Storify for Public Diplomacy

The Storify for my lecture on new media and public diplomacy can be viewed by clicking here.

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Digital Outlaws: Social Rejection of the Political Economy in Intellectual Property

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The concept of technological determinism (TD) is essentially a “chicken and the egg” argument. There is a circular relationship where at any point the existence of one necessitates the prior existence of the other. Chickens are born from eggs, but then where did the first chicken come from? There would have been no pre-existing chickens to lay its egg. Looking to information technologies, we look at communication systems and attempt to postulate which effects the other. Was the smartphone randomly invented, radically altering society? Or did society have a need for a mobile computing device, thus prompting the creation of the smartphone? Indeterminacy ties into this thinking, when after observance one is incapable of determining which initiated a circular relationship between two phenomena.

Söderberg asks did the politicization of the computer engineering field lead to outlaw-like behavior, thus necessitating the expansion intellectual property (IP) and the introduction of digital rights management (DRM) technology? Or, did the expansion of IP and the introduction of DRM technology infringe on the materialist rights of computer engineers, politicizing their industry and spurring retaliatory collective action constituting outlaw-like behavior? Based on Gillespie’s findings, Söderberg concludes that TD is not precisely the correct framework for understanding the true relationship between computer engineer behavior and digital software governance.

John tackles the semantic battle between “piracy” and “file sharing” as the descriptor of digital outlaw behavior towards the intellectual property. I see the two as substantively separate activities. Denoting pirates of old stealing from their victims, I see “piracy” as the initial act of taking something from the person who has the inherent ownership rights. “File sharing” is the subsequent behavior where anyone can get their hands on the stolen property, but they were not the initial perpetrators and in no way interacted with the inherent owner. Not unlike stealing jewelry, the initial crime was committed thief, however, if he/she gives the jewelry to someone who intuitively suspects merchandise to have been stolen, they, in turn, have something they know was obtained illegally but were not the ones to steal it themselves.

Unlike traditional sharing, file sharing is not a zero-sum game, where sharing candy is a social good because it leaves the giver with less. Copying digital files creates abundance, from which it does not hurt me to share with you. This fundamentally alters the market through shifting the supply and demand model of distribution. Thus, some of the inherent good semantically built into “file sharing” is lost. Further, the ambivalence invested in “sharing” reminds me of a Robin Hood-ism in taking from the rich to help the poor. While these social-economic parallels exist, shared data do not substantively improve quality of life. An American does not meaningfully “live better” with one new song or movie, and due to overabundance, the 3rd-world black market DVD seller still barely scrapes by selling 50 “pirated” or “shared” movies for $2. In spite of its Robin Hoodsian light, “file sharing” is not a socialist or Marxist fix for social class independence.

Foreign Policy and the Internet: Coalitions for Solving Global Problems

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Dr. Philip Seib’s Huffington Post article “Public Diplomacy in the Pacific” assesses the role of U.S. public diplomacy in East Asia and the South Pacific. Specifically, he criticizes the China-centric concept of U.S. strategy in the region, in favor of a more coalition-type effort among a variety states directed toward solving collective issues, namely climate change and the North Korean situation.

Since Seib’s article addresses U.S. governmental to foreign governmental involvement in foreign affairs, the article is more pertinent to the Comor & Bean article; addressing both traditional and digital outreach on the part of the government, they claim that US strategy is ultimately self-defeating because it is based on self-serving interests, not the genuine interest in collective good it claims to be. While US policy is typically state-specific, Seib argues that utilizing public diplomacy to address global problems could orient the US around issues in which there is a collective invested interest in solving. Per Comor & Bean, such a shift could reframe US public diplomacy more as, “ethically structured modes of communication” which would reduce the negative perception of a “persistent unilateralism” in US involvement abroad.

While Asian and Pacific states including South Korea, Japan, the Philippines, Australia, and New Zealand are sympathetic to the ideals of the liberal world order, other states such as Vietnam, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia are much more controlling in nature. While Shirky doesn’t tie in directly to Seib’s article, in talking about the power of new media in the hands of mass audiences to affect policy, such a perspective would affect the ability of US foreign policy to forge a Pacific coalition to deal with world problems. As Seib mentions of climate change, most of Asia is based on or near water, so rising sea levels threaten both the governments and people of the continent. However, due to the highly authoritarian nature of many countries in East/Central Asia, many people there are oppressed by their governments. Whereas US policy is interested in spreading “internet freedom,” to do so would be counterproductive toward forging a multilateral coalition of Pacific states. It’s like putting a child in a candy shop; the US could see potential in establishing democracies in the region through the social action of digitally mobile citizens in such states, however, such behavior would be in contrast to global cooperation and is in nature unethical as it seeks to interfere with the internal workings of foreign governments.

Politics at the international level is a highly complex activity. In an age of globalism, all states, including the US, must work more with foreign entities. What the US must do is decide if it is committed to the Comor & Bean approach and constructively engage states through ethical public diplomacy, or the Shirky approach where it seeks to undermine authoritarian regimes with Internet freedom, in favor of protecting the inherent rights of people across the world as conceived of by the liberal world order.

