If Facebook wants to be completely transparent, then its time for them to reveal their algorithm | Liam O’Dell

With the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s Select Committee calling for more transparency around the business models used by social media platforms such as Facebook, the rise of data politics means that the algorithms can no longer be kept a secret.

It’s a system so mysterious that it’s become a game to content creators and data miners – a series of hoops to jump through that can get them to the audience they want. Crack the algorithm, and you crack a system which is, in essence, the hive mind of those which use said platform. Cambridge Analytica have shown that it can be done, which is why it’s time that the inner workings of social media sites are revealed to the public.

Photo: Anthony Quintano/Flickr.

This level of transparency was also called for by a report by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s Select Committee (DCMSC), along with a new definition for social media websites which are “not necessarily either a ‘platform’ or a ‘publisher'”.

There has been ongoing talk about Facebook’s precise role in the tech and media industries, and whether it is indeed a ‘publisher’. Yet, as the DCMSC notes: “Facebook is continually altering what we see, as is shown by its decision to prioritise content from friends and family, which then feeds into users’ newsfeed algorithm.”

More importantly, it’s time for social media platforms to fully disclose what exactly their algorithm is. The Cambridge Analytica scandal has shown that this is a serious ethical issue. It’s essential that something so impactful and manipulative is out in the open, so the public knows just how they are being influenced.

Recently, Channel 4’s Dispatches investigated how Facebook moderates content on its platform, and questions are being asked about what sort of content the site decides not to take down. Monika Bickert, Facebook’s Head of Global Policy Management, told the DCMSC that “our community would not want us, a private company, to be the arbiter of truth”, yet their systems display content in a particular way, and they still have to make decisions about what content they do not allow on their platform.

In turn, social media sites may claim that publishing extensive details about their algorithms may harm their company when it comes to competition, but this issue covers freedom of expression and democracy – two things which cannot continue to be sacrificed for protecting ‘trade secrets’.

Granted, knowing how such a system works may be a gold mine for those who seek to exploit it (clickbaiters, data miners and so forth), but when the general public know how a system can be cheated, they can also know how others can use it for monetary gain. Those who publish fake news will be faced with a fresh wave of scepticism when people know the tactics that they use.

If Facebook doesn’t want to be seen as an “arbiter of truth”, then the solution is simple: make the algorithm more transparent, and then the people can decide the truth for themselves.

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Funding for an inclusive transport network is good news, but long overdue | Liam O’Dell

A £30 million boost to public transport – combined with continuous improvements in technology – means we’re one step closer to a fully accessible and inclusive network for disabled people.

Public transport already comes with an air of traditional British awkwardness. Eye contact with fellow train passengers is heavily discouraged, conversations with your taxi driver never extend beyond small talk and if you play hardcore dubstep too loud through your headphones you’ll be met with 22 death stares from commuters on the Circle Line.

Now imagine this experience as a disabled person. For many autistic people, the loud noises of the London Underground can be nothing more than overwhelming. For wheelchair users, some train stations come without step-free access. Then, for a deaf young person like me, all it takes is an announcement over a tannoy on a train and I start to feel lost and confused.

Photo: Department for Transport.

I turn to the commuter next to me.

“What did they say?” I ask.

Except I don’t.

For one thing, I’ve come to assume that the train coming to a halt and the garbling voice of the driver in an announcement means that the journey is most likely delayed. A quick look at Trainline on my phone confirms it, and saves me from breaking the eerie silence that returns once the driver has finished talking.

While technology has helped to improve accessibility on public transport for me and other disabled people, the inclusivity of a bus journey or taxi ride is significantly enhanced when tech combines with physical improvements – which is why I welcome the Department for Transport’s announcement this week that up to £300 million is to be invested in making transport networks in the UK more inclusive.

In their Inclusive Transport Strategy, the Government commits to legislation to ensure that “on-board audible and visible upcoming stop and route information is installed on local bus services across Great Britain” – a reassuring move indeed.

From a deaf person’s perspective, the strategy could also go further, and address tannoy systems on trains and taxis. Granted, the option of taking the front passenger seat in taxis is an option for me when I need to hear the driver, but there’s always been that expectation that you’ll struggle to open the back door, not sit at the front. The end result is having to try and make out the driver’s voice in amongst the hum of the traffic which seeps through the doors.

