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Review of the HATE NEWS CONFERENCE by Disruption Network Lab

On the day of the General Data Protection Law (GDPR) going into effect in Europe, on the 25th May, the Disruption Network Lab opened its 13th conference in Berlin entitled “HATE NEWS: Manipulators, Trolls & Influencers”. The two-day-event looked into the consequences of online opinion manipulation and strategic hate speech. It investigated the technological responses to these phenomena in the context of the battle for civil rights.

Between hate and hope: lessons from Kenya on hate speech and political manipulation

The conference began with Jo Havemann presenting #DefyHateNow, a campaign by r0g_agency for open culture and critical transformation, a community peace-building initiative aimed at combating online hate speech and mitigating incitement to offline violence in South Sudan. More than ten years ago the bulk of African countries’ online ecosystem consisted of just a few millions of users, whilst today’s landscape is far different. This project started as a response to the way social media was used to feed the conflicts that exploded in the country in 2013 and 2016. It is a call to mobilize individuals and communities for civic action against hate speech and social media incitement to violence in South Sudan. Its latest initiative is the music video #Thinkbe4uclick, a new awareness campaign specifically targeted at young people.

In Africa, hate campaigns and manipulation techniques have been causing serious consequences for much longer than a decade. The work of #DefyHateNow counters a global challenge with local solutions, suggesting that what is perceived in Europe and the US as a new problem should instead be considered in its global dimension. This same point of view was suggested by the keynote speaker of the day, Nanjala Nyabola, writer and political analyst based in Nairobi. Focusing on social media and politics in the digital age, the writer described Kenya´s recent history as widely instructive, warning that manipulation and rumours can not only twist or influence election results, but drive conflicts feeding violence too.

The reliance on rumours and fake news was the principle reason that caused the horrifying escalation of violence following the Kenyan 2007 general election. More than 1,000 people were killed and 650,000 displaced in a crisis triggered by accusations of election fraud. The violence that followed unfolded fast, with police use of brutal force against non-violent protesters causing most of the fatalities. The outbreak of violence was largely blamed on ethnic clashes inflamed by hate speech. It consisted of revenge attacks for massacres supposedly carried out against ethnic groups in remote areas of the country. Unverified rumours about facts that had not taken place. Misinformation and hate were broadcast over local vernacular radio stations and with SMS campaigns, inciting the use of violence, animating different groups against one another.

The general election in 2013 was relatively peaceful. However, ethnic tensions continued to grow across the whole country and ethnic driven political intolerance appeared increasingly on social media, used mainly by young Kenyans. Online manipulation and disinformation proliferated on social media again before and after the 2017 general election campaign.

Nyabola explained that nowadays the media industry in Kenya is more lucrative than in most other African regions, which could be considered a positive aspect, suggesting that within Kenya the press is free. Instead a majority media companies depend heavily on government advertising revenue, which in turn is used as leverage by authorities to censor antagonistic coverage. It should be no wonder Kenyans appear to be more reliant on rumours now than in 2007. People are increasingly distrustful of traditional media. The high risk of manipulation by media campaigns and a duopoly de facto on the distribution of news, has led to the use of social media as the principle reliable source of information. It is still too early to have a clear image of the 2017 election in terms of interferences affecting its results, but Nyabola directly experienced how misinformation and manipulation present in social media was a contributing factor feeding ethnic angst.

Nanjala Nyabola (Kenyan Political Analyst, Writer, and Humanitarian Advocate) during her speech at the Disruption Network Lab Conference on May 25, 2018.


Rafiki
, the innovative Kenyan film presented at the Cannes Film Festival, is now the subject of a controversy over censorship due to its lesbian storyline. Nyabola is one of the African voices expressing the intention to support the distribution of the movie. “As something new and unexpected this movie might make certain people within the country feel uncomfortable” she said, “but it cannot be considered a vehicle for hate, promoting homosexuality in violation of moral values.”  It is actually essential not to confuse actual hate speech with something that is labeled as hate speech for the purpose discredit upon it. Hate speech can be defined as something intended to offend, insult, intimidate, or threaten an individual or group based on an attribute, such as sexual orientation, religion, colour, gender, or disability. The writer from Nairobi reminded the audience that, when we talk about hate speech it is important to focus both on how it makes people feel and what it wants to accomplish. We should always consider that we regulate hate speech since it creates a condition, in which social, political and economic violence is fed, affecting the way we think about groups and individuals (and not just because it is offensive).

Nyabola indicated few key factors that she considers able to increase the consequences of hate speech and manipulation on social media. Firstly, information travels fast and can remain insulated. Whilst Twitter is a highly public space where content and comments flow freely, Facebook is a platform where you connect just with a smaller group of people, mostly friends, and WhatsApp is based on groups limited to a small number of contacts. The smaller the interaction sphere is, the harder it is for fact-checkers to see when and where rumours and hate speech go viral. It is difficult to find and stop them and their impact can be calculated just once they have already spread quickly and widely. Challenges which distinguish offline hate speech and manipulation from online ones are also related to the way information moves today among people supporting each other without a counterpart and without anyone being held to account.

Nowadays Kenya boasts an increasingly technological population, though not all rural areas have as yet been able to benefit from the country being one of the most connected ones in sub-Saharan Africa. In this context, reports indicate that since 2013 the British consulting firm Cambridge Analytica had been working in the country to interfere with elections, organizing conventions, orchestrating campaigns to sway the electorate away from specific candidates. It shall be no surprise that the reach of Cambridge Analytica extended well beyond United Kingdom and USA. In her speech, Nyabola expressed her frustration as she sees that western media focus their attention on developing countries just when they fear a threat of violence coming from there, ignoring that the rest of the world is also a place for innovation and decision making too.

Nanjala Nyabola and the Moderator Jo Havemann during the keynote.

Kenya has one of the highest rates of Internet penetration in Africa with millions of active Kenyan Facebook and Twitter accounts. People using social media are a growing minority and they are learning how to defeat misinformation and manipulation. For them social media can become an instrument for social change. In the period of last year’s election none of the main networks covered news related to female candidates until the campaigns circulating on social media could no longer be ignored. These platforms are now a formidable tool in Kenya used to mobilize civil society to accomplish social, gender and economic equality. This positive look is hindered along the way by the reality of control and manipulation.

Most of the countries globally currently have no effective legal regulation to safeguard their citizens online. The GDPR legislation now in force in the EU obliges publishers and companies to comply with stricter rules within a geographic area when it comes to privacy and data harvesting. In Africa, national institutions are instead weaker, and self-regulation is often left in the hands of private companies. Therefore, citizens are even more vulnerable to manipulation and strategic hate speech. In Kenya, which still doesn’t have an effective data protection law, users have been subject to targeted manipulation. “The effects of such a polluted ecosystem of misinformation has affected and changed personal relationships and lives for good,” said the writer.

On social media, without regulations and control, hatred and discriminations can produce devastating consequences. Kenya is just one of the many countries experiencing this. Hate speech blasted on Facebook at the start of the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar. Nyabola criticized that, as in many other cases, the problem was there for all, but the company was not able to combat the spread of ethnic based discrimination and hate speech.

Targeted, profiled and influenced: on Cambridge Analytica and beyond

Moving from the interconnections of traditional and online media in Kenyan misinformation ecosystem, the second part of the day focused on privacy implications of behavioural profiling on social media, covering the controversy about Cambridge Analytica. The Friday’s panel opened with the analyses of David Carroll, best known as the professor who filed a lawsuit against Cambridge Analytica in the UK to gain a better understanding of what data the company had collected about him and to what purpose. When he got access to his voter file from the 2016 U.S. election, he realized the company had been secretly profiling him. Carroll was the first person to receive and publish his file, finding out that Cambridge Analytica held personal data on the vast majority of registered voters in the US. He then requested the precise details on how these were obtained, processed and used. After the British consulting firm refused to disclose, he decided to pursue a court case instead.

As Carroll is a U.S. citizen, Cambridge Analytica took for granted that he had neither recourse under federal U.S. legislation, nor under UK data protection legislation. They were wrong. The legal challenge in British court case that centred on Cambridge Analytica’s compliance with the UK Data Protection Act of 1998 could be applied because Carroll’s data was processed in the United Kingdom. The company filed for bankruptcy not long after it was revealed that it used the data of 87 million Facebook users to profile and manipulate them, likely in contravention of UK law. Professor Carroll could never imagine that his activity would demolish the company.

Professor David Carroll (Associate Professor of Media Design, Parsons School of Design), first speaker in the panel on May 25 

Cambridge Analytica, working with an election management firm called SCL Group, appears to have been a propaganda machine master, able to manipulate voters through the combination of psychometric data. It exploited Facebook likes and interactions above all. Its technique disguised attempts at political manipulation since they were integrated in the online environment.

Carroll talked about how technology and data were used to influence elections and popular voting for the first time in countries like USA and UK, whereas for a much longer time international campaign promoters were hired to act on an international scale. In Carroll’s opinion Cambridge Analytica was an ‘oil spill’ moment. It was an epiphany, a sudden deep understanding of what was happening on a broader scale. It made people aware of the threat to their privacy and the fact that many other companies harvest data.

Since 2012 Facebook and Google have been assigning a DoubleClick ID to users, attaching it to their accounts, de-anonymizing and tracking every action. It is an Ad-tracker that gives companies and advertisers the power to measure impressions and interactions with their campaigns. It also allows third-party platforms to set retargeting ads after users visit external websites, integrated with cookies, accomplishing targeted profiling at different levels. This is how the AdTech industry system works. Carroll gave a wide description of how insidious such a technique can be. When a user downloads an app to his smartphone to help with sport and staying healthy, it will not be a secret that what was downloaded is the product of a health insurance or a bank, to collect data of potential customers, to profile and acquire knowledge about individuals and groups. Ordinary users have no idea about what is hidden under the surface of their apps. Thousands of companies are synchronizing and exchanging their data, collected in a plethora of ways, and used to shape the messages that they see, building up a tailor-made propaganda that would not be recognizable, for example, as a political aid. This mechanism works in several ways and for different purposes: to sell a product, to sell a brand or to sell a politician.

