Saturday, March 26, 2011

Should Lying be Illegal?

"It's odd, really, that the idea of requiring news broadcasters to be fundamentally honest about the information they project across the nation and into our homes sounds radical. Surely we wouldn't argue that we want to be lied to and misled, would we? "

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Demokratia

Not as developed as some other concepts, but still some interesting thoughts.
If you see a problem, PLEASE tear it apart.

The idea of “having your voice heard” goes back thousands of years to the Spartans, who created the Demokratia to quell a 20-year slave revolt in 630 BCE. The former aristocracy split the government in half: they created a small ‘council of elders’ to draft the nation’s legislation, and then created the Assembly (open to any male citizen over 30) to vote on it. The council was elected by the Assembly for life. From 508 - 502 BCE, the Demokratia was adopted by the far more peaceful Athenians. They got rid of the council and gave the ability to both propose and pass legislation to the assembly. The Popular Opinion of the masses, from their prides to their perversions, had found a way to manifest itself: the popular vote. No longer were they forced to accept a tiny few holding the power to legislate in their government. Athens flourished.

With Reddit, we see the same type of revolution happening. In both cases, a new venue for the manifestation of the Popular Opinion is introduced. The Grecian Demokratia allowed this manifestation in the form of a popular vote on legislation, allowing the Popular Opinion to decide legislation. The Reddit system allows this in the form of a popular vote over what information and issues are most relevant to the community, and on what side of the issues the community stands.

What makes the Reddit Revolution different is that, whereas in the Demokratia the Assembly could vote only a binary yes/no, the Internet enables you to precisely measure the opinions of entire communities down to the individual level. Their opinions of what is important are quantifiable and perceptible. With the opinion of the masses having manifested into this a form, a number of things become accessible to the community: the most outstanding of which I believe to be is the vastly increased ability of representative leaders to know exactly what it is their community wants. Conversely, this also gives the community the ability to know when its elected representative leaders are going against the opinion of the majority.

It allows the People to better communicate. It allows those that vote a more neutral and informed perspective. But most of all, it allows the People to better steer their elected, representative government.

The Popular Opinion: The Role of the Digital Journalist

Again, critique encouraged.

“Anonymous”: A manifestation of the Popular Opinion. Via “Anonymous”, any member of the public can socially take part in any political or economic cause that they deem to be important from the comfort of their home computer.

“Anonymous” is responsible for attacking the Church of Scientology and the Westburo Baptist Church. They took down the websites of major corporations that they had identified as harming the institution of Wikileaks; five arrests were made in the aftermath. “They” took down the websites of Egypt’s Ministry of Information and President Muburak’s personal site during the 2011 Egyptian Revolution.

“They” have a way to deal with those who claim to circumvent their group. In February 2011, “Anonymous” attacked the security firm of HBGary Federal, wrecking their internal IT infrastructure. They hacked the Twitter account of the companies CEO, tweeting his home address and Social Security number.

But what is “Anonymous”? Simply put, Anonymous is a manifestation of the Popular Opinion. Anonymous is not a group. Anonymous is as undefined as the identities of it’s members. Anonymous is a concept that grows in strength as it grows in individuals. The Anonymous that attacked Mastercard in 2010 post-Wikigate is not the same Anonymous that attacked Scientology in 2008. This, in turn, is not the same Anonymous that raided the Habbo Hotel videogame servers in 2006. The concept of total anonymity on the Internet has allowed a channel through which the Popular Opinion is able to, at least partially, flow.

Anonymous is anarchy. Anonymous is a group of totally random individuals who, despite some of them probably hating one another were their identities known, are able to bind together in a movement that ignores everything about each other to work towards a common goal. The only thing that qualifies you to be in Anonymous is that you happen to agree with that specific instance of “Anonymous”. All you need is an interest. All you need is an opinion.

At time of writing, one of the top stories on Reddit is promoting a new instance of “Anonymous”; a new manifestation of the Popular Opinion. “Operation Skankbag” is bringing attention to designer Louis Vuitton for the their legal action against Danish artist Nadia Plesner. For a charity promoting the fate of Darfur, the artist created a line of clothing of featuring “an African child holding a Chihuahua and a handbag.”

The promotion reads: “The well known producer of mediocre overpriced handbags, Louis Vuitton, decided to react by suing Nadia. In their opinion the bag resembled one of their shitty handbags, despite being devoid of any logo… Of course, Nadia makes no money from the art; all money goes towards charities for Darfur. This case illustrates how corporations can effectively end our free speech the moment we say something that conflicts with their own agenda, like the anti-materialist message of Nadia’s ‘Simple Living’ campaign.

