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International Network Observatory

Global Strategy and Big Data

Humanising Online Pedagogy‌: on data and education

Innovation Posted on 02 May, 2014 09:49

Humanising Online Pedagogy‌
Friday 23rd May 2014

The Arbour Room, Hope Park, Liverpool Hope University‌

For many of us the digital age seems to have long since arrived. Yet our social, cultural and particularly our educational institutions are struggling to adapt. There are a range of practical and philosophical issues at stake. Practical considerations include how to engage students with truly blended learning, and how inclusive technological mediations and interventions can be. But such practical concerns are themselves predicated upon deeper questions about the nature of knowledge in the digital age, and whether physical presence is an inalienable aspect of pedagogy.

This one-day workshop will provide a showcase for recent work undertakenby the Philosophy of Educational Technology group at Liverpool Hope University, while also drawing together other partners interested and involved in this conversation.

Funded by BERA (British Educational Research Association), PESGB (Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain), and hosted by Liverpool Hope University, this event will support the wider discussion of Philosophy of Technology as it relates to pedagogy.

‌If you would like to book a place on this one day workshop, please visit the Hope Online Store to register your place.

‘How the Internet defeated Seymour Hersh’

Innovation Posted on 02 May, 2014 09:38

Seymour Hersh, the Pulitzer Prize winning investigative reporter, has re-opened the discussion on who was behind the Chemical Weapons attack in Syria. Hersh argues that Turkey supplied the rebels with these deadly weapons in a ‘false flag operation’ designed to create the legitimisation for military intervention.

At first sight, this looks like exciting investigative reporting by an icon of free journalism. A closer look, however, reveals the work of a twentieth century reporter whose methodology has become heavily outdated and perhaps even unreliable. Hersh’s story is based on a single anonymous source – rumoured to be F. Michael Maloof, a former George W. Bush Defence staffer.

On the other side of the debate we find the likes of Eliot Higgins who runs theBrown Moses Blog. Higgins has no qualifications in Journalism or Foreign Policy and has never set foot in Syria. But he understands the internet’s defining characteristics and turns it into a strategic advantage to gather information and, as such, is able to successfully challenge the grand master of investigative journalism.

By cleverly utilising the network characteristic of Twitter and by gathering the infinite images emerging from the deadly conflict via YouTube and Facebook, he manages to document the dynamics of the conflict in detail. This methodology has turned his blog into a credible source of information referenced by traditional media outlets like BBC, Reuters and CNN.

Higgins represents two distinct features of the information age: ‘open source’ intelligence gathering and unfamiliar networked solutions, developments that Hersh has ignored but which are radically changing the fields of intelligence and journalism.

Both intelligence analysts and journalists heavily relied on a handful of sources to create stories. Verifying for reliability of the source and keeping the identity anonymous was part of best practices in both fields.

The emergence of the digital age has fundamentally changed this. As social media are datafying social life, relationships, behaviour, thoughts, locations, and networks, a vast amount of messy data is suddenly available to be harvested. Most of this data is open source and can be accessed by individuals such as ‘Brown Moses’.

In the aftermath of the Ghouta attack on the 21st of August last year, the Leicester-based blogger started analysing the videos on YouTube and information on other social networks. Much of the data was in Arabic, a language Higgins does not understand, and thus had to rely on Google Translate and support from his followers.

It took Higgins several months to reconstruct that the type of rocket (‘Volcano’) used in the attack has indeed been used before and, moreover, that the Syrian Arab Army and the Syrian National Defence Force has this specific type of weapon in their arsenal. Furthermore, his work revealed how the missiles were fired from regime-controlled areas.

Seymour Hersh on the other hand chose to ignore this publically available information that was contradicting his argument and instead relied solely on a single source. His methodology certainly proved useful in the Cold War as evident from his work on revealing the My Lai massacre, for instance.

‘The Internet’ has rendered the work of one of the world’s most famous reporters severely outdated and even unreliable. A social media-savvy nobody from a medium-sized English town with a good online network is beating the grand master in his own game.

Hersh’s article is a welcome addition for those seeking to uncover who was behind the attack that killed over a 1,000 civilians and nearly caused a US-led military intervention in Syria – if only for putting it back on the agenda. But moreover, it signifies a fundamental change for the intelligence community and news media that times have changed and innovative, networked, and open sourced approaches are vital for reliable information gathering and analysis.

