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First POST: Arguments

BY Nick Judd | Monday, April 29 2013

Social stock

  • Is the combination of high-frequency trading and social media paving the way for disaster? The New York Times reports that regulators are concerned — after all, the market took a brief tumble when hackers broke into the Associated Press' Twitter account to falsely suggest that there had been an explosion at the White House and President Barack Obama had been injured.

    What's more, regulators have ruled that companies can post official news on social media. That could mean the market is one confused intern or malicious Internet prankster away from another crash, or one social-media-savvy confidence man removed from Facebook-driven pump-and-dump schemes.

    The Times quotes Andrew Frankel, co-president of brokerage Stuart Frankel & Company:

    Still, the episode recalled the 2010 “flash crash,” when an automated trading program caused the Dow to sink more than 600 points, and it left a deep skepticism of social media on the trading floor.

    “You look at how quickly that happened and now everyone wants to release corporate earnings on Twitter,” Mr. Frankel said, in between calling out, “Sell!” to his team. He added: “The concern is ‘How do you know what’s right and what’s not? How do you know what’s hacked and what isn’t?’ ”

Who's your Pangloss now?

  • Pundit David Reiff takes a swipe at MIT Center for Civic Media Director Ethan Zuckerman's forthcoming book, "Rewire: Digital Cosmopolitans in the Age of Connection," as utopian devotion to the idea that technology for technology's sake can solve even the most difficult problems. He lumps Zuckerman in with "Singularity" harbinger Ray Kurzweil as a technological triumphalist. Reiff, a senior fellow at the World Policy Institute, then brings the conversation onto more familiar ground for himself by launching into several dense paragraphs about the cocksure stance promoters of American liberal democracy took after the Cold War.

    Rather than attempting to complement his considerable expertise in geopolitics with a genuine foray into the sociology of technology or the ways in which new communications tools have changed public life, he drags up Francis Fukuyama's "The End of History and the Last Man" and tries to paste it onto contemporary social theory about technology. You're all suggesting that horizontal networks over the Internet are, by consensus, the new social order, he seems to say. Well, that's what the neoliberals said about American democracy after the Berlin Wall fell, and, look how that all turned out, and, so, harrumph harrumph, I bet you all feel a bit silly now, don't you?

    The great problem here is that Zuckerman says his book, not yet released, does not belong in that company.

    Reiff has joined polemicists like Evgeny Morozov in staking out the position that theorists who consider the role of technology in social change are wasting their time because technology alone is not "the solution," whatever that means. While this certainly creates some buzzworthy friction, it overlooks what thinkers like Zuckerman are actually doing — building a theoretical framework to understand the role rapid technological change plays in a transforming American society in particular as well as publics around the world.

    Zuckerman responds:

    We can acknowledge that many promises for technology are overblown and that technology alone is unlikely to bring an end to disease, ignorance, and poverty. We can recognize that these visions of technology are influenced by ideas about politics and economics that often go unconsidered. And we can use these reflections not to belittle those who build tools and those who celebrate them, but to develop new tools that better address inequities and imbalances.

    The core argument of my book is that many of the tools and techniques we've built in the past 20 years embody an uncomfortable assumption: The interests of our friends and family are more important than those of people across the globe. If we are uncomfortable with this assumption, we can examine it and build tools with different aims, perhaps to amplify the voices of people typically excluded from the media. We need a practice of examining and questioning the politics of our technologies, because technological progress is changing how we communicate and how we know about the lives of others.

Around the web

  • Associated Press lede, via Philly.com: "A Pennsylvania appeals court Tuesday sided with The Associated Press in a battle over public access to Gov. Tom Corbett's calendar entries and emails, saying his legal team failed to justify the redaction of certain information."

  • David Eaves suggests, "I think the real impact of open data is going to be in the value it destroys and so in the capital it frees up to do other things. Much like Red Hat is fraction of the size of Microsoft, Open Data is going to enable new players to disrupt established data players."

  • African lawmakers say they will push for greater transparency in land deals.

  • Today and tomorrow, the G-8 will host the International Conference on Open Data for Agriculture.

  • The Chronicle of Higher Education has a new chart, "Major Players in the MOOC Universe."

  • Nextgov sat down for a Q&A about open source in government with Red Hat CEO James Whitehurst.

  • This essay in Govtech by Richard Bennett, senior research fellow with the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, presupposes that electricity networks and broadband networks are different because, he writes, "the Web site I'm reading is not the one my neighbor reads."

    The argument is factually wrong and bafflingly obtuse — the Internet works precisely because traffic is sliced up into interchangeable packets that are managed through several interoperable, standardized protocols. To believe the conceit would require a lapse in logic just as big as the one you'd need to agree that, yes, the electricity in my apartment is different than in my neighbor's because I use a microwave and he uses a toaster oven.

    There's plenty of room to debate whether the current crop of telecommunications companies need greater government regulation or if broadband should be provided as a public utility — but that ought to be debated using arguments that stand basic tests of factual accuracy, and this one doesn't.

  • This animated film about police denying the right to record their activities was funded from a settlement won by a woman who was detained after recording police activity.

  • The New York Times puts Reddit under the microscope in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings.

  • The White House is on Tumblr.