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  • Mark 6:32 pm on March 8, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: anti-trust, , markets, , , regulation   

    Tech Platforms and the Knowledge Problem 

    My notes on Pasquale, F. A. (2018). Tech Platforms and the Knowledge Problem. American Affairs, 2(2)

    The most philosophically important aspect of Hayek’s work was his epistemological objection to central planning. He argued that the market was indispensable because it permitted distributed knowledge of a sort which a centralised decision maker couldn’t possibly hope to reconstruct. In this short paper, Frank Pasquale considers the renewed possibility of centralised planning which emerges when private tech giants have a gods eye view of consumer and business activity within their domains. As the examples he cites illustrate, this involves business-to-business as well as business-to-consumer insight:

    Having logged and analyzed billions of transactions, Amazon knows intimate details about all its customers and suppliers. It can carefully calibrate screen displays to herd buyers toward certain products or shopping practices, or to copy sellers with its own, cheaper, in-house offerings. Mark Zuckerberg aspires to omniscience of consumer desires, by profiling nearly everyone on Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp, and then leveraging that data trove to track users across the web and into the real world (via mobile usage and device fingerprinting). You don’t even have to use any of those apps to end up in Facebook/Instagram/WhatsApp files—profiles can be assigned to you. Google’s “database of intentions” is legendary, and antitrust authorities around the world have looked with increasing alarm at its ability to squeeze out rivals from search results once it gains an interest in their lines of business. Google knows not merely what consumers are searching for, but also what other businesses are searching, buying, emailing, planning—a truly unparalleled matching of data-processing capacity to raw communication flows.

    There is a parallel integration taking place in finance and insurance who increasingly operate in the manner of the platform. As he writes, “finance and insurance firms not only act as middlemen, taking a cut of transactions, but also aspire to capitalize on the knowledge they have gained from monitoring customers and providers in order to supplant them and directly provide services and investment”.

    We now confront “a hierarchical, centralized regime, in which corporate power is immense, and in which large national apparatuses of regulation seem to be the only entities capable of reining it in”. What he calls populist localizers, Jeffersonians,  want a new era of antitrust to break up the tech giants, whose concentration they see as impeding new entrants and further technological innovation. In contrast the Hamiltonians argue that scale is essential to technological development (e.g. machine learning) and that we simply need to update our regulatory frameworks to take account of these new developments. Though Pasquale’s suggestion interoperability standards could address their concern is an interesting one e.g. by allowing diverse social networks to interconnect in the manner of mobile telephone networks.

    This doesn’t follow a left/right divide. As he notes, a critic like Evgeny Morozov frames tech giants as natural monopolies which “get better and better at each task they take on when they have access to more and more pooled data from all the tasks they perform”. This is a reason to socialise them rather than to break them up into smaller fragments which couldn’t cope close to replicating their functionality at scale. In contrast, the Jeffersonians existing within the boundaries of contemporary statism, calling on the Federal Trade Commission to break up a firm like Facebook. For Jeffersonians concentration of data seems like a private data monopoly. For Hamiltonians it seems like a necessary measure to secure the data and mitigate the risks it generates. Understanding the basis of this disagreements rests on what a platform is:

    The largest, most successful firms of digital capitalism tend to serve as platforms, ranking and rating other entities rather than directly providing goods and services. This strategy enables the platform to outsource risk to vendors and consumers, while it reliably collects a cut from each transaction. Just as a financial intermediary profits from transaction fees, regardless of whether particular investments soar or sour, the platform pockets revenues on the front end, regardless of the quality of the relationships it brokers.

