One post-election 2016 viral-wonder—the crisis of “fake news” in the wake of the 2016 presidential election—was a logical and necessary outgrowth of the web’s sordid infrastructure, prurient daily pleasures, and neoliberal political economy.

Fake things abound on the internet—as do true ones, to be sure—because its current infrastructure is based upon amoral principles that do not measure, value, or correct for  candor or integrity. Rather, popularity, volume, consumption, sales, and entertainment rule the day and the form. As I argued in my 2011 on-line video-book Learning from YouTube, while there’s nothing wrong with any of these qualities per se, they are not the best forums to sustain and promote education, and they may be even less well equipped to support news, elections, democracies, or civil societies.

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Truth #1 is a deceptively simple start and intentionally so. It mirrors in its construction two organizing structures and conventions of the internet and the social media it spawns: namely, 1) many paradoxes structure the place and its experiences and 2) its user-experienced minimalism hides complexity (among other things):

  • What is the “real” internet? It is hard to see and thus hard to say. Is the internet the corporate overlay where the vast majority of us play? The protocols, controls and networks that underwrite this? The governments, corporations, and tech companies that own and write it? The deep web that sits below all that?
  • What is the “fake” internet? It is hard to see and thus hard to say. Is the internet the empowering, intoxicating illusions of freedom, democracy, self-expression, and openness that have been intentionally linked to an ease of use, abundance, and play thereby hiding its darker corporate, censorious, surveilled, controlled nature?
  • Why aphorisms? Like tweets, they can pack a wallop and they move swiftly and easily in relation to the norms of contemporary internet use. I suggest that they function with more power, and usefullness (at least for movements of social change), when they are associated with, and linked to, the complexity that comes with research, writing, data, community and context (see below):

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Shortly after November’s tumultuous election, I wrote an article for JStor Daily, “Four Hard Truths About Fake News.” It began with a preamble that actually had three more truths embedded and then quickly followed with four more: “the real internet is a fake, the fake news is very real, and thus Trump is indeed our rightful internet president.”

  1. Today’s internet is built on, with, and through an unruly sea of lies, deceptions, and distortions, as well as a few certainties, cables, and algorithms.
  2. This week’s viral-wonder—the crisis of “fake news” in the wake of the 2016 presidential election—is a logical and necessary outgrowth of the web’s sordid infrastructure, prurient daily pleasures, and neoliberal political economy.
  3. Today’s saccharine hand-wringing and the too-late fixes erupting from the mouthpieces for the corporate, media, and political interests responsible for this mess are as bogus as Lonelygirl15.
  4. Today’s media consumer cannot trust the internet, its news, or networks—fake or otherwise. Given the wretched state of today’s internet, skeptical, self-aware interaction with digital data is the critical foundation upon which democracy may be maintained.

Only 93 more to go to meet my vow …

I hereby pledge:

  • To disrupt the new President’s First 100 days by posting #100hardtruths-#fakenews with linked actions, analyses and organizations committed to digital media literacy.
  • In so doing, I will produce a 100 point digital primer to counter the purposeful confusion, lack of trust, and disorientation of the current administration’s relation to media, offering instead a steady, reasoned set of resources seeking clarity and justice.

Let me begin by here offering #100truths-fakenews #8: FAKE! by DOVEMAN + TOM KALIN + CRAIG PAULL, January 22, 2017, one of several video projects these activist-artists are making to counter the administration’s wile media moves.

Yes, producing 100 points by Day 100, April 29, 2017, seems a little daunting, but I will be counting on my reasoned, practiced, committed, talented colleagues, across the media spectrum, to ease the burden (just see above!). While this administration may seek to addle us with media misinformation, disruption, and lunacy, I put full trust in our clear-headed community of conscience. Please do share possible contributions—in the form of writings, links, images, or actions—to the #100truths-fakenews primer via email, comments on this blog, or on my twitter feed, where I’ll be building a paired-down version of the project @mediapraxisme. The full-version will build here over the next 70 days.

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Today I begin my first class at CUNY, ITP Core 2: Interactive Technology and the University: Theory, Design, and Practice, co-taught with Luke Waltzer, Director, Teaching and Learning Center, CUNY GC. I’m thrilled!

