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Author Archives: Harris

He is the man who changes spaces, who circulates, who changes sex, clothes, and habits according to fashion, rather than morality, and who changes opinions not as his conscience dictates but in response to opinion polls

All About Trust – Concluding Post for Travelogue 2

Henry Howard, earl of Surrey

Trust leaves us vulnerable, but without it there is no love, no joy, no sharing and no Web 2.0. While we wait for the dust to settle down in this new public sphere, are we guilty of blind trust? How do we decipher the truth from lies?

“Today, it only takes a couple of searches and three or four clicks to verify most information,” I said, asking “Do we verify the facts we read online?”. “We are exposed to much much much more info from much much much more sources and the information’s sources today are much much much less explicit. While it’s easy to fact check, it’s impossible to do it on a regular basis,” Mushon argued. And I agreed. “I want to focus not on facts that can be verified, but those that should be verified.”

From Blind Trust to Reasonable Suspicion

Here’s what happened in a countdown format:

#4 Google Ads

  • Free webspace from weebly.com = 5 minutes
  • Free script from EmailMeForm.com = 10 minutes
  • Amateur graphic design to create a fake ‘Free 99$ McDonalds Coupons’ website = 2 hours

[The website, as you can see, had a large disclaimer that said ridiculously honestly that users would not get a coupon after they submit their information]

  • - Creating an ad campaign on Google Ads = 2 days and $20

[The website was approved although it violated Google's policy guidelines]

  • - Watching 21 people at $0.26 per click average send identifiable information to a website that declares to be a scam = PRICELESS

Click to see the website

The Google Ads Campaign

User information mailed to me

[Disclaimer: The sample image on the left has been blurred. All information has been deleted, mostly without looking. Website will be taken down soon.]

Conclusion:

Of the 43 users Google claims to have sent me, 21 gave away personally identifiable information for a reward without reading the loud and clear disclaimer that said they will not get anything at all. Most of us do not read the privacy policies of websites we deal with because we do not expect any violations – but that is fine print and contains legal jargon. This was a loud and clear disclaimer right below the sign up form.

#3 Facebook

  • Free webspace from Google Sites = 5 minutes
  • A webpage that claims bristles in Chinese toothbrushes imported in Pakistan are made of pig hair and therefore ‘Haraam’ = 4 hours

[A very visible footnote clearly solicits feedback and says the information is incorrect and for an academic experiment]

  • Sharing the link on Facebook through a wall post and creating a fan page = 1 hour
  • A facebook ad campaign to promote the fan page for one night = 2 hours and $10
  • 106 people, including my friends, become fans of a ‘Fatwa’ without reading it = PRICELESS

Click to see Facebook Fanpage that links to website

194 clicks from Facebook ads - up to 50% became fans

Facebook fans terrorized

Conclusion:

Of the 106 people that became fans of the website and about 40 comments I read altogether on facebook, not a single one seemed to have read the whole thing. Both those who agreed and those who disagreed did so not based on the verifiability of the facts but on the basis of how the information fit into their worldview and perspective. Following are some examples:

#2 Twitter

Every single twitter user I talked to refused to tell a new lie or retell an existing lie saying they could not afford to lose their audience’s trust. But I did not give up until this morning, when I proposed to a fellow journalist she could tweet MY retelling of an existing lie.

Thanks to Nadine, I knew I where to go to find some amazing hoaxes: the Yes Men. I wrote a brief summary one of their hoax stories on a web page with the postscript clearly stating it was a hoax.

Of her few hundred followers, one chose to re-tweet. Her comment shows that as with the facebook users, she did not read the story but believed in it because it was quite similar to something that she has seen in her society and fits into her way of looking at the world.

