Tagged: Algorithmic Authoritarianism and Digital Repression Toggle Comment Threads | Keyboard Shortcuts

  • Mark 6:48 am on October 23, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Algorithmic Authoritarianism and Digital Repression, , , ,   

    The outlook of the digital technocrat 

    From Automating Inequality by Virgina Eubanks pg 123-124:

    The proponents of the coordinated entry system, like many who seek to harness computational power for social justice, tend to find affinity with systems engineering approaches to social problems. These perspectives assume that complex controversies can be solved by getting correct information where it needs to go as efficiently as possible. In this model, political conflict arises primarily from a lack of information. If we just gather all the facts, systems engineers assume, the correct answers to intractable policy problems like homelessness will be simple, uncontroversial, and widely shared. But, for better or worse, this is not how politics work. Political contests are more than informational; they are about values, group membership, and balancing conflicting interests. The poor and working-class residents of Skid Row and South LA want affordable housing and available services. The Downtown Central Business Improvement District wants tourist-friendly streets. The new urban pioneers want both edgy grit and a Whole Foods. The city wants to clear the streets of encampments. While Los Angeles residents have agreed to pay a little more to address the problem, many don’t want unhoused people moving next door. And they don’t want to spend the kind of money it would take to really solve the housing crisis. These are deeply conflicting visions for the future of Los Angeles. Having more information won’t necessarily resolve them.

  • Mark 8:50 am on June 11, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Algorithmic Authoritarianism and Digital Repression, , , , , , , , , , , ,   

    Social media as asshole amplification technology, or, the moral psychology of platform architecture 

    This is Jaron Lanier’s memorable description of social media in his new book Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now. Social media is a technology for asshole amplification. To be clearly seen in the fact that “since social media took off, assholes are having more of a say in the world” (pg 43). His point is not that social media is a haven for trolls because it’s “not helpful to think of the world as being divided into assholes and non-assholes or if you prefer trolls and victims”. On pg 44 he cautions that each of us has our own inner troll:

    It’s like an ugly alien living inside you that you long ago forgot about. Don’t let your inner troll take control! If it happens when you’re in a particular situation, avoid that situation! It doesn’t matter if it’s an online platform, a relationship, or a job. Your character is like your health, more valuable than anything you can buy. Don’t throw it away. But why, why is the inner troll there at all? It’s such a common problem that it must be a deep, primal business, a tragedy of our inheritance, a stupid flaw at the heart of the human condition. But saying that doesn’t get us anywhere. What exactly is the inner troll? Sometimes the inner troll takes charge, sometimes it doesn’t. My working hypothesis has long been that there’s a switch deep in every human personality that can be set in one of two modes. We’re like wolves. We can either be solitary or members of a pack of wolves. I call this switch the Solitary/ Pack switch. When we’re solitary wolves, we’re more free. We’re cautious, but also capable of more joy. We think for ourselves, improvise, create. We scavenge, hunt, hide. We howl once in a while out of pure exuberance. When we’re in a pack, interactions with others become the most important thing in the world. I don’t know how far that goes with wolves, but it’s dramatic in people. When people are locked in a competitive, hierarchical power structure, as in a corporation, they can lose sight of the reality of what they’re doing because the immediate power struggle looms larger than reality itself.

    The evolutionary language here can seem off-putting to a sociologist. But it can be recast in terms of internal and external goods. Sometimes we are driven by the rewards internal to what we are doing while at other times we are driven by rewards external to what we are doing. What makes social media platforms so insidious is their tendency to, as Lanier puts it, make “social status and intrigues become more than immediate than the larger reality” (pg 49). I don’t agree with his account of why this is so but I think the underlying direction of his argument is correct. Social media is asshole amplification technology because it lends such force and vivacity to external goods, particularly recognition and reputation, leaving internal goods hard to sustain.

    We often do sustain our relationship with these goods, as can be seen in the continued existence of thoughtful and intelligent exchange online. But we do so in spite of rather than because of the asshole amplification architecture of social media. It’s grasping the bivalent nature of this relationship, as internal and external goods co-mingle within platform architectures which are continually modulating in response to our (ambivalent) actions, which is crucial if we want to understand and perhaps even overcome the asshole amplification propensities of social media.

  • Mark 9:15 pm on June 8, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Algorithmic Authoritarianism and Digital Repression, , , cyber utopian, danah boyd, , digital utopian, , , , , , , utopian,   

    The original sin of the digital utopians 

    There’s a fascinating mea culpa in Jaron Lanier’s new book Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now. On loc 411 he describes how early design decisions, inspired by the libertarian ethos taking hold within the tech community, created the openings for the global monopolies we now see emerging:

    Originally, many of us who worked on scaling the internet hoped that the thing that would bring people together—that would gain network efect and lock-in—would be the internet itself. But there was a libertarian wind blowing, so we left out many key functions. The internet in itself didn’t include a mechanism for personal identity, for instance. Each computer has its own code number, but people aren’t represented at all. Similarly, the internet in itself doesn’t give you any place to store even a small amount of persistent information, any way to make or receive payments, or any way to find other people you might have something in common with. Everyone knew that these functions and many others would be needed. We figured it would be wiser to let entrepreneurs fill in the blanks than to leave that task to government. What we didn’t consider was that fundamental digital needs like the ones I just listed would lead to new kinds of massive monopolies because of network efects and lock-in. We foolishly laid the foundations for global monopolies. We did their hardest work for them. More precisely, since you’re the product, not the customer of social media, the proper word is “monopsonies.” Our early libertarian idealism resulted in gargantuan, global data monopsonies.

    If I understand him correctly, he is suggesting that these functions could have been built into the infrastructure of the internet itself rather than becoming services fulfilled by corporate providers. This passage reminded me of a recent keynote by danah boyd, reflecting on how utopian dreams concerning digital technology have come to seem untenable with time:

    A decade ago, academics that I adore were celebrating participatory culture as emancipatory, noting that technology allowed people to engage with culture in unprecedented ways. Radical leftists were celebrating the possibilities of decentralized technologies as a form of resisting corporate power. Smart mobs were being touted as the mechanism by which authoritarian regimes could come crashing down.

