Law in the Internet Society

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JohnClaytonFirstEssay 4 - 15 Jan 2021 - Main.JohnClayton
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It is strongly recommended that you include your outline in the body of your essay by using the outline as section titles. The headings below are there to remind you how section and subsection titles are formatted.
 
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A New Journalism

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Freeing Journalism

 -- By JohnClayton - 09 Oct 2020
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It is time to free journalism. I refer not to journalism the institution, that venerable fourth estate whose wreckage lies all around us. Rather I speak of journalism as an endeavor, an iterative process of collective knowledge gathering, synthesis, and distribution.
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It is time to free journalism. I speak not of journalism the institution—that long-lionized fourth estate whose ruins lie all around us. Rather what must be freed is journalism as an endeavor—that is, the iterative process of news gathering and knowledge creation that anybody, anywhere, can participate in.
 
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The Net has both necessitated and facilitated this reconception of what “journalism” means. Every day, an amalgam of professionals, ordinary citizens, and activists collectively creates the news. They do so via disparate methods and platforms. The results can be powerful—as evidenced by ongoing protests sparked by George Floyd’s murder—but also dizzying, chaotic, and fractured. Journalism’s future as an instrument in service of human learning depends on our ability harness a new, networked press that is simultaneously egalitarian, prodigious, and distracted.
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The Net has facilitated this reimagining of what journalism means. “The News” now emerges not from a few institutional gatekeepers, but from an amalgam of professional reporters, ordinary citizens, and activists. The results can be powerful. But they can also be dizzying and discordant, a chaotic bombardment of news 140 characters at a time. Journalism’s future as an tool for human learning depends harnessing a new, networked press that is egalitarian, prodigious, and distracted.
 
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The first step is to identify the restraints. They exist in propertarian views of news rooted an obsolete, ad-based business model. But the ends of journalism are also thwarted, ironically, by the very tools that enable the networked press. Smartphones that document police brutality catalogue their user’s every move. News updates are fed through Facebook and Twitter, where they are either drowned out or reduced to a lure for the Parasite, dangling in news feeds only so long as they snap up human attention.
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To free journalism—that is, to remake the social endeavor of news capture, synthesis, and sharing—we must identify its restraints. They exist, first, in the vestiges of the for-profit institutional press: namely, a continued reliance on obsolete, ad-based business models. But the ends of journalism are also thwarted, ironically, by the very tools that have democratized the media ecosystem. Smartphones that document police brutality surveil their users’ every move. Facebook and Twitter purportedly elevate the voices of citizen reporters while diluting the social value of journalism—reducing it to yet another lure for human attention, dangled alongside disinformation and other online detritus.
 
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We must forge a networked press that resists the Parasite, rather than mooring us to it. But we also need to reimagine the concept of what journalism means in the age of the Net.
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The journalism that we need—that we must pursue—is one that enables wide-reaching citizen participation, while resisting those who would hijack news reporting to serve despotism and surveillance capitalism.
 
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Moving Beyond Institutionalism

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Beyond Institutionalism

 
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I have been part of journalism the institution. I saw the crumbling up close. The old model of for-profit journalism required ad revenue, which required eyeballs. So we chased them—we spent hours pushing stories on social media and perfecting our headline SEO. We still tried to do good work reporting the news. But the stakes were crystal clear. At one reporting job, my salary was tied directly to how many page views my stories got.
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Abandoning ad-based models

 
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I do not mean to say that professional journalists are obsolete. There will always be a need for those trained in the art of storytelling and investigative reporting. Organizations like ProPublica? show that new models of non-profit journalism can produce superior content. We must go farther, however, to move beyond institutionalism to a more dynamic view of what journalism can be. The journalistic creation of knowledge no longer ends once the nightly news clicks off or the newspaper goes to print. Journalism is constantly becoming, and all of us on the Net can have a role in making it so.
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I was once part of journalism the institution. I saw the crumbling up close. The for-profit journalism model requires ad revenue, which requires eyeballs. So we chased them—we spent hours pushing our articles on social media and perfecting headline SEO. We still tried to produce quality reporting, but the stakes were clear. At one job, my salary fluctuated based on how many pageviews my stories generated.
 
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Lessons from Free Software

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Professional reporters retain a vital role in a free journalism. Sites like ProPublica? show that non-profit and subscriber-based media—freed from the chase for ad dollars—can produce superior content. We must go farther, however. Journalism in the internet age is dynamic; it no longer ends when the newspaper goes to print. The News is constantly becoming, and all of us can play a role in pursuing it.
 
