Last month I had the pleasure of interviewing Ben Scott about is great New America report “Digital Deceit: The Technologies Behind Precision Propaganda on the Internet” at a Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship conference called AI + Public Policy: Understanding the shift. The video of our conversation is here:
A short video that the awesome Taylor Gunn and Civix Canada made with me about social platforms, journalism and democracy, for use in Canadian classrooms, focused on grade nine students:
A piece in the Globe and Mail on the Zuckerberg hearings:
The era of Big Tech self-governance has come to an end
Twenty years ago, another young Silicon Valley tycoon was grilled in front of the U.S. Congress. Then, as this week, Congressional leaders grandstanded, asked long-winded questions, and showed at times shocking ignorance about how technology worked. And then, as this week, a tech CEO was contrite, well-rehearsed, and obfuscated on key aspects of his business practices.
But the hearings had consequences. They led to an anti-trust lawsuit brought against Microsoft by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Attorneys General of 20 U.S. states. Instead of trusting Bill Gates and Microsoft to behave better or act differently, the government punished them for perceived wrongdoings.
This is how democratic governance is supposed to work. We don’t have to simply trust citizens and corporations to act in the benefit of society; we impose rules, regulations and appropriate punishments to incentivize them to do so.
In the years since Mr. Gates’s testimony, a new generation of digital technology monopolies has emerged, reshaping online life and concentrating activity on a series of giant, global platforms. And they have done so in a policy context virtually void of regulation.
But in 2018, it’s hard to ignore the many troubling cases of abuse regularly perpetrated on and by platforms, from the manner in which the Russian government used the tools provided by companies such as Facebook and Google to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election, to the way in which hate groups in countries such as Myanmar have organized mass violence against minority populations.
Both the government and Mark Zuckerberg know that citizens are finally paying attention to the political impact of Facebook and its effect on our elections, that citizens are understandably concerned about the way Facebook has repeatedly and consistently flaunted and neglected user privacy, and that they are concerned about the hateful and divisive character of the civic discourse that is a result of Facebook’s business model.
And so this week the era of Silicon Valley self-regulation came to an end. It’s now time for a difficult debate about how the new internet – an internet of multinational corporations, and of platforms – will be governed.
While Congressmen and Mr. Zuckerberg appeared to agree that they could work together to develop the “right” regulations, this week’s hearing revealed clear tensions on several key policy issues.
First, while Mr. Zuckerberg says that Facebook now supports digital advertising transparency laws that they had previously lobbied against, it is unclear whether the proposed Honest Ads Act will go far enough or whether it will even pass.
Second, on privacy: The world is watching the response to Europe’s General Data Privacy Regulation (GDPR), and while Mr. Zuckerberg argued that the privacy tools that Facebook will roll out in response to GDPR will be available in other markets, the U.S. (and Canada) still seem unwilling to enshrine the punitive mechanisms that will be needed to ensure these new data rights. While he claims that he supports the principles of the GDPR, the details will be litigated in European courts for years to come.
Third, when pressed on whether they have any competitors, Mr. Zuckerberg strained to name any. Having aggressively acquired many potential competitors, Facebook – as well as Google and Amazon – will all surely fight aggressively against a new generation of competition policy.
Fourth, Mr. Zuckerberg surprised many by agreeing that Facebook is responsible for the content on their platforms. While this seems anodyne, the debate over whether Facebook is a neutral platform or a media company is rife with legal and regularity implications.
Finally, Mr. Zuckerberg suggested that law makers should focus attention on governing artificial intelligence. They repeatedly changed the subject. Since Facebook operates at a mind-boggling global scale, they use AI to implement and even determine their policies, regulations and norms. How states will in turn govern these algorithms is certain to be a central challenge for democracy. Mr. Zuckerberg knows it; Congress was disinterested.
Over the past 20 years, the internet has shown flashes of its empowering potential. But the recent Facebook revelations also demonstrate what can happen if we fail to hold it accountable.
Mr. Zuckerberg’s testimony is only the beginning of a long-overdue conversation about whether we will govern platforms or be governed by them.
There has been lots of discussion lately about regulating social media but much less on what this might look like. Ben Scott (former tech policy for Obama & Clinton) and I suggest some options in The Globe and Mail. In short, it will take a broad new approach to how we think about governing the internet. The piece is here, and below.
The new rules for the internet – and why deleting Facebook isn’t enough
While being pessimistic about the depressing tableau of Silicon Valley malfeasance is easy, let us not forget that the internet has brought tremendous value to our society. Therefore, the answer is not to lock down the open internet or even to delete Facebook (however satisfying that might feel, with 2.2-billion users it is embedded in our society). Instead, we urgently need new democratic rules for the internet that enhance the rights of citizens, protect the integrity of our public sphere and tackle the structural problems of our current digital economy.
Here are seven ideas:
Data rights. Much of the internet economy is built on trading personal data for free services with limited consumer protection. This model has metastasized into a vast complex of data brokers and A.I.-driven micro-targeting with monopolists such as Google and Facebook at the centre. With the curtain pulled back, there may at last be political will to build a rights-based framework for privacy that adapts as technologies change. For starters, we need major new restrictions on the political exploitation of personal data (including by political parties themselves, who remain exempt from our privacy law) and much greater user control over how data is collected and used. Europe’s new General Data Protection Regulation sets a high standard, though since it took 10 years to legislate, it was of date before it was implemented. We must evolve it to the next level.
Modernize and enforce election law. Few dispute that citizens deserve to know who is trying to sway them during elections, but our laws were designed for TV and radio. We need to update them for the internet era, where ads can be purchased from anywhere, disguised as normal social media posts, micro-targeted to polarize voters, and loaded up with sensational and divisive messages. All online ads should carry a clearly visible cache of information that states who bought them, the source of the funds, how much they spent, who saw them, and the specific targeting parameters they selected.
Audit artificial intelligence. Facebook and Google monetize billions of data points a day using powerful A.I. to target and influence specific audiences. The social and ethical implications of A.I. are a blinking red light as this technology advances, and we need to lay some ground-rules for accountability. Just as we require drug manufacturers and car makers to submit to rigorous public safety checks, we need to develop a parallel system for algorithms.
