This #100hardtruths was shared with me by the photo critic and curator, Danielle Jackson, the co­-founder of the Bronx Documentary Center and Founder and Principal, Culture Culture.

“The commercialization of radical ideas and social movements is hardly new. Since this election cycle, attempts at revolutionary image-making seem to have appeared with greater force and ubiquity—and to be coopted in greater measure. Equality is sometimes perceived as the freedom to pursue fame, the pleasure of being socially accepted, the right to spend money, and the right to chase it.  Unfortunately, whatever lasting political potential that some images might have held are often deflated upon arrival. The process by which subversive concepts are trivialized, defanged, and repurposed by the mainstream into friendly, socially acceptable forms–what the Situationists International called recuperation–is being abetted in part by a scramble toward cultural significance and economic opportunity. The threat of fake news may wane, but a shore of confusing images undermine liberal capacity to take stock and wage an honest resistance.

Consider the image of DeRay McKesson, a young civil rights activist, in January’s issue of Vogue. His expression is sober; his style of dress–white oxford shirt, thin necktie–recalls the leaders of the Southern Freedom movement. His fist is raised in a Black Power salute befitting a 1970s radical. The photograph is flanked by the caption, ‘DeRay McKesson wears a Theory shirt and Tom Ford pants.’

Consider the Assata Box, a package of products from women-owned businesses designed to ‘celebrate the life and legacy of Assata Shakur.’ Priced at $60, the set includes a t-shirt, a Black Lives Matter pin, and a custom print with the slogan, ‘We Must Fight.’ It also includes a container of shea butter bearing the name, ‘The Revolution Will Be Moisturized.’

Consider Beyoncé’s Super Bowl halftime performance of ‘Formation,’ a beret and leather-clad spectacle collapsing symbols from the sometimes competing ideologies of the Nation of Islam, the Black Panthers, and the Black Power movement into one anti-establishment mashup. The song and the music video–which had been widely interpreted through the lens of radical and separatist politics–was performed again at a rally for Hillary Clinton at the close of her campaign. The dancers donned blue pantsuits in homage to this most establishment of candidates.

Consider the discourse after Walmart removed a t-shirt inscribed with the term bulletproof (a slogan associated with Black Lives Matter) from their website at the request of the nation’s largest police union. Some activist corners of the Internet decried the shirt’s removal as evidence of corporate repression; in the ensuing backlash, few seemed to consider whether such a motto even should be commodified. Consumerism has become so unremarkably intertwined with the notion of resistance that it can supplant a carefully considered strategy. The garments in question were produced by Old Glory, an apparel company run by Glenn Morelli, a graduate of the Wharton School who lives in Connecticut and has frequently shared memes from the Facebook groups Hillary for Prison, Donald Trump Memes, and Police Lives Matter. ‘It wasn’t a big seller at all. The Blue Lives Matter sells more than the Black Lives Matter or bulletproof shirts combined,’ said Morelli, whose catalog includes 500,000 kinds of shirts. Walmart, frequently criticized for labor abuses, does a brisk business in activist merchandise. ‘Like other online retailers, we have a marketplace with millions of items offered by third parties that includes Blue Lives Matter, Black Lives Matter and All Lives Matter merchandise,’ according to a Walmart spokesperson.

Consider the male cast of Moonlight in states of undress, modeling on billboards for Calvin Klein underwear.

Consider ‘Ooouuu,’ the self-released music video by Young M.A, a ‘stud lesbian’ which has been viewed 203 million times on YouTube. The subversive possibilities of a young, openly gay, gender non-conforming rapper is quickly diminished by the video’s depiction of a socially commonplace brand of masculinity–one imbued with misogyny, flashy materialism, and the suggestion of violence. Some say the song exemplifies a growing nihilism–those who believe liberation will come from the margins might have to think again.

Consider #RefreshTheTalk, a hashtag launched by Absolut Vodka to promote the company’s first new flavor in four years. The campaign, which targeted millennials new to alcohol, asked followers to vote through Twitter their most pressing social issue–the winner to be discussed on the Grammy’s red carpet. A few of the topics: ‘LGBT in Hip Hop,’ ‘The Wage Gap,’ and ‘Arts Exploitation.’ According to Adweek, ‘A thirst for flavored spirits plateaued in 2014, so Absolut needed to find a fresh way to encourage consumers to try this new flavor of vodka.’

