Election Night: Is there an echo?

Election night, Australia 2013.

Instead of switching on the telly when I got home (post the Brisbane Writers' Festival Great Debate which was much fun...) I flipped my laptop screen open and basked in the cool light of my facebook newsfeed.

Oh the woe.

But then the thought: If almost everyone I know is upset by the election results as per my newsfeed, who on earth voted for Tony Abbott?

(Correction. Who voted for the LNP? Such presidential style language.  A political party is a party is a party not a person).

Curious.  I think I saw only one congratulatory status update.  It could have been because all the LNP supporters were hitting the town in celebration and excitement, but the following few days saw little change in the tone of my feed (with occasional bursts about Syria).

It reminded me of the book published a few years back: "The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is hiding from You", which talks about the Google and Facebook algorithms that 'personalise' what you see in search results.  

The synopsis paints a dystopian picture.

[box] Though the phenomenon has gone largely undetected until now, personalized filters are sweeping the Web, creating individual universes of information for each of us. Facebook-the primary news source for an increasing number of Americans-prioritizes the links it believes will appeal to you so that if you are a liberal, you can expect to see only progressive links. Even an old-media bastion like The Washington Post devotes the top of its home page to a news feed with the links your Facebook friends are sharing. Behind the scenes a burgeoning industry of data companies is tracking your personal information to sell to advertisers, from your political leanings to the color you painted your living room to the hiking boots you just browsed on Zappos. In a personalized world, we will increasingly be typed and fed only news that is pleasant, familiar, and confirms our beliefs-and because these filters are invisible, we won't know what is being hidden from us. Our past interests will determine what we are exposed to in the future, leaving less room for the unexpected encounters that spark creativity, innovation, and the democratic exchange of ideas.[/box]

Is it really that bad? Should we be scared? Digging  a little deeper, it would seem that the Facebook PR machine has been doing a little work of its own to combat this image, publishing a study that disputes this claim.

But on this I am...undecided.  What is it that we are arguing exactly? That the 'online echo chamber' doesn't exist, or arguing about the effects of personalisation on creating such a 'chamber'?

Well, the personalisation exists, there is no question.  What effect is this having? Well...

Facebook's research concludes:

[box] Although we’re more likely to share information from our close friends, we still share stuff from our weak ties—and the links from those weak ties are the most novel links on the network. Those links from our weak ties, that is, are most likely to point to information that you would not have shared if you hadn’t seen it on Facebook. [/box]

This links to the concept of EdgeRank (Facebook's algorithm for its newsfeed) .  As I understand, it says it doesn't matter how close you are to people in real life, what appears on your feed is what you interact with - whether they are 'strong' or 'weak' ties.  Because we share things from our 'weak' ties, it means this is likely to be information we wouldn't have accessed any other way.  Therefore, they are saying that in fact, the newsfeed system actually diversifies what you see.

I would recommend reading this slate article, which is a good summary of the research and findings.  I tend to the opinion that it isn't as fabulous a result as it is painted to be.  Although both strong and weak ties are sources of information, it would seem likely that weak ties would also include those who largely share ideologies...

Regardless of what the research says though, something doesn't feel right.

Yes, it is great that my friends seem to share my ideologies (judging by what I see/read on facebook for example), but the fact that rarely are widely differing ideologies  presented (or any that seem to reflect a popular ideology outside my immediate circles) seems disingenuous.  There might be other answers.  Perhaps my strong and weak ties are by and large young people who have similar concerns on the whole or those who don't share my opinions don't spend their time on facebook, or I don't actively spend my time interacting with perspectives/videos/links outside my ideologies so I don't get shown these on my newsfeed...

The question then becomes, how do I make sure that I don't fall into the trap of group think? Punters have talked about the narrowing of perspectives that is caused by a possible filter bubble, but what concerns me more is the increased likelihood of 'willful blindness'.

If everyone around you agrees or shares a similar world view, how will you be exposed to 'disruptive' views?

It is reminiscent of the story of a scientist whose partner's sole job was to disprove her theories and find the flaws until the theory was solid and foolproof. Only then did they publish the work.