Tax Silicon Valley fairly. The titans of technology dominate the list of the most valuable companies on the planet. And yet, they are still coddled by tax law as if they were an emerging industry. It is time for Silicon Valley to pay unto Caesar — not least so that we plebeians can use the tax revenue to fix the things they keep breaking, like journalism, for example.
Aggressive competition policy. Before we start a decade-long trust-busting crusade, let’s begin with a competition policy agenda that delivers immediate, tangible value. This might include restrictions on acquisition of up-and-coming competitors, structural separation of behavior tracking and ad targeting businesses and consumer data portability from one service provider to another.
Improve digital security. What the Russians did in 2016 to exploit digital media should be a wake-up call. Without unleashing a surveillance dragnet, we need effective capabilities to counter foreign disinformation operations using measures such as “know your customer” rules for ad buyers and closing down the armies of fake accounts.
Transform civic literacy, and scale civic journalism. As social-media users, we all own part of this problem. It is our appetite for sensationalism, outrage and conspiracy that creates the audience for disinformation. Instead of relying on tech-funded literacy campaigns, the government needs to rebuild our civic literacy from the ground up, and couple these efforts with serious investments and policy changes to reinvigorate public service and accountability journalism.
Ironically, Facebook’s own conduct has awoken its vast user base to the need for a new generation of internet regulation. And with the United States mired in the politics of Donald Trump and the European Union slowed by a complex bureaucracy, there is an opportunity for Canada to present this new vision. But we will only be effective if the rigor and scale our response is commensurate with the threat posed to our democracy.
I have an essay in CIGI’s new data governance series, called Ungoverned Space: How Surveillance Capitalism and AI Undermine Democracy. My key points are:
- The threat to democracy from misinformation is enabled by two structural problems in our digital infrastructure: the way data is collected and monetized (surveillance capitalism), and how our reality is algorithmically determined through artificial intelligence (AI).
- Governments face a particular challenge in governing platforms as any efforts must engage with issues of competing jurisdiction, differing notions of free speech and large-scale technological trends toward automation.
- Policy mechanisms that enable the rights of individuals (data protection and mobility) are likely to be more effective than those that seek to limit or regulate speech.
Full essay is here.
And here is a video that CIGI produced to accompany the article:
I recently had the opportunity to give a talk at Sam Sullivan’s Public Salon in Vancouver. A great regular event hosted by the former mayor and current MLA. My talk was on the design problems at the core of our current crisis of misinformation. In short, I conclude: “Facebook didn’t fail when it used AI to match foreign agitators with micro-targeted US voter audiences, or offered ‘How to burn jews’ as an ad group, it is actually working as it was designed. And it is this definition of “working” and this design which presents the threat to our democracy, which needs to be held accountable, and for which governance oversight is urgently needed.”
Here is an interview I recently did on CBC’s The Current on the digital threat to the next Canadian election. My argument is that a focus on discrete threats (from say Russia), are distracting us to what is ultimately a structural problem. It is the very design of Facebook that is the root cause. Until we start talking about this root cause, and begin quickly testing policies that both address the flaws in this design and hold its social outcomes accountable, we are missing the plot. Governments that continue to make the policy choice of self regulation will soon also have to answer for these outcomes. Here is the Episode page, and below is the full audio (my segment starts at 8:00).
I have been thinking a lot about the internet and what it means for journalism and democracy lately. I am currently writing a book the topic, so will have much more to say soon. But last month I had the honour of giving the Dalton Camp Lecture in Journalism, which gave me the chance to summarize some of my latest thinking on, and feelings about, this problem. The lecture just aired on an episode of CBC IDEAS, and can be found here.
This is the summary from the IDEAS site:
How Internet Monopolies Threaten Democracy (The 2017 Dalton Camp Lecture): The internet began with great hope that it would strengthen democracy. Initially, social media movements seemed to be disrupting corrupt institutions. But the web no longer feels free and open, and the disenfranchised are feeling increasingly pessimistic. The unfulfilled promise of the internet has been a long-term concern of Digital Media and Global Affairs expert Dr. Taylor Owen, who delivers the 2017 Dalton Camp Lecture in Journalism. He argues the reality of the internet is now largely one of control, by four platform companies — Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple — worth a combined $2.7 trillion — and their impact on democracy is deeply troubling.
The episode can be streamed HERE:
The Podcast can be downloaded HERE.
They also asked me to write a short intro letter framing the episode, the text of which is included below:
Dear IDEAS Listener,
I am hoping to entice you to listen to my lecture and interview on IDEAS.
Because one of the greatest challenges to democracy is happening right under our noses. In fact, we are full participants, with most of us not even realizing it.
Four internet platforms — Facebook, Google, Amazon, Apple — increasingly control our lives, our opinions, our democracy. We urgently need to start talking about how we are going to respond as a society.
Here’s some context:
Over the past year, I have begun to write and speak more publicly and with greater alarm over what I believe to be a growing crisis in our democracies. I have long studied and promoted the positive attributes of digital technologies, but my concern about the influence of internet platforms on how we live is deepening. And my concerns are shared more and more by those I work with and admire. Something fundamental has shifted in the debate about the internet.
But my view is also often met with surprise. The internet has become so normalized, so entwined in people’s lives that questioning its impact can feel jarring. The result is that I am regularly approached with two questions. Why is this happening now? And what on earth can be done about it? Let me spend a moment on each of these questions, and I hope you will be interested in listening to my wider argument in the program.
First, why now? Or, put another way, why are we seeing a crescendo of serious global concerns over a set of technologies which been seen largely as democratizing forces for over a decade?
I believe the answer lies in the structure of the internet that we have built. Far from the decentralized web imagined by its founders, the internet of today is mediated by four global platforms companies: Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple. These companies shape our digital lives, and increasingly what we know, how we know it, and ultimately who we are. They determine our public sphere, the character of our civic discourse, and the nature of our democratic society.
What’s worth underlining is that while these companies shape our public sphere, they do so as private actors. They are publicly traded companies with boards of directors that have fiduciary responsibilities to make more than they did the year prior. In the case of Google and Facebook, this dynamic means collecting and selling more data about their users, incentivizing greater volumes of engagement, and maximizing the time we spend on their sites. These incentives have a pernicious effect on our civic discourse, leading to what I believe is an epistemological and ontological crisis in our democracy. Our common grounding and ability to act as a collective are being undermined.
