INVISIBLE

Your click is your vote.

Invisible Voice is a plugin for Chrome and Firefox; every Sunday (31st December 2017 to 27th May 2018), the plugin will block one website from participants’ browsers for a week. Each week, a different person or institution will decide and justify their choice.

When you visit a website, the owner of that website is paid by advertisers in return for the placement of an advert on the page you are viewing (targeted online advertising). The outlet’s revenue in advertising is directly proportional to the amount of page clicks it gets; by not visiting a site, that site loses your revenue. If we are to collectively boycott journalists, articles, or websites, through loss of engagement that organisation will lose money.

To be clear, Invisible Voice is about protest and boycott - not censorship - much like Liverpool’s boycott of The Sun newspaper, but online.





Invisible Voice by Mark Farid, was commissioned by Goldsmiths, University of London.

31 12 2017 - 27 05 2018

14 01 2018 - 20 01 2018
Dr. Gary Dejean: PhD in Mass Media Communication.

21 01 2018 - 27 01 2018
Sarah Divall: Creative Coordinater and Vlogger at Hubbub, an environmental charity.

28 01 2018 - 03 02 2018
Simon Stevens: Independent and Honest Dysability and Inclusion Consultant.

04 02 2018 - 10 02 2018
Barbara Speed: Journalist, specialising in technology and housing.

11 02 2018 - 17 02 2018
Dr. Camille Baker: Reader at School of Communication Design, and TEDx speaker.

18 02 2018 - 24 02 2018
Catherine Chapman: Journalist, seen in NBC News, Vice, The New York Times and the Daily Mail.

www.foxnews.com
Blocked by
Dr. Gary Dejean,
PhD in Mass Media Communication

The Fox News Channel has always had a strong Republican leaning. They’ve also always had a strong inclination to bend the truth to their advantage. It can be argued that the same is true for every side of every political arena, and to their credit the Fox News Channel make a full use of their First Amendment rights. But since the election of Donald Trump as 45th President of the United States, the channel has moved aggressively from its ethically borderline rhetoric to a full blown endorsement of the Cult of Personality surrounding the President.

Every single day, Fox News sing the praises of an incompetent regime whose very ascension to power is highly suspicious. Every single day, the Fox News Channel work as the echo chamber for the sitting President, repeating whatever nonsense he decided to spew that day, and attacking any sensible individual who would present any form of criticism or balanced viewpoint. It’s all about creating a space where proper debate, argued civil discourse, does not exist, and where the viewer is nursed in the comforting display of lies and ignorant tribalism.

As a single example that encapsulates the above, let me point you towards ‘Fox And Friends’ aired on 13th December 2017. On the morning following the surprise victory of Democratic candidate Douglas Jones’ over Roy Moore in Alabama, normal news channels (CBS, CNN, MSNBC…) were all covering the topic but on Fox News there was no mention of this scathing defeat. Instead, the hosts were busy going after the dignity and reputation of Colin Kaepernick (the black footballer known for kneeling during the anthem in protest against police violence) and that of Meryl Streep who had just said she didn’t want to be a political figure. Honourable people doing the honourable thing seems to make Fox News angry. That’s the kind of fights they pick: any reason to drag down a black and/or female compatriot is good to them. And while they were keeping the air busy with a five minute report on how to cut toast1, there was still no mention of Alabama.

By now it should be clear that Fox News anchors and their bosses have only one priority, that is to maintain and cultivate a comfort blanket for sexists and racists alike. The numerous scandals surrounding Bill O’Reilly’s departure earlier this year are a clear enough indication of that. Only after more than twenty advertisers pulled their ads from his show was he finally fired. Something similar happened when Sean Hannity started endorsing accused child Molester Roy Moore by attacking the women claiming to have been his victims. And all the while, the Murdoch brothers who inherited this network are about to get even more stinkingly rich, by selling the fiction department to Disney while keeping their hands on the dubious news channel2.

