First of all I want to say:
Second of all,
I have a general idea on what interests me and what I can focus my study on. It lies somewhere at the intersection of online culture, social media, access to information and politics. I'm interested in the way social media is used as a news outlet, especially in situations where mainstream news outlets are unreliable. I'm also interested in how fake news, as well as conspiracy theories spread. And I'm interested in the ways information is distorted on the internet, by trolls, brands, governments, people themselves. If I had to summarize all this, I think I would say "I'm interested in censorship and propoganda." This interest was a combination of growing up as a very online teenager and in a country where freedom of expression and access to reliable news was gradually eroding. I developed a sense of curiosity, and maybe also cynicism towards every new piece of information I came across on the internet. I understood the importance of fact checking first when I got clowned for not knowing what I'm talking about online and then on nationwide protests, where no major news outlets were doing any reporting and the only place to get accurate information that could keep one safe from pepper spray and police brutality was twitter, which was riddled with false information to incite chaos.
This is also the first project where I really delve into the intersection of politics and my field of study. I started my bachelor study as a visual artist, but when I graduated I was more interested in the social impact of design and the the profit oriented mentality in most design fields frustrated me. I want to explore social, political and economic issues in my work but I don't want to pretend that I have the solution, or that I can teach people to find the solution. My aim is just to point towards things and say "this exists, this is happening."
September 22 - Session With Aymeric
-We discussed our projects, what we did in summer and why we chose the specific subjects.
-We also talked about the project proposal, which is due the end of 1st trimester.
- The proposal will determine if we have a solid foundation dor a master project.
- The proposal shouldn't get too speculative, and develop in parallel with prototyping and research.
- It's important to frame which direction we want to go as soon as possible. Setting a clear goal is important.
I'm thinking about possible mediums to work with and games are one of them. Interactivity can be a useful tool to get a message across. I really liked Depression Quest for the way it uses the medium of a text based adventure game to give the player an understanding of living with depression, and achieves this primarily through manipulation of basic principles of text based adventure games. Another game I like is 2:22 AM. It evokes the feeling of watching TV past my bedtime when I was a kid. It's not that related to my study but I think it's cool which is why I want to write it down here.
September 25 - Notes From Session With Michael
-Medium: I was going back and forth between factual documentation and interactive storytelling (like text based adventures as mentioned earlier) and now it's pretty clear to me that I want to work on an interactive medium.
-Recognition and empathy: An important aspect of my project is to familiarize people with the ways access to information is limited by governments. My aim isn't to expose the censorship of a specific country but expose the way censorship itself works, the way propoganda and misinformation is disseminated and hopefully make the audience more aware of these tactics in their own contexts. I also want to dispel the myth that some countries are ruled by oppressive regimes because of certain aspects of the public such as education level and therefore governments in developed countries would never intervene with the right of free speech.
-Connection through experience: I think role playing games can be an important tool for building empathy. There are games that attempt to put player in the shoes of people who experience hardship and convey the frustration through forcing the player to make hard decisions or making sensible actions unavailable, leaving the player with choices that will only make things worse for them in the long run. Depression Quest puts the player character in situations such as being invited to a party. The player can force themselves to attend to the party and feel very emotionally drained, or can go home and spend the night alone, comfortable but also isolated. The option to go to the party and enjoying it is also visible but not available. Grayscale is a game in the form of the inbox of a temp worker in the HR department of a company. The game forces the player to deal with sexual harassment and toxic a toxic workplace, forcing the player to choose between doing whats right and keeping their job. These simulations of real life experiences can be a much more effective learning experience than just reading statistics.
-Sincerity and relatability: A big concern for me in this project is relatability. I want to make a genuinely convincing and informative work and not something only for people of certain political alignment. I don't want the story to feel like a hyperbole and if there are to be hard choices I genuinely want the player to struggle with them.