    Now, even the most hardened tech geek is quietly asking:

    What hath we wrought?

    This intellectual utopianism concerned the products of the original digital utopians themselves, innovators who sought to “disrupt the status quo, but weren’t at all prepared for what it would mean when they controlled the infrastructure underlying democracy, the economy, the media, and communication”. Recognising the role of dreams in shaping technology isn’t just a matter of how they inspire people to create but also recognising what happens when they go wrong. These aren’t just a froth of naiveté on the surface of a dark materiality lurking beneath. They are rather a force in their own right, changing the world they sought to improve as the ambitions underlying them curdle in the darkening reality they have contributed to.

  • Mark 8:22 pm on June 4, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Algorithmic Authoritarianism and Digital Repression, deception, , , ,   

    CfP: Deception on social media 

    Saving this interesting CfP for later look up


    Contributors are invited to submit abstracts (about 200 words) toward our
    new edited collection entitled: *Social Media and the Production and Spread
    of Spurious Deceptive Contents,* to be published by IGI Global (Hershey,
    PA), under the series: *Advances in Digital Crime, Forensics, and Cyber
    Terrorism* (ADCFCT)

    Topics being covered include:

    ·         *History, literature, perspectives and the prevalence of online

    ·         *Methods, techniques and approaches to researching digital

    ·         *Fake news, disinformation/misinformation and misleading reports
    on Facebook and Twitter             (case studies are encouraged here)*

    ·         *Defamation and character assassination (case studies are
    encouraged here)*

    ·         *Phishing *

    ·         *Business falsehood, employment scam and commercial lies*

    ·         *Investment/financial scam; Ponzi/Pyramid schemes*

    ·         *Deceptive online dating, romance scam and fake marriage *

    ·         *Religious deception and political lies (case studies are
    encouraged here)*

    ·         *Deceptive contents by extremist and terrorist groups (other
    online platforms are inclusive here)*

    ·         *Deception detection and behavioral control methods.*

    ·         *Etc.*

    All proposals are to be submitted through the *eEditorial
    Discovery®TM online* submission Manager. Please click on this link to
    submit an abstract and for full description of the CFP:

    *Important Dates*

    *June 30, 2018:* Proposal Submission Deadline
    *October 31, 2018:* Full Chapter Submission

    *Inquiries can be forwarded to:*

    Sergei Samoilenko

    George Mason University, Virginia, USA


  • Mark 4:38 pm on September 23, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Algorithmic Authoritarianism and Digital Repression, , , drones, states of exception, , , war zones   

    Ubiquitous drone surveillance  

    I’ve been reflecting on a dark but plausible prediction by Edwards Snowden in his forward to The Assination Complex by Jeremy Scahill and the team from the intercept. On loc 195 he argues that the technological barriers to ubiquitous drone surveillance are now minimal:

    Inevitably that conceptual subversion finds its way home, along with the technology that enables officials to promote comfortable illusions about surgical killing and nonintrusive surveillance. Take, for instance, the Holy Grail of drone persistence, a capability that the United States has been pursuing forever. The goal is to deploy solar-powered drones that can loiter in the air for weeks without coming down. Once you can do that, and you put any typical signals-collection device on the bottom of it to monitor, unblinkingly, the emanations of, for example, the different network addresses of every laptop, smartphone, and iPod, you know not just where a particular device is in what city, but you know what apartment each device lives in, where it goes at any particular time, and by what route. Once you know the devices, you know their owners. When you start doing this over several cities, you’re tracking the movements not just of individuals but of whole populations. By preying on the modern necessity to stay connected, governments can reduce our dignity to something like that of tagged animals, the primary difference being that we paid for the tags and they’re in our pockets. It sounds like fantasist paranoia, but on the technical level it’s so trivial to implement that I cannot imagine a future in which it won’t be attempted. It will be limited to the war zones at first, in accordance with our customs, but surveillance technology has a tendency to follow us home.

    The basic claim here is one we should take seriously: if technically feasible means of surveillance aren’t challenged, we face an inevitable slide towards their introduction. What currently exists within states of exception (a category that can range from war zones to mega-events) risks expanding into the everyday. How the introduction of techniques to areas outside normality is responded to will prove crucial for determining the contours of the new normal.

  • Mark 10:50 am on May 17, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Algorithmic Authoritarianism and Digital Repression, , , , ,   

    Special Issue on Computational Propaganda and Political Big Data 

    How exciting does this look?

    Call for Papers: Special Issue on Computational Propaganda and Political Big Data

    We welcome manuscripts from scholars across the social and computer sciences, and are particularly interested in research from teams of authors from both domains of inquiry. Please submit your papers online to our web-based manuscript submission and peer-review at http://www.liebertpub.com/manuscript/big<http://www.liebertpub.com/manuscript/big>.


    Computational propaganda—the use of information technologies for political purposes—is on the rise. Many different kinds of political actors use a wide range of computational systems, social media platforms, and big data analytics to understand and manipulate public opinion. The political use of algorithms over platforms like Twitter and Facebook has received much journalistic attention, but it can be difficult to relate the dissemination of content over social networks to changes in public opinion or voter preference. The firms behind these platforms, however, increasingly acknowledge that politically motivated algorithms and automation can have deleterious outcomes for public life. How does big data get used for political purposes? Can the behavioural impact of politically-motivated big data manipulation be measured? How does the structure, function or affordances of computational propaganda vary across platforms, issue areas, or country cases?