Viral Online Media: The Memetic Characteristics of “Je Suis Charlie”

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Following the 2015 ISIS attack on Charlie Hebdo, the slogan, “Je Suis Charlie” trended virally per Italie’s article, “‘Je Suis Charlie’ message goes viral after Paris attack” in the Boston Globe, as well as in academic literature. While not as organized an event as the Ice Bucket Challenge or Kony 2012, the memetic virality behind the slogan speaks to many elements touched on in the readings.

Burger & Milkman explored the dichotomy between positive and negative news, and I agree that positive content has a stronger psychological effect, however, media theories on newsworthiness help to explain why the shocking nature of negative content typically dominates the news. However, where they explore emotion as driving social transmission, they explain either positive or negative content can be effective. I argue that the most viral content achieves such social transmission through merging positive and negative emotions. “Je Suis Charlie” trended out of feelings of pain and sorrow, but also out of solidarity and a sense of kinsmanship. I believe that more than any cute puppy (respecting the power of pets, per Peretti), social phenomena that can merge both positive and negative feelings into one powerful kaleidoscope of emotional activation can generate the greatest extent of social transmission.

Considering Alhabash & McAlister’s definition of virality, #JeSuisCharlie included viral reach through volume of usage, affective evaluation in that social peers could like such posts or images using the hashtag, and it allowed for message deliberation in the ability of social peers to engage in dialogue about the shooting. As a proponent of Uses and Gratifications, I liked the inclusion of the framework to discuss virality. I think the use of the slogan linked people globally in a social experience from which they received some latent gratification. Parisians may have taken comfort in the world’s show of solidarity, while people abroad may have felt internal satisfaction through supporting France as a cultural commodity, or maybe they visited Paris themselves as is was the top tourist destination in the world. Further supporting the findings suggesting that people engage in the “least cognitively demanding behavior” (p. 1331), using the slogan was overly simplistic; it did not require real-world exertion, it was a popular and easy thing to do, along with changing profile pictures. Ignoring discussions of slacktivism, the readings go a long way toward helping to understand and explain the memetic virality behind “Je Suis Charlie.”

While the slogan went viral naturally, Peretti’s methods for purposively achieving virality translate well. It was emotionally charged and touched on “the heart;” it employed identity creation or reinforcement through solidarity with the French; it flourished out of contextual proximity to world events at the time; it was mobile friendly; it could have invoked nostalgia for anyone who had visited Paris; it touched on basic human rights for security and the right to live free of fear; and it was something people were proud to share or post.

 

Algorithms: The Navigators of Complex Systems

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I would explain algorithms to an eight-year-old in terms of a transportation metaphor. In such a metaphor, the internet would constitute a massive and complex city; we, as users, need to travel to different locations for different purposes. While the platforms we use (Google, Facebook, Twitter), are the vehicles that get us from point A to point B, a vehicle doesn’t operate on its own; it requires a driver to interpret the needs of the rider (us) and then determine the best path to take. I would equate algorithms as the operators of the vehicle (platform) with us in the back seat (users) getting us where we need to be, or what we need to have, in order to accomplish the tasks we want to accomplish (consume information; buy products; socialize, etc.).

Outside of search engines and social networking platforms, one of the biggest areas algorithms affect my online behavior is in product purchasing. Specifically looking at Amazon, my typical history involved buying sports paraphernalia or movies. However, since starting my Ph.D. my purchasing behavior has shifted dramatically to buying academic books. While these books have ranged from philosophy, to communication, to political science, Amazon’s governing algorithm has adjusted to my new behavior and has changed “Suggested Items” to almost solely books, but even more interesting books centered exactly on my research area despite the fact that it is an inter-disciplinary concoction I made myself. This is where I most agree with Wilson’s call that we much be willing to adjust our conception algorithms, recognizing them as responsive and generative (p. 141). I have now bought so many books that Amazon recommended to me based on my purchase history (responsive), that I have been lead down new paths of research based solely on literature I’ve discovered thanks to Amazon’s algorithm (generative).

Having written the previous section before reading Crawford’s article, it is clear how her second scene based on buying recommended specialty books on Amazon relates to me especially. While I agree with Crawford and Gillespie that there are mathematically derived communities with which I feel an affinity (p. 80), for example, academics in my field on Twitter, I would counter that not all such communities generate affinity. When considering recommended books, I don’t care who else bought those books, I only evaluate my interest in them based on their topic and relevancy to my research; I feel no affinity whatsoever to the demographic under which Amazon’s algorithm has classified me.

More broadly, I think there is a strange power to algorithms, not perhaps on the level of artificial indigence, but in their ability to generate patterns beyond what even the code writers can understand (p. 79-80). I think that is just as much an area of concern; not only do we need to worry about what people and corporations are using algorithms to do (violate privacy, etc.), but what algorithms can do on their own outside of the scope of human oversight and control.

