Digital Activism/ #BlackOutDay March 6th

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This week’s readings dedicated to digital activism and the consequences of algorithmic filtering brought about connections to a social media wide hashtag I will be participating in this Friday called #BlackOutDay. Friday, March 6th all Tumblr, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Vine users are encouraged to post and re- post positive depictions of Black people all day long. The demonstration was first intended for Black Tumblr users to combat the under representation most of us feel when combing through tags on the site. On Tumblr “notes” are like currency and give a post immortality as it is liked and re-blogged throughout the site while being seen by its 225.5 million blog-owners and countless lurkers. But often when I hit up the trending page that shows the post with the most notes, I don’t see people quite like me. Today, there was Beyonce and Kanye among the cats, SoundCloud, One Direction and other popular post but when it came to just regular people I only saw White women. Pictures of women in cute midriff barring outfits, with floral crowns and awe worthy eyebrows that could have easily been women of color but were just not. #BlackOutDay creator Expect-the-greatest.tumblr.com , echoed  the same sentiment and was compelled to do something about it:

I got inspired to propose Blackout day after thinking “Damn, I’m not seeing enough Black people on my dash”. Of course I see a constant amount of Black celebrities but what about the regular people? Where is their shine? When I proposed it, I thought people would think it was a good idea, but not actually go through with implementing it. Luckily people wanted to get behind the idea, and @recklessthottie created the #Blackout tag…We need a unified agreeance that ALL black people are beautiful and worthy of praise and admiration, and Blackout day is a step towards that.

Tumblr’s main page is an example of the impact algorithm filtering have on what we see and #BalckOutDay is how we can unite as communities to take control of the algorithms. Zeynp Tufecki explains in her article What happens to #Ferguson Affects Ferguson: Net Neutrality, Algorithmic Filtering, and Ferguson: ” … algorithmic filtering, as a layer controls what you see on the internet. Net Neutrality (or lack thereof) will be yet another layer determining this. This will come on top of existing inequalities in attention , coverage ad control.

The problem with algorithms is that they are a representation of the systemic deficiencies in media representations of minorities that have already been in place for ions. If you had trusted your Facebook alone the night Ferguson erupted after the non-indictment announcement, you would have thought the story was not a top “trending” issue just like if I had trusted my Tumblr mainpage alone,Id think people like me don’t exist.

Professor Noble cautioned in her lecture to us the other week the importance of recognizing algorithms as not these infallible, all knowing representations of what you are looking for. The sad truth is that because the average person does not know the way an algorithm works exactly there are higher levels of trust in that technology than there should be. With demonstrations like #BlackOutDay and the passing of Net Neutrality we can usher in response to these oversights and be in charge of what we want to see.

Net Neutrality and the Future of the Internet

Net neutrality has been a big issue in the news lately, and it is a topic I have always found very interesting. I really enjoyed the What Happens to #Ferguson Affects Ferguson: Net Neutrality Algorithmic Filtering and Ferguson reading. I knew that net neutrality was always an issue with large media companies like Comcast, Verizon, AT&T and in opposition of smaller companies like Facebook, Google, and Netflix.

So I was essentially surprised when this article stated that Facebook was doing its own filtering with its content when Ferguson occurred. I thought about it for a while, but it made sense. I knew Facebook already tracked our information. They want to track how their users utilize the site because it gives them a better idea of how to create a website ideal for their users.

But my problem with this is it makes me ask, “Why and how will this affect us in the future?” Is streamlining information this way a good idea for users online? If the internet was originally meant to be an infinite space for us to share information, filtering data essentially goes against this. This goes back to our original talk a few weeks ago about how personalizing data to what a particular user likes only reaffirms their beliefs and promotes close-mindedness. Despite the issue of net neutrality, it seems that it is still happening within companies like Facebook. Any website can streamline the type of information that can be shared on their websites. Ferguson is very controversial, and it makes you really question who gets to decide what we are allowed to share and see on our social media accounts. At the heart of it, the purpose of journalists is to get the news out the the public. But if online media is limiting the word from getting out, it may just be a stance against freedom of speech, in general.

A Ripple Effect

imgresThe readings this week struck me differently than readings from previous weeks. I tend to look at things very optimistically, and when blatant inequality strikes it is hard to process exactly how to feel and or react in a positive way. I kept processing the idea of net neutrality, what exactly could that mean, and how would that change the everyday Internet experience? Should all Internet traffic be treated equally, and why would this be an issue categorized under basic human rights? I understand that this idea would mean that all information would be treated in a free and open manner, but how would categorize what is most important and more fact based; I feel like this would cause cyberspace to become much more complicated. People hope that the internet would be a place of innovation and not business, however as easy as this is to understand and agree, I still don’t know if I would want my information to not be filtered, instead of geared towards my interest, my internet culture. I do not have a solution to this very complicated issue, but I am very interested to see others opinions, and thoughts revolving around this idea of visibility, and how flexibility can be added to this fixed algorithm.