It is so important for us to actively listen to opposing views and try to understand where they are coming from, right?  Isn't that the way we will truly broaden our scopes and try to bridge those chasms? Otherwise we are just looking at shades of the same primary colour, forgetting there are two other colours out there...

The Quraan says:

[box] O mankind! We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know one another. (49:13) [/box]

We are all different, but ultimately human.  Getting to know each other is part of the deal.

What do you think?







It could happen to anyone of us.

punch in the face


Salacious photos are not something to generally be given the time of day.  When the topic comes up as part of another 'scandal' in politics or a celebrity's life, I tend to shake my head and wonder what the person was thinking.

Notwithstanding this, a subplot running through this week's 'The Newsroom' episode was cause for reflection, particularly around this idea (or myth!) of privacy in today's world.

The subplot in question was explosively introduced in the opening scene. Nude photos of one of the characters, Sloan (a respected TV anchor), had been posted up on a site.  These photos quickly went viral, and the channel is left to deal with the results.  The interesting thing about these photos was that they were taken with her consent by an man she was dating and trusted implicitly at the time.  When she dumped him, he took the due 'revenge' he felt was 'owed' to him through by utterly humiliating her.

'I am feeling something very I don't know how to describe right now', Sloan says on the show.

Betrayal perhaps?  Insecurity? Utter helplessness?  One can only imagine what it must feel like to have a truly intimate moment be broadcast online.

Her confidante at the time said it was rage - or will quickly turn into rage.  Sloan finishes the episode in the boardroom of said jilted lover, punching him out and getting a little revenge of her own.


There are a number of interesting readings of this plot.  Sloan's character is a genius; she's a well respected economist and commands audiences of hundreds of thousands.  Surely, a thirty year old highly educated woman wouldn't put herself in this situation.  Surely she would think to delete identifying photos if they were taken, even if she had consented?

Well if recent history is anything to go by, people do very silly things with cameras and phones without seeming to think about the consequences (or in the case of Anthony Weiner, even seeming to care). In this case however, Sloan wasn't doing anything technically 'wrong', so that argument is less substantial.  It does raise the question about the line between an individual's public and personal life though, particularly in an age where this is becoming increasingly blurred.

She sights her implicit trust in this guy as the reason she didn't expect this sort of revenge. 'It wasn't a bad breakup - but even if it were, would this be okay?!', she asks, and rightly so!  Humiliation and the essential defamation can regularly - and do regularly - annihilate reputations.  We all know that reputations are the easiest things to damage and the most difficult to repair.  So the act of distributing the photos we can agree, is immoral.

Is it criminal?

Whose responsibility is it to ensure these things don't happen?

Is your privacy always your individual responsibility or should is there an implicit trust in relationships with people - and institutions - that should also bear part of the burden?

It feeds into a larger question about an individual's right to privacy, particularly with the exposing of PRISM, the actions of the NSA and even the likes of Google implying that privacy online is a myth.

Unfortunately, it is increasingly difficult to effectively operate in this society without being online.  So how does one walk the line?  Are we all to always be on-guard and take precautions, accepting that being selective about what we share - even to our closest friends - is never really actually private?

What will happen when people growing up in this online society become leaders of state?  Will there never be any surprises because everything is already online? Will our moral appetites change because we become accustomed to every single infraction being displayed and obsessed with the world over?  Or will there be an industry based around the erasure of online profiles to give people an opportunity to 'start afresh'.

What do you think?




Illuminating Links! 9th February 2013


Isn’t this an interesting article? Written about the Internet…in 1995!

Hillary Clinton is extremely popular right now.  Will she be the first female candidate for US presidency? What do you think about her policies?

A terrible, but instructive look at celebrity altruism in Africa – which celebrities “own” which nations?

An interesting Freakonomics experiment: Have a question? Let Freakonomics flip the coin for you!

Thinking of volunteering abroad? 5 expectations to avoid!

Jeremy Fernandez, a TV presenter, has an experience with racism and asks, why do people want to still vent their hate in 2013?

A little science on paying off your sleep debt!

From the Harvard Business Review: Now that it is February, it is time to think about the year in earnest. The question is, do you want to have a year that matters?

