AI is ambivalent as humans

All the doomsday scenarios about AI, such as it being manipulative, deceptive, destructive, warmongering, and evil may come or not come true at some point. But this will ultimately only turn them similar to humans! When Trumps and Le Pens and Modis and Bolsonaros and Johnsons can still come out of established democracies with vastly educated and well-off populace, why do we expect AI models to be so virtuous, perfect and innocent?

The challenges of living with AI systems are not much different from human societies. Education, socialisation, law enforcement, and correction are the human techniques to maintain social order. For AI systems, we will need similar processes. But there is no guarantee, like as in for the humans, that we will avoid evil AI models who lie, cheat, manipulate, and steal.

AI is not a singularity. There will be thousands or even millions of AI models in the next few years which are made and trained differently. We can obviously use various techniques to train or curb or correct them. But we have to accept that they basically live among us, as part of the future human societies. 

They are almost humans, as morally ambivalent as humans. They just don’t have bodies—for now.

Platform neutrality

A  theoretical and policy approach to platform regulation

Digital platforms used to be spaces where consumers interacted with advertisers within a complex web of data relations (Gillespie, 2018a). But their trajectory has now moved beyond the domain of economy and have emerged as de facto infrastructures for social life—from the idea of ‘Platform Capitalism’ (Srnicek, 2017) to ‘Platform Society’ (Van Dijck et al., 2018), which explains how deeply platforms are embedded in social, economic, cultural, and legal institutions and practices (Van Dijck et al., 2018, p. 2).

If digital platform is understood as a ‘social figuration’ (Couldry & Hepp, 2017; Elias, 1982), this paper discerns two core processes within it which have immense ordering power: datafication and personalization (see Figure 1).

Datafication consists of massive user surveillance (Zuboff, 2019) and categorization (Gandy, 1993; Kitchin, 2014) of the collected data and is more oriented to knowledge. Personalization is comprised of ever-modulating predictions based on that data and of a hyper fragmentation of users, consumers, or citizens to apply those predictions on; it is more inclined toward practice.

Predictive analytics is now widely used in numerous areas such as risk assessments (such as insurance, policing, health, banking, credit and loans), recommender systems (such as e-commerce, and entertainment), and hypernudging (such as advertising and political campaigning). The more data are fed into predictive engines, the more accurate these predictions become; therefore, platforms are best places for hosting these engines.

Fragmentation is the automated process of segmenting the audiences into the smallest chunks so as to serve them with tailored suggestions or messages, services, and products.

The potential implications of mass personalization and its two sub-processes raise serious ethical concerns, from erosion of autonomy and solidarity to threats against democracy, and social justice (Yeung, 2018). When social action can be accurately predicted on an individual level, various actors may be able to nudge (Thaler & Sunstein, 2008) or influence users more effectively toward certain actions with commercial or political aims (Mills, 2022; Sunstein, 2012, 2013). This may undermine the citizen autonomy as the foundation of participant democracy (Leggett, 2014; Yeung, 2017, 2018).

Such concerns have incited global debates about the regulations of platforms and their embedded artificial intelligence  models. Based on the proposed conceptual model, this paper proposes a regulatory approach.

Platform neutrality is the proposed term for a legal and technical unbundling of the platform’s core code, its algorithms (or AI models), and the user data which will enable users to utilise third-party algorithms on all platforms. In other words, making platforms neutral to the algorithms and AI models they use. This will instigate a free market of algorithms where concerns about monopoly, transparency, accountability, and privacy will be resolved through competition.

Figure 2. Platform layers

Similar approach had been previously devised in 1990s where the unbundling of computer hardware, Operating System, and software completely changed personal computing around the world. In the platform era, the core code is the equivalent of hardware, the algorithms the OS, and the user data resembles the software.

Some examples may be useful: A private company could sell alternative navigation algorithms, to be used as plugins on Google or Apple Maps, which suggests routes with lower emission, or routes that help local shops, or those that are safer at night or need to become safer by more traffic, etc.

Another company could provide newsfeed algorithms for Facebook or Instagram which, not only explain what kind of content they prioritize, but allow users to customize their own or their children’s newsfeeds.

Platform neutrality is a creative way to use neoliberal market dynamics against itself for the public good.


