Two of the dialogues that first appeared here and here at Culture Digitally are now available in their final, published form, thanks to our continued partnership with the Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media. (Re)read them now! Print and frame! They make excellent holiday gifts.
Habitus of the New (with Zizi Papacharissi and Tom Streeter)
Digital In/Justice (with Nick Couldry and Mary Gray)
Both appear as invited essays in vol. 57, no. 4, 2013.
-Contributed by Tarleton Gillespie, Cornell University Department of Communication-
(Note: image taken from a site spoofing/critiquing the Utah data center: http://nsa.gov1.info/utah-data-center/)
On August 21, 2013, Mother Jones published the headline, “The World’s Most Notorious Micronation Has the Secret to Protecting Your Data From the NSA,” reviving Sealand as the techno-utopic data haven it once promised to be. Aa a self-contained data fortress located on a defunct anti-aircraft platform in the waters of the cold North Sea, Sealand’s servers, according to HavenCo Ltd.’s posturing, has been of “an offshore, fat-pipe data haven that answers to nobody”. For more than a decade, Sealand’s quasi-independent server farm failed time and again as an endeavour to push the bounds of the legal and technologically possible within the aim of providing an ‘off-government’ data storehouse. Today, it is revived in the face of the NSA’s (National Security Agency) surveillance initiatives, and the threat to privacy that the Utah Data Center (i.e. Bumblehive) monumentalizes (for more, see coverage in Forbes, The Guardian, NPR, Scientific American, and in an interview with NSA analyst William Binney in the Daily Caller). In 2013, Sealand’s HavenCo ’2.0′ poses a necessary challenge to “the edges of our geopolitical economy” (Ito, quoted here), and to the concept of open communication offered through different material and infrastructural constitutions.
While said to be notorious for being a micronation doubling as a data haven, Sealand is still mostly unknown to the general population and remains obscure as a site of inquiry for scholars. The majority of the documentation about Sealand emerges out of citizenship paraphernalia (passports and t-shirts), alongside streams of journalistic and legal proceedings, that together inadvertently serve as records of its floundering attempts at branding itself, and toward juridical independence (Grimmelmann 2012; 2012b).
However, the concept of data protection put forward by the notion of a data haven is becoming increasingly important in relation to the current NSA-related debacles, and speaks to the materiality of what contains our data – how it is hosted and housed – and the ensuing politics of these infrastructures. How does location become the frame for exploring the political potentials of the space, place and the environment? What does it mean that we are disconnected and denied access to the servers and sites that together generate and preserve (our) “big data”? What does this disconnect say about the way that the interface (through which we engage and willingly offer our data) veils consent as to how big data is then potentially repurposed? How are notions of privacy and transparency discursively packaged into ideals of “protection” through media representations, of both Sealand, as data haven, and the heavily guarded data center, Bumblehive? How do these guarded structures come to replace or instate metaphors of access; island as the lawless counterpart to a centralized repository? And conversely, how might the idea of a local/ized internet be instated to control data based on, or instead of, national internet regulations?
These queries ask that Bumblehive be situated in relation to Sealand, and also within the recent historical context that surrounds big data, since former CIA employee and NSA contractor (now fugitive) Edward Snowden released classified documents on the matter to the press. Since Snowden, questions of data ownership and surveillance demand, among other things, a deeper scholarly engagement about the ways in which Sealand has been discursively constructed as an alternative, and reconfigured in the media as a response, to Bumblehive. As a short intervention, I provide this think piece as an opportunity (if not a call for action), for media and communication studies scholars to consider the ways in which the internet’s materialities speak volumes about our culture and how it is collected, documented, represented and repurposed. It also becomes an opportunity to tell a fascinating story about how media representation unravels and recovers from its own investment in the web, bridging the weightiness of legal and scholarly interventions with the humour of the blogosphere and the streams of social media that constantly refresh the conversation. A beginning of sorts, this moment of high speculation requires more than documentation, it begets critical scholarly reflection and attention as the best means to engage with the discourse of data protection in relation to the antithetical political structures that stake claims over this power. My intent is therefore to draw urgent attention to the ways in which discourses of materialities of data infrastructures (Chun 2013; Cubbitt, Hassan, and Volkmer, 2011; Maxwell & Miller 2012; Parikka 2011; Gabrys 2011), along with theories of media ecologies (Parikka 2013), inform (and limit) the grid of possibilities for agency and activism in light of inevitable big data aggregation in our current networked culture and economy.