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Free software offers an analogue for what journalism can become. Free software produces a better product because subsequent users are empowered to tinker with and improve a program’s source code. Likewise, “free journalism”—enabled through creative commons licensing and collaborative platforms like wikis—can generate more dynamic reportage. News outlets and bloggers are empowered to borrow, organize, and add to information produced on the Net. The results can be powerful. Consider the Tunisian blogger collective Nawaat, which in 2010 curated hundreds of otherwise censored videos during that country’s uprising. Or Global Voices, whose volunteers translate citizen-sourced articles from around the world into more than 50 languages.
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Lessons from free software

 
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Free journalism invites readers into the process of news creation. Imagine new, hybrid journalism platforms that house professional investigative and accountability journalism, while also offering dynamic spaces for citizens to engage in collaborative news creation by posting their own content, or that of others on the Net. Paid or volunteer editors could help sort and verify crowdsourced content to ensure it serves journalistic goals. Most importantly, these sites can be run cheaply, potentially allowing them to be sustained through user contributions rather than through advertising or paywalls.
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Free software produces a better product because users are encouraged to improve a program’s source code. Likewise, a free journalism should leverage creative commons licensing and collaborative platforms like wikis to generate more dynamic reportage. Examples already abound. Consider the Tunisian blogger collective Nawaat, which curated and made freely available hundreds of censored videos during that country’s uprising.
 
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Blunting the Tools Surveillance Capitalism

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A free journalism can also invite readers into the process of making The News. Imagine hybrid platforms that house professional accountability journalism, while also offering dynamic spaces for citizens to contribute their own content (or that of others). Paid or volunteer editors could sort and verify crowdsourced content to preserve journalistic standards. Most importantly, these sites can be run cheaply, allowing them to rely on user contributions rather than advertising or paywalls.
 
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Moving beyond the social media platforms

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The Technology of Free Journalism

 
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It is premature to advocate that the networked press immediately disassociate from the tech platforms. Facebook and Twitter remain useful newsgathering tools. We should, however, cease to treat social media platforms as a locus for journalism. The process of knowledge creation requires continuity—the ability to locate, link together, and preserve information culled from disparate sources. From a technical standpoint, Facebook and Twitter are ill-equipped for this. Nor is their attention imperative aligned with the mandate of journalism to serve the public. We must instead build new, collaborative spaces where communities can gather to engage in collaborative journalism. This can include creative commons repositories where citizens can upload media for anybody to use.
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Leaving behind the social platforms

 
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The law may also help equal the playing field between journalistic gathering spaces and the tech giants. Despite their precise curation of user news feeds, social media platforms (unlike news outlets) are not considered publishers for the purposes of tort liability. Nonetheless, any Section 230 reform should be approached carefully, since imposing liability for crowdsourced content may hinder the hybrid journalistic models described above.
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Regardless of what form they take, journalism-specific platforms should replace Twitter and Facebook as the main loci for creating, sharing, and consuming The News. Journalism requires context and continuity—the ability to locate, link, and preserve information culled from disparate sources. Not only are the social platforms ill-equipped for this; they actively subvert the ends of journalism, as Shoshanna Zuboff writes, through a philosophy of “radical indifference.” Whereas journalism rejects equivalence—the truth must be separate from fiction—tech platforms care little about the social, moral, or qualitative aspects of a news item. Rather, all that matters is whether a post captures attention, thereby maintaining the flow of human data. Sourced reporting and disinformation appear alongside each other in timelines; to most people, they look exactly the same.
 
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Enabling secure news capture

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We must build dedicated, collaborative sites where communities can gather to engage in journalism. Furthermore, legal regimes can preserve the role of citizen and crowdsourced reporting in these spaces. For example, any reforms to Section 230 should be carefully calibrated to avoid tort liability regimes that would disincentivize models of hybrid journalism.
 
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Likewise, an immediate retreat from smartphones as a tool for newsgathering is perhaps unlikely. However, law and technology can help prevent those in power from using smartphones to surveil or incriminate newsgatherers who seek to expose corruption or abuse. Open source encryption apps like Signal already exist to enable newsgatherers to securely capture and transmit media. These apps can only do so much, however. Politically, we must continue to push for legislation that safeguards encryption technology and limits how technology firms can track, store, and use mobile data.
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Smartphones as journalism tools

The tools of newsgathering, like platforms that host The News, should share the values of a free journalism. Smartphones democratize news capture and dissemination. But they also expose users to invasive government and private surveillance. When journalists are arrested—as has occurred with dramatic frequency in the U.S.—police can use smartphones to map activity and identify sources. And increasingly sophisticated spyware may enable hackers to access a phone’s content, or even spy on users in real-time using the phone’s microphone and camera. While encryption apps like Signal can facilitate secure communication, they cannot stop such malware or prevent mobile apps from harvesting a reporter’s data.