Which brings me to the second question I am regularly asked: what can we do about this? I think there are two answers: an individual one, and a collective one.
We must take ownership of our digital lives. This does not mean simple digital literacy — trying to spot misinformation and hoaxes. The algorithms shaping our digital experiences are far more sophisticated at nudging our behaviour than this.
It means thinking very differently about the bargain that platforms are offering us. For a decade the deal has been that users get free services, and platforms get virtually unlimited collection of data about all aspects of our life and the ability to shape of the information we consume. The answer isn’t to disengage, as these tools are embedded in our society, but instead to think critically about this bargain.
For example, is it worth having Facebook on your mobile phone in exchange for the immense tracking data about your digital and offline behaviour? Or is the free children’s content available on YouTube worth the data profile that is being built about your toddler, the horrific content that gets algorithmically placed into your child’s feed, and the ways in which A.I. are creating content for them and shaping what they view? Is the Amazon smart speaker in your living room worth providing Amazon access to everything you say in your home? For me, the answer is a resounding ‘no’. So I have begun to change my behaviour accordingly.
But acting as individuals is insufficient. Platform companies are among the largest and most profitable in the world. They shape the internet, are the world’s market place, and are even planning and developing our cities. Their scale and power demands a collective response. This will mean altering our model of governance.
These companies simply must be brought into the fold of the laws and norms of democratic society. This doesn’t mean forcing them into old governance paradigms. Nor does it mean blindly letting them scale growth in our markets and in our lives. The task is more challenging. It demands a rethinking of how we enforce collective constraints on a new type of economic and social actor in our society.
There is no doubt in my mind that how we choose to govern technology is the central question facing democracy itself in our time. But how this governance will work is not pre-determined, and yet the responsibility to insist on its creation begins with us. This responsibility requires first and foremost better understanding and speaking out against the ways technologies shape our lives and our society.
And I hope that my lecture contributes to this rethinking, and that you’ll listen in.
I have an oped in the Globe today in reaction to Facebook’s Canadian Election Integrity Initiative.
In short, I think we are missing the structural problem: The system of surveillance capitalism that has resulted in a market for our attention. Here is a twitter thread that elaborates on this, and here is is the oped:
The unfolding drama surrounding Silicon Valley and the 2016 U.S. presidential election has brought much needed attention to the role that technology plays in democracies. On Thursday, Facebook announced the Canadian Election Integrity Initiative, the very premise of which invites the question: Does Facebook threaten the integrity of Canadian democracy?
It is increasingly apparent that the answer is yes.
Facebook’s product is the thousands of data points they capture from each of their users, and their customers are anyone who wants to buy access to these profiles. This model is immensely profitable. The company’s annual revenue, nearly all of which comes from paid content, has more than tripled in the past four years to $27.6-billion (U.S.) in 2016. But the Facebook model has also incentivized the spread of low-quality clickbait over high-quality information, enabled a race to the bottom for monetized consumer surveillance, and created an attention marketplace where anyone, including foreign actors, companies or political campaigns, can purchase an audience.
A key feature of the platform is that each user sees a personalized news feed chosen for them by Facebook. This filtering is done through a series of algorithms, which, when combined with detailed personal data, allow ads to be delivered to highly specific audiences. This microtargeting enables buyers to define audiences in racist, bigoted and otherwise highly discriminatory ways, some of questionable legal status and others merely lacking any relation to moral decency.
The Facebook system is also a potent political weapon. It is increasingly clear that Russia leveraged Facebook to purchase hundreds of millions of views of content designed to foment divisions in American society around issues of race, immigration and even fracking. And it’s of course not just foreign actors using Facebook to foster hate. Just this week, Bloomberg reported that in the final weeks of the U.S. election, Facebook and Google employees collaborated with extreme activist groups to help them microtarget divisive ads to swing-state voters.
Even without this targeting, content regularly goes viral regardless of its quality or veracity, disorienting and misleading huge audiences. A recent fake video showing the impact of Hurricane Irma was viewed 25 million times and shared 855,000 times (it is still up).
And here’s the rub: when Facebook hooks up foreign agitators and microtargeted U.S. voters, or amplifies neo-Nazis using the platform to plan and organize the Charlottesville rally, or offers “How to burn jews” as an automatically-generated ad purchasing group, it is actually working as designed. It is this definition of “working” and this design for which Facebook needs to be held publicly accountable.
Some jurisdictions are starting to force this accountability. Germany recently passed a law that would fine Facebook €50,000 ($75,000) for failing to remove hate speech within 24 hours. Britain has proposed treating Facebook like any other media company. The EU is implementing new data privacy laws and is raising anti-trust questions. A U.S. Congressional committee is questioning Facebook, Google and Twitter officials on Russia, with lawmakers likely to impose new online election advertising and disclosure regulations.
Oddly, these policy debates are largely absent in Canada. Instead, Facebook is intertwined in the workings of governments, the development of public policies and the campaigns of political parties. Recent policy decisions have seen the company remain largely untaxed and called on to help solve the journalism problem for which it is the leading cause.
Thursday’s announcement further illustrates the dilemma of this laissez-faire approach. How exactly should the Canadian government protect the integrity of the next federal election, in which interest groups, corporations, foreign actors and political campaigns may all run hundreds of thousands, or millions, of simultaneous microtargeted ads a day?
It could force complete transparency of all paid content of any kind shown to Canadians during the election period, as with other media. It could demand disclosure of all financial, location and targeting data connected to this paid content. It could place significant fines on the failure to quickly remove misinformation and hate speech. It could ensure that independent researchers have access to the platform’s data, rather than merely relying on Facebook’s good intentions. Political parties and the government could even model good behaviour themselves by ceasing to spend millions of dollars of our money on Facebook’s microtargeted ads.
None of these options are likely to be adopted voluntarily or unilaterally by Facebook. We have governments to safeguard the public interest.
In fact, the modest voluntary efforts announced Thursday, which aim to put the focus on users through news literacy initiatives, and hackers through better security, ignore the key structural problem that has undermined elections around the world – the very business model of Facebook.
