September 08, 2021
September 06, 2021
#teaching #teachingmanuelacasasoli #education
The environmental crisis is not a crisis of technology or science, it is a crisis of imagination. If we let children be our guides, we might just be able to imagine our way to survival.
To Solve the Environmental Crisis, We Must Foster the Power to Imagine
September 05, 2021
September 04, 2021
September 03, 2021
August 31, 2021
Here, 2021 Nikon Small World In Motion Winners in Scientific American
Watch Countless Small Worlds Pulse: From Liquid Crystals to Sea Cucumbers
Picture from 2020 Photomicrography Competition
Phantom midge larva
By Christopher Algar
August 29, 2021
August 28, 2021
● NEWS ● #CounterPunch #mx ☞ WalmartLand: How US Stores Colonizing #Mexico are Displacing Local Culture https://www.counterpunch.org/2021/08/27/walmartland-how-us-stores-colonizing-mexico-are-displacing-local-culture/
August 27, 2021
Noir and domestic, but with romance
yes, this is a PS to what I was telling you about my recent read https://diasp.org/posts/19440292
Unlike the Gothic romances, though, domestic noirs tend to be firmly rooted in the present and the urban—or suburban—experience. In that sense, they are realistic while Gothic romance sought an air of unreality thanks to their great big castles, misty landscapes and old-fashioned settings.
via Silvia Moreno-Garcia at Crime Reads -> https://crimereads.com/gothic-romance-domestic-noir/
Mexican gothic : Thank you @silviamg for let me glow with this amazing story. While I was reading this amazing #book, I was fearless by the the transmutation of the sinister owner of the mine. But on my last dreams I was listening my childish female voice telling me "Open your eyes".
- honestly, I'm really in love with this book by Silvia Moreno-García.
Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Publisher: New York : Del Rey, 2021.
Edition/Format: Print book :
Fiction : English : Del Rey trade paperback
- You must go find one copy and enjoy this gem of the mexican diaspora living in North America
August 25, 2021
Mi scuso per non aver risposto ai post che mi sono stati rivolti su Facebook in questi giorni, non è colpa mia. Una settimana fa, infatti, sono stato radiato da Facebook per una settimana, con la motivazione che “incitavo all’odio”.
Sono un anziano giornalista, ho settant’anni e esercito questo mestiere da quaranta. Non ho mai incitato all’odio nessuno, e in questo caso mi ero limitato a ripubblicare un mio vecchio articolo del 2003 in cui esprimevo motivate critiche ai talebani e ai governi Usa, saudita e pakistano. L’odio non c’entrava affatto e in ogni caso, come tutti sanno, non è mai stato fra le mie corde.
E allora? Complotto capitalista-taleban-saudita contro Orioles? Ma no. Semplicemente – il che è peggio – scarsa professionalità e grettezza. La “censura” su Facebook è infatti affidata:
1) a rudimentali software di riconoscimento, che “ragionano” da software, cioè non ragionano affatto. Una statua della Venere di Milo, ad esempio, è stata censurata (con relativa sanzione) perché comprendeva seni femminili, che il programma è ‘talebanescamente’ addestrato a denunciare; la foto di una piccola vittima dell’immigrazione, gettata scompostamente su una spiaggia, è stata censurata (e punita) per “pornografia infantile”; e così via. Alcuni termini del mio articolo, del tutto giustificati nel contesto, avranno fatto accendere qualche lampadina del cervello nel robot;
2) a volenterosi giovani precari, ciascuno impegnato su centinaia di post al giorno, con risultati ovvi. Non credo che alcuno di loro abbia realmente letto il mio pezzo, che era un normale studio di politica estera, ripreso più volte in questi vent’anni da specialisti e testate di vario orientamento. Potete del resto leggerlo in numerosi siti autorevoli (Libera informazione, Articolo 21 ecc.) e valutare se inciti all’odio o a qualunque altro sentimento o consista piuttosto in un’analisi geopolitica razionale, valida secondo molti a distanza di due decenni.
L’azienda Facebook, in altre parole, non è malvagia. E’ semplicemente inefficiente. Sarebbero affari suoi, se si trattasse di un’azienda qualunque. Ma così non è. E’ il principale mezzo d’informazione nel territorio italiano (che nominalmente garantisce, per Costituzione, la piena libertà d’informazione) e lo è nel momento in cui l’informazione televisiva è monopolizzata da un’azienda privata (Mediaset) e quella stampata da un’altra azienda privata (Repubblica-Corriere e soci) il cui interesse istituzionale consiste nella massimizzazione dei profitti e non nella difesa della libertà d’informazione o di qualunque altro valore non monetario.
E allora? Io sono contrario ad abbandonare Facebook per protesta. I proprietari di Facebook siamo noi, è la nostra presenza che le crea i miliardi. Abbiamo tutto il diritto di chiederle conto e ragione, e in ogni caso di esigerne un funzionamento professionale e non improvvisato. Abbiamo il diritto di non essere ingiuriati dai suoi dipendenti (io, anziano professionista con un’enorme esperienza alle spalle, tout court diffamato come “seminatore d’odio”). E abbiamo il diritto di pretendere che l’azienda si doti, per adempiere ai suoi obblighi, di mezzi adeguati: se i giovani “controllori” sono pochi, sono precari e sono stressati, ne assuma degli altri, li paghi bene, gli dia un sopportabile carico di lavoro: i soldi non le mancano, e siamo noi che glieli diamo.
Se tutto ciò non è possibile, allora intervenga lo Stato. Oppure, se un servizio pubblico essenziale deve continuare ad essere gestito fuori da ogni responsabilità e controllo da imprenditori privati, allora facciamo l’ultimo passo, per coerenza: privatizziamo i carabinieri, l’esercito, i magistrati e tutto il resto. In fondo, privatizzando e rendendo monopolistica l’informazione tv, stampata e adesso anche social, vogliamo arrivare esattamente a questo. E allora coraggio, che aspettate?
August 20, 2021
Mancano poche ore allo sgombero del “centro sociale” (da tempo inattivo) Auro di via Santa Maria del Rosario a Catania. La relativa ordinanza è stata firmata una settimana fa dal sindaco Salvo Pogliese, sospeso dopo una condanna tempo addietro e poi reintegrato.
Occupato nel 1991, il Centro Sociale fu intitolato alla memoria di Auro Bruni, un giovane eritreo bruciato vivo a Roma dai fascisti in quei mesi. Per parecchi anni è stato uno dei centri, con la parrocchia dei santi Pietro e Paolo e la redazione dei Siciliani, delle iniziative civili e sociali della città.
I locali, di proprietà comunale, facevano originariamente parte del monastero Sant’Agata, ma per diversi anni ospitarono, a condizioni di favore, i giornali di Mario Ciancio. Quando questi si trasferirono in via Da Pordenone, i locali vennero praticamente rilevati da un folto gruppo di giovani cittadini, le cui meritevoli attività l’amministrazione comunale riconobbe affidando la gestione all’associazione culturale de essi costituita, la “Lorenzo Aiello”.
Per diversi anni, centinaia di cittadine e cittadini, associazioni, collettivi, movimenti si sono presi cura di quel luogo, con beneficio dell’intera città. Poi l’impegno decadde a poco a poco, anche per i problemi posti dalla piccola e grande malavita del quartiere.
Domani, gli incaricati del comune mureranno le porte di quello che fu uno dei cuori pulsanti della Catania civile di fine Novecento. Ma fuori respira già la generazione del Duemila.
L’immagine in evidenza è tratta dalla pagina Facebook Cso Auro 2
August 18, 2021
August 16, 2021
August 12, 2021
August 08, 2021
An annotated digest of the top "Hacker" "News" posts for the third week of July, 2021.
July 15, 2021 (comments)
July 16, 2021 (comments)
A Hackernews submits Google's support documentation as something to bitch about. The scare quotes around "misleading content" signify that the submitter considers permission to lie to you to be more important than living in a functioning society. Hackernews are libertarians until corporate policy conflicts with their immediate goals, at which time they fervently support nationalizing, you know, whatever is inconveniencing them. The "Hacker" "News" moderator steps in a couple times to remind people not to be impolite to shitposters.
July 17, 2021 (comments)
Some Internets like video games, but not enough to run them in the correct operating system. Hackernews is unfamiliar with virtualization technology that isn't subject to Amazon Web Services billing practices, and the resulting comment threads constitute several requests for features that have been reliable and mature for years, and are univerally inferior to just running the supported configuration.
July 18, 2021 (comments)
Hackernews chews on some propaganda, which is focused on the misapprehension that anyone in the United States justice system gives a fuck what Sigurdur Ingi Thordarson has to say about anything. Hackernews is mostly convinced that there's a sinister global conspiracy to silence a brave hero who did nothing at all to anyone except encourage an emotionally unstable foreign intelligence operative to commit treason for his own personal gain. As this behavior remains illegal, the United States remains interested in discouraging it.
July 19, 2021 (comments)
Hackernews gleefully converges on an opinion article from a respected medical publisher which gives them an excuse to disregard medical research journals. The comments focus on all the times that scientists did something to piss off Hackernews, to which experiences the only resonable response appears to be utterly discounting all formal research which is not directly funded by Google or SpaceX. Hackernews declares that medical research is mired in a sea of distractions from financiers and overhyped fads, which doesn't affect the crucial cryptocurrency and machine learning research coming out of the computer science fields.
July 20, 2021 (comments)
A business fights another business about copyright violations. Hackernews copyright cultists are excited about it.
July 21, 2021 (comments)
An Internet doesn't like some of the currently popular job control software. Hackernews does, for the most part, and the ones who don't can't really imagine any other approaches. As a result, most of the comments are discussions about which AWS services should be replaced with which other AWS services.
August 02, 2021
July 29, 2021
July 27, 2021
I click on a weblink that prompts me to join a room. The room is dark and drenched in a purple hue: blue and red hexagonal tiles rotate along the perimeter. Large text reads “WELCOME TO THE WWWUNDERKAMMER.” Up ahead is a massive VR headset with portals in the place of apps revealing a map that allows me to transport to other rooms. There are 22 from which to choose. I click on one and enter. From there, the tour begins.
Time feels slippery as you explore New York City-based transmedia artist Carla Gannis’s wwwunderkammer (2020), an immersive virtual installation. At once anachronistic and futuristic, you’re both taken back in time and catapulted into the future. This is how one might describe the internet, a database, or any other collection of information, which is what the wwwunderkammer is at its core: an archive. Inspired by the 16th century wunderkammer (German for “wonder chamber”) of Western Europe, the wwwunderkammer is a cabinet of curiosities updated for the 21st century, as denoted by the work’s name, a cheeky reference to the world wide web. The original wunderkammer were a kind of proto museum that housed a curated selection of objects. “They were entire rooms,” reflects Gannis, “often filled with exotica, and then we run into the problematic sub-orientalism, exoticism, and of course colonialism.” References to art history, popular culture, and politics are a fixture of Gannis’s work, but she is careful to avoid reconstructing historical references and, instead, contextualizes them pluralistically, a “remixing” of history that speaks to her interests, which are, in her words, “vast, and large, and maximalist.” In contrast to its predecessor, Gannis’s wwwunderkammer reflects this sensibility toward openness and maximalism. She and I spoke at length, avatar-to-avatar, while teleporting around the wwwunderkammer together to discuss how it came together and how she plans to expand it.
As an interactive digital installation, the wwwunderkammer’s behavior is, by design, performative and unstable, resisting a centuries-old didacticism and power dynamic common to curation and collection practices. Rather than entering a fixed space of collected information, one gets the impression of entering a place that is meant to be meaningful but shifting. Like many of Gannis’s projects, wwwunderkammer is iterative, entirely or in part translated into evolving formats to accommodate different venues, platforms, and accessibility requirements, and thus yields different participant experiences. The work began in a brick-and-mortar setting with a debut at Telematic Media Arts gallery in San Francisco, USA in the fall of 2020. Comprising physical objects, prints, video animation, and XR (virtual reality and augmented reality), the exhibition was cut short by the Covid-19 pandemic shutdown. Like most things, the wwwunderkammer then went online: Gannis completely adapted the work to a virtual installation using Hubs by Mozilla, an open-source, customizable mixed reality VR chatroom accessible through headset or web browser. Being forced to move online was, in a sense, a useful fate for this project, as it then had the opportunity to not only engage but inhabit and enact the language of the internet more fully.