Cheney-Lippold, J. (2018). We are data: Algorithms and the making of our digital selves. NYU Press.
Couldry, N., & Hepp, A. (2017). The mediated construction of reality: Society, culture, mediatization. Polity.
Couldry, N., & Mejias, U. A. (2019). The costs of connection: How data is colonizing human life and appropriating it for capitalism. Stanford University Press.
Elias, N. (1982). The civilizing process. Pantheon books New York.
Gandy, O. H. (1993). The panoptic sort: A political economy of personal information. Westview.
Gillespie, T. (2018a). Custodians of the Internet. Yale University Press.
Gillespie, T. (2018b). Custodians of the Internet: Platforms, content moderation, and the hidden decisions that shape social media. Yale University Press.
Kitchin, R. (2014). The data revolution: Big data, open data, data infrastructures and their consequences. SAGE.
Leggett, W. (2014). The politics of behaviour change: Nudge, neoliberalism and the state. Policy & Politics, 42(1), 3–19.
Mills, S. (2022). Personalized nudging. Behavioural Public Policy, 6(1), 150–159.
Pasquale, F. (2015). The black box society: The secret algorithms that control money and information. Harvard University Press.
Plantin, J. C., & Punathambekar, A. (2019). Digital media infrastructures: Pipes, platforms, and politics. Media, Culture and Society, 41(2), 163–174.
Srnicek, N. (2017). Platform capitalism. Polity.
Sunstein, C. R. (2012). The storrs lectures: Behavioral economics and paternalism. Yale LJ, 122, 1826.
Sunstein, C. R. (2013). Impersonal default rules vs. Active choices vs. Personalized default rules: A triptych. Active Choices vs. Personalized Default Rules: A Triptych (May 19, 2013).
Thaler, R. H., & Sunstein, C. R. (2008). Nudge: Improving decisions about health, wealth, and happiness. Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness., x, 293–x, 293.
Turow, J. (2012). The daily you: How the new advertising industry is defining your identity and your worth. Yale University Press.
Turow, J. (2017). The aisles have eyes: How retailers track your shopping, strip your privacy, and define your power. Yale University Press.
van Dijck, J. (2013). The culture of connectivity: A critical history of social media. Oxford University Press.
Van Dijck, J., Poell, T., & De Waal, M. (2018). The platform society: Public values in a connective world. Oxford University Press.
Yeung, K. (2017). ‘Hypernudge’: Big Data as a mode of regulation by design. Information, Communication & Society, 20(1), 118–136.
Yeung, K. (2018). Five fears about mass predictive personalisation in an age of surveillance capitalism. International Data Privacy Law, Forthcoming.
Zuboff, S. (2019). The age of surveillance capitalism: The fight for a human future at the new frontier of power (First edition). PublicAffairs.

Toward a media theory of gaze

What was most surprising about a recent ‘interdisciplinary’ LSE workshop on Attention, organised by the Anthropology department, was the absence of sociology as well as media and communications researchers; most participants were either anthropologists or psychologists.

You would expect that media and communications which is primarily concerned with media industry, media text, and media audience would be interested in the notion of attention as a prerequisite to any act of mediation or communication. Also, if sociology is ultimately about meaningful social action, attention must be seen as the first phase of any social action.

The truth is that there is no social account of attention developer by social theorists; an account which can explain the initial orientation which makes any social action possible. Can we speak, listen, read, write, love or hate without an orientation toward another person or institution? Is it possible to imagine a social act without an orientation toward a social actor?

This initial orientation, also known as attention, is the foundation for any relation between social objects, i.e. actors, institutions, or artefacts, which we call social action.

Before any social action, there is a relation between an attender and an attendee which we call attention.

Continue reading Toward a media theory of gaze

Post-Television Prime Time: A qualitative study of everyday uses of mobile devices


This qualitative research investigates the experience of prime time on mobile devices, as part of a wider question about continuities and discontinuities of linear television, with its three dimensions of technology, cultural form and social practice vis-à-vis the platform-dominated internet. The focus of this research is on the third dimension through an investigation of routine temporalities of mobile device use. While avoiding media-centrism and representational-only theories, this research uses purposive sampling, in-depth interviews along with brief think-aloud protocols, thematic coding, and thematic analysis to generate three main categories of daily routines, shared routines, and meanings as well as a few minor themes on notifications, usage rules, and stigma. The analysis shows that, despite the emerging new routines and temporalities linked to mobile devices, the usage and the meanings of these practices have remained similar to the television era. However, as the singular prime time tied to linear television seem tired, a plural, distributed prime time for mobile devices has emerged, which is worthy of deeper, wider, and more ethnography-oriented research in the future.

