Questionably open and not always by choice

In preparing my ALT format piece for OER19, I thought about these questions in the context of my work as a volunteer IT Buddy at my local library in the town of Macclesfield in the North West of England.

  • Why open?
  • Open for whom?
  • Whose interests are served?
  • In what ways has the open agenda been appropriated, and what are the implications of this?

In my 7 minute slot, I wasn’t able to answer these questions. Rather I encouraged participants to think about the questions as they listened to three brief stories I told them: the first two were composite stories woven from fragments of experiences I witnessed and heard IT Buddy clients tell me over the last two years; and the third was an individual’s story told wuth permission.

Jim’s Story (49s)

Jim is persistent and organised and has come to know what he wants. Using the Internet without logging in or using an email address, Jim is a bit like WWW users back in the day. He has made an informed choice to stay away from email, but will that always be open to him?

Enid’s Story (1m 8s)

Because of her increasing visual impairment, Enid finds it difficult to manage her tablet on different levels. She leaves apps and browser windows open because she doesn’t know they are open. Google Voice recognition has a lot of potential for her to control her tablet but using it would mean her being “always on” Google, with associated data harvesting issues.

Another issue is that her visual impairment makes it difficult for Enid to cut her fingernails, resulting in some strange outcomes from clicks and double clicks, if she uses the pads of her fingers. She had to use the side of her little finger to avoid this problem.

Mr P’s Story (1m 28s)

Mr P has no wish to learn to use a computer, smartphone or tablet. He wants the proxy use that Selwyn(2016) describes in his report but this doesn’t fit with the two factor authentication increasingly being pushed by government and other systems, to “solve” security risks. The workarounds come with their own issues and problems, some of which are also security-related.

Family help and limited access to IT Buddies are no substitute for real choice not to use online; and person-centred support in person and by telephone.


In the world of apps available on phones and tablets, there are real efforts to give a good user experience but this can be at the expense of said users’ understanding and real control over what they are doing. The attitude of service providers can be “Don’t worry about that”  in response to users’ confusion and the attitude of users as “What can we do? “ or a shrugging of the shoulders.  Users’ confusion and feelings of lack of agency accompany the service providers desire to harvest data and track users across platforms eg Facebook, Google. This is no coincidence.

Platforms want us to be always online.

“The only way to sign out of the Gmail app is to remove your entire account from your phone or tablet.”Google help

Apparently, it’s possible to log out of the Facebook app but I couldn’t work out how to do it a couple of years ago when I deleted the app on my phone and now I rarely visit Facebook on my laptop.

Systems Developers

Some systems developers seem to be making assumptions that everyone is online, has a smartphone and an email address that remains constant.

There may be a creeping tendency to mandate online or just obscure the alternatives for reasons of cost.

Well that was as much as I could cover in my 7 minute Alt Format session. I was pleasantly surprised by the reactions I got within the session and afterwards on Twitter.

Later reflections

The three stories I shared in the session did not represent all of the people I meet as an IT Buddy. Many have broadband at home and have top-end devices. I focused in the session on those who chose to use computers at the Library, or were forced to do so for various reasons.  The question of user choice in using online services is an interesting one, I think. Jim’s story shows us a way to use the Internet with little or no tracking, as he has specifically chosen not to have an email address, though I don’t think tracking was a major element in his decision. Enid can glimpse how the Internet might improve some things for her as her family thinks but can’t see how to make it work in her day to day life. Mr P just wants to do his VAT returns. These are #smallstories but significant.

In viewing recordings and reflections from Reclaim team, I came across the term Digital Fatigue. I don’t think my stories were so much about Digital Fatigue but rather in Jim’s case Digital Freedom,  and in Mr. P’s Digital Coercion.

Older people can operate in spaces that span Digital Freedom, Fatigue and Coercion. I want to challenge mandated online, developers’ assumptions; and think about alternatives, including telephone, face to face and proxy Internet use.

Just before #OER19, I read an odd article

“Older people play an outsized role in civic life. They also are more likely to be online targets for misinformation and hyperpartisan rhetoric.”

from Old, Online, And Fed On Lies: How An Aging Population Will Reshape The Internet

The concept of older people shaping the Internet seemed somehat at odds with the three stories I have told, though I can see that for e-commerce, older people with time and money must be an attractive demographic. I am very concerned about social media interference in democracy, even more since viewing Carol Cadwalladr’s TED talk  but I think there are more effective responses for older people and us all than mass digital/media literacy education programmes, however important they may be in the education of young people and adults. Is the article promoting an evil twin of the Digital Natives trope?

