Dans AlgorithmWatch: Why neofascists love AI (11 oct. 2022)

Josephine Lulamae interviewed me in the website of the NGO AlgorithmWatch about the a trend in European far-right policy: the preference for algorithmic solutions to social problems, such as unemployment, precarity, disability.

Italian neofascists considered building an authoritarian AI to solve unemployment. They are far from alone. – AlgorithmWatch

Back in April, the far-right Brothers of Italy party presented “Notes on a Conservative Program”. In a chapter on work, they called for an “artificial intelligence system” that “traces the list of young people who finish high school and university every year and connects them to companies in the sector.” This, the authors of the chapter wrote, would finally solve “youth unemployment,” as “the young person will no longer be able to choose whether to work or not, but [will be] bound to accept the job offer for himself (sic), for his family and for the country, under penalty of loss of all benefits with the application of a system of sanctions.” 

The proposal did not make it to the final program that Brothers of Italy published prior to the election on 25 September, when they became Italy’s largest party with 26% of the vote.

Ironically, the neofascists most likely had intended to use Artificial Intelligence to “create a fog around them, around what they are and what they want, because they want to attract a more moderate right-wing electorate,” says sociologist Antonio Casilli. Guido Crosetto, the Brothers of Italy co-founder who edited the work chapter, is not considered knowledgeable on technology, though he once tweeted about being “in favor of introducing artificial intelligence to the Ministry of Justice”. Unlike in other countries, there is no noticeable overlap between the Italian tech scene and far-right parties like Lega Nord and Brothers of Italy.

“I haven’t met a fascist geek in Italy,” Casilli tells us. (He added later, posting on Twitter, “but I’ve left the country two decades ago, and I’ve met many elsewhere in Europe.”)

Artificial Intelligence and the far-right

In his essay Ur-Fascism, Umberto Eco, who was a child during Benito Mussolini’s dictatorship, lists some of the characteristics of fascism. As well as being into a “cult of tradition” that mythologizes and idolizes the past (e.g. Mussolini’s call for a “new Rome”), fascists also – irrationally, unsurprisingly – worship technology, insofar as they believe in it as a way to reassert inegalitarianism, Eco wrote. 

In the United States, powerful people in the field of Artificial Intelligence are known to have been fascinated with extreme-right views. William Shockley, also known as Silicon Valley’s first founder, was an ardent eugenicist. Another AI pioneer, Stanford professor John McCarthy, believed that women were biologically less gifted in math and science. In 2020, the founder of face recognition firm Clearview AI collaborated with far-right extremist Chuck Johnson in the development of Clearview AI’s software. A few weeks later, the CEO of the AI surveillance firm Banjo was exposed to be a former member of the Dixie Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, who in 1990 was charged with a hate crime for shooting at a synagogue. (This revelation lost the company a contract with Utah’s Department of Public Safety.) 

In 2016, one of the groups that far-right provocateur Milo Yianoppolous featured in his (ghostwritten) Breitbart “guide to the far-right” were the “neoreactionaries”: folks who subscribe to the political philosophy that democracy has failed and a return to authoritarian rule is required. In her essay “The Silicon Ideology”, critic Josephine Armistead describes one of the neoreactionary fantasies to be aristocrats or monarchs in a world ruled by a tech CEO or a super-intelligent AI. 

An early incubator of these ideas was LessWrong.com, a discussion forum created by the California-based Machine Intelligence Research Institute (MIRI), which holds – without proof – that a general AI with potential for world domination will be created. People associated with MIRI “do basically no research and tell scary stories about how AI will turn us all into paper clips,” says researcher David Gerard, “It’s a huge distraction.” 

Back in 2010, some LessWrong users were chatting about how to live forever by being reincarnated on a hard drive by a godlike AI. Then a man called Roko Mijic – a self-described “tradhumanist” barred from MIRI events for sexual harassment – posted the argument that anyone who imagines this future “AI god” but doesn’t help fund its development risks one day being tortured by it. Several users had breakdowns. Famous MIRI donors include tech mogul Peter Thiel and cryptocurrency founder Vitalik Buterin. “They’re reactionaries whose version of libertarian economics ends at neofeudalism with them on top,” Gerard says.

