After Post Truth, I share my Radical Digital Media Literacy website

December 3, 2018

I had the pleasure of attending the 2nd International Conference on Interface Politics, “After Post-Truth,” in Barcelona, Spain, November 28-30, 2018. Scores of speakers, hours of intensity, dark findings about seamless interfaces—even so, the experience was deeply replenishing for no reason more central than that there I was, in Spain no less, and in community with many many others, from around the world, all of us, paying attention. This, the conference co-organizer, Jorge Luis Marzo (with Bani Brusadin) described at our introductory sessions as “an urgent abandonment from the real being replaced by our desire and will to freedom.”

While I can not cover all that I learned, or even all that moved me there (people and their ideas and actions), I will use this brief recap of the highlights of the proceedings to help me to better understand critical frameworks that link to the work I have been doing towards the completion and release of my new website (thanks Ethel Moore and Partner and Partners), fakenews-poetry.org: a useful and pretty container holding the media, ephemera, and yes, the poems, that I have been producing with so many others by initiating, in 2018, something like fifteen Fake News Poetry Workshops, around the world, as Radical Digital Media Literacy given the Fact of Fake News. For some, this post might serve as an introduction to the larger #100hardtruths-#fakenews project (initiated during the first 100 days of the Trump administration, thanks to Craig Dietrich for that website), while for others, it might be a recap of the concerns and practices the project engages or a chance to see your own work held alongside that of others who engaged in different places and communities.

But most importantly, this post and the site serves as an invitation to mount and run your own Workshop, in your community, with your own poets, theorists, and participants (feel free to reach out to me! Stage 2 of the website will build out more how-to documents.)

But the project is always, also about sharing what we do and know about fake news and related travesties. In Barcelona, I learned about a number of exciting sister projects, all seeking, as do I, to break through the transparency of interfaces, and to reveal, understand, undermine, or remake all that might be algorithmically, ideologically, financially, and psychically hidden behind the ever more huge and inapproachable back-end, our frothy frozen impenetrable cloud:

  • bellingcat: the home of online investigations.
  • HyperNormalization by Adam Curtis.
  • Safebook by Ben Grosser. Facebook without the content!
  • Algorithms Allowed, and much more charting the real costs of “free” interfaces (see image below), by Joana Moll,
  • Digital Dietetics, by Javier Lopes, Pedro Fernandez de Castro, and Victor Sampedro. Their project uses a dietary model to facilitate a critical digital citizenship where limiting consumption, setting collective goals for media interaction, and being with others who know more are steps towards better digital health.
  • the films of Metahaven, emphasizing our simultaneous time-scales, each a version of competing or even co-exiting realities: real for people in parallel, these versions  are incompatible and also all “true.”

Joana Moll, DEFOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOREST

As critically for my own heart, mind, and practice, I heard presentations that named dynamics that help focus or nuance some of my own perhaps more inchoate motives for the fakenews-poetry project:

  • Doro Wiese‘s explanation that information does not not allow us to feel in time, and then many related pleas for slowness.
  • a shared response by many of the speakers to begin research into the (very recent) past of the internet to understand how earlier cycles of sudden technological, corporate, and digital change have been reacted to by humans.
  • careful attention to delineate between the precise terms and functions of a variety of truth vocabularies—veracity, sincerity, frankness, persuasion, evidence, proof—both in regards to how information is produced, packaged, and sold but also for our (changing) sense of selves as political, psychoanalytic, and human subjects, sometimes embodied.
  • an understanding of truth in a time of post-facts as that which produces a sense of coherence, even if it is false, and despite any evidence, thus a new kind of “partisan knowledge” (Emillie V. De Keulenaar)
  • a related set of attempts to understand how algorithms and computational propaganda have been used to “dismiss, distort, distract, and dismay” (Berke Alikasifoglu and Gabriele Cosentino)
  • several returns to Hito Steyerl’s idea of the “poor image” (what I have called “bad video” in my perhaps old but still too-valid YouTube work), and its links to veracity, and more so addiction, and its sustaining but false forms of intimacy (one click away, so close, just nearby, an immediacy [do see Pooja Rangan here!])
  • significant work on new and consolidating interface realisms (what Christian Andersen and Soren Polk call the “metainterface,” one that both represents and produces our new [fake, post-truth] realities, all the while obscuring the labor, networks, and other resources that produce it).
  • a continuing keen attention to collectives, commons, publics, and lived networks, including the work by Marco Deseriis on “Condividual” activities: “sharing as ‘dividing’ together.”

Then, some useful questions and tactics:

  • do people even want to be truthful (anymore)?
  • strive for trust over truth: create invitations to engage with evidence rather than statements of truth which only lead to suspicion (Enrico Beccari)
  • Pay Attention to What I do Not Say

With this last tactic as a directive and method, I will conclude by nodding briefly at what was impossible not to notice as being invisible and unsaid at this wonderful event: the many approaches, politics, people, and theories whose names and terms and needs were never (or rarely) uttered over hours and days of astute and informative analysis: that is, just about anything to do with race, ethnicity, sexuality, sex, indigeneity, ability, age and as often as not gender or feminism. These body- and place-based, situated politics, theories, lived experiences and methods with their own regal, lengthy, powerful ideas, movements, and actions that have been so central to our experiences, analyses, critiques and movements about the internet and its world (from #Blacklivesmatter to #metoo, from Donna Haraway to my/our own femtechnet and in particular our “Critical Race and Ethnic Studies Workbook“) were, oddly, invisibilized. A cultural and intellectual outsider, I am not sure why these movements and their core theories and practices of justice, epistemology, creativity, and sustainability were not go-to reservoirs of inspiration and power for most of my fellow panelists. Certainly, a significant amount of the evil, despair, violence, and injustice that has been enacted in and by corporate and political regimes of post-truth have been against others seemingly marked by difference of race, gender, sexuality, citizenship, and otherwise. And, responsive movements have been mounted digitally, and otherwise, in response. Perhaps the connection of these movements and methods to “identity” or the “body” or “community” or “care” or the “individual” make these vital traditions seem inadequate in the face of the immensity of our data and its infrastructure that enclouds us? I really don’t understand … But, I will not testify to the definitive necessity of these traditions, because that’s been done everywhere by my allies and colleagues for decades (you can find many links to such research and action in the #100hardtruths primer), but I will end by repeating what I said in my own presentation:

I want to engage in alternative formats for the generation and movement of meaningful fragments, post truth but gentle, not easily spreadable or digestable, not expendable, but rather demanding your attention and care—so perhaps for this moment at least, made for and consumed by small local groups that will listen together in time. With diverse participants in unique places, I am exploring truth and authentication systems that veer away from cameras, and indexical “truth,” thus mobilizing other systems outside of journalistic evidence or slick socials. I want to engage in alternative formats for the generation and movement of meaningful fragments that can mobilize and save honest expressions about our lived experiences of the internet’s deceptions in ways that might momentarily liberate us, or at least partially remove us from the logics of capitalist and governmental watching and lying that have underwritten this dangerous dishonest flow.

What if we aimed for gentle truths? For now.

From Toronto Fake News Poetry Workshop

 

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