The full-text of my MSc dissertation, ‘Post-Television Prime Time’, is available, (PDF).

Continue reading Post-Television Prime Time: A qualitative study of everyday uses of mobile devices

End of news: Can democracy thrive with post-news journalism?

For some time, I’ve been following the discourse among journalists about the reasons for this rapid decline of news industry. There various explanations such as business models, quality, trust, or social media.

But when I was reading an article from one of my favourite media scholars, James W. Carey, where he points out the historical aspect of news, a new question crossed my mind which inspired my Harvard’s Shorenstein Center’s research and the article I wrote for Medium based on it: What if the news has largely lost its relevance and functions for the youth of the middle-class after two centuries around the world (Except in a few countries such as India)? And if that’s true, what can explain it?

Initial drafts included a playful analogy of hats to describe what has come of news. But with Jemima Kiss, my editor, we decided to drop that. Hence the picture.

So please read the full essay and leave your comments or responses.

Rouhani’s Last Blow

The moderate Iranian president asserts himself evermore as the next Supreme Leader. Can he survive the unlikely alliance of Iran and US hardliners?

By Hossein Derakhshan

Recent unrest in Iran can neither be fully explained by discourse of inequality, nor by that of democracy. The underlying theme of everything that is happening these days in Iran is one thing: Who is going to succeed the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei?

President Rouhani, a moderate reformer, has turned out to be a solid contender since his landslide victory last year. Particularly in light of recent reports on the health of Ayatollah Shahroudi, a favourite contender among clerical elite, who is reported to be diagnosed with cancer. Hence the rise of unprecedented challenges by hardliners. As Behzad Nabavi, a senior reformist politician recently said, if former reformist president Khatami “faced one challenge every nine days by average, Rouhani faces one every nine hours.”

Rouhani ran a successful campaign in 2013 against Iran’s hardliners with an ambitious platform of saving the economy (through reaching a deal with the Western power over its nuclear programme) and ending the police state (by keeping social media unblocked) — both caused by Ahmadinejad and his hardline allies.

Despite an aggressive campaign, centred around unemployment and inequality, Raisi lost with a big margin to Rouhani.
Before he began running for a second term, he had already delivered both. Despite very serious challenges by hardliners, with backing from the Supreme Leader, he reached the best possible deal with the six world powers and managed to lift crippling UN and EU sanctions which had started to pose an existential threat to the regime. He also succeeded in keeping hardliners from blocking the emerging social media of the time, i.e. Instagram and Telegram. (He ultimately preferred to give up on Facebook and Twitter both due to severe hardliner’ resistance and also their decline compared to the other two platforms.)

As the chairman of the Supreme National Security Council, which is a post constitutionally given to sitting presidents, he created a relatively safe space for reformist politicians, activists, and media to return to the political scene. He ended the squeezing of the civil society by the security apparatus. Moreover, he quietly expanded the reach and the speed of mobile access to the internet which significantly benefited the moderates’ and civil society who had no place in the state-run media. He also appointed a popular female reformist activist as a vice president for women’s affairs.

This time, hardliners were determined to unseat him. Not just because Rouhani was quietly but effectively rolling back the immense wealth and influence they had managed to gain under Ahmadinejad, but also because they knew Ayatollah Khamenei’s health and age would soon mean somebody should be elected to replace him. Hardliners were worried that a second term for Rouhani would shatter all their dreams.

In May 2017, hardliners found their best candidate. Ebrahim Raisi was a handsome (but uncharismatic) younger cleric (and also a prosecutor of a secretive special court for the clergy) who was recently appointed by Ayatollah Khamenei to run Imam Reza’s shrine and its associated endowment with an estimated $15b value. They threw everything they had behind Raisi. From their huge influence in clerical establishment, state media, and the Revolutionary Guards’ quasi-private cultural empire they had built under Ahmadinejad’s corrupted rule.

They even forced the former mayor of Tehran, Bagher Ghalibaf, who had already ran and lost twice for president, to run again — and do the dirty works for the neophyte Raisi during the campaign and especially presidential debates.