Efforts such as the Canadian Election Integrity Initiative represent a shift in the public position of Facebook that should, if it goes further, be welcomed. But it must also be viewed as the action of a private corporation that extracts increasing profits from a de facto public space.
We are heading into new and immensely challenging public policy terrain, but what is certain is that the easy and politically expedient relationship between Silicon Valley and government must come to an end.
Technology and new media are facilitating a rapid shift in the ways in which we consume news. In the shift from print to digital, companies like Facebook – and the algorithms it engineers – are replacing traditional editors and publishers. The result is “surveillance capitalism”: a powerful system that can target specific groups to sell products, political ideas and fake news. In this lecture, I breaks down the challenges that these new social structures pose to civic discourse, as well as the governance problems at the core of our democracies in this new media landscape.
The Crisis of the State in the Digital Age
Anonymous. WikiLeaks. The Syrian Electronic Army. Edward Snowden. Bitcoin. The Arab Spring.
Digital communication technologies have thrust the calculus of global political power into a period of unprecedented complexity. In every aspect of international affairs, digitally enabled actors are changing the way the world works and disrupting the institutions that once held a monopoly on power. No area is immune: humanitarianism, war, diplomacy, finance, activism, or journalism. In each, the government departments, international organizations and corporations who for a century were in charge, are being challenged by a new breed of international actor. Online, networked and decentralized, these new actors are innovating, for both good and ill, in the austere world of foreign policy. They are representative of a wide range of 21st century global actors and a new form of 21st century power: disruptive power.
In Disruptive Power, Taylor Owen provides a sweeping look at the way that digital technologies are shaking up the workings of the institutions that have traditionally controlled international affairs. The nation state system and the subsequent multinational system were founded on and have long functioned through a concentration of power in the state. Owen looks at the tools that a wide range of new actors are using to increasingly control international affairs, and how their rise changes the way we understand and act in the world. He considers the bar for success in international digital action and the negative consequences of a radically decentralized international system. What new institutions will be needed to moderate the new power structures and ensure accountability? And how can governments and corporations act to promote positive behavior in a world of disruptive innovation? Owen takes on these questions and more in this probing and sober look at the frontier of international affairs, in a world enabled by information technology and increasingly led by disruptive innovators.
With cutting edge analysis of the fast-changing relationship between the declining state and increasingly powerful non-state actors, Disruptive Power is the essential road map for navigating a networked world.
“The 21st century state is using new technologies both to serve and protect citizens and also to control them. Citizens are using the same technologies to fight back. Taylor Owen’s analysis is the one you want to read on this battle and the way it will shape the 21st century.”
–Michael Ignatieff, Edward R. Murrow Professor of Practice, Harvard Kennedy School
“Cyber technology has led to disruptive power in the form of hackers like Anonymous and crypto-currencies like Bitcoin. How should states respond? Taylor Owen offers a provocative analysis and recommendations.”
–Joseph S. Nye, Jr., Harvard University, author of The Future of Power
“In Disruptive Power, Owen gives us a tour of the digital challenges to the nation-state, from newly flexible protest groups like Occupy and Anonymous to the rise of algorithms as weapons, often in the hands of non-state actors and often targeting civilian life. He weaves these observations into a forcefully argued thesis: the model of a world governed by stable nation-states is in crisis, forcing most state-led institutions into a choice between adaptation and collapse.”
–Clay Shirky, author of Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations
“Taylor Owen gives us an incisive set of reflections on the ways in which the decentralized, collaborative, and resilient power of digital networks is undermining the state’s ability to govern. Even more disturbing is the resulting existential dilemma for democratic states: the best way to fight back is to become a surveillance state. Disruptive Power does not provide answers, but it poses important and unsettling questions.”
–Anne-Marie Slaughter, Professor Emerita of Politics and International Affairs, Princeton University, and Director of Policy Planning, U.S. State Department, 2009-2011
Media and Book Talks
The Violence of Algorithms, Foreign Affairs
Why the U.S. should but won’t partner with hactivists Anonymous, San Fransisco Chronicle
Why governments must embrace the new global digital reality, The Globe and Mail
The promise and peril of digital diplomacy, The Globe and Mail
More Data, More Problems: Surveillance and the Information Economy, Review in Foreign Affairs
Rescuing Democracy in the Age of the Internet, Review in Ethics and International Affairs
CIGI Signature Lecture, Disruptive Power: The Crisis of the State in the Digital Age
World Affairs Council, San Fransisco: From Bitcoin to WikiLeaks: Shaping the World in the Digital Age
Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum, Plenary Session: Foreign policy in 140 Characters: How technology is redefining diplomacy
International Conference of Crisis Mappers: Historical Mapping and the US Bombardment of Cambodia
Highlights from a talk at USC Annenberg: Disruptive Power
Losing Control outlines how in a wide range of international areas of influence, the state is being challenged by new, digitally enabled actors. Grounded in the theory of disruption, this chapter explores the rise and power of the activist collective Anonymous, the paradox of dual use surveillance technologies, and the recent revelation on the extent of NSA surveillance. The chapter serves as an introduction to the book.
Disruptive Power traces the development of the modern state and drawing on disruption theory, explores how the introduction of digital technology presents a crisis to state power. The state began as a mechanism for centralizing and exercising power and over time became hierarchical, bureaucratic, and, in democratic states, accountable to the rule of law. In a networked world, however, groups like Anonymous wield power by being decentralized, collaborative, and resilient. These two models of power are fundamentally at odds and the resulting disruptive power threatens the institutions that have preserved the balance of power since the end of World War II.
Spaces of Dissent
Spaces of Dissent explores the rapidly evolving space of digital activism, or hacktivism, through the example of a group of hackers called Telecomix, who served as a form of tech support for the Arab Spring. Such cyber activists have taken on a role of social and cultural provocateurs; they are dissenting actors in a culture that is increasingly hostile to protest. What’s more, they see, observe, and quickly react in ways that boggle the state and corporations – all of this instrumentalized by digital technology. This argument is grounded in an exploration of hactivism as a form of civil disobedience, though one that looks markedly different, and is potential more powerful, than the placards and megaphones of old. The chapter details how the state has responded to the perceived threat of online civil disobedience through its prosecutions against Chelsea Manning and Anonymous, and argues that their excessiveness stems form a paranoia over losing control. Finally, it explores the costs to society when we eliminate social deviancy.
