Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Video Paranoia- "The Participatory Deception" by James Cascio

In "The Participatory Deception," Jamais Cascio argues that technology is advancing to the point where we could easily alter it, rendering video evidence a harmful weapon that could easily sway political outcomes. Cascio's argument is centered around the possibility that the presidential election could be swayed by such videos, and that the public's use of altered cell phone videos is not only a potential occurance in the future but an inevitability.

Cascio's argument seems to be pointed towards those who are a bit wary of technology- those who can fluidly use technology are already aware that anything can be altered and that they already have the tools readily available to do so. It's hard to see myself being sympathetic to Cascio's argument. I grew up being told to always be critical of the media around me, to be aware of who was making what I was seeing and why. I'm well aware that photos can and are altered, that paraphrasing a speech can change the entire meaning. Why should video (especially cell phone video, the least trustworthy source of imagery) be any different? From my perspective, Cascio's argument seems paranoid and a bit silly.

I can appreciate that he thought to call attention to the possibility of this phenomena, that in the very near future everyone will be able to alter the reality in front of them easily and share it with millions without a second thought, thus altering political outcomes. Cascio supports his claim by stressing the rising importance of democratic and easily accessed media like cell phones. He discusses the viral video of Senator George Allen, who introduced a campaign volunteer as a "macaca." This video has been viewed 600,000 times on youtube, and indeed hurt George Allen's election numbers. Youtube does have the power to circulate viral videos easily, and if the video captures someone doing something offensive, such as using racial slurs, they can absolutely change the minds of voters. Cascio also refers to the case of Alexander Dunlop, who was arrested by police at the Republican National Convention for rioting and resisting arrest. Someone submitted a video of Dunlop being taken away peacefully, overruling the video police had submitted earlier. The new video trumped the old one, as simple editing was what had given the first video force. Dunlop's case was dropped because of that person's video. We could be filmed at any given time, and that video could be altered to help or harm us or others.

While it's easy to see that viral videos, even those made on cell phones, can quickly impact viewers and those who appear on the video, Cascio concedes that we would figure out the false nature of whatever videos were created and shared, though he estimates that this research time would take around three days-more than enough time to lose an election. He off-handedly proposes that there be some kind of filtering system to avoid the small-scale chaos that politically harmful edited videos could create. This kind of process seems like a waste of time; in this age, if candidates believe they can use racial slurs in their speeches and not hear back about it, they can afford to wait the three days Cascio claims that it would take to sort out unreliable and false video postings.

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