Mess Media Map

Il pasticcio dei media - Media Ecology Newsletter #12

As we all know, if you have a problem you look for a solution, but if you have a mess you should just look for a map. There is no solution to a mess. There is evolution. And one can learn about the evolution only mapping what changes and what doesn’t change. (*)

The mass media are a mess. And we are looking for orientation.

I usually blog in Italian. And I wrote a series on the future of information. Please take a look at the 5 episodes: Un nuovo inizio nel 2021. E la formazione di una comunità informata /1 – Introduzione/2 - Scenari/3 - Economia/4 Editoria/5 Strategie. And here you can find a commentary on the decisions of social media platforms as a result of the invasion of the Capitol in D.C.: Libertà di espressione tra etica ed ecologia dei media

Before describing the content of today's newsletter, I would like to share a personal memory. I first met Nicholas Negroponte in 1996 when he was in the midst of Being Digital's success and while the importance of his MediaLab was growing exponentially. His ideas were clear, then, and his outlook deeply optimistic. Nearly fifteen years later, meeting him was a very different experience. He dealt with those who were not included in the great digital phenomenon. He was still thinking big but with a less bold attitude. Of course, he remained a brilliant person. He was particularly cautious about the big companies that had grown up on the net in the meantime. On that occasion he told me that those companies were to be conceptualized as the new "institutions". It was a was a profound idea and a very useful one for understanding what is happening today. And to correct it.

(*) A map is, of course, a diagrammatic representation of an area of land or sea showing physical features, cities, roads; but a map can also be drawn to represent non-physical realities, showing conceptual features, clustering of ideas and links between them.

A newsletter is not the place in which you draw. But you can use it to gather some of the material you need for drawing a map.

In the following notes, you will find some - both old and new - reading material for discussing the media at a time when digital platforms are the focus of attention of anyone who talks about human rights, democracy, information, the future of culture and civil coexistence. You can find readings about toxic information, surveillance, information quality, regulation and rights. Its not complete, of course, but can be useful. And at the end, you can find the English version of an article that I wrote for Il Sole 24 Ore.

Hate, fake, toxic information

Article 19 - ‘Hate Speech’ Explained: A Toolkit

In this toolkit, ARTICLE 19 provides a guide to identifying ’hate speech‘ and how to effectively counter it, while protecting the rights to freedom of expression and equality. It responds to a growing demand for clear guidance on identifying “hate speech,” and for responding to the challenges ‘hate speech’ poses within a human rights framework. As such, it addresses three key questions: 1. How do we identify ’hate speech’ that can be restricted, and distinguish it from protected speech? 2. What positive measures can States and others take to counter ‘hate speech’? 3. Which types of ‘hate speech’ should be prohibited by States, and under which circumstances? (…)

Nathaniel Persily (Stanford) and Joshua A. Tucker (NYU) - Social Media and Democracy

Over the last five years, widespread concern about the effects of social media on democracy has led to an explosion in research from different disciplines and corners of academia. This book is the first of its kind to take stock of this emerging multi-disciplinary field by synthesizing what we know, identifying what we do not know and obstacles to future research, and charting a course for the future inquiry. Chapters by leading scholars cover major topics – from disinformation to hate speech to political advertising – and situate recent developments in the context of key policy questions. In addition, the book canvasses existing reform proposals in order to address widely perceived threats that social media poses to democracy. This title is available as Open Access on Cambridge Core. (…)

Soroush Vosoughi, Deb Roy, Sinan Aral - Science - The spread of true and false news online (open access)

Abstract. We investigated the differential diffusion of all of the verified true and false news stories distributed on Twitter from 2006 to 2017. The data comprise ~126,000 stories tweeted by ~3 million people more than 4.5 million times. We classified news as true or false using information from six independent fact-checking organizations that exhibited 95 to 98% agreement on the classifications. Falsehood diffused significantly farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly than the truth in all categories of information, and the effects were more pronounced for false political news than for false news about terrorism, natural disasters, science, urban legends, or financial information. We found that false news was more novel than true news, which suggests that people were more likely to share novel information. Whereas false stories inspired fear, disgust, and surprise in replies, true stories inspired anticipation, sadness, joy, and trust. Contrary to conventional wisdom, robots accelerated the spread of true and false news at the same rate, implying that false news spreads more than the truth because humans, not robots, are more likely to spread it. (…)

