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In the series “algorithm regulation”, we discuss the implications of the growing importance of technological algorithms as a means of regulation in the digital realm. 

Facebooks Edge Rank Algorithm (Source: http://goo.gl/zTrTbe)

Facebooks Edge Rank Algorithm (Source: http://goo.gl/zTrTbe)

In a recent issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA (PNAS), Adam Kramer and others published an article on “Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks” with data derived from the world’s largest social network Facebook. The researchers was given the permission to manipulate the Facebook newsfeed in order to test how differences in terms of emotional direction of postings, i.e. more “happier” or more “sadder” updates, impact on people’s status updates. The study delivered two main results: First, emotions are “contagious” in that more happy postings inspired more happy postings and vice versa. Second, fewer emotional posts (in either direction) reduces posting frequency of Facebook users.

The publication of these results has incited furious debates with regard to research ethics, mainly criticizing that Facebook should have asked users to (more) explicitely consent in taking part in such an experiment. Susan Fiske, the Princeton University psychology professor who edited the study for publication, is quoted in an Atlantic article subtitled “It was probably legal. But was it ethical?” as follows:

“I was concerned,” Fiske told The Atlantic, “until I queried the authors and they said their local institutional review board had approved it—and apparently on the grounds that Facebook apparently manipulates people’s News Feeds all the time.”

Over at orgtheoryElizabeth Popp Berman agrees that “the whole idea is creepy” but also argues that Read the rest of this entry »

The Council of Europe has invited me to contribute the following input paper (PDF) on “Need for New Regulation to Enhance Creativity in the Digital Age: The Cases of User-generated Content and Cultural Heritage Institutions” for the Conference on “Creating an enabling environment for digital culture and for empowering citizens”, taking place 4-5 July 2014, Baku, Azerbaijan. 

logo-CoEIn the course of growing economic importance of knowledge and of technological change related with the Internet and digitization, regulations of knowledge and information goods have increasingly become an issue of transnational contestation. Particularly the role of copyright law has changed since virtually all forms of online communication and interaction requires copying and distributing content, thereby becoming copyright-related. In a way, copyright laws have become the core regulatory device for the digital information society in general and digital creative practices in particular.

At the same time, we can observe that regulatory struggles in the copyright realm date way back. Already Kant (1785) and Fichte (1793) distinguished between different functional groups affected by copyright laws, among which publisher/copyright owner, author/creator, and consumer/user represent the most important. These groups are still the ones most affected by copyright regulation, even though today copyright also covers cinematographic work and computer programs and it is possible to reproduce nearly all types of work in digital form. Balancing the interests of these groups is therefore still the main task for copyright regulators on the international and the national level.

And while technological change has always provided both opportunities for new forms of creativity and problems for pre-existing business models in the copyright realm (Wu 2010), the all-encompassing and highly dynamic impact of new digital technology on nearly all fields and types of creative activities brings with it enormous regulatory challenges. First, digitization makes it possible to distinguish between content and medium – a constellation that is of major importance for the copyrighted content industry since it sells CDs, DVDs, and books, not music, movies, or novels. From a regulation perspective, this means that new rules – be they publicly legislated or privately enforced via license agreements – tend to more directly address particular usage practices, affecting traditional knowledge brokers such as archives, libraries or museums. Second, loss- and lag-free copying of digital contents via personal computers and the Internet enable new forms of private copying and peer-to-peer distribution of content on a massive scale. The regulation challenge related to this issue is to allow for these new technologies to enfold while at the same time prevent a massive increase in copyright infringement due to piracy. Third, thanks to decreasing production and distribution costs, many more people actively engage in content creation and make their works accessible directly to the public (sometimes referred to as ‘user-generated content’), thereby often re-using and transforming pre-existing copyrighted works. How to regulate these new forms of derivative creativity and creative consumption is again a task for regulators to address. Read the rest of this entry »

Guest blogger Nina Engwicht discusses a controversial performance art project in Berlin aiming to help Syrian refugee children.

Arrival of Jewish refugee children, port of London, February 1939

(Wikimedia; CC-BY-SA-3.0-de)

“1 in 100” is the slogan of a nightly ironic talent show currently put on in Berlin by the activist performance artists of the group “Center for Political Beauty” (Zentrum für Politische Schönheit). One in a hundred Syrian children will be saved, is the promise. In order to help the German government decide which children should be rescued, the audience is requested to vote for a child they would like to see rescued from the civil war: “1 in 100! One child wins. The others can go on dying. (weitersterben).

The artists urge their audience not to make light of their responsibility, but to use their right to vote. The show’s web site (http://voting.1aus100.de/) displays pictures and videos of each child, many of them badly hurt, some of them crying, some of them starving. The video of “child number 2” shows a boy desperately crying after a bomb attack. From off-camera we hear a man, presumably his father, saying “My God. My God. My children are dead. My children are dead”, while the boy cries for his brothers and sisters. The campaign’s Facebook page presents all these candidates and informs readers about their respective chances: “Child Nr. 61 only has two votes. Call now!”
Read the rest of this entry »

The Book

Governance across borders: transnational fields and transversal themes. Leonhard Dobusch, Philip Mader and Sigrid Quack (eds.), 2013, epubli publishers.
June 2014
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