    This casts them in the role of policing the platform and adjudicating disputes, described by Pasquale as functional sovereignty when a private firm takes on functions previously confined to the nation state. They tend to assume these issue can be resolved through automation and generally take an absentee approach to what they manage. But this doesn’t matter under current antitrust law which seeks to protect competition, not competitors. The only concern is whether prices are going up or down. As Pasquale explains, this short-termism fails to take account of how superior offerings might have been in existence were it not for the competitive advantage of big tech:

    To see the practical effects of this obsession with the short-term, imagine searching for “weather” in Google, and instantly seeing its own weather forecast filling your mobile screen. Had it linked to three forecasting sites in that precious screen space, it might have directed more exposure and advertising revenue to sites with diverse interfaces, more or less information, or other variations. For example, the site WeatherSpark used to give a beautifully precise image of storms’ movement over time—the perfect visual analogue to AccuWeather’s minute-by-minute forecasts of rain or clear skies. But WeatherSpark no longer offers that service, and who knows how many other start-ups gave up on occupying this space. To establishment antitrust authorities, there is no ground to intervene—consumers get the basics of weather from Google’s interface, and it is free. It’s a short-termist outlook that omits long-run considerations in the name of a presentist scientism. In their worldview, there is no room for argument about whether better or worse alternatives do or should exist. Antitrust is supposed to protect “competition, not competitors”—and a singular lack of concern for quality translates into profound lack of interest in whether current or future competitors could do a better job than a digital behemoth. But how can we know if there is competition, if there are no competitors to provide it?

    For Hamiltonians the solution is not breaking up these firms but treating them as public utilities which can facilitate others. Regulators accepted the massiveness of power generation and phone networks but with the necessity of offering a countervailing power which could control their operations. In fact the centralisation of big tech could even be a beneficial thing in the move towards taking public control:

    In a recent podcast, the socialists of Chapo Trap House joked that they were happy to see Amazon consolidate power. Once it takes over every business in the country, it will be easy to “cut off the head” and simply impose government control over the economy. “Free Whole Foods hot bar for everyone!” was the imagined denouement. Similarly, if all the private health insurers in the United States merged, the stage would finally be set for “single payer”: the government need only take over the one insurer left standing.

    The Hamiltonian vision “can be the economic equivalent of geoengineering—an embrace of the radically new and large-scale, arising out of the sense that inequalities and climate change are such massive problems that only rapid technological advances can solve them”. In contrast to the precautionary principle of the Jeffersonians who question “whether any entity should accumulate the power necessary to, say, compare everyone’s genomes, convert millions of workers’ movements to patterns of behavior programmable in robotics, or maintain social credit scores on all citizens”. Interestingly, Pasquale places some of the blame on the expectations of investors:

    Investors demand a fantasy of monopolization: that their firm not merely occupy a field, but develop “moats” against entrants in order to guarantee both present returns and future growth. The day-to-day reality of operational budget constraints, however, pushes the same firms toward the pathologies of absentee ownership.

     
  • Mark 11:51 am on November 29, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , political economy of digital capitalism, regulation   

    Where is the agency which will reign in big tech? 

    A really interesting Vanity Fair piece exploring the assumption amongst American law makers and financiers that outrage against big tech will be limited because there is no constituency liable to be organised against it. In the absence of a collective agency pushing for political action to be taken, diffuse outrage is unlikely to lead to political action and will eventually dissipate. 

    Facebook is in a world of hurt, or so it would seem, after The New York Times published a splashy, five-byline exposé last week that documented the social-media giant’s ponderous, self-serving response to Russian infiltration of its platform. Ditto Amazon, the e-commerce juggernaut that recently cajoled New York City into coughing up billions of dollars in tax breaks to host a new office building, provoking sustained liberal outrage. Netflix is facing new rulesgoverning its film and television libraries in Europe. Google, we are told, has its own problems, from selling A.I. to improve drone strikes to the news it reportedly paid out a top executive $90 million despite the fact that he allegedly coerced a colleague into sex. If you only got your news on Twitter, you might imagine the gold rush is over for the so-called FAANGs—as Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, and Google are known—and that the era of Big Government regulation is about to begin.