A screenshot of the runway leading to the game cabinet castle.
“It is an object of the internet with its own digital materiality,” says Gannis, who consulted her architect partner while creating the preliminary sketches of the chambers and access points of the virtual installation. Visitors can enter through multiple pathways. There is a lobby and a main gallery, both of which are organized to guide visitors toward different collections, plus a game cabinet castle entrance that leads you down a long runway toward a giant retro video game arcade cabinet. The environment references some of Gannis’s inspirations: the wallpaper inside the main gallery is a nod to Janet Murray’s pioneering Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace (first published in 1997), the grid pattern on the “floor” is a reference to the science fiction horror film The Lawnmower Man (1992, dir. Brett Leonard); and “a cabinet of curiosities without a video game cabinet castle in the 21st century would be remiss,” quips Gannis.
There are references to popular culture, tech history, and science fiction everywhere. Gannis mentions Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s surreal TV series World on a Wire (1973) in passing, demonstrating her orientation toward speculative fiction. Digital objects line the walls of the main gallery and are perpetually animated, a stimulation of jittery GIFs. The names of content experts flash and link to pre-recorded interviews as hidden Easter eggs among the maximalist wall-to-wall collection. The vibrant aesthetic of the environment is owed to the use of high-key, saturated colors of mostly blue and red, which together form a bold purple. This color palette is a way to “subvert the formal or traditional architecture that we’re in right now.” One could say it’s also a way of pulling us inside our screens and into our long-term memories, accessing the fictional worlds of science fiction film and literature. The speculative fictional worlds of our collective imaginations are here reenacted.
The main gallery of the wwwunderkammer.
The sensation of mutability this produces is intentional. Having worked in a library — Gannis’s first job in New York was running the library at the New York Studio School — she acknowledges the limitations of archives as biased storage sites and narrow communicators of cultural knowledge and invites us to reconsider their static and didactic positions. “In terms of the experience itself, I like it being open to interpretation. You don’t see wall tags, things that are delineating what these different cabinets are, because I think of this as a visual language with a kind of surrealistic bent that is open to interpretation and has more fluidity in that way,” explains Gannis. In formally remaking the archive, she is in a sense rescuing the archive from itself by bringing it to life rather than allowing its contents to get lost in obscurity.
The wwwunderkammer does more than house information about history, politics, art, and cultural values. The work itself is performative. In this way, the wwwunderkammer performs the archive, not merely exists as one. This distinction is important. As we wander around the wwunderkammer together, Gannis clarifies how she thinks of each of the collections, which have their own locations, as places rather than spaces. “Spaces are more functional and serve a utilitarian function,” Gannis muses. “I feel that these are more places: they have a specific intent and cultural resonance.” Objects dance and jiggle in place, music pulsates, hyperlinks flash: all as if electrified by the material contents of the built environment’s infrastructure. The wwwunderkammer radiates an energy unique to the internet: an everchanging, dynamic place of cultural knowledge, both represented by the archivist and the archived. This is also advanced by the collaboration between Gannis and other artists and thinkers who’ve curated their own wonder chambers and given expert interviews with one of Gannis’s alter ego avatars. This phase of the project is about expanding the cabinets Gannis initially conceived based on the scholarship and expertise of others through interviews conducted by Gannis’s AI-controlled avatars, which are accessible from the main gallery. Charlotte Kent reflects on humor and the absurd; Leah Roh addresses the importance of sex positivity, and Regina Harsanyi discusses digital preservation. Gannis has plans to include additional chambers and interviews to increase the depth and breadth of cultural information offered through this evolving project.
A screenshot of Leah Roh being interviewed by Moira.
The wwwunderkammer is doubtlessly the product of a cyberfeminist ethos, which is a feminist approach to the use of and creation with technology that imagines and fosters alternative practices and politics toward operating differently in the world. One of Gannis’s cabinets features Lucille Trackball — an AI-based stand-up comedian Gannis created about three years ago — and is “dedicated to female-identified comedians from around the world, of different abilities and of different gender orientations.” Among other things, it’s a response to both the reinforcing of gender bias through female-sounding voice assistants in computing and the use of humor as a way for women to obtain agency. Lucille Trackball comedically interviews Charlotte Kent to talk more about the latter. AI, in this context, isn’t promoting a new commodity, rather a new interface and intelligence centered on humor. Likewise, AI is used to train the wallpaper lining of the shelves of the cabinets with image datasets Gannis created. Hardly noticeable without having it pointed out, it “speaks to the fact that almost all of our experiences today involve some aspect or mechanism of AI.”
The dark side of AI and computing sit in contrast to the high-key colors as crucial reminders of the reality and complexity of our digital environment and the world in which it is created. Though Gannis dispenses with labels and taxonomies that might restrict meaning, there are signs everywhere of her sociopolitical awareness. The word DECOLONIZE and a reference to Ruha Benjamin’s concept of the New Jim Code — discriminatory designs that encode inequity — flash alongside text that reads BLACK LIVES MATTER and an emoji wearing a protective face mask, among other signifiers of the past year and a half. In other cabinets, the word VOTE, an Etch-a-Sketch, a hashtag, a copy of Frankenstein, endangered animals, and other objects collectively and fragmentedly tell the story of life, death, humanity, society, politics, technology, and more.
As an archive, the wwwunderkammer performs the admission of its own limitations: it relies on the contributions of others, responds well to flexibility, and rejects the goal and claim of completion. These are markers of a unique kind of technical object that pushes against the established order in the age of the database, the primary mode of cultural expression and post-narrative device of the 21st century, to borrow from Lev Manovich. But Gannis’s work is additionally subversive in its attempt to decolonize the archive through its reimagining, shared authorship, and inclusivity. “We are faced with the reality,” writes Legacy Russell, “that we will never be given the keys to a utopia architected by hegemony.” As a work that performs the archive, the wwwunderkammer is designed to mutate and respond to various needs and prompts, being created in necessary fits and starts, which are sometimes presented in the form of a glitch or problem. Moving the work online is one important way to make it available virtually everywhere and for everyone, but even this has its limitations. Gannis recalls that an earlier iteration of the main gallery was created in a higher resolution, which prevented some visitors in Western Europe to easily access it, based on their connection. Gannis had to reduce the quality of the work, lowering the barrier to entry, to again conform to the language of the internet.
Here it’s easy to recognize hints of Hito Steyerl’s poor image. In her essay, In Defense of the Poor Image, she discusses the hierarchy of images and the neoliberal impulse to insist on the “aesthetic premise” of a “rich image” at the expense of sharing it. The tragedy of this snobbish inclination is that images are often rendered invisible, “disappearing again into the darkness of the archive.” Poor images, by contrast, are “popular images—images that can be made and seen by the many.” For Gannis, sacrificing quality benefits the masses, democratizing the image and thus rendering the archive an accessible place. Likewise, it doubles as a force against the possibility of feeling pedantic. “In a way, being less crisp, it gives more room for the intention of these kinds of constructions, these taxonomies not being static, not being fixed or completely clear.”
The wwwunderkammer behaves more like an archive for the people, a library open to all, than a proto museum, like its predecessor. The work, like every performance, will change and adapt, reflecting the material instability of the digital object as much as the culture, politics, and people it represents.
NATASHA CHUK is a critical theorist and writer whose research and interests focus on creative technologies as systems of language at the intersection of formality, expression, interface, and perception. She teaches courses in film studies, video game studies, digital cultures, aesthetics, and art history at the School of Visual Arts in New York City.
July 22, 2021
An annotated digest of the top "Hacker" "News" posts for the second week of July, 2021.
July 08, 2021 (comments)
Another Internet is still mad about Microsoft's code randomizer. Hackernews is by now so bored with this story that they begin speculating on the nature of artificial intelligence, moving on to questioning the concept of intelligence itself, and whining that massive corporations have more access to resources than they do. Later, Hackernews starts bitching about Hackernews' own response to the story they're tired of.
July 09, 2021 (comments)
An Internet rats on a bunch of fraudsters. Hackernews is glad their particular brand of slime is developing a long and storied tradition, and exchanges anecdotes about other dirtbags they've nearly worked for, or been.
July 10, 2021 (comments)
Hackernews is still mad about the European Union wanting to see our emojis, so they dig up an old story about the European Union being dicks about something unrelated. Hackernews, having completely forgotten the pearl-clutching and well-I-nevering they were just doing about Microsoft trampling over their copyright licensing, is absolutely fucking furious about the various media industries' attempts to protect their copyrighted data.
July 11, 2021 (comments)
An Internet got hassled by the cops for a while. Hackernews is divided: there are those who enjoy a good Streisand Effect story, and those who are outraged that someone would contradict the will of Apple Computer, to include comparing the author to a murderer of children. The rest of the comments are the Hackernews Mock Trial Club incorrecting one another about irrelevant laws.
July 12, 2021 (comments)
A Tesla (business model: "Uber for Yugo") owner has the temerity to allow a car to be repaired with parts that did not come from Tesla. Hackernews sneers at the idea that someone who leases a car should be allowed to dictate the terms of its repair. Several hundred comments constitute a half-assed and hazily-understood engineering analysis of the repair in question, and the rest constitute a series of increasingly complicated misinterpretation of contract law.
July 13, 2021 (comments)
Hackernews reads a four-year-old Reddit thread, then bitches about user interfaces, many of which other Hackernews wrote.
July 14, 2021 (comments)
An Internet reports Rule One. In this case, unfortunately, Rule One is applied to boring nonsense, but it's still effective. Hackernews has had brief run-ins with Rule One, but prefers instead to trade recommendations of airport bookstore fodder. Later, Hackernews argues about vegetable recipes.
An annotated digest of the top "Hacker" "News" posts for the first week of July, 2021.
July 01, 2021 (comments)
Some Internets experiment with disrupting Silicon Valley business practices by offering a service in exchange for money. Since the service in question is email, Hackernews picks up the megaphone and declares that only Google or Microsoft are capable of operating an SMTP service, much less arcane magic such as IMAP. The service vendors arrive in the comments to be informed that their business is impossible.
July 02, 2021 (comments)
Somebody on Twitter is mad at Microsoft's Markov chains. Hackernews assumes the traditional vestment of the Copyright Clergy and proclaims that Sandalphon is watching, and those who do not decry the Infractor will not have their prayers carried to the Most Holy Lord of Intellectual Property. Since every single Hackernews has seen a copyright notice, they are all experts in legal matters with impeccable credentials, and we're subjected to six hundred comments' worth of the sorts of opinions you'd expect. No technology is discussed.
July 03, 2021 (comments)
Someone[who?] is so mad about yesterday's Markov chain fiasco that drastic changes are made: a dozen small programs are removed from GitHub and put somewhere else. Microsoft's stock price immediately fell six hundred percent and all English-speaking internet users ceased to use GitHub immediately. Sorry, no, what happened is that Hackernews posted all the same comments they posted yesterday, often directly linking to those comments in the process.
July 04, 2021 (comments)
Someone had something to say about someone else, but I didn't bother working around the paywall. Hackernews pasted a link to such a workaround, but I couldn't be bothered to click on it. Hackernews splits its time between inventing pedantic methods for avoiding the laws of a country the person at hand does not occupy, whether or not scientific journals should be suffered to exist, or angry rants proclaiming the entire concept of science itself to be a vast conspiracy to enrich postdoctoral students.
July 05, 2021 (comments)
Some asshole has opinions about the film industry. We are never treated to a specific reason we should care. Hackernews insists that real cinema is only found outside of the United States, or in the pages of specific home media vendors. Hackernews has other opinions, but none of them are any more novel or valid than the original article's. No technology is discussed.
July 06, 2021 (comments)
The European Union wants to see your emojis. Hackernews does not want them to see your emojis, and instead questions whether "human rights" exist. Unable to get to the bottom of that quagmire -- too many dictionaries -- Hackernews turns to the question of whether "human rights" should exist. One Hackernews is mad at the BBC. The rest of the arguments are about whether encrypting the emojis will save us.