    This Big Data special issue on Computational Propaganda and Political Big Data, scheduled for publication in December 2017, aims to advance our understanding of how the Internet can be used to spread propaganda, engage with citizens, and influence political outcomes. We welcome submissions that utilize big data or engage with methodological, theoretical, practical, and ethical issues associated with politicized use of big data. The special issue seeks to describe and discuss:

    • the effects of computational propaganda, automated social actors and bots on Internet platforms, Internet users and political processes.
    • measurement of the distribution and impact of fake news;
    • linking, sharing, and citation structures across large numbers of voters or supporters;
    • the political economy of big data mining;
    • the political inferences that can be made by reverse engineering de-personalized data, analysing relational data, or assembling shadow profiles on people not represented in political data;
    • the path from exposure to computational propaganda to behavioural change;
    • the use of the drones, smart city sensor networks, the Internet of Things or proprietary device networks for gathering politically valuable big data.

    The editors also  seek research on the computationally creative ways of mitigating the impact of computational propaganda: alert systems for identifying algorithmically-based political manipulation or high levels of automation over device networks and social media platforms;  big data driven systems for source verification or fact checking that might raise trust in computing; ways of detecting the origins of manipulative content on massive social network platforms.

    The deadline for manuscript submission is June 1, 2017. We welcome manuscripts from scholars across the social and computer sciences, and are particularly interested in research from teams of authors from both domains of inquiry. Please submit your papers online to our web-based manuscript submission and peer-review at http://www.liebertpub.com/manuscript/big<http://www.liebertpub.com/manuscript/big>.

  • Mark 11:49 pm on March 1, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Algorithmic Authoritarianism and Digital Repression, , , , , , , , ,   

    Digital labour and the epistemic fallacy  

    One of the arguments which pervades Uberworked and Underpaid, by Trebor Scholz, concerns the materiality of digital labour. As someone whose back and neck start to ache if I spend too much time at a computer, I’ve always found the tendency to assume there is something mysteriously immaterial about using computers to be rather absurd. But there’s more to Scholz’s argument then this generic tendency to fail to recognise the embodied character of digital engagement. From Loc 4103

    It’s worth remembering that whether a worker toils in an Amazon warehouse or works for crowdSPRING, her body will get tired and hungry. She’ll have to take care of car payments, medical bills for her children, and student debts, not to mention saving for retirement. Digital work makes the body of the worker invisible but no less real or expendable.

    It strikes me that what we are talking about here is the epistemic fallacy: taking what we know to exhaust what is. The mediation involved in digital labour  impedes or entirely prevents knowledge of the material circumstances of the worker. The disaggregation and workflows facilitated by data infrastructures similarly obscure knowledge of the many workers whose efforts combine, in enormously complex way, to produce discernible outcomes. The political economy and social-technical infrastructure of digital labour is certainly complex, but it’s nonetheless useful to recognise the underlying epistemological issue at work here.

  • Mark 1:02 pm on February 10, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Algorithmic Authoritarianism and Digital Repression, , , , ,   

    Fighting for ‘political correctness’ in an age of Trump 

    I’ve recently found myself thinking back to an argument which Jeff Weeks makes in The World We Have Won. From pg 7:

    The real achievement is that inequality has lost all its moral justification, and this has profoundly shifted the debate. Inequality now has to be justified in ways it never had to be before.

    I take his point to be that the burden of justification has shifted from inequality to equality. This does not necessarily entail a diminution in oppression, but rather a cultural shift in how oppressors seek to legitimate their action e.g. patently Islamophobic sentiment is articulated in terms of a concern for gender equality.

    Trump and his supporters are pushing against the boundaries of this framework, but it is still for now in place. What gets dismissed as ‘political correctness’ is something we should fight for. This much shared passage from Richard Rorty illustrates what is at risk if we don’t:

    Members of labor unions, and unorganized unskilled workers, will sooner or later realize that their government is not even trying to prevent wages from sinking or to prevent jobs from being exported. Around the same time, they will realize that suburban white-collar workers – themselves desperately afraid of being downsized – are not going to let themselves be taxed to provide social benefits for anyone else.

    At that point, something will crack. The nonsuburban electorate will decide that the system has failed and start looking for a strongman to vote for – someone willing to assure them that, once he is elected, the smug bureaucrats, tricky lawyers, overpaid bond salesmen, and postmodernist professors will no longer be calling the shots.

    One thing that is very likely to happen is that the gains made in the past forty years by black and brown Americans, and by homosexuals, will be wiped out. Jocular contempt for women will come back into fashion. The words ‘nigger’ and ‘kike’ will once again be heard in the workplace. All the sadism which the academic Left has tried to make unacceptable to its students will come flooding back. All the resentment which badly educated Americans feel about having their manners dictated to them by college graduates will find an outlet.

    • Dave Ashelman 3:41 pm on February 10, 2017 Permalink

      This is partly what I call “The Goffman Effect.” Where the cultural shift in how oppressors seek to legitimate there actions is in part through creating new stigmas – where instead of racism being the stigma, equality now becomes the stigma. We see this in our discourse everyday now, where people who fight for social justice are now called stigmatizing names – often in public in an “identity spoiling” effort.

      I also call this part of a “racialized anomie.” Where this transition period between the shift of one cultural value (equality) to another cultural value (inequality) leaves a normlessness that is racially charged.

      My latest post touches on this. https://daveashelman.wordpress.com/2017/02/10/sociologys-need-for-an-identity-crisis/ I plan to write more about “racialized anomie” and the “Goffman Effect” soon.

    • Mark 9:46 pm on February 17, 2017 Permalink

      Interesting! I was thinking of this as what comes prior to the overturning of the change described by Plummer

  • Mark 5:07 pm on February 8, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Algorithmic Authoritarianism and Digital Repression, , , , , , , , ,   

    Educational technology in an age of Trump: a risk to students? 

    I find this suggestion by Audrey Watters extremely plausible. Full interview here.

    I think that education data should be a top priority under the new Trump regime. Schools are wildly obsessed with collecting data. They have been for a very long time, but new digital technologies have compelled them to collect even more, all with the promise of better insights into teaching and learning. By and large, I think a lot of that promise is overstated. Now, particularly under Trump, we have to consider if, instead of “helping students”, we’re actually putting them more at risk. I don’t simply mean a risk of hacking, although schools do have notoriously poor information security. Rather, I’m deeply concerned that, by enabling such expansive profiling, we are furthering a dangerous climate of surveillance – a climate that Trump seems quite ready to exploit regarding undocumented immigrants, Muslims, and political dissidents.