In sum, Sealand offers more of a metaphorical reconfiguration about the fears we have (or should have) regarding our data-how it circulates and where it ends up. Our complicity in feeding into the networks that map and surveil us cannot be understated, and yet the timeliness of these revelations seems uncanny; the internet is a technology still too young to be regulated and yet mature enough to have amassed data on the majority of its users on a global scale. The repercussions of Snowden’s leaks will be important. Their impact is already made visible by the shift in discourse to localize the internet, as demonstrated through the Euro Cloud as well as Brazil’s proposal to build local internet data centers. These plans, among others, reinforce the Sealand metaphor while arguably giving governments greater control (rather than opting for lawlessness) over internet regulation and data storage in ‘the cloud.’ These plans also suggest that much of the future of the internet will be structured around the concept of data privacy, of which both Bumblehive and Sealand foreshadow extreme versions of the possible outcomes.
-Contributed by Mél Hogan, Department of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Colorado, Boulder-
While it has received comparatively little attention in the literature, during the 2004 presidential cycle the most technically innovative campaign was the re-election bid of George W. Bush. With online precinct captain programs complementing the work of a massive field effort, integrated databases, an expansive voter file, and micro-targeting models, party staffers and consultants on both sides of the aisle roundly acknowledge Republican Party dominance in the area of field and digital campaigning during Bush’s re-election bid. Indeed, while John Kerry’s election infrastructure collapsed in key swing states, the Bush campaign far exceeded the expectations of Democrats and their allied 527 groups.
Ironically, the victor’s uptake of technology during the 2004 campaign cycle is often an afterthought to the digital innovations of Howard Dean’s losing campaign. Four years later, another Democratic campaign received outsized attention, although this time it was a winning bid. Journalists and political practitioners praised the 2008 Obama campaign for its adept use of campaign and social media platforms such as My.BarackObama.com and Facebook, which has also inspired reams of scholarly analyses. For Republicans, however, John McCain’s loss was an easily understood defeat. Four years after Bush’s successful re-election campaign, the party’s nominee fell victim to a disastrous economic context, an unpopular president, an uninspired Republican base, and a polarizing vice presidential nominee. In short, there was not so much a gap between the respective capacities of the Democratic and Republican parties to wage a contemporary campaign, as a highly unfavorable electoral context.
Many political scientists would agree. And, they are right. And yet, while it might be empirically true that digital media did not win Obama the election, this assessment overlooks all the reasons that narratives about elections matter. The ways that campaigns perform their technology use and the stories political staffers and consultants themselves tell about the outcomes of campaigns matter a great deal for how future campaigns are conducted, which firms get hired to service them, the practitioners and skills that are valued, the organizational roles these staffers fill and their authority in campaigns and in parties, and where parties invest scarce resources. The stories that journalists tell about these things matter a great deal as well in terms of shaping the perceptions of these staffers, as well as those of donors and actors allied with the two parties, about what matters in a campaign and how to allocate their time and talents in the future.
As a result of the ways practitioners and journalists framed the Dean and Obama campaigns, and the ways staffers performed their uptake of technology on these electoral bids, the Democrats had two what I call ‘prototype campaigns’ that redirected millions of dollars towards massive infrastructure projects in digital platforms and voter data and attracted talented staffers from the technology industry into the political field. By ‘prototype campaign,’ I mean a campaign that comes to be seen as a ‘prototype,’ a model for future campaign practice and set of claims about how the world is that is actionable for campaigners.