“Algorithmic solutions” to unemployment in the EU

According to Casilli, the Brothers of Italy party’s “Artificial Intelligence” proposal actually has a lot in common with previous proposals for using automated systems to tackle or manage unemployment that have been made by center-right or liberal parties in other countries of the European Union. 

For example, in 2014, the then-liberal Polish government introduced a ranking system for job centers to use to decide how to best allocate welfare resources. The centers were widely regarded as overworked and short on time to pay attention to people who were registering there as unemployed. For the scoring system, information was gathered from people who registered as unemployed (age, duration of unemployment, etc.) The system was then used to sort them into three categories, which determined how much help a jobseeker received. Single mothers, people with disabilities or who lived in the countryside disproportionately ended up in the third category, which in practice received little help from job centers, as this category was considered “not worth investing in”. And, similarly to the Brothers of Italy proposal, it was hardly possible to appeal against the algorithm’s decision. The system was scrapped in 2019. 

Meanwhile in 2017 France, Emmanuel Macron was elected president and promised to turn France into a “startup nation.” Around the same time, a 24-year-old “young genius” businessman called Paul Duan started a public relation blitz. He said he could reduce unemployment by 10% by designing an algorithm that – similarly to the Brothers in Italy proposal – would help people find jobs by matching them with potential employers and assisting them through the application process. Years later, the public administration that originally commissioned the project issued a report to say that the algorithm to match jobseekers with open positions does not work.

“This kind of algorithmic solution to unemployment shows a continuum between far-right politicians in Italy, politicians in Poland and center-right politicians like Macron,” says Casilli. He adds, “They are different shades of the same political ideology, some are presented as market-friendly solutions like the French one, others are presented as extremely bureaucratic and boring like the Polish one, and the Italian proposal, the way it is phrased, is really reactionary and authoritarian.”

edited on October 11 to better reflect Mr. Casilli’s position

De quoi une plateforme (numérique) est-elle le nom ?

Est-ce que le mot “plateforme” est adapté pour décrire ce qui se passe dans l’économie numérique des dernières années ?

Point de départ : les travaux de Tarleton Gillespie, qui s’est penché (avant et mieux que d’autres) sur l’utilisation de la notion de plateforme pour qualifier les services contemporains d’appariement algorithmique d’informations, relations, biens et services.

Sa théorie peut être ainsi résumée : le mot plateforme est avant tout une métaphore qui désigne une structure technique, voire une “architecture” (c’est par ailleurs de ce dernier domaine que l’emprunt linguistique s’est fait). Le choix de ce terme pour désigner une entité technologique relève d’une volonté de concepteurs, innovateurs et investisseurs de se présenter comme des simples intermédiaires, et non pas comme des moteurs d’interaction sociale et de décision stratégique dans le domaine économique. La plateforme n’est qu’une charpente, sur laquelle d’autres (usagers, entreprises, institutions) construisent. (← c’est toujours Gillespie qui résume les arguments des proprios des plateformes, hein…).

Dans un texte de 2017, il met en avant trois raisons pour lesquelles cette notion se prête à des instrumentalisations particulièrement lourdes de conséquences d’un point de vue politique.

1) La prétendue horizontalité des plateformes numériques dissimule des structures hiérarchiques et les liens de subordination qui persistent malgré la rhétorique des “flat organizations” ;
2) L’insistance sur une structure abstraite cache la pluralité d’acteurs et la diversité/conflictualité des intérêts des différentes communautés d’utilisateurs. La responsabilité sociale des plateformes, leur “empreinte” sur les sociétés semble ainsi être effacée ;
3) (point #digitallabor) en se présentant comme des mécanismes *précis* et *autonomes*, les plateformes servent à occulter la quantité de travail nécessaire à leur fonctionnement et à leur entretien.

De manière presque paradoxale, la réquisitoire de Gillespie contre le mot plateforme représente un plaidoyer pour le maintien du terme—pourvu qu’on s’entende sur sa signification et sa généalogie. Publié en 2010, un autre de ses textes esquissait une étymologie du terme.