Here’s a few bullet points that can serve as a brief and relevant introduction to my past and current interests related to this class and digital thinking, making and pedagogy:

  • My DH Story: An Invitation (May 27, 2015) is a post I wrote in a similar fashion, introducing myself to DH Summer Fellows of an Institute I ran at the Claremont Colleges for two summers. It spells out some of my thinking about DH—a sub-field of academic inquiry and practice that holds some of my work (and some of this class)—while providing a list of projects and links to most of the digital projects I have worked on over the past 10 or so years (when I moved pretty firmly from video to the internet): particularly Learning from YouTube, FemTechNet, Feminist Online Spaces, and Ev-ent-anglement.
  • Visual Research Methods 2014 (January 7, 2015) is a post I wrote to try to sum up my students’ work over six iterations of this course at the Claremont Graduate University from 2010-2015. In this methods class for graduate students in the Humanities, I supported students to think and make visually (and digitally) across five traditions: video essays, documentary, ethnographic film, academic blogging and digital storytelling. That blog post holds a lot of links if you are interested, but I’ve culled a few here, pretty randomly, to give a tiny sense of the kinds of work they made, and that I support: Facing Down the DST/DH Divide, A digital story about digital storytelling the classroom, Instagram as Digital Storytelling and Visual Culture Video Essays published in Audiovisual Thinking.
  • I am presenting this as a post on my blog as a self-referential nod to my always changing commitment(s) to writing and sharing academic work in this and other digital formats. See “Why Don’t I Blog: On Internet Cultural Production in 2016.”
  • Given the unfolding devastation of Trumpism, I will personally engage in more direct scholarly, digital activism and education in my work this spring, and with students in this class if they are so inclined. Here are four of my recent efforts in this direction: Visual Resistance, Watching/Making Race, BC Against Trump, and Four Hard Truths about Fake News.
  • I will also be engaging this spring in an inter-CUNY research project, Feminist Archive/Small Archive/Media Archive, whereby I use my own 300-strong collection of feminist, queer, anti-racist, experimental, AIDS VHS video tapes as a test case to work through best practices for storing, sharing, and teaching with similar personal/professional materially formatted archives. See this recent essay that begins to make use of this archive: Stacked on Her Office Shelves: Stewardship and AIDS Archives.

I look forward to meeting you all today, and to learning about some of your digital research interests, practices and commitments. Below, please find a video I recently made with Jean Carlomusto and Hugh Ryan for International AIDS Day With (out) Art 2016. It also thinks about video archives and represents my ongoing commitments to videomaking as another form of digital pedagogy and activism.

This is how I begin the longer piece on Jstor Daily: Let me begin with four fake truths that I hold to be self-evident. What follows is their brief elaboration and my suggestion for a shared effort to produce an informed, digitally literate citizenry.

  1. Today’s internet is built on, with, and through an unruly sea of lies, deceptions, and distortions, as well as a few certainties, cables, and algorithms.
  2. This week’s viral-wonder—the crisis of “fake news” in the wake of the 2016 presidential election—is a logical and necessary outgrowth of the web’s sordid infrastructure, prurient daily pleasures, and neoliberal political economy.
  3. Today’s saccharine hand-wringing and the too-late fixes erupting from the mouthpieces for the corporate, media, and political interests responsible for this mess are as bogus as Lonelygirl15.
  4. Today’s media consumer cannot trust the internet, its news, or networks—fake or otherwise. Given the wretched state of today’s internet, skeptical, self-aware interaction with digital data is the critical foundation upon which democracy may be maintained.

Yes the real internet is a fake, the fake news is very real, and thus Trump is indeed our rightful internet president. (see more at Jstor Daily)

I gave a “talk” at the CUNY Grad Center: one of many attempts to document, process, and share this year-plus long project, a multi-temporal, many-sited, process-rich, collaborative investigation of learning, making and living in feminist social networks, no matter how messy.

website#ev-ent-anglement considers how or if affect flows within on/offline queer/feminist spaces because I am concerned that many of our current digital practices are not yet as grounded as we deserve. It believes that we can learn from doing, and that we can do better.

Feel free to read more (and cut/paste+bleed at will) on the ev-ent-anglement.

In this, my third blog post of the summer about what to make of and do with the radical evidentiary images by ordinary people that can sometimes go viral and thus contribute to activism against documented injustice (and also do other things), I will speak briefly about New Documents, a powerful and important show that I saw at the Bronx Documentary Center.

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While it continues to be my belief that “hoping footage goes viral” can only be one item in a much longer list of hopes, and their associated activities, when our goals are making changes to brutal, sanctioned, ongoing systemic conditions that produce and allow for atrocities and violence that might be documented by ordinary citizens and victims, what I will focus on here is how the show itself enacts some of these necessary next steps by rendering itself as a physical manifestation of what is also needed after documentation, after the sharing of said document (virally or otherwise), that is if change is the goal (and not virality in and of itself).