In this context, Professor Carroll welcomed the New European GDPR legislation to improve the veracity of the information on the internet to create a safer environment. In his dissertation, Carroll explained that the way AdTech industry relates to our data now contaminates the quality of our lives, as singles and communities, affecting our private sphere and our choices. GDPR hopefully giving consumers more ownership over their data, constitutes a relevant risk for companies that don’t take steps to comply. In his analyses the U.S. professor pointed out how companies want users to believe that they are seriously committed to protecting privacy and that they can solve all conflicts between advertising and data protection. Carroll claimed though that they are merely consolidating their power to an unprecedented rate. Users have never been as exposed as they are today.

Media companies emphasize the idea that they are able to collect people’s data for good purposes and that – so far – it cannot be proved this activity is harmful­. The truth is that these companies cannot even monitor effectively the Ads appearing on their platforms. A well-known case is the one of YouTube, accused of showing advertisements from multinational companies like Mercedes on channels promoting Nazis and jihad propaganda, who were monetizing from these ads.

Right next to Zuckerberg’s post on his commitment against fake news 2 click-fraud ads.

Carroll then focused on the industry of online advertisement and what he called “the fraud of the AdTech industry.” Economic data and results from this sector are unreliable and manipulated, as there are thousands of computers loading ads and making real money communicating to each other. This generates nowadays a market able to cheat the whole economy about 11 billion dollar a year. It consists of bots and easy clicks tailor-made for a user. The industries enabled this to happen and digital advertising ecosystem has evolved leading to an unsafe and colluded environment.

Alphabet and Facebook dominate the advertising business and are responsible for the use of most trackers. Publishers as well as AdTech platforms have the ability to link person-based identifiers by way of login and profile info.

Social scientists demonstrated that a few Facebook likes can be enough to reveal and accurately predict individual choices and ideas. Basic digital records are so used to automatically estimate a wide range of personal attributes and traits that are supposed to be part of a private sphere, like sexual orientation, religious beliefs, or political belonging. This new potential made politicians excited and they asked external companies to harvest data in order to generate a predictive model to exploit. Cambridge Analytica’s audience-targeting methodology was for several years “export-controlled by the British government”. It was classified as weapon by the House of Commons, at a weapons-grade communications tactics. It is comprehensible then that companies using this tech can easily sell their ability to influence voters and change the course of elections, polarizing the people using social networks.

The goal of such a manipulation and profiling is not to persuade everybody, but to increase the likelihood that specific individuals will react positively and engage with certain content, becoming part of the mechanism and feeding it. It is something that is supposed to work not for all but just for some of the members of a community. To find that small vulnerable slice of the U.S. population, for example, Cambridge Analytica had to profile a huge part of the electorate. By doing this it apparently succeeded in determining the final results, guiding and determining human behaviours and choices.

Bernd Fix, hacker veteran of the Chaos Computer Club in Germany, entered the panel conversation describing the development from the original principle of contemporary cybernetics, in order to contextualize the uncontrollable deviated system of Cambridge Analytica. He represented the cybernetic model as a control theory, by which a monitor compares what is happening into a system with a standard value representing what should be happening. When necessary, a controller adjusts the system’s behaviour accordingly to again reach that standard expected by the monitor. In his dissertation, Fix explained how this model, widely applied in interdisciplinary studies and fields, failed as things got more complex and it could not handle a huge amount of data in the form of cybernetics. Its evolution is called Machine Learning (or Artificial Intelligence), which is based on the training of a model (algorithm) to massive data sets to make predictions. Traditional IT has made way for the intelligence-based business model, which is now dominating the scene.

The Hacker Bernd Fix and David Carroll during the 13th Disruption Network Lab Conference

Machine learning can prognosticate with high accuracy what it is asked to, but – as the hacker explained – it is not possible to determine how the algorithm achieved the result. Nowadays most of our online environment works through algorithms that are programmed to fulfil their master’s interests, whereas big companies collect and analyse data to maximize their profit. All the services they provide, apparently for free, cost users their privacy. Thanks to the predictive model, they can create needs which convinces users to do something by subtle manipulating their perspective. Most of the responsibilities are on AdTech and social media companies, as they support a business model that is eroding privacy, rights and information. The challenge is now to make people understand that these companies do not act in their interest and that they are just stealing data from them to build up a psychometric profile to exploit.

The hacker reported eventually the scaring case of China’s platform “social credit,” designed to cover every aspect of online and offline existence and wanted by the national authorities. It is supposed to monitor each person and catalogue eventual “infractions and misbehaviours” using an algorithm to integrate them into a single score that rates the subjective fidelity into accepted social standards. A complex kind of ultimate social control, still in its prototype stages, but that could become part of our global future where socio-political regulation and control are governed by cybernetic regulatory circuits. Fix is not convinced that regulation can be the solution: to him, binding private actors and authorities to specific restriction as a way to hold them accountable is useless if people are not aware of what is going on. Most people around us are plugged into this dimension where the bargain of data seems to be irrelevant and the Big Three – Google, Facebook and Amazon – are allowed to self-determine the level of privacy. People are too often happy consumers who want companies to know their lives.

Marloes de Valk, Software Artist and Writer, talks about “What remains”.

The last panellist of the afternoon was the artist and researcher Marloes de Valk, who co-developed a video game for old 1986 Nintendo consoles, which challenges the player to unveil, recognize and deconstruct techniques used to manipulate public opinion. The player faces the Propaganda Machine, level after level, to save the planet.

“Acid rains are natural phenomena”, “passive smoke doesn’t affect the health,” “greenhouse´s effects are irrelevant.” Such affirmations are a scientific aberration nowadays, but in the ‘80s there were private groups and corporations struggling to make them look like legitimate theorizations. The artist from Nederland analysed yesterday´s and today’s media landscape and, basing her research on precise misinformation campaigns, she succeeded in defying how propaganda has become more direct, maintaining all its old characteristics. De Valk looked, for example, for old documents from the American Tobacco Institute, for U.S. corporations‘leaked documents and also official articles from the press of the ´80s.

What remains is a dark-humoured game whose purpose is that of helping people to orientate inside the world of misinformation and deviated interests that affects our lives today. Where profit and lobbyism can be hidden behind a pseudoscientific point of view or be the reason rumours are spread around. The artist and researcher explained that what you find in the game represents the effects of late capitalism, where self-regulation together with complacent governments, that do not protect their citizens, shape a world where there is not room for transparency and accountability.

In the game, players get in contact with basic strategies of propaganda like “aggressively disseminate the facts you manufactured” or “seek allies: create connections, also secret ones”.  The device used to play, from the same period of the misinformation campaigns, is an instrument that reminds with a bit of nostalgia where we started, but also where we are going. Things did not change from the ‘80s and corporations still try to sell us their ready-made opinion, to make more money and concentrate more power.

New international corporations like Facebook have refined their methods of propaganda and are able to create induced needs thus altering the representation of reality. We need to learn how to interact with such a polluted dimension. De Valk asked the audience to consider official statements like “we want to foster and facilitate free and open democratic debate and promote positive change in the world” (Twitter) and “we create technology that gives people the power to build community and bring the world closer together” (Facebook). There is a whole narrative built to emphasize their social relevance. By contextualising them within recent international events, it is possible to broad the understanding of what these companies want and how they manipulate people to obtain it.

Uncovering corruption: on strategic harassment, Mexican trolls and election manipulation

What is the relation between deliberate spread of hate online and political manipulation?

As part of the Disruption Network Lab thematic series “Misinformation Ecosystems” the second day of the Conference investigated the ideology and reasons behind hate speech, focusing on stories of people who have been trapped and affected by hate campaigns, violence, and sexual assault both online and offline. The keynote event was introduced by Renata Avila, international lawyer from Guatemala and a digital rights advocate. Speaker was Andrea Noel, journalist from Mexico, “one of the most dangerous countries in the world for reporters and writers, with high rates of violence against women” as Avila remembered.

Andrea Noel (Mexico-based Journalist, Covering the Drug war, Politics & Gender-Based Violence) was the keynote speaker on May 26, 2018.

Noel has spent the last two years studying hate speech, fake news, bots, trolls and influencers. She decided to use her personal experience to focus on the correlation between misinformation and business, criminal organizations and politics. On March 8, 2016 it was International Women’s Day, and when Noel became a victim of a sexual assault. Whilst she was walking down the street in La Condesa (Mexico City) a man ran after her, suddenly lifted up her dress, and pulled her underwear down. It all lasted about 3 seconds.

As the journalist posted on twitter the surveillance footage of the assault commenting: “If anyone recognizes this idiot please identify him,” she spent the rest of the evening and the following morning facing trolls, who supported the attacker. In one day her name became trend topic on twitter on a national level, in a few days the assault was international news. She became so subject of haters and target of a misogynistic and sexist campaign too, which forced her to move abroad as the threat became concrete and her private address was disclosed. Trolls targeted her with the purpose of intimidating her, sending rape and death threats, pictures of decapitated heads, machetes and guns.

In Mexico women are murdered, abused and raped daily. They are victims of family members, husbands, authorities, criminals and strangers. Trolls are since ever active online promoting offensive hashtags, such as #MujerGolpeadaMujerFeliz, which translates as ‘a beaten woman is a happy woman’. It is a spectrum of the machismo culture affecting also many Latin American countries and the epidemic of gender-based violence and sexual assault.

Facts can be irrelevant against a torrent of abuse and hate toward journalists. Noel also received hundreds of messages telling her that there was a group of famous pranksters named “master trolls” that used to assault people on the streets in that same way, to make clicks and money out of it. Noel found out that they became best known for pulling down people’s pants and underwear in public, and that this brought them directly to popular tv shows. A profitable and growing business.
The journalist decided to face her trolls one by one and later realized that they were mostly part of an organized activity, not from a TV show but from a political group targeting her, a fact that made everything way more intricate. In two years she “got to know her trolls” as she said, and she studied their ecosystem. The description of the whole story is available on podcast Reply All.