Despite their brutal and extremely populist campaign, centred around inequality and unemployment, they lost to Rouhani who basically promised to protect and expand his two achievements: Barjaam (Nuclear deal in Persian) and Telegram.

Trump had already shocked everyone around the world, including the Iranian establishment. Hardliners, though, visibly welcomed his victory because they knew how Trump hated the deal and implicitly hoped he would kill it — something they failed to do due to the strong practical (not so much rhetorical) support of the Supreme Leader.

It was not an accident that some US hawks, such as Elliot Abrams, explicitly wished for Rounahi’s rival to win. Their goal of regime-change in Iran could never be achieved while moderates were in power.

American hawks have found a golden opportunity to undermine the nuclear deal and the moderates without much effort, both of which are big hurdles for their ultimate project of regime-change.

After his victory, hardliners quickly began to embarrass Rouhani before a crucial part of his base: women. They lobbied the clerical establishment against appointment of women as cabinet ministers. They forced Rouhani to move his reformist vice-president for women’s affairs, Shahindokht Molaverdi, out of that position. They also blocked his plans to allow women in football stadiums, as well as a fresh clamp-down on young women’s dress-code in big cities and stopping female musicians to perform on stage alongside men.

The tacit alliance of US hawks and Iran hardliners reached a climax earlier in October when Trump officially announced his policy of regime-change in Iran.

Soon after the expected patriotic mood settled in Iran, Rouhani presented his budget to the parliament, warning that the economy couldn’t be fixed without a more transparent budget and invited all public organizations, especially those that belonged to the clerical establishment ,to be more accountable. He widely publicized it on social media and asked the public to start discussing it hoping that popular outrage would get the parliament cut public funding for dozens of those institutions which were mostly created or boosted by Ahmadinejad.

Hardliners, mostly direct or indirect students of Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, the nemesis of the reform in Iran, activated their grand plan: either to force Rouhani to resign now, or disillusion his middle-class base and thus defeat the moderate candidate (who is rumoured to be Ali Larijani) for the next presidential elections in 2021. They sent dozens of their senior members to speak in their strongholds such as Mashad, Isfahan, and Hamedan. They also, rather anonymously, organized anti-government protests to accompany them.

It’s yet to become clear if these hardliners had anticipated violence or not, but they surely had expected that US hawks would eagerly endorse the protests and put Rouhani in a losing game: If he let the protests continue, they would paint it as a grave failure of his economic policy which includes the nuclear deal and ultimately accuse him of severe incompetence. If he curbed them, they would illustrate him as an aloof autocrat who crushed the poor or the unemployed to cover up for his broken policies.

When the protests turned violent and the US hawks jumped on it, hardliners found their dream scenario. They forced Rouhani (who doesn’t have the majority vote in the committee which controls internet filtering and is overseen by the judiciary) to break his promise and block Telegram and Instagram — both blamed by the same hardliners for inciting violence. They also blame him of endangering national security by neglecting the economy and expressed wishes to kill the ’fruitless’ nuclear deal.

On the other side, American hawks have found a golden opportunity to undermine both the nuclear deal and the moderates without much effort — they are both big hurdles for their ultimate project of regime-change.

Rouhani now faces an extremely difficult situation which will determine both the future of his own faction in the next parliament and presidential elections, but the future of Iran (as a potential successor to the Supreme Leader) for the next few decades. Now not only should he keep protecting the nuclear deal, unblock the social media he ​had to the lives to ban temporarily, and go ahead with the economic reforms he had started, but he needs to prove that he can quickly bring back peace and stability ​and businesses ​of the urban middle-class.​ (Rouhani unblocked Telegram messenger last week despite tremendous resistance by hardliners.)

He has previously shown to be a deft politician who delivers. He is a jujitsu player; He anticipates a blow and turn its very force against the attacker. He has displayed that in television debates in 2017, and he might pull off something similar this time.

Hossein Derakhshan is an Iranian journalist and media analyst who spent six years in prison in Tehran from 2008. He tweets at @h0d3r

A statement

For nearly fifteen years, I have been subject to a politically-motivated disinformation campaign because of my sharp critique of the hawkish policies that could see Iran follow the same fate Iraq began to suffer in the mid-2000s.