Information is power. A one-hundred-million people audience that gobbles blatant lies like they’re factual truth is power. Fifty billion dollars is power. And the Murdochs have too much of it, considering their lack of social ethics. As it stands right now, every decent media in the world sees clear as day that Fox News is currently trying to position itself as the antenna to the White House, the same way that Russia Today works with/for the Kremlin. The word is “governmental propaganda”, and every decent media in the world is nauseated by it.

The separation of powers between the Church and the State is as important to democratic governments as having an independent press. To that extent, it can be said that the current attitude of the Fox News Channel toward the sitting government is detrimental to the whole of Western democracy. That is why, without generally endorsing censorship, I today call for the boycott of Fox News, while also insisting that their business model is still profitable so long as advertising companies choose their airwaves to sell their products. There is no real or consistent ideology behind greedy mercantilism: there is only greed, and the treatment it deserves is to be shut down. That much is true for the entirety of Fox News, as far as I’m concerned. For more, you can visit this link, Wikipedia has an entire page dedicated to past and present Fox News controversies. One of the most scandalous might be the conspiracy theory surrounding the death of Seth Rich3 – may his family find the peace they deserve. And as we delve into 2018, the Fox News Channel keeps on attacking the reputation of Special Counsel Bob Mueller. So let’s take this week to remember that factual truth is a real thing, and that news channels are supposed to let us know of it. Real objectivity may never be attained, but I mean, come on, at least you can try.

www.youtube.com
Blocked by
Shahar Avin,
Research Associate at the,
Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, University of Cambridge.

YouTube is the most popular user-uploaded video content website in the world, and one of the most popular websites online.

I myself use YouTube on a nearly daily basis, and it is a great service, but take a minute to think about how you use it: Who do you follow? What communities do you participate in? Do you take part in the discussion? Do you take time to discover new cultures or communities? Is it providing you with value, professionally, educationally or entertainment wise? Are you paying for that value: do you use an ad blocker? Would you pay a subscription fee? Do you financially support the creators? Do you know anyone who does?

These are all very important question in regards to the infrastructure of not only YouTube, but as mentioned, globally YouTube is the most popular user-upload content website.

As participants in Google’s monetisation experiments, we may start wondering not only who to follow, but also how did you come to follow those that we are following, and how did we come to watch the videos we are watching on YouTube?

The recommendation algorithms designed to maximise the time we spend on the site are becoming a more politicised issue after events in 2017, but they have always been a cause for concern - discussed, amongst other places, on YouTube.

User engagement is the driving force behind all websites that rely on advertising, which means the algorithms are orientated towards maximum attention retention and content consumption. A side effect of this optimisation process is a regression to the mean - recommendations of consecutive videos trend towards more “mainstream” videos. This is effective in terms of keeping users on YouTube, but it means there is very little opportunity to discover less popular content, even though it exists on the platform in abundance.

As a dominant (perhaps the most dominant) video content platform, YouTube is shaping cultures all over the world. For those who choose to participate actively and discerningly, it is a place where niche cultures grow and thrive. However, for most of us, it is the place where our idiosyncratic interests slowly transform into more mainstream, homogenised consumption patterns.

Uploading your own videos - having your own voice - is a great idea, but with the mind boggling mountain of content on YouTube, the torrent that gets added everyday, and the algorithms that optimise for the trendy, polished and popular, it is very hard to be noticed. Which brings me to the issue of the revenue split between YouTube and creators. It is of course possible to make a living from vlogging and other content creation on YouTube, but the reliance on advertising revenue, which in turn depends on popularity, means only very few are ever able to make it to the positive feedback loop from which YouTube stars are made. The emergence of Patreon as an alternative funding route for creators (and the older route of merchandise sales) alleviate that pressure somewhat, though they have their own limitations, and we should remember that they make no money for YouTube itself (unlike advertising revenue) and so would naturally come as a lower priority for the platform.