     

     
  • Mark 12:21 pm on December 16, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , digitalisation of the archive, knowledge monopolies, regulation, the archive, , ,   

    The problem of abundance and the political economy of digital knowledge 

    A conversation I had recently about the digitalisation of the archive left me thinking back to this section on pg 81-82 of World Without Mind by Franklin Foer:

    There have been various stabs at coining a term to capture the dominant role of Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple. Mark Zuckerberg has called his company a “utility,” perhaps un aware how the term is historically an invitation for invasive regulation. But there’s something to his suggestion. In the industrial age, utilities were infrastructure that the public deemed essential to the functioning of everyday life—electricity and gas, water and sewage. In the end, the country couldn’t function without them, and the government removed these companies from the vicissitudes of the market, leashing them to publicly appointed commissions that set their prices. In the knowledge economy, the essential pieces of infrastructure are intellectual. With the inexhaustible choice made possible by the Internet comes a new imperative—the need for new tools capable of navigating the vastness. The world’s digital trove of knowledge isn’t terribly useful without mechanisms for searching and sorting the ethereal holdings. That’s the trick Amazon—and the other knowledge monopolists—have managed. Amazon didn’t just create the world’s biggest bookstore; it made its store far more usable, far more efficient, than browsing the aisles of a Barnes and Noble or cruising a library’s card catalog. And beyond that, Amazon anticipated your desires, using its storehouse of data to recommend your next purchase, to strongly suggest a course for navigating knowledge. This is the strange essence of the new knowledge monopolies. They don’t actually produce knowledge; they just sift and organize it. We rely on a small handful of companies to provide us with a sense of hierarchy, to identify what we should read and what we should ignore, to pick informational winners and losers. It’s incredible economic and cultural power that they have amassed because of a sudden change in the strange economics of the commodity they traffic in, a change they hastened.

    There’s something enticingly simple about this account, framing contemporary knowledge monopolies as successors to the communications monopolies of the past, inviting comparable modes of regulation.

     
  • Mark 10:13 am on February 8, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , , regulation, , , , ,   

    Uber as a moral project 

    When the Uber co-founders recount the story of their project, they stress the importance of the consumer to it. This might seem like familiar rhetoric but I want to suggest it reflects a deep (and problematic) commitment. In The Upstarts, by Brad Stone, we see how the early idea for Uber came to Garrett Camp when he was a young multi-millionaire living in San Francisco. After StumbleUpon was acquired by eBay, he found himself young, free and wealthy. From loc 617-632:

    Camp continued to work at eBay after the sale, and he was now young, wealthy, and single, with a taste for getting out of the house more often. This is when he ran headlong into San Francisco’s feeble taxi industry. For decades, San Francisco had deliberately kept the number of taxi medallions capped at around fifteen hundred. Medallions in the city were relatively inexpensive and couldn’t be resold, and owners could keep the permit as long as they liked if they logged a minimum number of hours on the road every year. So new permits usually became available only when drivers died, and anyone who applied for one had to wait years to receive it. Stories abounded about a driver waiting for three decades to get a medallion, only to die soon after. The system guaranteed a healthy availability of passengers for the taxi companies even during slow times and ensured that full-time drivers could earn a living wage. But demand for cars greatly exceeded supply and so taxi service in San Francisco, famously, sucked. Trying to hail a cab in the outer neighborhoods near the ocean, or even downtown on a weekend night, was an exercise in futility. Getting a cab to take you to the airport was a stomach-churning gamble that could easily result in a missed flight.

    He was, as Brad Stone puts it, “habitually restless, frustrated by inefficiencies, and armed with a willingness to challenge authority”. He contrived an initial solution of calling all yellow taxi companies when he needed a cab, in order to take the first one that arrived. He quickly found himself blacklisted (loc 647). He further explored how to game the existing system, learning about the mechanisms which frustrated him in the process. He developed an extensive working knowledge of how the collective interests of taxi drivers frustrated his interests as a wealthy young consumer. This generic propensity of the taxi industry to frustrate was coupled with the capacity of individual taxi drivers to fail to show such young consumers the respect they felt they deserved. From loc 771-786:

