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Site IndexInformation and Power Relations [Written to briefly introduce Information-Ethics students to the notion of Power Relations and the prevalence of various forms (perhaps unintentional) of Info Warfare.] This material should help you gain some insight into the fine-grained structures of "Society" and "Info Technology" (rather than viewing those entities as monolithic), and should help shed light on some of the important dynamics of how information is actually used (and, arguably, mis-used). ECS students are well aware of the many benefits of the Info Age. But popular views of the Info Age tend to be dangerously a-historical (ie, those who fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them), shallow, and either naively optimistic or naively pessimistic. To achieve a deeper understanding of the present (and of alternative futures) we need information about socio-economic power struggles, and about present and future drawbacks of various potential Info Ages. These notes are divided into the following sections: * Introduction: Money and Information Flows * Info Explosion or Info Implosion? * Equity: Info-Poor & Info-Rich * Social Contracts: Power & Info Warfare * Info Censorship & Info Subsidies * The Age of Missing- and Mis-Information: What Americans Don't Know These notes are intended to cover some sub-areas in the proposed "Tenth Strand in the CS Curriculum" (CACM 39:12, Dec. 1996, p. 75-84). They tend to focus on Knowledge Units # ES4 & ES5 -- "Basic Elements & Skills of Social Analysis". They focus particularly on #ES4.2 -- "Power relations are central in all social interaction." Disclaimer: To provide a coherent overview of the "Info Age" would require an entire course. These notes are not adequate as a standalone, self-contained account. They are intended to rectify a presumed prior lack of balanced coverage and analytical insight. ============================================================================= ============================================================================= ==================== Intro: Money and Information Flows ===================== Each day, over $1 *trillion* flows through electronic networks. That's $1 *billion* speeding through cyberspace every minute. In America, when you look at the number of economic transactions, most of those are still mediated by old-fashioned cash. But in terms of dollar value exchanged, electronic transfers between computers account for over 80%. Even an illiterate peasant in Mexico is impacted by cyberspace. Given the globalization of today's economy, the well-being, and often the survival, of many peasants depends on actions by large corporate players in the global electronic markets that trade corn futures. One major underlying theme to keep in mind is : How does the interplay between *money* and *information flow* impact societies, both nationally and globally? How does it influence *Values*, and how does that interplay structure the economic foundation for tomorrow's *Social Architecture* -- however stratified that may be? We know Markets are great for certain types of transactions -- far more efficient than governments. But we tend to forget that what economists call "Market Failure" is pervasive, and has huge social and environmental impacts. The Efficient Market Hypothesis assumes that Buyers and Sellers have what economists call "perfect information" ... but many people lack access to even adequate info. (see Hans Singer quote below) There's no sense talking about the Future, until we understand the interplay between money and information flow in Today's social context. Besides the term "Information Age", we also hear another futuristic name -- the "Information Infrastructure". We *already have* an Information Infrastructure -- Books, Magazines, Newspapers, Television, ... and even Talk Radio. To understand the issues relevant to the Information Architecture of the Future, we need to understand *Today's* Information Infrastructure. ============================================================================= ====================== Info Explosion or Info Implosion? ==================== Many attempts have been made to quantify the amount of "information", and its rate of growth throughout history. As one component of "information" production, news wire services produced about 40 million words/day in 1986, of which 96% was controlled by five transnational news agencies. [Eg, see "Global Communications & International Relations", by Howard Frederick] But is it more accurate to view present trends as an Info Explosion, or as an Info Implosion? An analogy with *economic* "growth" may be helpful to explore this question. The GDP (Gross Domestic Product) is a seriously flawed indicator for several reasons. For our present metaphor, the most relevant flaw is that it "measures" as growth what is, instead, the *transfer* of pre-existing activity from the non-monetary "social economy", into the formal, measurable economic realm. A prime example would be housework -- vacuuming, dusting, washing clothes, etc. In America prior to the 1960s, this was "women's work" -- most of which was *unpaid* labor by "housewives". Today, so many married American women have taken jobs outside the home, that much of this housework is performed by paid labor -- janitorial services, immigrant labor, etc. Thus, if we looked at the "measurable" amount of money that changes hands as a