In 2008, after I went back to Iran after a few years of living abroad, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps arrested me and kept me for eight consecutive months in solitary confinement, with no access to books or newspapers or even anyone to talk, so as to force me to confess that I was an agent of Israel, only because I had visited Israel as a freelance journalist and a peace activist to counter the drum of war at the time against Iran.

Almost two years later, in an unfair trial, I was spared a death penalty (precisely over two words which appeared in my blog), but was graced with a grotesque 19.5 year prison sentence, for my writings, reformist activism, and advocacy of free expression online.

It is ironic that my long-offline blog archive, which was once maliciously exploited by the Iranian regime to ruin six years of my life is now, after a decade, used by some opponents of the Iranian regime to vindictively demolish the rest of my life, both personally and professionally —after all the pain and trauma that my family and I experienced and still endure, a time when I’m finally getting back on my feet.

Ever since I was released in 2014, I have restarted thinking and writing about how new media and social platforms are impacting our societies. It was the quality of my output which earned me the chance to continue research on the future of news and algorithms, as well as information disorder (‘fake news’) at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy and the MIT Media Lab.

Nearly forty years after the 1979 revolution, most of the critics of the current Iranian system want the same thing: a secular, open, just, peaceful, and prosperous state which protects minorities, allows dissent, and tolerates difference. I, too, share that vision. However like the majority of Iranians, I believe it should come from within, or it would not be sustainable. Alas, this has made all Iranian reformers like me an easy target equally by hardliners in Iran and hawks in the US.

Why Is Social News Bad for Democracy

Consumption of news has become a social performance for the first time in history—and it only helps spread of disinformation

By Hossein Derakhshan and Claire Wardle

The Collins Dictionary word of the year for 2017 is, disappointingly, “fake news”. We say disappointingly, because the ubiquity of that phrase among journalists, academics and policymakers is partly why the debate around this issue is so simplistic. The phrase is grossly inadequate to explain the nature and scale of the problem. (Were those Russian ads displayed at the congressional hearings last week news, for example?) But what’s more troubling, and the reason that we simply cannot use the phrase any more, is that it is being used by politicians around the world as a weapon against the fourth estate and an excuse to censor free speech.

Definitions matter. Take, for example, the question of why this type of content is created in the first place. There are four distinct motivations for why people do this: political, financial, psychological (for personal satisfaction) and social (to reinforce our belonging to communities or “tribes”). If we’re serious about tackling mis- and disinformation, we need to address these motivations separately. And we think it’s time to give much more serious consideration to the social element.

Social media force us to live our lives in public, positioned centre-stage in our very own daily performances. Erving Goffman, the American sociologist, articulated the idea of “life as theatre” in his 1956 book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, and while the book was published more than half a century ago, the concept is even more relevant today. It is increasingly difficult to live a private life, in terms not just of keeping our personal data away from governments or corporations, but also of keeping our movements, interests and, most worryingly, information consumption habits from the wider world.

When we try to understand why people are sharing misleading, manipulated and fabricated information, we need to appreciate that those shares and retweets are playing an incredibly important function, which is less about their veracity or truth.
The social networks are engineered so that we are constantly assessing others — and being assessed ourselves. In fact our “selves” are scattered across different platforms, and our decisions, which are public or semi-public performances, are driven by our desire to make a good impression on our audiences, imagined and actual.

We grudgingly accept these public performances when it comes to our travels, shopping, dating, and dining. We know the deal. The online tools that we use are free in return for us giving up our data, and we understand that they need us to publicly share our lifestyle decisions to encourage people in our network to join, connect and purchase.

But, critically, the same forces have impacted the way we consume news and information. Before our media became “social”, only our closest family or friends knew what we read or watched, and if we wanted to keep our guilty pleasures secret, we could. Now, for those of us who consume news via the social networks, what we “like” and what we follow is visible to many — or, in Twitter’s case, to all, unless we are in that small minority of users who protect their tweets. Consumption of the news has become a performance that can’t be solely about seeking information or even entertainment. What we choose to “like” or follow is part of our identity, an indication of our social class and status, and most frequently our political persuasion.

When we try to understand why people are sharing misleading, manipulated and fabricated information, we need to appreciate that those shares and retweets are playing an incredibly important function, which is less about their veracity or truth. The act of sharing is often about signalling to others that we agree with the sentiment of the message, or that even if we don’t agree, we recognise it as important and worth paying attention to. We want to feel connected to others, and these mini-performances allow us to do that.