I am more concerned by the mandating, or the effective mandating by obscuring alternatives, of everyday services to be online, for reasons of cost-saving for the service-provider.

And then after OER19, I came across this tweet

My hopeful thought from #OER19 is that things can be different, and they must.


Selwyn, N. et al. (2016) Going online on behalf of others others. Available at:

Crafting as a networking and wellbeing activity for #Femedtech


I am pretty passionate about the network that currently appears as a Twitter hashtag #femedtech, and as a Twitter account @femedtech that has existed as shared curation space since April 2018. We have a different curator every 2 weeks, each of whom brings their own perspective and practices, growing our network (as you can see in the chart), and enhancing the experience of followers and participants. If you would like to be a curator in 2019, visit our curation space, and add your name and Twitter handle at a fortnight of your choice. Femedtech is definitely for the many not the few 🙂

This post has been brewing for some time, and is posted now to fit in with the activities planned by our curator for this fortnight, the inimitable Viv Rolfe. Like other curators, Viv has her own ideas about curation and as you can see her overall theme is #Wellbeing.

Viv hasn’t forgotten about craft and its role in wellbeing. I love crafting, mainly knitting, sewing and quilting, for many reasons. Crafting has taught me about learning and community but most of all it relaxes me. The relaxation becomes visible as the tension of the stitches improves the longer you knit. In my current learning project, free motion quilting, I need to give the craft my full attention, and because I’m learning, my shoulders begin to ache and I give up after an hour. I derive enormous satisfaction from the visible improvement in my work, and I’m curious to know if I can become a relaxed free motion quilter in time.

Back in September, Maren posted this tweet

The patterns

I spent some time thinking about this and I’d like to offer you the results of my research and some initial designs.

Patterns Spreadsheet

I’d love some of you to try these out and improve them/ make them into actual crafted items and/or patterns.

So what could you do with them?

Fair Isle knitters could knit them up in two colours to create a mug warmer, a scarf, a hat or whatever you want. What’s possible depends on the weight of yarn you choose?

So for example, you’d probably need to choose a fine yarn for a mug warmer (to get enough stitches for the pattern), and if you wanted to use chunky yarn, you’d need to create something bigger like a hat.

Fair Isle is not the easiest technique but there is an easier alternative called Swiss Darning, or Duplicate stitch that I have used in the pattern below.  If you like doing cross stitch,  you could use linen or Binca/Aida for the fabric and embroidery floss/ cotton perle for the thread.

You might have different ideas – please share!

Pattern for Simple Stocking Stitch Headband

I have based this pattern on another that is also available at Ravelry, along with another 1578 free patterns for headbands.

I suggest that you knit this as Stocking Stitch – knit a row, purl a row (rather than in the round on a circular needle) so that you can adjust the size by overlapping when you see how it turns out. It’s also easier to do the Duplicate Stitch on a flat piece of knitting.  Because there will be 80 stitches in each row, you should choose either the first or the third pattern in the diagram above. This pattern uses the third pattern in my Patterns Spreadsheet.


You should buy one ball of double knitting, Aran or chunky yarn in the background colour and find/ beg some scraps in a contrast colour, in the same yarn weight or heavier as the contrast has to cover the background stitch. So double knitting for background and chunky or Aran for lettering would be a good combo. Look in the oddments box in the knitting shop, or find a charity shop that sells odd balls of yarn and needles.

Ball bands often give you an idea of which needles to use and what size the yarn knits up to. This one said it takes 22 stitches to get 10 cm using 4 mm needles. So 80 stitches would give me (80 x 10)/22 =36.4 cm. When I measured my head, I realised that would be too small so I used bigger needles: 5mm for the main knitting, and 5.5mm for casting on and off to avoid a tight edge. My head is quite big (quiet there at the back) so I’m hoping that the pattern works for you.

Of course, these calculations also depend on how tightly or loosely you knit so there’s a bit of guesswork involved. If it’s too small when you’ve finished, there are fixes available, just ask.

I have put links to searches/videos in the pattern but for beginners, I recommend finding a friendly more experienced knitter who will help you get started and recover from those inevitable mistakes. Learn to love the mistakes. You will also need a blunt sewing up needle like this.

