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In English İnternet Notları | Notes From Internet Not Defteri | Notebook

The Need for Private Digital Places

Today Jay Owens wrote a really good Twitter thread on the problems of blaming private social places like Facebook and WhatsApp groups for everything.

Which already explains so many of those problems but I want to focus on two specific sides of it. One of them is the fact that those who claim that private groups are causing the fake news/extremism/everything wrong with the internet are not aware of the privilege they’re living in. Thinking that we can fix everything if we make it public can easily traced back to early 2010s anti-privacy argument “I have nothing to hide.” Most of these people never been in a situation which they needed a safe and/or private space to talk and discuss about their world views and ideas and it clearly shows.

Also thinking that we can solve everything if all of these groups are public (which because of my MA thesis I read similar arguments a lot), means that we can track and analyze what everyone is talking and detect the ones causing the problem early. Which is not just a really bad remake of Minority Report but also taking the side of the surveillance capitalism and one of the main reasons behind these problems.

Which brings me back to the recent discussion in Turkey related to “evil social media”. As a tradition we’re now discussing once again how to control these platforms and people doing evil things online from the government’s perspective. Which boils down to several options such as:

  • Track everything and everyone
  • Make platforms delete everything government doesn’t like
  • Ban all of them
  • And my personal favorite (and this is real), make a law forcing everyone to enter these platforms with their national ID numbers.

If you’re one of those people who’s against the private channels and groups, you should think that these are all amazing ideas, except banning them. But most of the people writing those pieces would think these proposals are authoritarian, anti freedom of speech etc. Because that’s what they actually are.

So let me just ask, how do you think that making everything public will solve these problems you’re aiming to solve? Do you really think that all of these are happening just because it’s private, or what you really want is some authority to control everything people are doing online? If it’s the first one, you should do some actual research about those issues you’re dealing with and then start writing only after that. And if it’s the latter, thanks for helping many governments around the world to feel like they’re doing the right thing by surveilling and censoring their people all the time.

Aside from the fact that forcing every conversation into public and making it available to surveillance and censorship, this whole argument just dismissed many of the real reasons behind the current problems we’re facing online. I know those people will probably won’t change their minds or think about these issues in a more nuanced way because, like Jay said, no one wants to publish those. Who has time to think about the complex problems in a nuanced way when you can blame one thing and get the clicks.


There’s also another problem with this approach to private groups. Thinking that people only go to private places because they want somewhere to spread their “dark” ideas is just dismissed the problems platforms causing. Just think about how algorithmic timelines, forced interactions, surveillance based ads and economic models, context collapse and doomscrolling affects people.

While all of these happening, it’s more than normal for people to look for a place which they can have more control over. A Facebook group which includes only the people interested in a specific topic, WhatsApp groups for family/friends/neighbors, locking their social media accounts, returning to newsletters and blogs to have a conversation about the topics you want with only the people interested in it. Even Discord just recently changed their branding because there is a big wave of people who creates channels to talk about things other than gaming.

It’s clear that whatever is motivating people to be more private online is something much bigger than any scapegoating attempt we see. It’s also getting more and more clear that people want more control on their digital interactions and want private spaces to talk about things which they want to keep inside a smaller group. If people who can’t (or don’t want to) fully understand what is really going on will have the power to influence how to act on this, I don’t think anything good will come out of it.

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Duyurular | Announcements In English

From Useful Idiots to Useful Facts: What Is Behind the Fake News Debate?

Information Nightmare: Fake News, Manipulation and Post-Truth Politics in the Digital Age Cover

My first major academic publication is available now. It’s a book chapter written by me and Sarphan Uzunoğlu, titled “From Useful Idiots to Useful Facts: What Is Behind the Fake News Debate?”. It’s part of the book Information Nightmare: Fake News, Manipulation and Post-Truth Politics in the Digital Age, edited by Tirşe Erbaysal Filibeli.

Here’s the abstract of our chapter:

It is claimed by many liberal pundits and some scholars that Lenin used the term, useful idiot, referring to Western intellectuals who supported communist experiment, in the time the new Soviet State was still particularly vulnerable (Landes, 2013). However, there is no conclusive evidence that Lenin used this concept. Nevertheless, this did not preclude the use of the concept to define the function of different political actors in daily political debates. Like useful idiot, the terms post-truth and fake news, are often used by politicians, journalists and academics without questioning histories of these terms and their function in academic and political life. The word post-truth was defined by the Oxford Dictionary in 2016 as the word of the year. There has also been a dramatic increase in the number of searches for the word fake news since presidential elections in 2016 according to Google Trends statistics. Regardless of the prevalence of these terms in the circles of journalists, politicians and intellectuals, Keyes (2004) as the first author to publish a book about the term stated that politicians, authors, journalists, scholars and intellectuals are the subjects who benefit from post-truth politics the most. Likewise, Žižek (2018) claimed that even big media organizations may establish a troubled relationship with the truth and provide a crooked representation of controversial cases such as the situation of Julian Assange. In another interview, Žižek stated that the main problem was that people wanted to believe in more controllable lies (RT, 2019). Taking Žižek’s and Keyes’ arguments into consideration, this article is going to provide the critique of contemporary uses of the term fake news; and focus on how fake news debate is politically manipulated.

From the back cover:

Today, we live in a post-truth era. Creating alternative realities, and making people believe fake realities become easier. Digital platforms tend to promote dramatic, sensational and emotional content that harms democracy. This book examines different aspects of the matter: rise of populist politics, impact of digital social platforms, engagement-oriented algorithms, spread of disinformation and counter-measures like fact-checking mechanism and developing digital media literacy skills.

“Journalists, academics and civil society groups are increasingly working together to help people confront the confusion caused by the post-truth realities of digital communications, which is no longer the stuff of propaganda from the state, but comes from all sides of the internet. In this information space every fact is challenged by an alternative fact, and all of these different versions of the truth look the same online.” – Aidan White

You can find more about the book and get it for yourself here.