Let’s take all election debates to radio

By Hossein Derakhshan*

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The first presidential debates were also broadcast live for the first time in 1960 between Nixon and Kennedy.

Presidential debates are emerging as a new television genre around the world, combining quiz shows followed by sports commentary. They have become entertaining enough to boost ratings, but do they really help the democratic process?

We all know now what Marshal McLuhan and Neil Postman insisted on decades ago. That television is not just a medium, it is a discourse which constructs its own version of reality; it is a machine that takes the most serious issues on the planet and makes entertainment out of them; and that its message is determined by its conventions.

Radio and…


A taxonomy of information warfare

By Hossein Derakhshan*

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In the Information Disorder report for Council of Europe (2017), Claire Wardle and I identified three types of bad-information (mis-, dis-, and malinformation), three phases (creation, (re)production, distribution), and three elements (agent, message, interpreter) to information disorder.


We now live in a reality that prizes emotion over reason and images over words

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Illustration: Jessica Siao

The first time I watched television was a few months after an eight-month-long detention in solitary. I was in Evin Prison in Tehran, in October 2008, on political charges. I’d had nothing to read or watch or listen to. I was constantly walking back and forth in my cell, talking to myself — an endless internal dialogue with almost anything that my brain contained or could create. I whistled all the songs I knew, talked in every language I knew some words in, imagined blog posts I would write after my freedom, made a film in my head with every…


So what does that mean for democracy?

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Photo by Elijah O’Donell on Unsplash

Late one evening in March, I was sat in the JFK Forum at Harvard’s Kennedy School, surrounded by dozens of journalists and academics. We were watching Nina Martin and Renee Montagne, from NPR and ProPublica, collect their Goldsmith investigative reporting award for “Lost Mothers,” a harrowing and important piece of work exploring the shocking number of American women who die in childbirth every year.

As they were being given a standing ovation, I finally formulated the question I’ve been struggling with lately: With this kind of brilliant and high-quality journalism being pursued around the world every day, why is it…


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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. …


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The Lovers (1928), by Rene Magritte

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?) …


Piqd – Danah Boyd perfectly shows what is missing most from Silicon Valley: sociologists. Her short article in Backchannel is an invitation to think and look at the structures which produce and reproduce existing technologies. Trying to map the popular debate on what is now called “fake news”, she cautiously puts some light on the elephant in the dark, i.e. the underlying socio-economic conditions that have created the dominant techno-utopian mindset of the coders, or in Lawrence Lessig’s words, its lawmakers. Drawing on her extensive experience as a social researcher at big tech firms such as Blogger, Twitter and Yahoo…


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Persian calligraphy by Mohamad Ehsaie

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…


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Facebook has created billions of comfort cocoons

How to rethink algorithms to produce more diversity?

By Hossein Derakhshan

A few months after the Paris attacks by Isis terrorists, Sheryl Sandberg, a senior manager at Facebook, sat down at a warmly-lit gray and blue stage at a conference hall in snow-covered Davos. The ski-resort in Switzerland is now more famous for its annual gathering of men (and some women) in business suits rather than in skiing boots; it is where the World Economic Forum is held annually.

On a panel titled ‘The transformation of tomorrow’ she sat down with a few other businessmen and discussed the hot topic of the day: How can Facebook and other…


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Illustration via Max Fleishman

Their accounts are shut down, but ISIS still benefits from Facebook

By Hossein Derakhshan

Let’s admit it: Social media has been used to help brands and businesses all around the world — and they help ISIS too, in spite of everything they think they are doing.

Sadly, ISIS, or Daesh, has now become a successful brand, with all of its characteristics. It has a target audience, a unique identity (with a logotype, flag, and a slogan), passion, consistency, competitiveness, exposure, and leadership.

As a result, leaders and senior managers of social networks, have been under increasing pressure, by politicians and the public, to deprive Daesh from such powerful tools for expanding…

Hossein Derakhshan

Researcher at Harvard's Shorenstein and MIT Media Lab. Spent 6 years in prison over blogging in Iran till 2014. hoder at hoder dot com

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