‘The Lime for Change is Now,’ reads one ad.

And consider Pepsi, who, in their recent commercial, may have believed they had created a version of ‘Hilltop,’ Coca-Cola’s legendary 1971 utopian TV ad linking soda to social harmony. Pepsi’s ill-considered demonstration of cooptation was easier to see. Furor arose at the image of Kendall Jenner–wealthy, white, and a notorious social climber–confronting police officers with a soda bottle.  The commercial bears a resemblance to Jonathan Bachman’s photograph of Ieshia Evans, the African American woman who was arrested by enormous armor-clad troopers as her dress blew gently away from her petite frame. Few people these days seem to recall that Bachman’s image echoes one made fifty years earlier by Marc Riboud, of a girl approaching a rifleman with a single daisy at a protest against the Vietnam war.

In simpler times and certain circles I’ve heard Jan Rose Kasmir, the subject of this image, criticized for seeking recognition; by contrast Ieshia Evans was immediately approached by news outlets including BBC and CBS News within days of being photographed. As her name and her telegenic image went viral she became a readymade symbol, a counterpoint to the violent videos in circulation. Like Kasmir, Evans wasn’t especially political before being immortalized in protest. I have a lot to read up on now that I’m in this position, was her sentiment as she spoke to an audience at conference hosted by Reuters in December, 2016. This is bigger than me. It has been Evans’s desire to talk about injustice, but like any star she is asked to play her greatest hits by recounting the transformative experience of being photographed. In this way, long before the Pepsi ad, her recuperation had been made complete. In an interview in Time magazine, Kasmir offered Evans advice on managing sudden fame, and thus, a cycle was renewed.

Visibility today is presumed to be a virtue. It seems like no one wants to be an outsider these days; nearly everyone has forgotten (or never learned) Alice Walker’s poem:

Be nobody’s darling;/Be an outcast./Qualified to live/Among your dead.

The hard truth is, where activist iconography dovetails with the lure of easy money, political expedience, and social capital, we must resist the lure of recuperation. We must not confuse the shadow with the substance. Where the images and stories are too facile we should look deeper. We have much to gain by searching for the real, real thing.”

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This #100hardtruths was given to my friend, and fellow-member of FemTechNet, the writer, performer, activist and professor, T.L. Cowan. It is written based on conversations with and learning from Dorothy Kim, Eunsong Kim, Gabrielle Bellot, Moya Bailey, Jacqueline Wernimont, Jasmine Rault, Alexis O’Hara, Dayna McLeod, Robyn Overstreet, Veronica Paredes, Lisa Nakamura, Alexandra Juhasz, Danielle Cole, Alexandrina Agloro, Joss Greene, micha cárdenas, Izetta Autumn Mobley, and many others.
It may seem very innocuous, but the purloining of ideas for profit is an egregious form of journalistic harm that places no value on the thoughts, feelings, or needs of the original creator of the content. It is at the very least the laziest form or ‘journalism’ possible. In the broader scheme of things, it is a form of intellectual property theft and should be dealt with as such. Jamie Nesbitt Golden & Monique Judge, Journalism, Social Media & Ethics Part 1

“A lot of justice-oriented academics and journalists are committed to researching, writing and circulating what we see as hard truths, responding to fake news with evidence we gather from a wide range of materials. Often, the work of circulating #100hardtruths has to do with amplifying the experiences, perspectives and ideas of folks whose voices are not typically heard, or are actively suppressed, in and by dominant (white, wealth-driven, settler, US-centric) news media. For example, well-meaning academics and journalists might cite a social media content producer as evidence to show public sentiment and support for a social justice-oriented argument—for example, this is what people are saying on Twitter about state-sanctioned anti-black police violence, or about the proposed anti-Muslim ban, or about the Canadian Prime Minister’s support for another pipeline, destroying more land, air and water, or we might base an entire article or book on how social media content producers are shaping contemporary activism.