Moving from her story, Noel focused in her second part of dissertation on the relation linking together trolls, criminal organizations, political and social manipulation. She described how, by using algorithms, bots and trolls, it is possible to generate political and election related postings on Facebook and Twitter that go viral. Manipulation comes also by weaponizing memes to propel hate speech and denigration, creating false campaigns to distract public attention from real news like corruption and atrocious cartel crimes.

Marginal voices and fake news can be spread by inflating the number of retweets and shares. Hashtags and trends are part of orchestrated system, where publishers and social media are not held in account for the fraud. Automated or semi-automated accounts, which manipulate public opinion by boosting the popularity of online posts and amplifying rumours. There is a universe of humans acting like bots, controlling hundreds of fake accounts.

Noel is particularly critical against Twitter. Its legal team expressed their engagement facing this “new major problem and novel threats”. The journalist hypothesized that the company had been well aware of the issue since 2010 but decided not to intervene to weed out organized groups manipulating its environment. Moreover, they knew that organized campaigns of discredit can water down the impact of real grassroot spontaneous protests and movements.

“UNCOVERING CORRUPTION: On Strategic Harassment, Mexican Trolls and Election Manipulation” with Andrea Noel and Renata Avila (Human Rights & Tech Lawyer, Board Member of the German Whistleblower Network, GT)

These manipulation techniques are responsible for digitally swaying the 2016 election toward the candidate Peña Nieto, organizing an army of thousands of bots to artificially generate trends on Twitter. Trends on this social media move up and down based on the number of tweets in a topic or hashtag related to the speed of sharing or retweeting. Trolls and bots can easily control the trending topic mechanism with their intense spamming activity.

Noel reported that false stories are shared via WhatsApp too, they are difficult to track and the most challenging to debunk. Her portrayal of social media and information market is not different from the description on the first day of the Conference by the writer Najala Nyabola.

To see the future of social media manipulation in politics we need to look at Mexico. All parties in Mexico have used bots to promote their own campaigns, journalists and opponents are overwhelmed with meaningless spam and denigrating hashtags. Offline, media landscape across Mexico is not free and organised crime has been using propaganda and manipulation to further its own aims. President Peña Nieto’s administration spent hundreds of millions of dollars on advertising, making media dependent and colluded. This system suppresses investigative articles and intimidates reporters.

The next general election is scheduled for July 1st. Andrea Noel warned that manipulation, trolls and bots are already irreversibly polluting the debate, in a country where more than 100 candidates have already been murdered (at the time of the Conference) and a history of corruption makes media and authorities unreliable in the eyes of people.

As a response, universities and NGOs formed an anti-fake news initiative called “Verificado” a platform that encourages people to forward stories found on social media using the hashtag #QuieroQueVerifiquen, ‘I want you to verify this’. The researchers of this project answer with fact-checking and publish their findings online. When asked, Noel expressed appreciation for the efforts of organizations and civil society. However, she is becoming increasingly disillusioned. She can see no immediate prospect of finding solutions able to slow or halt the impact of misinformation and hate speech online. In her opinion projects like Verificado can be easily hijacked. On the other side genuine social media campaigns are still an effective tool in the hands of civil society but the lack of trust in media fed by corruption often undermines all efforts to mobilize society, leading the public to routinely dismiss initiative to fight injustice.

When asked about the possibility to shut down social networks as a solution, Noel could not say she did not think of it. A first step could be to oblige media like Twitter and Facebook to guarantee users a safe environment where the economic interest comes after the need of a hate speech and manipulation free environment. The way they operate confirms they are content platforms and as such media entities they lack of transparency and accountability. These companies shirk their obligation for publishing responsibly. They should be held to account when they spin lies and allow groups to act unethically or against target single or communities.

The Cleaners

The program of the second day continued with the presentation of the documentary The Cleaners, by Hans Block and Moritz Riesewieck, a project started in 2013 and in the cinemas at the time of the Conference. Initially, the authors wanted to learn more about the removal of pedo-pornographic content and sexualised images of children on Facebook. Social networks have largely pledged to work harder to identify and remove illegal, offensive and improper content, to limit violations and deny hate speech. But how does it work? Who decides what shall be cancelled and on what basis? These questions arose frequently during the first part of the Hate News conference and the German authors could answer it in relation to the social media Facebook, subject of their documentary.

The choice about what shall and what shall not belong the internet is a subjective one. Content moderators, who censor postings and content on platforms like Facebook, have indeed a controversial and central role. Their work is subject to almost no open scrutiny. However, it shapes attitudes and trends of both individuals and social groups, impacting the public discourse and the cultural dialectic. When a social network decides to censor content and delate videos about the effects of drone bombings, since by showing civilian victims Daesh builds its propaganda, it makes a choice that affects the narration of events and the perception of facts.

Moritz Riesewieck and Hans Block presenting the movie The Cleaners (DE, 2018)

Investigating how the social media platform Facebook polices online content, and the direct impact of these decisions on the users’ interactions, Block and Riesewieck ended up in the Manila, where Facebook boasts its biggest department for content moderation, with more than 10,000 contractors. The Cleaners shows how this platform sees its responsibilities, both toward people moderating and censoring the content and its users. Based on interviews with Philippine content moderators at work, the documentary contributes to the debate about the public responsibilities of social media and online platforms for publishing, from political manipulation and propaganda to data protection.
Humans are still the first line of content moderation and they suffer horrible consequences and traumas for they see daily the worst of the web. Companies like Facebook have developed algorithms and artificial-intelligence tools able to work as a first level, but the most of this technology cannot substitute human capabilities. Certain content moderators describe themselves as custodians of moral values, as their work turns into decisions that can shape social media and consequently society. There are indeed countries where people consider Facebook as the Internet, ignoring that the world wide web is much more than that social media.

The authors go beyond, showing that Manila cleaners are influenced by their cultural background and social believes. They build a parallel between Philippines’ Catholicism and discourse about universal enslavement of humans to God and sacrifice, photographed in the years of the government of Rodrigo Duterte, controversial president who is leading a war against drugs and moral corruption, made of extrajudicial killings and a violent, abusive approach.

Despite denials by the company, cleaners in Manila also moderate Europeans’ posts and they are trained for that. A single world, a historical reference, together with a picture can make all the difference between an innocent joke and hate speech. Whilst memes can be used as weapons, for example by the alt-right groups or by reactionary movements against gender equality, cleaners have just few seconds to decide between removing and keeping a content, checking more than 35,000 images per day. The authors of the documentary explained how it is almost impossible for them to contextualize content. As a result, there is almost no control over their work, as a team leader can just proof 3% of what a cleaner does.

Facing ideologies and strategies of hate: hate speech, online violence and digital rights

The last panel closing the conference on the second day was moderated by the curator, artist and writer Margarita Tsomou. American independent online harassment researcher Caroline Sinders focused her dissertation on online protests and political campaigns in the frame of the hate speech discourse. She recalled recent events able to pollute the public debate by creating chaotic and misleading messages to enhance a reactionary anti-progressive culture. Misogyny thrives on social media and hatred of women and entrenched prejudice against them are everywhere in the Internet. Fake online campaigns are often subtly orchestrated targeting women.

The panel “FACING IDEOLOGIES AND STRATEGIES OF HATE: Hate Speech, Online Violence and Digital Rights” on May 26, 2018.

In 2014 on social networks appeared an organised action associated with the hashtag #EndFathersDay, presented as a feminist political campaign to eradicate the celebration of Father’s Day as a “celebration of patriarchy and oppression”. That campaign had nothing to do with feminism and grassroots movements, it was a harassment campaign against women, a fake with manipulated images and hundreds of trolls to feed a sentiment of hatred and hostility against activists for civil rights and equality.

It is not the only case of its genre. The #Gamergate campaign, that in 2014 targeted several women from the video game industry (on Twitter, Reddit, 4chan, and 8chan) falls into this context. The campaign was not immediately perceived as a harassment instrument due to attempts of making it appear as a movement against political correctness and bad journalistic ethics. It was though a misogynistic reactionary campaign against female game developers, that soon revealed its true face as right-wing sexist backlash. Under this hashtag women were indeed victims of doxing, threats of rape and death.

Sinders explained that in the last several years we have seen a shift from a sectorial market to a global dimension where we are all potentially identifiable as gamers. Video games and gaming culture are now mainstream. People are continuously connected to all kind of devices that enable the global gaming industry to generate more than 100 billion dollar every year. The Gamergate controversy reopened the debate that gaming is a world for (white) males, pointing out how the video game industry has a diversity problem, as sexism, racial and gender discrimination in video game culture appear to be a constant factor.

A relevant aspect of the controversy is related to how trolls organised and tried to reframe the narrative of the harassment campaign. Instead of a misogynistic and violent action, they claimed it was about journalistic integrity and candid reviewing, thus denouncing a collusion between the press and feminists and social critics. Most of the trolls and supporters were anonymous, ensuring that the campaign be defined merely by the harassment they have committed against women and as a reaction to what they reported as the increasing influence of feminism on video game culture.

Sinders concluded her speech explaining that organised actions and campaigns like those described above are structured on precise tactics and harassment techniques that have already entered in our vocabulary. Words like doxing, swatting, sealioning and dogpiling are neologisms that describe strategies of hate speech and harassment nowadays common.

The Norwegian journalist Øyvind Strømmen, author and managing editor of Hate Speech International, has extensively researched and written about how extreme right movements and religious fundamentalism are able to build an effective communication online and use the web as an infrastructure to strategically enhance their activities. He joined the panel explaining that despite his intense international activity, he has never been subjected to harassment and death threats like his female colleagues, whilst he finds daily-organised activities to sow hatred and intolerance to repress women.

Cathleen Berger, former International cyber policy coordination staff at the German Foreign Office and currently lead of Mozilla’s strategic engagement with global Internet fora, closed the conference with an analyses of the new German NetzDG legislation, defined by media as an extreme example of efforts by governments to make social media liable for what circulates on their pages. The law was adopted at the end of 2017 to combat illegal and harmful content on social media platforms. It is defined also as anti-hate-speech law as it was written in the historical context of the refugees’ mass migration to Europe and the new neo-nazi propaganda from political formations like the Alternative for Germany (AfD). At the time, fake news and racist material were shared online on several mainstream channels for the first time, with relevant impact on public opinion.