New Money details how the rise of crypto-currencies such as Bitcoin represent a threat to the power the state derives from the control of currency. This chapter first outlines the history of the close connection between the control of currency and state power. It then details the rise of crypto-currencies, explain how they work, and their potential real-world benefits. Finally, it explores the potential challenge to state power posed by this decentralized and technologically enabled currency. I argue that if the use of Bitcoin were to proliferate, as it likely will, then the inability of the state to either collect revenue from, or regulate commercial activity, poses a threat to the control it currently holds over the international financial system.
Being There considers the evolution of international reporting news by juxtaposing the death of seasoned war corresponded Marie Colvin during the bombing of Homs, Syria with the new digital tools Syrian citizens used to document and stream the war to the world in real time. In an age of live-streaming, citizen journalism, drone journalism and coming advances in virtual reality, do we even need foreign correspondents? What’s more, do these technological advances result in new forms of knowing and understanding international events, do they shift how we understand the traditional power of the media and their capability to control information, and are they ultimately affecting how we see, and act in, the world?
Saving the Saviors
Saving the Saviors looks at the impact of collaborative mapping and advances in satellite technology on humanitarian and development agencies. The world of aid, humanitarianism and development have long been dominated by state-based agencies and large international organizations. For nearly a century, organizations like the World Food Program, The Red Cross, USAID and Oxfam have attempted to lead a transfer of expertise and resources from the developed world to the developing world. But new models are emerging. In the first week following the 2010 Haiti earthquake 14,000 citizens used their cell phones to upload emergency information to a live online crisis map. How do we know if the information uploaded to a crisis map is real? How do we hold these projects to account, without the oversight that states and institutions once provided? Using examples of disruptive humanitarian actors and recent academic work assessing their impact, this chapter explores how aid and humanitarianism are being transformed from the ground up.
Diplomacy Unbound explores the emerging practice of digital diplomacy. First, it outlines how we valued the efficacy and power of diplomacy before Twitter and Facebook and mesh networks by tracing the notion of diplomatic power. It then argues that we need to view digital diplomacy initiatives in two categories, those that simply expand the practice of public diplomacy into a new medium, and those that seek to fundamentally engage in the digital space, using the tools and capabilities outlined throughout this book. I argue that when the bounds of diplomacy are extended into influencing not just states, but also digital actors, then they overlap fundamentally with other foreign policy programs and objectives. And this invariably leads to conflicting methods and outcomes. The undue negative costs associated with coercive digital diplomacy demonstrate the weakness of the state in a major realm of its foreign policy. And if the state can’t be effectively diplomatic in the digital space, then what does this tell us about the contemporary relevance of diplomacy itself?
The Violence of Algorithms
The Violence of Algorithms looks at how advances in computational power and automation have produced military weapons and surveillance tools that blur the boundaries of the battlefield and the lines between domestic and international. While much of this book focuses on diminishing state power in the face of empowered actors, here I look at how the state is fighting back. What does it mean when the state extends the use of military technologies and tactics far beyond the battlefield? How should we view advances in automated warfare, and the power that these new technologies embed in complex and secretive algorithms? And for how long can we expect the state to have a monopoly on these news forms of pervasive violence? Put another way, where is the line between war and peacetime behaviour with the deployment of computation and surveillance based weaponry?
The Crisis of the State
The Crisis of the State outlines four challenges that together threaten the state’s traditional mechanisms of power and control, but that also might provide models for 20th century international institutions seeking to adapt— if they are structurally capable of transformation or meaningful reform. This crisis of the state has at least four key components: democratic legitimacy, reversing the surveillance state, algorithmic accountability, and internet governance. Solving any one of them, will not prove a panacea to this crisis, nor is this list exhaustive; there are many more innovations being developed and important questions being addressed. But luckily in each, there are individuals and groups experimenting on new models and proposing potential solutions. This is the new landscape in which the state must constructively engage.
- I am Assistant Professor of Digital Media and Global Affairs at the University of British Columbia
- I am a Senior Fellow at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at the Columbia School of Journalism. I was previously the Research Director, where I led a research program on digital technology and journalism.
- I am the author, most recently, of Disruptive Power: The Crisis of the State in the Digital Age (Oxford University Press, 2015) and the co-editor of The World Won’t Wait: Why Canada Needs to Rethink its Foreign Policies (University of Toronto Press, 2015, with Roland Paris) and Journalism After Snowden: The Future of the Free Press in the Surveillance State (Columbia University Press, 2016, with Emily Bell).
- I am currently writing a book with Emily Bell on Silicon Valley, journalism and democracy, which is in contract with Yale University Press and will be published early 2019.
- I have recently published two reports on the state of journalism. The Platform Press: How Silicon Valley Re-engineered Journalism with Emily Bell, and Shattered Mirror: News, Democracy and Trust in the Information Age, on which I was a research principal.
- I am working on a range of projects on the ethics, civic impact and governance of emerging technologies, in particular AI and platforms. Three recent opeds in the Global and Mail outlines some of this work, Ethics and governance are getting lost in the AI frenzy and ‘Fake news 2.0’: A threat to Canada’s democracy and Is Facebook a threat to democracy?, and my Dalton Camp Lecture in Journalism details some of this work.
- I founded an international affairs media platform called OpenCanada.org. This site is an experiment in building a community at the intersection of research, journalism and public policy.
- I am the Director of The Phil Lind Initiative, a program that brings prominent public scholars to the UBC campus.
- I am working on a range of projects to do with the ethics and potential journalistic utility of virtual and augmented reality. This has included a report, Virtual Reality Journalism, and a VR documentary for Frontline PBS, Ebola Outbreak: A Virtual Journey, which won a 2016 Peabody-Facebook Future of Media Award and was nominated for a 2016 Emmy Award. This essay in the Columbia Journalism Review, Can Journalism be Virtual? explores some of the wider implications of the technology.
- I serve on the Board of Directors of the Center for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) and on the Governing Council of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC).
- I am a Fellow at the Public Policy Forum where I work on the state of journalism and media policy in Canada. I received the 2016 PPF Emerging Policy Leader award.
My PhD was on the concept of human security, exploring how mapping and spatially analyzing local vulnerability data can help us better understand the nature of extreme insecurity. My current personal research, however, now focuses on the intersection of digital technology, media and public policy.
