Baltimore Uprisings: A Communicative Act

Cartoon by Matt Lubchansky (@lubchansky) original posting can be found here.

Cartoon by Matt Lubchansky (@lubchansky) original posting can be found here.

A few editorial cartoons offering a counterpoint perspective to the cultural sentiments and media portrayals that denounce the Baltimore “riots” as politically unproductive, ethically unjustifiable hooliganism have achieved viral status.  One particularly prominent cartoon illustrates alternative histories in which once denied freedoms and equities were achieved without systemically disruptive uprisings (see image above).  In one panel an 18th century Haitian slave cordially informs a French Imperialist that he and his fellow slaves would rather be free.  The receptive overseer responding in an equally kind fashion decides to abolish the system of slavery that legitimizes his very authority.  In another panel an 18th century French revolutionary asks King Louis XVI to abdicate his power as well as dissolve the monarchy to make way for democratic rule and, like in the previous example, history is comically rewritten to suggest that the powers that be were enthusiastically and progressively responsive to such a request.  (more…)

Baltimore Protests through a Yik Yak Lens

screenshot from my phone

screenshot from my phone

Like many people, I spent my morning entranced by the protests following Freddie Gray’s death. The latest in a string of highly publicized incidents of unarmed black men killed by police, Gray’s death has brought protestors to a boiling point. The streets of Baltimore are on fire. Schools are closed. The National Guard has been called. As I told my students, this is what social change looks like.

For a long while I stared intently at my Twitter feed. The content was unique to this protest, but the form of the Twitter feed looked entirely familiar: the calls for peace, calls for racial justice, racist slurs, police condemnation, images from the ground, and links to (ohmigosh so many) “think” pieces scrolled by. Then, I wondered, how does ‘rioting’ look through an anonymous platform driven by upvotes?  So I went to Yik Yak and peeked at Baltimore, MD. Here is what I found: (more…)

A Few Notes on #TtW15

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Photo By Aaron Thompson

I was happy to see Theorizing the Web go so well for so many people. The committee has been getting a lot of positive and constructive feedback and we’re reading all of it. If you feel so moved to write your own reflections on #TtW15 please send them our way. Last year, my post-conference thoughts were all about labor and the dangers of doing what you love. That’s still a problem ––TtW relies almost completely on volunteer labor–– but this year I’m thinking more about the institutions that prop up the typical Hilton-hosted conference model and make it difficult, if not financially impossible, to have more events like Theorizing the Web.

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404 Error: Big Confusion—What Is An Interface Hack, Anyway?

Editors Note: This is based on a presentation at the upcoming  Theorizing the Web 2015 conferenceIt will be part of the Protocol Me Maybe panel. 

InternetSlowdown_Day

I’ve been researching hacking for a little while, and it occurred to me that I was focusing on a yet unnamed hacking subgenre. I’ve come to call this subgenre “interface hacks.” Interface hack refers to any use of web interface that upends user expectations and challenges assumptions about the creative and structural limitations of the Internet. An interface hack must have a technical component; in other words, its creator must employ either a minimal amount of code or demonstrate working knowledge of web technologies otherwise. By virtue of the fact they use interface, each hack has aesthetic properties; hacks on web infrastructure do not fall in this category unless they have a component that impacts the page design.

One of the most notable interface hacks is the “loading” icon promoted by organizations including Demand Progress and Fight for the Future in September 2014. This work was created to call attention to the cause of net neutrality: it made it appear as though the website on which it was displayed was loading, even after that was obviously not the case. It would seem to visitors that the icon was there in error; this confusion encouraged clicks on the image, which linked to a separate web page featuring content on the importance of net neutrality. To display the icon, website administrators inserted a snippet of JavaScript — provided free online by Fight for the Future — into their site’s source code. A more lighthearted interface hack is the “Adult Cat Finder,” a work that satirizes pornographic advertising in the form of a pop-up window that lets users know they’re “never more than one click away from chatting with a hot, local cat;” the piece includes a looping image of a Persian cat in front of a computer and scrolling chatroom-style text simply reading “meow.” The links to these, and other interface hacks, are included at the end of this post. (more…)

Apple’s Emojis and the Problem of White Logic

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Apple rolled out a new line of racialized emojis last week through their iOS 8.3. Originating in Japan, emojis are popular symbols by which people emote via text. Previously, the people-shaped emojis appeared with either a bright yellow hue or peach (i.e., white) skin. The new emojis offer a more diverse color palate, and users can select the skin tones that best represent them. It’s all very United Colors of Benetton.