#1 Blogs

  • Convincing popular or somewhat popular bloggers to tell a lie = 2 weeks
  • Total bloggers who agreed = Zero
  • A whole community refusing to deliberately pass on incorrect information because they care about the people who trust them: PRICELESS

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General Conclusions:

  • Truth and lies as irrelevant terms – the real criterion is verifiability. Information should be verified to having been come from a source that is reliable.
  • For web users who consume information, verifiability is not important. What is important is that the information makes their life meaningful in some way or conforms to their hopes (free $99 McDonalds coupons) and fears (importing toothbrushes from people of a different religion)
  • For users who produce or share, reliability is of utmost importance. They will not willfully pass on unverifiable information (except if it is meaningful to them and their followers? Is that how what I have been calling ‘lies’ are spread on the internet?)

If you’re nobody you can lie as much as you want, who cares… If you’re somebody lying will impact your social position. This is the ABC of reputation systems. Otherwise … the social web would have not been half as important as it is.

- Mushon Zer-Aviv

Lie Another Day

“Must you touch everything?” a scared Q asked James Bond in the movie Die Another Day. And that is the question I have been asking myself. The scope of my research unfolded itself during these two weeks, and became very wide in a way that it has been hard for me to pin it down. I see I have missed the deadline in being so scattered, but I do think I come out of all this with some important realizations. The concluding post follows later tonight. Here are a few things that delayed it:

Google Ads

In the context of the discussions we have had concerning trust, Google, advertising and privacy, I thought over this weekend that it will also be appropriate to test our trust in the web in the context of Google Ads. How easy is it to lure people to give in confidential information in exchange for a reward. How many of us read the terms of this deal? I made  sure the terms are spelled out in large font and not more than a few lines. In fact I almost said they won’t get anything and I’m only collecting information about them.

Signing up with Google Adwords, waiting for my initial payment to clear and getting my ad reviewed took way longer than I expected.

Blogs

Bloggers seem, so far in my research, to be the people who are most concerned about the trust that their audiences have in them. I was not able to convince a single blogger to lie for me even until as early as this morning, and that has been an eye-opener. Mushon predicted correctly that this will be a very hard “A lie bares a high price from the lier’s social capital and credibility,” he said. “If you’re nobody you can lie as much as you want, who cares… If you’re somebody lying will impact your social position. This is the ABC of reputation systems. Otherwise I think the social web would have not been half as important as it is.”

Youtube

This part has nothing to do with the research. I just realized that despite paying a substantial sum of money for a 15mbit/1mb internet, I cannot upload a video on YouTube (and that is independent of what computer I use). Making all my videos on the same day and taking them to someone else to upload them was not feasible in terms of time, so I gave this medium up.

Reading Summaries for Week 4

Free culture

Web 2.0 changes the dynamics of communication by allowing what was once passive audience to participate, remix and share content, Lawrence Lessig says in his presentation. This architecture weakens the power of “the few speaking to the many” thus restoring the older ideals of participatory culture. This loss of control creates an anxiety and raises some concerns, such as:

a) the ideals of truth, fairness and accuracy are being lost

b) this architecture facilitates piracy

c) it allows misuse of technological innovations, eg spam, viruses, phishing, and the use of the web for terrorism

Piracy is seen as a justification for the use of intellectual property laws for censorial/regulatory purposes, Lessig says, and the misuse of technology can be seen as an excuse to legislate control of the internet.

Any move towards a more controlled internet will be driven through terror – a phenomenon Lessig names Z-theory, after Jonathan Zittrain.

In order to counter these threats, Lessig stresses the need to believe in the ideals it is based on, taking a middle path between the extremes of anarchy and total control, and preparing a resistance to a move towards complete regulation. He suggests that Al Jazeera, in contrast to news organizations who call for control over distribution of their content, should allow their content to be shared for free.

What if we would not have copyright?

Zoost Smiers addresses the issue of intellectual property rights in the context of changing cultural dynamics – a concern cited by Lessig in his free culture presentation.

Smiers says the prsent western copyright system fails to meet its stated goal of creating incentives for the average artist and is instead become a tool of control to protect the interests of cultural conglomerates. He looks at two alternative models of intellectual property rights:
1) Creative Commons – a ‘coalition of the willing’ that allows artists to have ‘hollow copyrights’ or only reserve some rights to their work (eg allowing noncommercial use). But this voluntary system does not address how artists and art entrepreneurs will earn money.
2) Collective intellectual ownership – of which he gives no particular example, allows for art to be produced in a collective manner. But it can lead to organization related problems eg the terms of shared ownership.