Writing from a science and technology studies perspective, Suchman, Trigg, and Blomberg (2002) argue that prototypes have a “performative” dimension and align “multiple, discontinuous social worlds.” A prototype:
“exhibits new technological possibilities in ways that, through its demonstrable appreciation for members’ familiar practices and its rendering of those practices, made the new possibilities praxiologically relevant to practitioners (175).”
While most of the literature on prototypes focuses on small-scale artifacts in research labs, there is no theoretical reason why prototypes do not also exist at the field level. In a political context, this means creating new alignments among the stakeholders of political campaigns and new models for technological campaign practice. What is of consequence in making prototypes such as digitally enabled campaigns is the creation of new alignments between people, material things, and organizational forms through cultural and technical processes, and then narrating and materially demonstrating these new alignments as a model for future practice.
Culturally, protoypes are part of a broader “theater of use” that Smith (2009) has documented in the context of demonstrations within the technology industry: “they have long been used to convince colleagues, managers, customers and others about the efficacy of new ‘systems,’ either under development or ready for use” (449). While Smith looks at staged performances within the technology industry, campaigns such as Dean’s and Obama’s were culturally situated in particular ways through technological metaphors and staged technoscientific demonstrations for both the public and journalists who interpreted these campaigns for broader publics. For example, while scholars debate whether the Dean effort was actually ‘open source,’ we often miss the cultural work that the idea of an ‘open source’ campaign performed. The idea that Dean ran an ‘open source’ campaign worked culturally to attract top programming talent to the campaign, reoriented the party towards technological investment, and ultimately lead to significant market opportunities for former internet staffers.
The Republican Party, by contrast, never had a similar prototype of a technologically-mediated campaign. What is important here is that actors recognize a prototype as such – for example, their attribution that technology, data, and analytics have causal force over the outcome of an electoral campaign. For example, in contrast with the Democrats, few in the Republican Party network saw the need to reinvest in technological capacities after 2004 and even 2008. As as senior staffer on Bush’s re-election bid and prominent figure in GOP political consulting argues, ironically given its extensive innovations in internet use for field operations and fundraising, the Bush re-election campaign was not narrated and performed as a digital-intensive effort in the same way that the Dean and the Obama campaigns were, often quite deliberately:
“That everybody wanted to write that story and having been, like look, I mean having been involved in the few efforts that I would say that would legitimately qualify for this sort of – eventually kind of receive this treatment of ‘oh my god look at this like these you know what these guys were able to do with the internet you know’ I felt like number 1 there was never really that sort of credit attached to the Bush campaign…. We weren’t necessarily going out there and telling that on our own, no the Obama campaign didn’t necessarily do that either during the election. They certainly did a good job after, creating this… framing digital as essential to them in 08 – which I think that is actually kind of a dubious position to be in. Because in the sense of its impact, without the internet you guys would win in 08 period. Dean was a losing primary candidate and so it is interesting to me from that perspective what he did was much more impressive…. We never really had, I felt like it should have been more of an effort to kind of go after and just talk it up: this being kind of a central aspect to the win or at least very highly valued in sort of the integration with the field operations being something that was a contributing factor… A lot of the history gets written, and is driven by the public marketing of these efforts, and by the marketing of what the results mean. Even though, when you know you talk to people internally and they say that is a good deal more messy then that.”
What this consultant is suggesting is that this matters on a cultural level for attracting new talent to the field, providing a model for a new way of running campaigns, and opening markets for new services to offer campaigns and candidates. Indeed, after the failed 2008 Republican presidential bid a number of digital political consultants launched a “Rebuild the Party” effort focused on closing what they perceived to be the yawning digital gap between the Democrats and Republicans. That effort never achieved critical mass and was abandoned in early 2010, in part as a result of the fact that McCain’s defeat was easily explained away.