 

“It’s rare that we get attention of the mainstream media unless there’s blood or something”(29). Attention typically links to action, everyone deserves an opportunity to be visible, and given a space that every persons story or narrative can be shared equally, but that is something I find so beautiful about the Internet, everyone has that opportunity especially because the media is evolving. These media opportunities give every scenario more leverage, which as the author states a chance to humanize. I feel like most movements and situations come from personal narratives, the story of one is shared, and spread in a ripple affect. In the case of Ferguson, I understand how people become upset, however I still cannot believe how quickly this spread. It was expressed in real time, I took the internet by storm. I mean if we did not have the Internet, it would have to be experienced through a different medium, which would have taken so much more time to spread, but because we do have this real time expression these circumstance become much more complicated. In order to reach the mass, the masses have to gain insight, which in this case I can understand would take a couple hours because of the time it takes to share, even still I see as incredible. Again this topic is hard for me to discuss, I do not really face this type of marginalization, however I empathize with the experience of every human, no one should feel lower, or feel like their life experience means less because every person is significant and special. My hopes that soon the world can discover a better way to divide the power of the Internet.

 

#InsertYourCauseHere

This week’s reading focused in on collective behavior on social media. Transmedia organizing and reporting was proven in What Happens to #Ferguson Affects Ferguson: Net Neutrality, Algorithmic Filtering and Ferguson to be an especially vital tool in the coverage of the social movements in Ferguson—with many people taking part in online activism via hashtags on Twitter and Facebook. This transmedia storytelling covered the events in a way that normal broadcast or print media could not—in real time, and (mostly) unfiltered.

Online activism has always been present in my life—from my earliest days on MySpace where my middle school classmates urged me to change my profile picture to my favorite cartoon to speak out against child abuse. Oh, and let’s not forget the stupid 2010 trend when girls were messaged secretly on Facebook to post where they put their purse as “I like it (place here)” as their status in order to advocate for ovarian cancer (I think?).

Although this week’s readings can point to many successful cases of online mobilization, I couldn’t help but first think of the failed instances of clicktivism during my time here at UCLA. Again, I respect the successes online media has had on movements such as Ferguson, Chapel Hill, and other national/international tragedies; however, I feel that because of these successes, students here on campus rely too heavily on hashtags and Facebook profile photos to advocate for trivial causes. The biggest offender of this is the Vietnamese Student Union during their “scandal” in the fall of 2012 and again in 2013.

The backstory of this was due to an offensive flyer allegedly posted to their office door, VSU wanted to bring the issue of campus climate front-and-center. 2012 did not see much online mobilization, but 2013 brought about their attempt at a hashtag campaign #BeyondTheStereotype. The consequent Facebook event tried to mobilize students to raise this issue to administrators. How?

“Change your profile picture by taking a photo with a positive catch phrase written on your arms or piece of paper (See examples below). If you are comfortable, feel free to add your own narrative to describe how you feel.”

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In the end, what did this accomplish? Nothing. Like my middle school days of MySpace profile photos, this effectively accomplished nothing.

Basically, this week’s readings reminded me of why I hold so much biases against VSU. Online mobilization is an incredible tool for millennials to use because it covers events and voices opinions in ways that traditional mobilization failed to do or took longer to do. In this case, VSU’s hashtag campaign for a movement with no tangible end-goal gives online mobilization a bad name, and makes it hard for other legitimate online movements to be taken seriously.

Algorithms and Oppression

Net neutrality is a very interesting topic that deserves much more attention than it is currently receiving. The idea that pre-determined algorithms are embedded in all digital environments and filter information and knowledge for the individual is truly scary. At what point does the individual lose control over the information he/she seeks out or consumes. In an extreme sense, at what point does the individual become less human and is stripped of his/her more unpredictable human qualities and characteristics. Talk of algorithms and their subtle and subversive nature reminds me of a book I have been reading for my ethnography, “Understanding Popular Culture” by John Fiske. In this book, John Fiske discusses the capitalist intentions of all entities that exist, and the capitalist tendencies of all individuals. Fiske describes these intentions as simply being the need to participate in capitalist culture as a means of self-expression and the construction of identity. Fiske describes the existence and success of capitalism being directly related to the perpetuation of socio-economic differentiation in the confines of a societal structure. It is through this social-economic difference that various urges arise and compel the individual to act and react through the use of the capitalist market. The market, or brands, at this point becomes a means of rebellion and revolting that in the end always manage to further stimulate the economy.