Cathleen Berger during her dissertation on the German NetzDG legislation.

The new German law requires social media companies to provide users with a wide-ranging complaints structure to make sure that discriminatory and illegal posts can quickly be reported. It is left to social media platforms to decide if a certain reported content represents a promotion of or an incitement to terrorism, child abuse, hate or discrimination of any kind.

The law forces social media to act quickly too. Under NetzDG, social media platforms with more than 2 million users in Germany have 24 hours to remove posts reported by users for being illegal. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube seem to be the law’s main focus. Failure to comply with the law carries a fine up to € 50 million.

The German government’s Network Enforcement Act has been criticised for its risks of controversial inadvertent censorship, limiting legitimate expressions of opinion and free speech. Once again private companies, that are neither judges nor any kind of public authority, have the power to decide whether reported content is in fact unlawful.

The 13th Disruption Network Lab Conference

All credit is due to Tatiana Bazzichelli and the Disruption Network Lab, who provided once again a forum for discussion and exchange of information that provokes awareness on matters of particular concern from the different perspectives of the guests – especially women – able to photograph with their international activities and their researches several topical issues.

This 13th Conference (https://www.disruptionlab.org/hate-news/) was a valid opportunity to discuss and rationalise the need for civil society to remain globally vigilant against new forms of hate speech, manipulation and censorship. Ideological reasons behind hate speech and online manipulation are on the table and the framing is clear enough to hold online media and publishing companies accountable for the spread of frauds, falsehood and discrimination within their networks.

Tatiana Bazzichelli. Founding artistic director and curator of the Disruption Network Lab

Companies like Facebook and Twitter have demonstrated their inability to recognise real threats and appear to be thinking of profit and control without considering the repercussions that their choices have. However, we are delegating them the power to define what is legal and what is not. Their power of censorship shapes society, interfering with fundamental rights and freedoms, feeding conflicts and polarization. This legal response to hate speech and manipulation in the context of the battle for privacy and civil rights is completely inadequate.

Propaganda and hate speech have historically been tools used in all countries to influence decision making and to manipulate and scare public opinion. Forms of intrusive persuasion that use rumours or manipulation to influence people’s choices, beliefs and behaviours are now occupying the web too. Individuals should be able to give due value to their online interactions, focusing on the risks that they run when they click on something. There is too little awareness of how companies, aggressive trolls, criminals, private groups and advertisers subtly manipulate online environment for political and economic interest.

Such a corrupted online ecosystem – where almost nothing of what we meet can be trusted and where individuals and communities are exposed to private interest – generates often hate campaigns targeting women and minorities, normalising crimes, reactionary gender stereotyping and deplorable cultural customs. As all speakers suggested, Cyber-ethnography can be a worthwhile tool as an online research method to study communities and cultures created through computer-mediated social interaction. It could be helpful to study local online exchanges and find local solutions. By researching available data from its microcosmos, it is possible to prevent ethnic, socioeconomic, and political conflicts linked to the online activity of manipulators, destructive trolls and influential groups, to disrupt the insularity of closed media and unveil the economic and political interest behind them.


HATE NEWS: Manipulators, Trolls & Influencers
May 25-26, 2018 – Kunstquartier Bethanien, Berlin
disruptionlab.org/hate-news/

Info about the 13th Disruption Network Lab Conference, its speakers and thematic is available online here:
https://www.disruptionlab.org/hate-news

To follow the Disruption Network Lab sign up for its Newsletter and get informed about its Conferences, ongoing researches and projects. The next Disruption Network Lab event is planned for September. Make sure you don´t miss it!

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Photocredits: Maria Silvano for Disruption Network Lab

The closing stunt of Disruption Network Lab

After a full year of events focusing on several topics, from drones to surveillance, cyberfeminism to hacktivism, or even the famous Technoviking and a hot debate on the politics of the Porntubes, the Disruption Network Lab wraps up 2015 with its event STUNTS, focusing on political stunts, interventions, pranks and viralities. It was a year of great success for the DNL and proof of that was a full house, in the middle of a cold Berlin winter, full of people eager to take part of this last gathering on art research, hacktivism and disruption.

Just at the entrance, in the castle-like facade of Kunstquartier Bethanien, the Free Chelsea Manning Initiative projected a video including phrases of support, denouncing the system that violently charges against all the whistleblowers who bravely stand against state-crime. Chelsea Manning, sentenced in August 2013 to 35-years of imprisonment, turned 28 years old on the 17th December. The initiative took the occasion to celebrate her anniversary but also to remind us of her cause and of how vulnerable whistleblowers are under the purview of “justice”.

Peter Sunde, one of the founders of Peter Bay, has recently given an interview stating “I have given up” when asked about the current state of free and open internet. The pessimistic tone that might loom among hacktivism has its reasons. With a growing and raging state surveillance, invigorated politics of fear veiled as anti-terrorism propaganda, or the alienating neoliberal order, the seemingly scarce possibilities to fight back can be easily overtaken by a sense of hopelessness. Yet, the proposal of STUNTS claims the possibility of new futures; suggesting that new artistic militancies and political subversions of neoliberal networked digital technologies, hoping to provide a glimpse of another world. What can be done? There’s still a lot to be done.

KEYNOTE: FIND OUT WHAT YOU ARE ‘SUPPOSED TO DO’ – THEN DO SOMETHING ELSE.

John Law, original member of the Suicide Club and the Cacophony Society. Image by Maria Silvano.

The opening keynote was reserved to John Law, original member of the Suicide Club and Cacophony Society, and one of the initiators of the Burning Man Festival, who gave an inspiring speech condensing 40 years of disruptive movements in the city of San Francisco. Law highlighted how important it was to live in San Francisco, a well-known refuge for many weirdos, hippies and punks, and how the city served as fertile ground for the foundation of many movements of disruption, such as the Suicide Club or the Cacophony Society.

1977, Naked Cable Car : San Francisco Suicide Club http://bit.ly/1nKsD4M

The Suicide Club, born from a course at the Free School Movement (also known as Communiversity) in the late 70s, was one of the pioneers with its events of urban exploration, street theatre and pranks. For several years, its members engendered actions of occupation and appropriation of public spaces, aiming to subvert the order of these spaces and highjack the authorities. Later on, some of its members founded the Cacophony Society which followed the same footsteps, creating social experiments and stunts, which according to Law didn’t necessarily mention being political but instead playful acts of liberation from the norm. Yet, in an age of overwhelming neoliberal labour exploitation, we can wonder if having fun among the working class isn’t already a political act. As Law said, “the events were illegal but not immoral” reminding everyone that in ethics and politics of disruption, right and wrong should never be defined by law. It seems that disruption is intrinsically political in the sense it questions the ruling order while also being an emancipatory act of dissidence.

PANEL: STUNTS & DUMPS – THE MAKING OF A VIRAL CAUSE

Ruth Catlow, Mustafa Al-Bassam, M.C.McGrath, Jean Peters and Andrea Natella. Image by Maria Silvano.

The panel, moderated by Ruth Catlow, one of the founders of Furtherfield, included a group of four hacktivists and disruptors, two of whom claimed to have once been Luther Blissett, an open-pseudonym used by several artists and activists as an hoax who has taken credit and responsibility over several stunts and pranks over the past 20 years. Following the thread of adopting an emancipatory praxis in the demand for privacy, M.C.McGrath presents the Transparency Toolkit. Motivated to refuse of data collection and the brute quantification that intelligence and corporations enforce as an interpretative lens for evaluating people’s lives, with this toolkit McGrath intends to facilitate the access to a database that allows journalists and civilians to surveil the surveyors. Providing easy access to personal data of the intelligence community, he gives intelligence a taste of its own poison. In response to the predictive justice portrayed by nowadays algorithmic supremacy, the Transparency Toolkit disturbs the power asymmetry while possibly enabling for even some form of critical mob justice.

Andrea Natella, creative director of guerrigliamarketing.it and KOOK Artgency, seeks for justice by creating elaborate hoaxes that corrupt corporate advertisement. Hoaxes such as the fake air company Ryanfair which claimed to “welcome aboard refugees” under the Geneva Convention, enabling refugees to fly without a visa. The ingenious mockery resulted in a flamed response from the ‘real’ company debunking the advertisement while at the same time it has received a great attention from the media, resulting in a broader public discussion on the refugee situation. Once again, Natella presents us with the power of disruption by taking advantage of tools used by the prevailing order.

Image by Maria Silvano.

The undergraduate in Computer Sciences Mustafa Al-Bassam has gained notoriety for being a part of LulzSec, a computer hacking group responsible a number of high profile attacks, resulting in being legally banned from the Internet for two years. From an early age Mustafa focused his time in the creation of tools to unmask the tenacious mechanisms of domination. From ironically proving the negative correlation between tests scores and the amount of assigned homework to denouncing violations of online privacy and security perpetrated by state agencies such as the FBI, Mustafa has been a main character in the defence of human rights in the post-digital era.

To close the panel, Jean Peters, co-founder of the Peng! collective, shifts the perspective of the debate. What if instead of blaming or attacking members of intelligence we could provide them the tools to liberate them from their own institutions? Recognising that within the intelligence community resides a great number of whistleblowers, Intelexit, which started as a hoax, is now an initiative that helps people leave the secret service and build a new life. Aimed specially at members of agencies such as CGHQ or NSA, Intelexit offers safe and encrypted channels of communication through which intelligence members can get access to legal and moral support. Without the intention of dismissing responsibility of these members, claiming some banality of evil, by emancipating intelligence members Intelexit conceives another possibility to disrupt the system from within.

CELEBRATING AT SPEKTRUM

Kim Voss, Tatiana Bazzichelli and Daniela Silvestrin. Image by Maria Silvano.