    • Dave Ashelman 5:34 pm on February 8, 2017 Permalink

      Yes, it is plausible. However, it is “complicated” in America. A lot of people outside of America (including Canada) don’t realize how American education works – or rather doesn’t work. It is highly racialized, and will become more racialized with the new legislation before congress with the new education secretary.

      First is that Public primary education USED to produce a lot of Ph.D.s and Noble winners. Then came the 1980s. Today, most students in public schools are in urban ghettos made up of primarily African-Americans, and are highly segregated. There are several school boards that are still (in 2017) under federal court order to desegregate from the 1954 Brown v Board Supreme Court decision.

      Today, most school teachers are required to have Masters degrees. Most urban public school teachers, with their Masters degrees earn about $20,000 per year or less. Many are on social assistance. Many public school boards struggle just to buy textbooks because of funding cuts since the 1980s. Some are using textbooks that are decades old. Those school certainly do not have computers; and if they do, they are old, and not securable.

      The main complaint about public education in America is that they aren’t producing educated children (as measured with standardized testing). What is almost NEVER talked about is that they used to produce Ph.D.s and Nobel winners – until teachers had to go on welfare and not have textbooks.

      Any changes to public education are much more likely to impact African-American students. Currently, with the advent of Trump, there is legislation to eliminate the U.S. Department of Education entirely, and completely de-fund public schools – giving parents “vouchers” instead, to enroll their children in the private school of their choice. Which for urban African Americans, there are nearly none.

      So while plausible, if public schools cannot afford textbooks, are segregated, put teachers on welfare, and are about to be shut down, what’s the point?

    • Mark 9:47 pm on February 17, 2017 Permalink

      This sounds very plausible but not sure where that leaves you in relation to what Watters is arguing

    • Dave Ashelman 8:45 pm on February 20, 2017 Permalink

      In relation to what Watters is arguing is two-fold: 1) if schools cannot invest in textbooks, how are they going to invest in data-gathering, and 2) it assumes that political institutions are actually concerned with facts, when the facts have been clear about how schools are operating (and why), yet continue to starve schools out of existence.

      Should there be a concern for data-gathering? Sure. There should also be a concern that most public schools do not have textbooks. There should also be a concern that most public school teachers are so underpaid that they have to receive social assistance. Any data gathered to gain insights of teaching and learning will automatically be flawed in this backdrop. You cannot gain accurate insights into teaching and learning models when both kids and teachers are physically hungry, while teaching and learning with no (or at least substandard) materials. Do we want data, or do we want “accurate” data?

    • Mark 4:20 pm on February 25, 2017 Permalink

      I think you’re operating with a much thicker conception of accuracy than the vast majority of the ed-tech people.

    • Dave Ashelman 1:45 pm on March 4, 2017 Permalink

      I think you are correct in your assessment of me. Is that a bad thing? In my economic master’s program I got a “B” on a paper because I didn’t perform enough “mathematical gymnastics” in a regression to get the results to reject the null. The teacher admitted that there was nothing wrong with my model, and the results were solid based on the model. Instead, I worked with the results I had, and not the results that were “expected.” This is a methodological issue that I stood my ground on; I would not engage in what I call “Machiavellian data manipulation” – where the ends justify the means. I ended up with an “A” in the course, no no harm, no foul for me. However, this methodological thinking is symptomatic of data gathering today. From p-hacking to over-weighting variables, we often create the social facts that we want instead of analyzing social facts as they are.

      We know as a social and medical fact that child’s learning outcome is lower when they’re physically hungry as a stand-alone variable all by itself. If we look at student-teacher outcomes without considering that antagonizing variable of hunger, then all we’re really doing is a “Machiavellian data manipulation” to create the social facts that we want, instead of seeing the social facts as they actually are.

      My apologies for my “thickness!” But thank you for reminding me of that! 🙂

    • Mark 4:52 pm on March 8, 2017 Permalink

      Not a bad thing but I think it’s always important to remind ourselves of it.

  • Mark 8:53 am on December 27, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Algorithmic Authoritarianism and Digital Repression, , , , , , , , ,   

    Metrics and the death of imagination 

    In John Thompson’s Merchants of Culture, there’s an interesting remark about the structural position of first time authors which I think has wider purchase. From pg 200:

    Ironically, in a world preoccupied by numbers, the author with no track is in some ways in a strong position, considerably stronger than the author who has published one or two books with modest success and muted acclaim, simply because there are no hard data to constrain the imagination, no disappointing sales figures to dampen hopes and temper expectations. The absence of sales figures sets the imagination free. The first-time author is the true tabula rasa of trade publishing, because his or her creation is the book for which it is still possible to imagine anything and everything.

    A world where metrics are ubiquitous is a world where imagination has died. When everyone has a track record, the space to imagine someone’s future as radically different from their past collapses.

    • lenandlar 7:29 pm on December 27, 2016 Permalink

      Makes me think about those papers I have on Google scholar that are not doing well at all. You do tend to question them more than they deserve I suppose. Insightful book

    • Mark 10:04 am on December 28, 2016 Permalink

      or how it comes to be that we think of creative outputs as ‘doing well’ or ‘doing badly’….

    • lenandlar 12:38 pm on December 28, 2016 Permalink

      That’s an interesting point. When I check the download and read count (not citation) they are not too bad. A question I ask often is how do value papers that are just read by students , professors or just about anyone. Maybe they’ll take something useful from some of them but doesn’t count (literally).