A.C. Thompson and Ford Fischer - ProPublica-FRONTLINE - Members of Several Well-Known Hate Groups Identified at Capitol Riot

A ProPublica-FRONTLINE review of the insurrection found several noted hardcore nativists and white nationalists who also participated in the 2017 white power rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. (…)


Evan Greer - FastCompany - You can’t fight fascism by expanding the police state

We won’t reverse the damage done by Trumpism—like the attack on the Capitol—by doubling down on authoritarian policies like surveillance, policing, and censorship. We need to address systemic injustice at its root. (…)

Guardian - Rachel Connolly - The pandemic has taken surveillance of workers to the next level

Monitoring people while they do their jobs is creepy, and can even be counterproductive – but it has a long history. One of the worst jobs I have ever had was made particularly bad by the micromanaging efforts of my manager’s boss. (…)

IrpiMedia - Sorveglianza: chi ha aiutato il Messico a spiare i giornalisti

Il mercato globale della sorveglianza continua a fornire il Paese di tecnologie per l’intercettazione che minano la sicurezza di attivisti e reporter. L’episodio che coinvolse l’italiana Hacking Team

Tarleton Gillespie - Cornell - Custodians of the internet. Platforms, content moderation, and the hidden decisions that shape social media

Platforms may not shape public discourse by themselves, but they do shape the shape of public discourse. And they know it. (…)

Information quality for a complex future

Mike Masnik - Knight Columbia - Protocols, Not Platforms: A Technological Approach to Free Speech

After a decade or so of the general sentiment being in favor of the internet and social media as a way to enable more speech and improve the marketplace of ideas, in the last few years the view has shifted dramatically—now it seems that almost no one is happy. Some feel that these platforms have become cesspools of trolling, bigotry, and hatred. Meanwhile, others feel that these platforms have become too aggressive in policing language and are systematically silencing or censoring certain viewpoints. And that’s not even touching on the question of privacy and what these platforms are doing (or not doing) with all of the data they collect. The situation has created something of a crisis, both inside and outside of these companies. The companies are constantly struggling to deal with their new positions as arbiters of truth and kindness online, despite historically promoting themselves as defenders of free speech. Meanwhile, politicians from the two major political parties have been hammering these companies, albeit for completely different reasons. Some have been complaining about how these platforms have potentially allowed for foreign interference in our elections. Others have complained about how they’ve been used to spread disinformation and propaganda. Others have called attention to inappropriate account and content takedowns, while some have argued that the attempts to moderate discriminate against certain political viewpoints. (…)

Evelyn Douek - Knight Columbia - The rise of content cartels

The management of online public discourse is at a turning point. Platforms are being called on to do more, to do better, and to work together. The choice between ruthless competition and monopoly power is a false one—each poses its own risks to public discourse. Collaboration presents another option, but the task now is to develop institutional designs that legitimize this cooperation and halt the rise of unaccountable content cartels.

Logan Jaffe - NiemanLab - History as a reporting tool

“In 2021, journalists must use history to report stories that proactively invite reckoning and, ultimately, accountability.”

Leighton Walter Kille - Committee of Concerned Journalists: The principles of journalism

In 1997 the Carnegie-Knight Task Force, then administered by the Project for Excellence in Journalism, began a national conversation to identify and clarify the principles that underlie journalism. After four years of research, including 20 public forums around the country, a national survey of journalists and more, the group released a Statement of Shared Purpose that identified nine principles. These became the basis for The Elements of Journalism, a book by PEJ director Tom Rosenstiel and CCJ chairman and PEJ senior counselor Bill Kovach. Here are those principles, as outlined in the original Statement of Shared Purpose. (…)


European Commission - Proposal for a regulation on a Single Market for Digital Services Act

Daphne Keller - Hoover Institution - Who Do You Sue?