The availability of easily accessible social media posts has made it possible for scholars and journalists to find a wide range of perspectives from folks they do not have ready access to in face-to-face existence, thus allowing the researcher to easily incorporate the ideas of others in the formation of their own research argument or news story. Social media platforms make it possible to grab a “quote” from a minoritized social media content producer—who generated the content for free—without ever having a conversation with that person, or sharing the potential profit, be it financial, intellectual or cultural capital. As long as the source is cited, we’re accustomed to calling it a day, and an ethical day at that! We’ve written something that incorporates the ideas and words of folks who are not normally heard in the context of [insert the newspaper, magazine, journal or conference], possibly to tell a hard truth, uncovering the real story behind some fake news, and now we’ve helped make the world a better place. Well done!

The CSOV a modified version of the logo for the #tooFEW Wikipedia Edit-a-thon many of us were involved in 2013. When used for #TooFEW, it was part of making the argument that issues of race, gender, and sexuality weren’t adequately represented in Wikipedia. In suggesting it be modified for our purposes now we intend to keep that spirit, particularly seen in the work of the Digital Alchemy group which addresses the disproportionate online violence that women of color face, particularly Black cis and trans women.

Not so fast, comrade. As Jamie Nesbitt Golden and Monique Judge explain in their short essays (see my epigraph above) for the Center for Solutions to Online Violence (CSOV), hoisting a tweet or other social media post from a non-famous person and using it to build a scholarly argument or news story is not rigorous or ethical research, it’s idea theft. Sure the tweets of high-profile people might be fair game as public speech. But to use the tweets of folks who are having an online conversation that we’re not part of, even with a correctly-formatted citation? That’s just eavesdropping.

The politics of citation—to cite down rather than up, to cite sources that are not already in massive circulation, to cite predominantly women, people of color, trans folks, Indigenous peoples, folks from the Global South, etc.—is an important form of intellectual activism meant to center the ideas of these folks rather than perpetually re-centering the ideas of mostly white, Euro-American settler dude-experts. But, citation is, as the Northern Lights Canadian all-star charity ballad goes, not enough.1 [Heads up: this video clip opens with scenes of Ethopian people starving, during drought and famine of the early 1980s. It also features a lot of white people in Canada–though not exclusively white Canadians—singing in a sound booth and ends with the very nationalist images of Canadian wheat being flown to Ethiopia. Sorry.]

By approaching all social media content as public texts, just as available for quotation as any newspaper article, published book or policy statement, we fail to recognize that not all social media content producers (i.e. tweeters, bloggers and posters) want their words to extend beyond their immediate social media network or, indeed, that the re-circulation of a tweet or a post beyond its initial context is, in fact, unethical and potentially harmful. In so doing, as Joss Greene explains, we “flatten very different relationships into one generalized public.” Social media content producers face different kinds of risk when their words are taken beyond their original context, depending on who they are, where they live, how they live, and how targeted they may already be in a world structured by, for example, racial and gender hierarchies.

Most social media posts are created in community, in conversation. When a scholarly or journalistic researcher—especially one from outside the community in which the material was originally posted—extracts a tweet or post written by a non-famous (or not professionally public) person without covering the scope of the conversation, without getting permission to quote, without being accountable to the community of origin and context, we conveniently steal someone else’s ideas in pursuit of our own argument, exposing the content producer to risk of harm, without their consent and without sharing the profit or credit of this work.

Rather than thinking that our ethical obligation stops at citation, we can be more rigorous in our research practices towards a framework of accountability, co-authorship, resource distribution and power sharing.

So often the logic of mere citation is that in the food chain of ideas, scholars and journalists who have access to high circulation or high prestige publishing venues, will use their profile and access to increase the exposure—to signal boost, amplify the voices—of artists, activists and other grassroots cultural workers, and the payment these folks receive, as my collaborator Jasmine Rault and I have argued, is the “caché of being studied.” That is, so often scholars and journalists don’t pay the artists and activists whose work and words they study because the labour of being studied (of answering questions, of dealing with the potential blowback) is understood to be in the interest of that artist or activist, i.e., for their own good, for the good of exposure. As the artist Alexis O’Hara says about these logics and practices, “You can die of exposure.”

The politics of mere citation helps to keep the power structure—the ideas food chain— in tact, keeping grassroots social media content producers and other cultural workers putting it out there for free, and journalists and scholars using it without paying for it, to add cred to the articles that they get paid to write.

Let’s hear the chorus now, Northern Lights style: Don’t you know that citation is not enough?!