With an incredible array of playfully disruptive tools and practices, the ending tone of the panel is of hope and optimism. Maybe this is the kind of optimism that inspired Chuck Palahniuk into writing the Fight Club, clearly influenced by the Cacophony Society of which he was a member. Optimistic disruption seems to pave way to new worlds of possibilities, into a new future envisioned with the help of DNL.

To close STUNTS in an even more optimistic way, the celebration of a year of DNL was at SPEKTRUM, another outstanding initiative in Berlin and another example of success. After less than a year of activity, SPEKTRUM, an open space that aims to link art and science, has already gathered a solid reputation in the field along with a trustee community of followers and participants. While we cross fingers for another year of funding for DNL, SPEKTRUM will continue to offer a rich program of concerts, performances, installations and debates.

Last Review – PORNTUBES: Reveals All @Disruption Network Lab, Berlin. By Pedro Marum, 2015
http://furtherfield.org/features/porntubes-reveals-all-disruption-network-lab-berlin

PORNTUBES: Reveals All @Disruption Network Lab, Berlin

Finally I had the pleasure to attend to a session of the Disruption Network Lab. Physically, let’s say. Even though this was the first time I’ve managed to be in Berlin for one of its events, I’ve been a compulsory virtual follower, watching the videos of their fully recorded sessions. This is a hint for anyone who would like to watch all the previous keynotes and talks.


Tatiana Bazzichelli, Director and Curator of Disruption Network Lab. Image by Maria Silvano.

With its first edition in April, Disruption Network Lab is an ongoing platform of events and research on art, hacktivism and disruption, held at Studio 1 of Kunstquartier Bethanien, in partnership with Kunstraum Kreuzberg/Bethanien, in Berlin. On 31st of October it has held its 5th session, PORNTUBES: Sharing the Explicit. Aiming to discuss the role of porntubes in the sex and porn industry it gathered porn practitioners, entrepreneurs, sex work activists and researchers, to engage in a debate on the intertwining of porn with the Internet.

Pornography has always been a pioneer in using new technologies for its distribution and promotion. Internet, by allowing anonymous access to porn from the comfort of everyone’s home it seemed to be the ultimate tool for the porn industry’s expansion, to say the least. As pointed by Roy Klabin during the talk, 38,5% of the time we spend on the Internet is spent watching porn. As in many other spheres, it also seemed to be the beginning of a new era of labour liberation with an apparent decentralisation from the big porn production houses. This has allowed the blossoming of new small and independent companies with their own place in the market. But if cyberspace once seemed to offer a possibility to escape the tentacular control and exploitation exercised by the corporative monopolies, it is now known that the rebellion of the cybernetic innovators – creators of porntubes and new online sex tools – seems to be purely a coup d’etat.

KEYNOTE

Carmen Rivera, a Mistress and Fetish-SM-performer

The opening keynote was by Carmen Rivera, a Mistress and Fetish-SM-performer, with a long history in the porn industry business, with an experience of the migration of porn from cinema to VHS and later to the Internet and then onto the porntubes. In conversation with Gaia Novati, a net activist and indie porn researcher, Carmen tells us her personal and professional story and immediately gives a better understanding on how porntubes – such as Redtube, X-Hamster or Youporn – have an ambiguous influence in the porn industry. Once perceived as a democratic tool allowing small porn producers to expand their radius of audience-reach, Rivera explains how much of a perverse tool of exploitation it has become and one that small producers have become too dependent on.

The fast pace of the Internet creates a lot of pressure to satisfy the hunger of porn consumers. As has become virtually infinite “fast-porn” is closely aligned with the capitalist paradigm of production, putting a bigger focus on quantity rather than quality. As the Internet leaves no space for durability — one day you’re in, the next day you’re out — careers become frail, the work of these companies are highly precarious and the concept of the “porn-star” is a short lived mirage.

Carmen Rivera and Gaia Novati. Image by Maria Silvano.

Rivera also highlights how online piracy has become virtually unavoidable resulting in gigantic losses to the porn industry. As producers see their films ending up on porntubes free of access, lawsuits don’t come as a viable solution but as financial black holes for any small or even medium companies. Even though the future doesn’t seem bright, Rivera doesn’t quit. Her battle cry: we need to create a bigger awareness of the pestilent system that controls the online porn industry. New tools of disruption need to be found to fight against these new power asymmetries established through the domination of cybernetic capital.

 

Image by Maria Silvano.

PIGGY BANK GIRLS

After the keynote, the discussion shifted to examining new tools of online sex work such as the project PiggyBankGirls, self-proclaimed as the first erotic crowdfunding for girls. Unfortunately, Sascha Schoonen, CEO of the project, wasn’t able to attend. Instead a short promo video was presented introducing the project, giving some tongue-in-cheek examples on how girls could profit from this crowdsourcing tool.

Women upload videos pitching their ideas or projects – financing a shelter for stray animals, the payment of tuition fees, a trip to Japan, – and then share online porn performances in exchange for support from “occasional sugar daddies”. Although one wonders if this isn’t just a euphemism – a sanitised version, let’s say – of already existing tools used by women who need money, regardless of them making public how they intend to spend money Nevertheless, it is true that the actual exploitative system needs to be dismantled, workers should be getting a bigger share for their labour and PiggyBankGirls poses as one more tool to do so, however this project also left many unanswered questions. Who are actually the women who can profit out of it? PiggyBankGirls promo tries to make this form of sex labour sound “cute”, easy and accessible. However, is just another tool for established porn actresses to diversify their means of income?

TALK

The panel, moderated by Francesco Warbear Macarone Palmieri, socio-antrophologist and geographer of sexualities, included abstracts showing a wide array of perspectives on the issue of porntubes and online sex work. The researcher Nishant Shah opened the panel with a wonderful talk ranging from porn consumerism to porn politics and how porn is influencing our digital identities. In a porn-consuming society, from establishing clear distinctions between “love” and “porn”, respectively meaningful and perverse, desirable and visceral desire, porn seems to be contingent on the morals of the spectator – as it only exists through the spectator it has also become a tool of puritan regulation. From Facebook teams of censorship and sanitisation of the virtual space to websites such as isitporn.com it is possible to understand that the concept of porn becomes itself a regulator of our sexual expressions, defining the line that separates decency from indecency. Paving the way to the pathologization of porn practices but yet dictating the meaning of authentic sexual performances, as the only visceral forms of sexual performances available, Shah pointed out how pornography, as a cultural and digital artefact, works in the regulation of our societies and in the production of our identities. Giving the example of Amanda Todd, who committed suicide after suffering from bullying for exposing her sexual body online, Shah shows how new forms of “porn” take place in the digital, from doxxing to unintended porn being perceived as such, enabling new forms of violence – let’s say porn-shaming.

Also focusing on porn consumerism, Roy Klabin, investigative documentarist/filmmaker, goes back to the discussion initiated with Carmen Rivera on porntubes VS porn producers and how producers make money. According to Roy, MindGeek, the company that owns most of the porntubes – from Youporn to Redtube – has been one of the main entities responsible of the destruction of the porn industry. By creating piracy websites holding gigantic libraries of free access to porn and making revenue out of the advertisement, resulting in huge losses for the porn companies which at the same time had become dependent on the tubes to advertise their work. Roy makes an appeal to porn producers to diversify their strategies: from webcams to virtual reality, the porn industry needs to be one step ahead of the contemporary systems of digital exploitation.


Francesco Warbear Macarone Palmieri, Liad Kantorowicz, MG Macioti. Image by Maria Silvano.

PG Macioti, a researcher and sex workers rights advocate and activist, together with Liad Kantorowicz, performer and sex workers’ activist, presented an overview on how the Internet has reshaped sex work – from sustainability to work conditions – listing some of the outcomes, pros and cons, of the extension of sex work to the virtual spaces. Online sex work, namely erotic webcam work, has enabled a proliferation of sex work by offering safe, independent and anonymous services. On the other hand with the insertion of sex work on the capitalist mode of production, just like in many other forms of digital labour it has rendered a bigger alienation to the workers – who work mainly alone and, also due to stigma, don’t share any contact with fellow colleagues – resulting in a more and more precarious labour, with sex workers being paid by minute, having to pay for their own means of production and usually paying a big share of their income to the middleman webcam services host agency.

Liad Kantorowicz – Image from video of the live performance WATCH ME WORK

Overall, the Internet has enabled a multiplication of narratives on sex work but the power asymmetries between the online corporations and workers results in a growing exploitation and precariousness. The transversal message to all participants seems to urge for disruptive tools for online sex work, tools of self-empowerment and emancipation within the digital paradigm. Quoting the Xenofeminism manifesto by Laboria Cubonics, “the real emancipatory potential of technology remains unrealised” and the Disruption Network Lab might be the much needed spark for this revolution.

PARTY & STUNTS

The PORNTUBES event couldn’t have had a better ending with a party held in the legendary KitKatClubnacht, a sex & techno club that is open since 1994, famous for both its music selection and its sexually uninhibited parties. It seems an exciting idea, to say the least, to bring all together researchers, porn entrepreneurs and activists to this incredible venue after an intense afternoon discussing the porntubes.

Concluding the series of conference events of Disruption Network Labs during 2015, the next event will be STUNTS: Distributed, Playful and Disrupted, taking place on the 12th of December, at the Studio 1 of Kunstquartier Bethanien, and the direct link is: http://www.disruptionlab.org/stunts/. This time the discussion will focus on political stunts as an imaginative and artistic practice, combining hacking and disruption in order to generate criticism of the status quo. As the immense dragnet of state-surveillance extends it becomes imperative to understand which are the available tools of obfuscation, how it is (still) possible to hack the system and which tools of political resistance can be deployed Disruption Network Lab wraps the year with a tempting offer, inviting artists, hackers, mythmakers, hoaxers, critical thinkers and disrupters to present practices of mixing the codes, creating disturbance, subliminal interventions, giving raise to paradoxes, fakes and pranks.