Smiers concludes that the problems of the copyright system cannot be solved by tweaking it while remaining in the existing paradigm. He then proposes his own solution:

The entrepreneur bears the responsibility and the financial risk of art production, and therefore should take the centre stage. The artwork will immediately enter the public domain, in the system he proposes, but the entrepreneur will either benefit from the ‘first-mover advantage’ or add value to his product by facilitating  audience-artist contact. The quality of the artwork will make a reputation and therefore income for the artists. Plagiarism will be checked through some form of a cultural monitoring system that Smeirs says will develop over time.

This reform will have the following effects, he claims:
a) Cultural conglomerates will not be able to dominate production
b) A level playing field will allow more diverse expression
c) The public domain will thrive, faciliating more production
d) Creativity on the internet will meet its potential
e) End to global corporate hegemony and more equitable economic relations

Toward a critique of the social web

In this debate, Trebor Scholz and Paul Hartzog critique the effects of the fundamental changes in the communication paradigm that is said to have revived participatory culture. Following are the opinions of the participants by topic:

On the control over means of production:

Hartzog: Means of access, and not means of production, are the crucial factor in the new internet economy. The digg user revolt and livejournal crisis show that that decisions of production are now shared by the particpants. The net neutrality debate and the issue of peer to peer sharing show that access is more crucial.
Mmeans of production have become a way of life.

Scholz: As people become isolated and the culture of fear, shortening vacations, and other social factors make public spaces into mere transitional zones of commerce, the social web provides an opportunity for meaningful face to face encounter.
In doing so users create content that has monetary value. the trade off is that corporations make money and the users gain meaningful social interaction. Means of production are available to people, but owned by corporations

On exploitation of participatory users:

Scholz: The situation is paradoxical – corporations benefit from crowdsourcing, but they also technically support the social life of 200 million people. People are being empowered and used at the same time.

Hartzog: the internet has made it easier for amateur artists to get paid for their share of production e.g. in photography and music, but in the new remix culture people don’t need financial incentives to produce art anyway. The copyleft movement etc guard against appropriation, and the requirement for transparency may even become a legal solution.

On the sociality of the web:

Hartzog: The sociality of the social media can be a) aimed at individual, such as a user basing his choice on reviews by other consumers on amazon.com and b) seen by the participants as something beyond themselves for which they are willing to transform. Multiple identity and community mobility creates more active political life.

Schsolz: social participation can be voluntary (eg social network sites) or involuntary (eg through data mining). In ‘captive communities’, users can not take their content with them if they wish to leave (eg videos on youtube, photos on flickr).

On cultural and gender difference:

Scholz: Certain communities tend to become popular in certain demographic groups and users belonging to those groups tend to stick to them.

Hartzog: culture and gender, along with other factors, act as a counter force against global homogeniety. Technology is difference-blind becuse humans are difference blind. but the global outreach of technology brings our own prejudices to the forefront.

Where do we go from here?

Scholz: We do not have to get away from all media and live in the woods. The existing platforms can be used in a way that allows meaningful social interaction (eg even amazon.com reviews can be written as a genre of creative writing). With the arrival of web 2.0, there is more space for manoeuvring for such actions.

Hartzog: Alternative uses of the same platforms can save on development costs but may not be supported by owners of the platforms. But since ‘you get attached to what you attack’, users can also simply ignore these platforms and create and use alternative ones in a way that the act itself will call the existing practices into question.

Taking the You Out of YouTube?

An interesting aspect of the piracy debate is highlighted by Jenkins, who expresses the concern that while the emerging participatory culture brough the ‘we’ to the ‘web’ (in the words of Newsweek), large corporations who are now buying web 2.0 enterprises (eg Yahoo purchased Flickr, Google purchased Youtube, Rupert Murdock took over MySpace) might take the ‘you’ out of ‘youtube’.