Fiske’s capitalist conversation and this discussion revolving around the invisible hierarchy of the web, enforced by algorithmic structural elements, all work together to further differentiate individuals based on social-economic values. Is this true? It’s hard for me to believe that I live within a societal system that forges monetary value from human oppression. I guess the internet is a more free form of oppression, rather than physical abuse, it oppresses the individual in a subtle and enjoyable manner.

Here’s the link to a really good ted talk explaining the algorithmic nature of the internet: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ENWVRcMGDoU

Week 9: Transmedia Storytelling with a Cause

The second chapter of “Out of the Shadows” by Sasha Costanza-Chock introduces applications of transmedia in immigrants rights activism. Costanza-Chock discusses transmedia specifically in the context of transmedia organizing, a method of community engagement through participatory media-making. Transmedia organizing is a variety of transmedia storytelling that combines the flow of commodities across platforms with social movement studies.

Transmedia storytelling is the construction of a narrative across platforms and formats; this technique is employed to reach a wider audience but could also be considered to expand the narrative itself. Not to be confused with traditional multimedia franchises, transmedia storytelling encompasses multiple channels of synchronized content. Transmedia storytelling has achieved greater legitimacy as an entertainment medium in recent years; Costanza-Chock mentions that it is recognized by the Producers Guild of America, the Sundance Institute, and the Tribeca Film Festival.

Constanza-Chock focuses on transmedia activity as it occurs in real time. Her interpretation of transmedia organizing includes student-made flyers circulated online, the documentation of protests, and post-demonstration instant messaging. However, transmedia organizing is not the only form of transmedia production with the potential for social justice. Transmedia storytelling can do so through virtual technology or by combining together media tied to an activist movement after the fact.

Use of Force,” for example, is a project that recreates the death of thirty-five year old Anastasio Hernandez Rojas at the hands of border patrol in San Diego. This particular example of transmedia storytelling resembles a game, and does not have much in common with the discussion of transmedia contained in “Out of the Shadows” except for a similarity in priorities and its being an innovative application of technology. Despite that distinction, it shows that technology has permeated so many aspects of our lives that it is a really necessary tool for activists, whether they are trying to coordinate a movement or generate sympathy for their cause.

Twitter and Activism

This week’s readings discussed online activism and whether or not this movement helps activism or not. Even though this is not directly related I felt that this reading reminded me of an article that I read earlier this week about how the Twitter president is now being threatened by ISIS because he has been blocking groups associated with the group.

I thought this was an interesting concept because maybe in a way this falls in the middle ground of actually taking action while not really doing anything in the real world like how people believe true activism is. By blocking their groups that support ISIS and not allowing them to post on twitter he has sent them a message that they are now responding to. Also related, Anonymous has decided to take action against ISIS and take down hundreds of accounts. Because they are regulating the internet and almost taking a virtual stand against these groups, would this be considered cyber activism instead of slacktivism?

I am not sure what category this fits in, or whether this fits in at all–but it came to mind when reading the articles about Twitter.

Here is the link about Twitter and Isis:

http://time.com/3728484/twitter-isis/

Here is a discussion about Anonymous and Isis:

http://money.cnn.com/2015/02/10/technology/anonymous-isis-hack-twitter/index.html?iid=EL

Net Neutrality

While reading the article on #Ferguson, I was impressed to see that it fit so well with things happening right now, even though the traumatic events in Ferguson happened around six months ago. The discussion of net neutrality is extremely relevant as of this week. On February 26, 2015 the Federal Communications Commission approved the net neutrality policy with a 3-2 vote. The goal of this policy is to make sure that the Internet is treated as public entity and no government of corporation should be able to control access to it.
I wanted to learn more about this current issue, so I found an article on npr.org that outlines net neutrality and what you need to know. According to the article, the backbone of the proposed rule is that there could be no blocking, no throttling, and no paid prioritization. These are all rules for broadband providers attempting to gain more money.
At the end of this article, a clip from “Last Week Tonight” with John Oliver spent thirteen minutes putting a humorous spin on the rules. I recommend watching this video because it is funny and informative, but there were just a couple things in it I wanted to discuss. John Oliver makes it seem like there is currently net neutrality, which we know is not the case. Most people have not been aware of the monopoly cable companies have, but through charts in the video, Oliver displays how Comcast was able to slow down Netflix in order to have them agree to certain terms of an agreement. Although I have known about the issue of net neutrality because of this class, it was exciting to see how much publicity it is getting right now. Both the common internet user and big businesses alike can get behind this protection of net neutrality we are discussing in the United States right now.