Plateforme comme :
1) fondations d’un bâtiment
2) structure sur-élevée d’une fortification militaire
3) podium où un orateur prononce un discours
4) par métonymie, le discours même–ou son agenda politique
5) Gillespie mentionne aussi une autre valence, de nature religieuse et politique, du terme plateforme. Aux Etat-Unis, cette dernière s’est déployée entre 1648, année de rédaction de la “Cambridge Platform” des premiers groupes de colons britanniques, et la moitié du XIXe siècle, époque à laquelle sont attestées les premières utilisations du mot au sens de programme politique d’un parti étasunien.

A mon avis, cette deuxième généalogie a davantage de poids : une plateforme est une entité politique, et non pas une simple métaphore–elle illustre les dimensions collectives et la nature consensuelle des négociations qui ont lieu dans son périmètre. Pour saisir cet aspect il faut regarder l’histoire européenne, où s’est opéré ce transfert du mot plateforme du contexte des arts appliqués à celui de l’idéologie religieuse et politique.

Le terme anglais “platform” (si nous laissons pour l’instant de côté ses origines latines) est une importation directe du français du moyen âge (“platte fourme”). Certes, le Online Etymology Dictionary atteste de cette utilisation à partir du XVIe siècle (“1540s, ‘plan of action, scheme, design'” [sources non précisées]). D’autres usages sont attestés. Par ex., dans la traduction anglaise de 1582 du De Proprietatibus Rerum de Bartholomaeus Anglicus (1240), “platform” est un terme géologique qui indique la Terre en tant que “soutien” des créatures – ou le monde comme modèle idéal de la création (“archetypus” dans l’original latin).

Quelques décennies plus tard, Sir Francis Bacon écrit son An Advertisement Touching a Holy War (1622), où il emploie le terme pour indiquer un repère pour développer son “mélange des considérations civiles et religieuses” (“mix’d of Religious and Civil considerations”). Le glissement sémantique vient de commencer. C’est à l’occasion de la Grande Rébellion anglaise de 1642-1660 que “platform” s’impose comme une conception politique et religieuse très particulière et comme un outil concret, dont l’usage n’est pas exclusivement métaphorique.

C’est là que la transition de simple métaphore à notion de théologie religieuse à part entière s’achève. Bien évidemment, il y a la Cambridge Platform de 1648 (document des églises congrégationalistes puritaines du New England cité supra 👆 ). Un autre document de ce type est la Savoy Declaration (1658) qui propose “a platform of Discipline” : articles de foi et règles de gouvernance des congrégations. Ces règles régissent les questions religieuses et imposent des pratiques (“Models & Platforms of [a given] subject”).

Mais le premier usage éminemment politique du terme pour signifier une vision de la société et le rôle des êtres humains vis-à-vis des autorités et d’eux-mêmes, est principalement développé par Gerrard Winstanley, le fondateur du mouvement des Bêcheux (les “Diggers”). Nous sommes en 1652, sous le protectorat d’Oliver Cromwell. Gerrard Winstanley écrit un texte fondateur de son mouvement proto-communiste : l’essai The Law of Freedom in a Platform [Bien évidemment “proto-communiste” comme on pouvait l’être en ce siècle : des appels à l’autorité divine et de la spiritualité à fond la caisse… En même temps, c’est là que le terme “platform” s’affranchit de son origine religieuse.]

Le texte de Winstanley pose quelques principes de base d’un programme politique (la plateforme proprement dite) adapté à une société d’individus libres :
– mise en commun des ressources productives,
– abolition de la propriété privée,
– abolition du travail salarié.

Le terme désigne désormais un pacte (“covenant”) entre une pluralité d’acteurs politiques qui négocient de manière collective l’accès à un ensemble de ressources et de prérogatives communes.

Cette nouvelle signification n’échappe pas à un commentateur contemporain, sir Winston Churchill (pas celui du “sang et des larmes” de 1940, mais celui qui publia en 1660 le Divi Britannici: Being a Remark Upon the Lives of all the Kings of this Isle). Il écrit, à propos de Charles II, que les révolutionnaires qui les mirent à mort étaient comme animés par l’intention de “erect a new Model of Polity by Commons only”). Pour ce faire, ils “set up a new Platform, that they call’d The Agreement of The People” (p. 356). La convention entre entités religieuses était désormais devenue un accord entre entités politiques.