If users violate the intellectual property rights of media corporations when they share their content over peer-to-peer networks, then don’t large corporations also violate people’s intellectual property rights by reaping the monetary benefits of the content, value and wealth created by users? He asks whether at some point the revenue should be shared with the users.

Drawing upon a John McMuria article, Jenkins sees that YouTube 1) is a meeting place for various subcultures and allows cultural innovation through cross pollination, 2) allows users to ‘rescue’ the mass media content that deserves greater attention, 3) facilitates grassroots content to be pushed to greater visibility through new and old media 4) is forcing major companies to opt in or opt out of the participatory culture. In that sense it is an illustrated of Bekler’s Network Culture, but then the question whether it allows equal opportunity to all who want to participate is important.
Who is more comfortable with participating and who is less comfortable? What factors is that based on? Who decides the value of amateur content? Is it influenced by mob rule?

While McMuria looks at the highest ranking videos to see a lack of diversity, Jenkins asks whether this matter should be looked at only in the context of the impact of amateur content or also in the context of the ability to cross over to a broader range of audiences. He then quotes Geoffery long’s GOOGTUBE: TV 2.0, OR BUBBLE 2.0? as an alternative approach to the question.

Long says that this participatory culture is here to stay Google might have bought YouTube because a) Humans are better than machines in giving the content a meaning and value (think in terms of crowdsourcing), b) it increases the brand value and potential revenue, c) google can serve as a bridge between major advertisers (because of its cloud) and independent content producers (because of its ‘indie’ feel and approach).

Steal This Film (Trial Version)

“Intellectual property is the oil of the 21st century,” Pirate Cinema’s Sebastian Lutgert quotes Getty Images owner Mark Getty in Steal This Film. While it is hard to summarize the documentary, prominent players in the piracy culture in the film make the following argument which can be seen as a context in which this highly meaningful quote can be seen:

While it may take billions of dollars to make the first copy of a film, recently developed technology allows the users to make subsequent copies to be made for less than a dollar (through DVD rippers) and distribute it throughout the world (through peer-to-peer file sharing). Corporations who own the intellectual property rights to most popular digital content see this new technology as disastrous as they lose billions of dollars to ‘piracy’ and since this new technology undermines their very business model, some of them came to the brink of collapse. But this phenemenon is not new, from Cable TV, to VCRs to the first MP3 player, every new media technology was seen as a threat because it undermined the existing business models, and had to deal with lawsuits.

Instead of changing their business models, media corporations want to be able to control the content they own the copyrights to, even after they have sold it, to the extent that they are influencing the US government to bring non-commercial piracy from the civil domain to the criminal domain and demand similar moves from other countries (eg in the case of Sweden). But the decentralized architecture of this new technology makes it impossible to shut it down. Therefore any attempts to do so are only creating awareness about the peer-to-peer sharing and initiating debates that led to such unexpected phemomena as the forming and sudden popularity of the Pirate Party (that now has two seats in the European Parliament).

Just as the printing press – as a new technology that brought copying to the masses – became a symbol of rebellion and emancipation during the Renaissance and shaped the future of the world, the same way peer-to-peer technology of the 21st century chnages our world fundamentally, blurring the distinction between the producer and the consumer and bringing production of art from the domain of the economic back to something that makes people’s lives more meaningful. And there is a need for the world to negotiate a new paradigm that will shape a better future for everyone.

An interesting aspect of the piracy debate is highlighted by Jenkins, who expresses the concern that while the emerging participatory culture brough the ‘we’ to the

‘web’ (in the words of Newsweek), large corporations who are now buying web 2.0 enterprises (eg Yahoo purchased Flickr, Google purchased Youtube, Rupert Murdock took

over MySpace) might take the ‘you’ out of ‘youtube’.

If users violate the intellectual property rights of media corporations when they share their content over peer-to-peer networks, then don’t large corporations also

violate people’s intellectual property rights by reaping the monetary benefits of the content, value and wealth created by users? He asks whether at some point the

revenue should be shared with the users.

