications, Eligibility & Participant Expectations

  • Applications must be written in English and include the following:
    • A research title, identification of the Principle Investigator (PI) and their institutional affiliation for the purposes of the proposed research;
    • A brief program statement (double-spaced, 12 point font, not to exceed 5 pages) that specifies the proposed work. This statement should include the following elements:
      • specification of question(s) being asked;
      • clear statement of the methodology together with examples of when/where this approach has given research insights;
      • plan for any data collection, analysis, and/or conceptual work;
      • description of the expected research outputs and findings;
      • relevance for our understanding of user experiences in online environments.
    • A 1-page bio and CV for the PI together with selected publication references. Summary bios of any other team members or collaborators.
    • A clear statement of the budget requested.
  • Preference will be given to research conducted in countries where WhatsApp is a prominent medium of communication (India, Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, etc.).
  • Preference will be given to proposals from researchers, or collaborations with researchers, based in the country/countries being researched.
  • WhatsApp will accept applications from researchers who hold a PhD. In exceptional cases, we will review applications from individuals without PhD’s who have shown a high-level of achievement in social science or technological research.
  • The award is restricted to social science and technological research that contributes to generalized scientific knowledge and its application. Documentaries, journalism, and oral history projects are not eligible.
  • Awards will be made to an awardee’s university department, research institute or organization; all applicants must therefore be affiliated with an organization that supports research and can process external funding awards. All awards will be made in US dollars.
  • Proposals may be submitted by individuals with no prior experience in social media or Internet research. We welcome proposals from researchers who seek to expand their research portfolio into the area of information and communication technologies.
  • All award recipients are strongly encouraged to attend the two WhatsApp workshops associated with this program. Travel and accommodation will be arranged and paid for by WhatsApp.
  • The proposed research should be carried out by the date of the second workshop, in April 2019. Presentation materials that comprise the final report should be written in English and made available for WhatsApp and the other award recipients by the date of the final workshop. All rights to these materials will be held by the award recipient.
  • Once awardees have accepted their awards, WhatsApp will publicly share the details of the selected applicants by posting a summary of the results together with the PI’s name and the title of the proposal on the Facebook Research blog. This information may also be included in other presentations or posts relating to this effort.

By applying to this award, you are agreeing to the following:

  • You are affiliated with an institution that supports research and can process external funding awards.
  • If chosen, your institution will receive the award as a gift in US dollars and in the amount decided solely by WhatsApp.
  • You acknowledge that you have been invited to two, in-person, WhatsApp workshops (tentatively in October 2018 and April 2019).
  • You acknowledge that WhatsApp will publicly disclose your name and the proposal title as an award recipient.
  • You plan to attend and present the research findings at the second, WhatsApp workshop, likely to be held in Menlo Park, CA, USA in late April, 2019. The workshops and presentations will be conducted in English. Interpretation will be provided if needed. Note: airfare, hotel and transportation to be arranged and paid for by WhatsApp.

Timing and Dates

Applications are due by August 12, 2018, 11:59pm PST. Award recipients will be notified of the status of their application by email by September 14, 2018.

Questions

For all questions regarding these awards, please contact us.

Unfathomable Scale – moderating social media platforms

Facebook logo reflected in a human eye

There’s a really nice piece by Tarleton Gillespie in Issue 04 of Logic themed on “scale” that concerns the scale of social media platforms and how we might understand the qualitative as well as quantitative shifts that happen when things change in scale.

The Scale is just unfathomble

But the question of scale is more than just the sheer number of users. Social media platforms are not just big; at this scale, they become fundamentally different than they once were. They are qualitatively more complex. While these platforms may speak of their online “community,” singular, at a billion active users there can be no such thing. Platforms must manage multiple and shifting communities, across multiple nations and cultures and religions, each participating for different reasons, often with incommensurable values and aims. And communities do not independently coexist on a platform. Rather, they overlap and intermingle—by proximity, and by design.

The huge scale of the platforms has robbed anyone who is at all acquainted with the torrent of reports coming in of the illusion that there was any such thing as a unique case… On any sufficiently large social network everything you could possibly imagine happens every week, right? So there are no hypothetical situations, and there are no cases that are different or really edgy. There’s no such thing as a true edge case. There’s just more and less frequent cases, all of which happen all the time.

No matter how they handle content moderation, what their politics and premises are, or what tactics they choose, platforms must work at an impersonal scale: the scale of data. Platforms must treat users as data points, subpopulations, and statistics, and their interventions must be semi-automated so as to keep up with the relentless pace of both violations and complaints. This is not customer service or community management but logistics—where concerns must be addressed not individually, but procedurally.

However, the user experiences moderation very differently. Even if a user knows, intellectually, that moderation is an industrial-sized effort, it feels like it happens on an intimate scale. “This is happening to me; I am under attack; I feel unsafe. Why won’t someone do something about this?” Or, “That’s my post you deleted; my account you suspended. What did I do that was so wrong?”