Knitting the headband/earwarmer

Cast on 80 stitches using main/background yarn, and 5.5 or 6 mm needle.

Switch to 5 mm needles.

Garter Stitch Ridge

Rows 1 and 2 : Knit 80 stitches.

This will give you the ridge you see in the photo below. If you want a bigger ridge, feel free to do an extra 2 knit rows, but remember to do matching extra rows at the end.

Stocking Stitch Background

Row 3: Knit 80 stitches

Row 4: Purl 80 stitches

Repeat (Rows 3,4) 5 times.

This will give 12 rows of stocking stitch, enough for 8 rows of pattern (later), with 2 unpatterned rows top and bottom.

Garter Stitch Ridge

Rows 15 and 16 : Knit 80 stitches.

Remember to add extra knit rows now if you added them at the beginning.

Cast off with 5.5 or 6 mm needle.

Adding the lettering using Duplicate Stitch

Duplicate stitch is just that – sewing a contrast yarn over selected stitches to make a pattern. In this case, the pattern spells out #femedtech, and you can see from the photo that I started more or less in the middle of the third pattern in the download.

I knitted this and made a start on the duplicate stitching last night and will post an update when it’s ready to be worn.

Here are some clear instructions with photos, or you may prefer to watch a video.

Femedtech -curation and what next? #femedtech

Femedtech network at time of writing

Femedtech (see brief history) currently comprises a Twitter handle @femedtech and a hash tag #femedtech and a network of great people who engage variously with femedtech. There was some great collaboration in evolving the concept of femedtech – much work done behind the scenes by talented and busy women. Over the last year the interaction was confined to #femedtech and my curation of @femedtech, and we knew we could reach further.

In April 2018, Helen Beetham, Maren Deepwell and I worked on the concept of shared curation inspired by @IndigenousX. We started with ourselves, and invited people to join us. We were delighted with the response and are evolving the process of curation along with our volunteer curators who experiment, share reflections and tips in our curation space. The chart below reveals how the number of tweets, follows and followers has grown thanks to our lovely volunteer curators.  They have also shared their thoughts on who to follow, retweeting and linking tweets to current relevant events and topics in the curation space.

Tweets , follows and followers during shared curation

We have curators for the remainder of 2018 and the current process is sustainable as the work of changing and sharing passwords is once a fortnight, and curators have time to settle into the role.

We are keen to extend collaboration on the process of curation and what else we might do. With that in mind, we are holding a participative webinar 1200-1300 GMT 19 July link to time converter : UPDATE <link to webinar>. All interested in #femedtech are invited to participate so that we can reflect on recent volunteer curation of @femedtech and #femedtech and consider what plans we might have for femedtech.

If you would like to contribute but are unable to attend please share your ideas in this document and/or at #femedtech.

Looking forward to lots of bright ideas and useful advice, at webinar or elsewhere.


What are the literacies of resisting the new norm(al)? #altc

I gave (with the considerable help of the other participants in the room) a 20 minute presentation at ALTC 2017, in the Empowerment in Learning Technology Theme, here is the  abstract and here is an autoplay version of the slides

There are some speaker notes here that indicate what was said along with the slides.

The presentation was in Elizabeth Gidney 1, 10.45-12.00 slot, Thursday 7 September.

I have really enjoyed writing the abstract and preparing the presentation for this ALTC conference, my first attendance since 2011, where I participated in a critical and enjoyable symposium with Cristina da Costa, Josie Fraser, Richard Hall and Helen Keegan.  As I recall, there was lively debate, and that was my hope for the presentation. It was pretty clear to the audience what are my hopes and fears for learning technology practice. I acknowledge that many learning technologists will disagree with me and I hoped that those there will feel free to express their views. I want to hear them.

My current perspective on learning technology is focussed on informal learning from a largely extra-institutional perspective but via Chris Gilliard @hypervisible, I found a video about institutional adoption of technology that I hoped would provoke some interesting and diverse responses. Kate Bowles offers valuable reflections on the view of students implicit in this institutional case study.

I haven’t been able to find out whether or not Curtin University regards this application of HDS technologies as research or if informed consent has been obtained from staff and students. To me this seems like human research and deserving of the regulation demanded of academic researchers at Curtin and elsewhere.