Drawing upon a John McMuria article, Jenkins sees that YouTube 1) is a meeting place for various subcultures and allows cultural innovation through cross pollination,

2) allows users to ‘rescue’ the mass media content that deserves greater attention, 3) facilitates grassroots content to be pushed to greater visibility through new

and old media 3) is forcing major companies to opt in or opt out of the participatory culture. In that sense it is an illustrated of Bekler’s Network Culture, but then

the question whether it allows equal opportunity to all who want to participate is important.
Who is more comfortable with participating and who is less comfortable? What factors is that based on? Who decides the value of amateur content? Is it influenced by

mob rule?

While McMuria looks at the highest ranking videos to see a lack of diversity, Jenkins asks whether this matter should be looked at only in the context of the impact of

amateur content or also in the context of the ability to cross over to a broader range of audiences. He then quotes Geoffery long’s GOOGTUBE: TV 2.0, OR BUBBLE 2.0? as

an alternative approach to the question.

Long says that this participatory culture is here to stay Google might have bought YouTube because a) Humans are better than machines in giving the content a meaning

and value (think in terms of crowdsourcing), b) it increases the brand value and potential revenue, c) google can serve as a bridge between major advertisers (because

of its cloud) and independent content producers (because of its ‘indie’ feel and approach).

film:

“Intellectual property is the oil of the 21st century,” Pirate Cinema’s Sebastian Lutgert quotes Getty Images owner Mark Getty in Steal This Film. While it is hard to

summarize the documentary, prominent players in the piracy culture make the following argument which can be seen as a context in which this highly meaningful quote can

be seen:

While it may take billions of dollars to make the first copy of a film, recently developed technology allows the users to make subsequent copies to be made for less

than a dollar (through DVD rippers) and distribute it throughout the world (through peer-to-peer file sharing). Corporations who own the intellectual property rights

to most popular digital content see this new technology as disastrous as they lose billions of dollars to ‘piracy’ and since this new technology undermines their very

business model, some of them came to the brink of collapse. But this phenemenon is not new, from Cable TV, to VCRs to the first MP3 player, every new media technology

was seen as a threat and had to deal with lawsuits.

Instead of changing their business models, media corporations want to be able to control the content they own the copyrights to, even after they have sold it, to the

extent that they are influencing the US government to bring non-commercial piracy from the civil domain to the criminal domain and demand similar moves from other

countries (e.g. in the case of Sweden). The decentralized architecture of this new technology makes it impossible to shut it down. Therefore any attempts to do so are

only creating awareness about the peer-to-peer sharing and initiating debates that led to such unexpected phemomena as the forming and sudden popularity of the Pirate

Party (that now has two seats in the European Parliament).

Just as the printing press – as a new technology that brought copying to the masses – became a symbol of rebellion and emancipation during the Renaissance and shaped

the future of the world, the same way peer-to-peer technology of the 21st century chnages our world fundamentally, blurring the distinction between the producer and

the consumer and bring production of art from the domain of the economic back to something that makes people’s lives more meaningful. And there is a need for the world

to negotiate a new paradigm that will shape a better future for everyone.

What Lies Ahead

[The images below refer to the recent instances of
irresponsible spreading of unverified information on
each of the following platforms. I did not initiate
or spread any of them.]

F a c e b o o k

Information content on this site includes text – status updates and wall posts, mainly. These are major rumor-mongering tools because they do not cite a source beyond themselves and their accuracy and authority can therefore not be verified. Content also includes shared links which can be evaluated to verify authenticity and accuracy. I will post incorrect information in both formats and ensure that it can be verified as incorrect.

Read More »

Do we verify the facts we read online?

John F Kennedy said he was a jelly doughnut, you can cook an egg using your cellphone, and penis-shrinking sorcerers roam the streets of West Africa, if we believe in everything we read online. Thirty years ago, it would have been more convenient to believe in this instead of having to go through newspaper archives and travel to Germany, or make an hour long call on two cellphones with an egg between them, or ending up with a shrunk penis. But today, it only takes a couple of searches and three or four clicks to verify most information.