September 28 - Session With Michael
-We had the session in Freenode, and we talked about chatbots. For example, a chatbot called infobot can answer to "what is" questions and can learn from the conversation. Additionally, it can have a factpack that uses to draw information from.
September 29 - Session With Marloes
After our session with Michael where we discussed chatbots and IRC's, I made a small writing experiment to illustrate what I can do with a bot. I wrote a scenario which reminded me of the scenario writing process when designing the user experience of an app.
I defined the limitations of my "bot"s abilities. It's called Editorbot, or just editor, and it functions as an antagonist in this small text adventure.
- Editorbot has a factpack containing database of online news content taken down for allegedly violating certain laws. For this I used slightly altered headlines from Engelliweb , a twitter account that tracks such content.
- Editorbot also knows certain words belong to certain categories, for example it knows that "scam" is categorized as a "crime", a bad thing, and it knows that "member of parliament" is a "government official", a good thing. It warns the user when they write something that combines a bad thing with a good thing
- Editorbot knows of certain concepts that are "bad" and others that are "good", it can understand that the combination of a good thing and the word "increase" is good, while the combination of "a good thing" and "decrease" is bad, and vice versa for "bad" things.
- If Editorbot doesn't make any observations within these rules but finds a lot of censored online content that contains similar words with what the player has typed, it will react accordingly.
- The user is given notes and asked to write news headlines based on these notes, and these headlines need fulfill editorbot's standards of non offensiveness.
You are a reporter currently working for a mainstream newspaper. You are tasked with covering a variety of topics for their website. You have your notes, which contain the information you have gathered so far. You need to turn your notes into news headlines.
Being a well known news outlet, the newspaper you work for has a reputation to uphold. They do not want any controversies or legal troubles that would bring down ad revenue. Besides, access to major press conferences is a privilege that can be revoked, as government officials wouldn’t want to talk to thorns in their sides. Your boss can’t afford to compromise the relatively favorable position they have with the leading party, PSS.
The editor told you that you need to run everything by her, and she can tell you if it’s unsuitable for the website. “This is for your good as much as the newspapers” she said.
You check your notes. There isn’t a lack of subjects to choose from, that’s for sure.
Editor: Hey! Just sent me suggestions for headlines and I’ll help you finalize them.
You: Businessman Scammed By Relative of ex PSS Member of Parliament
Editor: This headline contains “PSS”, “Member of Parliament” and“Scam”. It may not be suitable because it associates government official with criminal activity. Last year, 3829 online content similar to this were taken down for defamation. Is there another way to word it?
You: Businessman Claims He Was Scammed
Editor: This headline contains “scam”, as long as this crime is not
associated with a government official this headline should be fine. Please pay attention to adhere this standard in the content as well.
You: Pandemic - Hospitals in Metropolitan Areas Close to Full Capacity, Doctors Accuse the Ministry of Health of Lying About Statistics
Editor: This headline contains “Pandemic” and “Lying” and “Ministry of Health” and “Hospitals” and “Full Capacity”. It may not be suitable because it associates government institution with immoral activity. Last year, 5600 online content similar to this were taken down for reducing trust towards government institutions. Is there another way to word it?
You: Pandemic - Hospitals in Metropolitan Areas Close to Full Capacity, Doctors Call for Action
Editor: This article contains “Pandemic” and “Hospitals” and “Full Capacity” and “call for action”. I can’t say what’s exactly wrong with it, but 57 similar online content was taken down in the last month. Maybe we should just skip this one?
You: Suicides Due to Poverty Have Increased in the Last Year, Statistics Say.
Editor: This headline contains “Suicide” and “Poverty” and “Increase”. It may not be suitable because it depicts or potentially encourages harmful behavior. Additionally, it may not be suitable because it makes demoralizing claims about economy. 4529 similar online content was taken down last year. Is there another way to word it?
You: Access to mental health treatment can potentially lower suicide rates.