July 07, 2021 (comments)
A webshit is mad at a program. Hackernews sympathizes, but explains that the reason the tool sucks is that the entire culture around computer security is based on the needs of hysterical attention-seeking jackals, who outnumber actual professional practitioners about a thousand to one. Hackernews then informs us that this is for the best.
July 21, 2021
Over the last few years we have seen more and more attacks of ransomware, in the beginning against private individuals and smaller companies. However, the last 6 months have seen attacks that have paralyzed large companies and organizations all around the world. The effects are getting larger and more and more of the population are seeing the effects. We have seen hospitals, law enforcement, governments, logistics, telephone companies and many other industries completely incapacitated by these attacks. Ecuador has so far not seen a lot of these attacks - mostly they have been small and not targeted. But that is now changing. It might be that this type of attack is here to stay - especially if we don’t get better at understanding how to protect ourselves against them. In this article, we want to give a brief introduction to the subject. What is ransomware, really? Who is behind these attacks? What is the motivation, and what can we do?
Let’s start with the simplest part - what it is. Fundamentally, ransomware is a type of
malware. What we mean with
this is simply software which doesn’t do what you want it to do. Any type of virus, trojan, spyware or other problematic
software on your computer is malware - something that goes against the interests of the user. Most of the time, malware
will try to hide - sometimes forever, and sometimes just until it’s too late to do anything about it. Properly speaking,
ransomware is a type of virus which will enter your system in some way. Once it has entered, it will do two things - it
will try to spread to other connected computers and devices on your network, and it will start to encrypt your
data. Most of the time, ransomware will also do a third thing - it will send a key and some other information to a
controller - whoever activated the ransomware. Once the ransomware has encrypted all the data it can reach, it will
announce itself to the user, saying that all your data is unreachable until you pay a specific amount. In the ideal
scenario, if you pay, you will get the key for opening up your data again. In the worst case, the payment doesn’t help,
and the data is lost.
There are some variations here. The three most important ones are whether the target is individual or organizational, whether the data is exfiltrated before being encrypted, and whether the encryption algorithm has weaknesses or not.
Most of the ransomware that floats around is geared towards infecting individual systems. In these kinds of cases each computer might be separately encrypted and each computer will be held ransom on its own. This attack does not require coordination between those devices.
Other types of ransomware are more focused on infecting a full organization. The most important point here is that the ransomware will wait with its demand until all or most computers on a system have been infected and then reveal itself.
The reason for this is primarily because it becomes easier for a security team to stop or contain an infection if the ransomware reveals itself on one computer before being done infecting the rest of the organization.
In some cases, ransomware will not only encrypt data and ask you to pay to get it back, it will also send all the information to its controller before taking it hostage. In this way, you have two problems - you don’t have your data, and someone else can potentially publish it. In this scenario, you have two incentives to pay - to get the information back, and to avoid it falling in the wrong hands. This kind of information exfiltration can be very lucrative, but it is also more risky - many organizations have security teams that could notice that a lot of information is being transferred out from the network, making this kind of attack more risky - especially against organizations with a stronger security posture.
Finally, some ransomware has implementation problems. In the case of a well-made ransomware, there’s really nothing you can do to get back the information, unless the controllers give you the key. But as with any kind of software, ransomware can have bugs. In some cases these bugs have led to data being recovered without payment. In other cases, bugs have led to data being irreversible corrupted and destroyed, even when the controller wanted to give the data back…
Most ransomware that exists these days is based on existing software. So chances are that if you get infected with
ransomware, someone else will have seen it before. Most groups don’t build ransomware directly from scratch
anymore. It’s more economic to reuse and build on what’s already there. This can be both good and bad. In some cases,
you can find out information about weaknesses or problems with the implementation. It can also be helpful when trying to
detect infections using
intrusion detection systems or
The final thing to keep in mind is that not all ransomware is actually existing software. Especially when it comes to “custom” jobs, such as breaking in to a big company and encrypting their files, no existing software will do the job. In these situations, groups will often do a manual ransomware attack, where they break in and customize existing software to spread over the network - or even do it all manually. The effects will generally be the same, though.
The Who and the Why
And that leads us to the question of who actually uses ransomware. In general, the main motivation behind ransomware is almost always money. Fundamentally, this is a business. You can see that in the behavior of these groups (and it’s usually groups, not individuals). The reuse of existing software packages, the way communication is done, the way payment amounts are managed, all implies that most ransomware attacks are actually done by groups that act like businesses. In fact, several ransomware groups actually have dedicated customer support staff that can be contacted to receive help on how to convert money into Bitcoin (which is usually the preferred currency to pay for ransomware) and how to actually do the payment itself. The reason for this is simple - in order for these groups to continue making money, it needs to be possible for enough victims to be able to actually pay the ransom. And further, it is important for the groups to have a reputation of giving back the data. If they don’t do this, there’s no incentive for anyone to pay, and the business proposition goes away. Because of this, ransomware will often announce the name of the group behind the attack, since the reputation of the group will help in incentivizing the victim to pay.
There are some other kinds of attackers that will sometimes be behind ransomware. There have been known cases where government agencies have created attacks which looked like ransomware, but had the real purpose of disabling a company or an industry in some way. In many cases, these attacks will have all the signatures of a regular ransomware attack, but the functionality for recovering the data will not be there.
In the same manner, some activists or politically motivated groups will sometimes use attacks that look like ransomware. This is not particularly common, since these groups will more often use other types of methodologies. Hiding an attack behind ransomware simply doesn’t match the motivations for a politically motivated attack, in most cases.
The final group you will sometimes see are those that simply want to destroy or mess with systems. In general, these ransomware attacks will not actually ask for a ransom, but instead simply destroy the data. And as with the previous example, if the groups simply want to destroy the information, hiding it behind the mask of ransomware is usually not necessary. But there are some examples of this happening, still. But fundamentally, almost all ransomware attacks are actually criminal business enterprises. Most of the rest are state sponsored attacks. The other possibilities are there, but in a very low percentage.
Ransomware will happen in the same way as almost any other type of security incident. The attack can either be targeted,
or a bulk attack. In the case of an un-targeted attack, the group will generally send out a large amount of spam emails
that contains some kind of attack software, or a link to such software. Other types of attacks can also be used. For
watering hole attacks, where a link is posted to a forum or a group that people frequent. Finally, the
attacker can scan for systems exposed to the internet which has a known vulnerability and then use that. The common
theme is that these attacks will generally follow a two-stage approach. The first part is to exploit a vulnerability of
some kind to get access to a system, and then use that access to inject and run the ransomware. In some cases, an
initial vulnerability is not necessary, if you can convince a person to open a document with macros turned on, for
example. These initial attacks look the same, no matter if the group attacking you is aiming to infect you with
ransomware or is trying to attack you in some other way.
If the attack is targeted against a specific person or organization, the nature of the initial infection will look
slightly different, but the general concept is the same. For example, instead of sending bulk email, an attacker might
create a document that contains information specific to your organization and craft it so that you will be fooled to
open it. In some cases, it can contain specific data about you or your particular situation. In a case that became
public a few weeks ago, someone sent attack documents to Indian lawyers and journalists, claiming that they had been
charged with a specific crime and were called to a hearing. The information in the document looked valid, but under the
covers the document executed an attack against the computers of these people. This style of sending specially crafted
emails is usually called
spear phishing. A targeted attack might also involve the group scanning the publicly
available information, services and computers for that organization and then start investigating possible security
holes. If they can’t find a known vulnerability, a more advanced group might even start develop new attacks or search
for unknown vulnerabilities in the software the organization uses.
Once the attack has succeeded, the next step depends on whether the target of the ransomware is the whole organization or individual computers. In the first case, the main focus for the attack software will be to spread. Depending on how sophisticated the software is, it can either use the same kind of method as used to do the initial attack - sending poisoned emails, looking for open file shares on the network and so on - or it can use other vulnerabilities to spread inside the organization. It will also look for any connected drives - both physically connected drives, such as USB - but also connections to file servers of various kinds. This is important to keep in mind, because for ransomware to work, it is important for it to destroy or encrypt backups as well as the main data. In some cases this means that the ransomware will lie dormant for a while before starting its attacks, just to be sure that it can spread to all the places necessary.
The Next Steps
OK, so you have been infected by ransomware. Your computers are down. Your business is frozen. All computer screens are showing the same message, asking you to send money to a specific bitcoin address within a few days time. You have already checked the backups - they were connected to infected computers and all data on them is also encrypted. You had sensitive data on this network and it’s possible the attackers have that data. And it’s data that you need for your business to work. What do you do?
Fundamentally, you really only have two possibilities. Either you pay, or you don’t pay. In the meantime, you should also investigate whether there are weaknesses in the ransomware you have been infected with, which would allow you to recover the data without the key. You might also have backups you have forgotten about which haven’t been infected. So, first steps should be to make sure that your technical team immediately investigates all these possibilities.
In the meantime, you will have to analyze the possibilities of what the attacker could do. What they will do depends a lot on what kind of attacker they are. But in general, there are five possibilities. These are not mutually exclusive - more than one can happen. An attacker can deny you access to your data. They can give you the key to the data. They can leak the data to the public in some way. They can ask for more money. And they can sell the stolen data on private forums. If the ransomware is the simpler version where no data was exfiltrated, two of those possibilities goes away.
One of the first things that should be investigated is to see if the ransomware is a known model or not. If it is, you can usually find out whether a key exists or not, whether weaknesses exists or not. At this stage, you might find out that the data is already gone. You might also find out that the implementation of the ransomware is properly done, and with a key you will be able to recover your data.
Then, you will have to investigate the group attacking you. If the attack is motivated by money, the most likely scenario is that the group will have signed the attack with their name. The reason for this is simple - they want you to pay. But for you to have an incentive to pay, you need to trust that you will get the data back. So if the group has a reputation for returning the data, that means you are more likely to pay. On the other hand, if the group is known for taking the payment but not giving back the data, you have no reason to pay.
Fundamentally, paying in response to a ransomware attack will always be a chance. There’s no guarantee. If the attack is by a well-known group, that makes your chances better. If your security team can be certain that no data was exfiltrated, that also makes your situation better. But there’s always the chance that the attacker will simply not play by the rules. One scenario which is deeply problematic is when data was exfiltrated. In this case, you can pay for getting your data back, and the attacker will give you the key to unlock the data. But since they still have your data, it will always be possible for them to sell the data. In general, they will not leak the data publicly, because that will cause reputation problems when getting paid for other ransomware attacks. But they can still sell the data privately, and make more money without very low risk. For this reason, even if you get your data back, you have to consider that data compromised.
If your attacker is unknown, or it’s one of the other possibilities, your chances of getting the data back is extremely low. It’s all a question of incentives, and even if you pay, an unknown attacker or a state sponsored group simply has no reason to give back the data.
In some cases, a ransomware attacker will also give you “proof of decryption”. The way this works is that they will allow you to ask for the decrypted version of a few files. In this way, the attacker is trying to show that they can decrypt all your data. It’s a little like the “proof of life” convention in kidnapping movies, where you get to talk to the kidnapped person. Except, in the case of data, just because a few files can be decrypted doesn’t mean that they all can be decrypted. There are ways for ransomware groups to create more robust systems to show that they have the capability to decrypt anything, but the investment of doing this, compared to the frequency of attacks against large companies, doesn’t seem worth the time. What this means is that this kind of “proof” is not actually really proof of anything - especially if the attacker is the one giving you a choice of files to decrypt.
Sometimes, a ransomware attack will happen quickly, and the demand for payment will be very high - and you won’t have a lot of time to do it. In some cases, it is possible to negotiate with the attackers. In very rare cases, this has actually been succesful. But the more likely thing to happen is that the attacker will either give up on you, or apply more pressure. Sometimes, this pressure involves leaking some of your data. In other situations, they will increase the amount of money they are asking for. The goal is always to force you to make a decision rapidly.
As we talked about earlier, even if you pay to get the keys for unlocking your data, and you succeed, that doesn’t mean that the situation is over. If the attacker stole data, they could still leak it, after you have paid. They could also ask for more payments in order to not leak the data. Or they could fail to give you the keys, and ask for more money again.
