12 Oct 2023

information wants to be free — or, put another way: media wants to be public

In February 2011, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked Wael Ghonim, a Google executive and organizer of Egypt’s ongoing protests, ‘Tunisia, then Egypt, what’s next?’ ‘Ask Facebook’ was Ghonim’s reply. ‘If you want to liberate a government, give them the internet.’

Few predictions have aged as poorly, though Ghonim’s optimism was understandable at the time. Instead of being a force for liberation, tech has been a force for oppression and, at times, genocide and ethnic cleansing. Disinformation, we now know, spreads as easily, if not more easily, than genuine news; social media’s algorithmic hoodoo seems geared toward helping lies achieve escape velocity. And at Musk’s bare-bones Twitter, which has a skeleton crew manning its trust and safety desk, anything goes.

That’s from something in The New Republic yesterday, reflections on where things stand with the internet as sickening terror upon terror of Israel-Palestine war resumes in our news feeds. Link below.

Social media, it’s been my inclination to suggest and the business of others to demonstrate, is not dying. The profit-optimized media / commerce platform offered for consumer use as universal social network is a project with problems people like Cory Doctorow have characterized persuasively for a lot of us. These are problems that mean erratic traffic patterns, waves of uncertainty and opting out, at some stage a general atmosphere of publics adrift perhaps. But market collapse? No.

Might profit-optimized platforms be in the end the only real possibility for shared internet experience of ‘the social’ hyphenated with ‘the media’? Nah. Don’t buy it!

I couldn’t have told you so before probably a few days ago, but Ben Tarnoff is somebody notable for having turned in the last few years to fixation with the thought that we could do all this differently. Tarnoff and spouse Moira Weigel write books, sometimes jointly, and have acquired considerable reputation with start of Logic(s), a hip magazine about which I’m afraid I know very little. I do know Know Your Enemy and, by way of it, friend-show Ordinary Unhappiness (hosted by another young couple involved with a hip new magazine), where Weigel guests on a July episode I’ve just come to this week. The ep is a ramble about historical space marked at one end by the Frankfurt School, 1923, with forms of mass-media critique its figures became known for, and at the other by internet consternation and new labor-organizing phenomena observable in the U.S. today. I recommend the whole long thing. You can play it below.

[UPDATE: Tarnoff has been on Paris Marx’s show several times in its several-year run. I ought to have caught this at some point, since I appreciate Marx’s project generally. But the fact is that he’s not a favorite listen, and I have missed a lot of what’s in the show’s catalogue. Anyway, Marx and Tarnoff’s conversation about Tarnoff’s Internet for the People is good, and the link’s included below now.]

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