result of housework today, we would perceive an "explosion" in GDP since the time when housework was performed as an unpaid service in the "social economy". But this perceived growth/explosion is merely an artifact caused by transforming an activity (housework) from the informal social realm into measurable economic channels. Certainly *some* of the "info explosion" is a result of similar dynamics. ===> NOTE: Channeling info flow into "measurable" conduits ===> raises new risks of surveillance, censorship, and control! In particular, much "information" that was local (and often implicit) -- such as the knowledge of small farmers regarding their local microclimate, and the ecological interactions of various crop varieties and plant pests -- has been lost to society; it has suffered an "Information Implosion". [ Alters of Unhewn Stone", by Wes Jackson, North Point Press, 1987 ] As a "substitute", we have megabytes of scientific and advertising literature by large seed companies and pesticide manufacturers regarding what they offer as universal, global "solutions" to every particular local problem. But there are serious risks to humanity from such info losses. The extinction rate of biological species has soared to a level not seen since the dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago ["Biodiversity", by E.O. Wilson, 1992] This extinction crisis is not limited to "wild" species, but extends to cultivars as well. Virtually all the world's major food crops have become standardized to a few varieties, and as a result, these monocultures are highly susceptible to outbreaks of newly-evolved (and/or globally-transported) pests. The Irish potato famine in 1846 was due to this vulnerability of a genetically uniform crop. More recently, in 1970 the U.S. corn crop suffered catastrophic losses worth roughly $1 billion, when a leaf fungus spread rapidly through the genetically uniform crop. The present loss of genetic information (caused by species extinction) may make the information lost in the burning of antiquity's great library at Alexandria pale by comparison. Another area where much "localized" information is being lost in America is info regarding personal relationships and local communities. Because the average American watches over 4 hours of TV per day, that is 4 hours of time which is *not* fully invested in personal relationships and local community affairs. Millions of Americans know thousands of details about O.J. Simpson, but they know nothing whatsoever about their next-door neighbor, because they have never spoken to them. Which kind of information is more *useful* if our goal is to build a "better" society? ============================================================================= ====================== Equity: Info-Poor & Info-Rich ======================= Consider the *global* disparities in access to electronically-mediated information: The City of Tokyo has as many telephone lines as does the entire Continent of Africa. A small 15-person housing cooperative in East London had more access to electronic information than did the entire university system of India. (As of Jan. 1997, the housing coop had 72 kilobits per second of network connectivity. The link between ERNET -- the Indian academic network -- and the rest of the universe was 64kbs; although some of the institutions on ERNET had only a 9600bps onramp.) [ via Dave Farber's IP: http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/ariadne/ ] Someone who reads a Sunday Los Angeles Times consumes more newsprint in one day than the average African does in an entire year. [ UNESCO Statistical Yearbook, UNESCO, 1990 ] NOTE: I do *not* mean to imply that Americans get more *useful* information by reading a mass-media newspaper than an average African does by talking to people in her local community. Within the U.S., consider the following inequities in access to basic communication technology -- the telephone (11/95 FCC figures): 95% of White households had a telephone, compared to 86.7% of Black households, and 85.8% of Hispanic households. Six million American households lacked a telephone in 1995. A breakdown of telephone penetration by both household income level and ethnicity indicates, e.g, (March 1993 FCC figures): For household income under $5000/year, 79.5% of White households had a phone, vs. 63.8% of Black households, and 65.9% of Hispanic households. An FCC news release emphasized the correlation between economic opportunity and access to information: > In Nov. 1995, the telephone subscribership rate was only 75.0% > for households with annual incomes below $5,000, while the > subscribership rate for households with incomes over $60,000 > was 99.1%. The statistics may seem obvious, but they also point > to a significant problem. The increasing importance of the > public switched network in connecting households to the economy > means an increasing disconnect from the economy for those not > on the network, making it harder for those households to escape poverty. [ http://www.fcc.gov/Bureaus/Common_Carrier/News_Releases/1996/nrcc6016.txt ] ============================================================================= ==================== Social Contracts: Power & Info Warfare ================= A third major branch of Ethical theories is the "Social Contract" family. Many famous versions: from Thomas Hobbes and Rousseau in the 1600s and 1700s, to John Rawls in the 1970s with his Theory of Justice. These