  • Mark 1:20 pm on November 20, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Algorithmic Authoritarianism and Digital Repression, , , , , , tyrants   

    The Affectivity of the Nascent Tyrant 

    By far the best film I’ve seen this year was The Childhood of a Leader. It recounts a number of episodes in the life of a nascent tyrant, exploring the emergence of what is hinted to be a boundless rage that might one day transform the world:

    I’ve been thinking about this film since encountering Auden’s Epitaph on a Tyrant yesterday:

    Perfection, of a kind, was what he was after,
    And the poetry he invented was easy to understand;
    He knew human folly like the back of his hand,
    And was greatly interested in armies and fleets;
    When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter,
    And when he cried the little children died in the streets.

    What makes a potential tyrant? It’s the most obvious question to ask when history presents us with towering, pathological and destructive figures who have seemingly remade the world in their image. It’s one sociology is instinctively sceptical towards, given the risk that we uncritically adopt a ‘great men’ theory of history and obscure the social and cultural forces which allowed any such figure to assume the power that they did. But it’s one which I think can be legitimately asked, from a psychosocial perspective, without lapsing into reductive individualism.

    This must surely involve resisting simplistic applications of labels. As Jon Ronson points out in his new book on Trump, there’s something that could be seen as a tad psychopathic about arm-chair diagnoses of psychopathy from afar. From loc 538:

    A FEW WEEKS BEFORE I flew to Cleveland, I sat in the Green Room at the Pasadena Convention Center. I was there to give a talk entitled “Is Donald Trump A Psychopath?” All year, people had been asking me my opinion on that topic. (This wasn’t random: I had written a book about psychopaths.) I consider it somewhat psychopathic to label someone from afar as a psychopath. We love nothing more than to declare other people insane, especially people we don’t like. Diagnosing people as psychopaths from afar, I’d say, speaks to Items 2, 8 and 15 on the Psychopath Checklist —Grandiose Self-Worth, Lack of Empathy and Irresponsibility. You might even add Item 9, Parasitic Lifestyle, if you consider diagnosing Donald Trump from afar as a psychopath to be a parasitic lifestyle.

    But can we nonetheless try and imaginatively enter into the affectivity of nascent tyrants? I have no idea of how to begin this process in a systematic way but there are cultural resources which might offer us hints. Two songs I’ve always liked came immediately to mind when I had this thought:

    One concerns rejection and the other mastery. In the first case, we can imagine a refusal to accept rejection and an absolute mythologisation of self that emerges from this. In the second case, a preoccupation with the pleasures of mastery and where this might ultimately lead someone in how they orientate themselves to the opportunities they see in the world to assume further control.

    They both suggest the sheer potentiality inherent in raw emotion, how this is usually canalised in predictable patterns but the terrifyingly open-ended possibility of where certain individuals might under certain conditions be led in their coming-to-terms with what they confront.

    Has anyone got suggestions of further pieces of music that explore these themes?

  • Mark 10:50 am on November 19, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Algorithmic Authoritarianism and Digital Repression, , ,   

    A vicious circle of reprisals and hostility 

    From this week’s Economist leader. I suspect they’re underestimating the extent to which Trump will largely enact the Ryan-ist mainstream in economic policy. However they’re surely correct about the underlying dynamic: Trump’s policies intensifying the conditions which gave rise to him, creating more anger and encouraging the ethno-nationalist channeling of that anger as a political survival mechanism:

    Mr Trump needs to realise that his policies will unfold in the context of other countries’ jealous nationalism. Disengaging will not cut America off from the world so much as leave it vulnerable to the turmoil and strife that the new nationalism engenders. As global politics is poisoned, America will be impoverished and its own anger will grow, which risks trapping Mr Trump in a vicious circle of reprisals and hostility. It is not too late for him to abandon his dark vision. For the sake of his country and the world he urgently needs to reclaim the enlightened patriotism of the presidents who went before him.


  • Mark 3:06 pm on November 18, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Algorithmic Authoritarianism and Digital Repression, ,   

    Call for Papers: State Crime and Digital Resistance (Deadline 30 November) 

    Special Issue, State Crime Journal (May 2018)


    Sign up for 6th January 2017 workshop here: http://statecrime.org/state-crime-research/call-for-papersworkshop-special-issue-of-state-crime-journal/

    This special issue of State Crime seeks to investigate how changing patterns of state crime are being shaped by the massive growth of a digital communications infrastructure which permeates everyday life for billions of people through the explosive spread of networked mobile devices, social media platforms and cloud computing systems. It will also highlight how and to what extent these same technologies and infrastructures can be repurposed to expose and resist state crime. The long-standing entanglement between monopolistic digital media corporations, the government and military has facilitated the creation of privatized systems of mass surveillance, alongside the expansion of mass surveillance systems controlled by states. Is this leading to the development of a ‘networked authoritarianism’, which in turn is altering state-society relations and creating a fertile environment for unaccountability, corruption and human rights violations?

    While amateur, user-generated digital content can be used to challenge the information monopoly of professional media conglomerates, a more nuanced understanding of verification methodologies is needed to enrich the critical discourse on citizen participation in human rights reporting. More importantly, emergent forms of digital activism can highlight how civil society can serve as a counterweight to the political and economic hegemony of states and corporations. Here, case studies of digital resistance from below can further demonstrate the extent of civic engagement in (1) naming, defining, exposing and challenging state crime (Green and Ward, 2004); and (2) developing a more open, democratic and participatory digital architecture which facilitates ‘unmasking the crimes of the powerful’ (Tombs and Whyte, 2003).

    We welcome submissions for this special issue on ‘State Crime and Digital Resistance’ with a focus on the following three sub-themes:

       – The state / corporate / crime nexus from the perspective of digital infrastructure and the political economy of digital media and services

       – Issues in digital verification and evidence

       – Digital activism and resistance

    We will be convening a workshop at QMUL for potential contributors to the special issue on 6 January 2017. This will provide a valuable opportunity to present and discuss research which will form the basis of accepted articles. The workshop will also serve as a forum for the exchange of ideas with other contributors to shape the intellectual agenda of the special issue.

    Please indicate if you would like your paper to be considered for inclusion in the workshop.