This entry by Anno Bunnik, PhD Fellow and Coordinator at CASI, was first published on openDemocracy and Anno’s blog

‘The other side of Big Data’

Global Strategy Posted on 01 May, 2014 22:46

Great read on ‘the other side of Big Data’ can be found on the blog of Roberto Zicari.

What is the other side of Big Data? What are the societal benefits, risks, and values of Big Data? These are difficult questions to answer. On this topic, Roberto Zicari interviewed Dr. Michael L. Brodie, Research Scientist at MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.

“For over 2,000 years a little What has guided Why – Scientific Discovery through empiricism.
 Big Data has the potential of turning scientific discovery on its ear. Big Data is leading to a shift from Why to What.”

“The value of Big Data and the emergence of Big Data analytics may shift the preponderance of scientific discovery to What, since it is so much cheaper that Why – clinical studies that take vast resources and years of careful work. Here is the challenge. 
Why – causation – cannot be deduced from What. It is not clear that Big Data practitioners understand the tenuous link between What and Why.”

‘Big data requires a code of conduct for academics, government and industry’

Ethics Posted on 28 Apr, 2014 12:10

Telephone traffic, GPS data, photos, patient information in the healthcare service: these days, we leave a digital footprint wherever we go. Together, these footprints form what is known as ‘big data’. This huge volume of data is prompting important ethical questions. Questions to which we do not yet have satisfactory answers, says Professor of Ethics and International Politics, Dr Andrej Zwitter. He thinks it is now time for ethicists to start formulating these answers. We have to think about what academics, governments and industry should be allowed to do with this collected data, but also how we can teach our children to live in a world surrounded by data. Zwitter has set up an international think-tank to discuss this matter: the International Network Observatory.

‘We store enormous volumes of data’, says Zwitter. ‘Two researchers, Smolan and Erwitt, worked out that we currently store more than five billion gigabytes of data every ten minutes. This is the equivalent of all the data stored from the start of the computer era until 2003. What’s more, this trend is set to continue: it is estimated that by 2015, we will be storing the same volume of data every ten seconds.’

Big data

‘Big data is not simply more of something we’ve been doing all along. Big data is fundamentally different. We used to collect traditional statistical data, small data, for a specific reason, so it was accurate and clean. But collecting big data is a whole new ball game. Companies and analysts try to collect as much data as possible on a certain subject, accumulating mountains of data on anything that is remotely related to their chosen field, including data from social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook. The data is jumbled, polluted and represents reality: they have created a digital, reflected reality.’

Always correlations

‘Big data obviously generates a lot of useful functionalities. But the digital reality thus created can also cause countless problems. For example, you will always find correlations and links in large databases. Men who buy nappies buy more beer than average. There is no direct link between these facts; the only common denominator is a baby. This is a fairly innocent example, but large-scale data sets increase your risk of being randomly associated with someone who has committed an atrocious crime, for example, without having the slightest moral responsibility. This can have a very real impact.’


‘Predictions based on collected data can also have a disastrous effect. Data analysts use information about groups to predict consumer shopping habits so that shops can organize their purchasing and design their shops accordingly. But this group strategy can have implications for individuals. Imagine living in an area where as an unemployed person with a certain make of car, you are more than ninety percent more likely to steal from a shop? Should we lock you up as a precaution or send round a social worker? Considered guilty on the basis of a prediction, you may very well find yourself stigmatized.’

Free will

‘All in all, big data is causing a fundamental shift in ethics. It no longer involves an individual action or decision with predictable results or implications, but a situation in which you make subconscious decisions or do things automatically, which then have unexpected or unintended consequences.’


‘So it’s time to start thinking seriously about the ethical implications of the way we are datafying our real lives into big data, and how we want to deal with this. Universities must take the lead in this discussion. The University of Groningen has set up an international think-tank (the International Network Observatory) with Liverpool Hope University, the Austrian Institute for International Politics (OIIP) and the European Centre for Applied Research (ECFAR) to consider these very issues.’

‘I am in favour of a code of conduct for people who work with large volumes of personal and anonymous social data, rather like the oath that doctors have to take. Teaching is another essential aspect: people must be made to understand what big data is, what is stored and how it can be used (and misused). We should start in primary schools. Children have to earn a road safety diploma, so why not a digital living diploma?’

Andrej J. Zwitter (Klagenfurt, 1982) studied law and philosophy at the Karl Franzens University in Graz (Austria). He carried out PhD research into terrorism, international law and the philosophy of law at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Germany. Zwitter is Professor of International Relations at the University of Groningen and director of the European Centre for Applied Research.

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