I wish I could give strong advice on what choice to make in these situations. But it depends on too many factors. Hopefully the above discussion gives you an idea about how to think about these problems in a proper way. The most important part is to think about incentives and reason from a game theoretic perspective.
We have talked about what happens once you have been infected with ransomware. But this is obviously a worst case scenario. What can you do to protect yourself before it happens? Sadly, these recommendations will be very similar to any other kind of computer attack. Make sure your systems are updated. Avoid clicking on untrusted links. Don’t open documents you are not sure if you can trust. Prefer simple document formats to complicated ones - prefer text if possible. Have a proper security team for your organization, with proper monitoring. Implement defense in layers - don’t assume that the inside of your network can be trusted. Implement intrusion detection software, firewalls and all the other measures. Think about implementing anti-virus, but understand that it comes with its own problems.
When it comes to ransomware specifically, it is important to focus on proper backups. In general, you want to have backup systems that are not continuously connected to your other systems. If you can have backups that can’t be overwritten - append-only, basically - that provides for good security as well. Even for private individuals, it’s a good idea to have two layers of backups, where you do frequent backups to one system, and less frequent backups to another system. In this way, you can often avoid losing all your data, even if some of that data is compromised.
Sadly, the most important protection mechanism is being vigilant. For individuals, that includes being careful with attachments and links, and making sure to apply updates. For organizations, a proper security team is the most important measure. And of course, if you have a security team, you also need to have a management team that listens to the recommendations of the security team.
Ransomware is a relatively new scourge on the internet. It is something that is likely to be with us for a long time to come. And we are currently in such a state of insecurity that the ransomware groups are winning almost every battle. Things don’t have to be this way. There are things we can do, but it will require a change in attitude. The first step is simply to understand the problem, and start working on fixes. As we have seen, the situation is not that complicated, but how you respond to it can significantly impact your changes of success.
We have reiterated this point many times, but it’s worth mentioning again. Security is a process. It needs investment, time and education. More than you are currently giving to it. In order to have an impact on the wave of attacks, we need more of a focus, and better understanding.
One more thing which is worth mentioning is that many governments and law enforcement agencies around the world
recommend that you don’t ever pay for ransomware. Their thinking is that for the good of society, it’s better for
everyone if no-one ever pays a ransom. This is completely true for us all, collectively - if no-one pays ransom, the
business model of ransomware disappears. But of course, if you get infected and have the chance to get your files back,
not paying the ransom for the good of the rest of society will be a hard pill to swallow. This is a classic example of
Tragedy of the commons - where individual incentives are in opposition to collective incentives. Moving forward, as we
see things, the right solution is not for governments to stop you from paying ransom. Instead, the right solution is to
improve security and backup systems such that a ransomware attack is something you can easily recover from.
If your organization does decide to pay, and you do manage to get your data back, remember that you are now more likely to be attacked again. For this reason, a renewed investment in protection and security is absolutely necessary.
July 19, 2021
Theory on Demand #41
How Artists Experience the COVID-19 Crisis
Edited by Josephine Bosma
News reports on the Covid-19 pandemic seldom include how the virus and the societal lockdowns affect artists. A lively circuit of cultural events, meetings, and exhibitions has come to an almost complete stop, leaving artists often not just with a significant drop in income but also bereft of their vital and supporting social communities. Art writer and curator Josephine Bosma, feeling quite cut off herself after a year of lockdowns and too much screen time, saw both desperate and relieved outcries from artists popping up through the glossy algorithmic veneer on social media. She decided to reach out to some of the more outspoken voices. From this an interview project was born, which grew into this collection of heartfelt stories and brief reports from artists trying to survive the pandemic and sometimes finding unexpected ways to do so.
Authors: Annie Abrahams, Lucas Bambozzi, Dennis de Bel, !Mediengruppe Bitnik, S()fia Braga, Arcangelo Constantini, Tiny Domingos, John Duncan, Nancy Mauro Flude, Ben Grosser, Adham Hafez, Sachiko Hayashi, Lynn Hershman Leeson, Garnet Hertz, Jennifer Kanary, Brian Mackern, Miltos Manetas, Lorna Mills, Daniela de Paulis, Tina La Porta, Archana Prasad, Melinda Rackham, Michelle Teran, Mare Tralla, Igor Vamos, Ivar Veermäe.
Editor: Josephine Bosma
Cover design: Katja van Stiphout
Design and E-Pub development: Agnieszka Wodzińska
ISBN PaperBack: 978-94-02302-74-8
ISBN E-Pub: 978-94-92302-75-5
Institute of Network Cultures
This publication is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)
July 15, 2021
An annotated digest of the top "Hacker" "News" posts for the last week of June, 2021.
June 22, 2021 (comments)
An Internet is excited to find database service providers who accept Beenz as payment. Hackernews has also grunted out some Dunning-Krugerrand software, and we are provided links to all of it. Other Hackernews point out that the author has better shit to do, but this observation is redundant when discussing Bitcoin.
June 23, 2021 (comments)
The sky lizards finally lock their deadly orgonite low-earth-orbit space lasers onto the one Earthling capable of unmasking the global adrenochrome laundering conspiracy. Hackernews have all, at one time or another, shared airspace with the deceased, and reminisce.
June 24, 2021 (comments)
Plugging your data storage directly into the public internet continues to be a recipe for disaster; now, researchers discover that the odds of tragedy are greatly increased when the manufacturer stopped giving a shit about your particular product during the Obama administration. Hackernews is outraged that the manufacturer does not support a product a mere six years after announcing the end of support for that product.
June 25, 2021 (comments)
The LinkedIn frontend development team posts their portfolio work. Hackernews, completely ignoring the point of the website, gets into a dick-measuring contest regarding who is the nimblest webshit navigator. The rest of the comments are Hackernews reporting aspects of the web site in question.
June 26, 2021 (comments)
A webshit has opinions about Reddit, and questions the motivations of the interface designs, ignoring the repeated and almost-inescapable demands that we log in to Reddit and download the app. A former Reddit shows up in the comments to explain that everyone involved knew these decisions sucked, made them anyway, and made more money in the process. The rest of the comments are further complaints about Reddit.
June 27, 2021 (comments)
An Internet is excited that a business is thriving. Hackernews shows up and explains to one another all the reasons it was obvious this would be the result, then why it's imperative that no computer-based business ever try to adopt any of these qualities, as venture capital is the only possible way to build a business in software. Or hardware. Or services.
June 28, 2021 (comments)
More Internets bitch about more webshit. Hackernews bitches about similar misfeatures on non-network-based software, but other Hackernews arrive to reassure us that constant connectivity (and concomitant telemetry) is the lifeblood of any healthy programming endeavour. Without it, explains Hackernews, software engineers would never know how their dumber users interact with the computer, and would be unable to sell ad space to enable the accessible, resource-friendly, crash-free software which today we all enjoy.
June 29, 2021 (comments)
Microsoft puts every scrap of code they can find into an enormous meat grinder in order to build a digital twin of Stackoverflow. Hackernews explodes, expressing every possible reaction from "this toy has completely replaced my output at work" to "I am personally going to burn down the datacenter that dares host this monstrosity." The Hall Monitor reminds us that when there are a lot of comments, they are broken up into "pages," which can be considered as a subset of the available discussion, comprising the discussion's entirety when taken together. This turns out to be the most useful thing anyone has to say in the entire 1200-comment freakout.
June 30, 2021 (comments)
An Internet posts a wall of text pretending that anyone cares about the intellectual property rights of Github users. Hackernews enjoys imagining scenarios wherein not only does anyone care about Github users, but any court would ever hold Microsoft accountable for their actions, any person would be dumb enough to sue anything as rich as Microsoft, and anyone had any influence over the shit machine learning specialists will spend time on in lieu of causing their pet technology to demonstrate value to humanity.
July 14, 2021
July 13, 2021
During the first lockdown in March 2020, my whole family freaked out. We thought it was the end of the world. My brother traveled home to Europe from California where he was studying and for the first days, he wore a mask that I had never seen before. It was shaped like a bird’s beak, with two crossing strips of material and sort of pointy in the front. He reminded me of the plague doctors in the 17th century as he slumped around the house, his head drooped in the pointy mask. In those days my mother was scrubbing her hands so frequently with vinegar and bleach she developed a rash. It was chaos.
I teased my brother about it at the beginning until he told me “it’s an N95, my girlfriend gave it to me & they are impossible to get Klara. I can’t believe you’ve never seen one.”
So the mask, the mask actually makes me feel sexier. I walk down the street and each look I receive seems deeper and more intense. As if for lack of other signifiers the eyes become the one thing we can hook on to. It also makes me feel safer, I can maintain eye contact longer than usual. I sense more longing somehow. I feel matrixi a bit, whooshing around with a secret purpose. I sometimes forget I am wearing it. I take it off when I realize, struggling on the bike to rip it off with some sense of urgency, even though it makes me feel warm and protected. But I take it off out of some intuitive principle, to be a human. To expose my human signifiers.
The Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz observed that the resistance toward public mask-wearing in Europe stems from the theological roots of Western life. There is an innate belief that the truth is “unveiled”, and that the face is where our personhood is represented. The uncovered mouth betrays our deepest selves. The chancellor mused that this mask resistance is subtly linked to the European resistance to Islamic face-veiling. The act of unveiling features prominently in Christian liturgy, and this part of our history maintains that the only way to truly know God is to see him face-to-face. In Islam, Allah is veiled in light, and mortals cannot face him in this life. Similar to the Christian belief, to face him in the next life is considered the greatest honor and blessing and the only way one can know Truth.
The word mask in itself has sinister roots in different languages; the French word masque means ‘to guard the face’, in Catalan mascara mans ‘blackening the face’ and the Latin word masca means ‘nightmare’. No wonder covering one’s face is often identified with danger and criminality. The mask is used to hide one’s identity, one’s ultimate truth. Worn to signal a threat to others from the safe confines of anonymity. Worn by bank robbers and hooligans. Worn by protestors and the French Black Block, an anarchist organization that move en masse, all dressed in black and their faces completely masked. They attack and damage storefronts and other symbols of capitalism, and when the police try to arrest one of the Black Block, the other members swarm around the policemen like locus and free their endangered comrade. They work as a hive, empowered by their lack of facial features and unique signifiers.
At the beginning of the pandemic, it was awkward wearing one. Often I felt judged by my radical liberal friends as if I was buying into this plot, this narrative our institutions impose upon us poor plebs. The mandatory mask as a critical stage in conditioning us to accept abuses of our liberties. For the greater good though. I also felt judged for not wearing one in a public space where everyone else was masked as if I was not doing my best to protect society. At the beginning of the pandemic, when we were still less accustomed to it, I received judgmental looks, whether I wore it or not. Or maybe I’m paranoid.
The mask itself has become a signifier, how you wear it and why, a mark of social recognition. The symbol of a mask is emotional, and a site for cultural and political wars. It is not purely a vessel of public health.
Todd McGowan, an American academic studying the politics of the pandemic writes: “Wearing a mask indicates a stance of universality, a liberal belief that you are never simply yourself but always extend into the other, just as the other extends into you.” Universality as a belief that society should be built around the principle of mutual protection. The masked symbolize their belief of being part of a larger tribe, a tribe that doesn’t recognize other masked people as isolated subjects but rather as intrinsically bound to each other. A vision of society that is distinctly anti-capitalist, fighting the prioritizing of isolated individuals as a critique of the ruling liberal philosophy.
According to McGowan, the conservative inclination toward rejecting the mask is in fact rejecting universality and the wider collective. A capitalist approach in the sense that each subject pursues their own identity and interests regardless of its effect on others. The reason why the mask is often ridiculed by representatives of conservative parties, like Trump, Bolasanaro, and the Dutch Thierry Baudet is that “the obstruction of universality is a precondition for the right-wing populist practices, which are based on acquiring an identity through the attachment to a national, religious or ethnic project.” The identity of universalism as demonstrated by the willingness to wearing a mask is thus a barrier to populism, as it offers a universal and inherently compassionate identity.
The added value of libidinal enjoyment drawn from the transgressive thrill of disobeying the social norm only makes the conservative populist agenda more potent, and the possibility of not wearing a mask more exciting.