    All submissions will be subject to a full peer review process. The timetable for submission and publication is as follows:

    Submission of abstracts (up to 500 words): 30th November 2016

    Response to abstract submissions: 7th December 2016

    Workshop Date: 6th January 2017 (Sign up here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/state-crime-and-digital-resistance-workshop-tickets-29274521883)

    Submission of full article: 31st April 2017

    Decisions/Reviewers’ Responses to Author(s): 31st June 2017

    Submission of Final Versions: 31st January 2018

    Publication: May 2018

  • Mark 4:24 pm on November 14, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Algorithmic Authoritarianism and Digital Repression, , , , , , social legibility, , ,   

    The bureaucratic origins of algorithmic authoritarianism 

    I just came across this remarkable estimate in an Economist feature on surveillance. I knew digitalisation made surveillance cheaper but I didn’t realise quite how much cheaper. How much of the creeping authoritarianism which characterises the contemporary national security apparatus in the UK and US is driven by a familiar impulse towards efficiency?

    The agencies not only do more, they also spend less. According to Mr Schneier, to deploy agents on a tail costs $175,000 a month because it takes a lot of manpower. To put a GPS receiver in someone’s car takes $150 a month. But to tag a target’s mobile phone, with the help of a phone company, costs only $30 a month. And whereas paper records soon become unmanageable, electronic storage is so cheap that the agencies can afford to hang on to a lot of data that may one day come in useful.


    In reality, it is of course anything but, instead heralding a potentially open ended project to capture the world and achieve the utopia of total social legibility. An ambition which always makes me think of this short story:

    The story deals with the development of universe-scale computers called Multivacs and their relationships with humanity through the courses of seven historic settings, beginning in 2061. In each of the first six scenes a different character presents the computer with the same question; namely, how the threat to human existence posed by the heat death of the universe can be averted. The question was: “How can the net amount of entropy of the universe be massively decreased?” This is equivalent to asking: “Can the workings of the second law of thermodynamics (used in the story as the increase of the entropy of the universe) be reversed?” Multivac’s only response after much “thinking” is: “INSUFFICIENT DATA FOR MEANINGFUL ANSWER.”

    The story jumps forward in time into later eras of human and scientific development. In each of these eras someone decides to ask the ultimate “last question” regarding the reversal and decrease of entropy. Each time, in each new era, Multivac’s descendant is asked this question, and finds itself unable to solve the problem. Each time all it can answer is an (increasingly sophisticated, linguistically): “THERE IS AS YET INSUFFICIENT DATA FOR A MEANINGFUL ANSWER.”

    In the last scene, the god-like descendant of humanity (the unified mental process of over a trillion, trillion, trillion humans that have spread throughout the universe) watches the stars flicker out, one by one, as matter and energy ends, and with it, space and time. Humanity asks AC, Multivac’s ultimate descendant, which exists in hyperspace beyond the bounds of gravity or time, the entropy question one last time, before the last of humanity merges with AC and disappears. AC is still unable to answer, but continues to ponder the question even after space and time cease to exist. Eventually AC discovers the answer, but has nobody to report it to; the universe is already dead. It therefore decides to answer by demonstration. The story ends with AC’s pronouncement,

    And AC said: “LET THERE BE LIGHT!” And there was light


  • Mark 9:00 am on September 16, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Algorithmic Authoritarianism and Digital Repression, , , ,   

    The cosmopolitan self vs the endurance self 

    I like this contrast drawn by Arlie Hochschild on loc 2780-2795 of Strangers In Their Own Land:

    Not only her values, but even the kind of self she proudly exhibited—an endurance self—seemed to need defending, because it too seemed to be going out of fashion along with all the blue-collar jobs. “They used to brag on my dad at the plant that he was so reliable and steady.” Janice tells me proudly. But what did that count for anymore? Like her father and uncle, Harold Areno, Janice feels proud to have a rooted self, a self based in a busy, dense, stable community of relatives, co-parishioners, and friends. A newer cosmopolitan self, one that seemed uprooted, loosely attached to an immediate community, prepared to know a lot of people just a little bit, a mobile, even migratory self—this seemed to be coming into vogue. Such a self took pride in exposure to a diverse set of moral codes, but did a person with that kind of self end up thinking “anything goes”? It was frightening. It was wrong. And Janice was having none of it.

    However I think it’s important to recognise how social media could buttress the endurance self, facilitating the experience of that embedding in the absence of face-to-face reality, something likely to become more important as the social conditions liable to generate such an experience of continuity erode yet further. How would/does this mediated endurance self differ from the situated endurance self?

    • Martha Bell 9:06 am on September 16, 2016 Permalink

      I think that is an important question. They might differ greatly in the obligations generated and practised, the ‘taking the role of the other’ and being able to reach out and meet another’s needs before they find themselves in need or in trouble. The situated has always been stitched together by reciprocity. Do we know yet if and how reciprocity forms any part of mediated endurance self?

    • Mark 8:33 am on September 24, 2016 Permalink

      And there’s a risk of falling into seeing ‘offline’ and ‘online’ as distinct: what about when interaction through one reinforces interaction through the other?

  • Mark 11:32 am on August 17, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Algorithmic Authoritarianism and Digital Repression, , , , media freedom, , ,   

    Are journalists personally afraid of a Trump presidency? 

    Are journalists personally afraid of a Trump presidency? That’s the suggestion of this Vox article:

    In my experience, it goes yet deeper than this. Quietly, privately, political reporters wonder if Trump is a threat to them personally — if he were president, would he use the powers of the office to retaliate against them personally if he didn’t like their coverage of his administration? How certain are they that their taxes are really in order? How sure are they that a surveillance state controlled by Trump would tap their phones and watch their emails for leverage?

    I am not saying this drives coverage of Trump, but it recasts negative coverage of him. Trump has made criticism of his campaign a reflection of an ideal journalists are particularly committed to: that the United States should have a free and open press able to scrutinize leading politicians without fear of reprisal. Thus, when Trump bars different publications from his press conference, it becomes proof that they are doing the work that journalists should do, and that a President Trump might make that work impossible to do.


