The consultation to the British government’s Online Harms White Paper closed this week. English PEN and Scottish PEN made a submission, arguing that the government rethink its approach. The government proposal is that a new ‘duty of care’ is placed upon online platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to protect their users. If they expose users to harmful content—ranging from terrorist propaganda and child porn, to hazily defined problems like ‘trolling’ — then a new regulator could sanction them. This sounds sensible, but it presents a problem for freedom of expression. If the online platforms are threatened with large fines, and their senior management are held personally responsible for the ‘duty of care’ then it’s likely that the online platforms will take a precautionary approach to content moderation. Whenever in doubt, whenever it’s borderline, whenever there is a grey area… the platforms will find it expeditious to remove whatever has been posted. When that happens, it is unlikely that the platforms will offer much of an appeals process, and certainly not one that abides by international free speech standards. A situation will arise where perfectly legal content cannot be posted online. A two tier system for speech. Continue reading “Online Harms: A Few Times When The Algorithms Chilled Freedom of Expression”
On Monday, Labour Party members received an e-mail from Liz Kendall in their inboxes: an open letter.
You probably think I’m writing to ask you for your vote in the upcoming election for party leader. And I am. But what really matters for our country and our party is another election – the one we’ll fight together in 2020. By then, our country will have suffered under five more years of the Tories.
&cetera. I was a little underwhelmed by the text, to be honest. The values she lays out do not seem to delineate Kendall from other candidates, or even the other parties. “End inequalities” and “eliminate low pay” are policies that Labour surely shares with the Greens, the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and the SNP. Conservative Party Leadership Candidates probably would not put these issues at the top of an appeal to their members, but it would be difficult to find a Tory MP that disagrees with either. However, “we need a more caring society”, “We must share power with people” and “We need a future of hope for all our young people” are phrases that would make their way onto a Conservative membership e-mail. Only once in the e-mail does Kendall explain a policy difference between her and anyone else (on inheritance tax). So the aspirations and goals, worthy though they are, seem rote when stated by themselves. Continue reading “Liz Kendall as a Quick Case Study on Political Persuasion in the Digital Age”
The latest act of literary campaigning from English PEN is to publish Jail Verse: Poems from Kondengui Prison by Enoh Meyomesse. Enoh has been an opposition activist in Cameroon for decades. In 2012 he stood in the presidential elections against authoritarian strong-man Paul Biya. Soon after he was arrested for apparently trying to organise a coup. The authorities later dropped that accusation, and instead manufactured trumped up charges of robbery. There were no witnesses to this alleged crime, yet he was convicted anyway. PEN International consider the conviction and imprisonment to be a violation of Enoh Meyomesse’s right to freedom of expression. While in prison, Enoh was able to write and publish Poème Carcéral, a collection of poetry. We at PEN put a call out to our members for volunteer translators, and managed to get the book translated into English. This month I designed a cover graphic, and published the book as a print-on-demand paperback, available from Lulu.com. E-book versions (both ePub and Kindle) are also available for download. I am particularly pleased that we were able to publish the book under a creative commons licence. Enoh Meyomesse is in prison and this publication is intended to give him a voice once more. The creative commons licence encourages further translation, remixing and performance of the poems, amplifying what once was censored.
I enjoyed this short essay promoting Lauren Leto’s book. It’s honest and (I assume) true to the book it seeks to promote. It’s also presented in an interesting manner, native to the digital world. I wonder if would be as engaging if it were on a couple of pages (either printed or HTML). Probably not. This type of presentation is not new. Last year Robin Sloane created a ‘tap essay’ called Fish that was published as an iPhone app. Like Leto’s essay, there is no back button, which (according to this Wired review by David Dobbs) provokes the reader to read more closely. I would say this is another type of native Internet art… although the tap essay format is analogous to picture books that have few words to a page, or stylised essays like Marshall Mcluhan’s The Medium is the Massage. Continue reading “Tap Essays: Native Internet Art”
Two is a trend.Vine, the new social media app that allows you to post 6 sec video clips, has a square format. The videos are in a 1:1 aspect ratio. This follows Instagram, the popular photo sharing app that gives the user focus and colour filters to improve their images. This trend arrives just at the time when wide-screen has become the standard, default aspect-ratio of choice for both video and TV. The footage generated by Apple iPhones, other cutting edge phone technologies, and the latest video cameras, all seem to be on the 2:1 ratio. Before the move to High Definition, TV and camcorder footage was all 4:3. Why the change to 1:1 for Instagram and Vine? Perhaps because the ratio evokes Large Format photography. This conveys a seriousness, a permenance, and a respect for the art of photography… a useful quality to communicate in the ephermeral, digital world of online image sharing.
Newsweek is going digital. Completely online. No print product. The Guardian is considering a similar move. I admit I have bouts of sentiment for the printed page. In general, however, I allow my head to rule my heart in thse matters. The China Mieville quote I posted a few days ago persuades me that we don’t really need to fetishize print. However, I think that two commentaries on this news from two of my favourite bloggers miss something in their enthusiasm for this transition. Continue reading “How Going Digital Could Threaten Civil Society”