While the failed Dean campaign spawned a dozen technology consulting firms and political careers, including staffers who played pivotal information technology roles at the Democratic Party and in both of Obama’s runs, McCain’s loss did not create the same cultural reorientations needed to generate investment in new technologies and create new market opportunities. As a consequence, the Republican party-network failed to develop a similarly decentralized group of consultancies, training organizations, and staffers specializing in data, new media, and analytics comparable to the Democratic network that emerged after the 2004 campaign cycle. As a senior analytics staffer on the Romney campaign details:
“So we win ’04. I think a sense of complacency frankly sets in across the right. Whereas you have the Democrats who are facing a situation not unlike what we are facing right now, which is how did we just lose an election where we really should have won or at least we feel we should have won. What did they do that we didn’t that we should be investing in? And, they went out and invested aggressively in various institutions and planted a number of seeds which I think have come to fruition like the Analyst Institute, the New Organizing Institute, and Catalyst. I point to those three institutions as kind of the pillars of this liberal data analytics ecosystem that were really the key drivers behind the success of 2012, if not directly then at least indirectly in the buildup to 2012.”
-Contributed by Daniel Kreiss, Assistant Professor, Journalism and Mass Communication, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill-
Culture Digitally is thrilled to partner with a new initiative, the Digital Keywords Workshop, spearheaded by Ben Peters (University of Tulsa).
The goal of the Digital Keywords Workshop, a boutique scholarly forum, is to work through and critique some terms central to our research and the digitally lit world. We seek to publish — on the fortieth anniversary of Raymond William’s 1976 classic Keywords — short keyword provocations accessible to any educated reader of English and at once relevant to current scholarly research: each participant has been invited to get at the very basics of topics that fascinates and animates our work.
The workshop will proceed in three steps:
1. Selected scholars and students have been invited to fully draft short digital keyword entries during this 2013-2014 academic year. Below is the preliminary list of keyword contributors and their abstracts. We hope you agree this promises to be a fine mix of folks and fields!
2. During the summer of 2014, those keyword drafts will appear here for an open comment period. If you’re reading this, you are invited to comment. Please, come and play online!
3. Invited participants will meet in downtown Tulsa, Oklahoma on October 10 and 11, 2014 to constructively critique and workshop their drafts in person. Each keyword discussion will begin with a prepared critical respondent. The format maximizes constructive critique and minimizes paper reading.
Culture Digitally will help to circulate the efforts of this initiative. Below are the abstracts, and we welcome comments now. When the authors have produced their drafts, they will be posted on Culture Digitally for public comment and discussion. Then news of, and excerpts from, the volume will appear here when it is nearing publication.
So please spread the word, stay tuned, watch for keyword drafts appearing in the summer months of 2014. While the conference organizers do not have additional funding, anyone interested in participating in these conversations but with questions about how they might do so should feel free to be in touch with Benjamin Peters.
A preliminary list of workshop participants and abstracts:
algorithm - Tarleton Gillespie, Cornell University
analog - Jonathan Sterne, McGill University
archive - Katherine D. Harris, San Jose State University
computing - Benjamin Peters, The University of Tulsa
cloud - John Durham Peters, The University of Iowa
cyber-activism - Guobin Yang, The University of Pennsylvania
democracy - Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, Roskilde and Oxford Universities
gaming - Saugata Bhaduri, Jawaharlal Nehru University
hacking - Gabriella Coleman, McGill University
memory - Steven Schrag, The University of Pennsylvania
prototype - Fred Turner, Stanford University
surrogate - Jeffrey Drouin, The University of Tulsa
Tarleton Gillespie: “algorithm”
Algorithms may now be our most important knowledge technologies, “the scientific instruments of a society at large,” (Gitelman) and they are increasingly vital to how we organize human social interaction and produce authoritative knowledge. It is tempting to think of algorithms as computational phenomena, and so address them as technical artifacts whose politics must be unpacked. But in doing so we overlook how they instantiate a much older logic: the embrace of “procedure” for managing complex human endeavors. What algorithms embody is a commitment to the “if/then”: the notion that human undertakings are best overseen by predicting and choreographing them with procedures designed to respond to and weigh all imagined conditions. This commitment to the “if/then” links algorithms to Taylorism and the automation of labor, to actuarial accounting and the census, and to management theory and the dominion of bureaucracy.
