Social Media

Does Digital Literacy Require More Gatekeepers?

Or does power need to be more dispersed?

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Wesley Fryer

"A deep political divide is starting to open up in digital literacy discussions," argues Bryan Alexander, an academic turned consultant who writes frequently about education and technology. This division doesn't separate left from right or Red from Blue. "It's a split between those who think people should assume the power to make decisions about information and media, and those who prefer to build up authorities to help us cope with the digital world. On the one side, lower-case-d democrats; on the others, neo-gatekeepers."

For an example, think of the "fake news" debate. If you think the best response to the plague of viral Facebook hoaxes is to give power to a committee charged with sorting true stories from false, you're with the gatekeepers. A democrat wouldn't be opposed to organized factchecking, but he would see such efforts as part of a larger system of mutual peer review where everyone is fallible and no one is the final authority.

The first lower-case-d democrat that Alexander cites is me, so there's not much mystery about where I fall on this spectrum. By the end of the post, Alexander has confessed his bias toward the democratic tribe too. But his chief interest, he writes, is

how this political divide plays out for educators, from K-12 teachers to colleges faculty and staff, to museum and library professionals. How will we and our institutions stake out positions on this continuum, from democrats to neo-gatekeepers?

I can see incentives and professional reasons for hewing to either pole. Institutions and professions often function as gatekeepers, after all. At the same time each of these fields also has an ethos of empowering their students/users/patrons. Some of these institutions are closely tied up to authorities, such as active churches or states, while others see themselves as independent spaces. Each has taken up a related range of positions on previous digital issues, such as web sites, open education resources, and social media.

And then there's the elephant in the room, or rather the donkey: "Many of these professionals tack Democratic in terms of party politics." That's Democratic with a big D, and not necessarily a small one. The Dems are out of power right now, and so in some cases they may feel more suspicious than usual about gatekeepers. But "#resistance can also mean the recreation of authority sapped by the November electoral disaster."

Anyway, the post does a nice job of laying out a spectrum of positions, and I'm not just saying that because it quotes me liberally. To read the whole thing, go here.

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  1. Don’t believe what you read in the papers series of toobs.

    1. Clearly, without a strong presence of gatekeepers backed up by the police along with academic officials, the Internet could be used to spread information that is highly damaging to the reputations of our colleagues, including the most outrageous “satire” directed at distinguished department chairmen at NYU and elsewhere. To begin with, urgent measure should be taken to suppress unauthorized writings such as “Gatekeeping the Net,” available at:

      http://www.sirpeterscott.com/i…..tement.pdf

      or, at the very least, to require that any such writing be previously approved by an accredited member of a digital humanities program before publication.

  2. Here’s an idea… let people read (and publish) whatever the fuck they want to.

    lower-case-d democrats

    You either want to control what people are exposed to (presumably for their own good?), or you don’t.

    1. “Here’s an idea… let people read (and publish) whatever the fuck they want to.”

      Even better idea, start your own version of Facebook. Those who own Facebook and those who use it seem happy with gatekeeping.

      1. What is, a rejoinder to an argument nobody made?

        1. I’m just offering the idiot a better idea. If it turns out he’s happy with Facebook gatekeeping after all, he’s welcome to continue using it.

      2. Even better idea, start your own version of Facebook. Those who own Facebook and those who use it seem happy with gatekeeping.

        Obviously, “starting your own version of Facebook” falls squarely under “letting people publish whatever the fuck they want”.. so I don’t see how that redundancy is a “better” idea – when it’s included (and inherent) in the original idea.

        And, of course, those who DO choose to “start their own version of Facebook” reveal themselves to be those who want to control what people are exposed to (presumably for their own good?).

  3. those who prefer to build up authorities to help us cope with the digital world.

    “those who prefer to build up authorities to help us cope with the mechanical world.”

    “those who prefer to build up authorities to help us cope with the imaginary world.”

    “those who prefer to build up authorities to help us cope with the authoritarian world.”

  4. Does Digital Literacy Require More Gatekeepers?

    No. Next question.

  5. Anyway, the post does a nice job of laying out a spectrum of positions, and I’m not just saying that because it quotes me liberally.

    Sure you are… and don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with that. Just admit it, Jesse, Pimpin’ ain’t easy…

  6. The first lower-case-d democrat that Alexander cites is me

    Better than a clandestine upper-case-D , like your boss Nick.

  7. I…. kinda don’t get what democracy has to do with this? You could have fake news under a constitutional monarchy. Hell, there was even tons of fake news in the USSR – they just called it something different.

    If the notion is that democracy is necessarily anti-authoritarian or anti-centralization, then I have to disagree.

    1. The term as it used here seems to have little to do with politics.

      1. I guess this definition:

        relating to, appealing to, or available to the broad masses of the people

        makes more sense. Still I think populist might be more applicable.

  8. Of these dumb asses have such a hard time coping,maybe they should get some help THE rest of us are coping just fine. So they can go fuck themselves

    1. You forget John, most people want to be led herded.

  9. WHat are the lower case democrats?

    And thank god a non trump story!

    1. lower case democrat
      lo-wer cas dem-o-crat

      1. The minorities and young people whose votes the Old White People that govern Team Blue take for granted.
      2. Those who prefer that the masses make decisions impacting the public, rather than a small group of leaders.

  10. Democracy – from demos, the people, and kratia, crazy. So democracy means ruled by mentally ill people, which, truthfully, also defines every other sort of government. In a more general sense, democracy just means “each man a king” or “it’s really none of your business how I live my life” or “go away or so help me God I’m going to stab you in the face”.

  11. Why not just call it gatekeeper?

    the word neo in front of something makes me not really take it seriously

  12. The Dems are out of power right now, and so in some cases they may feel more suspicious than usual about gatekeepers

    Nah. They know that a true gatekeeper is a Right Thinking Person. Any other kind is more like…a Nazi death camp guard posted at the gate?
    I’m not gonna sugarcoat it, my Hitler analogies are not strong this month.

  13. I’m reminded of a Miss Manners column from years ago. She said that we don’t need to keep inventing new etiquette rules just because technology changes, i.e. polite behavior stays fundamentally the same whether your reading a newspaper on a train or looking at a text.

    The same applies to liberty. We don’t need to invent new ways of dealing with freedom just because the technology changes; we don’t suddenly need top-down direction from government because the words we’re reading are pixels instead of newsprint. Let markets grow organically; let the structures we need (if we need them) be voluntary.

  14. The real question here is whether we should have a pluralistic society that allows unfiltered debate or, you know, free speech…or a society that censors opinions that are considered inconvenient or not true by government and their lapdogs in the media.

  15. “Digital literacy? Yo, take a look at *these* digits, asshole!”

  16. I think yesterday I said something like “isn’t it a rule that, if the headline has a question in it, the answer is always ‘no’?”

    1. You are correct – that would be Betteridge’s Law Of Headlines

  17. A democrat wouldn’t be opposed to organized factchecking, but he would see such efforts as part of a larger system of mutual peer review where everyone is fallible and no one is the final authority.

    It always sounds great in theory. But it always fails in practice.

    Wikipedia bans editors from citing Daily Mail as source

    According to The Guardian, the proposal was initiated by an editor known as “Hillbillyholiday.” Other editors then weighed arguments over the possible ban for months. Those who voted against the ban said the Daily Mail was sometimes reliable and there were many other publications that were also unreliable.

    So… lower case d democrats? Or neo gatekeepers?

    Answer: Both. Those who want to control what people are exposed to (presumably for their own good).

    There is no “spectrum”.

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