News organizations have an obligation to ensure the integrity of technologies utilized by their reporters. Secure hardware is not enough; journalists’ smartphones should also utilize alternative, open-source operating systems to prevent spying by Google or others. Likewise, reporters and editors should proxy all online activities through secure personal servers, which can help protect their data and the identity of their collaborators.

As Zuboff writes, the tech platforms have inserted themselves “between publishers and their populations.” A free journalism must remove these intermeddlers.

 

Conclusion

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I propose an idealized vision for the future of journalism. I am not na´ve; this is neither the journalism we have, nor one that we can create overnight. Law and technology can create the conditions in which news content can be securely captured and widely shared. We can equip individuals from a young age with the technical skills to contribute to our networked press. But we must also undertake a more fundamental reconception of journalism as a collectively owned and pursued public good—a process of knowledge sharing that every human can both benefit from and contribute to.
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Achieving a free journalism will not be easy. Law and technology can help foster a media ecosystem in which The News can be securely captured and made available to all. The first step to a free journalism, however, is to reconceive what news reporting is and can be. We must embrace journalism not as the product produced by a few gatekeepers, but as a social process of knowledge creation and sharing—something that every person can benefit from and participate in.
 
I think this is an excellent manifesto. It's a tad Whitmanesque in places, but Walter Whitman was indeed a journalist, at the Brooklyn Eagle that still existed in my lifetime. So probably that's all right.

JohnClaytonFirstEssay 2 - 15 Nov 2020 - Main.EbenMoglen
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It is strongly recommended that you include your outline in the body of your essay by using the outline as section titles. The headings below are there to remind you how section and subsection titles are formatted.

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 I propose an idealized vision for the future of journalism. I am not na´ve; this is neither the journalism we have, nor one that we can create overnight. Law and technology can create the conditions in which news content can be securely captured and widely shared. We can equip individuals from a young age with the technical skills to contribute to our networked press. But we must also undertake a more fundamental reconception of journalism as a collectively owned and pursued public good—a process of knowledge sharing that every human can both benefit from and contribute to.
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I think this is an excellent manifesto. It's a tad Whitmanesque in places, but Walter Whitman was indeed a journalist, at the Brooklyn Eagle that still existed in my lifetime. So probably that's all right.

I don't think the smartphone as a piece of hardware can be bettered for journalism at present. It should run a freed Android OS that doesn't have any relationship to Google, for which LineageOS and /e/ would be possible current choices, so the hardware is collecting reality, not spying on the journalist. Cybersecurity for those handsets should be a very high priority, which implies strategies of protection that aren't the ones people usually think of. Individuals working in journalism should have FreedomBox or similar systems, proxying everything through a secure personal server that can be made from something no more expensive than Raspberry Pi, and which helps to protect the computer networks of her employers or collaborators, security from bottom up like the information flow itself.

Twentieth century news organizations were fundamentally disrespectful of reporting, too, which was one of AJ Liebling's basic themes in his extraordinary efforts at press theory, criticism, reconstruction and literary improvement. In keeping with the rest of your social constructionist approach to remaking journalism, the technologies two can and should have that quality.

 
You are entitled to restrict access to your paper if you want to. But we all derive immense benefit from reading one another's work, and I hope you won't feel the need unless the subject matter is personal and its disclosure would be harmful or undesirable. To restrict access to your paper simply delete the "#" character on the next two lines:

JohnClaytonFirstEssay 1 - 09 Oct 2020 - Main.JohnClayton
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META TOPICPARENT name="FirstEssay"
It is strongly recommended that you include your outline in the body of your essay by using the outline as section titles. The headings below are there to remind you how section and subsection titles are formatted.

A New Journalism

-- By JohnClayton - 09 Oct 2020

It is time to free journalism. I refer not to journalism the institution, that venerable fourth estate whose wreckage lies all around us. Rather I speak of journalism as an endeavor, an iterative process of collective knowledge gathering, synthesis, and distribution.

The Net has both necessitated and facilitated this reconception of what “journalism” means. Every day, an amalgam of professionals, ordinary citizens, and activists collectively creates the news. They do so via disparate methods and platforms. The results can be powerful—as evidenced by ongoing protests sparked by George Floyd’s murder—but also dizzying, chaotic, and fractured. Journalism’s future as an instrument in service of human learning depends on our ability harness a new, networked press that is simultaneously egalitarian, prodigious, and distracted.