Jonathan Sterne: “analog”
Alongside the rise of terms like digital and cyber as modifiers for various nouns, the term analog has proliferated wildly over the last 30 years or so. Today, its ambit is impossibly broad. It covers types of computers, but also a range of signal processing devices and consumer electronics that were rarely understood as analog in their heyday. It is also now expanded to refer to the fulsome continuity of life itself, or used synonymously with terms like organic, which is an interesting departure from earlier meanings. Even as digital technologies and their processing protocols became metaphors for the human mind, the human body became somehow analog, as in Universal Audio’s corporate motto “analog ears, digital minds.” My entry will attempt to trace the expansion of the term in hopes that we might excavate a more restricted and specific definition for the analog, as one among many domains of human technics.
Katherine D. Harris: “archive”
In the digital age, we attempt to create archives of a particular moment (The 9/11 Archive), the entirety of a medium (The Internet Archive), the mutability of language (the Oxford English Dictionary), all knowledge (Wikipedia). More than any others, the crowd-sourced information of Wikipedia attempts to capture knowledge as well as the creation of that knowledge — the history or Talk of each Wikipedia entry unveils an evolving community of supposedly disinterested (Arnold) users who argue, contribute, and create each entry. Wikipedia entries represent that digital version of an archive in the twenty-first century. The archive as a fractured, incalculable moment is an attempt to hold close all that happens at once in the world. But this concept has become incredibly problematic with the rush of information around us.
John Durham Peters: “cloud”
The cloud has become synonymous with online data storage and processing, with computing as a public utility. The metaphor is as ubiquitous as the technology it names and sponsors. But it deserves a critique and a history. It deserves a straightforward ideology critique, since computing is a carbon-intensive activity, not at all the happy vision of puffy cumulus that pervade the imagery of cloud computing. More subtly, clouds deserve a more generous treatment, and a rescue from the clutches of the latest technoboosters. Clouds are preeminent theological, artistic, philosophical, and meteorological objects. They have been looked to for signs, for painting, for photography, for espionage. In an age in which clouds are visible in ways never before possible, it is good to ask what the digital cloud has to do with the clouds that float in the sky.
Benjamin Peters: “computing”
Computing, historically understood, rests on the tension between computation as a concept and the computer as a material object. In the traditional telling, great mathematicians make the ideas (Leibniz, Boole, Frege, Goedel, Turing, etc.) and industrial parks make the objects that execute those ideas (IBM, Bell Labs, Xerox PARC, MIT, ARPA, etc.). Critics of that story might instead look to the semiotic-material aspect of embedded in the thought laboratory culture that raised computing. In this fresh look, computation appears a concept given shape in diverse institutional-intellectual forums (the Vienna circle, Macy Conferences on cybernetics, cognitive science, etc.) and computers appear as objects whose shapes vary across media formats (analog, digital, gendered, genetic, mechanical, molecular, quantum, wetware, etc.). Neither grand idea nor enterprising installation alone but a combination of specific intellectual-institutional-material forces, modern computing challenges the distinction between the symbolic (software) and the real (hardware) upon which so much of the current digital age pivots.