Fortunately, my hopes were realised and the audience seemed very engaged with the video. A common reaction was that it was quite scary. Someone shared that they were involved in a similar project with secondary school students. Rather than using cameras and facial recognition, students carried badges thus enabling at least the possibility of them opting out.

Another participant pointed out when an institution has made a massive financial investment in technology and system, that can inhibit the expression of critical reflection.

Several participants felt that students seemed to lack choice.

Another participant told us that he was involved in a similar project using facial analysis but the difference was that since he works in veterinary science, the subjects were animals. This links back to my earlier comments on human research.

The final comment identified the dilemma for learning technologists in that their roles as technology advocates may clash with critical reflection.

My one-line message from my presentation is my hope that resistance is included in, or at least not excluded from, digital literacies. This doesn’t mean banning certain platforms or technologies but ensuring that the conversations happen about how they are used.


The Paradise (hopefully not lost) of #OER17

Last week I was lucky enough to attend OER17 an Open Education conference, The Politics of Open. When I heard at the close of OER16 that was the theme and that Josie Fraser and Alek Tarkowski were the Chairs, I was thrilled. I did wonder if that ‘politics’ aspect might be be off-putting for some. But the submissions that I  reviewed engaged with the topic and were generally of high quality. I felt reassured and optimistic.

And it was a lovely conference (organised by the very lovely ALT) with so much friendliness and spirit and voices from beyond UK where it happened. I guessed it was going to be great from my experience on the planning committee and reviewing abstracts, but it really did exceed my expectations. And for that, I should start by thanking the Conference Chairs who came up with the inspiring Conference themes. The whole experience was invigorating, and I am still enjoying the space after the conference. There was so much going on at the conference, and is still happening, please check out hashtag #OER17 as delegates and hashtag attenders continue to share and engage. I have been able to get a flavour of sessions that I couldn’t attend because I was in another good session.

I blogged the wonderful keynotes, which were inspirational in different ways, and I had blogged in preparation for the conference check my tag.  Feeling slightly dazed, I am reflecting and trying to fulfill my desire to contribute to OER17.

So let me think beyond the web links to the experience. This was a lovely conference from start to finish. The conference themes were inspirational: the keynotes were invigorating, they opened up thinking and generated some lovely abstracts and many beautiful presentations, lightning talks, workshops. The corridor/tea break  encounters, the discussion within sessions, the social media exchange, the bowling and Karaoke on Wednesday night all contributed to my good experience of #OER17.

But a bigger question is how can this conference make a difference in a broader sense?

I can’t capture the difference it will make in terms of an organised movement but I suspect that it will make a difference, however small, to how people think and what they do. I saw a few glimpses of criticality being seen as powerful for change rather than as a negative approach. That gladdened my heart but what of all the things I didn’t see? I am scouring #OER17 tag and seeing more but there will be far more that eludes me and that’s OK.

I will share two experiences that I had and that are part of the difference OER17 made to me.

The first was that I plucked up my courage and sang (very badly) at the Karaoke on Wednesday. I chose Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi, and hadn’t realised till then that it’s an anthem for Open.

They took all the trees
Put ’em in a tree museum
And they charged the people
A dollar and a half just to see ’em

Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
Till it’s gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

The second was seeing Chris Gilliard’s provocation for, I think, 2 OER17 sessions. I love the thought that digital creations can flit across to face to face sessions and flit back to channels like Twitter and blogs. I love the way Chris performs his own and Shoshana Zuboff’s ideas in this video.

These are ideas that are already familiar to me, and that have informed my own work but Chris’s video triggers new thoughts. That’s part of the beauty of open in a digital age that we can engage with ideas through and about the means by which we share.

Opening up Wikimedia Content and Communities #OER17 Keynote


Lucy Crompton-Reid, the Chief Executive of Wikimedia UK, and Karaoke Queen, introduced herself to us, revealing her broad experience, and enthusiasm for Wikipedia.

Lucy was very happy when Jim Groom made this statement at OER16


She is passionate about the use of Wikipedia and associated projects in education, formal and informal. Education is a natural home for Wikimedia, and Education is a key part of Wikipedia’s strategy.

Lucy showed a  video from a Wikipedia colleague

more background here.

Lucy gave us examples of how Wikimedia is engaged in projects with schools, colleges, universities and libraries across the UK and elsewhere. Wikipedia can play a part in developing digital literacy.

She also highlighted the different activities that can be done in the different language instances of Wikipedia. The English Language one  has over 5 million articles, while other languages have a need for content but that need offers opportunities to translate and recontextualise in young editors’ own languages.