Innovation happens at the frayed edges – Resonate 2014

Resonate, the Belgrade, Serbia digital arts and design festival, now in its third year unfolds over a long week at the start of April. Its central tenet is to bring together “artists, designers and educators to participate in a forward-looking debate on the position of technology in art and culture.” It is also an emerging and challenging festival that raises many more questions than it answers. The festival starts off with a number of workshops held by practitioners for practitioners. Foregrounding the demystification of the creative process immediately sets it apart from any number of other media arts festivals. Whereas many festivals might be broader in their approach to what the digital can include, and focus on themes that don’t always feel like they directly influence what happens in the festival, Resonate doesn’t give itself a curatorial focus. But, and so, the workshops set the festival off with a focus on making. Most people who come to Resonate are just that: makers of work. It feels as though there are fewer curators, producers and academics here than you would expect.

The central lobby of the Kinoteka

This year, shifting location from 2013’s Dom Omladine, perhaps learning from some of the problems of last year’s over-heated and occasionally too-tightly packed events, they have moved to a spread of venues, with the base being the Kinoteka Cinema, a sleek-looking modern building with a number of different spaces. Any decent festival has a spread of overlapping events making it impossible for one person to attend everything. Resonate makes no apologies for being just as packed with events as any other festival. The one time it might be possible to sit and spend a day in one place is if you’ve managed to get on to a workshop event that takes place on the Thursday. Once the workshops are over though, Friday kicks off with the panels and presentations. Choreographic Coding discussion, led by NODE Forum’s Jeanne Charlotte Vogt opened the panel discussions. A broad ranging talk with Raphael Hillebrand, Florian Jenett, Peter Kirn (CDM), Christian Loclair and Klaus Obermaier, (returning again after last year’s Resonate, possibly being an ongoing presence at the festival). All of the panel talks took place in the central lobby of the Kinoteka, which proved to be a terrible choice for anyone who wanted to actually hear the speakers. At times the discussions descended into a barrage of mumbles blending with the sound of people emerging from surrounding presentations and the poor choice of PA equipment placements. A shame, as the themes for these were well chosen, including Ways of Seeing, chaired by Greg J. Smith of HOLO magazine, and Generative Strategies, across the Friday and Saturday. The best laid plans of mice and journalists. I had planned to interview a number of presenters during the event, key amongst them was Pablo Garcia, who was on a panel and presented his own work on the Saturday. Apart from a brief conversation, we finally caught up over email several days later. I fired a number of questions at him, which are dotted across the rest of this review.

Do you find that Resonate offers something different than some other digital festivals? If so, what might that be? “It feels a lot like some of the better festivals I have seen, like EYEO. It is selecting from the best digital artists/makers out there, and giving them free reign on the stage to talk and share. The city has a great vibe and the overall feel is truly a “festival”, and not so much a conference or academic gathering.” ~ Pablo Garcia.

Friday’s talks included Cedric Kiefer (Onformative) giving a presentation in Gallery of Frescos, a short hop and stumble from Kinoteka Cinema. I’ve always enjoyed the juxtaposition that occurs when digital media is presented in contrast to, in this case, a venue “exhibiting in one place the highest achievements of Serbian Mediaeval and Byzantine art.” In other words, old stuff that enforces the modernity of the digital work we are being shown. Kiefer’s presentation covered some of their major projects including their work for Deutsche Telekom which used the company’s Facebook interactions to create beautiful data visualisations (Facebook Tree – 2013). There’s an unabashed acceptance of the interaction between corporate funding and creativity on display with many of the presentations. It’s something which never provokes debate, at least not in any of the conversations I had with participants or the panels I attended. Maybe that’s no longer ‘a thing’ that concerns creatives and the money required for some of the bigger projects has to allow for corporate sponsorship? I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t embrace funding from wherever it comes, it would just have been nice to have some debate around it.

The schedule for the whole festival is broad and busy. There’s no chance of making it to every presentation or discussion, which is a great reason to go with others or to make an effort to talk to other attendees about what you’ve seen. The festival is a research port of call for many established, practicing digital artists. The UK’s Ludic Rooms have been to the past two festivals and consider it an opportunity to engage and re-establish contact with their peers in the community. “It is a coming together on an international scale with a thoughtful focus on practice,” reckons Ashley Brown, one half Ludic Rooms. Co-Director Dom Breadmore adds, “for us, Resonate has quickly superseded other events to become an annual pilgrimage for discussion and inspiration.”

One of the final presentations of the festival is by Daito Manabe in the Kolarac, another add-on venue of the festival, again an improvement on last year’s Dom Omladine. Daito’s work reflects something of the current state of digital media work. His presentation includes his (literally) home-made research videos, as well as the documentation of bigger projects. Whether he’s attaching electrodes to his own face to see what the effect is (hilarious facial distortions in this case), or working with dancers to create a drone/dancers piece, there’s humour and an enquiring mind at the center of his work. Daito showed his Ayrton Senna project, using the data transmitted from Senna’s car during his world-record lap in 1989, an ambitious and challenging project, least of all being the decision to erect it on the original racetrack. The data is used to trigger LEDs and numerous speakers laid out on the course. The LEDs follow the path taken by the car, while the sound is the engine accelerating and decelerating as the car would have taken the corners. It’s a ghostly piece, at once recreating that frustration that race fans must have of just having missed the car and a reminder that this is an event that happened many years ago. An echo of the past. Data mining, big data, is like this, in most contemporary projects. Data visualisation is a zombie, rising up to challenge the present. And like all the best zombie films, it can be a metaphor for our own rampant consumerism and reliance on technology. Still, at least in the hands of someone like Daito, our guilt is assuaged by humour.

What is your own take on the current landscape of digital media/art/design? “It’s an exciting time, for sure. Not only because there is so much digital access today for all to experiment with. We are starting to see makers move past the “wow” phase of tech and really start to integrate digital techniques into various historical techniques. Watching digital work cease to be about digitality will go a long way to opening new avenues of exploration.” ~ Pablo Garcia.

In those important few hours after a festival when you make your way back home, you finally get a chance to take stock. Thoughts crash over you in what better place for free-form thinking than the nowhere of airport waiting zones. In the neverzones I realised that what I’d thought was my frustration with Resonate, was actually the thing that gives it a unique flavour. Resonate doesn’t present a theme and then hope to find an answer through precarious curation of speakers who most likely will follow their own path anyway. What it does do, and does well, is ask questions that might not have answers. The focus on knowledge and learning gives attendees a broad enough palette to choose their own ambitions for the festival. There isn’t any guided pathway through the diverse range of speakers. There are many things that Resonate could do better. It would have been nice to see more actual work in the various spaces. Line of Sight, a collaborative project by Kimchi and Chips and Nanika, (produced by CAN_LABS and Resonate Festival) was installed and produced for Kinoteca goers during the festival, giving a taste familiar to many attendees, of the stress of having to deliver a working project to a tight deadline. Thankfully, they did so. More projects would have been nice though. Even the digital needs to explode out of the screen and smear itself across a few walls or public spaces, obstructing and challenging people around the venues. After all, contextuality is nine tenths of the art law. Equally, some of the audio/visual problems need addressing. Complaining about them seems like a mean sideswipe, but these are the things that leave people with the suspicion that a festival isn’t as bothered as it should be. Resonate does care about attendees, as is evidenced by the free workshops and focus on helping to develop practitioners. It reflects this in its very DNA as an ever-becoming environment for creatives. And besides, the good stuff always happens in the rough and frayed edges. Resonate needs space and time to stretch and breath and see what it can become, just as Serbia, despite a rich and ‘interesting’ history (Belgrade is one of Europe’s oldest cities) is still finding its feet in the modern world (it applied for membership of the European Union in 2009). The festival supports emerging digital media practitioners by accelerating interaction with other countries to support the country’s upper-middle income economy with its strong service sector economy.

What was your experience of Resonate? “Resonate is a jam-packed, head-spinning experience. So many amazing people showing all their goodies in tightly packed spaces. It’s a lot of fun. Caveat: don’t go expecting to see everything. So many events and talks are happening simultaneously, you can’t see it all. Personally, I found it incredibly valuable to be able to show my work to a really talented and smart group of people to get solid feedback on what I do. I learned a lot by presenting and by seeing sympathetic artists.” ~ Pablo Garcia.

As the festival evolves, it would be nice if it smoothed out some of the frayed edges. But maybe this isn’t possible without allowing the freedom the open spaces allow for the fun stuff to happen. As Daito Manabe’s presentation showed, the open, unordered spaces are where all the best artistic developments take place.

Woman, Art & Technology: Interview with Sue Gollifer

This conversation follows in a series of interviews with women who work at the intersection of art and technology. As someone who works as an artist, curator, organizer, professor, researcher, and board member Sue Gollifer embodies this intersection across many venues.

Sue Gollifer has been a professional artist and printmaker for more than thirty years, Gollifer has exhibited her work worldwide and been collected by major international public institutions. A pioneer of early computer art, she has continuously explored the relationship between technology and the arts and has written extensively on this subject. Gollifer is a Principal Lecturer in Fine Arts and the University of Brighton where she is also the Course Leader of the MA Digital Arts Program.  She has been instrumental in shaping major international arts communities including: the Design and Artists Copyright Society (DACS), the Computer Arts Society (CAS), and the College Arts Association, (CAA), ISEA, SIGGRAPH, Lighthouse Brighton, and many others. Gollifer is currently also the Director of the ISEA International Headquarters.

Rachel Beth Egenhoefer:  Given the many hats you wear as an artist, curator, organizer, professor, many people describe you as many things… how do you describe yourself?

Sue Gollifer:  I am an artist.

RBE:  But you do other things too?

SG:  I know I do. At the moment I’m more of a curator and an organizer, but at the end of the day I am still an artist.

Sue Gollifer
Untitled M4, Tektronix phaser print, by Sue Gollifer

RBE:  How do you define your role as an artist in relation to being on the many board of directors you are on (such as ISEA, CAA, DACS, and others)?

SG: I’m not a theorist or in a senior management position but I think that these organizations need people who have a broad sense of the discipline to be on their boards to make sure that people like me and people like you have a voice.

RBE:  So you see yourself as representing artists?