While many applaud the new emojis— such Dean Obeidallah writing for CNN who announced “Finally, Apple’s Emojis Reflect America”—this has been far from a win for racial equality. (more…)

Faxlore: Memes down the line

Editors Note: This post is based on a presentation at the upcoming Theorizing the Web 2015 conference. It will be part of “The Feel World” panel.  

From the book: 'Still More Folklore from the Paperwork Empire' by Alan Dundes and Carl Pagter. Via  http://www.spacestudios.org.uk/exhibition-programme/xeroxlore/

From the book: ‘Still More Folklore from the Paperwork Empire’ by Alan Dundes and Carl Pagter. (Via http://www.spacestudios.org.uk/exhibition-programme/xeroxlore/)

Internet memes are arguably the most recognisable form of online vernacular; a proliferation of expressive pictorial and / or textual compositions, frequently characterised by running jokes expressed via informality and intended errors. The pervasiveness of humour within memes might make it easy to dismiss them as trivial, but this would be an oversight. In fact understanding the function of humour within memes discloses much; illuminating the relationship between memes and their antecedents, as well as the ways in which web-enabled social dynamics and vernaculars develop. Memetic behaviour is not novel but its current prevalence, as supported by networked culture, is remarkable. This post, a historicisation of meme usage as a communicative practice, attempts put into relief their idiosyncratic characteristics, and address the role memes may play in cultural analyses. (more…)

How Databases Will Change the 2016 Presidential Race

Image Credit

Image Credit

The 2016 presidential race has already started and it’s easy to get caught up in the horserace and forget about all of the technologies and tactics that campaigns employ to get their message out. The 2008 Obama campaign was the first to take full advantage of social media and eight years later these tactics seem to have become the new normal. It is now possible to deliver precisely tailored messages for key demographics and even individuals. American presidential campaigns have never been models of democracy but with the help of private databases and corporate collusion, the 2016 presidential race is shaping up to be a very murky process. (more…)

The Failure was Not Journalistic

rape on a college campus

 

The past year has brought strong awareness to problems of sexual assault in general, and sexual assault on college campuses in particular. Victims, allies, and activists are naming assailants and holding university administrations responsible for their treatment of both victims and the accused. Simultaneously, campuses are building task forces, holding meetings, staging rallies, and constructing policies to prevent and deal with incidents of sexual non-consent.

In the midst of this, Rolling Stone told one woman’s story. This woman, who identified herself as “Jackie,” shared the gut wrenching if all-too-familiar tale of a fraternity party gone wrong. As they do in the age of social media, Jackie’s story went viral. In excruciating detail, we read of Jackie’s sexual violation at the hands of several men on UVA’s campus, followed by gross mishandling by those in charge. Links spread, along with petitions, open letters, and thought pieces ranging from 140 characters to several thousand words. We were up in arms. Until, that is, the story came under suspicion.     (more…)

Sex Toy Liberation, The Taboo of Replacement, And the Inner Animal: A Review of Beautiful You by Chuck Palahniuk

Chick Palahniuk's Beautiful You

Chick Palahniuk’s Beautiful You

Penny Harrigan is perfectly average and she’s never had an orgasm. She is the leading lady in Chuck Palahniuk’s latest book Beautiful You, in which C. Linus Maxwell, CEO of MicroDataCom releases a line of sex toys so potent that women literally recede from society, preferring to stay home to masturbate incessantly. Remember the 1998 episode of “Sex and the City” in which Charlotte became addicted to her rabbit vibrator? It’s like that, but global. The book is a quirky cross between a motivational anecdote about a woman’s journey to sexual empowerment, and a grim critique of dystopian industrialized society, just with painful details and boring writing.

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Good Encryption Doesn’t Make Good Government

Image Credit: Kris Krüg

Image Credit: Kris Krüg

When someone starts talking about privacy online, a discussion of encryption is never too far off. Whether it is a relatively old standby like Tor or a much newer and more ambitious effort like Ethereum (more on this later) privacy equals encryption. With the exception of investigative journalism and activist interventions, geeks, hackers, and privacy advocates seem to have nearly universally adopted a “good fences make good neighbors” approach to privacy. This has come at significant costs. The conflation of encryption with privacy mistakes what should be a temporary defensive tactic, for a long term strategy against corporate and government spying. It is time that we discuss a new approach. (more…)