Wikimedia are well aware of cultural and gender gaps, and works hard to address them, in order to diversify Wikipedia’s content and contribution.


Another strand of Wikimedia strategy is to advocate for change in policy and practice in institutions with whom they are involved, with the help of ambassadors eg Wikimedians-in-residence in universities.

Lucy emphasised that Open as a political act does not mean that Open is in opposition to Privacy.

She highlighted ways in which we, the audience, could get involved in events, joining Wikimedia, and attending the Wikimedia UK AGM. I attended last year’s AGM, and it was a great opportunity  to meet people, learn at workshops and contribute to decisions.

The keynote was inspiring for those of us who were keen to learn more about Wikimedia through the sessions provided in the programme.

Lucy’s keynote is here.

[I promised to live blog the keynotes for OER17 as I had for OER16 but my method depended on pictures from my phone being pulled through to flickr. The wifi at the venue wasn’t up to this so the post is a combination of live and edited.]

Reaching Other Audiences #OER17 Keynote


Diana Arce @visualosmosis, Director of Artists Without a Cause @ArtistsWAC, gave the second keynote at OER17.  She is an artist and activist who works with other artists to critique and make change with positivity. She told the story of the Charging Bull, and the Fearless Girl, supported as an advertisement by Hedge Fund – rather than by, say, Planned Parenthood.


Diana told us that this demonstrated 2 things she has learned: that location is everything; and the need to participate by engagement and activism rather than photo-opportunity.

Diana gave an example of an art installation concerning Enron that she worked on right in the centre of the Financial centre. Some financial workers engaged with her, even bring their shredded documents!


Her next example was the project that refurbished 25 row houses in Houston Texas – most used by artists, and few as homes for battered women.

Another of Diana’s own projects was White Guilt Cleanup – cleaning up privilege, one white person at a time. White people could buy a White Guilt Offset Credit that would benefit their or others’ victims.

Diana worked with Indie magazine in Berlin to help them change practices through the project, and their joint work was successful in making change.

Diana has done different political Karaoke projects at Democratic National Congress, and a bar in Jerusalem.

Her takeaways were:

  • make sure you have local cooperation to work in their spaces
  • or bring them to your project
  • use Art projects as a Trojan Horse to make change where it matters


Conflict Kitchen in Pittsburgh only employs people and serves food from countries in conflict with USA. Waiters are trained in handling conflict/communication. The goal is to counter media narratives about conflict locations.


Politaoke, another of Diana’s brainchildren is where people respeak real political speeches It’s a kind of non-partisan political karaoke, with interpretive dance and rants.


There is no work without the audience: they bring the speeches, and other performances. The work is in resisting descent into propaganda, and attracting an audience where change can be made.

Diana plans to release outcomes of Politaoke in an open environment for broader benefit.

Diana applauded the work of the Center for Artistic Activism in helping change happen.

Sheila MacNeill asked about how we could harness Art in Education. Diana told of her experience mainly in after school activities, Higher Education being her least favourite area.

Bryan Lamb asked about people who may be using related techniques but for less than desirable purposes. Diana explained how Art can become a disruptor.

Muireann asked about the possibilities of OE researchers to spread their message, and Lucy  described a political art installation in the House of Westminster that gave  disenfranchised young people a voice in the right place to be heard.

This was a keynote that felt and looked to me like an art event – it was great fun to be there.

[I promised to live blog the keynotes for OER17 as I had for OER16 but my method depended on pictures from my phone being pulled through to flickr. The wifi at the venue wasn’t up to this so the post is a combination of live and edited.]

#OER17 – a conference to attend


I am a newbie to OER conferences, and #OER16 was the first I attended.  I loved it, and live blogged  and blogged quite a few keynotes and sessions. The picture above is of David Kernohan at Laura Ritchie’s Ukelele workshop at OER16. I really enjoyed this workshop that was so engaging, mentally and physically, that I couldn’t possibly have live-blogged it.

I am a fairly recent participant in OER conferences but for the second time, I have participated in planning and reviewing by being a member of OER17 committee. OER17’s theme is The Politics of Open, a topic that becomes more relevant by the day. I was intrigued when OER17was announced (thanks Josie Fraser and Alek Tarkowski) and inspired by the call to submit an individual submission and contribute to a joint one. My excitement was mounting: doing, thinking, writing,talking about open education/ resources in context was political. Then the abstracts to review arrived in my mailbox and I realised that if my sample was anything to go by, OER17 will be a very timely and significant exploration of the politics of open.