SG:  Yeah, and I think the fact that I have a European background gives me a broader image as well. When I think about being on the board of some local organizations like Lighthouse or Phoenix in Brighton they value that I’m also part of an International network such as CAA and SIGGRAPH and ISEA. It’s quite reciprocal too. The bigger organizations value my spectrum.

RBE:   What do you learn as an artist from doing all these other organizational things?

SG:  I think what it does is it starts me making work. It’s like any of those things. But I think it started off when I was a consultant to Higher Education in the UK and I just got used to facilitating and networking and telling people about things. And I realized I was really quite good at that.

RBE:  Networking?

SG:  Yeah. But not just networking. I organize a lot of mailing lists, where I act as a kind of filter for people, letting them know about events and festivals, and ideas that are going on.

RBE:  So given that you work in all of these roles, as an artist, as an organizer, as a filter, what changes have you seen over the years of working in these fields?

SG:  Well, technologies have changed our lives with the Internet and mobile phones. You know I travel a lot, but half the time people don’t know that I’m not really there, because I still do what I’m doing somewhere else. Where you are doesn’t really matter. You still kind of function, which has its good points and its bad points really, cause you’re always on call.

RBE:  What about changes in content or questions that people are asking? Either in art practice or education or conferences and festivals, have there been any changes?

SG:  I think the reason why ISEA is successful is because, although we all have our distributed networks and we’re always in constant touch, I think the act of physically bringing people together is really important. But I do think also that a lot of the organizational things like content management systems and the ways that you hear about various festivals and things is made so much easier. At the same time there are so many of them. It’s really important with my ISEA hat on that I’m thinking about the “un-conference” and that you don’t get stuck in a rut. There is a changing landscape and environment and you need to keep up with that.

But with my educator’s hat on, thinking about PhDs and research papers, there’s a lot more to do with money and research and getting money from science backgrounds now. But the idea of research gets lost. What they value is that people are writing about stuff, they’re not actually doing it, but writing about it, using research as evidence.

RBE:  What is the role of research in art?

SG:  I don’t know. What do you think? Do you think it’s the work? Do you think it’s making the work?

RBE:  Well, I think research can inform the work, and work can inform research. But I think the point you brought up about research and the sciences and the value of it, it seems like it can become problematic when it is seen as a moneymaker. Or when the purpose of it is to get money and not the purpose being to inform the work.

SG:  Yeah, I was involved in a science project and there was a lot of money in it and they obviously valued the significance of the artists being in there but really you have to fit your research around the money rather than the other way around. It just got out of sink.

RBE:  Does that map at all on to how conferences and festivals are set up? Does the work dictate what will be at the event, or does the event dictate what will be made by artists?

SG:  Well, to get back to the research thing. Research as evidence of something, even if you are putting work in an exhibition or putting work in a paper or something, you still need evidence.

RBE:  But as far as themes or content, how is that dictated? For example the upcoming ISEA is all about “Machine Wilderness”. Was that a result of artists making a lot of work in that realm and we should have a festival about it, or do you think that it was a decision to have a festival about this and encourage artists to think and make work like this?

SG:  Well when people put in a bid to host ISEA, they put in what they think the nature of what ISEA will be about. Obviously when we look at proposals we look at not only the relevance but also the integrity of the people delivering it. “Machine Wilderness” in this case is very much around the themes that Andrea Poli is interested in. The theme of ISEA in Istanbul was “Contained/ Uncontained” which was similar but also a bit broader.

ISEA 2012 Website

RBE:  How do you see the differences in cultures influencing different ISEA’s? ISEA purposely has the festival in different cities around the world, how does that influence the work or the field or what people are thinking and doing?

SG:  Well if you take the case of the ISEA in RUHR, Germany, it was to do with the Creative Industries, and creating awareness of new industries. You know we come in and inform people about new things. There’s the idea that we can change things. Or bring things to a city in a way of education and outreach. It shouldn’t be just us sitting in a dark room talking to each other.

RBE:  So you see it as a way to bring new media awareness to these different cities?

SG: Yeah.

RBE:  But then what do the artists and participants get in return? Or what does ISEA get in return?

SG:  You get to travel and meet people! I think you get a different perspective.

We did have two bids coming through for ISEA2014 from Zayed University, Dubai, UAE and Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, BC. Recently the ISEA Board agreed that the Dubai bid, with its focus on the burgeoning field of art and technology in the Arab World would provide a unique opportunity for ISEA to connect audiences and artists from the Middle East with the international electronic art community.

A strong aspect of the bid was the focus on women’s education and ensuring that young women have the potential to influence the future of the region and develop international contacts.

I hope that ISEA can leave a legacy somewhere. I mean otherwise we might as well just have it over Skype calls. The overarching theme of ISEA2014 ‘Location’ will explore strands such as Technology; Science & Art East Meets West; Emerging Economies/Emerging Identities; Nomadic Shifts and Digital Archaeology and Collaborative Spaces.

RBE: This interview is part of a series of interviews with women using art and technology. What do you think is important in having a female voice in today’s art world?

SG:  I talk to my students about my role and my job and things like that, and my female students think that it’s really great that I run a digital arts course. If I were a man it would be very very different. I think it’s equally important that students aren’t just taught by women, but women of all ages, those that are married, not married, children, no children. I think we do have to establish role models to a certain extent.

I was a feminist in the 60s and 70s but I never thought that we should be different. I just wanted to be accepted for who I was really. That might be a bit anti-feminist, but I always fought for women for education and opportunities. This goes back to the Dubai thing to a certain extent, the university there started off because one of the princesses wanted to learn about art but there was no place to do so. So it started and went on to have a validated degree. And maybe one day it will have a masters program and women can apply for scholarships and travel abroad?

RBE:  Do you think it’s important to have “Women Art & Technology” as a separate category? Or should it just be “Art & Technology”?

SG:  Art and Technology.

RBE:  Aside from being a female role model for your students and talking about the female voice, what else do you think is important for your students to know right now or learn right now?

SG:  Code! (laughs) But I don’t like to think we’re bringing them up differently?

RBE:  Or even taking gender out of it, what do young people need to know?

SG:  They need to be aware of things. But it depends on what they are trying to do and what direction they want to go in… A big thing is confidence. A lot of my women students do lack confidence.

RBE:  Why do you think that is?

SG:  I don’t know what it is.

RBE:  So what do you do to boost their confidence?

SG:  I give them a voice. I give them a space and an opportunity in the class.

When I used to do interviews for undergrad programs in Printmaking, it always started off that the women had better grades, better portfolios, better skills, but at some point it switches. And they loose that confidence and that voice. I don’t know what it is really.

Do you find that?

RBE:  The program I teach in has a majority female students. I think that it might be easier for them. I do wonder though sometimes if they are more confident when they are in a classroom with me verses one of my male colleagues or just a different background. But I think there’s also the other end of the spectrum where they are overly confident because they are growing up in this world where you have to be liked constantly on Facebook. You know, like me, like my image, like me, like me, like me… They need to be constantly validated and that spirals into “I’m amazing”. But those aren’t the ones who are asking the tougher questions; those are the ones who want to be liked.

SG:  There’s another aspect. Maybe not about confidence, but I think there’s a smoke and mirrors element. There are some men that seem to have all the jargon without actually any credibility. And the women I know with credibility don’t necessarily tell everyone that they do it.

RBE:  There are actually studies about that, and how male and female brains are wired differently to behave differently.

SG:  I think they address issues in a different way.

RBE:  What are you working on now?

SG: Alan Turing!

RBE:  What is your role in the Turing Project?

SG: I’m putting together with Anna Dumitriu the exhibition Intuition and Ingenuity’, a group exhibition that explores the enduring influence of Alan Turing – the father of modern computing – on art and contemporary culture. 2012 will be the 100th anniversary of the birth of Alan Turing, one of the greatest minds Britain has produced; the world today would have been a very different place without his ideas.

I’m also curating a projected drawing Exhibition for the Drawing Research Network (DRN) conference in Loughborough in September.

I have also just been part of selection partnership for two newly commissioned pieces of work for Brighton Festival, ‘Sea of Voices’, and ‘Voices of the SEA’. Plus reviewing work for SIGGRAPH art gallery 2012 and for ISEA2012, and papers for the journal ‘Digital Creativity’, of which I am assistant editor.


Sue Gollifer being interviewed by the BBC on the Alan Turing Exhibtiion

RBE:  What excites you about the future?

SG:  I don’t know really. I hate to get gloomy about the future, but I do think it’s going to get worse. I mean you live in San Francisco and I live in Brighton so I don’t think it’s hit us quite yet, but I am starting to notice a lot of shops closing. And I know that things I took for granted like buying a house, having children and having a job, I don’t think they have these choices anymore.

RBE:  How do you think this will impact the art community?

SG: There are surprisingly good opportunities for the use of vacant shops and offices for exhibition spaces and studios and surprisingly people buy art because they think it’s an investment for the future.

RBE:  Do you have anything else you want to tell the Furtherfield readers?

SG:  I think it’s going to be interesting and exciting in the future, despite all this, I think it’s going to be exciting to see what comes next.


Other interviews in this series:
Woman, Art & Technology: Interview with Lynn Hershman Leeson By Rachel Beth Egenhoefer
Women, Art & Technology: Interview with Sarah Cook

This conversation follows in a series of interviews with women who work at the intersection of art and technology. As someone who works as an artist, curator, organizer, professor, researcher, and board member Sue Gollifer embodies this intersection across many venues.

Sue Gollifer has been a professional artist and printmaker for more than thirty years, Gollifer has exhibited her work worldwide and been collected by major international public institutions. A pioneer of early computer art, she has continuously explored the relationship between technology and the arts and has written extensively on this subject. Gollifer is a Principal Lecturer in Fine Arts and the University of Brighton where she is also the Course Leader of the MA Digital Arts Program.  She has been instrumental in shaping major international arts communities including: the Design and Artists Copyright Society (DACS), the Computer Arts Society (CAS), and the College Arts Association, (CAA), ISEA, SIGGRAPH, Lighthouse Brighton, and many others. Gollifer is currently also the Director of the ISEA International Headquarters.