“It is time that we retaliate.” Addressing the concern that the presumed demography of Anonymous is predominantly males age 15-27, the poster-style JPG image continues; “As young angry males… we cant just stop buying these handbags. However, there is a solution to this problem. We will have to destroy the image of Louis Vuitton. Objective: Financial damage to Louis Vuitton. The more, the better.

This “call-to-arms” is a point of recruitment for this particular instance of “Anonymous”. The poster, in the form of a JPG image posted on Reddit, advocates that any individual in alignment with these beliefs to do anything they can to (non-violently) destroy Louis Vuitton. They suggest methods such as attacking their websites, spray-painting graffiti and Google bombing the search terms “Louis Vuitton” with “whores”. It ends: “We will do anything we can to punish Louis Vuitton for infringing on our freedom of artistic expression, for we are Anonymous. We do not forgive, we do not forget. Expect us.”

At the time of writing, the poster had a score of 1184 votes on the Reddit, easily making the front page. There is only one problem with this call-to-arms bringing a group of anonymous individuals together in an aggressive manifestation of the force-of-will that is the Popular Opinion: it’s premise might not be entirely true.

In the article’s discussion page on Reddit, the highest rated comment goes on to explain someone else’s side of the story. It cites as saying that the Danish artist was not as selfless as the poster claims. It claims that originally only 30% of the profits went to a Darfur charity, and that when the artist received the initial legal notification from Louis Vuitton she not only ignored it but also published it on her site. That was why the fashion design firm decided to demand $5000 for every day that the “Simple Living” line was on sale.

It shows a comparison between the artist’s Darfur design and the Louis Vuitton bag it was allegedly copied from. They were completely identical.

This is where the journalistic 4th estate will come to exist within the realm of social news. While a community itself can sometimes catch on to what information is false, there must always be an investigative institution to check the validity, accuracy and neutrality of statements presented as fact.

When the predominant creators of relevant news content are no longer the small group of media giants which dominated pre-digital era, it will be the role of the Journalist to maintain a purity of Truth; to promote that which is fact, and point out false information. It is the Journalist that who will investigate for the benefit of all, and return with information that could determine the next president or war.

Without the institution of the journalistic 4th estate, there will never exist a neutral voice from which to judge all others. There will never be a point of reference for objective reality. Without the Journalist, the role of fact finder would be played out by random individuals doing their own research, much like it currently is on Reddit. But on the Internet, no voice is any more trustworthy than any other. With the melding of the journalistic 4th estate with social news, something new emerges which never before existed. The journalistic systems from which the People receive the information most important of their daily lives become entirely transparent.

The Journalist will maintain the reputation of the Truth, and the People will maintain the reputation of the Journalist.
Whenever there is the need for a “neutral” perspective, the Journalist will provide. Whenever Journalist cannot be trusted, the People will provide. Without the reference to objective reality provided by a journalistic 4th estate, any manifestation of the Public Opinion will be guideless, random and in the direction of chaos.

With the dawn of the digital era, the journalists will become the guardians of the Popular Opinion. They will investigate and shed light. They will be loved. They will be hated. Regardless of all, they will be essential.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


The Popular 4th Estate

Critique encouraged, from any angle.

I) Preface: Media Evolution
Medium: A device or channel that the mind utilizes to sense the greater world.

Information. We all have it, gathered in our heads in clumps of brain tissue. We all have our internal thoughts; we all know what it is we perceive. We all have our own realities; what it is our brain makes out of the only media available to the isolated mind: our 5 senses. All animals with the ability to interpret the information coming in via the media of their senses have attained this level of consciousness. All non-social animals possess this level of awareness.

Social animals have gained the ability to not only interpret our senses, but also convey these interpretations to others. Going across channels that stimulate the senses (audibly/visually/kinetically), nonverbal communications have given animals the ability to communicate basic emotional information such as fear, or joy.

Soon, the medium of language joined the 5 senses. At first only spoken, language united communities with its ability to widely disperse concepts more complex than basic emotion. It allowed the basic organization of societal units. Eventually text and basic printing technologies would join, making possible the distribution and preservation of information. This allowed any literate member of society to produce and propagate whatever they wanted.

Soon printing was mechanized; the ability to spread information across larger communities grew, and vast sums of capital were pumped into the media & publication industries. Radio and television have only recently joined the mix. Only those with the capital to control the modes of production were able to harness the potential off mass media. Those with the invested capital controlled the loudest voices - something inherent in a supply/demand economy.

With the Internet, no longer are the channels of mass broadcast open only to those with the means to support a newspaper or broadcast station. No longer are the giants the primary producers of media. Instead we see the birth of a media revolution; everyone with a service provider has equal access to the mass media of the Internet. YouTube. Facebook. Reddit. Flickr. In this new world, everyone’s voice is equally as insignificant when compared to the roar of the crowd.