These are some very misguided international aid ideas…

Muslim fashion finds its flow! There are a fair few fashion ladies in the Muslim world getting amongst it, here is just one example.

For something a little random, here are funny pictures of animals.

On a lighter note as well, which was your favourite superbowl ad this year?

Lastly, a lovely tune heard on the radio recently. A little strange, but an amazing sound.

*Click images for source.

Links, Links, Links - 20th January 2012

  It’s that time of the week! Here are a bunch of interesting links to things on this internet this week…

Let's start with a surprisingly frank talk by a supermodel on the power of image...



TO CALL Aaron Swartz gifted would be to miss the point. As far as the internet was concerned, he was the gift.  The Economist remembers Aaron Swartz.

Obama’s move on gun control – will this be the time “real” change is made in this area?  (I still believe that the argument for focusing on gun control is slightly misguided as surely mass shootings are an indication of a greater ill in the society?)

What is happening in Mali? French troops deployed…

Another question on the internet and privacy generally posed by this article: Is your data really your data?

So why have the Boeing Dreamliners been grounded?  It's all in those lithium batteries...

An interesting article on “10 simple body language tips for the workplace”.  I find these sorts of articles interesting.  Do they always work? Perhaps not, but it’s food for thought.

The Washington Academy of Science is doing something really cool – giving science seals of approval to mystery books!  Now you can know whether the book you are reading is scientifically accurate…

Is the “peak oil” concept a irrelevant or is it a case of oil execs trying to keep the share price up?

Great article by a mate on the deeper reasons behind why there is such an outcry this time over the Indian woman’s rape.

Well, we’ve known this for a while but now Cambridge has dug up proof: There is more to intelligence than just your IQ!

A great article about a man who delved into the underbelly of the internet; Chasing the Cicada: Exploring the Darkest Corridors of the Internet.  Follow the thought process of someone who undertook the process: Clevecode

I caved and joined Reddit (there goes all the productivity in my life…).  Found an intriguing comment string by people who have gotten shot…Worth a random peruse.

It was my worst moment, recorded for posterity's sake. What does it feel like? It felt like a cut. A deep, white cut. It felt like all my memories and my personality and what I was or would be were draining out of a hole I couldn't plug.

Also, don’t forget what was published on this blog recently, including a review of Adam Parr’s “The Art of War”, and the question of whether pay imbalance is because women take the lower paying jobs.

Operation: Internet Freedom

This is an archived post, originally written for Future Challenges.

The Stop Online Piracy Act, SOPA.

The Protect Intellectual Property Act, PIPA.

The ISP based Australian Internet filter, the Cybercrime Legislation Amendment Bill 2011enforced by the Australian Communications and Media Authority.

These are a few examples of many governments’ attempts, both within Australia and internationally, to fight what they see as “cyber crime” or ensure “cyber security”.  The question to ask however, is whether these attempts are true steps forward in fighting unlawful and harmful action, or whether they are misguided endeavours to control users, and how effective are they in reality at either of those roles?

We live in an increasingly online society; Information and Communications Technology (ICT) plays an intrinsic role in the daily lives of most Australians, so much so we almost no longer consciously realise it.  Like any tool however, ICT can be utilised for both lawful and unlawful pursuits and as such, “cyber crime” has become an issue of consideration for those concerned with the security of the nation, including the Australian Federal Police (AFP).

“High Tech Crime” is the purview of the AFP and is defined in Commonwealth legislation within Part 10.7 – Computer Offences of the Criminal Code Act 1995 .  This includes crimes that rely on the use of ICT, or which target ICT equipment, data and services. The Australian High Tech Crime Center (AHTCC) was formed in 2008 and looks after these types of attacks; intrusions, denial of service (DoS) attacks, destruction of data and distributing malicious software (AHTCC 2011).

The AFP’s role is relatively understood, they pursue individuals and groups who have broken the relevant legislation. To aid this, in November 2011 the Australian Government made movements towards joining an international treaty fighting internet crime.  This is hoped to reduce the estimated $1 billion in risk to Australian companies from cyber crime every year (The Australian, 2011).

Internet filters however, are a different beast and there are questions about their efficacy and the motivations behind them.