Editor: This headline contains “suicide” and “lower”. While the mention of harmful behavior is precarious, it doesn’t seem to be encouraging harmful behavior. This seems to be fine, please pay attention to adhere to this standard in the content as well.
You: Military Spending Expected to be 984 000 000 000 US dollars This Fiscal Year
Editor: This headline contains "Military Spending". Please note. When talking about Military Spending, it's more suitable to shorten the numbers. I count nine "0" in this sentence, please use the word billion or the letter B instead.
The back and forth with your editor frustrates you. You feel very restricted. You remember studying journalism in college with enthusiasm, thinking about the great work you can do when you graduate, how you can make sure as many people as possible can access accurate news. But here you are, being forced to self censor for the profit of your boss. Would things be better if you were independent? Would you self censor to avoid being arrested or being sued if you were on your own? You can’t be sure. You want to test your editors limits. What if you suggest a completely irrelevant headline with no news value at all?
You: Cat in the Small Seaside Town Gave Birth to 10 Healthy Kittens
Editor: Perfect! This headline does not contain any potentially sensitive words or phrases. Keep up the good work!
Proposal Outline Draft
After the presentation, we wrote a proposal outline and gave each other feedback on it.
Here is mine
What do you want to make?
An interactive story tackling issues surrounding access to information in an online context.
How do you plan to make it?
One of the potential tools I can use is a chatbot, but the hackpackt made me realize that the issue I want to explore is very complex. I plan to use an episodic format, maybe even using various media in different contexts.
What is your timetable?
Right now I’m on a phase of research and exploration. I need to research propaganda and censorship and read texts related to this. I also need to look at real world data of how freedom of expression is limited and where, and how propaganda works in different contexts. I plan to do prototyping in parallel with my research, creating simulated versions of real world examples I collect. By the end of the trimester I plan to have a number of prototypes that can potentially be in the final work.
Why do you want to make it?
I always had an informal interest in media analysis, and XPUB felt like an opportunity to include this interest more in my work. My bachelor study, Visual Communication Design was essentially about conveying meaning through images, which meant that I needed to spend a lot of time thinking about what concept a visual element can convey, and why we associate that visual with that concept, delving into the history and connotations of visual language. I’m also inspired by people who dedicate time and effort to make information relatively more accessible, people who run fact checking websites, people who “decode” articles with clickbait titles, people who track down censorship and bandwidth throttling, people who expose innocuous internet memes that actually have ties to far right ideology, etc.
Who can help you and how?
I will need a lot of help in terms of programming so Michael, and I think Steve can also help me delve into theory of this subject.
(I shortened some of previously mentioned parts to avoid repetition)
We discussed each others' proposal with Sandra and Avital. Feedback was very helpful and helped me with some decision making. Some of the important talking points were
- Episodic format
- Since this is a large topic, trying to make it very expansive can be a pitfall.
- People involved with the subject is an important part.
- Personal aspect is a strongsuit, and I should take advantage of it
-After this feedback, I thought about how I can use my project to communicate more than one point of view without being so all encompassing that it loses focus. I think the personal experience can be an important tool in this. Depicting multiple forms censorship and propoganda can take in different context through the experiences of fact checkers, activists, etc.
We nstalled Kiwi IRC on the sandbox pi, which is an interface for IRC servers. We can make bots and connect them to IRCs through Kiwi.
I want to do more research and use the findings of that research to make prototypes. The first prototype was focused on the censorship of online newspapers in Turkey, but I also want to study how information spreads (and doesn't spread) on sites that don't generate their own content, like the way Facebook and Twitter moderates political content, the kinds of videos that get recommended by Youtube, etc.
It's a challenge to strike the balance between impersonal and too specific. I'm still considering the end result. The thing I disliked most about Editorbot was that it looked like on the nose social commentary. I think to understand what will come out of this project, I need to first take a step back. I have some ideas and hypotheses around the subject, and I need to first do the research necessary to see whether these are correct, and then figure out what I want to do with the results of this research.