    If so what does that mean for American democracy? I don’t think the concern is unwarranted, at least to some extent, nor do I think that Hilary Clinton or Barack Obama could take it as a given that they would go unharassed in the (increasingly unlikely) event of a Trump presidency. Even if this was not motivated by personal animus, it’s disturbingly easy to imagine a creepingly fascist United States in a few years time, in which a ‘lock her up’ campaign would be used by Trump to motivate his base or distract from economic failure and social decay.

    Furthermore, given this idea that the digital surveillance apparatus might one day constitute a threat to individual journalists, should we expect a greater degree of self-censorship than has been the case? I can imagine the sheer fact of the idea being ‘out there’, if this is something American journalists might fall into conversation about when drinking together say, could begin to entrench it in a way that is dangerous even in the absence of a reality to the threat.

    • Jnana Hodson 10:58 pm on August 17, 2016 Permalink

      Your better question would ask about the highest ranks of the military. Would they accept Trump as commander-in-chief?

    • Mark 9:04 am on August 30, 2016 Permalink

      Probably, I think.

  • Mark 6:39 pm on August 16, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Algorithmic Authoritarianism and Digital Repression, , , mobile gaming, nerve, , ready player one, , , traders,   

    3 dystopian visions of the future of gaming (and capitalism) 

    73984df83f8ed2f9842aaf0b669dfa8f2d7711cfIn a near future America, the world is locked into an inglorious decline while the majority of its population is locked into an intoxicatingly expansive virtual world. Ecological crisis and economic ruin operate hand-in-hand to leave the 99% living in sprawling slums, consisting of endless stacks of trailer parks, around the periphery of the surviving cities within which some economic activity takes place. The game provides an escape from this, offering an endless array of worlds full of wonders in contrast to the grim reality of the singular world the players inhabit in the rest of their lives.

    On the surface, Ready Player One might seem to be an inditement of gaming, framing it as the source of widespread acquiescence to social collapse. But it has a much more nuanced approach than this. Firstly, there’s a profound nostalgia which suffuses the book, suggesting that what’s of most value in the cutting edge of gaming in this dystopian world inevitably borrows from and looks back to an older age of gaming from the 70s, 80s and 90s. Secondly, the narrative of the book hinges upon the possibility for re-enchantment that gaming offers. The global game into which the world’s population has immersed itself might be implicated in this widespread withdrawal from social concern, but it also offers a solution. The game itself opens up the possibility for heroism, for mass collective struggle to change the world, which ultimately makes itself felt back in the ‘real’ world.

    In this sense, the book offers a pessimistic vision of the future of capitalism but a qualified optimism about the future of gaming. It’s nonetheless realistic about the relationship between the two, with capitalism having facilitated the worst of what is latent with gaming but also being susceptible to being changed by the best that can be found within the craft of gamers.

    The recent film Nerve offers a more straight forwardly moralistic vision. It tells the story of an underground viral game called ‘Nerve’, which allows participants to be either ‘players’ or ‘watchers’. The former earn rewards for acting on dares offered by the latter, who are encouraged to follow the players around and live stream their daring actions. The first moral of the story rests upon the dangers of celebrity, suggesting that the combination of teenage social pressures and an anonymous crowd can create immense pressure, potentially leading anyone to do things they’ll later have reasons to regret. The second moral of the story is more interesting, with a slightly contrived plot being used to explain how some players get locked into a game which, because it relies on the block chain, can not simply be shut down. This expresses an interesting fear we’re perhaps likely to see ever more explorations of: socio-technical novelties that cannot be suppressed or switched off. The moralistic streak in the film undermined the potential power of its story telling here because the valiant and sneaky actions of the protagonists lead them to escape the game and destroy it. I can easily imagine a much bleaker and more interesting film which took the fear it raised seriously.

    Traders is a gloriously dark film set in post-crash Dublin, exploring the changing fortunes of young financiers who briefly had everything and now must come to terms with having lost it. Much like Nerve, Traders revolves around a viral game, trading, in which desperate bankers who’ve lost everything can agree to fight to the death for the remaining assets of their opponent. Succesful traders soon build up an impressive prize fund, incentivising others to match them and the ‘dark web’ game takes on a life and energy of its own. The logic of the game escapes its creator, whose desperate attempts to regain his hold on it leads to his own downfall, introducing elements into the game which accentuate the worst aspects of its own internal rationality.

    Ready Player One, Nerve and Traders are very different works. But what they have in common is a confrontation with the social reality of gaming. Rather than seeing gaming as an individual pursuit, involving a retreat from the social, all these works recognise the intrinsically social nature of contemporary gaming. Gaming is in the world, of the world and acts on the world. But it’s more than this: the liberation of gaming from relatively static hardware which encouraged, though by no means determined, fixture within the home has opened up an entirely new arena of socio-technical novelty.

    What Nerve, Traders and Ready Player One explore is gaming-as-social-structure. The most engaging scenes in Nerve are when the logic of the game override normative expectations in social situations: in this sense a game acts as social structure, in a way disruptive of existing social order but also leading to the generation of new forms of order. The prospect of mobile augmented gaming, particularly if it has the massively distributed game dynamics of something like Nerve, heralds a profoundly morphogenetic form of social structure i.e. its operation encourages change in everything it encounters, in unpredictable and often dangerous ways. If we see the massive growth of games like Pokemon Go, as well as their further development, I think this characteristic of games will be an ever more potent object of cultural expectation.

  • Mark 12:15 pm on August 3, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Algorithmic Authoritarianism and Digital Repression, , , , , , , ,   

    The coming army of American demagogues 

    There’s an interesting extract in this Guardian article about the growing civil war in the Republican party, concerning the adoption of Trump’s tactics by aspirant politicians within the party:

    Trump’s refusal to support McCain and Ryan comes exactly one week before Ryan faces a primary challenge from the businessman Paul Nehlen, a candidate who has sought to emulate Trump’s rhetoric and policies. Nehlen has branded Ryan “a soulless globalist” and attacked him as the candidate of open borders.""

