PODCAST: Pip Thornton – Critiquing linguistic capitalism, Google’s ad empire, fake news and poetry

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My post as research assistant on the Algocracy & Transhumanism project at NUIG has come to an end, and I will shortly be returning to Royal Holloway to finish writing up my PhD. I have really enjoyed the five months I have spent here in Galway – I  have learned a great deal from the workshops I have been involved in, the podcasts I have edited, the background research I have been doing for John on the project, and also from the many amazing people I have met both in and outside the university.

I  have also had the opportunity to present my own research to a  wide audience and most recently gave a talk on behalf of the Technology and Governance research cluster entitled A Critique of Linguistic Capitalism (and an artistic intervention)  as part of a seminar series organised by the  Whitaker Institute’s Ideas Forum,  which I managed to record.

You can download it HERE or listen below:

Part of my research involves using poetry to critique linguistic capitalism and the way language is both written and read in an age of algorithmic reproduction. For the talk I invited Galway poet Rita Ann Higgins to help me explore the the differing ‘value’ of words, so the talk includes Rita Ann reciting an extract from her award winning poem Our Killer City, and my own imagining of what the poem ‘sounds like’ – or is worth, to Google. The argument central to my thesis is that the power held by the tech giant Google, as it mediates, manipulates and extracts economic value from the language (or more accurately the decontextualised linguistic data) which flows through its search, communication and advertising systems, needs both transparency and strong critique. Words are auctioned off to the highest bidder, and become little more than tools in the creation of advertising revenue.

But there are significant side effects, which can be both linguistic and political. Fake news sites are big business for advertisers and Google, but also infect the wider discourse as they spread through social media networks and national consciousness. One of the big questions I am now starting to ask is just how resilient is language to this neoliberal infusion, and what could it mean politically? As the value of language shifts from conveyor of meaning to conveyor of capital, how long will it be before the linguistic bubble bursts?

Track Notes

0:00- introduction and background

4:30 – Google Search & autocomplete – digital language and semantic escorts

6:20 – Linguistic Capitalism and Google AdWords – the wisdom of a linguistic marketplace?

9:30 – Google Ad Grants – politicising free ads: the Redirect Method, A Clockwork Orange and the neoliberal logic of countering extremism via Google search

16:00 – Google AdSense – fake news sites, click-bait and ad revenue  –  from Chicago ballot boxes to Macedonia – the ads are real but the news is fake

20:35 – Interventions #1 – combating AdSense (and Breitbart News) – the Sleeping Giants Twitter campaign

23:00 – Interventions #2 – Gmail and the American Psycho experiment

25:30 – Interventions #3 – my own {poem}.py project – critiquing AdWords using poetry, cryptography and a second hand receipt printer

30:00 – special guest poet Rita Ann Higgins reciting Our Killer City

33:30 – Conclusions – a manifestation of postmodernism? sub-prime language – when does the bubble burst? commodified words as the master’s tools – problems  of method

Relevant Links

The Redirect Method

From Headline to Photograph, a Fake News Masterpiece – New York Times, 18 January 2017

How Facebook Powers Money Machines for Obscure Political ‘News’ Sites – The Guardian, 24 August 2016

How Teens in the Balkans are Duping Trump Supporters with Fake News – Buzzfeed, 4 November 2016

How to Destroy the Business Model of Breitbart and Fake News – New York Times, 7 January 2017

American Psycho, 2010 – Mimi Cabell & Jason Huff

{poem}.py : A Critique of Linguistic Capitalism – Pip Thornton, 2016

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