Privacy: The Crux between Democracy and Capitalism

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Twitter is highly important to my professional brand, thus I chose to use the platform as my case analysis.

Democracy and capitalism are not as linked as mainstream American society thinks. U.S. law defends the rights of corporations, however, it does not hold them to a higher standard of behavior as in Europe, for example. We must remember that, as Kovacs mentioned, companies are concerned with profit margins, and until laws are made or their profits fall due to public concern over privacy issues, they have a vested interest in continuing to exploit this loophole.

I also agree with Kovacs that data mining is not done with fully malicious intent. Understanding users better allows governing algorithms to better serve them, suggesting better books or movies so that they can optimize what services users receive. Twitter’s policy openly states this in “Twitter for Wed Data” (para. 15), and most interestingly makes those results available to profile owners.

While Taddicken explored the “privacy paradox,” I think it’s important to consider that people rarely have a large social scope when looking at themselves; we think “x” horrible thing happens to others, not ourselves. Thus, we are disinclined to really consider our own security on platforms with hundreds of millions, if not billions, of people because the statistical likelihood seems small, even though everything about digital privacy tells us it isn’t. I use a plurality of platforms professionally, and, in line with Taddicken’s findings, I share personal info less. I feel comfortable with what online “stalkers” know about me.

I disagree with Fuchs on applying socialistic political economy to analyze a capitalistic system. Under social concerns of wealth distribution, privacy protection vs. invasion is an issue colored by wealthy corporations exploiting lower-income users (i.e. privacy fetishism). However, this does not consider services received. Users pay for the service of Facebook or Twitter’s software, not with money but with information; if users didn’t receive anything, per Uses and Gratifications theory, they would not be using the platforms. Therefore, in such a digital transaction, both users and providers receive service or compensation that they deem to be fair, if not a bargain. Until users see such transactions as not fair, again per Kovacs, this transaction is the personification of capitalism, i.e. what the American system is built around.

Democracy affords us rights, including the right to give away our rights. As Twitter states in clear and simplistic terms, usage of the platform signifies agreement with the terms of service; don’t academic syllabi work the same way? If you stay in a class you agree to the rules. We all know students don’t read syllabi, but they are held accountable to it this contract regardless. As long as users “spend their votes” as is, they have little cause to say they have been duped or violated when user policies such as Twitter openly states that usage of the platform is consent for the usage of private information as the company sees fit (para. 2).

 

Twitter: From Political Quarreling, to Papal Blessings, to a Rapping Puerto Rican, just what is normal in the Twitterverse?

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I’m an avid Twitter user (@phil_arceneaux) of a professional nature. I use it to connect and engage with academics in my field. That being said, I am working to try and “privatize” my account, making it reflect a more personal me beyond just a dry and crusty scholar-in-training.

To start off, my list of randomly followed people came from Dean McFarlin‘s list of followers, the thought being that they would ideally be academics or practitioners who I would identify with in some general way. As for my list, MMC6612UF, I chose to follow a wide range of socially influential voices (religious, political, artistic, athletic, and entrepreneurial) identifying with a wide range of ideological perspectives.

Crandall & Cunningham noted how Twitter has this ability to expose us to new people and perspectives (p. 24), however, I question how true that actually is. Via my list, I absorbed content from Rush Limbaugh, Paul Ryan, and Richard Spencer. They are people I never would have engaged with outside this assignment. Like Will said, we tend to follow those who agree with us, or who at least don’t offend us. Looking back to digital niches, if Twitter allows us to only see what we want, even in the face of intrusive hashtags, does Twitter really expose us to 320 million people or just the elements of it we want to be influenced by?

Crandall & Cunningham also discuss how Twitter “contributes to solidarity,” (p. 26). Looking beyond the South Florida conception of Hurricane Irma, which was typically reinforced by my media-centric Dean McFarlin users, my list included Lin-Manuel Miranda, a Puerto Rican descendant who has used his voice numerous times (both literally and figuratively) to raise awareness of the intense conditions faced in Puerto Rico both normally and during the hurricane. Without following him, I never would have had such a non-South Florida-based viewpoint of the hurricane experience. So I do think that once we choose to move beyond our own shells of comfort there are new perspectives waiting for us.

One element from Brock that I thought was unique was his (and Scheidt’s) mention of digital sub-groups as being unique through their linguistic syntax (p. 531). From my list, one could clearly see Pope Francis, Lin-Manuel, and Tom Brady using very different language as they engaged with very different audiences. Their diction naturally matched the audiences they wanted to engage with, and that in turn helped to make them more attractive to appropriate Twitter audiences.

Lastly, Brock mentioned of CTDA that it helped to “understand how culture shapes technologies” (p. 531), however, technological determinism would ask does not technology also influence culture? Would the 2016 presidential election have been the exact same without Twitter? Would Lin-Manuel and Hamilton have been so popular without Twitter? Would #DeflateGate have followed Brady so long without Twitter? Would hurricane information, preparation, and evacuation be the exact same without Twitter? Questions we will never have answers to!