Cross-referencing the titles and programme
Cross-referencing the titles and programme

This week, the programme was published, and I have already started to think about which sessions I wish to attend. Obviously, I can’t decide until I can read the abstracts but I can already foresee some difficult choices. And then there are the corridor chats with the interesting people who will be participating.

All in all, I can’t wait for April 5 2017. Will you be there?


Processing our grief and looking to the future

Yesterday when I heard the EU Referendum result, my feelings moved from dread to grief, and I am hopeful that writing this post will be therapeutic for me. I’d be delighted if anyone wants to respond.  Part of my philosophy is that we can learn from mistakes so surely there is something to be learned from what I see as a colossal mistake, and is already seen as a mistake by some who voted for it . My social media streams have also contained expressions of despair and anger.  Whilst feelings of anger are part of the grief process, when they turn to blame that reifies complex explanations as simple binary truths, they can get in the way of progress. For me, it’s reasonable to question the Tory party’s decision to campaign a General Election on a platform that promised a referendum but when I hear the “old people did this to us” explanation, I worry that view will, in the long run, get in the way of making things better in future. Michael Rosen has a wry response to the old people issue.

Read this:

I am a lifelong socialist and voted remain. I am sad, disappointed and concerned that my view did not prevail. I am also sad, disappointed and concerned that the vitriolic bigotry on both sides of the referendum campaign, which was a significant factor in the outcome, continues today. We have Nigel Farage triumphalism , xenophobia and prejudice; but we also see some of my fellow Labour Party members,  pouring shame and self righteous abuse on the entire group of their neighbours who voted to leave. The oxygen of media and  social media  fans the flames of intolerance, inequality , fear and hatred. To combat these we need education,  empathy and dialogue, not bullying, misinformation and self appointed guardians of ‘the truth’. Now is the time for reflection and analysis. With recognition of the reasons for the EU exit , we can form the basis for a convincing strategy to create a fair, inclusive , prosperous and peaceful world – we have more things in common than divide us .

by email from my dear friend and sister-in-law Patricia Whaley

Pat’s email was so welcome to let me know that someone else was concerned about how we can learn and make change, without despising those who voted Brexit. Understanding why they did would be a good start. I was partially disconnected from the EU Referendum campaign because we were on a month long trip in our motorhome and so I missed much the UK media coverage of the campaign. The day before we returned home, we heard the shocking news of Jo Cox’s murder, and learned more about how inspirational she was a human being and as a politician. Some of the most touching tributes were from constituents who gave testament to how she listened to them and did her best to solve their problems. If some of those constituents voted Brexit, I think she would have listened to them and talked to them, rather than condemning them.

My reflections started with trying to think what was good about the referendum, a thought experiment:

  • It’s good that there was a high turnout whether or not we like the outcome. My idea (pipedream) of a functioning democracy is one where voters have access to a range of views supported by accurate information, vote for politicians who have integrity, and then we all abide by the will of the majority, whilst working honestly to change that will if we think it is wrong.  I hope that the Labour Party will focus effort on finding out why some of their traditional vote turned out for Brexit, rather than blaming its leader. I found these views from Hartlepool, where there was a 70% vote for Brexit, were painful to watch but enlightening.

Rather than decrying areas of the country or age groups as ignorant and racist, let’s listen to people and find out why they fear immigration and feel so let down by the establishment. I have heard often this week that not all Brexit voters are racist but all racists would vote Brexit, aimed at those considering voting Brexit – but now a majority has voted Brexit so what can we learn from that? Spoiler: don’t blame the voters.

  • It seems likely that more young people are voting than a few years ago and also that more young people voted Remain. That is great but the whole picture is unclear and more complex than it may at first appear. This article makes use of a comparison of Census and EU Referendum data (interesting but not definitive) and a widely circulated Lord Ashcroft Poll. It’s wise to treat the latter source with caution I think, since its funder has his own agenda. Newspaper articles (quietly) acknowledged the Lord Ashcroft Poll source (how could they resist it?) but the path from this dodgy poll to the ‘truth’ of ‘older people denied younger people their wishes’ ran across those newspaper articles and then across social media with disconnection from the sources. I enjoyed this widely circulated comment from the Financial Times but wondered what was the source of this articulate commenter’s assertion

Freedom of movement was taken away by our parents, uncles, and grandparents in a parting blow to a generation that was already drowning in the debts of our predecessors

The commenter pointed out that we live in a post-factual democracy and that’s a matter of concern.  I don’t know if there is reliable data on if and how people voted by age group but we do know turnout and outcome by area, and that can give us food for thought.