In 2009, the Australian Government began a campaign to introduce an ISP based internet filter to “block overseas sites which contain criminal content” (ABC News, 2009).  This would be done through the creation of a “blacklist”, which would be maintained by an independent body in order to “protect Australians from unsuitable material”.

The actions however, brought resounding criticism from a multitude of corners, including the Electronic Frontiers Australia (EFA), who rightly posed the question:

“Exactly what will be blocked? Who will decide and why is it being attempted in the first place?”

The EFA’s Vice Chair Mr Jacobs suggested that “the ease with which users can circumvent the filtering raises questions about what it is actually trying to accomplish” (ABC News, 2009).  This is perhaps the main issue with protection in the form of a filter or restriction; freedoms are reduced and controlled by a third party without any input from the public or the constituents.

Not only did the EFA raise concerns, but groups such as “No Clean Feed” erupted, encouraging users to take action against the Bill, and take action they did.

In August 2009, in response to the AFP breaking up an underground hacker’s forum, the AFP’s computer system was hacked and the individuals accessed both police evidence and intelligence about federal police systems such as its IP addresses (SMH, 2009).

The disruptions didn’t stop there; in 2010 hackers coordinated attacks on various government sites, debilitating the Australian Parliament House’s website and making Kevin Rudd’s website the home for “Operation: Titstorm”

This operation was conducted by the group “Anonymous”, the same group who have taken down Sony and attacked various government sites (such as Nigeria and Syria) in a form of “hacktivism” and are extremely vocal against all forms of internet censorship.

The bill hasn’t been passed completely, however it may no longer need to as four Australian ISP’s have now voluntarily blocked over 500 websites, setting an interesting precedent (Chalk, 2011).

So there is a lot happening; internet filters are imposed, hackers are accessing and committing “cyber crime” despite security measures, new types of crime are emerging as well as traditional crimes being aided by technology.  What does this mean for the future?  Where does this leave our global community?  Can we have our computer and internet freedoms and still expect to be safe and protected?

Currently we are in a period of transition. We deal with new forms of crime with traditional methods of crime fighting. We deal with the symptoms and attempt to stem the flow rather than deal with the source.

Information and Communication Technologies are a tool. In the same ways that cars and knives are tools than can be used for lawful and freeing activities as well as dangerous and deadly activities, technologies are a tool that can be used for great good and vice versa.

It should also be remembered that young people today are growing up in a society where ICT and the freedoms they provide are taken as the norm.  As such, removal of these freedoms is most likely going to be seen as a step backwards and will be fought vehemently.

In any society there is the requirement for some rules and legislation in order to prevent crime.  However, for crime fighting to be effective, the focus should be on the crime itself and not on restricting the medium by which the crime is being conducted, particularly when it can bring so much good.  The types of crimes are changing and perhaps that should be the focus of protection efforts.  It may also be worth thinking about looking at why these crimes are occurring and dealing with the causes rather than simply focusing on the symptoms.  Easier said than done definitely, but if we are to live in a truly global society, how can you have true and free global interaction if someone picks and chooses what you are free to access?  How is that freedom? Is it a case perhaps, of accepting the fact that no society can be as truly free as we want it to be?

External Essay: The “IRL” Fetish

Hanging out with friends and family increasingly means also hanging out with their technology. While eating, defecating, or resting in our beds, we are rubbing on our glowing rectangles, seemingly lost within the infostream.

I came across a great essay on the false separation between what we see as offline and online and the fetishisation of the offline…read on for more.

Facebook doesn’t curtail the offline but depends on it. What is most crucial to our time spent logged on is what happened when logged off; it is the fuel that runs the engine of social media. The photos posted, the opinions expressed, the check-ins that fill our streams are often anchored by what happens when disconnected and logged-off. The Web has everything to do with reality; it comprises real people with real bodies, histories, and politics. It is the fetish objects of the offline and the disconnected that are not real.

Those who mourn the loss of the offline are blind to its prominence online. When Turkle was walking Cape Cod, she breathed in the air, felt the breeze, and watched the waves with Facebook in mind. The appreciation of this moment of so-called disconnection was, in part, a product of online connection. The stroll ultimately was understood as and came to be fodder for her op-ed, just as our own time spent not looking at Facebook becomes the status updates and photos we will post later.