The strategy also talks about how 75% of rail journeys are now through stations with step-free access, but it could also commit to 100% within a certain timeframe. Similarly, the Government plans to launch a public awareness campaign in 2019 around positively interacting with disabled people “to ensure a supportive travelling experience”. This needs to start now.

Only last week did we hear of a disabled comedian who was “humiliated” for using a disabled space on a train for her mobility scooter when another passenger wanted to use it for a pram. It’s an ongoing issue around priority seats which also highlighted in a campaign by comedian Corry Shaw, who called for Transport to London (TfL) to introduce messages asking people to ‘look up’ and see if someone needs your seat.

As more funding is announced for disabled facilities on public transport, we also need to ensure that such support is not exploited and that non-disabled people are aware of its intended purpose just as much as disabled people.

The Global Disability Summit 2018: Disabled people must be at the heart of change | Liam O’Dell

As the first ever Global Disability Summit – organised by the Department for International Development – gets underway, we must remember that disabled people have to be at the heart of all positive change.

The sheer hypocrisy of having the UK Government host an event on disability following last year’s “human catastrophe” verdict by the UN is more significant than you may think.

With delegates discussing topics such as “tackling stigma and discrimination, inclusive education, technology and innovation” and looking to ways of implementing change, it’s important to consider the actions and attitudes which both underpin and hinder social progress.

Photo: Department for International Development (DfID).

At the centre of all this is media and political representation. Disabled people long for accurate portrayals in film and television of those with similar impairments to their own, devoid of the ‘inspiration porn’ and warped fascination that surrounds disability. In politics, decisions on benefits and support for disabled people stir up negative stereotypes, and in some cases, they aren’t even consulted on government changes.

Both of these issues combine to dramatically limit the power and voice of disabled people in society. Charities launch campaigns aimed at ‘ending the awkward’ around disability because the actions of politicians – supported by the press – create an atmosphere where the only understanding people have of impairments, conditions and disabled people is through government policy and the limited media representation – that is unless they visit charity websites or know someone who is disabled, of course.

However, there’s a possibility that this awkwardness and issue has transferred into education and other areas of society. While my experience at school regarding additional support was absolutely incredible, not everyone has the same opportunities during their time in the education system. For some, if measures are put in place to help them, it’s with little involvement from the disabled person themselves.

So now, as organisations look to implement the Charter for Change, it’s reassuring that one of the ten clauses within it is to:

“promote the leadership and diverse representation of all persons with disabilities to be front and centre of change; as leaders, partners and advocates. This includes the active involvement and close consultation of persons with disabilities of all ages.”

Summits are a great opportunity for discussion and debate – to talk, and to listen. If there’s a global effort to enforce the above pledge, then we can elevate the platforms of disabled people around the world, informing policy and breaking down stereotypes and misconceptions in our society that have existed for far too long.

Are you disabled and between 11 and 30 years old? If so, the Global Disability Summit is inviting you to share your thoughts on some of the issues disabled people face around the world. The survey is online now. I’ve completed it, and I hope you do too.

Disconnected

This little corner of the Internet has been gathering dust over the past few months. Sure, there’s been theatre and music reviews which have kept things moving forward, but the previous schedule I used to have on The Life of a Thinker is pretty much non-existent.

As I write this, I wonder if my lack of posting falls under the wider creative block I’ve experienced since leaving university. I’ve been able to produce more journalistic articles now that I’ve finished (today saw me hand in my keys to my flat – I am now completely finished bar my graduation in September), but returning to blog posts and structures which existed prior to my third year of university feels weird and alien to me now. Uni life has led to a break and sense of disconnect that means any chance of me picking up where I left off is minimal and slim – my memory of a regular blog schedule buried underneath all the recollections of my dissertation work, exams and more.

I think I probably need some time to think about how regularly I blog and what type of content I write about. Life updates and music reviews are the two main types of content on The Life of a Thinker and for the longest time I have considered just turning this into a music blog, but to do that would require saying goodbye to the more journalistic articles that appear on my blog from time to time.

