Pepsi Advertisement Recontextualized as Social Media

March 31st, 2019

Perhaps you remember the moment, perhaps you don't. Maybe you were outraged, maybe you were on #TeamKendall, maybe you don't care too much about it either way. Kendall Jenner was featured in a Pepsi advertisement, that for at least for a few days became a source of popular controversy that propagated throughout the digital media ecosystem.

The video portrayed a number of creative young individuals who join an unknown cause expressed as a joyous public protest. This includes Kendall Jenner, who leaves a modeling photo shoot to join the mass, eventually coming face-to-face with a line of policemen. She then gives one of the officers a can of Pepsi, everyone smiles and the video cuts to the corporate logo.

As Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King, Jr., stated on Twitter,

If only Daddy would have known about the power of #Pepsi.

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The Problem of Censorship

February 18th, 2019

It is a moot point wether or not Facebook, Twitter or Google are engaged in censorship when they remove content from their platforms, as this discussion is mainly about semantics. While it is true that private companies have the legal right to decide on their own editorial policies it becomes problematic when those private companies hold an incredibly large sway over society. As of early 2019 Facebook has over 2.3 billion active monthly users. There is nary a working journalist or politician without a Twitter account. Their policies on what information to promote or disallow has a profound effect on societies across the globe.

As Thomas Macaulay wrote of British Parliament in 1828,

The gallery in which the reporters sit has become a fourth estate of the realm. The publication of the debates, a practice which seemed to the most liberal statesmen of the old school full of danger to the great safeguards of public liberty, is now regarded by many persons as a safeguard tantamount, and more than tantamount, to all the rest together.

Representative democracies rely on the relationship between journalism and government. The problem we are facing is that our contemporary means of publishing information to the voting public is primarily through privately controlled and for-profit corporations.

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The Tyranny of the Anonymous

January 16th, 2019

From the Federalist Papers to contemporary whistleblowers, there is plenty of evidence of the benefits of an anonymous check on power. There is no question that the anonymity of the masses is the enemy of the traditional despot. Throughout history it has been deemed advantageous by authoritarian leaders to controls the means of communication and to punish those that question their powers.

Cryptography and the internet have forever closed the door on this kind of censorship. While individual websites like Facebook or YouTube can indeed monitor and police the content that is published on their platforms, there will always be alternative methods of publication that are impossible to silence. Between tools and technologies like Signal, Telegram, Tor, Bitcoin, or BitTorrent, there are many ways for people to avoid the prying eyes of nefarious controlling bodies.

While there are benefits to being anonymous, there are very good reasons why people would want to use a communication platform that requires people to use their real names and identities. People have a need to interact with their friends, family, neighbors and other people whose identities they already know. The vast majority of our daily interactions are face-to-face.

Accountability and transparency, foundational elements of our society, are somewhat at odds with anonymity. Commercial and financial transactions are built on various types of infrastructure to facilitate and enforce accountability. Facebook's marketplace works best with a verified identity for the same fundamental reason that a pawn shop requires a state-issued photo ID. There is also a need for accountability for the content published on social media platforms. Physical threats and other forms of unprotected speech will always need to be policed.

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