That is, mere citation does not require the kind of transformation of privilege, values, analysis and access that is needed to shake up the world of “thought leaders,” to use a particularly gross term that nonetheless reflects how ideas circulate as currency in the intellectual and news economies.

Created by The Alchemists: Bianca Laureno, I’Nasah Crockett, Maegan Ortiz, Jessica Marie Johnson, Sydette Harry, Izetta Mobley, and Danielle Cole for the Center for Solutions to Online Violence. Design by: Liz Andrade

Once more: Citation is not enough!

At the Center for Solutions to Online Violence (CSOV) we have created a set of materials to help journalists, teachers and scholarly researchers to rethink how they use the work of social media content producers. Our materials are meant to shift the discussion from an obsession with proper citational practices (i.e. what does the MLA style guide say about tweets?), to a commitment to ethical community engagement and resource distribution. In particular, we hope that our materials will help scholars, students and journalists to build accountability to their social media “sources” into their research and publishing practices.

As all of the contributors to the CSOV resources have noted in one way or another, one way we can begin to make these kinds of transformations is to start thinking of social media research as community-engaged research, rather than as textual analysis or literature review.

You can check out our open-access materials on shifting digital research ethics by Izetta Autumn Mobley, Dorothy Kim, Joss Greene, Veronica Paredes, micha cárdenas, Alexandrina Agloro, Jamie Nesbitt Golden & Monique Judge, Moya Bailey & T.L. Cowan, and The Alchemists—a collective of Bianca Laureno, I’Nasah Crockett, Maegan Ortiz, Jessica Marie Johnson, Sydette Harry, Izetta Mobley and Danielle Cole. These materials are available on the FemTechNet website; they are intended for sharing widely and folks were paid for the labour of making them, although nothing is stopping you for paying them some more if you can!

These materials are created with the idea that if we shift our methodologies, it will help us to shift our ethics, and help us to match our research protocols with the community protocols of our subjects and sites, especially social media subjects and sites.

Here’s a tour through some of the CSOV digital research ethics materials:

Moya Bailey and I wrote a Research Ethics for Social Media in the Classroom guide, in which we explain the ways that often well-meaning teachers might inadvertently expose social media content producers to harm, by turning their posts and profiles into curricula without ever seeking permission or input from the OPs (Original Posters). We offer some tactics that teachers can use to be accountable to the individuals and communities they want to engage with their students. In particular, we think through the risks associated with increased, unwanted exposure and the labour and potential harms associated with that exposure.

The Alchemists—a collective of Bianca Laureno, I’Nasah Crockett, Maegan Ortiz, Jessica Marie Johnson, Sydette Harry, Izetta Mobley, and Danielle Cole—developed the Power & Control Wheel and Respect Wheel to “help creators slow down and consider the ways they cite and utilize information both on and off the web.” The Alchemists explain that these resources are “modeled from the popular Power & Control Wheels that have been created for discussing domestic and intimate partner violence, we extend those conversations to the violence we have experienced and survived online.”

The CSOV also produced the “Research Ethics, Social Media & Accountability Video Series,” based on two online workshops co-hosted with the Feminist Technology Network (FemTechNet). Six of the co-facilitators of these workshops further contributed to the project by making videos, responding to the question, Why is it important for teachers, students and journalists to think about Research Ethics when they are using social media as part of their teaching and research? Here are some of the practices proposed:

Joss Greene: “What does it mean for us as researchers to work from a place of solidarity? Social media tends to flatten very different relationships into one generalized public. In the real world we understand that there are different dynamics at play. Just because we have access to information, doesn’t mean that we are the intended audience. It is important to recognize that a power dynamic is in play here and as researchers we have an ethical obligation to negotiate with the person whose words we are interested in using, even it if seems like it would be easier to just take what we have access to…. I would encourage academics to have relationships with the communities that they’re doing research with that go beyond the researcher-subject dynamic, which is always going to be one in which we, as researchers, hold power. Being in solidarity is about taking direction. It is important that we as researchers release our grip on our researcher way and devote our time and energy in equal part towards the goals and projects that other people are defining.”

Alexandrina Agloro: “Data is not detached from real world bodies, real world lives and real world experiences. So, when using social media, think about the increased vulnerability of folks who are online.”