I am thrilled by the thought of young people becoming more politically active and want all of us to be able to access reliable information.

In a phone call this morning, Pat Whaley (who lives in Middlesbrough where there was a high Brexit vote) reminded me that Cameron inaccurately blamed the EU for UK government inaction to save the Redcar steelworks.   People can only make their minds up on the information available to them, and in a confusing situation will go with their gut feelings, voting Brexit against the government or because they have been fed propaganda about immigration or for other reasons.

Mariana Funes shared a 15 minute video aimed at US viewers that managed to convey the contradictions and misinformation of the Brexit case in a humorous #NSFW fashion.

That’s an interesting intersection of traditional media (TV programme) and social media (Youtube channel shared via Twitter/Facebook) but the complexities of social media bear closer inspection.

I think we can be fooled by hearing what we want to hear within our filter bubble/ echo chamber

Facebook’s algorithms tend towards reinforcing certain themes within a social group.

I have done a lot thinking and quite a bit of writing about social media in the last few years and polarisation has been a theme.  I quoted David A Banks in this post

Just like its government equivalent, voting on social networks is also a nice way to give the illusion that anything and anyone can succeed on merit while actually maintaining the status quo through sociotechnical structures. Tech entrepreneurs deploy voting to show allegiance to their fantasy of a color-blind and genderless meritocracy, predicated on what PJ Rey has shown to be an outdated and debunked notion that the Internet allows us to transcend race, class, and gender by entering a space of pure information. Popular posts are good, the logic goes, because only the best makes it to the front page.

But on social media, the manipulation of what we see is not only determined by our up/down voting, liking or favouriting but also by the hidden algorithms (aimed at maximising social networking systems’ revenue) as they shape what we see and from whom, based on their advertisers interests.

Not surprisingly, social and traditional media are commercial activities, and this can present conflicts for their consumers and producers, not just in terms of what they contain/ share but also how that content is presented. I think that means we need to hold them to account.

So what about the Brexit voters? My social media filter bubble doesn’t contain many who argued for leaving the EU. Some them will have turned to the Sun and the Daily Mail and what did they find? Exaggerations and lies – epitomised by the slogan encapsulated on the Brexit Bus neatly retracted on the day after polling to save excessive spending in a new government perhaps.

At this point, it’s a struggle not to dash my head against the kitchen table, so let’s try to think of how things might be different.  The people of Liverpool, sometimes decried, set us a great example of how to deal with media lies over the Hillsborough football stadium disaster. When confronted with the lies propagated by the Sun and other newspapers, many of the people of Liverpool campaigned for justice, only exposed 27 years later,  and they boycotted the Sun. So ordinary people can challenge the establishment and the media and get some sort of justice, eventually by working relentlessly and defying establishment and media lies. Let’s challenge traditional and social media to be the media that we want and resist them being immovable objects that manipulate what we can learn from other people.

My hopes for the future:

  • That within and without political parties, we can achieve a healthy democracy where people are politically active across the spectrum of listening, learning, organising, campaigning, challenging government and politicians, and of course voting.
  • That traditional and social media wield their great power with integrity and respect, and that we are knowledgeable and aware enough to challenge them when they fall short of this, and to appreciate how our own views may be shaped by media, overtly and covertly.
  • That we question the emerging binary culture that seems to be partially fuelled by media and tackle  complex issues with provisional solutions. Let’s resist polarisation, and find our way forward with “education, empathy and dialogue, not bullying, misinformation and self appointed guardians of ‘the truth’” as Pat Whaley says.

I am very pleased to see that some are planning positive futures here and Progrexit.


At the time I wrote this post, I had done a little research on Lord Ashcroft Polls but I am slightly embarrassed to say that I took the yougov poll at face value – yougov sounds so official. Yougov use Active Sampling from their pool of responders and claim that even though the polling is online, it’s not biased. See what you think. They seem to have a good track rate of predicting election results but I still have a little prickle at the back of my neck.