    On a separate night in Paris, the group went for drinks on the Champs-Élysées and then to an elegant late-night dinner that included wine and foie gras. At 2: 00 a.m., somewhat intoxicated after a night of revelry, they hailed a cab on the street. Apparently they were speaking too boisterously, because halfway through the ride home, the driver started yelling at them. McCloskey was sitting in the middle of the backseat, and, at five feet ten inches tall, she’d had to prop her high heels on the cushion between the two front seats. The driver cursed at them in French and threatened to kick them out of the car if they didn’t quiet down and if McCloskey didn’t move her feet. She spoke French and translated; Kalanick reacted furiously and suggested they get out of the car. The experience seemed to harden their resolve. “It definitely lit a fire,” McCloskey says. “When you are put in a situation where you feel like there’s an injustice, that pisses Travis off more than anything. He couldn’t get over it. People shouldn’t have to sit in urine-filled cabs after a wonderful night and be yelled at.” That cantankerous Paris taxicab driver may have left an indelible mark on transportation history.

    The instinct here is framed in terms of ‘disruption’ and ‘innovation’ when it is articulated. But the basic moral sentiment is how dare they put their interests over ours? It’s a consumerist entitlement rooted in the extremely specific experience of affluent young consumers. Once embedded, every attempt to preserve the status quo can be experienced as an extension of this basic affront to self-importance. What appears to regulators as an incomprehensible disregard for legality (“You can’t just open a restaurant and say you are going to ignore the health department” as they were told in an early clash, reported on loc 1693) is experienced by ‘the upstarts’ as a commendable failure to be bullied, a refusal to take shit from anyone, whether it’s haughty French taxi drivers or municipal bureaucrats serving their interests. Their professed concern for regulation can be explained away as an allegiance to taxi drivers who don’t know their place. From loc 2348:

    Still embittered by his experience with Christiane Hayashi and the SFMTA, Kalanick instructed Kochman to ignore New York’s Taxi and Limousine Commission and its rules, reasoning that its regulations, under the guise of consumer safety, were really there to protect entrenched taxi interests.

    What I’m describing as a moral project operates on two levels: an intellectual critique of entrenched interests and their failure to adequately serve consumers, as well as an underlying affectivity generated when entrenched privilege meets perceived wrong-doing. The former derives its shoving power from the latter. This is why I suspect the Uber co-founders might not simply be driving towards automation out of economic interest, but rather actually be able to take some perverse delight in rendering taxi drivers redundant as a category. As the Uber CEO excitedly put it when presented with a self-driving car for the first time: “The minute your car becomes real, I can take the dude out of the front seat” (loc 3657).

    And this moral project is one it’s demonstrably possible to enlist others into. From loc 2467:

    After Tusk joined as a consultant, Uber executives started meeting regularly with Ashwini Chhabra and his boss, David Yassky, chairman of the TLC. Officials in Bloomberg’s business-friendly administration, it turned out, were inclined to look favorably on a technology startup trying to change New York’s crusty taxi industry, which had resisted modernizing its vehicles and installing electronic credit card readers. 4 But Uber first needed to play by the rules. To truly appeal to New York drivers, Uber was going to have to register as a base.

    Pity those who find themselves on the wrong side of the great disruptive project:

    When asked about driverless cars, he said that he was excited for the technology because it could bring prices down, but he didn’t express concern about unemployment for drivers. “The reason Uber could be expensive is because you’re not just paying for the car, you’re paying for the other dude in the car,” Kalanick said. As for the tens of thousands of drivers who relied on his company to support their families, he shrugged. “This is the way of the world,” he said, “and the world isn’t always great. We all have to find ways to change.”

     
  • Mark 8:03 am on December 11, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , regulation,   

    Bounded autonomy in the workplace 

    In John Thompson’s Merchants of Culture, he describes what might be termed the bounded autonomy enjoyed by some editorial teams within publishing houses. From pg 128:

    the devolution of editorial decision-making to small editorial teams operating with a high degree of autonomy within certain financial parameters is the best way to maximize your chances of success. As one senior manager in a large corporation put it, ‘We’re giving somebody a playing field and we’re putting fences around the edge of it and saying, “If you want to cross one of those fences, you have to ask a question. But if you’re playing in the field you can do what you like.” You give people a lot of scope, but you provide a framework within which they operate.’