 Veronica Paredes: “Like any other mode of communication and expression, social media has its own set of histories, communities, and practices. If a teacher, journalist or researcher imagines social media as an empty space, or only as one composed of autonomous contributions, each 140 characters long, they are missing the conversation. They are missing a lot about how individual tweets are situated, and where they come from.”

Izetta Autumn Mobley: “We are now thinking about social media as divorced from IRL (In Real Life). So sometimes we think that informed consent or thinking about context, is somehow dropping out from concerns about research. I think this is the moment when we need to consider it the most. What is the impact of the exposure? If we are educators asking students to go follow a blog or Twitter feed, what, then, is the result of that? What does that do for the exposure of the person is who now being highlighted? Did they expect for this to happen? And, probably most importantly, what labor are they now being asked to do that they previously weren’t being asked to stand up and do?”

micha cárdenas: “Just as with offline socially-engaged scholarship, try to make your work mutually beneficial to the individuals and communities you are engaging with, and to you and your students. Think carefully about how your use of social media may cause harm to people for your own benefit.”

 Dorothy Kim: “Try not to do harm…. Research all the platforms and understand what those ecosystems are and what the rules of engagement might be before you do something on social media in relation to your work. … Think about the possible harm that may come from your engagement, slow down, and plan out what you want to do, and what these interactions might look like and what might be the consequences.”

As journalists and scholarly researchers in pursuit of hard truths, let’s also examine and adjust our research practices so that we aren’t just reproducing the logics of exploitation and exposure for the purposes of our own careers and reputations.

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1 By the way, the song I’m quoting here, Northern Lights’ “Tears are Not Enough,” is itself not unproblematic, but it is the refrain I hear every time I write about digital research ethics. The song was a fundraiser to help folks in Ethiopia during the famine and drought of the early 1980s. However, while the song is reminding folks in Canada that tears are not enough, which is true enough, it does not engage in the structural analysis required to be accountable for Western imperialism in Africa, forced industrialization and resource extraction, in addition to the normalized devaluation of Black lives, and global maldistribution of wealth and life chances that produces and reproduces the glut/starvation divide. Relief efforts, like the one Northern Lights is promoting, are kind of like mere citation: they show a little bit of care, but require no real engagement, and keep the food chain in tact.

 

This #100hardtruths was shared with me by my friend and mentor the anthropologist and scholar of indigenous media, Faye Ginsburg, the Director of the Center for Media, Culture and History at NYU, Co-Director of the NYU Council for the Study of Disability, and Co-Director of the Center for Religion and Media.

“I encourage readers of #100hardtruths to spend time with the incredible short stop-motion animation films of First Nations artist and storyteller Amanda Strong, an Indigenous Michif/Metis filmmaker and media artist from the unceded Coast Salish territory also known as Vancouver.

Her most recent work, Four Faces of the Moon, opened at the Toronto International Film Festival, as well as the Landscapes of Truth section at Canada’s imagineNative festival, both in 2016. The piece, like many of the Vancouver artist’s short films, is a hybrid, surreal but profoundly grounded work made with figures and tabletop sets that blend a steampunk and Indigenous aesthetic with First Nations histories and contemporary concerns. Four Faces is a tightly compressed (12 min) and moving account, “peeling back layers of Canadian colonial history,”  based on Strong’s own family, beginning with the knowledge passed down from her grandmother Olivine Tiedema Bousquet, a former senator for the Métis Nation of Ontario.  We see ghostly accountings of the buffalo hunts of the 1880s, and how mass extermination of the animal was ultimately tied to the systemic destruction of the Indigenous communities who depended on it for survival. The story is told with minimal dialogue in the languages of her ancestors (French, Michif, Anishnaabe, Cree), beginning and ending its time-travelling journey in the present day.

Her 2015 8 minute film made with Bracken Hanuse Corlert, Mia, is a story about environmental destruction affecting Indigenous communities in another part of the world, 2000 miles from from the Standing Rock struggle, telling a west coast version of the challenges to First Nations water protectors, through the story of a girl, Mia (salmon). The  film begins with a haunting urban cityscape. Indigenous street artist Mia roams the streets before she encounters sacred waters and hand drawn salmon; she eventually  joins them, shape-shifting across species.

