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Fighting the Cleanfeed Filter with Evidence of Its Futility

For a goverment which on its election made so much noise about making 'evidence-based' policy decisions (as opposed to the naked ideology of the previous mob, particularly in its declining years), Senator Conroy's decision to impose his 'cleanfeed' filter on the Australian Internet is a deeply disturbing sign. There's much that must - and will - be said about this pointless, futile, and undemocratic filter over the coming weeks and months, no doubt, and Catharine Lumby's piece in The Punch and Google Australia's statement today are a very good start.

Rather than adding my own expression of dismay and outrage at the sheer stupidity which Senator Conroy's decision represents, though, I'll simply point to the work of my colleagues in the ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation. Authored by three of Australia's most eminent media and communication researchers, here's some actual evidence which provides a much better basis for policy-making than whatever misconceptions and flawed assumptions have led the Australian government to believe that Internet censorship should be a policy priority in a country whose communications policies have suffered more than a decade of complete neglect and incompetence under the previous government.

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Two New Book Chapters on Produtzung

I haven't yet had a chance to note my latest two book chapters on produsage here - both in German, and following on from conferences in Germany which I spoke at in 2008 and 2009:

Prosumer Revisited

The reader Prosumer Revisited, from the Prosumer Revisited conference which I attended earlier this year, contains my chapter "Vom Prosumenten zum Produtzer", which argues that the 'prosumer' is no longer a useful term to describe the changes in participation and content creation which are occurring today, and provides a concise overview of produsage, or Produtzung, as an alternative. Probably a little more clearly than I did in my conference presentation itself!

Political Discourse from Truth to Truthiness

The final keynote of AoIR 2009 is by Megan Boler, editor of Digital Media and Democracy: Tactics in Hard Times. She begins by noting the shared sense of aporia at the conference. What do we do as we face the rapidly changing environments of social media - do we feel let down by the Internet, do we daily have to renegotiate the changing visage of the Internet? Megan is particularly interested in exploring this in the context of war, and especially the war on terror - so much especially of the material produced from critical perspectives is dismissed as noise here, so how do we make what we feel is important audible and visible? (To illustrate this, Megan shows a video compiling the repetitive use of certain keywords - September 11, Saddam Hussein, war on terror, terrorism - by US leaders.)

Governmentality, Digital Media, and Baseball

OK, I'm in the next session at AoIR 2009, and Michael Blanchard makes a start by introducing Foucault's idea of governmentality. He believes that Deleuze's statement that we now live in societies of control is problematic - the societies of discipline that Foucault has introduced have been replaced with societies of control, but there was never an idea that there was a clear succession from sovereignty to discipline to control; these three were always a triangle.

Digital media amplify disciplinary power; the use of digital media carves out the individual as a more identifiable reality, as is evident when we consider the use of databases. Governmentality, by contrast, pertains to a mode of power that produces populations, the body which it works over is more virtual. There is still a political anatomy of detail (which is what discipline is described as), but governing produces from this a very different body with a more virtual presence.

The Big Picture for e-Participation

For the final paper at EDEM 2009, we're on to Ursula Maier-Rabler, whose interest is in e-politics from administrative through to communicative democracy, and from individual citizens through to state institutions and parties. This creates a two-dimensional matrix: e-Government is administrative and driven by institutions, e-democracy communicative, but still driven by institutions; e-voting is administrative, but relies on the individual, and e-participation is individually driven and communicative.

e-Participation supports the empowerment of people oo integrate in bottom-up decision making, make informed decisions, and develop social and political responsibility - and to achieve this, it is necessary to start with young people in order to develop a participatory culture (which may be different in its specific shape from country to country). This ties into Web 2.0 and similar participatory platforms,and must be integrated also into general political education in order to create a new homo politicus in the online environment.

Increasing e-Participation from the Bottom Up

It's the final session of EDEM 2009, and we begin with a paper by Edith Maier, whose focus is on trying to increase participation in e-participatory efforts. This is in the context of Austrian bottom-up e-participation efforts in relation to globalisation and global solidarity projects.

The barriers to participation include lack of motivation of participants, of traceability of contributions, of transparency with regard to roles of participants, of opinion-mining across all participants to identify shared interests, and of feedback and political support for outcomes. There is an overall lack of impact, then, leading to a disenchantment amongst participants, thus to a negative attitude to those in power, and thence finally to low levels of use of official e-participation sites.

Solving the Problems with Voting Machines in the United States

The next speaker at EDEM 2009 is Mohammed Awad, who shifts our attention to e-voting the United States, where there have been some substantial problems with e-voting systems across a number of recent elections, of course, which were highlighted first in 2000 with the voting fiasco of the disputed elections in Florida. As a result, the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) was passed to push for a shift towards electronic voting machines to implement Direct Recording Electronics (DREs) by 2004; the speed with which this happened led to another problem in the 2004 elections, where there were substantial questions raised about the quality of the source code for the voting machines and several technical faults and miscounts were recorded. There were fewer problems in the 2008 elections, but largely also because the winning margins were greater, so small miscounts did not matter as much.

Recommendations for e-Democracy from the Council of Europe

The next speaker at EDEM 2009 is Michael Remmert from the Council of Europe, who heads its "Good Governance in the Information Society" project. The CoE is a pan-European organisation with 47 member states, founded in 1949, and is distinct from the European Union; the only European country currently missing from the CoE is Belarus (which still has some democratic deficits, of course).

Recent work in the CoE has especially highlighted the role of ICTs and the information society in democratic practice, and the CoE has recently published a detailed set of recommendations on e-democracy, following earlier recommendations on e-governance and e-voting. Such recommendations, while not binding, are being used and implemented by the various CoE member states. The recommendations are also accompanied by a set of generic tools for e-democracy initiatives, as well as roadmaps and checklists for the introduction of e-democracy and specific tools, and for the evaluation of e-democracy initiatives.

Examining Self-Efficacy Perceptions for Engagement in e-Petitions

The next speaker at EDEM 2009 is Peter Cruickshank, whose interest is in e-petitions as well and is working with the EuroPetition system. The aims here are to integrate e-petitions across Europe, from local through to European level; e-petitioning is comparatively mature already as a process, and exists in a gap between representative and direct democracy - it represents a kind of advocacy democracy whose outcomes are eventually mediated by politicians. Fairness and openness have to be seen to be working in order not to put users off.

Argumentation in e-Democracy Projects

The next session at EDEM 2009 starts with Dan Cartwright, whose interest is in argumentation processes in e-democracy projects. Decision-making through public consultation is a key part of e-democracy, of course, and there are various systems to engage citizens in such processes online; many of these are limited in their effectiveness, however.

One such approach are e-petitions, as introduced for example in the UK; typically, sites allow users to create and 'sign' e-petitions, but this provides no information on which part of the petition a particular signatory may agree with if multiple justifications for the petition are provided. One way to overcome this problem is the implementation of argument visualisation sytems such as Araucaria and decision support systems such as Zeno, which convert textual argument into a visual representation of the argument logic; however, these are difficult to use for the lay user.


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