📡 We need a PBS for the Internet age

Democracy Disrupted Newsletter #6

Hello from drizzly Oxford!

I have three new things to share — a piece I wrote last week for the Washington Post, another for New Socialist, and a new episode of Democracy Disrupted with Brianna Wu. I also chose four must-read stories about tech, journalism and politics from around the media cyclone.

I'm still thinking through how I want to use this newsletter and the podcast, it's a bit of juggling while also doing the school thing (blarg) and the other projects I suck myself into, and maintaining the glimmer of a life beyond the computer! So hopefully you're comfortable with me mix-and-matching and tinkering :)


📻 We need a PBS for the Internet age // The Washington Post

This piece went up last week, and is an issue that’s at the core of both my current graduate research and what I plan to work on afterward. I’d love thoughts and feedback, critiques too! It’s a somewhat wide open space, policy wise. As I argue in the piece — a healthy public sphere needs a healthy public media. We’ve built the equivalent for television and radio. Now it’s time to do it for the Internet.

I also want to underline a point I raise in the article but wasn’t the core focus: Facebook and Google’s recent announcements to invest a combined $600 million in local news (via grant programs in which they make all the decisions) also means that American journalism will now be subsidized by big tech at a level on par with public funding (the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s budget is only about $445 million, and total state funding is about $235 million… NEA and NEH grants to public media are essentially pennies). Not ideal! However, to drive this home even further, this is a part of the piece that got cut to squeeze down the word count:

U.S. Public media funding is anemic in comparison to other western nations.  According to a 2016 report commissioned by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the U.S. spends roughly $3 per capita on public media with public funds, the average for 18 Western nations in the report is $86.  Norway spends about $180 per capita each year on its public broadcasters; the U.K., $114.  The CPB has a budget of $445 million, compared to the BBC’s $4.9 Billion, Germany’s two major public service broadcasters’ shared $9 billion, or even Canada’s $1.2 billion parliamentary appropriation to serve a population roughly one tenth the size of America’s.

Also, highly recommend checking out Free Press’ recent “Beyond Fixing Facebook” white paper (thanks to Tim Karr for pointing it out in a really nice way!)

👾 An interview with Brianna Wu on Running for Congress, Tech Regulation, and Gamergate // Democracy Disrupted, Oxide Radio

For the latest Dem Disrupted episode I interviewed Brianna Wu, who is again running for Congress to represent Massachusetts 8th district in greater Boston, she is a software dev, co-hosts the “Rocket” podcast on Relay FM, and co-founded the Giant Spacekat game company.  She is also a vocal advocate against online harassment and abuse, as she was a major target of Gamergate’s misogynistic hate campaign which laid groundwork for the alt-right's tactics and violence.

Apple podcast link here: https://t.co/KXa4C38HNh

🎡 Once more for those at the top: fake news is a symptom // New Socialist

This is a longer piece that, truth be told, grew out of one of those classic car arguments with my boyfriend about Silicon Valley’s attitude of technological determinism toward the societal problems it creates. We’ll probably argue about it again, which is good cuz I’ll have more to write.

Here’s sort of the heart of it though, if you want the context chucked away:

And yet, to believe the inevitability narrative is to give in to a free-market nihilism afloat in a void of any serious social thought. One of the most powerful things about today’s digital technologies is their power to obfuscate complexity, or in computer science terms, achieve higher levels of abstraction. An architecture that displaces direct human involvement as all the routine processing and decision-making disappears into an algorithmic black box, a system riddled with such complexity that no single person can understand how it all fits together. It’s a tempting allegory for understanding society itself — particularly if you build algorithms. “People do what they do, it’s too complicated to really understand why.” No need for your Conflict Theory to explain things; society is data, and the data is ineffable. In this worldview, all we can do is react to the inevitable march of progress. And don’t bother asking “progress for whom?”, it’s the apotheosis of man-and-machine; you’ll know it when you see it. And hey, change is hard.

The excellent Wendy Liu edited this piece, I highly recommend her newsletter, and her Tribune piece Abolish Silicon Valley.


👁 Four Must Reads 👁


That’s it! Ping me with thoughts!

Erik

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