Her work Haida Raid 3: Save Our Waters, invites us to join forces with protests against of super tankers moving through Haida Gwaii waters. And there are more, all extraordinary reminders of the many ways to tell important truths. As Strong explains:  “Our oral histories, our oral stories are our truth.”

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This #100hardtruths was shared with me by my friend and mentor, Laura Wexler, the esteemed feminist scholar of photography and Principal Investigator of the NEH-supported Photogrammar Project:

“Fake news has it that we must sacrifice the NEA and the NEH for better stewardship of our national wealth and interests.  It is claimed that these agencies are wasteful and unnecessary. But in fact, they are among the most important investments our society can make. By their means, we increase our chances to understand who we are, and thus to envision how we might better proceed. Their conceptual roots are in the alphabet agencies of the Great Depression when a staggering economic crisis called for a political shift in the way that the United States cared for its population, in some ways not unlike the present moment.

A few hours after his inauguration, Franklin Roosevelt swore in his entire cabinet en masse, so as to hit the ground running. In the next 105 days, in the depths of the emergency, in un-ending special session, Congress created and passed the Emergency Banking Act, the Agricultural Adjustment Act, the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Works Progress Administration, the Truth-in-Securities Act, the Glass-Steagall Act and the National Industrial Recovery Act. The new president was able to persuade millions that they had “nothing to fear, but fear itself.” In all, there were 15 major bills. It was a vigorous and astonishing three and a half months.

The contrast with the current 100-day count-down could not be more stark. From the shocking disarray of presidential appointments to the ugly attempt of Congress to take healthcare away from millions of Americans, to the amplification of racism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and xenophobia, to the spate of executive orders designed precisely to undo whatever could be undone of what remains of the New Deal’s legislation and spirit, Trump’s first 100 days are the Bizarro version of the earlier period.

Today, at day #91 of the Trump administration, we have plenty to fear, including fear itself which is shaking millions awake at 4:00 am. Among the weighty judgements our new president must make is how to apportion federal funding. Hanging in the balance is funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the National Endowment of the Humanities and the National Endowment of the Arts, among others. These programs, many of which were proudly created in the 1960s in an echo of the Federal Arts and Writers’ projects of the 1930s, are on the chopping block of Trump’s proposed budget. Defenders have rushed to explain that redirecting their relatively meager funding will do very little to relieve the national debt, while they pay for themselves many times over through the amplification they provide for public history and public art. So, for instance, Graham Bowley wrote in The New York Times on March 16, 2017:

The two-endowment agencies each receive about $148 million a year now. The budget for public broadcasting, currently $445 million, has been more consistent over the years. Together they still account for only $741 million, or much less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the United States’ annual federal spending, an amount supporters say is too small to make a difference.

Mengqi Sun wrote in the Christian Science Monitor on March 17, 2017:

Though the budgets of the four agencies are negligible in the larger scheme of federal government spending – $148 million each for NEA and NEH, $445 million of CPB, and $230 million for IMLS – the federal dollars are often used to leverage state, local, and private funding.”

And Michael Cooper and Sopan Deb wrote in the New York Times on March 17, 2017:

Proponents of preserving endowment grants are increasingly speaking of them in terms that many Republicans can love – as investments that spur job creation; as public-private partnerships that award grants that are matched by private donations; and as programs that help returning veterans or people who live in rural communities.

But these defenses, though factual and earnest, and maybe even necessary, are themselves a species of “fake news.” To our adversaries, no matter how small we make ourselves, it will never be small enough. However little we claim to cost, we will still be too expensive, and however much we claim to multiply value, we will be worth too little. The premise is fake. We are aligning ourselves with the disrespect of our adversaries while attempting to gain their regard. We are fighting with one hand tied behind our backs while being shoved into a corner. It is hurtful to see.

The real news makes a much larger claim: that the Federal government benefits from the CPB, the IMLS and the NEA and the NEH not because they save money but because they support another economy: that of the nation itself. This larger expenditure is in the currency of self-recognition. For calculations about the NEA and the NEH, neither the “E” (money) nor the “A” and the “H” (arts and humanities) are as important as the “N” (national). The reason to fight for the NEH and the NEA is not because we need them in order to have arts and humanities, which we will have in any case, but because we need them to know how to imagine ourselves as a nation. As in Betsy deVos’s hands the voucher system systematically aims to destroy the public schools, in Trump’s hands the destruction of the NEH and the NEA aims to voucherize the public itself. But the public cannot be supported by special interests and wealthy individuals because those are specific and exceptional rather than representative actors.