Though polls do suggest that more conservatives reject masks, the main reason referred to regardless of political identification is the curbing of civil liberties. The term ‘psychological reactance’ aptly fits this phenomenon, which is described by S. Taylor and G. Asmundsonas as a “motivational response to rules, regulation, or attempts at persuasion that are perceived as threatening ones sense of control, autonomy and freedom of choice.”
The feeling of losing control can be universally applied to citizens struggling to see their impact within a quickly spiraling corporatized and digitally bureaucratized world. It’s too easy to draw the line between liberal and conservative, universal and particular, selfless and selfish. This analysis of separating the universalists from the individualists is general enough to make sense, but does not address the morphing boundaries of a post-truth era where the rules that governed political philosophy in the 20th century do not fully apply.
The anti-mask and anti-Covid regulation protests that unfolded all over the world in fact consisted of people across the political spectrum. As the New York Times reported when covering the Covid lockdown protests in Germany; “It was a bizarre mix of people: families and senior citizens were joined by right-wing extremists, some sporting swastika tattoos.”
The interesting thing that mandatory mask-wearing triggered was a union of the radicals, as demonstrated by the horseshoe theory. The horseshoe theory states that the political continuum is not linear but bent, like a horseshoe, with the most extreme divisions of each camp almost touching in their beliefs. Thus my radical liberal friends may draw information from radical right-wing news channels that support their theories concerning the negative and yet unknown long-term effects of vaccinations and the conspiratorial origins of the Covid battling regulations. Regardless of the outlandishness of most conspiracy theories, they are all tied to an unwavering distrust in traditional media which includes the distrust of traditional scientific methods.
The far ends of the polarized left and right are remote enough on the spectrum of political poles to unite in their belief which is essentially a deep distrust of the current governing organs and the whole political infrastructure in its core; ie. “the system”. The distrust of masks in this context represents crumbling faith in institutions and representative democracy itself and is a reflection not only on the pandemic but on the wider expanse of our political climate. There need not be complex psychological adjustments in mask marketing, because the core of the issue lies with the weakening pillars of confidence that are necessary for a well-functioning society; confidence in ourselves, confidence in others, and confidence in institutions. All three constituents of that confidence condition each other – taking out one and the other two would implode and collapse. (Zygmunt Bauman)
To be clear and on the record; the mask you choose and how you wear it can potentially protect people around you from exposure to your viral load.
Under-the-nose/around the wrist; The basic ones, the sheep. They follow regulations but when they wear the mask it is under the nose or somewhat loose, which has no effect whatsoever. They do not wear a mask to actually prevent the potential spread of the infection but do so because one must. They demonstrate their detachment from political engagement by passively following rules.
Ear danglers; the chillers. They slip their mask on fully when they see an elderly couple approaching who seem visibly scared. They don’t mind getting infected themselves and feel the corona crisis is overblown but what can you do.
Under-the-chinners; are in the same category as the ear danglers but different than the under-the-nosers. They show their disregard for prevention and wear it almost as an accessory, the cool-girl attitude of “hey, I’m wearing it ok?”. They enjoy analyzing the current political scape. They are not as radical as the position they choose to represent in these discussions.
The hidden pocket; those whose masks are stuffed in their pocket, so If they can’t enter the bus because the driver doesn’t allow them they pull out this grimy fuzzy thing and put it on in the most necessary of situations. They believe the corona is a farce and dream of living on a farm as a legitimate life direction. They hide their masks.
The real maskers; are seldom seen and far in between. They avoid real-life situations where one can get infected and are some of the very few maskers who are aware that one must never put a mask on any surface, and must exchange the old mask for a new one every four hours. They are aware that the homemade masks made of a single layer of cotton actually prevent no more the 10% of the potential viral load from infecting people in your spray radius. They do not wear cotton masks. You best believe they wear an N95 or a surgical mask and are the ones who carefully observe and analyze the masks others are wearing. Otherwise, they avoid eye contact.
The many hypocrites; are aware of these mask rules, and how ineffective improper mask-wearing is, and preach statistics of mask use preventing the wider spread of the virus. They randomly pick and choose the situations in which they wear their mask fully covering their face, and the under-the-chin occasions.
You probably know which type of mask wearer you are. There is no shame in any of these categories as we are all struggling to orient ourselves in this new era of (post) pandemic skepticism. Not reflected in our celebratory attitudes, the new old normal has a weird gleam to it, and we all know it. Although it is a relief to unmask and unveil our faces, revealing our personhoods to each other, this collective action is accompanied by tangible doubt. For instance, most people in San Francisco, where 90% of the population has been vaccinated, continue to wear face masks religiously, even though all the regulations have been lifted. The ultimate truth symbolized by our uncovered mouths has not been completely revealed after all. The reason the new old normal seems so shallow is because we have not managed to address our trust issues; we have glided over them for fear of having the same liberties we once took for granted swooped out from under our noses again, without having adequate resources to process the process.
Find out more about Klara here.
July 11, 2021
July 10, 2021
July 08, 2021
The UN Human Rights Council must urgently respond to the global pattern of pushbacks, humanrights violations, and lethal disregard for human life at international borders
July 03, 2021
An annotated digest of the top "Hacker" "News" posts for the third week of June, 2021.
June 15, 2021 (comments)
Some Internets invent the repl, fuck up pipes, and call it a new type of shell. "New type of shell" here means it's a command-line program that doesn't ship on your Macbook. Hackernews debates whether it is appropriate to use software at work. Other Hackernews want to know the purpose of a shell that requires other shells to operate, but we're soon informed the purpose is "we don't like the shell that shipped on our Macbooks." The misguided mass of Powershell enthusiasts shows up and whines about not being taken seriously, and a couple dozen weary Hackernews explain to them, again, why nobody will ever care.
June 16, 2021 (comments)
An Internet bitches about a product that isn't yet available. Hackernews is interested because they're going to have it when it comes out, but since there's nothing meaningful to discuss, the topics of conversation focus on other, similar products, or complaints about Apples other software.
June 17, 2021 (comments)
A webshit makes some cartoons about woodland creatures inventing social networks, thereby achieving civilization and laying the groundwork for its collapse in one children's book. Hackernews is excited to find industry literature consumable in one Peloton session, so the link receives many votes, but the subject is Apache Kafka, so the comments are confusingly written, hard to maintain, and constantly crashing with illegal state exceptions.
June 18, 2021 (comments)
Some crime victims learn about operant conditioning. Hackernews regards ransomware as a social problem, to be blamed on the idiots who use their software, and so the discussion focuses on what can be done to rein those assholes in, except when the cryptocurrency people show up to pretend they can fix anything.
June 19, 2021 (comments)
A whole shitload of people discover who actually owns their cellphones. Hackernews is computer-literate, so they can provide logs of the software being installed on their cellphones against their will. There follows a ranging debate on the exact boundaries over which the company who provides their phone software must not step. When the mice are done voting to bell the cat, the status quo remains in effect, and none of the affected devices are in any way under the control of the people who paid for them.
June 20, 2021 (comments)
Some Internets discover that the faceless global corporation who hired them does not consider them to be family. All of Hackernews has also worked at Amazon, and all have conflicting anecdotes they're all too ready to shit into the comment field. Once Hackernews posts an anecdote, the next step is to patrol the other anecdotes and accuse them of lying.
June 21, 2021 (comments)
An Internet thinks we can fix git by bolting more shit onto it. Hackernews comes back from the code mines each day stinking of git, so they all have strong opinions on the topic, ranging from "if the entirety of git is not immediately obvious to you then you should never use a computer" to "git is the worst thing ever to happen in the IT industry." Most of the comment threads are some Hackernews recounting git fuckups of the past and the rest of Hackernews taking guesses as to which sequence of arcane shit might have fixed the problem.
July 01, 2021
In this blog series I explore a burgeoning intimate surveillance culture in neighbourhoods across the world. At the core of this research is a flourishing network of surveillance technologies produced by Silicon Valley and perfectly tailored to a vigilant and paranoid home-owner. This matters. Because being watched by the state is one thing, but being watched by your neighbours invites myriad more questions.
Where I live in the east of Amsterdam I’m surrounded by generous neighbours. We often exchange news in the building’s stairwell, borrow things from each other and generally care for our communal space. It’s a wonderful place to live and I am comforted by the feeling of togetherness and trust in our neighbourhood. Most of my immediate neighbours happen to also be in a WhatsApp group. When I first moved in I was completely unaware of the group. But, not long after I’d unpacked there was a letter in the post from the police, urging me to join. The letter stressed that by joining the group I could make our neighbourhood “safer and more peaceful”. So of course I did.
For the most part, the dynamics in our WhatsApp group simply mirror the dynamics I experience when I meet neighbours face-to-face. There’s a bit of information sharing, some friendly banter. Occasionally someone flags something suspicious. In one instance a neighbour with a Ring doorbell camera, which records footage of anyone who rings it, posted a video in the group. It showed a young man with well-coiffed hair wearing a black leather jacket. He was lingering outside the door waiting for the doorbell to be answered. It never was. The neighbour, clearly suspicious, urged others in the group to be on the lookout. Another neighbour zoomed in on the footage, screen-grabbed it and posted an enlarged and pixelated image of the man’s face back into the WhatsApp group. I received the message on my phone mid-way through dinner. I was confused. What makes this person suspicious? And what exactly are we on the lookout for?
This anecdote goes to the heart of my research. For the past 7 years I have been exploring how technology shapes neighbourhoods and influences neighbours. I am particularly interested in what impact our domestic surveillance devices, like smart doorbell cameras and mobile messaging groups, have on social cohesion and our feeling of safety. Most urgently, this research zooms in on the role that technology plays in creating inclusive spaces. With my creative partner Klasien van de Zandschulp, we have researched neighbourhoods across the globe, from our hometown of Amsterdam, to York in England, Johannesburg, San Paulo, New York and the rural farmlands of the Netherlands, interviewing people about how they use domestic surveillance technology to watch their streets and homes. Amazingly, what we’ve found is that neighbourhood surveillance, enabled by technology, is not unique to wealthy cities with plenty of technology. Instead, it happens in all kinds of places across the world, albeit on different scales and with different implications. We see the rise of an intimate surveillance culture. What I mean by this is that neighbours are buying technology like Ring or Nest doorbell cameras and joining messaging platforms like WhatsApp, Nextdoor or Neighbourhoods (from Facebook) to police their space. Intimate surveillance is booming in streets, buildings, gated compounds and townships, enabled by affordable surveillance technology and social media platforms perfectly tailored to a vigilant consumer.
A great example of this is in the Netherlands where you will most likely spot a street sign with the words “Attention! WhatsApp Neighbourhood Watch”. The sign is often placed at the start of a street. It signals to newcomers that neighbours in that area are watching their suburb and circulating information about suspicious people in their local WhatsApp group. Amazingly, these signs, and the groups they represent, have been adopted and seemingly normalised as part of communal life in the Netherlands. The police encourage residents to join these groups, just like in my neighbourhood in Amsterdam. Ordinary folks become the eyes and ears of the police. It’s hard to decipher the true statistics here. One source claims there are approximately 9,000 registered WhatsApp groups dedicated to neighbourhood surveillance. This accounts for about 630,000 residents. Yet, there are thousands of other groups that aren’t registered but they do exactly the same surveillance work.
For a mere €75, you can order a WhatsApp neighbourhood watch sign for your street in the Netherlands. We had this one custom made for our live performance ‘Good Neighbours’ in Amsterdam in 2021.
WhatsApp neighbourhood groups are however only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. They form a tiny part of a much larger ecosystem of surveillance technologies in neighbourhoods. Another popular device (the rising star of surveillance gadgets) is the Ring doorbell camera. Ring is the humble doorbell redesigned for a paranoid networked society, complete with its own Instagram account and 152,000 followers (as of 2021). In December 2020, when many people were locked down in their homes during the corona pandemic, global online sales of Ring cameras jumped by 180% compared to 2019. In December of 2020, Amazon.com sold nearly half a million Ring cameras to American consumers.
A recording from a Ring doorbell camera in the city of York (UK) where we did part of our research and presented a live performance.