    I was struck by how absent this seems in (British) academia, with the possible exception of some business schools. Rather than seek to return to a full system of collegial self-regulation, does this provide a model for arguing for autonomy within managerial structures? E.g. Scholarship is something which needs autonomy to flourish but this can be bounded in terms of outcomes and rules?

    It’s worth noting that there’s a brutally instrumental attitude which underwrites this bounded autonomy. From pg 131:

    ‘There is an unspoken rule,’ explains one senior editor who has worked at Star for some 30 years, ‘put one toe out of the elevator to interfere with us and we will cut you off at the knees. And the only thing that enables us to take that attitude is profitability. As long as we make the money, we can tell them to go fuck themselves. It’s as simple and as old-fashioned as that. The second that goes wrong, we’ve had it. If we stop being profitable, the incursions will start.’

    And underlying this dynamic is a certain ineffable trait, a resistance to quantification amidst demonstrable sources of profit and gain to the organisation. From pg 131-132:

    This is part of the mystique of the imprint, ‘and the one thing corporate owners are scared shitless of is messing with mystique,’ said another senior editor. ‘Mystique is what they don’t understand. All they know is, if it works, don’t break it.’

    Thompson later offers counter-examples to this. I’m intruiged by the analogy between high prestige imprints and successful research groups. How does the negotiation of bounded autonomy empower group leaders? The figure Milena Kremakova calls ‘the troll on the bridge’ could become very powerful here: mediating pressures towards granular control within the group and negotiating bounded autonomy for the group as a whole.

     
  • Mark 9:28 am on February 2, 2016 Permalink
    Tags: , , moderation, , regulation, , , , ,   

    moderating social media and the challenge of normativity 

    This interesting article (HT Nick Couldry) explores the challenge faced by Facebook in imposing standards on a user base distributed around the globe:

    As Facebook has tentacled out from Palo Alto, Calif., gaining control of an ever-larger slice of the global commons, the network has found itself in a tenuous and culturally awkward position: how to determine a single standard of what is and is not acceptable — and apply it uniformly, from Maui to Morocco.

    For Facebook and other platforms like it, incidents such as the bullfighting kerfuffle betray a larger, existential difficulty: How can you possibly impose a single moral framework on a vast and varying patchwork of global communities?

    If you ask Facebook this question, the social-media behemoth will deny doing any such thing. Facebook says its community standards are inert, universal, agnostic to place and time. The site doesn’t advance any worldview, it claims, besides the non-controversial opinion that people should “connect” online.

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-intersect/wp/2016/01/28/the-big-myth-facebook-needs-everyone-to-believe/

    Their ‘global community standards’ are the mechanism through which the digital activity of over one and a half billion users is policed. But these regulations have an uncertain grounding in the normative judgements of the user base: the aggregate of users are far too heterogeneous (to say the least) to facilitate any layer of moral intuition which can reliably buttress the legitimacy of the global community standards. This problem is amplified by two factors:

    Facebook has modified its standards several times in response to pressure from advocacy groups — although the site has deliberately obscured those edits, and the process by which Facebook determines its guidelines remains stubbornly obtuse. On top of that, at least some of the low-level contract workers who enforce Facebook’s rules are embedded in the region — or at least the time zone — whose content they moderate. The social network staffs its moderation team in 24 languages, 24 hours a day.

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-intersect/wp/2016/01/28/the-big-myth-facebook-needs-everyone-to-believe/

    Having moderators embedded in a region might help on occasion. But this would assume the normativity of the region is any less fragmented and, as the Centre for Social Ontology’s recent book explores, we cannot assume this to be true. What’s more likely is that this vast army of poorly paid moderators will exercise little to no autonomy over their tasks, with the Facebook standards nonetheless being inflected through their variable judgement i.e. they won’t try and deviate from the global standards but they inevitably will do, in an unpredictable way, as any individual evaluator necessarily does when imposing a rule in particular cases.