Rachel Beth Egenhoefer:  Given the many hats you wear as an artist, curator, organizer, professor, many people describe you as many things… how do you describe yourself?

Sue Gollifer:  I am an artist.

RBE:  But you do other things too?

SG:  I know I do. At the moment I’m more of a curator and an organizer, but at the end of the day I am still an artist.

Sue GolliferUntitled M4, Tektronix phaser print, by Sue Gollifer

RBE:  How do you define your role as an artist in relation to being on the many board of directors you are on (such as ISEA, CAA, DACS, and others)?

SG: I’m not a theorist or in a senior management position but I think that these organizations need people who have a broad sense of the discipline to be on their boards to make sure that people like me and people like you have a voice.

RBE:  So you see yourself as representing artists?

SG:  Yeah, and I think the fact that I have a European background gives me a broader image as well. When I think about being on the board of some local organizations like Lighthouse or Phoenix in Brighton they value that I’m also part of an International network such as CAA and SIGGRAPH and ISEA. It’s quite reciprocal too. The bigger organizations value my spectrum.

RBE:   What do you learn as an artist from doing all these other organizational things?

SG:  I think what it does is it starts me making work. It’s like any of those things. But I think it started off when I was a consultant to Higher Education in the UK and I just got used to facilitating and networking and telling people about things. And I realized I was really quite good at that.

RBE:  Networking?

SG:  Yeah. But not just networking. I organize a lot of mailing lists, where I act as a kind of filter for people, letting them know about events and festivals, and ideas that are going on.

RBE:  So given that you work in all of these roles, as an artist, as an organizer, as a filter, what changes have you seen over the years of working in these fields?

SG:  Well, technologies have changed our lives with the Internet and mobile phones. You know I travel a lot, but half the time people don’t know that I’m not really there, because I still do what I’m doing somewhere else. Where you are doesn’t really matter. You still kind of function, which has its good points and its bad points really, cause you’re always on call.

RBE:  What about changes in content or questions that people are asking? Either in art practice or education or conferences and festivals, have there been any changes?

SG:  I think the reason why ISEA is successful is because, although we all have our distributed networks and we’re always in constant touch, I think the act of physically bringing people together is really important. But I do think also that a lot of the organizational things like content management systems and the ways that you hear about various festivals and things is made so much easier. At the same time there are so many of them. It’s really important with my ISEA hat on that I’m thinking about the “un-conference” and that you don’t get stuck in a rut. There is a changing landscape and environment and you need to keep up with that.

But with my educator’s hat on, thinking about PhDs and research papers, there’s a lot more to do with money and research and getting money from science backgrounds now. But the idea of research gets lost. What they value is that people are writing about stuff, they’re not actually doing it, but writing about it, using research as evidence.

RBE:  What is the role of research in art?

SG:  I don’t know. What do you think? Do you think it’s the work? Do you think it’s making the work?

RBE:  Well, I think research can inform the work, and work can inform research. But I think the point you brought up about research and the sciences and the value of it, it seems like it can become problematic when it is seen as a moneymaker. Or when the purpose of it is to get money and not the purpose being to inform the work.

SG:  Yeah, I was involved in a science project and there was a lot of money in it and they obviously valued the significance of the artists being in there but really you have to fit your research around the money rather than the other way around. It just got out of sink.

RBE:  Does that map at all on to how conferences and festivals are set up? Does the work dictate what will be at the event, or does the event dictate what will be made by artists?

SG:  Well, to get back to the research thing. Research as evidence of something, even if you are putting work in an exhibition or putting work in a paper or something, you still need evidence.

RBE:  But as far as themes or content, how is that dictated? For example the upcoming ISEA is all about “Machine Wilderness”. Was that a result of artists making a lot of work in that realm and we should have a festival about it, or do you think that it was a decision to have a festival about this and encourage artists to think and make work like this?

SG:  Well when people put in a bid to host ISEA, they put in what they think the nature of what ISEA will be about. Obviously when we look at proposals we look at not only the relevance but also the integrity of the people delivering it. “Machine Wilderness” in this case is very much around the themes that Andrea Poli is interested in. The theme of ISEA in Istanbul was “Contained/ Uncontained” which was similar but also a bit broader.

ISEA 2012 Website

RBE:  How do you see the differences in cultures influencing different ISEA’s? ISEA purposely has the festival in different cities around the world, how does that influence the work or the field or what people are thinking and doing?

SG:  Well if you take the case of the ISEA in RUHR, Germany, it was to do with the Creative Industries, and creating awareness of new industries. You know we come in and inform people about new things. There’s the idea that we can change things. Or bring things to a city in a way of education and outreach. It shouldn’t be just us sitting in a dark room talking to each other.

RBE:  So you see it as a way to bring new media awareness to these different cities?

SG: Yeah.

RBE:  But then what do the artists and participants get in return? Or what does ISEA get in return?

SG:  You get to travel and meet people! I think you get a different perspective.

We did have two bids coming through for ISEA2014 from Zayed University, Dubai, UAE and Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, BC. Recently the ISEA Board agreed that the Dubai bid, with its focus on the burgeoning field of art and technology in the Arab World would provide a unique opportunity for ISEA to connect audiences and artists from the Middle East with the international electronic art community.

A strong aspect of the bid was the focus on women’s education and ensuring that young women have the potential to influence the future of the region and develop international contacts.

I hope that ISEA can leave a legacy somewhere. I mean otherwise we might as well just have it over Skype calls. The overarching theme of ISEA2014 ‘Location’ will explore strands such as Technology; Science & Art East Meets West; Emerging Economies/Emerging Identities; Nomadic Shifts and Digital Archaeology and Collaborative Spaces.

RBE: This interview is part of a series of interviews with women using art and technology. What do you think is important in having a female voice in today’s art world?

SG:  I talk to my students about my role and my job and things like that, and my female students think that it’s really great that I run a digital arts course. If I were a man it would be very very different. I think it’s equally important that students aren’t just taught by women, but women of all ages, those that are married, not married, children, no children. I think we do have to establish role models to a certain extent.

I was a feminist in the 60s and 70s but I never thought that we should be different. I just wanted to be accepted for who I was really. That might be a bit anti-feminist, but I always fought for women for education and opportunities. This goes back to the Dubai thing to a certain extent, the university there started off because one of the princesses wanted to learn about art but there was no place to do so. So it started and went on to have a validated degree. And maybe one day it will have a masters program and women can apply for scholarships and travel abroad?

RBE:  Do you think it’s important to have “Women Art & Technology” as a separate category? Or should it just be “Art & Technology”?

SG:  Art and Technology.

RBE:  Aside from being a female role model for your students and talking about the female voice, what else do you think is important for your students to know right now or learn right now?

SG:  Code! (laughs) But I don’t like to think we’re bringing them up differently?

RBE:  Or even taking gender out of it, what do young people need to know?

SG:  They need to be aware of things. But it depends on what they are trying to do and what direction they want to go in… A big thing is confidence. A lot of my women students do lack confidence.

RBE:  Why do you think that is?

SG:  I don’t know what it is.

RBE:  So what do you do to boost their confidence?

SG:  I give them a voice. I give them a space and an opportunity in the class.

When I used to do interviews for undergrad programs in Printmaking, it always started off that the women had better grades, better portfolios, better skills, but at some point it switches. And they loose that confidence and that voice. I don’t know what it is really.

Do you find that?

RBE:  The program I teach in has a majority female students. I think that it might be easier for them. I do wonder though sometimes if they are more confident when they are in a classroom with me verses one of my male colleagues or just a different background. But I think there’s also the other end of the spectrum where they are overly confident because they are growing up in this world where you have to be liked constantly on Facebook. You know, like me, like my image, like me, like me, like me… They need to be constantly validated and that spirals into “I’m amazing”. But those aren’t the ones who are asking the tougher questions; those are the ones who want to be liked.

SG:  There’s another aspect. Maybe not about confidence, but I think there’s a smoke and mirrors element. There are some men that seem to have all the jargon without actually any credibility. And the women I know with credibility don’t necessarily tell everyone that they do it.

RBE:  There are actually studies about that, and how male and female brains are wired differently to behave differently.

SG:  I think they address issues in a different way.

RBE:  What are you working on now?

SG: Alan Turing!

RBE:  What is your role in the Turing Project?

SG: I’m putting together with Anna Dumitriu the exhibition Intuition and Ingenuity’, a group exhibition that explores the enduring influence of Alan Turing – the father of modern computing – on art and contemporary culture. 2012 will be the 100th anniversary of the birth of Alan Turing, one of the greatest minds Britain has produced; the world today would have been a very different place without his ideas.

I’m also curating a projected drawing Exhibition for the Drawing Research Network (DRN) conference in Loughborough in September.

I have also just been part of selection partnership for two newly commissioned pieces of work for Brighton Festival, ‘Sea of Voices’, and ‘Voices of the SEA’. Plus reviewing work for SIGGRAPH art gallery 2012 and for ISEA2012, and papers for the journal ‘Digital Creativity’, of which I am assistant editor.

Sue Gollifer being interviewed by the BBC on the Alan Turing Exhibtiion

RBE:  What excites you about the future?

SG:  I don’t know really. I hate to get gloomy about the future, but I do think it’s going to get worse. I mean you live in San Francisco and I live in Brighton so I don’t think it’s hit us quite yet, but I am starting to notice a lot of shops closing. And I know that things I took for granted like buying a house, having children and having a job, I don’t think they have these choices anymore.

RBE:  How do you think this will impact the art community?

SG: There are surprisingly good opportunities for the use of vacant shops and offices for exhibition spaces and studios and surprisingly people buy art because they think it’s an investment for the future.

RBE:  Do you have anything else you want to tell the Furtherfield readers?

SG:  I think it’s going to be interesting and exciting in the future, despite all this, I think it’s going to be exciting to see what comes next.


Other interviews in this series:
Woman, Art & Technology: Interview with Lynn Hershman Leeson By Rachel Beth Egenhoefer
Women, Art & Technology: Interview with Sarah Cook