At the moment, with music reviews and life updates taking up Fridays and Sundays on my schedule, that still leaves Mondays and Wednesdays free. One could probably be filled with more opinion pieces (which I need to get back to doing) but the other is still blank. I’ve considered more TV reviews on this blog – would that be of interest to you? Let me know.

I apologise that this probably isn’t the most substantial blog post or explanation as to where I’ve been or what comes next, but I hope that with time, my ideas for what happens next to my corner of the internet will become clearer.

Thanks for sticking around.

New Music Review: ‘High Enough’ by Justin Caruso feat. Rosie Darling

Just three notes are at the heart of the melody in DJ Justin Caruso’s latest track, High Enough, but when mixed with singer Rosie Darling’s vocals and impressive production skills, the single makes for a vibrant dance hit.

From the outset, instrumentals in the verses let Darling take centre stage with the traditional soft sound expected on a dance track like this, but it’s enough to keep the track moving.

It’s a seamless process which extends to the track’s build-up, flowing effortlessly into the basic melody at the heart of the single.

The only disappointment comes with the final chorus, where one expects the lyrics in the build-up are now placed over the main melody. In some songs, this happens whilst the main lyrics are played at the same time, but on this occasion, it could have made for a less abrupt ending than the one Caruso adopts.

With creative pacing in the lyrics and a simplistic but effective melody, Caruso and Darling deliver a chilled hit with High Enough.

The single is available now on Apple Music and Spotify.

#NewMusicFriday: ‘First Aid’ by Eliza and the Bear

As Eliza and the Bear explore new sounds on their upcoming album, Group Therapy, their latest single First Aid is a little look back at the band’s beginnings – with lead singer James Kellegher taking centre-stage on this raw and impactful track.

After having revealed some of their personal struggles and their difficult journey to get to a second album, Eliza and the Bear think it “felt so right” that First Aid was released to fans this week – and they’re not wrong.

For one thing, it’s a break from the funk pop style we’ve seen on previous releases such as Higher, Hell and Real Friends. Instead, it feels like an emboldened version of what we already know from their debut. Out goes the loud drums and chanting vocals, replaced by a steady, controlled beat and soul from James. If Eliza and the Bear wanted to gently introduce their new sound, as opposed to a more daring and surprising approach, then this could very well have been a solid first single.

With the band already hinting that Group Therapy will be more funky release than their debut, First Aid moves away from that idea to deliver a passionate and raw track. Such a detour suggests that a bit of experimentation can be expected on their sophomore album, and for a band which has gone through some difficult times, they’re back, and the creativity is flowing.

First Aid is out now on Apple Music and Spotify. Eliza and the Bear’s second album, Group Therapy, is released on 5 October.

‘Consent’ review – Nina Raine’s thought-provoking elaborate production raises many questions in a tense blend of love and justice

In a detailed exploration of love, justice and the law, Consent raises a lot of questions for the audience to ponder – both curious and confusing ones.

One would think that such confusion would come from the technicalities of the play being one of a legal nature, but Raine’s research shines confidently throughout in the writing. Instead, in a production which explores the many relationships of the characters on stage, what starts as a straightforward tale expands into something far more complex and puzzling.

From left: Adam James, Stephen Campbell Moore, Lee Ingleby, Clare Foster and Claudie Blakley. Credit: Johan Persson

Thankfully, this doesn’t stop Raine from raising some interesting points in the dialogue of her characters. The History Boys’ Stephen Campbell Moore and The A Word‘s Lee Ingleby are amongst the cast who deliver powerful performances and showcase excellent character development. The atmosphere’s tense, and the individuals three-dimensional – often expressing contrasting opinions throughout, which is particularly interesting to see.

Mix the topic of the play and the characters with a classical score and limited set design, and things start to feel a little more intense. Yet such a tone and pace for a play which explores many ideas does lead to some points being lost. It’s upon re-reading the play text that you begin to see some of the foreshadowing and wider, underlying discussions.

An impressive cast and excellent dialogue feature in Consent, but as the plot develops, some of the production’s underlying points get lost along the way.

Rating: 3.5/5