Reblog> Internet Addiction watch “Are We All Addicts Now? Video

Twitter

Via Tony Sampson. Looks interesting >

This topic has been getting a lot of TV/Press coverage here in the UK.Here’s a video of a symposium discussing artistic resistance, critical theory strategies to ‘internet addiction’ and the book Are We All Addicts Now? Convened at Central St Martins, London on 7th Nov 2017. Introduced by Ruth Catlow with talks by Katriona Beales, Feral Practice, Emily Rosamond and myself…

@KatrionaBeales @FeralPractice @TonyDSpamson @EmilyRosamond & @furtherfield

Tarleton Gillespie on “Custodians”

Facebook logo reflected in a human eye

Custodians of the Internet – Tarleton GillespieOver on the Culture Digitally site Tarleton Gillespie discusses his new book Custodians of the Internet, reflecting on some of the meanings of “custodian” and how they variously relate to the topic of the book – content moderators for social media services. Gillespie is an astute observer and analyst of contemporary ‘digital culture’ (I struggle to think of another noun right now) and the issue of moderation is certainly timely.

 I thought I would explain the book’s title, particularly my choice of the word “custodians.” This title came unnervingly late in the writing process, and after many, many conversations with my extremely patient friend and colleague Dylan Mulvin. “Custodians of the Internet” captured, better than many, many alternatives, the aspirations of social media platforms, the position they find themselves in, and my notion for how they should move forward.

Read more on Culture Digitally.

Reblog> CFP: The platformization of cultural production

Facebook logo reflected in a human eye

Meant to post last week but, y’know – stuff happens to get in the way…

This looks really interesting from Brooke Erin Duffy. Deadline for abstracts is TOMORROW.

THE PLATFORMIZATION OF CULTURAL PRODUCTION

Special collection of Social Media + Society (Open Access Journal)
Abstract submission deadline: May 15, 2018

Full paper submission deadline: September 15, 2018

Editors: Brooke Erin Duffy (Cornell University), David Nieborg (University of Toronto), Thomas Poell (University of Amsterdam)

This thematic issue explores the “platformization of cultural production” (Nieborg & Poell, 2018)  against the backdrop of wider transformations in the technologies, cultures, and political economies of digital media. Platformization describes the process by which major tech companies—GAFAM (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft) in the West, and the so-called “three kingdoms” of the Chinese internet (Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent) in Asia—are reconfiguring the production, distribution, and monetization of cultural products and services. The logic of platformization is impacting traditional cultural industries (e.g., music, news, museums, games, and fashion), as well as emergent digital sectors and communities of practice, such as livestreaming, podcasting, and “Instagramming.” Accordingly, new industrial formations and partnerships are constantly being wrought; for example, newspapers increasingly host their content on Facebook, and game developers offer their products in app stores operated by Apple and Google.

Given the acceleration and intensification of digital platforms in the cultural circuit, there is a pressing need to interrogate the stakes of platformization for content producers and for the cultural commodities they circulate among digitally networked audiences. We invite theoretical and/or empirical contributions addressing platform power and political economies vis-à-vis cultural production. Owing to the relative recency of research on platformization, this topic warrants an interdisciplinary focus including scholarship from such fields as media and communication studies, platform studies, software studies, political economy of communication, (media) production studies, and business studies. Platformization exacts widely variable costs across different spheres of life, and regional and sectoral boundaries. We therefore invite scholars to contribute papers which advance our understanding of how the platformization of particular sectors and practices takes shape within specific geo-national contexts, as well as how this involves new modes of content moderation and algorithmic curation, evolving forms of labour exploitation, and app-based systems of distribution and monetization.

We are especially interested in articles that shed new light across these themes:

*Theoretical approaches to platformization and the social, cultural and technological contexts of platform-dependent modes of cultural production.

*Intersectional approaches that are sensitive to the gendered, classed, and racial specificity of platform-dependent modes of cultural production.

*Political economic approaches to platformization, including the implications for cultural producers and labor relations, as well as relationships among different institutional actors in platform ecosystems.

*Regional approaches to platformization. For example, the impact of the platformization of cultural industries in particular countries, or regions, such as the European Union.

*Sectoral studies of specific industry sectors and modes of cultural production and circulation such as journalism, game and music production, museums, or emerging ‘platform-native’ practices such streaming and vlogging.

*Historical approaches to platformization. Contributions that investigate the transformation of specific production practices as they become integrated with, or dependent on digital platforms.

*The policy implications of platformization on a local, national or regional level, or studies of policy interventions.

*Formal and informal efforts to resist platformization, such as the development of platform independent subscription-based distribution and monetization models.

*Infrastructural approaches that are sensitive to the material dimensions of platform-based modes of cultural production.

*Methodological interventions, which reflect on the methodologies employed when researching cultural production in platform ecosystems.

Timeline

750-word abstracts should be emailed to cfp@platformization.net by May 15, 2018. The abstract should articulate: 1) the issue or research question to be discussed, 2) the methodological or critical framework used, and 3) indicate the expected findings or conclusions. Decisions will be communicated to the authors by June 1, 2017.

Full papers of the selected abstracts should be submitted by September 15, 2018 to be discussed in the Toronto workshop.

On October 8-9, 2018 (right before AoIR 2018-Montreal), the special collection editors will organise a 2-day event hosted by the University of Toronto. Day 1 will feature a workshop hosted by the McLuhan Centre for Culture and Technology. Workshop participation is not a condition for being included in the special collection. The workshop provides all thematic issue contributors an opportunity for debate and an initial round of feedback on the papers. Accommodation and catering during the event will be covered for accepted contributors. There is limited travel support for junior scholars.

The deadline for submitting the revised paper for double blind peer-review is December 1, 2018.

The planned publication date of this special collection of Social Media + Society is in the second half of 2019