Besides its doorbell function, the Ring includes a built-in camera and motion sensor. If you press a Ring doorbell it films you. If the Ring owner isn’t home they receive a notification on their phone with footage of the visitor. If someone triggers the sensor by walking past, the Ring camera will record that person, regardless of whether they rang the bell or not. Ring owners can even speak through their phones (via the doorbell) to anyone standing outside their door. Sounds convenient right?
In the course of this blog series I will speak into this question, because there’s much more to Ring than convenience (or safety). I will examine WhatsApp, Ring and a few other platforms that are shaping the order of micro politics in neighbourhoods. Pointedly, these technologies raise urgent questions about surveillance, platforms and society. Most immediately, I want to draw attention to the dangerous practice in neighbourhoods when residents sue technology to mark others as strangers who don’t belong. Social and racial profiling are commonplace and becoming ever-more transparent through technology. As Marleen Stikker from Waag Society reminds us, “Technology is an expression of capital and power”. Said more plainly: it’s often about money. Look no further than Nexdoor, a Silicon Valley social network aimed at local neighbourhoods and infamous for facilitating instances of racial profiling, recently valued at $2,1 billion (up 30% from its last valuation in 2017). This entire series is about keeping a critical public record of the relationship between neighbourhoods, neighbours and their technologies and to keep the focus on what is at stake.
Dr. Natalie Dixon is an INC research fellow and founder & cultural insights director at affect lab, a women-led creative studio and research practice based in Amsterdam. Her work explores questions of gender, race and belonging through the lens of technology.
June 29, 2021
Thinking about the current state of platforms, I’m reminded of Mark Fisher’s articulation of capitalist realism, the idea that we don’t imagine or build alternatives to capitalism because we can no longer envision a world without it. Big tech, in a few short years, has managed to instill within the public a similar state of platform realism. So many are unable to imagine how global communication, media, search, etc. could ever function without the platforms. Despite a growing malaise, it’s become difficult for many to consider a world without big tech platforms as a viable conception of the future.
That means we undoubtedly need to focus some of our energy towards the building of such alternatives. Users of big tech will need to see, feel, and use new avant-garde technologies that center anti-capitalist pro-public values before they ever abandon big tech platforms en masse. But along the way, we also need to engage the world where they are. With 3 billion+ people already signed on, some of this work should happen inside big tech’s platforms themselves.
This isn’t as bad as it sounds, though, because platforms can be fruitful spaces for cultivating criticality. Whether covertly subversive or overtly confrontational, platform manipulations (such as those that can be enacted via browser extensions, online performance projects, etc.) can prompt users to reconsider the role of these systems currently considered as inevitable parts of the 21st century landscape. By exposing the hidden and hiding the visible, hacktivist art, tactical media, and other related practices can help users question the role of platforms in everyday life. Why are they built this way? Who benefits? Who is made most vulnerable? How could it be different?
Such manipulations can also transform big tech platforms into good spaces for modeling resistance to capitalism, as the platforms themselves embody capitalist values in their most distilled and potent forms. The platforms are encodings of tech bro entrepreneurial ideology, agential systems that enact and amplify their beliefs in the importance of scale, the imperative of growth, and the superiority of the quantitative. Examples include my own projects that alter existing platforms to hide their metrics, to confuse their algorithmic profiling, and to distill their central manipulation mechanisms down to their barest essentials in ways that make them visible and tangible.
Other examples include projects by artists such as Joana Moll or Disnovation, as well as essential software/platform/code/media studies critiques by thinkers such as Wendy Chun, Safiya Noble, Matthew Fuller, Søren Pold, yourself, and others in our community. The more we can illuminate existing connections between wider societal ills and the ways that big tech models, reifies, and amplifies them, the easier any platform exodus will be.
Decentralization undoubtedly holds some promise for dreams of exodus from big tech platforms. But decentralization on its own is not a panacea. We only need look at speculative finance and libertarian crypto dreams to find clues about who feels most excited about decentralization and why (e.g., it’s not about rebuilding the public or strengthening democracy).
In other words, the problem with platforms isn’t, in all cases, centralization per se. Instead, the negatives we contend with on big tech’s platforms are rooted in their software’s alignment with and embedding of the ideologies of capitalism. Global-scale software-based platforms are reflective of the same profit-focused business values that drive big tech’s executives to build those companies in the first place: growth, scale, more at any cost. This foundation is doomed from the start, as it inevitably leads big tech to treat users as resources to be mined, manipulated, and transformed into profit. It makes expendable user-centric values around privacy and agency.
Instead we need a turn away from the private and a return to the public. Without a private profit motive, many of the problems with big tech platforms would fall away. I say this knowing full-well that making such systems public is by no means a solution by itself. We’ve seen unprecedented corruption of and new justified distrust in public institutions over the last many years. But big tech’s platforms are decidedly anti-public, and this positioning is part of what makes them so damaging to privacy, agency, and democracy.
I think we should also experiment with new platforms (public or non-profit private) that enact decidedly different values than what big tech promotes. For example, what would a platform look like if it actively worked to defuse compulsive use rather than to produce it? Or if it wants less from users rather than more? Or if it encourages conceptions of time that are slow rather than fast?
For me, these ideas point towards a shared set of values to consider as we work to dismantle the control of big tech. These include:
SLOW — We need media that actively and intentionally works against the platform capitalist idea that speed and efficiency is always desirable and productive.
LESS — We need alternatives that advance an anti-scale, anti-more agenda. Facebook’s answer to the negative effects of platform scale post-2016 was to foreground Groups to “give people the power to build community.” Four years later that platform-produced power propelled racism and authoritarianism to new heights, culminating (so far) in a violent insurrection at the US Capitol.
PUBLIC — Social media infrastructure for 3 billion+ users should never be driven by profit or controlled by single individuals. Ditto goods distribution (Amazon), information access (Google), etc.
DECOY — To help produce a culture of platform exodus we need new projects/works that get into the platforms and help users turn themselves away from them.
28 June, 2021, https://bengrosser.com/, Urbana, IL USA
June 24, 2021
Graag nodigen we je uit voor het symposium CODE NL-D, over het terugwinnen van onze digital agency: https://impakt.nl/code-nld/
Het symposium vindt online plaats deze zaterdag middag 26 juni 2021 van 14:00 – 17:30 uur.
Connected Digital Europe (CODE) NL-D is een samenwerking tussen IMPAKT [Centrum voor Mediacultuur], (NL) en School of Machines, Making & Make-believe in Berlijn, (DE). CODE NL-D brengt kunstenaars, bezorgde burgers, politici en beleidsmakers samen om de dialoog en kritische discussie aan te gaan op het gebied van digital agency.
Het eerste symposium draait om de vragen ‘Wat voor soort verandering willen we?’ en ‘Hoe kunnen we bijdragen aan deze verandering?’ We zullen elk onderwerp afzonderlijk behandelen door middel van twee paneldiscussies, waarbij we de confrontatie aangaan met kwesties betreffende huidige en nieuwe technologieën en hun maatschappelijke impact. Met een focus op het wetgevingslandschap in Duitsland en Nederland, willen we het potentieel begrijpen van interdisciplinaire samenwerkingen en artistieke interventies om systeemverandering tot stand te brengen.
• Evelyn Austin (Bits of Freedom);
• Leonieke Verhoog (Public Spaces);
• Queeny Rajkowski (Comissie digitale zaken tweede kamer en tweede kamerlid voor de VVD);
• Jillian York (Auteur en directeur internationale vrijheid van meningsuiting bij de Electronic Frontier Foundation);
• Marek Tuszynski (Creatief directeur en mede-oprichter van Tactical Tech);
• Sarah Grant (Oprichter van de interactieve mediastudio Cosmic.Berlin).
Meer informatie, programma en tickets: https://impakt.nl/code-nld/
June 21, 2021
An annotated digest of the top "Hacker" "News" posts for the second week of June, 2021.
June 08, 2021 (comments)
Fastly (business model: "Uber for Varnish") manages to ratfuck half the internet, including companies who should have known better. Hackernews catalogues all of the websites that are currently offline, invents from first principles what went wrong, and declares this shit would never have happened if Hackernews were behind the wheel.
June 09, 2021 (comments)
Some assholes write an open letter to Tim Cook, begging for their company to be bought by Apple. Apple is not listening. Hackernews also writes wish lists for Apple to ignore, and then swings back around to tell everyone else that their wish lists are stupid. Sometimes it's because the wish list is a series of Android features, sometimes it's because Hackernews believes that social media is the sole underlying purpose of owning a smartphone, and usually it's because computers do not work the same way they did when Hackernews was a child, even if a given Hackernews is currently still a child.
June 10, 2021 (comments)
Stripe (business model: "Uber for Paypal") helps people do math. Hackernews has a load of recommendations of other companies standing by to do your math for you, but other Hackernews wonder if, when that math is the core source of most of your worldly wealth, you might want to keep a hand on the till just in case. The rest of the comments, as usual, are Hackernews incorrecting one another regarding tax law.
June 11, 2021 (comments)
Some webshits want you to like the software they like. Hackernews arrives to explain how all of these things are trivial to solve using whatever software Hackernews likes. A fistfight breaks out -- comprising fully half the comments on this article -- wherein Hackernews argues over which software it's appropriate to like, and when, and when you need to stop liking it and like something else instead.
June 12, 2021 (comments)
Some programmers port the 1990s Rapid Application Development paradigm to Python. Hackernews loves the idea, but only a handful of them would ever actually touch this code with a ten-foot pole, so the comments are muted and scarce.
June 13, 2021 (comments) (archive)
An Internet ports a computer game to a computer built into a lamp, but then falls into an info hole. The article itself and the video to which it links have both been Trotskyed, so I've provided an Internet Archive link above. Hackernews is angry that the lamp has a computer built into it, angry that the computer is different from what Hackernews thinks it should be, and angry that, having produced a computer Hackernews doesn't want, IKEA has failed to give full access to Hackernews to the computer they don't want.
June 14, 2021 (comments)
Stripe (business model: "Uber for Palantir") would like everyone on earth to scan their government identification into a giant database that they promise will be extremely well-taken-care-of, and not haphazardly shared with grim suit-clad people or public EC2 browsers. Hackernews immediately expresses some concern at the contents of this database, and a Stripe shows up to explain that matters are more complex than you think, which means you should stop worrying about this and just leave it to the experts who are serving us all by helping people around the world respond to one of the oldest questions humanity has ever faced; specifically, the question "may I see your papers, please?"
June 17, 2021
In early May 2021, the internet lost a controversial yet vital part of its history. Seemingly out of the blue, video hosting platform LiveLeak shut down. It was a staple website for gore content, especially among millennials or other early internet users, and for its information transparency and unrestricted censorship to citizen journalists, whistleblowers and hacktivists. The seemingly disparate demographic of LiveLeak is intertwined by neoliberal ideals foundational to the internet: information wants to be free, individual freedom of expression and free-market capitalism.
In the current digital climate, however, these neoliberal ideals require habituation. Numerous alt-tech platforms premised on unrestricted censorship rise and fall through the co-optation by those groups subjected by the consequences of free information and individual freedom: (right-wing) extremist, racists or conspiracists. In recent years, this form of habituating irresponsible behavior, immoralization and the disciplining of subjects is enclosed in the term digital hygiene. This euphemism for the developing field of digital biopolitics not only disciplines users, but extends to a broader context of controlling information freedom as well. LiveLeak now redirects to the new, more sanitized ItemFix.com: a website where visitors are encouraged to engage with uploaded content by remixing and re-uploading it, emphasizing participatory culture and memetics. More importantly, ItemFix has a strict content policy, something both Ogrish and LiveLeak firmly opposed. Tracing the maturity of LiveLeak from Ogrish to ItemFix creates an allegorical umbilical cord connected to the internet’s coming of age.
During LiveLeak’s infancy as Ogrish, the website was related to the Shock blog or gore porn discourse (you might remember rotten.com or Goatse). The website hosted videos of atrocities such as executions, suicides, beheadings, rape, general mutilation. It can also be labeled as dark tourism by providing fetishized sight. Gore porn is used metaphorically to instill some form of morality in the viewer’s mind. This is reminiscent of Susan Sontag’s theories on metaphors but did not resist Ogrish and its visitors to become a market that fetishized unethical video content. The spectatorship of body horrors, as Tait calls it, was the main characteristic of the website, where context and significance seemed to be shed as excess skin on a snake.