Via les écrits Winstanley ou de Churchill, il est possible d’identifier une généalogie alternative à celle proposée par Gillespie—une généalogie plus précisément politique, ainsi qu’un autre usage du terme, qui cesse d’être une simple métaphore pour devenir un levier d’action. Au vu de ceci, la reprise capitaliste (par les plateformes numériques privées) et régalienne (par l’Etat-plateforme) de cette notion au début du XXIe siècle, est moins une imitation métaphorique qu’une récupération et un détournement de ces principes.

Les principes détournés :
1) la mise en commun (la “polity by Commons” de Churchill) se transforme en “partage” sur les plateformes de la soi-disant sharing economy ;
Les principes détournés :
2) l’abolition du travail salarié (la critique de Winstanley de la servitude par le “work in hard drudgery for day wages”) se transforme en précarisation de l’emploi et en glorification du “freelance” dans les plateformes d’intermédiation du travail ;
3) l’abolition de la propriété privée (le communisme agraire des diggers) se transforme en “ouverture” de certaines ressources productives (telles les données) dans les programmes de l’Etat-plateforme.

Bref, l’expression plateforme n’est pas une simple métaphore, mais une dégradation/évolution d’un concept du XVIIe siècle. En tant que telle, elle reste porteuse d’implications et prescriptions politiques implicites qu’il serait nuisible d’égarer—si on abandonnait la notion.

[Séminaire #ecnEHESS] Une Déclaration des Droits pour internet ? (Juan Carlos De Martin, 19 juin 2017, 17h)

NB ⚠️ A cause d’un retard important sur la ligne TGV, le séminaire #ecnEHESS avec le prof. De Martin a été annulé. Nous nous excusons auprès de tout.e.s les participant.e.s pour ce désagrément. La séance va être reprogrammée pour l’année prochaine.

Le séminaire aura lieu le lundi 19 juin 2017, de 17h à 20h à l’EHESS, Salle Lombard, 96 bd. Raspail, 6e arr. Paris.

La présentation et les débats se dérouleront en anglais.

Pour suivre le séminaire sur Twitter : hashtag #ecnEHESS.

Title: Looking back at the 2015 Declaration of Internet Rights

Speaker: Juan-Carlos De Martin

Abstract: The idea that a human-rights approach could be useful to shape the digital revolution goes back to the 1970s. While France was adopting its “Loi Informatique et Liberté” and creating the CNIL, in Italy the lawmaker and future founder of the Italian Privacy Authority, Stefano Rodotà, argued in favor of a ‘Bill of Rights’ protecting citizens from the creation of ‘computer dossiers’ by Governments and large corporations.
The idea was kept alive while computer networks continued to grow in the 1980s and 1990s. Yet it reached the limelight only in early 2000, in the wake of the World Wide Web and the emergence of large digital corporations. As a reaction, in the following years dozens of ‘Internet bill of  rights’ were produced all over the world (from Brazil, to Nigeria and the Philippines), mostly by civil society organizations.
In 2015 a study commission established by the President of the Italian Parliament also published a Declaration of Internet Rights, which was subsequently signed by French and Italian parliaments, and recently adopted as a reference document by the European Parliament in order to draft a EU Charter of Internet Rights.
What is the potential of a digital rights approach to shape the digital revolution? Has it already achieved any results? Should we keep working in this direction? If yes, what else is needed?

A Semantic Desublimation of Donald Trump’s Handshake

(To be read at full speed, with frequent sniffings and a thick Žižek accent).
There’s something quasi-paranoid about the fascination of contemporary commentators with Trump’s hands, handshakes, hand gestures, and so on. Donald-Trump-the-Candidate, comes supplemented with a label of “short-fingered vulgarian” and a complete set of jokes equating small hands and assumed sexual inadequacies. Thus media interpret every mannerism as a way to overcompensate this Lacanian “objet petit p”. For instance, Trump’s supposedly inextricable alpha-male-ish 19-second-long handshake, to which Japan’s Shinzo Abe succumbs, postulates the opposite of a “small object”:


Furthermore, the handshake is often tantamount to a feudal “immixtio manuum” as a sign of submission of the Other, like in the commendation ceremony of Supreme Court’s judge Neil Gorsuch:


But also, the hand can become a Deleuzian apparatus of capture, establishing a tie of protection and rent-seeking with a vassal state. This is what happened with the hand-holding routine performed with/upon UK’s Theresa May:


Media themselves build up the myth of Trump’s omnipotent handshake, because that allows for recurring “[random nation’s leader] is the only one who was able to beat Trump” news stories. Case in point: Canada’s Trudeau.