Guobin Yang: “cyber-activism”
Cyber-activism: Together with other concepts in the same “family” — online activism, digital activism, electronic activism, internet activism, etc., cyber-activism is at the center of a historical transformation of the forms of citizen dissent and protest. In Western democracies, popular political radicalism was on the wane after the 1960s. In China and the former Soviet bloc, large-scale protest declined after 1989. It is not by accident that it was in the 1970s that Lyotard declared the collapse of the grand narrative. What has emerged since then in the realm of popular politics are varieties of Foucauldian micro-power. De-radicalized civic action becomes more common than radical protest as neoliberal capitalist ideology continues to undermine the legitimacy of revolutionary radicalism. Cyber-activism appeared in the middle of this transformation. I will contend that cyber-activism is symptomatic of this transformation. At the same time, cyber-activism contains the possibility of re-transformation, but in two divergent directions — toward further de-politicization or toward re-politicization. An analysis of the political contradictions of the meaning and practices of cyber-activism shows why.
Rasmus Kleis Nielsen: “democracy”
Digital democracy debate often has had more to do with the potential role of technology in alternative, idealized visions of deliberative or participatory democracy than with representative democratic practice as we know it. Real-world democracies are distinguished less by informed debate or active ongoing citizen engagement (frequent topics of digital democratic discourse) than by basic civil liberties, relatively free and fair periodic elections, and the separation of powers. The lack of focus on democratic practice in favor of potentials reflects the unhappy coincidence that many contemporary democratic theorists and much of the digital avant-garde are more interested in alternative visions than in existing realities. The result is that we may have spent more time discussing what digital technologies might mean for forms of democracy that do not exist than what digital technologies mean for democracies that do exist and that in many places today—despite global enthusiasm for the label “democracy”—face serious problems of legitimacy, efficiency, and institutional integrity.
Saugata Bhaduri: “gaming”
Why did it take so long for “gaming,” a word with roots connecting to gambling in the early 16th century, to find its contemporary usage as a participle? The form has been available for five centuries, yet rarely used. What accounts for this rarity? How can one analyse the reticence of a language to deploy the verbal – i.e. the present participial, and thus always open-ended – form of a word whose nominal and adjectival use is so frequent? Could it be that “gaming” is essentially subversive, connected ontically to the dangerous wastefulness of gambling, and uncontainable in its participial form? Does gaming in the present context thus become the veritable site of role-playing and identity alteration, of contestations and negotiations vis-à-vis the normative life-world, of a Dionysian joyful disruption of the austere world of utility? It is in attempting to answer these and like questions, that the myriad senses of the universe of Gaming today can be unraveled.
Gabriella Coleman: “hacking”
Hacking, understood as a complex technical, ethical, and political craft, increasingly preoccupies public life. Underlying diverse activities such as programming, security research, network administration, collaborative hardware and gadget tinkering, innovative licensing scheming, counter-corporate and state snooping, and security breaking (breaking systems to improve them), hacking as a craft takes part in a hacktivist tradition, dating back to the early 1990s, that channels technical skills toward political ends. In particular, a political sense of craftiness guides the craft of hacking. Hacking will be explored as where craft and craftiness converge: building 3-D printers that print 3-D printers; stealing botnet—an army of zombie computers—to blast a website for a political DDoS campaign and then kill the botnet; showcasing a robot that mixes cocktails at a scientific-geek festival for cocktail robotics; inventing a programming language called Brainfuck designed to mess with people’s heads; and others. In this view, perhaps craftiness best pulls together the diverse technical and ethical worlds of hacking.
Steven Schrag: “memory”
Two distinct but overlapping metaphors have emerged to describe digital memory as both a function of the brain and of data storage hardware. The first, dating back at least to cybernetics, collapses the two in a cyborg extension of the mind’s natural memory faculty; the second, dating back at least to cyberpunk, separates the two into a conflict between machines and flesh. Specters of these ontologically incompatible metaphors haunt how we think about memory today, reanimating concerns of panopticon, mind control, social control, and mass amnesia. This paper will assess the more moderate possibility that the Internet has a shorter memory than we may think — but not as short as we may sometimes hope.
