Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Out of Sight, Out of Mind?

I will be in the Netherlands for the next week, and, as the announcement below indicates, I'll be giving a talk in Amsterdam on the 31st of the month. I hope friends of Virtualpolitik will come hear the ways that I am thinking about authentication and the social contract in contemporary Internet politics.

DIY Authentication: Digital Rhetoric and the Subversive Potential of Information Culture

Public Lecture and Book Launch by Elizabeth Losh
Writing Director, Humanities Core Course, University of California
Irvine, USA

Author of Virtualpolitik: An Electronic History of Government Media-
Making in a Time of War, Scandal, Disaster, Miscommunication, and Mistakes
(MIT Press, 2009)

Introduction by Geert Lovink
Room F.2 11B

University of Amsterdam

Bushuis Kloveniersburgwal 48

1-5 PM

Your lecture starts at 3 PM

August 31 2009, 3-5 PM

As the American government becomes an increasingly active content-creator, officials in the United States have become obsessed with banning certain applications that allow critics and the general public to generate authentic looking documents, reports, and online forms. In October of 2006, these anxieties became particularly prominent when a graduate student in computer science, who was critical of airline security procedures instituted by the U.S. Transportation Security Administration, created a humorous web generator that could print what appeared to be authentic boarding passes from Northwest Airlines. The genre of the online generator, which is used for everything from creating doctored photographs of church signs to online aliases with superhero names, has become a particularly popular vehicle for political satire in the current Internet reputation economy, as PHP programs are circulated amongst those who use their basic programming skills to create Internet ephemera capable of creating more Internet ephemera, an activity that is sometimes seen as extremely threatening to the virtual state.

Today government agencies not only have official Web sites but also sponsor moderated chats, blogs, digital video clips, online tutorials, videogames, and virtual tours of national landmarks. Sophisticated online marketing campaigns target citizens with messages from the government—even as officials make news with digital gaffes involving embarrassing e-mails, instant messages, and videos. In Virtualpolitik, Elizabeth Losh closely examines the government's digital rhetoric in such cases and its dual role as media-maker and regulator.

In describing how the Bush administration often struggled with understanding computational media, Losh reports on a video game that panicked the House Intelligence Committee, government Web sites produced in the weeks and months following 9/11, PowerPoint presentations by government officials and gadflies, e-mail as a channel for whistleblowing, videogames for the military and first responders, national digital libraries, and computer-based training for public health professionals.

Losh concludes that the government's Virtualpolitik—its digital Realpolitik aimed at preserving its own power—is focused on regulation, casting as criminal such common online activities as file sharing, videogame play, and social networking. This policy approach, she warns, indefinitely postpones building effective institutions for electronic governance, ignores constituents' need to shape electronic identities to suit their personal politics, and misses an opportunity to learn how citizens can have meaningful interaction with the virtual manifestations of the state.

Please note the new location.

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