Netanyahu takes White House Fight to Social Media

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Netanyahu takes White House Fight to Social Media

– For the last few days my Facebook and Twitter have been blowing up about Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his visit to the United States. The posts and comments I have seen in regards to the event have many sides to them, some would even classify as extreme. Now I know this event, both his visit and the related social media commotion can exemplify the polar opposite opinions that exist on social media outlets. Wether you are a supporter, a protester, or a bystander, there is no denying that this is popping up in everyones news feed and twitter logs.

Zeynep Tufekci’s article “What Happens to #Ferguson Affects Ferguson” had me pondering on what establishes and constitutes authority online. This article also brought up the idea that transmedia revolves around the idea of social movement identity. Now, Netanyahu, as a prime minister has quite a bit of authority in his local sphere and even in the broader global political sphere. Such a title has given him authority both on land, and in cyberspace and this has established his authority online. With a presence on both Facebook and Twitter, his political campaign can be both expressed and promoted to reach masses of people. This same authority also has the ability to restrict and even hide certain types of media. Now that so much of our communication and entertainment is found online, political entities has the ability, the ‘online authority,’ to censor what they want.

An example of online authority and how ‘What Happens in #Israel Affects Israel’:

Israel to Air Speech With 5-Minute Delay Over Campaigning Concers

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– This is clear example of how what happens on social media and news/entertainment outlets affects local spheres. The online is a direct window in to the spheres of politics, of censorship, of free speech, and of activism. When you participate online in the social issues and events, either as a supporter, protester, or bystander, you impact the course of history. Now I know one voice doesn’t reach far but tools such as hashtags, blog posts, tweets, and geotags can further benefit most if not every campaign out there. I have always been told that any publicity, even bad publicity, is free publicity and in the end is good publicity. When Netanyahu tweets for support and asks others to retweet, those who participate are providing him more publicity, good or bad.

If this weeks articles taught me anything its that I shouldn’t feel bad if I am a slacktivisit, at least I am aware of things going in the world. A retweet for a campaign I believe is good publicity, and overall affects the sphere of the campaign. So, to all of you retweeters and slakctivits, now that I believe your mention is practice and benefits.

– Felipe

Can we expect of machine learning what we cannot ourselves exemplify?

While trying to look up more information on algorithmic filtering, I chanced upon the Wikipedia article for the term “filter bubble”- this refers to the process by which an algorithm “selectively guesses what information a user would like to see based on information about the user”…thus “effectively isolating them in their own cultural or ideological bubbles”.

Based on my experience in my entrepreneurship fraternity, these filters and algorithms are part of a larger discipline called machine learning. This is a “scientific discipline that explores the construction and study of algorithms that can learn from data”. Because these algorithms operate by building a “model from example inputs and using that to make predictions or decisions”, the system attempts to learn to make human choices using precedent. This in itself is not flawed- but the way we make choices often are. We rely on our cultural background and circumstances to make choices, and these choices are often biased- the very same way that these programs are accused of unfairly functioning. But if the goal of technology is to imitate that human decision making process (however flawed), then we are in no position to say it has not achieved its aim.

However, this does warrant a more concerning inquiry regarding the way we make choices.  There seems to be a tension between equating the advancement of technology to human simulation on the one hand, and the advancement of technology to promote ideals of democracy and a globalized interconnected world of information on the other. Because people are not automatically conditioned to be impartial and all-accommodating, machine learning’s pursuit to capture the complexities of human thought will necessarily fail at upholding complete neutrality.

However, the difference in the way various social media platforms choose to formulate their algorithms shows promise for the field. Examining the difference in Facebook and Twitter feeds in the Ferguson article, it is apparent that the philosophies of each platform weigh heavily on how and how effectively information is filtered. In the case of Facebook, its way of simulating relationships and building networks is based off of a person’s life and profile. Like a customizable AI device in the movie Her, we very much customize Facebook to suit our personality. In contrast, while Twitter is very focused on what accounts you follow and the type of news you are interested in, it also keeps the big picture by alerting users to trending topics. It seems more of a conversation starter than it is a platform for you to gather information about another acquaintance’s life. Because of the etiquette and practices of each platform, we have also come to expect certain things out of each platform. We are more likely to get information about a party on Facebook, and real time updates on news issues on Twitter. These differences, and our knowledge of these differences, hopefully make us more discerning and savvy users- at least until developers figure things out on their end.

That said, at this point, I don’t think we can quite reach the assertion that net neutrality and algorithmic filtering are human rights issues. It is, however, something worth considering if/ when we are able to reconcile machine learning’s trend toward human simulation, and broader expectations that information on the web be credible and fairly filtered.