    So companies like Facebook and Twitter rely on an army of workers employed to soak up the worst of humanity in order to protect the rest of us. And there are legions of them—a vast, invisible pool of human labor. Hemanshu Nigam, the former chief security officer of MySpace who now runs online safety consultancy SSP Blue, estimates that the number of content moderators scrubbing the world’s social media sites, mobile apps, and cloud storage services runs to “well over 100,000”—that is, about twice the total head count of Google and nearly 14 times that of Facebook.

    This work is increasingly done in the Philippines. A former US colony, the Philippines has maintained close cultural ties to the United States, which content moderation companies say helps Filipinos determine what Americans find offensive. And moderators in the Philippines can be hired for a fraction of American wages. Ryan Cardeno, a former contractor for Microsoft in the Philippines, told me that he made $500 per month by the end of his three-and-a-half-year tenure with outsourcing firm Sykes. Last year, Cardeno was offered $312 per month by another firm to moderate content for Facebook, paltry even by industry standards

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-intersect/wp/2016/01/28/the-big-myth-facebook-needs-everyone-to-believe/

    Is there any accountability here? It’s certainly possible to influence the global community standards but, as the article notes, this influence is profoundly opaque. Meanwhile, there are good reasons to think that challenge and adjudication simply couldn’t work at this scale. How would it operate? Given it seems content moderators might compromise as much as half the workforce of social media sites, it’s worth thinking about how labour intensive a potential appeals process would be. Why go to that trouble when you can err on the side of simply taking down something on the grounds that someone thinks it’s offensive? Without finding some way to solve the normativity problem described earlier, how to underwrite legitimacy within an aggregate characterised by low social integration, there’s also no obvious ethical counter balance to this organizational tendency.

     
  • Mark 7:22 pm on October 24, 2015 Permalink
    Tags: , las vegas, legality, lyft, , regulation, , taxis, , ,   

    a foretaste of the coming uber wars 

    This is a fascinating buzzfeed article about Uber’s successful encroachment into the Las Vegas market, in the face of massive opposition:

    But tonight, for the first time, there were Uber cars among the limos and cabs. One picked up a fare at Caesars Palace and embarked on what would have been one of the first Uber rides in Vegas. But before it could leave the hotel roundabout, the Uber was cut off by two unmarked cars, sirens blaring. Two men burst out, ordered everyone out of the Uber, and told the driver to put his hands on the car’s hood. They were masked and wearing bulletproof vests.

    They were officers from the Taxicab Authority and the Nevada Transportation Authority (NTA), and they had been tasked with stopping Uber from doing business in Las Vegas until it acquired the proper approvals from the city and county. The driver was cited and fined. Hours later, the NTA filed an injunction application against Uber in Carson City, Nevada. (In subsequent testimony before The Senate Committee on Transportation, NTA chair Andrew MacKay claimed the agency was not on scene at the sting.)

    http://www.buzzfeed.com/johanabhuiyan/sex-drugs-and-transportation?utm_term=.lk52qj6Ydz

    The Vegas taxi market is massive, accruing $290,354,312 so far this year, as well as heavily protected by local government in a way few, if any, others are. This is what makes it such an interesting case for looking at the playbook uber is likely to bring to future disputes:

    During its ascension to ride-hail market supremacy, the company developed and stress-tested an effective playbook for entering even the toughest of markets. A combination of clashing with local governments, grassroots activism, and lobbying, it brought Uber success in cities like Portland, Oregon, which vehemently opposed it. Uber brought that blueprint to bear on Vegas as well. It entered the market without permission; it called on locals to sign a petition to the governor; it hired more than a dozen of the best lobbyists in the state to make its case. 

    http://www.buzzfeed.com/johanabhuiyan/sex-drugs-and-transportation?utm_term=.lk52qj6Ydz

    As on many other occasions, Uber began by unilaterally exempting themselves from existing regulatory structures:

    On the morning of Oc. 24, Uber launched its UberX service in Las Vegas — apparently without permission to do so. The company didn’t have the required business license from Clark County, nor had it applied for one.