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New Documents is an impressive piece of activist curation that moves from 1904 to the present day, judiciously choosing about fifteen pieces of photo, video, and film, each an inspiring example of what we now call citizen journalism (citizen-made images from Aushwitz to Dealey Plaza, from Vietnam to Tompkins Square Park, Tunisia, Libya, the Pepper Spraying cop, and then finally, St. Paul, Minnesota.) The show is daring, brutal, and unsparing. It asks us to look carefully at images, like the most recent in the show, those shot by Diamond Reynolds of the Philando Castile murder, that in an earlier post in this series I said I was not yet ready to see (please do read a dialogue I am having with Kimberley Fain about our choice to look). First made in photographs and later in film and video, each document in this spare show is seen on a tiny screen, cut into a wall, and placed on one side of the gallery. This arrangement serves as a timeline, a set of windows, and as a procedure for close concentration and attention.

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Wall text below each document allows the activist orientation and analysis of the curators to be clear. If an atrocity is witnessed and documented, and if this documentation is seen, results will occur. Often very big ones.

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The role of documenting and in this way testifying to atrocity is a critical and certain one. Without this courageous artistic political act there is little evidence from which activists can establish the truth of their experience and move forward to fight for reckoning, justice and change. However, there is nothing like a one-to-one causality between documenting atrocity and making change in the conditions that cause and support state and other systemic violence and oppression against citizens. This shooting/result equation is not exact, immediate, or even really quantifiable for any number of reasons that tend to reflect the same systematic cruelty that supported the original violence including but not limited to who controls images, and their interpretation, circulation, availability, ownership, and the punishments associated to acts of witness and activism.

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My previous writing and thinking about witness video that is hosted and made viral on YouTube and other social networks, in particular about one of the first celebrated examples of viral witness video, the image of Neda Agha-Soltan being killed at a protest in Iran in 2009 (also shown in the New Documents show), cautioned that there are many systems that surround viral videos and function to complicate any easy or obvious or necessary move from virality to change. While video can and must testify to abuse and is integral to campaigns for justice, it is also necessary for activists to consider how any particular video is seen, used, supported and shared within complex contexts that can either undermine, challenge, or support the maintenance of the systematic cruelty that is documented. I’d like to name some of the systems and conditions that surround viral video again here:

  • the platform itself, i.e. YouTube or other corporate social media sites that hold, own and share (citizen-made) video
  • the ads and comments and other visible windows or screens that frame it on the site and/or on your screen
  • the interpretations of those who give words to the image, be they citizen or mainstream journalists, day to day social media users or the corporations that pose as users
  • the governments and other institutions that monitor, censor, support and/or punish image-makers
  • the regimes of viewing that organize how we watch short, fast, spreadable images; that is to say mostly as interchangeable, consumable, expendable, fast bits of entertainment or stimuli, what I have elsewhere called “video slogans
  • the fragile and/or inaccessible technologies that shoot, share, and save images
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A cracked and dislodged mobile phone in the New Documents show testifies to the fragility of the technologies that capture, hold and share viral video, and to the many ways that activists, denied full access to infrastructural support, must make do even so

And it is just here, looking at the cracked phone on display, where my praise of New Documents really begins. This room, in its place, the Bronx, NYC, with more surrounding wall text (on the other walls, see below), and the volunteer who believes in the Bronx, and photography, and the power of its people, is one such radical place for the watching, thinking about, and making use of witness images. This place is a context from which these images accrue deeper meaning and greater value, written as they are, not into a callous, corporate internet, or a ready-steady flow of social media, but rather, a well-thought-out history, analysis, community and purpose, a place where small screen evidence by ordinary people can meet more ordinary people who care enough to get there, learn more, and engage.

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In the Bronx Documentary Center I spent fifteen or more minutes (after viewing and photographing the show) speaking to the activist, artist, scholar, volunteer pictured below (I have lost the green pad where I wrote down your name, please email me at work if you see this and I will name you!)

IMG_2191We spoke about her radical education in Women’s Studies at UCLA, and her return to the Bronx to do her activist work within her community. We talked about the value of a radical art space within this burrough. How activists, artists, students, and passers-by use this space. We discussed some of my critiques of virality, and she told me about hard decisions the curators had made around this and other issues to mount this timely, necessary, and controversial show.

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Our time together, in this space, not any, with its analyses and histories and commitments loud and clear, not intruded upon by any corporation, or stream of shares or responses, made these New Documents newly visible to me and resulted in many things that I have attempted to quantify here. In my previous post, Tiny Screens/Power Scenes, I concluded:

I would suggest that a powerful way to view viral livefeed video of black death, and other images of violence, might be not on our small private screens but as if each viral video was art, as if it mattered that much, as if it deserved that level of privilege: to be viewed in groups, on large screens, from beginning, middle to end, and with context. That is to be seen within the rich world it records, and with the background, discussion, and analysis that artists and viewers can and do use media to initiate.

How lucky I am then, to see, learn from and engage with a more powerful way to view viral video of black death and other historical atrocities. And how lucky we all are that we have access to the internet, so that I can share this place, The Bronx Documentary Center (in such partial ways, I know), with others who can not get to NYC and can learn from and engage together even so.