Monday, April 08, 2013

Day of DH

Today for Day of DH I thought it worthwhile to write an actual blog post for the first time in many months.  Like others who have switched over to short format postings on platforms such as Twitter, most of my blogging activities have been suspended in recent years, although I still write for DML Central and a few other places.  Since becoming Director of the Culture, Art, and Technology program at UC San Diego during a time of devoting myself largely to conventional print publications, it has been difficult to find time for even one posting despite having written over a thousand such entries in previous years.

Of course, blogging has been important for expressing solidarity with a distinctive kind of digital politics, even if -- as Geert Lovink points out -- so often that politics only merits a "zero comments" response.  On Wednesday, Lovink presented a talk about "Wikileaks beyond Julian Assange" at UC Irvine, which raised a number of interesting questions about how anonymity and celebrity function as part of particular algorithmic rhetorics.  The talk also reminded me why I continue to argue for more "hacktivism" in the digital humanities, as I do so here in the Debates in the Digital Humanities collection.

Lovink noted that Wikileaks was made possible by the confluence of the decreasing costs of maintaining a megabyte of data and the increasing strength of technologies for anonymous encryption, such as those documented by Andy Greenberg in This Machine Kills Secrets.  However, Lovink argued that Assange had fallen prey to the "hacker as hero as trap," and that photo ops with Lady Gaga Issue detracted from online advocacy desperately needed for the pending court case against famed Wikileaks informant Bradley Manning.   Although Harvard Professor Yochai Benkler may make the argument for leniency publicly in "The Dangerous Logic of the Bradley Manning Case," what Lovink calls the "global fallout" of this particularly Wikileaks case, primarily involving the release of diplomatic cables, has been featured in news coverage in India, Zimbabwe, and many other countries.  (To understand the narrative of stakeholders, Lovink recommended Wikileaks: The Secret Life of a Superpower from the BBC.)

Like any Internet meme Wikileaks has spawned many imitators.  As Lovink observed, websites with leaked documents now range from the Al Jazeera-sponsored The Palestine Papers to Porn Wikleaks, which is devoted to providing the real names of actors in adult films located from an HIV/AIDS testing database, to the GuttenPlag Wiki that locates plagiarized passages in the dissertations of German political leaders.   Some links are now defunct among Lovink's list of copycats, such as the now defunct Murdoch Leaks website.  Yet, as Lovink also pointed out, the work of Wikleaks continues with The Syria Files, even after the defection of Daniel Domscheit-Berg.  Wikileaks also clearly inspired The Afghanistan Papers, Balkan Leaks, and Global Leaks.

Although Lovink appreciated the aesthetic gesture of works like "Delivery for Mr. Assange," he was concerned that the narrative of the cyber-outlaw obfuscated the work of coalition building and the importance of how Wikileaks once functioned in a larger ecology of free software and online activism.  For example the temporary allegiance between Wikileaks and Anonymous,  Lovink argued, indicated that tensions between journalism (the supposed mission of Wikileaks) and activism (the supposed mission of Anonymous) and that leaking information and mining information to leak could involve two very different kinds of user practices.

Having taught a course on Digital Journalism, I know that major news stories often depend on affiliations with media organizations that are well-financed enough to fund lawsuits that force information to be released.  With media conglomeration and free culture norms weakening newspapers and broadcast news, investigative journalism is rapidly becoming defunded, so anonymous submission of leaked material becomes the only way to break big stories.

What does this have to do with the digital humanities?  Large corpora of documents that are not carefully curated -- such as those on leak sites -- invite intrepid digital humanists to do creative data mining, and

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