This essay closely examines the effect on free-expression rights when platforms such as Facebook or YouTube silence their users’ speech. The first part describes the often messy blend of government and private power behind many content removals, and discusses how the combination undermines users’ rights to challenge state action. The second part explores the legal minefield for users—or potentially, legislators—claiming a right to speak on major platforms. The essay contends that questions of state and private power are deeply intertwined. To understand and protect internet users’ rights, we must understand and engage with both. (…)


Giancarlo Frosio (Université de Strasbourg - CEIPI; Stanford University - Stanford Law School Center for Internet and Society) and Christophe Geiger (Université de Strasbourg - CEIPI) - Taking Fundamental Rights Seriously in the Digital Service Act’s Platform Liability Regime

Abstract. This study highlights how the fundamental rights framework should inform the liability regime of platforms foreseen in secondary EU law, in particular with regard to the planned reform of the E-commerce directive by the forthcoming Digital Service Act. In order to identify all possible tensions between the liability regime of platforms on the one hand, and fundamental rights on the other hand, and in order to contribute to a well-balanced and proportionate European legal instrument, this study addresses these potential conflicts from the standpoint of users (those who share content and those who access it), platforms, regulators and other stakeholders involved. (…)

Freedom of expression between ethics and media ecology

The president of the United States has encouraged the assault on Parliament through social media. Facebook decided to close his account until the end of his term. Twitter shut down the president for 12 hours and then did so permanently based on an employee petition. Twitch, Snapchat, and YouTube have also limited Donald Trump's externals in various ways. What are the consequences of these decisions? One can answer on principle or pragmatically.

The first path is followed by those who talk about rights. Those who put the issue in terms of freedom of expression recommend caution whenever a decision is made that infringes on this right. The argument is important. Diminishing freedom of expression is a detriment to everyone: those who rejoice because their opponent is silenced at one stage in history may find themselves suffering the same treatment at a later stage. But no one argues that freedom of expression is an absolute right. The rules must be balanced so that other rights, from privacy to security and public order, are also safeguarded. Jurists and philosophers know how to deal with these delicate issues. Do private citizens who own social networks know this as well?

It is instructive to see how the owner of Facebook can impose his choices, asserting his principles. Exactly as private television and newspaper owners used to do. But whatever the decision of a particular platform, the social phenomena it hosts will adapt, not disappear. Twitter's progressive interventionism has gone hand in hand with the emerging success of Parler, a similar system founded by John Matze and Rebekah Mercer that presents itself as a champion of freedom of expression and is therefore adopted by anti-Semitic, conspiratorial, Republican groups, even finding advertising from companies in tune with these positions. By the way: Apple has excluded Parler from the App Store. Google and Amazon, a little later, made similar decisions.

All of this has consequences. In the past, it could be argued that these platforms are nothing more than software available to users: and users are responsible for how they use software. Today this idea is less credible. The way platforms are designed and maintained affects user behavior. And vice versa.

In the meantime, however, the next discussion is coming up. Because the platforms used to organize attacks on public order are not the ones used for open debate. Actions are planned on platforms that guarantee the privacy of communications. Like Whatsapp and Telegram. What responsibility do these platforms have if their owners don't know anything about what their users are doing? Does the difference lie in the tools made available? If they allow a strong virality of information, in complete secrecy, do they put themselves at the service of potential acts of violence?

And all of this is only part of the problem. It remains the most difficult. The responsibilities of social platforms are diluted in the larger media accountability system. The interplay of cross-references between media and public figures generates important cross-media stories. If anything, the specifics of the platforms lie in the algorithms that present only the information that confirms users' biases.

But there is a general rule: infodiversity makes the media ecosystem healthier. Each element of the system must favor or at least tolerate the encounter with diversity, not the obsessive confirmation of opinions. A society that learns to vaccinate itself against self-referential positions lives better. (Nòva)

[to be continued…]

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