As Orgish became a pre-teen between ’05 and ’06, Tait recognized that it wished to reposition its views on the spectatorship of body horror in a way that’d become more political. The shift of making body horrors more ethical was positively embraced, as legacy media used (edited) content from the website in news items on US invasion in Iraq (such as the beheading of Nick Berg). These changes, its newsworthiness appeal and moralization of gore content became the culmination that leads Ogrish to the high school and college stage of its life: LiveLeak.
Transgressive teen or ambitious adolescent?
While LiveLeak was the result of the domestication and moralization of gore porn, its fetishizing sight still remained under the hood. This led to a dichotomy in how the same content is perceived. CCTV footage leaked information or just straightforward captures of unethical activity: LiveLeak offered a platform for all types of content in name of redefining the media, as their tagline goes. Closing in their relationship to news, the platform and its content providers purposefully tried to establish itself as the cousin of the news who, by sifting through horrendous content, were destined to show what’s really going on. ‘[I]mages of atrocity are understood to make a call to conscience, to enable the viewer to bear witness to scenes cleansed from mainstream media through repressive standards of taste and decency,’ as Sue Tait puts it.
‘[I]mages of atrocity are understood to make a call to conscience, to enable the viewer to bear witness to scenes cleansed from mainstream media through repressive standards of taste and decency.
But because of its participatory nature and the increased interest in the platform–stemming from the moralized sight on gore content for the sake of newsworthiness– content of everyday life in non-Western countries started to form a genre, coinciding with citizen journalism. A significant amount of videos, for example, featured the working environments of Chinese construction or factory workers. The CCTV documented not only their poor and hazardous labor environments, which could be used by journalists but also recorded immanent disasters such as breaking pipelines, leaking liquid metals, explosions and so on. This narrative became so well-known on LiveLeak, it even made it into a TikTok meme.
Gore content was domesticated and conceptualized as ethical, new usage of the platform affordances made the demographics more heterogeneous and content could be recontextualized for political or activist means. Has LiveLeak reached the phase of adolescence? It did seem more mature in the sense that it was taken more seriously and value. Yet, it still balanced on the fissure between citizen journalism and this gore-induced fetishized gaze of body horror.
Being an alternative for news, featuring graphic content and having a supply and demand relationship of such circulating content, LiveLeak is easily wedged together with fringe networks such as 4chan and 8kun–which are not seen as mature, to say the least. In reality, it was more similar to Reddit, in that the platform held a significant position in the media landscape as an underdog. Along with the tolerant moderation, this unique position enabled LiveLeak to spread both graphic and extremist content far wider than imageboards. Dutch right-wing populist Geert Wilders utilized these affordances to broadcast his anti-Islam film Fitna. During the Christchurch shootings in New Zealand, telecom company Telstra denied access to LiveLeak (stitching it together with the imageboard) as means of minimizing the spread of the manifesto of ethnonationalist and terrorist Tarrant.
Gore, citizen journalism and hacktivism
Of course, the liberating element here is that news becomes democratized. Legacy news media’s censorship of gore content and even events that weren’t deemed newsworthy found a new platform to circulate through. Citizen journalism attempts to report the reality after the news media’s camera lens stopped rolling. They were the dirty or the explicit version of a song, where legacy news media signify the clean version without foul language. Saddam Hussein’s execution, the imagery of transgressive military activity in Iraq and Afghanistan and journalist James Foley’s beheading were all popular videos hosted and extensively viewed on LiveLeak. It also played an important role during the Arab Spring and the Syrian Civil War in 2011.
If LiveLeak had been around during the Gulf War, Baudrillard wouldn’t have claimed that it didn’t happen.
Around the same period, after anonymous users shared videos about war crimes in Iraq, British Prime Minister Tony Blair called LiveLeak a “pro-terrorist manipulating web site.” Similarly, in 2007, the former White House Press Secretary mentioned LiveLeak in his speech and underlined its “mass manipulating” characteristic. While these indicate the ‘reality’ behind global news events, street journalism was also a prime narrative. On-site reports and everyday captures hinged between journalist intent, lulz and graphic imagery. If LiveLeak had been around during the Gulf War, Baudrillard wouldn’t have claimed that it didn’t happen.
In this case, LiveLeak is the embodiment of fringe networks disseminating information to wider audiences beyond traditional discourse. It could therefore well be named among the endeavors of WikiLeaks. After the release of Collateral Murder, Wikileaks cemented the internet as an important participant of public political debate, often crossing over and grabbing headlines in legacy media. Milan’s chapter in the book Beyond WikiLeaks elaborates further on this. Similarly, LiveLeak played an equally important role during the Arab Spring and Syrian Civil War, as it allowed the information flow to reverse, from non-Western to the West, something Çömlekçi and Güney argue is a unique potential of the platform. Citizen journalism thus also closely relates to hacktivism. Which is another way LiveLeak was utilized.
Whistleblowers used LiveLeak as an intermediary to securely share their information anonymously while also increasing their audience and reach, operating behind the smokescreen of gore and citizen journalist content.
LiveLeak is not often mentioned in the discourse of information communication. It’s privy to the logics of citizen journalism, but that does not fully entail its relevancy when it comes to the digital dissemination of information. Its aim to provide an alternative flow of information thus also attracts those who utilize this for activist reasons: whistle-blowers and free information activists. Where WikiLeaks is founded upon the ideals of these information transparency activists, LiveLeak was not but did share some similar logics. This is why Whistleblowers used LiveLeak as an intermediary to securely share their information anonymously while also increasing their audience and reach. Whistleblower networks could operate behind the smokescreen of gore and citizen journalist content. The usability of LiveLeak thus is found in the midst of this trilateral demographic.
Both platforms contain a disruptive element to the flow and control of information. But while WikiLeaks maintained a close and contested relationship to journalism, the platform logics situated LiveLeak more in a social context. Metrics decided the popularity and thus visibility of videos, which allows for elements of memetics. Videos on animals could very well reach the home page, categorized in either ‘Must See’, ‘In The News’, or ‘Featured Items’. To overcome this dialectic between memetic videos and journalist content, features such as ‘Channels’ and ‘Current Events’ are introduced, indicating that the platform knows users come to LiveLeak for various reasons and want to adhere to both. LiveLeak is the intermediary, serving its purpose as a repository or additional source for journalism. Its relationship with journalism is similar to its relationship with whistleblowers: distant cousins who use their kinship only instrumentally.
Whereas tax havens such as the Cayman Islands are utilized to avoid paying your monthly dues, LiveLeak functioned as an information haven where whistleblowers and citizen journalists could redirect their information through it to avoid possible tracing and thus prosecution. While YouTube is a year older, puberty hit LiveLeak earlier during their formative years. The latter can be seen as the transgressive teenager trying to provoke, either by suppressed information, shock-inducing content from places far away.
But why didn’t LiveLeak manage to hold more political?
The activism of WikiLeaks (and the transparency movement it ushered in) is not quite prevalent in the demographic of LiveLeak. Both have made legacy news as sources for information, albeit in a disproportionate matter. But while the content might be crossposted from the former to the latter to widen the scope, LiveLeak tends to lean on the fact that it’s reporting on spectacle. It’s the (graphic) images and not the context that get the clicks. Debord prophetically saw the ocularcentrist emphasis of images as the degradation of meaning in the society of the spectacle. LiveLeak provided the millennial generation with the explicit version of the spectacles we were served by legacy news media. The unauthorized video of Saddam Hussein’s execution, one might argue, serves as a more spectacular closure to the war in Iraq than the symbolic representations: presidential speeches, troops marching with flags or Saddam Hussein’s statue being torn down. Content on LiveLeak thus operates in two parallel (and somewhat contrasting) dimensions. On the one hand, the content relates as an explicit version to the spectacular horrors, maintaining its context. Simultaneously, the content is deconstructed of meaning and recontextualized akin to the spectacular or shock value the platform is known for. It illustrates once more how the moralization of gore content is problematized.
[The] emphasis on rendering spectatorship of graphic imagery as an antidote to the hygiene of mainstream press coverage potentially has significant consequences, as it enables viewers to avoid the moralizing frameworks [news media retain]. Tait, 2008
Middle Child Syndrome
Two groups congregating on a platform to both consume and circulate information positioned LiveLeak as a middle child in some ways. On the one hand, it was the transgressive and edgy older brother to YouTube. He guided you to more obscure content your parents didn’t want you to see. That same rebellious attitude is juxtaposed by his politically conscious and hacker-savvy older sibling WikiLeaks. Too indoctrinated by his own gore fetishization during his childhood as Ogrish, LiveLeak was not able to comply with the political strides of WikiLeaks, although the two did interact. This idea of middle child syndrome can be elaborated by the fact that LiveLeak followed various internet logics. Due to its inception in a specific transitional time from web 1.0 to 2.0, the platform was grounded on logics such as sociality, sharing, transparency, hacktivism, participatory culture and so on.
On the one hand, LiveLeak was the transgressive and edgy older brother to YouTube. He guided you to more obscure content your parents didn’t want you to see. That same rebellious attitude is juxtaposed by his politically conscious and hacker-savvy older sbiling WikiLeaks, too indoctrinated by his own gore fetishization during his childhood as Ogrish.
Like Wikileaks, LiveLeak’s aspects of citizen journalism share similarities to hacktivism, but with notions of alternative countercultural and digital citizen media models which had introduced easy participatory content production (Brevini et al 4). In addition to these notions, LiveLeak contained logics of social media and memetics. Virality plays an important role which was endorsed by a like and viewing system to categorize videos, emphasizing the sociality of the platform. Metrics decided the popularity and thus visibility of videos, which allows for elements of memetics. Videos on animals could very well reach the home page, categorized in either ‘Must See’, ‘In The News’, or ‘Featured Items’. To overcome this dialectic between memetic videos and journalist content, features such as ‘Channels’ and ‘Current Events’ are introduced, indicating that the platform knows users come to LiveLeak for various reasons and want to adhere to both.
For the dissemination of information, content was decontextualized by the platform’s hacker ethos, which holds an agnostic stance towards information. The journalist ethos requires contextualization, which WikiLeaks did actively adopted and LiveLeak attempted. Where citizen journalism might be the intention, in a McLuhan-esque way the platform appropriates the gore content for the demand present on LiveLeak, making it harder to be politically disruptive. Poe’s law learns us that without clear indication, it is impossible to read an author’s intention. The content is stripped of its context as soon as it circulates on LiveLeak. The genetic code LiveLeak adopted from Ogrish seemed to influence its ability to become more activist. The lack of collective activism (collactivism) stems from the fact that the platform serves the visitor, the viewer, the subject of the spectacle. Activism was never intently built into the design of LiveLeak. Its technological affordances, in terms of Helmond and Bucher, did allow for the whistleblower demographic to adopt the platform and use it instrumentally.
ItemFix, the disciplined adult
The growth spurt of LiveLeak spanned 15 years, eventually reaching the ceiling in early May 2021. Not because of dizzying heights in its success, but because the waves of fake news, misinformation, (rightwing) extremism, polarisation and online conspiracism made the sea levels of the digital climate rise. It requires an increase in content moderation and policies, which LiveLeak actively opposed. ItemFix tries to disband its politicization by appealing to the participatory nature of the internet. It calls itself a social video factory, where users can fix or remix videos as they see fit. The core USP of ItemFix is underscored in the first seconds of their introductory video: ‘you can create videos and gifs to share on your social media account’. This is done by using the ‘easy to use in-browser editing software.
While users are still encouraged to upload content, similar to LiveLeak and Ogrish, this time there are strict content policies. Accordingly, all ‘accidents’ are now sanitized and bear no visual fatalities. Social media logics on LiveLeak are extrapolated and magnified as primary features on ItemFix. Popular channels include Viral, Memes, News, Fail, WTF, Crashes and Cool. The algorithmic sorting system is split between ‘Virality’ and ‘Newest’. And lastly, upvotes, scores and views determine the content’s popularity, similar to Reddit.