    On Tuesday, Trump praised Nehlen for running “a very good campaign”.

    McCain is also facing a primary challenge at the end of August from Kelli Ward, a former Arizona state senator who has accused the 2008 Republican nominee of being “directly responsible for Isis”. If the five-term senator manages to fend off the primary challenge, he still faces a competitive general election against the Democratic representative Ann Kirkpatrick, in what McCain has described as “the race of my life”.

    Although Arizona was once solidly Republican, the heavily Latino state is now considered an electoral toss-up because of Trump’s unpredictable effect on candidates whose names follow his own on the ballot. For over a year, McCain has also called on Trump to apologize for saying he prefers “people who weren’t captured” to prisoners of war, like the senator was himself in Vietnam. Trump has not apologized.


    Given (a) Trump’s likely sponsorship of them (b) the relative and growing weakness of the party’s elites (c) a general tendency towards the ‘acceleration of bullshit‘, in which awareness of opportunities for advancement circulate more rapidly than was previously the case, I wonder if we’re liable to see a growing army of American demagogues. Perhaps Trump was just the beginning.

    • Dave Ashelman 4:09 pm on August 3, 2016 Permalink

      I’m an American – living and working on my Ph.D. in Canada. I’m also an American veteran. Trump(ism) is an epoch in something greater. In 2008, I saw the rise of the Tea Party, and Sarah Palin. Palin was popular, and indicative of something greater that I was seeing. Palin however, did not have the financing to make a serious run for office. As well, the Republicans (including John McCain, who Palin was running with) marginalized her, which only enflamed her base.

      Trump isn’t that far away from Palin ideologically. If you look at their speeches & declarations, they are very similar. It is not “Trump’s tactics.” It is the Tea Party’s tactics. Due to the “Palin factor” and the Tea Party movement, I view Trump as a representative agent of the people that are supporting him. If it wasn’t Palin, then it was going to be someone else (Trump). If it wasn’t Trump, it was going to be someone else. Trump wasn’t the beginning – Palin was the beginning. And if Trump wasn’t the beginning, considering his popularity not just in Arizona, but from coast to coast, he may well not be the end.

      In other words, Trump is a symbol for something much greater in American society, that is (as an American veteran who also happens to do sociology) quite frightening. Norms and values that used to be uniquely American are disappearing or transforming with each news cycle (the Khan affair, especially). Political structures that were supposed to be impervious to authoritarianism are under threat (the Supreme Court, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has said that the military will refuse to carry out the President’s orders if Trump is elected, a constitutional crisis in congress with the Russian connection is being whispered, etc).

      So wondering if there were any backings to these thought I had, if this is indeed a greater social problem, I stumbled upon this Vox article, outlining some research that some political scientists at Vanderbilt University and the University of Massachusetts have done. They found almost the same conclusion independently of each other – that this is a greater social problem that has been bubbling up for some time. The Vanderbilt professors (it turns out) predicted the rise of Trump based solely on survey data in 2009.


      This is not the end – this is just the beginning, unfortunately.

    • Mark 6:07 pm on August 5, 2016 Permalink

      I find that very plausible. Have you read Thomas Frank’s Pity the Billionaire though? I think there’s an interesting counter argument in there & that he’d draw a much sharper distinction between them.

    • Dave Ashelman 8:26 pm on August 6, 2016 Permalink

      I have not read the book – except for your snippets that you post from time to time, which I find very interesting. I’ve added it to my “to read” list as soon as I get through my current readings.

      I would agree that there is a distinction beyond just the money between Palin & Trump. But I also think about who started the Tea Party movement, for which Palin and Trump so advocate for: a commodities trader (followed by other commodities traders) on the Chicago Board of Exchange going on a rant on TV about bailing out homeless “losers” in the 2008 melee. Then I think about Angela Merkel telling the European Commission that countries hit by market failures would have to “clean up their own sh*t.” In the 2012 election, the GOP & Tea Party was always comparing the U.S. to Greece; as if to take Merkel’s words to heart.

      Wolfgang Streeck’s (2014) “Buying Time: The Delayed Crisis of Democratic Capitalism” makes a strong case that neoliberalism was culturally embedded by the end of the 1970s. Philip Mirowski (2014) “Never Let A Serious Crisis Go To Waste” makes a similar case – though he doesn’t give a date/year.

      This plugs right into my work on neoliberalism as a social movement with inequality as one (of many) specific goals. Either society drank the neoliberal Kool Aid, or society was looking for a representative to offer up their own Kool Aid – which they found first in Palin, and then in Trump. 40 years of neoliberal onslaught (including the intergenerational socialization of Kool Aid drinkers) leans me to the latter – though with reservations.

      I think America’s brush with fascism is something us Sociologists are going to be digging into for decades to come.

    • Mark 1:03 pm on August 7, 2016 Permalink

      Interesting, I hadn’t made that connection but I totally see what you mean about Streeck’s book. He was talking in such speculative terms that it didn’t leave me with any real idea about what the social domination of the liberal market over social democracy would look like. But I’m sure the Tea Party then Trumpism could be productively read in this way.

  • Mark 9:06 am on July 29, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Algorithmic Authoritarianism and Digital Repression, , , disorder, , , , , , ,   

    The Return of the Riot 

    From Joshua Clover’s Riot. Strike. Riot pg 2. He argues that the return of the riot reverses a long term trend observed by Charles Tilley, in which the riot had given way to the strike as the foremost tactic in socially available repertoires of contention:

    As the overdeveloped nations have entered into sustained, if uneven, crisis, the riot has returned as the leading tactic in the repertoire of collective action. This is true both in the popular imaginary and the realm of data (insofar as such matters give of statistical comparison). Regardless of perspective, riots have achieved an intransigent social centrality. Labor struggles have in the main been diminished to ragged defensive actions, while the riot features increasingly as the central figure of political antagonism, a specter leaping from insurrectionary debates to anxious governmental studies to glossy magazine covers.

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