    Uber claims that it didn’t think it needed to. But entering a market before it’s legal and asking for forgiveness rather than permission is a standard marker of the Uber playbook. Asked at a Nov. 25 hearing why it didn’t resolve any regulatory issues before operating, company attorney Don Campbell said to a District Court judge, “Because we don’t believe the statutes apply.” The company has long maintained that it’s a technology platform, not a transportation service; why should it need the common carrier license all taxi and limo companies require?

    http://www.buzzfeed.com/johanabhuiyan/sex-drugs-and-transportation?utm_term=.lk52qj6Ydz

    But this disregard for regulatory structured was actually rather suited to their new environment, characterised as it was by a “a kickback system built over decades and closely tied to the city’s tourism industry” and an obviously questionable degree of proximity between existing firms and the regulators. This goes some way to explaining the ensuing legislative battle, which Buzzfeed helpfully illustrate with this roadmap:

      
    Astonishingly, in under two weeks, Uber and Lyft drivers have been cited 87 times by local police for “taking fares to and from McCarran International Airport without the business licenses to do so”. It’s this wilful disregard for regulatory structures, something which clearly pervades the company from top to bottom, which fascinates me about Uber (and to a lesser extent Lyft). Their emerging playbook for breaking into markets, as well as the sheer aggression they show when doing so, promises fireworks as they continue to enact their planned pivot into a global just-in-time logistics operation.

     
  • Mark 6:37 pm on June 30, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , freedom of speech, regulation, , ,   

    The regulation of academic social media use 

    This is a subject I’ve wanted to research for some time but have struggled to see how. I suspect we are seeing the very early stages of a backlash against the uptake of social media by academics – encompassing both the regulation of its ‘improper’ use and the incentivisation of its ‘proper’ use, with the latter being in practice no less pernicious than the former. This recent article in Inside Higher Education framed it as common sense that we need policies to clarify such an ambiguous situation:

    From censored tweets to viral videos of professors’ partisan “rants,” numerous faculty members have found themselves in hot water over how they’ve used or been portrayed on social media in the past year. For faculty members at most colleges and universities, social media is a kind of “wild west” in which there are few – if any – articulated policies protecting professors’ right to tweet, post or otherwise share professional or personal thoughts (or to keep their thoughts private).

    That’s a problem, said Henry Reichman, professor emeritus of history at California State University at East Bay and chair of the American Association of University Professors’ Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure. He delivered the plenary address at AAUP’s annual conference here Thursday, aptly called “Can I Tweet That?”

    “We need policies, but what we need are good policies,” said Reichman, emphasizing that faculty members and their elected leaders should be involved in drafting such social media policies “from the get-go.”

    http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2014/06/13/aaup-conference-sessions-focus-academic-freedom-relation-social-media#ixzz369Gb5yK6

    To be fair, the article contrasts (good) “faculty-driven policy” to (bad) policy formulated by university managers. But is this dichotomy really tenable? To discuss regulation admits the premise that such control would be legitimate – is this the case? If so then it needs to be argued for in principle, rather than be smuggled in surreptitiously in the guise of pragmatism about the potential implications of academic social media use. It’s not obvious that regulation is necessary, all the more so when we consider broader trends towards precarious work within the academic labour market.

    I think this is a very complex issue. Much more so than anything I’ve read on the subject seems to acknowledge. This will be a large section of the final chapter of Social Media for Academics but I’m quite far away from being in a position to write it. My views on the issue are being shaped by some of the experiences that have been recounted to me in private – it’s difficult to know the extent to which these reflect a broader tendency beginning to emerge in UK higher education. If anyone has had experience of these issues and would like to talk then please do get in touch (mark@markcarrigan.net). It goes without saying that any experience recounted to me will be treated in the strictest confidence.

     
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