The extraordinary revelations from the Observer/Channel 4 investigation into the practices of the digital marketing firm Cambridge Analytica have, like many a great internet controversy, produced great outrage but few answers or ways forward. People are rightly horrified at the prospect of such comprehensive personal information being used to manipulate them by the million, but also daunted by the task of correcting it.
In this conversation, hosted by Green Agenda co-editor Simon Copland, three speakers — Clare Ozich, Stephen Healy and Joan Staples — answered key questions about the nature of democracy. Panelists discussed what it is that we mean by ‘democracy’, why our democratic institutions are in crisis, and what we can do about it.
Thanks to the Green Institute for hosting such an engaging conference, and to Clare, Joan and Stephen for appearing on this panel.
Everyone encounters big data: via social media, financial transactions and public transport. Although all of these things are useful and fascinating, they simultaneously arouse feelings of discomfort: how far does the – largely invisible – influence of all of these data collections reach? In this article republished from Green European Journal, they interview Marleen Stikker, an expert who has been following developments in this sphere since the beginning of the digital era.
A revolution is taking place in our communication. Across the world, structures have collapsed because of their dependence on a funding model that no longer works. This has allowed new digital platforms to expand their reach ever further, and to tighten their grip on the information we circulate and are exposed to. Fake news is thriving in this new media environment – presenting a threat to our democratic societies which we underestimate at our peril. In this article republished from the Green European Journal, they sat down with Aidan White from the Ethical Journalism Network to discuss what fake news means for our society.
Green European Journal: How would you describe the media landscape today, and the main changes which have been occurring?
Aidan White: The landscape has been transformed by technology, essentially by the internet, in a way that allows us as individuals to have more choice and access to faster information from a greater range of sources. But this has come at a high price – that of our privacy and protection, and our access to pluralist and reliable information.
The capacity of social networks to provide rapid information has meant that the role of journalism to inform people about news events has become less important. But what has not changed is the need for reliable and accurate information to help us better understand the impact and consequences of events, and that also provides context – not just reporting a series of facts but explaining why things are happening. While social media can provide us with instantaneous coverage of an incident or disaster, we often miss the filter that journalism provides, for instance to provide news while sheltering others, especially vulnerable people such as children, from views or images that can be damaging. There is no moderation because the tech companies have always said they leave the content generation to users without interfering with it. This has left the door open to unscrupulous communication, such as special interest groups who are only interested in pursuing their own narrow agenda, not the public interest.
Australia has been constantly at war for 16 years, by far the longest stretch ever. Being at war has become the normal state of affairs for us. We spend $95 million every day on war and its preparation, even though the 2016 Defence White Paper said that the prospect of another country invading Australia in the foreseeable future is remote.
Our wars receive very little discussion, as if the need for them is self-evident. Our elected representatives are not consulted about proposed deployments of troops, what they are meant to do on our behalf, whether the proposal is even legal, and what the costs (human, environmental, economic, political) might be. There is zero debate in parliament on these things and no vote on them. The lessons from the disastrous 2003 invasion of Iraq, which Australia joined on the decision of one man, PM John Howard, are stark but unheeded.
Pessoptimism, noun, the inextricably intertwined feelings of hope and despair, of desire and knowledge, under the current untenable political conditions
Stephen Wright describes aptly the state of refugee justice in Australia today as a symptom of much broader malaise:
‘The existence of the detention centre on Nauru is a critical marker of the failure of our ability to maintain a commons, and of the failure of the Left’s imagination. The self-immolations of Hodar Yasin and Omid Masoumali are not just the suffering of offshore detention made visible. They are our commons burning.’1 Continue reading →
Stephen Wright, ‘On Setting Yourself on Fire’, Overland, Summer 2016, winner of the Overland/NUW Fair Australia Prize. ↩
In a wide-ranging interview, UK writer and political commentator, Bea Campbell, spoke to Green Agenda editor, Clare Ozich, about the legacy of the Russian Revolution and communism; feminism and the end of equality; Green politics; and the current state of UK politics.
Green Agenda co-editor, Simon Copland, responds to Hayley Conway and Mary Tomsic
In Voting on the Rights of Others Hayley Conway argued against public votes on the rights of others as “a vote affirming the rights of a minority doesn’t lead to systemic change.” She continued:
“Systemic change is needed to end discrimination. Winning the ‘yes’ vote in the postal survey will not end homophobia and the campaign itself has given great licence for public homophobia, abuse, and misinformation.”
I think Conway has created a straw man with this argument, refuting something that no one has ever claimed about the postal survey on marriage equality, or the use of the public votes on rights in general.
The postal survey on marriage equality in Australia has opened deep questions about the intersection between human rights and democracy. In this discussion community campaigner Hayley Conway and researcher Mary Tomsic debate what role citizens should play in voting for the rights of others.
Green Agenda editor Clare Ozich spoke with Tim Lo Surdo, Founder and National Director of Democracy in Colour, Australia’s first national racial justice advocacy organisation led by people of colour. Tim and Clare disucssed Democracy in Colour’s purpose and mission, the nature of racism in Australia and the connections between different forms of oppression.