Despite the alleged uniqueness of the occurrence, this kind of news is the gift that keeps on giving. With infinite variations, like “[X won against Trump’s handshake] because bullying is no match for intelligence”, staging the comforting narrative of Reason triumphing over Brute Force–or rather the trite Nietzschean interplay of the Apollonian and Dionysian. France’s Macron is exemplary of this stance:


But, as we established, the story perpetuates itself, obsessively, repetitively, hauntingly. Another variation: “Who’s the biggest, baddest strongman? [X] is”. Ask Tajikistan’s president Emomalii Rahmon:


And, sometimes, this obsession can turn into desire—when the touch of the hand is actively requested, longed for and infinitely denied, like with Germany’s Merkel:


Or, like in a distorting mirror, desire can manifest itself as a thwarted compulsion, as a Sisyphean struggle that turns the handshake into a fetishistic quest for human and spiritual junction. Like Melania’s hand-swat…

..or like the spoof video of the Pope rebuffing Trump’s hand.


Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts repeat, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as family drama, the second time as sitcom.

Florilège de textes sur trolling, vandalisme et discorde en ligne

Hello folks,
vous êtes sans doute arrivés ici après mon interview avec Vinvin et Jean-Marc Manach au Vinvinteur (épisode 28 : “Les trolls, ce douloureux problème”) de France 5. Ce billet vous propose un petit florilège – amoureusement concocté par Votre Dévoué – de mes articles, interviews et présentations sur le trollage, le vandalisme et les formes de la discorde en ligne. Il s’agit des textes qui ont constitué la base de la version extendend play du “Gros t’chat avec Antonio Casilli”. Ps. Tous les textes sont accessibles en ligne. La seule, remarquable, exception est représentée par le chapitre sur le trolling de mon livre Les liaisons numériques pour lequel, paraît-il, il faut encore débourser des €€€ (ou alors il faut être des lecteurs super-motivés…).

trollvinvin (more…)

Who are the #anarcoinsultazionisti? Insurgent trolling and the politics of discord on Twitter

[Scroll down for French translation]

Are Italian trolls uniting to oust celebrities from Twitter? At least one may think so after witnessing the birth of the satirical hashtag #anarcoinsultazionisti (“anarcho-insultationists”).

A little background. Much like his French counterpart Laurent Joffrin, Italian newsman Enrico Mentana doesn’t care for the informal style of conversations going on in social media. So he left Twitter, because he couldn’t take any more abuse from his “anonymous” followers. Laura Boldrini, the president of the Chamber of Deputies, also fulminated against such examples of “online anarchy”. Yet several public figures expressed their disapproval of their colleagues “claims of immunity”, and invited them to abide by the social codes of the potentially anarchic online platforms. But what did the so-called “anonymous Twitter users” do? They tried to make sense of this new moral panic surrounding trolling, by equating – jokingly – their behaviour to a contemporary manifestation of insurrectionary anarchism.

“’Anonymous on Twitter’ is the new ‘anarcho-insurrectionist’ ”.