In a digital world where newspapers are being replaced by blogs, data being chained into perspectives, and truth becoming organic and multidimentional, my fundamental question is, do people actually verify the facts they read online?

I will use any available social media to tell some ridiculous lies to friends as well as strangers. Lies that i will make sure are bizarre and easily verifiable to be so. Based on how people comment on them, I will see how many of them actually verify them before using them to form an opinion.

Trust me not! – Post 01 Travelogue 2

Trust me not

A quest for truth on the wings of lies

Half Truth
“A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes,” Mark Twain said nearly a hundred years before the world wide web was developed.  From Mary Antoinette’s lesbian orgies in Versailles to Snapple’s secret ties with the KKK, throughout history, people blinded by half truths have helped spread rumors, defamation and disinformation  in good faith.
.
But now, with our feet dug into the digital age where information wants to be free, where facts cannot be monopolized, and where Google is a verb, it is theoretically much easier for people to verify facts. As we talk about newspapers being replaced by blogs, data being chained into perspectives, and truth becoming organic and multidimentional, a fundamental question is, do people actually verify the facts they read online?
.
In my virtual journey, I have decided to travel around the social-media world on the wings of lies.
Like Odysseus, I will wonder without a destination in mind.  I will use Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, Blogs and any other social media I come across to spread rumours, disinformation and defamation. Each lie I post will have information that can clearly and easily be verified as incorrect.
Like Dorothy, I will have make friends in the virtual world along the way. I will talk to bloggers, youtube publishers, digg users and so on, and ask them to help me with my goal.
Like Gulliver, I will document how people behave. Based on the comments, as many as I can track on each of those lies, I will not only figure how many people did or did not verify the facts but also how they behave in either case.
.
I don’t know where this experiment will lead me, but I am curious. “The quest for truth,” said former US president George W Bush, “begins with lies.”
A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.
A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.

TV, the Tyrant – Travelogue-1

TV, the Tyrant

Three ways in which the TV affects you even if you switch if off

“They tell me that they have an ideal in their mind about what the normal person is,” psychiatrist Paul McHugh says in The Trap. “I don’t fit that model,” they tell him. “I want you to polish me down to fit.”

That model – Adam Curtis argues – is an ideal human that behaves in a completely rational and selfish way. A fuck-you-buddy champion. In an institutionalized enforcement of that ideal, according to the documentary, citizens are provided with a ready-made market-driven checklist of how they should behave. Individual situations do not matter. We must fit the model.

If the media are channels through which a society talks to itself, their role in the enforcement of this model is vital. The documentary provides a perspective in which the following question can be asked: Does a free market really supply media content that the consumers really want? Does it supply the content that is good for the society? Is it a matter of free choice at all?

Not really. There is no way you can talk back to your television. But even if you choose to switch it off, it will continue to shape your life:

Protestors burn TV

Protesters in India burn a TV set during a demonstration calling for stricter censorship. The Tribune India

1- It will shape your interaction with other people. This is not limited to simplistic concerns about whether violence in the media will make the consumers exhibit violent behavior, or whether kind of pornography you watch will determine what kind of a sexual partner you are. More importantly, it will provide the perspective in which you will see the others and others will see you – based on gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, body type, your fashion choices, and so on.

2- It will continue to inform or misinform other consumers about political matters. Their opinion will shape the warfare or welfare decisions that your government makes. That in turn will directly affect you.

3- It will continue to claim to represent public opinion but in doing so it will in fact itself be determining the public opinion. People consume the media for education and advice. It implies that their own information is admittedly not adequate enough. When they are told what ‘the public’ wants (often influenced by what the advertisers want), they want it too. The claims self-fulfill.

The TV, as a conventional media tool, thus tells you what we should ideally look like, and what you should ideally feel like. It also provides you with the categories in which to box you individuality and therefore becomes the primary source of your identity. It does so even if you have switched it off. “What happened,” then, “to our dream of freedom?” Where exactly is our “right to choose”?