During the Great Depression, under the direction of a brilliant young economist named Roy Stryker, Roosevelt’s Farm Security Administration sent more than a score of American’s most accomplished documentary photographers out into the field to take photographs that would show Americans to one another as “deserving” of government aid. This was done, if you will, under the sign of “fake news,” that is to say, the economic argument that New Deal programs of social support were saving far more than they cost. In point of fact, the enemies of the administration did not allow most of the programs to reach their full potential. No matter what the factual ratio of cost to benefit, state supported welfare was seen as creeping socialism and as something to be beaten back.

But the real news is what happened anyway. Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, Russell Lee, Gordon Parks, Margaret Bourke-White, John Vachon, John Delano, Arthur Rothstein, Esther Bubbly, Marion Post Walcott, and many others took the opportunity to work extravagantly beyond bounds to make a collective portrait of the spirit of the American people that is unsurpassed, one of our greatest national treasures.

I am Principal Investigator of the NEH-supported Photogrammar Project, codirected by Lauren Tilton and Taylor B. Arnold. Photogrammar has made an interactive, geospatial map of the more than 170,000 photographs produced between 1935-1945 by the Farm Security Administration and its successor, the Office of War Information. Because Photogrammar makes this enormous archive of images so easily searchable, it is possible to see at scale the extraordinary extra expenditure these artists laid out in the work that they did, work that had no need to be as fine as they made it. Most of the images were circulated in newsprint-quality reproductions or in government reports. Much less effort would have sufficed. And yet, the government got more.

Ella Watson, by Gordon Parks. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, [LC-DIG-fsa-8b14845]

Why? Because the FSA photographers became committed to telling the real, as opposed to the fake, news. Because they did not economize. Because as government employees, on modest salaries, they learned to recognize the need for true extravagance – to reimagine a nation for the regular everyday people injured and insulted by the structural violence that buffeted their lives.”

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North Korea’s vice foreign minister on Friday blamed President Donald Trump for building up a “vicious cycle” of tensions on the Korean Peninsula, saying that his “aggressive” tweets were “making trouble.” In an exclusive interview with The Associated Press in Pyongyang, Vice Minister Han Song Ryol also warned the U.S. against provoking North Korea militarily, saying, “We will go to war if they choose.” (North Korea: Trump’s ‘aggressive’ tweets ‘making trouble,’ AP, Eric Talmadge)

Superhardtruth #1: the corporate-state-media muscle of the internet hides in plain sight below a sea of participatory good ‘n plenty only to manifest as real power, violence and control on demand

“If the U.S. comes with reckless military maneuvers then we will confront it with the DPRK’s pre-emptive strike,” Han said, referring to North Korea by its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. “We’ve got a powerful nuclear deterrent already in our hands, and we certainly will not keep our arms crossed in the face of a U.S. pre-emptive strike.” (Talmadge)

Superhardtruth #4: virality is virility

Presidential bravado also risks North Korea taking him at his word, and miscalculating accordingly. Loose threats of pre-emptive military attacks could cause its leader, Kim Jong-un, to shoot first and worry about the consequences later — perhaps striking South Korea with conventional weapons to remind the world what he is capable of, if the United States seeks to eliminate his nuclear program. That’s a quick path to conflict with a volatile and nuclear-armed adversary. (Losing the Credibility War, NYT, Antony Blinken)

Superhardtruth #5: tiny contributions cascade into the mother of all bombs

Superhardtruth #8: people need time to ponder so they can be truly ethical and thoughtful

Equally problematic is Mr. Trump’s challenged relationship with veracity, documented almost daily by independent fact-checking organizations. The greatest hits include his repeatedly debunked claim that former President Obama tapped his phones, that a nonexistent terrorist attack occurred in Sweden, that Germany owes NATO vast sums of money, that Mr. Obama released more than 100 detainees from Guantánamo who returned to the battlefield and that Democrats made up allegations about Russian efforts to influence our election. Mr. Trump’s canards risk undermining his ability to counter propaganda from our adversaries. (Blinken)