“News is not information, it is drama…reading a newspaper less as sending or gaining information and more as attending a mass where particular view of the world is portrayed and confirmed”.
Understanding this is easier if we read the work of media scholar James Carey. He argued that the dominant lens through which we understand communication is a “transmission model”, with a focus simply on the mechanics through which a message is transmitted from Sender A to Receiver B. However, he said, we should actually view communication through the lens of ritual if we want to understand why people seek out, consume and make sense of information. From this vantage point, Carey argued: “News is not information, it is drama.” A ritual view of communication views “reading a newspaper less as sending or gaining information and more as attending a mass”, where “a particular view of the world is portrayed and confirmed”.

When we consider many of the solutions being proposed to tackle the spread of disinformation, it certainly seems that the focus is on this transmission model. Ideas such as flagging disputed content are founded on the idea that information consumption is rational. If we are serious about slowing down the dissemination of mis- and disinformation, we need to start recognising the emotional and social drivers that shape people’s relationship with information.

There has been much discussion over the past year about the need for us to pop our filter bubbles, to follow a much more diverse set of people and accounts. But how do we do this when those actions are public? Do we need to explain to our network why we are following that hyper-partisan Facebook page that sits at the opposite end of the political spectrum from our own views? And how to “heart” a tweet to go back to later for research when that action is public? Seeing Twitter tell you that your most ardent Trump-hating friend just “liked” one of his tweets can be jarring.

While the architecture of the platforms isn’t the root cause of why mis- and disinformation are being created on the scale we’re now seeing, these features are a significant reason that they are being disseminated.
As a French thinker of the 1960s, Guy Debord, would second, we’ve historically evolved from being informed to having information, and then to appearing informed. While the architecture of the platforms isn’t the root cause of why mis- and disinformation are being created on the scale we’re now seeing, these features are a significant reason that they are being disseminated. And when the algorithms that power these networks are designed to capitalise on our emotional responses, but proposed solutions require rational responses. Unfortunately, no significant change is likely.

Claire Wardle is a research fellow at the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, and leads the non-profit First Draft. Hossein Derakhshan is a writer and researcher. They recently co-authored Information Disorder, a report commissioned by the Council of Europe

Text vs. World Trumps

Decline of text in favour of videos means more Trumps and Berlusconis around the world. How can we save our democracies?

By Hossein Derakhshan

TEHRAN — Demagogues of the world, right or left, have got to love television. The linear, emotion-driven, passive, and image-centred medium has reduced politics to a reality-show. As Neil Postman showed in “Amusing Ourselves to Death” television has vastly downgraded the level of public discourse in most democracies. From US to Iran, from Venezuela to France, from Egypt to Russia, from Italy to Turkey, there is as much competition over viewers’ gaze as it is over their ballots. In many countries, gaze is automatically translated into votes.

Most alarmingly, the internet which was the last word-centred public space after the decline of print journalism, is capitulating to the television format. Social networks’ notion of the Stream, in Facebook, Twitter etc., is killing the web and thereby the word-based journalism. Facebook now is more like the future of television than how the web looked like for over two decades.

A recent research by Oxford University shows that watching online videos is on the rise in US and most parts of the world, except in northern Europe. Perhaps because they have a healthier work and life balance and also because their public education system still promotes reading and critical thinking.

Donald Trump’s mastery of television medium means he can turn every threat into opportunity, every waste into energy – like a perfect incineration plant. He seems invincible in the age of television and video-dominated internet.
Meanwhile, Facebook has announced that soon videos will dominate its news feeds, for it “commands so much information in a much quicker period so actually the trend helps us digest more of the information in a quicker way,’ in the words of Nicola Mendelsohn. a vice president at Facebook.

This confirms my own speculation when I came out in of an Iranian prison in 2014 only to discover a whole different internet, where text is in decline and images, still or moving, on the rise. As a pioneer of blogging in Iran, what I realized after six years of isolation was that blogs, the best example of a decentralized public sphere, were dead. Facebook and Instagram had killed hyperlinks to maximize profits by keeping users inside and exposing them to more and more advertising. Thus they were killing the open web, which was founded on links. The internet had become more of an entertaining tool than an alternative space for public discussion. Worse than that, I noticed a strange unease among the youth to read anything over 140 characters.

