Felix Stalder on Fri, 9 Sep 2016 10:35:40 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> living under algorithmic governance

"Listen, Mark, this is serious. First you create rules that don’t
distinguish between child pornography and famous war photographs. Then
you practice these rules without allowing space for good judgement.
Finally you even censor criticism against and a discussion about the
decision – and you punish the person who dares to voice criticism.


To be honest, I have no illusions that you will read this letter.
The reason why I will still make this attempt, is that I am upset,
disappointed – well, in fact even afraid [...]."


This is from a recent open letter to FB's Mark Zuckerberg by Espen
Egil Hansen, editor-in-chief of Aftenposten, Norwegian largest daily
newspaper. The context is an article about a chain of events that
Hansen describes as follows:

"A few weeks ago the Norwegian author Tom Egeland posted an entry on
Facebook about, and including, seven photographs that changed the
history of warfare. You in turn removed the picture of a naked Kim
Phuc, fleeing from the napalm bombs – one of the world’s most
famous war photographs.

Tom then rendered Kim Phuc’s criticism against Facebook for banning
her picture. Facebook reacted by excluding Tom and prevented him from
posting a new entry."

Aftenpost article about all of this was, naturally, illustrated
with said picture. Facebook demanded with standard form-letter than
Aftenpost delete the picture and when didn't comply, FB deleted the
entire article after less than a day.

The point I want make is not how the traditional media have become
depended on FB and how this is now going to bite them. That's obvious.

What struck me more was the pithy description of the experience of
living under algorithmic governance: opaque and arbitrary rules, which
produce absurd effects, but, from the point of view of the governing
entity, this much less important than the fact that these rules scale
well. The absurdity of the results comes from the application of the
rules without consideration of the ambiguities and constant negations
that make up daily life and that are, in fact, an important basis
for freedom. If rules aren't acknowledged as unambiguous there is no
legitimate ground for complying with the rules in more than one way.

The second point is the experience of the enormity of the distance
between those who govern and those who are governed. This open letter
is like burning incense in a temple to placate angry gods. And
remember, this how it feels to a bona-fide member of the national
elite in a wealthy country. I presume the other 99.999% of FB users
wouldn't even bother to complain....


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