There’s a fine line between this little pleasantry and the birth of the anarcho-insultationist ephemeral hashtag. The latter is a perfect implementation of the “lulz” modality of political discord, which the troll ethos is so eagerly advocating. To the Italian ear, “anonymity” and “anarchy” rhyme, like in the lyrics of Addio Lugano Bella, a famous revolutionary chant composed by Pietro Gori in 1895: “Anonymous comrades, friends who remain / the social truths do spread like strong people”. To your ear, dear reader, they probably resonate with what I previously discussed elsewhere: how trolling can be regarded as a symptom of the collapse of the public sphere. Exeunt the modern democratic ideals of civilized discourse, as well as the recognizable spokespersons developing structured arguments. Enter the inappropriate comments polluting the debate, which show that the debate itself is delusional – nothing more than a political superstition. To give you a little food for thoughts, here’s a small selection of tweets (with translation): (more…)

Slides du séminaire EHESS d'Antonio Casilli “Contre l’hypothèse de la fin de la vie privée” (20 nov. 2012)

La première séance de mon séminaire EHESS Étudier les cultures du numérique : approches théoriques et empiriques pour cette année universitaire a eu lieu le mardi 20 novembre 2012 à l’EHESS. Merci à tou(te)s les participant(e)s pour leur présence, leurs commentaires et leur enthousiasme. Voilà les slides de ma présentation.

TITRE : “Contre l’hypothèse de la ‘fin de la vie privée’ sur les médias sociaux : négociabilité et cyclicité de la privacy”

RESUME : “Au sein de la communauté internationale plusieurs voix se lèvent pour dénoncer l’érosion inexorable de la vie privée dans le  contexte des usages actuels du Web social. En s’adonnant à une surveillance mutuelle et participative, les internautes renoncent-ils volontairement à la protection de leurs données personnelles ? Cette intervention adopte une approche ethno-computationnelle des controverses relatives aux politiques de négociation des paramètres de confidentialité en ligne pour montrer que la vie privée a encore de beaux jours devant elle. Sous certaines conditions, des « cycles de privacy » se mettent en place. Au travers du travail des associations d’usagers et des organismes préposés à la défense de leurs droits, ces conditions peuvent être remplies.”

Lectures :

Susan B. Barnes (2006) A privacy paradox: Social networking in the United States, First Monday, 11 (9)

danah boyd (2008) Facebook’s Privacy Trainwreck: Exposure, Invasion, and Social Convergence, Convergence, 14 (1): 13-20

danah boyd & Eszter Hargittai (2010) Facebook privacy settings: Who cares?, First Monday, 15 (8)

Anders Albrechtslund (2008) Online Social Networking as Participatory Surveillance, First Monday, 13 (3)


Censorship and social media: some background information

[Update July 27, 2012: so far, our study has been featured in a number of media outlets in UK, India, Algeria, US, Oman, Indonesia… These are just the ones we know of: The Daily Mail, Yahoo Lifestyle, CNN, Technorati, The Times of India, GigaOM, Buzzfeed, National Affairs, Sify News, Phys.org, Science Daily, Zee News TV India, Oman Tribune, The Free Library, L’atelier, Sciencenewsline, Le Soir d’Algérie, Tempo Indonesia. We’re particularly impressed by this response, and would like to thank the researchers, journalists and activists who’ve been spreading the news.]

Hello everyone,

You have probably reached this page after reading in the international press about our study “Social Media Censorship in Times of Political Unrest – A Social Simulation Experiment with the UK Riots” (published in the journal Bulletin of Sociological Methodology, vol. 115, n. 1). This post will provide some background information.

Read the study

First of all, if you are interested in reading the paper, you can purchase the article from SAGE website. Anyhow, here’s a preprint version you can download for free. Just saying.

About the authors

If you are looking for the authors’ bios:

 Antonio A. Casilli, is an associate professor of Digital Humanities at Telecom ParisTech and a researcher in sociology at the Edgar Morin Centre (EHESS), Paris, France. He is the author of the social media theory book Les liaisons numériques [Digital Relationships], published by the Editions du Seuil. He blogs at Bodyspacesociety.eu, tweets as @bodyspacesoc, and is a regular commentator for Radio France Culture. You can contact him here.

 Paola Tubaro, is a senior lecturer in Economic Sociology at the Business School of the University of Greenwich, London, UK, and associate researcher at the Centre Maurice Halbwachs (CNRS) Paris, France. Economic sociologist with interest in social networks and their impact on markets, organisations, consumer choice and health, her research also includes work in the philosophy and methodology of economics and social science. Her blog is here, plus you can contact her here.