Of course text will never die, but the ability to communicate through alphabet is now slowly becoming a privilege dedicated to a small elite in many societies. Quite like middle ages where only politicians and monks enjoyed the ability to communicate through alphabet. The rest are going to be the 21st century illiterates who can mainly communicate through images, videos – and of course, emojis.

The emerging illiterate class, hooked onto their old television sets or to their Facebook-centred mobile personal televisions (i.e. smart phones), is good news for demagogues. Look at how Donald Trump has mastered the formula of television to turn it into his free-of-charge public relations machine. His capture of the spirit of television has helped him transform all threats into opportunities, garbage into gold, and waste into energy – like a perfect incineration plant.

Neil Postman perfectly explained why in his 1985 book. To him, the difference between 16th to 19th century public discourse in the US and now is that public opinion in the age of television is more a set of “emotions rather than opinions, which would account for the fact that they change from week to week, as the pollsters tell us.” He sees the entertaining nature of television as only producing disinformation, which “does not mean false information. It means misleading information — misplaced, irrelevant, fragmented or superficial information — information that creates the illusion of knowing something but which in fact leads one away from knowing.”

The recent EU referendum coverage on UK televisions has been a good example. While sticking to the UK media regulations on impartiality, some still believe that the numerous debates where both sides had equal time to argue for their cases, had not done justice to a complex and sensitive topic such as Brexit. Particularly now that some initial claims by the pro-Leave camp, such as the diversion of a £350m “sent to the EU every week” on the UK’s public health-care system, are denied by the very people who pledged it. There were already much debunking of such distortions and disinformation available on the web and in print. But talking about numbers and maths is always boring and useless on television. (A persian saying goes as “a stupid throws a stone down a well, but a hundred wise people cannot take it out.”)

Justin Webb, a former North America editor at the BBC, went as far to blame the existing impartiality rules. Last week he wrote in Radio Times: “One of the clearest messages during the referendum campaign was that audiences were hungry for real knowledge. People wanted to go beyond claim and counter-claim so that they could work out what was true.” He suggested that “media needs to look again at how it covers politics and the way it holds people to account in the wake of the vote to leave the European Union”, according to The Guardian.

The twilight of word-centred journalism, either in print or on the web, means oversimplified, emotional political discourse, uninformed political participation, and of course, more demagogy around the world.

It’s hard to say whether it was first the public who demanded more videos, or was it the media that, scared by the prospect of ad-blocking technologies, rushed toward videos, which drew more audiences, generated more advertising cash, and proven harder to block. Nonetheless, we face the grave consequences of such shift for the future of our democracies.

It is clear that for a healthy, representative democracy we need more text than videos, at least to resist self-serving demagogues. This is not an American or a British problem, this is a threat to our civilization.

Hossein Derakhshan (@h0d3r) is an Iranian-Canadian author, freelance journalist and media analyst. He is the author of “The Web We Have to Save (Matter)” and the creator of “Link-age”, a collaborative art project to promote hyperlinks and open web.

A Note on Future of Internet

Web was basically an application built on top of the internet. It was free, because it depended on advertising.

Now the rise of ad blocking applications doesn’t only mean a change of revenue model is necessary, but it also hints at the end of the web and web browsers in general.

Paywalls as a solution take news websites a step closer toward mobile apps. And mobile apps are replacing the web.

When the transition is over, internet will mean apps, instead of sites. And many of these apps won’t be free to use, as it is the case now. So revenue models will have to change toward something like cable tv: When you pay for your high-speed internet connection , you will have to pay an extra monthly fee for subscription to a news package, entertainment package, education package, etc.

Soon ISPs (mobile or else) will partner with content-providers who have lost much of their advertising revenue. Some content-providers will become ISPs. Facebook for instance is testing waters already with its project, to become an ISP. It has already partnered with some big journalism outlets (Instant articles project) to bring in their content into its own system.

Soon we’ll be paying Facebook and other ISPs every month to have access to the internet as well as access to professionally-made content. This will be the main source of revenue for many newspapers and magazines.

Google has long dedicated most of its resources to web. Most of the money it generates come from text ads which is founded on hyperlink. But now that web, hyperlink, and ads are in demise, it will need to readjust to survive.

These were obviously some sketchy ideas. But I would love to further explore them.