This is the central issue - by having their business model centred around online advertising, YouTube will always fundamentally be oriented towards content consumption, which is not perfectly aligned with the numerous reasons people come to YouTube - to explore, to participate, to challenge, to share, to build communities.

Of course there are significant advantages to YouTube as a centralised platform for content sharing: it allows the concentration of data and resources that enable engineers to find solution to difficult technological challenges such as video storage and high-resolution streaming at a global scale, which smaller websites and teams would find much harder to pull off. Their massive scale also enables them to support a gigantic amount of free video content, which has proved hugely successful in its ability to educate and share knowledge, cater for niche interests, and allow digital communities to grow. YouTube is a far more democratic medium than traditional television - it does enable (even if it fails to encourage) exploration of other cultures and perspectives, and even other languages through automatic translation.

To survive, YouTube will need to continue optimising for ad revenue, or successfully pull off alternative business models (such as the YouTube Red subscription service). This does not mean, however, that your viewing habits need to be shaped by YouTube’s preferences, nor your content creation. I would urge you to take this block notice to ask yourself: what is it that you want out of your YouTube experience? What would you like to discover today? Which communities would you like to contribute to? Who will you teach, and what will you tell them? What will you learn today? Through whose eyes should you learn to see the world? Once you’ve answered these questions, ask the following: is any other place on the web providing me with an opportunity to do all this? If yes, should I be there instead? If not, should I be finding ways to give back to the creators and the engineers who are allowing me to do this?

www.indiewire.com
Blocked by
Simran Hans,
Writer and Film Critic at,
The Guardian

“The Voice of Creative Independence” – this is the strapline that sits at the top of online film publication IndieWire’s home page. An American website that covers film, TV, digital news, reviews and interviews, IndieWire is “for passionate fans and industry insiders” alike. And this week, as part of Mark Farid’s ‘Invisible Voice’ project, I’m blocking them. I should stress that IndieWire haven’t done anything uniquely wrong. However, within the insular world of film criticism, they are perhaps the purest distillation of the problem with headline-driven content.

You’d Think I Was Making Them Up, But Here Are 11 Real IndieWire Headlines: As America Reels from Charlottesville, ‘Lemon’ Finds Comedy in Unmasking Racism Elle Fanning’s Awful Hair in ‘3 Generations’ is Why Cisgender Actors Shouldn’t Play Trans Characters ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ Trailer Breakdown: 11 Possible Spoilers, From Lightsabers to Porgs and More #Dunkirk doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test and that’s okay. Here’s why Get Those Oscars ready: Barry Jenkins is back and he’s adapting James Baldwin Next Kristen Stewart’s Career in 34 Posters Christopher Nolan on Kubrick’s #EyesWideShut: “It’s a little bit hampered by very, very small and superficial, almost technical flaws” All the Netflix Original Series Opening Credit Sequences, Ranked How the Election Will Impact Nominations for Best Original Score and More Mark Hamill Destroys Ted Cruz on Twitter: “Maybe You’re Distracted From Watching Porn at the Office Again” Cheryl Dunye Always Knew Black Lives Mattered IndieWire are one example of the many online media outlets that use scream-y, clickbait-y, social media-friendly headlines to push traffic in a bid to make money from targeted online advertising. Fellow culprits include BuzzFeed, Salon, Slate, and Uproxx among numerous others.

Publications are under pressure from their publishers – and their sponsors – to do this in an economy where clicks mean eyeballs, and eyeballs make money. Without money, an already shrinking, squeezed industry can’t survive. But if this is the compromise that needs to be made to ensure online criticism survives, what is the cost? The point at which ‘shareability’ begins to manoeuvre content to meet corporate demands is the elephant in the room of critical discourse. It is the critic’s responsibility to figure out what a film is doing regardless of how it’s been packaged. If there is no distance between the critic’s reading of the film and the narrative determined by those deciding how the film is going to be sold, criticism is simply coverage that exists as part of a film’s marketing strategy. In theory, critics and PRs should be able to work together to achieve a common goal – to encourage people to see films. Yet when criticism is shaped around baiting, SEO-friendly headlines, it becomes less about reviewing the film and more about reviewing the effectiveness of its messaging as determined by a marketing machine.