The story, so far

In the wake of the August 2011 UK uprisings, Casilli and Tubaro built a rapid response study. Using computer simulation, the investigators showed that any move by the government to censor social media was likely to result in more civil unrest, higher levels of violence, and shorter periods of social peace. Released as a joint post on their websites and subsequently available as a working paper on SSRN (Social Science Research Network), the study was widely shared online and in the press.

Such an enthusiastic response prompted them to continue their research. Presently, they are launching follow-ups and new developments, both empirical and theoretical, in other European and MENA countries. They are members of the scientific committee of Just-In-Time Sociology (JITSO), an EPFL Geneva-based program gathering international researchers that try “to understand social phenomena as they unfold”.

TEDx talk, simulations and other stuff

If you want to watch a video presentation of the study, here’s Antonio Casilli’s TEDx talk (in French, with English subtitles), “Studying censorship via social simulation”, TEDx Paris Universités, May 19, 2012.

If you want to know more about our ongoing research, Internet Censorship and Civil Unrest (ICCU), here’s the project’s wiki.

If you want to download the computer simulation, here you’ll find a detailed technical description of the model. The model file (Netlogo and Java applet versions) is available here . You should: 1) unzip and save all three files in the same directory; 2) either open the .nlogo file from your computer in Netlogo, or open the .html file in your browser).


Trollarchy in the UK: the British Defamation Bill and the delusion of the public sphere

[UPDATE 26.06.2102: A French version of this post is now available on the news website OWNI. As usual, thanks to Guillaume Ledit for translating it.]

These days, the House of Commons has been debating an amendment to the British Defamation Bill specificially designed to tackle Internet trolls. Now website owners and internet access providers will be forced to reveal the IP and personal information of users identified as authors of ‘vile messages’. It is business as usual: whenever some ICT-related news story catches the public eye, British policy makers come up with an ad hoc law. Preferably, one mindlessly disregarding privacy and free speech.

Why mainstream media are scared of trolls

In a remarkable effort to lull the general public in a false sense of understanding digital cultures, The Guardian has devoted a special session of its June 12, 2012 edition to this peculiar online phenomenon. The pièce de résistance is Zoe Williams’s What is an internet troll?. An article concocted using the usual troll news story recipe: one part pyschology professor delivering highbrow quotes about the ‘disinhibition effect’ of electronic media, one part journalist whining about today’s diminishing education standards and pervasive hate speech, two parts sad anecdotes about some celebrities we’re supposed to sympathize with. The conclusion of this tone-setting essay (“We shouldn’t call them ‘trolls’. We should call them rude people.”) is probably best rendered when pronounced with a high-pitched monty pythonesque voice, like in The Life of Brian‘s “He’s not the Messiah. He’s a very naughty boy!”.


La simulation sociale pour combattre la censure : texte de ma conférence à TEDxParisUniversités

[UPDATE 05.06.2102: La vidéo de mon talk est désormais en ligne sur le site Web des conférences TED. Enjoy & share !]

Le samedi 19 mai j’ai été parmi les heureux conférenciers de l’édition 2012 de TEDxParisUniversités. A cette occasion, j’ai pu présenter au public français les résultats du projet ICCU (Internet Censorship and Civil Unrest) que je mène avec Paola Tubaro, enseignante-chercheuse à l’Université de Greenwich, Londres. L’accueil a été plus que chaleureux : la tweeterie m’a porté en triomphe, j’ai reçu les accolades des organisateurs et je me suis imbibé de l’enthousiasme d’étudiants et de militants de tout bord. J’exagère, mais pas tant que ça (suffit de lire le compte-rendu Storify concocté par Gayané Adourian ;). Voici donc le texte et les slides de mon intervention, en attendant la vidéo.

Aujourd’hui je vais vous parler des effets négatifs de la censure des médias sociaux, en passant par le cas des émeutes britanniques de 2011.

La censure est extrêmement difficile à étudier du point de vue des sciences sociales. Dans la mesure où elle est une interruption de flux d’information, les données relatives à ses conséquences et à son efficacité prétendue sont souvent inaccessibles aux chercheurs. C’est pourquoi nous devons nous appuyer sur une méthode innovante : la simulation sociale. (more…)