theories say, to achieve the GOOD LIFE, we should abide by whatever "social contract" we negotiate with others ... with various assumptions being made about the *conditions* under which those negotiations take place. (E.g, the condition that negotiating parties have fairly EQUAL POWER is key.) According to Social Contract theories ... Morality consists in those RULES, governing how we are to treat each other, that RATIONAL people have agreed to accept for their MUTUAL benefit, providing others abide by the same RULES. But what happens if there are significant disparities in power? "If you do not have information to begin with, or know what new information could be assembled, initial inferiority is bound to be sharpened and perpetuated. This UNEQUAL BARGAINING POSITION will affect all relations whether labeled aid, trade, investment, transfer of technology, technical assistance, or any other." -- Hans Singer: "The Distribution of Gains from Trade Revisited," Journal of Development Studies 11 (1975): 377-382. "Only the naive or the scurrilous believe the Third Wave claim that `Information is Power'. Power is power, and information is particularly useful to those who are already powerful." -- Philip L. Bereano "In the technical realm, we repeatedly enter into a series of social contracts, the terms of which are revealed only after the signing." [The Whale and the Reactor, Langdon Winner, 1986, p. 6] "Social Contracts" get renegotiated whenever there is a significant change in the Balance of Power, perceived risks/opportunities, or goals. Each of these factors can be changed by *information* and *communication*. Hence, throughout history, "Information Warfare" has been practiced. Consider early American history. To preserve the dominance of White Americans over Black slaves, it was *illegal* to teach a slave to read or write! Frederick Douglass, the great Black abolitionist, taught himself to write by tricking other children. A passage Douglass wrote speaks eloquently about the role of *power* in renegotiating social contracts, and about the power of *communication*: "Let me give you a word on the philosophy of reform. The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle. Find out just what people will submit to, and you have found the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue until they are resisted with either *words* or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress." The quote from Douglass suggests that ethical *progress* can be a long, slow, and painful process; the cumulative result of numerous small, individual acts over long periods of time. Because of the power of words, the "Right to Communicate" appears in numerous documents of international law. As Sean MacBride (founder of Amnesty International, and the only person to win both the Nobel and the Lenin Prize) emphasized, the Right to Communicate is an essential precursor to *all* other human rights. (Note that the info regime of Communicative Ethics under the U.S. First Amendment -- our "Freedom of Speech" and "Freedom of the Press" -- does *not* provide the full Right to Communicate. E.g, American law recognizes neither the Right to Hear/Read, nor the Right of Reply.) ============================================================================= ====================== Info Censorship & Info Subsidies ===================== "Information Warfare" can be divided into 2 modes of operation: info can be Censored, or it can be Subsidized. (Altering existing info can be viewed as a combination of these 2 modes.) Short of an outright denial-of-service attack, the goal of Info Warfare is "Perception Management". According to the FBI (http://www.fbi.gov/programs/ansir/ansir.htm), when Perception Management is employed by a "foreign power", it is defined as: " ... foreign power-sponsored or foreign power-coordinated intelligence activity directed at the U.S. Government or U.S. corporations, establishments, or persons, which involves manipulating information, communicating false information, or propagating deceptive information and communications designed to distort the perception of the public ... or of U.S. Government officials regarding U.S. policies, ranging from foreign policy to economic strategies." If the FBI's definition were broadened to include *domestic* powers, then it seems to apply to the techniques of Public Relations (PR), whose goal is to "alter perception, reshape reality and manufacture consent." PR will be covered in more detail in the subsection on Info Subsidies, but first let's explore the nature and extent of domestic Censorship ... ====== Info Censorship ====== The journal, "Editor & Publisher" (Jan 16, 1993), reported that virtually all 150 newspaper editors in a 1992 Marquette Univ. study acknowledged interference by advertisers. 93% of editors said advertisers tried to influence the content of their newspaper articles. 71% of editors said advertisers tried to kill certain stories outright. And 37% of editors were *honest enough* to admit that they actually had succumbed to this advertiser pressure. More than half (55%) said there was pressure from *within* their own newspaper to write or tailor news stories to please advertisers. (Note: Assuming this study accurately characterizes the universe of U.S. newspaper editors, it does not imply that *every* newspaper article handled by those 37% of editors was slanted to please advertisers.) A recent anonymous survey of Society of American Business Editors and Writers found that 75% were aware of growing pressure by advertisers to influence the content of their sections. 