I use this site as a contact point and as an aggregator of my academic work and broader writing.
A bit more officially:
Taylor Owen is Assistant Professor of Digital Media and Global Affairs at the University of British Columbia, a Senior Fellow at the Columbia Journalism School. He was previously the Research Director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University where he led a program studying the impact of digital technology on the practice of journalism, and has held research positions at Yale University, The London School of Economics and The International Peace Research Institute, Oslo where his work focuses on the intersection between information technology and international affairs. His Doctorate is from the University of Oxford and he has been a Trudeau and Banting scholar, an Action Canada and Public Policy Forum Fellow, the 2016 Public Policy Forum Emerging Leader, and sits on the Board of Directors of the Center for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) and on the Governing Council of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC). He is the Founder of the international affairs media platform OpenCanada.org, and he is the author, most recently, of Disruptive Power: The Crisis of the State in the Digital Age (Oxford University Press, 2015) and the co-editor of The World Won’t Wait: Why Canada Needs to Rethink its Foreign Policies (University of Toronto Press, 2015, with Roland Paris), Journalism After Snowden: The Future of the Free Press in the Surveillance State (Columbia University Press, 2017, with Emily Bell) and The Platform Press: How Silicon Valley Re-enginnered Journalism (Tow Center 2017, with Emily Bell). His forthcoming book on Silicon Valley, journalism and democracy will be published by Yale University Press in early 2019. His work can be found at www.taylorowen.com and @taylor_owen.
Email: taylor (dot) owen (at) gmail (dot) com
Warning: I have been largely defeated by email flow, so please feel free to send reminders and nudges when needed.
Selected writing and media (more formal list below)
On technology and global affairs:
- Disruptive Power: The Crisis of the State in the Digital Age, Oxford University Press (Book) – download introduction
- The Violence of Algorithms, Foreign Affairs
- Quantum Leap, Foreign Affairs
- The Networked State and the End of 20th Century Diplomacy, Global Affairs
- Ethics and governance are getting lost in the AI frenzy, The Globe and Mail
- Don’t Underestimate the Implications of Quantum Technology, World Politics Review
- Towards a Whole of Government Digital Strategy, Policy Magazine
- Why governments must embrace the new global digital reality, The Globe and Mail
- The promise and peril of digital diplomacy, The Globe and Mail
- Bitcoin Is Dead — Long Live Bitcoin, Vice
- Drones don’t just kill. Their psychological effects are creating enemies, The Globe and Mail
- What can Governments Learn from Digital Disruptors? The Huffington Post and the World Economic Forum
- Coin Toss: Will blockchain undermine or buttress state power? Literary Review of Canada
- Why the U.S. should but won’t partner with hactivists Anonymous, San Fransisco Chronicle
On media and democracy:
- How Internet Monopolies Threaten Democracy (The 2017 Dalton Camp Lecture, broadcast on CBC Ideas)
- The Platform Press: How Silicon Valley Re-engineered Journalism with Emily Bell, Tow Center for Digital Journalism Report
- Fakenews and Democracy, Public Salon talk
- The era of Big Tech self-governance has come to an end, The Globe and Mail
- The new rules for the internet – and why deleting Facebook isn’t enough, The Globe and Mail
- Is Facebook a threat to democracy? The Globe and Mail
- ‘Fake news 2.0’: A threat to Canada’s democracy. The Globe and Mail
- How safe are Canada’s elections from fake news on Facebook? Interview on the CBC’s Current
- Ungoverned Spaces: #Fakenews, The Rise of Algorithms, and the Next Big Challenge for Democracy, GIGI Global Forum Lecture
- Can Journalism be Virtual? The Columbia Journalism Review
- Journalism After Snowden: The Future of the Free Press in the Surveillance State, Columbia University Press (Book) download introduction
- The Shattered Mirror: News, Democracy and Trust in the Digital Age, The Public Policy Forum
- It’s time to reform the CBC for the digital age, The Toronto Star
- Virtual Reality Journalism, a Report for the Tow Centre for Digital Journalism, Columbia University
- Ebola Outbreak: A Virtual Journey, a Virtual Reality journalism project which won a Peabody Award and was nominated for an Emmy Award.
- Global Media Power, The Sage Handbook of Digital Journalism Handbook
- The New Global Journalism: Foreign Correspondence in Transition. Tow Center for Digital Journalism Report.
- Missing the Link: How the Internet is Saving Journalism
On Canadian politics and foreign policy:
- The World Won’t Wait: Why Canada Needs to Rethink its Foreign Policies, edited with Roland Paris, UofT Press (Book)
- A Transforming World, introduction to The World Won’t Wait, Roland Paris and Taylor Owen
- Between Metaphor and Strategy: Canada’s Integrated Approach to Peacebuilding in Afghanistan, International Journal
- Progressivism’s End, In Obama, both Americans and Canadians can see the promise of something new, The Literary Review of Canada.
- A World Turned Upside Down: To face an age of climate change, Twitter and counterinsurgency, Canada’s foreign policy establishment needs fresh ideas. The Literary Review of Canada
- 3D Vision: Can Canada reconcile its defence, diplomacy, and development objectives in Afghanistan? The Walrus Magazine.
- Let a commission, not broadcasters, call the shots, Globe and Mail.
