by Stephen Downes
Jan 30, 2015
Investigating the Yik Yak attack
From the moment an application came into existence that allowed people in the same general area to make anonymous comments to each other it became inevitable that students would use it to criticize a professor (hence, the 'YikYak attack'). It is also inevitable that within a few minutes to the incident the Chronicle would publish an article lamenting the behaviour. Steve Kraus describes the coverage (here (the original Chronicle article is paywalled). I won't pretend the behaviour was not offensive and abusive (from the snippets I saw). But I also don't blame the technology for the behaviour - I blame the environment, I blame the entitled students who think there are no limits to their behaviour, I blame a media environment which promotes this sort of behaviour on a daily basis. And how does this help: "The only student so far punished in connection with the Yik Yak incident is one who stepped forward and confessed?" Alex Reid says, " Ultimately some mechanisms of social interaction arise to regulate behavior." Not unless you can remove or kick off the offenders. The trolls and the haters don't bend to social pressure; that's kind of what defines them.
The New Inquiry,
A few talks ago I cause a twitter in the audience by comparing big data analytics to astrology. It was no more than a half-formed thought, but as it turns out I'm not the only one who has had this thought and this author - via the mediation of Thomas Adorno - has given it substance. Robin James writes, "Scaled up in size and in processing power, big data could be the realization of what Adorno called 'the potential danger represented by astrology as a mass phenomenon.'" Their apparent objectivity allow them to be represented as value-neutral - but "astrology rearticulates unfashionable superstitions in the occult, in mysticism, and so on, by presenting them in empirical rather than supernatural terms—star charts and tables, for example. Upgrading the medium in which they are expressed, obsolete social myths gain new life as apparent fact." Just as does big data analytics. "Down-to-earthness is precisely the problem with forecasting: It only ever reproduces society and its most conventional norms, values, and practices. All that data up in the cloud opens no new vistas; it just repackages tired social, political, and economic institutions (white supremacy, capitalism, patriarchy) in new, hip abodes on more seemingly solid ground." Yeow!
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