The first step is to identify the restraints. They exist in propertarian views of news rooted an obsolete, ad-based business model. But the ends of journalism are also thwarted, ironically, by the very tools that enable the networked press. Smartphones that document police brutality catalogue their user’s every move. News updates are fed through Facebook and Twitter, where they are either drowned out or reduced to a lure for the Parasite, dangling in news feeds only so long as they snap up human attention.

We must forge a networked press that resists the Parasite, rather than mooring us to it. But we also need to reimagine the concept of what journalism means in the age of the Net.

Moving Beyond Institutionalism

I have been part of journalism the institution. I saw the crumbling up close. The old model of for-profit journalism required ad revenue, which required eyeballs. So we chased them—we spent hours pushing stories on social media and perfecting our headline SEO. We still tried to do good work reporting the news. But the stakes were crystal clear. At one reporting job, my salary was tied directly to how many page views my stories got.

I do not mean to say that professional journalists are obsolete. There will always be a need for those trained in the art of storytelling and investigative reporting. Organizations like ProPublica? show that new models of non-profit journalism can produce superior content. We must go farther, however, to move beyond institutionalism to a more dynamic view of what journalism can be. The journalistic creation of knowledge no longer ends once the nightly news clicks off or the newspaper goes to print. Journalism is constantly becoming, and all of us on the Net can have a role in making it so.

Lessons from Free Software

Free software offers an analogue for what journalism can become. Free software produces a better product because subsequent users are empowered to tinker with and improve a program’s source code. Likewise, “free journalism”—enabled through creative commons licensing and collaborative platforms like wikis—can generate more dynamic reportage. News outlets and bloggers are empowered to borrow, organize, and add to information produced on the Net. The results can be powerful. Consider the Tunisian blogger collective Nawaat, which in 2010 curated hundreds of otherwise censored videos during that country’s uprising. Or Global Voices, whose volunteers translate citizen-sourced articles from around the world into more than 50 languages.

Free journalism invites readers into the process of news creation. Imagine new, hybrid journalism platforms that house professional investigative and accountability journalism, while also offering dynamic spaces for citizens to engage in collaborative news creation by posting their own content, or that of others on the Net. Paid or volunteer editors could help sort and verify crowdsourced content to ensure it serves journalistic goals. Most importantly, these sites can be run cheaply, potentially allowing them to be sustained through user contributions rather than through advertising or paywalls.

Blunting the Tools Surveillance Capitalism

Moving beyond the social media platforms

It is premature to advocate that the networked press immediately disassociate from the tech platforms. Facebook and Twitter remain useful newsgathering tools. We should, however, cease to treat social media platforms as a locus for journalism. The process of knowledge creation requires continuity—the ability to locate, link together, and preserve information culled from disparate sources. From a technical standpoint, Facebook and Twitter are ill-equipped for this. Nor is their attention imperative aligned with the mandate of journalism to serve the public. We must instead build new, collaborative spaces where communities can gather to engage in collaborative journalism. This can include creative commons repositories where citizens can upload media for anybody to use.

The law may also help equal the playing field between journalistic gathering spaces and the tech giants. Despite their precise curation of user news feeds, social media platforms (unlike news outlets) are not considered publishers for the purposes of tort liability. Nonetheless, any Section 230 reform should be approached carefully, since imposing liability for crowdsourced content may hinder the hybrid journalistic models described above.

Enabling secure news capture

Likewise, an immediate retreat from smartphones as a tool for newsgathering is perhaps unlikely. However, law and technology can help prevent those in power from using smartphones to surveil or incriminate newsgatherers who seek to expose corruption or abuse. Open source encryption apps like Signal already exist to enable newsgatherers to securely capture and transmit media. These apps can only do so much, however. Politically, we must continue to push for legislation that safeguards encryption technology and limits how technology firms can track, store, and use mobile data.

Conclusion

I propose an idealized vision for the future of journalism. I am not na´ve; this is neither the journalism we have, nor one that we can create overnight. Law and technology can create the conditions in which news content can be securely captured and widely shared. We can equip individuals from a young age with the technical skills to contribute to our networked press. But we must also undertake a more fundamental reconception of journalism as a collectively owned and pursued public good—a process of knowledge sharing that every human can both benefit from and contribute to.


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Revision 3r3 - 15 Jan 2021 - 00:44:11 - JohnClayton
Revision 2r2 - 15 Nov 2020 - 15:56:05 - EbenMoglen
Revision 1r1 - 09 Oct 2020 - 22:11:02 - JohnClayton
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