The clear distinction between the on and offline, between human and technology, is queered beyond tenability. It’s not real unless it’s on Google; pics or it didn’t happen. We aren’t friends until we are Facebook friends. We have come to understand more and more of our lives through the logic of digital connection. Social media is more than something we log into; it is something we carry within us. We can’t log off.

Solving this digital dualism also solves the contradiction: We may never fully log off, but this in no way implies the loss of the face-to-face, the slow, the analog, the deep introspection, the long walks, or the subtle appreciation of life sans screen. We enjoy all of this more than ever before. Let’s not pretend we are in some special, elite group with access to the pure offline, turning the real into a fetish and regarding everyone else as a little less real and a little less human.

Read the article here: The IRL Fetish: Published at The New Inquiry, NATHAN JURGENSON, 28th June


We’re not friends until we are Facebook friends…

Isn’t that the truth these days? We speak about our “online” lives as if they are a different life but in reality, it is nothing more than an carefully curated extension of ourselves. 

Online cannot exist in a vacuum, and Nathan highlights this in his piece.  The internet and “social media” (as if it is a “thing” that can be defined), is only another tool for us to interact with as we see fit.  In the same way that the clothes we choose to wear are an outward reflection of our beliefs or the image we wish to project, the parts of our lives we choose to share speak volumes about how we wish to be seen. 


I can’t stop myself from thinking about how everything I say and write on the internet is there forever, which at times (quite often, in fact), makes me hesitate. That permanence makes me apprehensive. Makes me think twice, three times, four even, before choosing to share something.  Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of our oversharing culture? Doesn’t it fly in the face of presenting the “raw” individual?  Isn’t that why we follow celebrities and athletes on facebook and twitter, to get a glimpse behind the polished curtain of their presentation and see the person underneath?


Perhaps I am a little old fashioned and believe that not everyone has the equal right to access all parts of me.  Some parts should still be earned. I still believe in the concept of privacy, however laughable that may be in the 21st century.  There is still a space in society for the private and the public sphere, and you can choose to erase the line between the two or keep them completely delineated… that is still a personal choice that exists.

After all, Facebook, Google, Amazon and every damn Silicon Valley company may be able to track every move online, bank details, movements and purchases… but they still have no idea what we are thinking.  We still have the power to buck our supposed trends and preferences, be erratic, unpredictable and unplug.

That is the beauty of being human. 

The Internet Never Forgets | Links: 19th August 2012


As per every week, here are a collection of some interesting reads that I have wandered across on this world wide web…

August 19 was World Humanitarian Day. This Beyonce tune brought chills to my spine…


Did you know Baskerville is one of the most “trustworthy and credible” typefaces out there?

Speaking of trust…

Trust in the Digital Age: This has been something on my mind for a while, and it is making me hesitate quite often before sharing thoughts, photos and experiences over the net.  I find myself thinking “oh, what will the be seen like in 20 years? What if it was taken out of context? Can someone possibly use this against me?” 

Apple controls the memory on our iPhones. Google keeps tabs on what we search for, and whom we write to, when we use Gmail. We unknowingly pledge allegiance to the companies we do business with.

“Now we have to trust all these entities,” Mr. Schneier warned. “Google has great customer service. Problem is, you’re not the customer.”

…“You should be mindful,” … “that the Internet never forgets.”

I love this little photography project, recreating photos from the past: Back to the Future

A great opportunity for any young Aussies out there interested in the South East Asia region…Youth Exchange Program with Indonesia.

For all my mates at uni…How to Procrastinate Better! I like this one, but I will probably finish reading it tomorrow… :)

The truth is that most procrastinators are structured procrastinators. This means that although they may be putting off something deemed important, their way of not doing the important thing is to do something else. Like reading instead of completing their expense report before it's due. Nevertheless, such people feel bad about being procrastinators and often annoy others. That is where I think I have something helpful to say.


Hope you all have a great week, and Happy Eid to all my Muslim Brothers and Sisters out there! Hope you enjoyed feasting! =)