45% of the respondents admitted that this pressure has influenced their editorial decisions. So much for "unbiased" dissemination of factual economic information, an essential basis for the efficient market hypothesis. The scale of private sector censorship will probably increase, as telecom and information industry mergers increase the proportion of the information flows that are vulnerable at points where a single company controls both *content* and *conduit*. Consider the following passage from "Jefferson on the Internet", by a former Commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission: > THE NATURAL DESIRE TO CENSOR > ... > What concerns me about the common ownership of content and > conduit, of course, is the ... company's natural desire to > censor and engage in anticompetitive practices. ... > Governments are not the only powerful institutions that try to > serve their own interests through media manipulation and censorship. > > My baptism by fire on this issue was ITT's proposed acquisition of ABC > back in 1965-66. Question: "Would ITT ever try to control ABC's > coverage of the news to favor ITT's other business interests?" > "Oh, no," ITT's executives would testify at hearings, and while testifying, > at that very moment, their senior vice president for public relations > was calling executives of the Associated Press, the New York Times, > and the Washington Post, trying to change the content of the stories > being filed by their reporters about that hearing! -- Nicholaus Johnson, "Jefferson on the Internet", Federal Communications Law Journal, Dec. 1994 http://snyside.sunnyside.com/pub/njohnson/telecomm/jefferso.txt Below are several other relevant "data points" on censorship: Popular computer pundit William Zachman quit his job at PC Week after editors demanded he write friendlier columns about Microsoft. The software company, one of PC Week's largest advertisers, had complained about a series of critical articles. The evening after editors tried to pressure Zachman, a Microsoft official called to "reeducate" him on their product. [ Washington Post 7/7/92 ] Case Study: Censorship by tobacco advertisers. Tobacco is the most heavily advertised product in the country. In 1953, the American Medical Assoc. banned tobacco ads in its journal, due to overwhelming evidence of harmful health impacts. Yet since that time, virtually no articles on the dangers of smoking have appeared in magazines that accept tobacco ads. [ e.g, Columbia Journalism Review 1978: "Magazines' Smoking Habit" by R.C. Smith, reported that in last 7 years, mags that accepted cigarette ads published no articles giving readers clear info on dangers of smoking.] [ e.g, "New Republic" magazine had commissioned an article on impacts of smoking and had even typeset it, before deleting it entirely. An editor claimed the deletion was unusual, and occurred only, "because of the relative size of the [tobacco advertising] account." -- Univ. of Penn Law Review 140:6, p. 2147 ] Newsweek in 1983, and Time magazine in 1984, published supplements on health written respectively by the American Medical Assoc., and by the American Academy of Family Physicians. Both magazines either deleted entirely, or strongly resisted, any mention of the adverse health impacts of smoking, except to warn against smoking in bed due to the danger of falling asleep and starting a fire. "Cosmopolitan" and "Psychology Today" refused to accept ads for a stop-smoking clinic, on the grounds that it would offend their tobacco advertisers. [ For numerous other censorship incidents, committed by a wide variety of different advertisers (not merely the tobacco industry) see "Dictating Content: How Advertising Pressure Can Corrupt a Free Press", by Ronald Collins, 1992, Center for Study of Commercialism ] ====== Info Subsidies ====== Info Subsidies are generally considered to be of 2 varieties: Advertising and Public Relations (PR). But perhaps it is more accurate to characterize PR as the most general form of "Perception Management", with Censorship and Info Subsidies (and Advertising in particular) being families of techniques for influencing the flows of information and disinformation. Contrast the fundamentally opposed ethical views of Edward Bernays, the "Father of Public Relations", with those of John Stauber, editor of the newsletter "PR Watch" (http://www.prwatch.org): For Bernays, the "masses" are ignorant, irrational, and emotional. They are incapable of doing what is "best for society" without industrial-strength manipulation by the elite sectors of society. In books such as "Crystallizing Public Opinion", "Engineering Consent", and "Propaganda", Bernays defined PR as an "applied social science", the goal of which is to: "control and regiment the masses according to our will without their knowing it ... in certain cases we can effect some change in public opinion with a fair degree of accuracy by operating a certain mechanism, just as the motorist can regulate the speed of his car by manipulating the flow of gasoline." Stauber characterizes the PR industry as a threat to democracy, and as, "an occupation army in our midst". Stauber would agree with Thomas Jefferson's statement that: "I know of no safe repository of the ultimate power of society but the people. And if we think them not enlightened enough, the