On the bombing of Cambodia:
- Bombs Over Cambodia, The Walrus Magazine
- Historical Mapping and the US Bombardment of Cambodia, Ignite Presentation
- Roots of U.S. Troubles in Afghanistan: Civilian Bombing Casualties and the Cambodian Precedent, Asia Pacific Journal
- Sideshow? A Spatio-Historical Analysis of the US Bombardment of Cambodia, 1965-1973
On Human Security:
- Human Security – Conflict, Critique and Consensus: Colloquium Remarks and a Proposal for a Threshold-Based Definition, Security Dialogue
- Editors Introduction: Human Security. Four Volume Sage Major Work (Book)
- Human Security: A Contested Concept, The Routledge Handbook of New Security Studies (Book)
- The Second Generation of Human Security: Lessons from the UN and EU Experience, International Affairs
- The Critique That Doesn’t Bite: A Response to David Chandler’sHuman Security: The Dog That Didn’t Bark’, Security Dialogue
- Challenges and Opportunities for Defining and Measuring Human Security, Disarmament Forum
- Why Human Security, The Whitehead Journal of Diplomacy and International Relations
- Measuring Human Security: Methodological Challenges and the Importance of Geographically Referenced Determinants, in Environmental Change and Human Security
On the future of think tanks:
- Better Think Tanks, Better Foreign Policy, OpenCanada.org
- With think tanks on the ropes, Canada is losing its bark and bite, Globe and Mail
- Decline in Canadian think tanks couldn’t come at worse time, Toronto Star
Books and Manuscripts
- Disruptive Power: The Crisis of the State in the Digital Era. March 2015, Oxford University Press, New York (About, Amazon)
- The World Won’t Wait: Why Canada Needs to Rethink its Foreign Policies, Forthcoming December 2015, (ed with Roland Paris), University of Toronto Press, Toronto (Amazon)
- Journalism After Snowden, Columbia University Press (ed with Emily Bell and Jennifer Henrichson), February 2017. (CUP)
- The New Global Journalism: Foreign Correspondence in Transition. Tow Center for Digital Journalism, Columbia University, 2014 (ed with Ann Cooper) pdf
- Human Security. Sage Major Work, Four-Volume Set. London, UK. 2013. Link
- The Handbook of Human Security, Routledge Press, 2013 (ed., with Mary Martin) Link
- Operationalizing Human Security: From Local Vulnerability to International Policy, DPhil Thesis, The University of Oxford, July 2010.
Peer Reviewed Academic
- Owen, Taylor, “The Networked State and the End of 20th Century Diplomacy,” Global Affairs, Vol 2 No 3, 2016.
- Burgess, P, Owen, T and Uttam Kumar Sinha, “Securitizing Water: A Case Study of the Indus Water Basin” Cambridge Review of International Affairs, 25(4).
- Owen Taylor and Mary Martin, 2010. “The Second Generation of Human Security: Lessons from the UN and EU Experiences?” International Affairs, 85:1.
- Travers, Patrick and Taylor Owen, 2008. Canada in Afghanistan: Between Metaphor and Strategy. International Journal, Sept/Oct 2008. (winner, Canadian International Council Gelber Prize)
- Owen, Taylor, 2008. The Critique that Doesn’t Bite: A Response to David Chandler’s “Human Security: The Dog that didn’t Bark” Security Dialogue, 39(4), April/June 2008.
- Aldo Benini, Harvard Rue, Taylor Owen, 2008. “A Semi-Parametric Spatial Regression Approach to Post-War Human Security: Cambodia, 2002-2004”, Asian Journal of Criminology, Volume 3, no 2, September 2008.
- Liotta, P.H & Taylor Owen, 2006. “Why Human Security?” Whitehead Journal of Diplomacy and International Relations Vol VII, No. 1: 37-55.
- Liotta, P.H., & Taylor Owen, 2006. “Symbolic Security: The EU Takes on Human Security”. Parameters. The Journal of the US Army War College. Vol 36, No. 3: 85-102.
- Gleditsch, NP; Owen, T; Furlong, K & Bethany Lacina, 2006. ‘Conflicts over Shared Rivers: Resource Wars or Fuzzy Boundaries?’ Political Geography. Vol. 25. No. 4: 361382.
- Owen, Taylor & Olav Slaymaker, 2005. “Human Security in Cambodia: a GIS Approach”. AMBIO. The Journal of the Human Environment. No. 6, Vol. 34.
- Owen, Taylor, 2005. ‘Consciously Absent?: Why the Secretary General used Human Security in all but Name’ St. Anthony’s International Review. Vol. 1, Issue 2.
- Owen, Taylor, 2004. “Human Security – Conflict, Critique and Consensus: Colloquium Remarks and a Proposal for a Threshold-Based Definition”. Security Dialogue, vol. 35, no. 3, September 2004. Special Section on Human Security, co-edited by Peter Burgess and Taylor Owen.
- Owen, Taylor. 2003. “Security Mapping: A New View of Cambodian Insecurity”. Cambodian Development Review, Vol. 7, Issue 2.
- Owen, Taylor, “Global Media Power”, in The Sage Handbook of Digital Journalism Handbook, edited Tamara Witschge, Chris W. Anderson, David Domingo and Alfred Hermida. Sage, London, 2016.
- Owen, Taylor and Ben Kiernan, 2010. The Costs of the US Bombing of Cambodia. In Pavlick, Mark ed, US War Crimes in Indochina: Our Duty To Truth. Common Courage Press, 2010.
- Owen, Taylor and Emily Paddon, 2010. “Beyond Humanitarians: Canadian Development Policy in Afghanistan.” In Ben Perrin (ed), Edges of Conflict, UBC Press: Vancouver.
- Owen, Taylor and David Eaves, 2010. “Missing the Link: How the Internet is Saving Journalism.” In, The New Journalist, Edmund Montgomery Press: Toronto.
- Owen, Taylor, 2008. In All but Name: The Uncertain Future of Human Security in the UN. In Rethinking Human Security, Blackell Press: Oxford.
- Owen, Taylor, “Measuring Human Security: Methodological Challenges and the Importance of Geographically-Referenced Determinants.” In Peter Liotta ed, Environmental Change and Human Security: Recognizing and Acting on Hazard Impacts. Springer NATO Science Series, 2008.
- Owen, T, & P.H. Liotta, 2006. “Europe Takes on Human Security” in Tobias Debiel/Sascha Werthes (Eds.): Human Security on Foreign Policy Agendas: Changes, Concepts and Cases. Duisburg: Institute for Development and Peace, University of Duisburg-Essen (INEF Report, 80/2006).
Non-Peer Reviewed Academic
- Owen, Taylor, Fergus Pitt, Raney Aronson, James Milward, Virtual Reality Journalism, Report for the Tow Centre for Digital Journalism, Columbia University, 2015.
- Owen, Taylor, 2012, Disruption: Foreign Policy in a Networked World. Trudeau Foundation Position Paper. PDF
- Taylor Owen and Ben Kiernan, 2010. The U.S. Bombing of Afghanistan and the Cambodian Precedent, The Asia Pacific Journal June 2010. Republished in The Asia Times.