Superhardtruth #6: #fakenews r us

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As the completion of this project looms—perversely aligned as it is and must be with the administration’s first 100 destructive, confusing, harrowing days with which it entwines—I find less that I might still need to say about #fakenews (what with 88 previous posts and a decline of interest due to the only-to-be-anticipated viral-collapse of this topic), and only more I seem to need to clarify about the previous #89hardtruths, themselves intended to clarify. That is to say, the project becomes ever-more complex as it grows in scale (a cumulative consequence of its internet construction where even its 100 small things quickly become an unaccountably large one), and becomes as cumbersome, complex and multiple as it is clarifying. Now imagine that I am entwined with his 100 days, that also bear a similar logic, format, and tempo yet accompanied by money, weapons, an entire administration, and out-n-out lying …

No wonder I have grown increasingly nihilistic. Haven’t you? The real-world violence I had projected in early days as a necessary consequence of internet representational tom-foolery has manifested most recently in some horrible superhardtruths: this week’s release first of missiles and then, the mother of all bombs. I’m left here, as are we all, in the digital fragments building yet another totem of “truths”—10 more superhardtruths in fact—from the debris:

Superhardtruth #1: the corporate-state-media muscle of the internet hides in plain sight below a sea of participatory good ‘n plenty only to manifest as real power, violence and control on demand

Superhardtruth #2: clown time is over

Superhardtruth #3: short, fast and fun will be the death of us, or at least some

Superhardtruth #4: virality is virility

Superhardtruth #5: our tiny contributions cascade into the mother of all bombs

Superhardtruth #6: #fakenews r us

Superhardtruth#7: internet self-reflexivity leads to corrosive mimicry

Superhardtruth #8: people need time to ponder so they can be truly ethical and thoughtful

Superhardtruth #9: people need people

Superhardtruth #10: people need art and complexity

Superhardconclusion: people make the internet. and bombs. and #fakenews. and poetry and song and community. Only we have the power to know and do better.

 

Emerson College professor Paul Mihailidis says: “We’ve seen again and again that just throwing tools at things doesn’t solve problems. How many tools and guides and kits to fake news have there been now that don’t get into where the origination of the problem really lies? There’s this ‘solutionism’ happening that doesn’t identify the core problems … Our Engagement Lab is a group of scholars interested in doing applied research and creating knowledge out of intervention, still staying true to academic method and theoretical grounding but being able to look at research with communities and in partnership with communities” News and media literacy the way it’s always been taught may not be the right response to fake news woes, Shan Wang

“Resistance School is a free four session practical training program to sharpen the tools we need to fight for our values at the federal, state, and local levels. Our goal is to keep the embers of resistance alive through concrete learning, community engagement, and forward-looking action. A syllabus you’ll actually read, the opening session of Resistance School dives into the steps necessary for engaging in effective communication for change by building on history, exploring the tools of value-based communication, and ultimately reviewing the most meaningful ways to enact this change in the world around us.”

“Corporate Universities and Corporate Museums have never been places of Free Speech. They have always curtailed opinion—because they are the private sector, indebted to corporate agreement … If we allow our confusions about Corporate and Public Opinion and Fake News to destroy our demand for open expression, the Palestine Solidarity Movement will be our next casualty. The people who ultimately suffer from the repression of painful Opinion are not the elite but, in fact, the powerless.” Open Casket, Sarah Schulman

#fakenews was never really the problem, just as quick fixes, tools-at-hand, or even a pillar of wisdom (or confusion) can never really be the solution. The internet is our condition: one of skepticism, bounty, expression, art, corporate control and structuring falsities. The internet is our condition of violence, our condition of power, and a place of resistance. It and we aren’t going anywhere … yet.

At #88, immersed in the rousing, thoughtful projects, labs, analyses, schools, art works, and voices that I’ve collected thus far on my path to #100hardtruths to better understand #fakenews, I begin to see a framework for questions rather than a set of ready answers:

  • Where are our cherished sites for learning about, making, and sharing values-based communication?
  • How deep must we go?
  • What are the qualities of duration necessary to sustain our work?
  • What or who are we trying to fix or resist?
  • Who are our people?
  • Where lies our power?
  • How can technology sustain us?

It is my sense that such questions need to be answered in communities of care and practice.