remedy is not to take power from them, but to inform them by education." Below are several "data points" on Info Subsidies: + In America, there are more Public Relations flacks than journalists. + The PR industry maintains extensive computerized *dossiers* containing detailed personal information on over 6,000 environmental journalists. Not only do PR flacks outnumber journalists, but they have far better tools for "opposition research" and manipulation. + In America, the $160 *Billion* spent annually on advertising is as much as the entire country spends on higher education. It is greater than the GNP of all but 17 countries. More than half the world's advertising budget is controlled by eleven transnational advertising agencies, and roughly half the world's advertising budget is spent within the U.S. + The results are similar when currency is measured in time instead of money: By the time today's teenagers reach 75 years of age, *13* of those *years* will have been spent watching TV, more time than they will spend on formal education. Three of those years will have been spent watching *ads* on TV. Advertising has undeniable benefits too -- it allows wide distribution of "free" info, ranging from local weekly "Old Media" papers such as the Sacramento News & Review, to thousands of "New Media" websites. This subsidized flow of info is free to readers in economic terms. The question is, how free of *bias* and *censorship* is that info? ============================================================================= ==== The Age of Missing- and Mis-Information: What Americans Don't Know ===== Despite living in the "Information Age", most Americans are woefully uninformed, and worse --- *misinformed*. For example: + The Wheat Foods Council (an industry trade group) was shocked at the findings of a 1991 nationwide Gallup poll they had commissioned: Only 51% of Americans know that "white" bread is based on wheat, but 48% think that *oatmeal* is produced from wheat! + "In a recent survey by the Federal Education Department, more than 50% of high school seniors were unaware of the Cold War." -- Thomas Marzahl, 2/8/96, American Reporter http://www.american-reporter.com/ Perhaps most disturbing, Americans seem *misinformed* regarding the state of our own government, yet they are asked to vote and to respond to polls in order to influence our public policy. When asked about the Federal budget, most Americans think we spend more on *Welfare* and *Foreign Aid* than we do on *Defense*. The average amount the public thinks is spent on foreign aid is *14%* of the Federal Budget ... but the real total is only *1%*. In fact, we spend far more on Defense than we spend on Welfare and Foreign Aid *combined*. In Dec. 1992, FAIR Extra reported a national phone survey of likely voters: "In which area does federal govt spend the most? Foreign Aid, Welfare, or the Military?" 42% said Foreign Aid (this was 1% of 1992 federal budget) 30% said Welfare (this was 5% of budget) 22% said Military (this was 21% of budget) Clearly, the public has an extremely distorted perception of U.S. Government foreign policies and domestic economic priorities. Recall the FBI's definition of hostile "Perception Management: "distort the perception of the public ... or of U.S. Government officials regarding U.S. policies, ranging from foreign policy to economic strategies." Opinions will differ regarding the extent to which public misperception is accidental, or is the result of an intentional strategy by foreign and/or domestic interests. The question of how "good" a job the current Info Infrastructure does in informing the public would then be answered in 2 very different ways, depending on whether one believes that the "Perception Management" system is meeting its "intended specification" or not. Phrasing the question as "accidental vs. intentional" may be helpful to spark debate and exploration. But to model the situation as an Either-Or dichotomy risks distorting our perceptions. In particular, it is certainly possible that "originally", there was no intentional effort to distort public perceptions, yet because certain vested interests have come to profit by the current situation, they intentionally resist changing the Info. Infrastructure in ways that would help clear up those misperceptions. Such considerations are central to the "Political Economy of the Information Superhighway". Apple Fellow and computer pioneer Alan Kay was asked by President Clinton to speak at his Information Superhighway Summit in Jan. 1994. Dr. Kay also talked a lot about today's Info. Infrastructure: "Television does a terrible job of carrying the important discourse of our civilization. ... it can't carry a 50 page reasoned argument like Tom Paine's Common Sense. Or even carry the daily news in context. Its junk nature has been able to *displace* reasoned discourse and, worse, to convince most people that nothing important has been taken away. ... No democracy can survive that is less than 10% literate in the driving forces of society. ... Television should be the last mass communications medium to be naively designed and put into the world without a Surgeon General's warning!" It certainly behooves us to keep a watchful eye on both the technological development -- and the economic evolution -- of tomorrow's Information Infrastructure, and to publicly *communicate* our ethical concerns, if we hope to create a future in which life is "better" than the past.