- Travers, Patrick and Taylor Owen, 2007. Peacebuilding While Peacemaking: The Merits of a 3D Approach in Afghanistan. UBC Center for International Relations Security and Defense Forum Working Paper #3.
- Owen, Taylor, 2006. “In all but Name: the Uncertain Future of Human Security in the UN”. Commissioned UNESCO publication.
- Owen, Taylor, 2004. ‘Are we really secure?: Challenges and opportunities for defining and measuring human security’ Disarmament Forum. Issue 2, June 2004.
- Owen, Taylor. 2003. “Measuring Human Security: Overcoming the Paradox”. Human Security Bulletin. October, Vol.2 No. 3.
- Owen, Taylor. 2002. “Body Count: Rationale and Methodologies for Measuring Human Security”. Human Security Bulletin. October, Vol.1 No. 3. pdf
- Owen, Taylor, 2016, Can Journalism be Virtual, The Columbia Journalism Review
- Owen, Taylor 2016, Quantum Leap, Foreign Affairs
- Owen, Taylor 2015, The Violence of Algorithms, Foreign Affairs
- Owen, Taylor, 2016, Coin Toss: Will blockchain undermine or buttress state power? Literary Review of Canada
- Owen, Taylor, 2010. A World Turned Upside Down. The Literary Review of Canada. link
- Owen Taylor and David Eaves, 2008. Progressivism’s End. The Literary Review of Canada. September, Vol 17, No 7. (Winner of national New Voices competition)
- Liberal Baggage: The national party’s greatest burden may be its past success, Literary Review of Canada, May 2012.
- Taylor Owen and Ben Kiernan, “Bombs Over Cambodia. The Walrus Magazine. November, 2006. (Finalist for National Magazine Award)
- Taylor Owen and Emily Paddon, 2008. Zakaria, Kurdish Nationbuilder, The Walrus Magazine, December 2008.
- Owen, Taylor and Ben Kiernan, 2008. Iraq Another Vietnam, Try Cambodia? Japan Focus. May, 2007. Reprinted in Outback Magazine.
- Owen, Taylor & Patrick Travers, 2007. 3D Vision. The Walrus Magazine. July/August 2007.
- Owen, Taylor, 2012. Taylor Owen and Alexandre Grigsby. In Transit: Guns, Gangs and Trafficking in Guyana. A Working Paper of the Small Arms Survey, Geneva.
- Owen, Taylor 2012. Media, Technology and Intelligence, a Report to the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service, March 2012.
- Jackson, T., N. Marsh, T. Owen, and A. Thurin, 2005. “Who Takes the Bullet: The Human Cost of Small Arms”. Oslo: Norwegian Church Aid.
- Owen, Taylor & Aldo Benini, 2004. ‘Human Security in Cambodia: A Statistical Analysis of Large-Sample Sub-National Vulnerability Data’. Report written for the Centre for the Study of Civil War at the International Peace Research Institute Oslo.
- Owen, Taylor “Why governments must embrace the new global digital reality” The Globe and Mail, April 10, 2015
- “Why the U.S. should but won’t partner with hactivists Anonymous” San Fransisco Chronicle, May 1, 2015 link
- Owen, Taylor “The promise and peril of digital diplomacy” The Globe and Mail, January 9, 2015
- Owen Taylor, “Drones don’t just kill. Their psychological effects are creating enemies” The Globe and Mail, March 13, 2013
- Taylor Owen and Rudyard Griffiths, 2010 “Let a commission, not broadcasters, call the shots” Globe and Mail.
- Owen, Taylor and Robert Muggah, “With think tanks on the ropes, Canada is losing its bark and bite” Globe and Mail, October 10, 2013
- Review of The Canadian Century, Brian Crowley, Jason Clemens and Niels Veldhuis, The Globe and Mail, August 10th, 2010.
- Owen, Taylor, “Afghan army: If you build it, who will come?” Globe and Mail, Sept 6, 2011.
- Taylor Owen, 2010. Why Wikileaks will Lead to More Secrecy, not Less. Macleans Magazine, November 29th, 2010.
- Taylor Owen, 2010. Five reasons David Cameron’s coalition government is not a harbinger for Canada, The Globe and Mail, May 14, 2010.
- Taylor Owen and Rudyard Griffiths, 2010. Learning from Britain’s Three Election Debates, The National Post, April 30, 2010.
- Taylor Owen and Rudyard Griffiths, 2010. Let the Debate Begin, The National Post, April 16, 2010.
- Taylor Owen and Adrian Bradbury, 2009. The Rhetoric of Foreign Policy. The Mark News, Dec 1 2009.
- Taylor Owen, 2008. One Step Closer to an Obama-Ignatieff Continent, The Prospect Magazine, December 2008.
- Taylor Owen and David Eaves, 2008. Real Liberal Renewal. The Toronto Star, November 20, 2008
- Travers, Patrick, Taylor Owen, 2008. 2011 is a date, not a goal. The Toronto Star, April 5th 2008.
- Taylor Owen and David Eaves, 2007. Failed strategy connects Afghan fields, city streets, The Toronto Star, December 7th, 2007.
- Taylor Owen and David Eaves, 2007. Kandahar deal breakers: The Afghan poll is not a blank cheque, The Globe and Mail, November 2nd, 2007
- Taylor Owen and David Eaves, 2007. Africa is Not a Liberal Idea, Embassy Magazine, October 3rd, 2007
- Taylor Owen and David Eaves, 2007. Iraq Suddenly Appears on Canada’s Radar Screen. Toronto Star August 29th, 2007
- Taylor Owen and David Eaves, 2007. How the internet humbled the NYT, The Tyee, October 10th, 2007
- Taylor Owen and David Eaves, 2007. Blogosphere at Age 10 is Improving Journalism, The Toronto Star, July 30th, 2007
- David Eaves and Taylor Owen, 2007. Prime Ministerial Power Stifling Decision Making. Toronto Star, June 28th, 2007
- Taylor Owen and David Eaves, 2007. Getting Back On Track in Afghanistan. Toronto Star, February 23rd, 2007
- David Eaves and Taylor Owen, 2007. Beyond Vimy Ridge: Canada’s Other Foreign Policy Pillar. Globe and Mail, April 18th, 2007.