Fred Turner: “prototype”
Prototyping is a standard engineering process that has become a powerful engine of cultural change. I want to explore the ways in which various Silicon Valley constituencies have turned to prototyping in order to imagine and legitimate new political arrangements. I hope to think through the transformation of new technologies into emblems of social possibilities; the use of festivals and conferences as models of new socio-technical configurations; and the reframing of citizenship as a process of collaborative engineering. In short, I hope to examine the ways in which prototypes quite literally transform technology into culture.
Jeff Drouin: “surrogate”
Surrogate: Historical scholarship in literary studies is increasingly dependent upon digital objects that stand in for the original printed or manuscript material. The operational features of digital surrogates often attempt to mimic the functionalities of codices and other material formats without losing the vastly different cognitive and representational possibilities afforded by the new medium. There has been much theorization of the ways in which new media contain the old, but we are increasingly making print into a fetish, perhaps to an extent that has not been fully acknowledged. This paper will examine the digital surrogate as an effigy: an image in the full psychological sense, an object simultaneously of worship and ridicule, a palimpsest upon which the conscience of our time is rewritten.
-Contributed by Tarleton Gillespie, Cornell University Department of Communication-
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While the official theme of the Association of Internet Researchers 14th annual conference was “resistance + appropriation,” it was striking that a number of panels, papers, and plenary talks touched on a kind of “resistant” digital practice that is less utopian. Hate and hating in its various incarnations — contrary to likes and hearts, or dissent for social justice — was the topic of discussion in many rooms at the downtown Denver Westin. In nearly any time slot, one could attend talks discussing online incivility addressed from a range of perspectives, and discussed in terms of the Internet as a racist machine (Lisa Nakamura’s plenary talk), the “anti-social web” (a panel chaired by Daniel Greene), the problematic hegemonic tendencies of the Internet (a paper on reddit by Adrienne Massanari), anti-fandoms (which emerged in a panel on fan culture by Mel Stanfill), and of course, haters (in a fishbowl with Kate Miltner, Alice Marwick, and Whitney Phillips entitled ‘Haters Gonna Hate’?). In each of these discussions, hate and its vicissitudes were complicated by entangled and ambivalent relationships with a range of topics, from technology to play to freedom of speech to participatory culture.
This focus was reminiscent of Culture Digitally’s workshop in London this past June, where a group of participants brainstormed on the epistemological and ontological differences between offline languages and understandings and how they port in online spaces and communities. Our working group, which consisted of Tim Jordan, Hector Postigo, Kate Miltner, and ourselves, and which later expanded to include Kevin Driscoll, Sam Srauy, and Lana Swartz, focused in particular on the naming of practices that seem to supplant discussions of hate online, from griefing and trolling to flaming and cyberbullying, and how they are often justified or dismissed as “just playing.” While we agreed that inclusion and exclusion are moving targets in online and offline spheres, we disagreed on the nuances of the applicability of legalistic notions in these spaces, particularly stalking, hate speech, and sexual harassment in the workplace. It seemed that the best way to approach changing norms and practices related to civility and antagonism online was through a historical analysis of the regulatory structures shaping participation in not only contemporary communities but as within their antecedents, from Usenet to MUDs and MOOs.
After the moment that hate and hating seemed to have at this year’s AoIR conference, it seems all the more urgent to provide a historical grounding for the claims being made about the status of hate in digital spaces. As we develop this project through a series of grounded case studies, we welcome feedback from the wider community of Culture Digitally scholars and readers. We’d like to provoke a discussion here especially around questions such as: how do community norms around hate and hate speech arise in specific sites? How is hate regulated by community policing and policy documents such as FAQs? How do the architectures of certain online spaces shape the way that hate gets expressed or managed? How might lurking, in addition to posting, in hate-filled spaces invoke a kind of ethical consumption? Methodologically, how might we reconcile our own political convictions while studying hate cultures? And, more pragmatically, how do we deal with all the data when approaching the long history of hating on something as massive as Usenet?
In generating discussion here, we hope both to furnish a more defined research agenda as well as to reflect on this “moment for hate” as a significant pivot point in the study of digital cultural production.
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