II) Production/Consumption

Since the introduction of the printed broadsheet in the 1500’s, the newspaper has served as a medium that communities have used to connect to the events in the greater world. They have allowed the individual to get at an account of important happenings, but an inherent flaw in this medium is that (like radio and TV) printed paper is only able to carry the flow of information one direction.

The relationship between the media industry and the community was that of a supply/demand economic relationship. The news industry would spend its capital to produce the majority of the news, and the community would spend its capital to consume it. Being the primary producers of news, editors and writers compiled and organized information according to what they have defined as being most newsworthy via the inverted pyramid style, and once the news was assembled the information was passed to the community via publication (later broadcast).

Currently almost every news source’s online presence is, in essence, exactly the same. They are all extrapolations of simplex principles that have served the print industries well for centuries: the content is nearly entirely generated by the paper’s staff or affiliates and the stories are organized and presented hierarchically by their editors. The newspaper business was reliant on having a community that demanded a supply of what their publishers/editors considered to be news.

The Internet itself, however, has made this simplex model of media transmission defunct. The giants of the pre-digital era’s 4th Estate now struggle to keep their paper subscriptions, and near universal access to an endless list of independent international news sources has crippled their attempts to create an online, subscription based business model.

With the intricate networks of international connections brought on by the digital era, the 4th Estate can no longer embrace the idea that it is solely the role of the Journalist be the sole producer of ‘relevant’ news or bring opinion to the public’s attention - particularly in a democratic society where all voices are considered to be equal. With the advent of the Internet and social networking technologies, the roll of the 4th Estate will transition from being the community’s provider of relevant information to being the community’s facilitator of relevant discussion.

III) Social News

The news industry has in recent years seen the emergence of social news sites such as, Google News and The content of the largest of these social news sites, Reddit, is entirely user generated. While none of the actual content is hosted on Reddit’s website, users post hyperlinks to things that they think the greater community would enjoy exposure to. This can range from groundbreaking world news (provided normally by a linking to traditional news organizations’ websites) to cute pictures of cats.

The process of producing Reddit’s front page is encompassingly social in nature; users vote for which posts they appreciate the most, and those with the most votes make it to the front page. Each submission has it’s own page for the community to discuss the content, and every individual comment is ranked in the same manner as the stories.

A number of sub-forums divide up the overall discussion on Reddit. At time of writing, the most popular sub-forums discuss things like: a Pictures section, World News, Politics, Gaming, a “Funny” section, Cannabis Legalization, a section where users share things they’ve recently learned that they have found interesting or relevant to their lives, and an “IAMA” section. “IAMA” means that the original creator of the discussion begins with saying that “I AM A congressman/electrician/ illegal immigrant/hypnotist/millionaire/physicist/janitor. Please ask me whatever you would like to know about my opinions or profession.”

I believe it is of note that in these early stages of integrating the Internet into our species’ existence, other socially connecting technologies such as Facebook and Twitter have given both communities and individuals the ability to communicate and form social movements so significant as the recent revolutions in Egypt and the Middle East.

The newsstand is a place where people gather together to connect to news of the greater world. The Internet is a place where people gather together to connect to each other. The digital news sites of the future will be a place for people to do both.

IV) The Digital Democracy

While the need for the presentation and distribution of journalistic work in the hierarchical, simplex formats established by print industries has been made defunct, the demand for a “neutral” voice will continue to keep the traditional journalistic occupational practices of gathering and assembling individual stories relevant. Embracing the ability to interact directly with the readership, the Journalist will be able to utilize feedback from the community to judge the relevancy of potential news against. With this, the journalist will be more fully capable of providing a relevant core of “neutral” information around which discussion of events and issues is facilitated.

It has been established that the opinion of the people is one of the strongest forces to contend with in the grand experiment that is democracy. One of the core concepts regarding the 4th Estate has been, at least in the American democratic society, to bring to people the information they need to sustain a healthy and informed democracy. Without the Internet, the few old giants of media production controlled the loudest voices in the discussion. With the Internet, the Journalist is only one voice in a billion. The only two tools the Journalist will have are their ability to gauge potential newsworthiness against the public feedback and their ability to gather that potential news. The once vague perceptions of the 4th Estate’s interactions with the public will be more capable of manifesting through the Journalist’s tool of direct interaction within the digital community.

Regardless of whether the Journalist’s contributions to the discussions are presented on par with the community’s, the public should have an equal place to decide for themselves what the news is, much like the model presented by social news sites such as Reddit. No longer would the journalistic web presence be viewed as a single-point source of news information. The site would instead be viewed as the center of relevant discussion amongst the community. It would be a place to gather and learn about what the rest of humanity was up to that day – in both news and opinion. Via this extension of the 4th Estate into the digital era, journalistic practices embracing neutral and relevant reportage will be combined with the facilitation of public discourse to create a more immersive democratic society.