ItemFix represents the adult phase, as it’s working as (or in) a self-proclaimed factory now. Together with its employees, it promotes an economy where memetics and virality become the dominant mode of production, consumption and distribution. It subjects its employees to the neoliberal tendency of entrepreneuralization, to gain and compete in the market for cultural capital. It should be said that the platform is still quite young, so it might be adopted to a group with other ideals.
The participatory mechanisms, the emphasis on the individual and strict content policies are like gene replacement therapy for the gore strand which was present in its DNA. Or even activist activity for that matter. One glance at the main page or the news channel illustrates an emphasis on humor, but not in any sadistic form reflective in Ogrish. In the image above, however, you can still the demand for gore or shock content. The video with the most upvotes, views and comments is a CCTV capture of a cable car accident, killing 14 people. The characteristics of Ogrish and LiveLeak are still present in the audience of ItemFix, demanding content they know the site(s) for.
Different times, different manners
Earlier, I wrote about the emerging phenomenon of digital hygiene, a socio-technical aim to reform to control individual’s internet usage. In addition to appealing to cybersecurity, immoral content consumption is also immoralized and discouraged. The termination of LiveLeak–and the transition into ItemFix–signifies the pervasiveness of digital hygiene on a macro-level. Beyond the control of digital citizens’ information consumption through the disciplinary nature of labeling certain practices immoral, identified as the micro-level, this macro-level instance of digital hygiene illustrates that non-hegemonic platforms with less care for information or content moderation require to adapt or face consequences. Platform capitalist-endorsed digital hygiene and the accompanying rules of living apply pressure on fringe platforms that are not self-sustaining or anonymous (such as imageboards). LiveLeak is not included in the impending hygienic internet environment where there is no space for limited content moderation, graphic content and extremism.
While it might seem like a single case, the termination of LiveLeak represents something bigger than itself. Where there was hierarchical intervention during the Christchurch shootings and the Capitol Raid by ISPs, app providers and hosting services, the termination of LiveLeak can be seen as an occurrence of preemptive self-censorship. It is not enforced by other actors, but rather an internal decision by Hayden Hewitt and other owners of LiveLeak as a response to the growing pressure on platforms with lenient content moderation. It seems to be a conscious decision to turn away from the politicized debate around information freedom, content moderation and the platform’s responsibility to conform to a wider trend of compliance.
Where there was hierarchical intervention during the Christchurch shootings and the Capitol Raid by ISPs, app providers and hosting services, the termination of LiveLeak can be seen as an occurrence of preemptive self-censorship.
With no official statement around the reasoning for LiveLeak’s sudden termination, the argument for preventive self-censorship is just educated speculation. But tracing the trend of sanitizing oneself of immoral digital behavior, this also applies to LiveLeak. From the everything-goes mentality of the shock blog era Ogrish emerged from, to the relative political nature of citizen journalism and its relation to hacktivism on LiveLeak, the transition to ItemFix symbolizes the stronghold digital hygiene has– both on individuals as on platforms.
A normative argument can be extrapolated from this genealogy. It can be analogous to the changing phases of the internet, where information is once again centralized, restricted in its flow and increasingly moderated to maintain control, implicitly increasing the dominant platform’s hegemony.
June 16, 2021
June 14, 2021
With the climate of repression reaching fever pitch in Belarus and Russia, European institutions need to support new opportunities for young people
Instagram’s Like Hiding Saga is a PR Stunt:
What Facebook’s Darling Hopes You’ll Forget About Social Media Metrics
By Ben Grosser
In the spring of 2019 Instagram announced to the world that it was going to test the hiding of visible “like” counts within its interface. In the words of Instagram Head Adam Mosseri, he hoped it would make the platform feel “much less pressurized” and less “like a competition.” This announcement came at a time when the social media companies were enduring significant scrutiny for their roles in the amplification and virality of disinformation, the erosion of democracy and civic debate, and the destruction of individual self-esteem that was so widely evident that the New York Times wrote: “that Instagram can feel ‘pressurized’ and trigger status anxiety is hard to dispute.”
So, when Instagram made its announcement that spring, not only did it make big headlines, but many publications took it as a given that the decision had been made: likes were going away. The tests to come were merely a formality, many presumed—most without asking what those tests might be testing for, or what different outcomes might mean for the future of visible like counts.
In other words, the media was duped. Despite their stories from the time heralding Instagram’s tests as evidence of the company’s newfound concern for user well-being, it was always inevitably going to lead to either no actual change, or, at best, an anemic one. This is because Instagram is a corporation whose profit depends on continued growth, fueled by the extraction of user data and the production of ever-rising platform engagement. Visible metrics have been, for its entire history, a key component of this production—I would argue they are the central mechanism responsible for Instagram’s success.
So, it should come as no surprise when, after two years of testing, Instagram’s Head reports that their “research” turned up no particular effects from hiding likes. One can hardly help but recall in response other moments from corporate history, such as when the tobacco companies said smoking wasn’t addictive, or when the energy sector says fracking isn’t bad for the environment. Apparently, if we’re to believe Instagram, it turns out that likes just don’t matter much. Nothing to see here!
My own research strongly contradicts Instagram’s findings. I originated the concept of social media “demetrication” in 2012 when I launched the artwork Facebook Demetricator, a free and open-source browser extension that hides all quantifications across the Facebook interface. In 2014 I published a peer-reviewed article about my findings. In 2017 I launched a Demetricator for Twitter, and in 2018 one for Instagram. After a decade of activity investigating, working to erase, and listening to users report about the effects of hiding likes (and other visible counts), it is abundantly clear that social media metrics have profound effects on users. When like/follower/share/etc. counts are hidden, users report feeling, for example, less anxious, less competitive, and less addicted to the platforms. They talk about feeling less compulsive in response to them, less manipulated by metrics to continually like, share, and post. And perhaps most importantly, when visible interface metrics are hidden, users learn and feel for themselves just how significantly their actions had been driven—almost automated—by the presence of the number.
Caption: The author’s original video from 2012 demonstrating and describing Facebook Demetricator, a browser extension that hides visible metrics across the Facebook interface
So what’s really happening with “like” counts? And why might Instagram’s findings be different from my own? Setting aside (for the moment) their vested interest in the perpetuation of platform metrics and their vague assertions without evidence or peer review, I would point to the company’s anemic implementation of metric erasure.
First, Instagram’s like hiding options are laborious to use. To hide others’ metrics takes 6 taps through menus to find the toggle for it, which is buried in “Privacy” settings. Burying that option behind so many steps discourages experimentation and individual testing, leaving the default option (showing likes) as the one most will stick with.
Second, hiding one’s own like counts is not only repeatedly laborious, but incomplete. If I want to hide my like counts on my own posts, I have to tap 3 more times to turn it on every time I post. I can’t just change that setting once and have it affect all posts in the future. More importantly, even when I turn off like counts for a specific post I’ve made, the interface continues to report that metric back to me in several ways. For example, it accumulates the counts into a red and white metric popup every time I load the app—and periodically thereafter (far left in the image below). Instagram also continues to show these counts whenever I look at my notifications tab (far right). In other words, one can’t really hide their own like counts.
Image: Visible like counts on my own posts after enabling Instagram’s option to hide them. On left, the counts as shown in the standard notifications popup that appears every time I load the app and periodically thereafter. In the middle is the count shown when I click “others” from the feed. On the right are the like counts as shown in the notifications tab.
Third is that Instagram has chosen to show all metrics by default. Interface defaults are powerful. They set the conditions upon which any adjustment is evaluated. And most users won’t ever change the defaults anyway. Mosseri reveals his hopes here when he suggests that even those who hide likes might “want to switch back” “after a couple weeks.”
Fourth is that Instagram leaves all other non-like metrics in place. So even if a user hides others’ like counts and (partially) hides their own, they’re still faced with an interface full of metrics. Comment counts, view counts, follower counts, notification metrics, etc. All of these influence the user, and will serve as a ready substitute for metric evaluation when navigating the feed (e.g., it’s easy enough to focus on comment counts if like counts are hidden).
In other words, Instagram’s like hiding test: 1) made it hard to toggle like count hiding on and off, 2) made it impossible to truly hide one’s own like counts, 3) split like metrics into different categories controlled from different parts of the interface, 4) set the default as showing like counts, and 5) left in place all other interface metrics. If a social media company wanted to create a user interface test designed to conclude that hiding like counts doesn’t change much, this would be it. And lo and behold, the outcome from their findings will be continued platform growth—at the continued expense of human anxiety, compulsion, addiction, and diminished well-being.
Ironically, Mosseri confirms some of these effects with his recent statements. For example, he said (as quoted by the BBC):
‘“The spirit of this is to give people a choice,” using the example of going through a break-up in a relationship or switching schools.’
So, Instagram found no particular effect on user well-being, but Mosseri uses moments of extreme life stress as the example for why one might want to hide likes?
Another example Mosseri gave was:
“Maybe you want to be a little bit less worried about how many likes everyone’s getting for a couple weeks or a couple of months, and then maybe you want to switch back.”
So, if you want less worry, you turn off likes? Sounds as if like counts do in fact affect user well-being.
I appreciate Instagram’s decision to enable the hiding of others’ likes. This change will help users blunt the competitive feelings those metrics produce. But the anemic half-implementation of hiding one’s own likes reveals they don’t really want the idea to catch on. Instagram has spent more than a decade conditioning users to focus on the numbers. Any transition away from metrics was thus going to require substantial rethinking of what the platform is and how it works. Tests and experiments would need care and rigor; instead, Instagram came back with small clunky tweaks. A real test would make possible complete erasure of all visible metrics: no like, comment, view, or follower counts anywhere in the interface. This would be accompanied by a one-tap toggle so that users already dependent on the numbers could feel comfortable experimenting with hiding/showing the metrics at any time.
In a statement, Instagram said they consulted with experts during the testing period. Experts in what?, I would ask. Though I’ve worked on this topic for ten years—and released Instagram Demetricator a year before Mosseri started talking about their idea of hiding likes—Instagram never reached out to me for any discussion. Yet, tellingly, I did hear from the company during this period when their legal arm acted to force Instagram Demetricator off the Chrome web store in 2020. Unsurprisingly, this mirrors the actions of their parent company, Facebook, who did the same thing against Facebook Demetricator in 2016. Thankfully, the Electronic Frontier Foundation worked pro bono on my behalf to get the Facebook version reinstated. Given the company’s now repeated attempts to knock my Demetricators off the web, I haven’t worked too hard to reverse this latest move.
This whole saga is a public relations stunt. Instagram announced to the world in 2019 that they were testing the hiding of likes. They gained tremendous positive press from this move, with many lauding how much Instagram cares about user well-being. They then proceeded not to hide likes for everyone but instead to test the feature for two years—an eternity given their resources and capacity—only to come back later and proclaim that hiding likes doesn’t matter much? Not only does this assertion contradict my own research and the experience of countless users, but Instagram has a vested interest in this finding.
Visible metrics are key to the production of user engagement. Engagement is essential for user growth and profit generation. Their hiding tests were incomplete, leaving a user’s own like counts visible in multiple places. They didn’t reach out to some (all?) of us with a long research history on the topic. And along the way they acted to block users from fully hiding metrics via my projects, and even added new metrics to their interface with the addition of Reels. I find their conclusions and statements difficult to trust and would encourage others to be skeptical as well. Always remember: Instagram is a Mark Zuckerberg property. When Mosseri says something, it should be treated with the same level of trust that Zuckerberg has earned.
As a coda, one final comment on timing. Why now? After two years of testing and all the positive press, why come back now and say they’re done? I would point to the strongly negative reaction to the recently floated idea of Instagram for Kids. Many of the concerns expressed thus far have centered on fears around what a platform like Instagram, with all of its negative effects on user well-being, would do to children. What better antidote than to come out in response and say hey, it turns out our research shows that like counts don’t have much effect on anyone, so don’t worry about it! When companies release PR disguised as research, the media should hold them accountable for it.
Jeremy Cahill has been dismissed from The Philosopher’s Meme, in response to his illegal, abusive, and harassing behaviour which threatened the safety of other participants.
We are not affiliated with Jeremy Cahill or Metamer Labs, Inc. in any way, nor do we endorse any of their activities. We do not condone any abusive or exploitative behaviour.