A headline like ‘Get Those Oscars ready: Barry Jenkins is back and he’s adapting James Baldwin Next’ doesn’t open up Jenkins’s filmmaking to more people; it puts parameters on how his work is supposed to be received. A headline like ‘Christopher Nolan on Kubrick’s #EyesWideShut: “It’s a little bit hampered by very, very small and superficial, almost technical flaws”’ asks readers to click in bad faith, despite the fact that in the actual article, Nolan calls the film an “extraordinary achievement”. ‘#Dunkirk doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test and that’s okay. Here’s why’ is a reactionary headline that anticipates and encourages a feminist backlash to a film about male soldiers. Headlines like these are mutating online spaces for criticism into digital graves for content.

It’s not only the publishers who are being prioritised over the films themselves. In an article for the Village Voice, Larissa Pham criticises “low-maintenance, high-energy, easy-to-digest criticism that examined pop culture for its superficial adherence (or failure to adhere) to liberal politics in a kind of battle of the wokest”. Headlines like ‘Elle Fanning’s Awful Hair in ‘3 Generations’ is Why Cisgender Actors Shouldn’t Play Trans Characters’ or ‘Cheryl Dunye Always Knew Black Lives Mattered’ or ‘Todd Haynes’ Carol is a Masterful Lesbian Romance Starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara’ reduce films to their most basic liberal appeal. These appeals to diversity form the backbone of IndieWire’s content, despite the website’s dearth of ‘diverse’ staff writers. This framing is self-congratulatory; by clicking and sharing these articles, readers are able to buy into a limited form of contemporary cultural appreciation that evaluates an artwork’s worth by how closely it conforms to their personal values.

IndieWire’s former network of affiliated issue-focused blogs like Melissa Silverstein’s Women & Hollywood, or Shadow & Act, which looked at specifically at black film, not to mention the sharp features writing over at the now-independent The Playlist, built communities around their political positions. Now those properties have become independent and can’t be relied on to drive traffic to the site - except via their content from before the split, which remains part of IndieWire’s online archive. Those clicks are being courted by liberal buzzwords and references to the news as cheap hooks.

In addition to this political posturing, there is something transparently desperate about a click-through gallery of 34 movie posters pegged to a high-profile, frequently-googled actress with zero commentary to contextualise it. Reporting a story lifted from other publications rather than actually breaking it (or at least bothering to analyse it) creates an unnecessary feedback loop of viral non-news, clogging the already overflowing toilet of takes that is Twitter. And if the apparatus around a piece of moving image work (its trailer, its poster, its opening credits sequence) needs to be ‘reviewed’ at all, surely it’s to examine it as marketing apparatus and not to break it down for what it might reveal about a film’s plot.

The breathless jumps from Trump-era liberal indignation and questions of criticism to Stranger Things trailer breakdowns are whiplash-inducing. Both types of writing are clickbait – and both work as distraction tactics that shift the focus onto film ephemera rather than films themselves. Which is to say, it seems disingenuous for a website to brand itself as ‘The Voice of Creative Independence’ and advocate for film-as-art, when their entire online strategy seems anathema to championing independent filmmakers who aren’t already drowning in coverage.

The website was created as an indie cinema-focused alternative to trade publications like Variety and The Hollywood Reporter. Given the overwhelming amount of its output pegged to a Disney blockbuster franchise, what does the name IndieWire even refer to anymore? I’d like to see online outlets thinking of catchy headlines to sell thoughtful criticism, rather than building stories around sellable titles and angles determined by PRs. I’d like to see publishers giving their publications more editorial autonomy. And I’d really like to see online publications that claim they care about independent films use their platforms to celebrate and give space to smaller, weirder films and filmmakers with the same energy as they cover Star Wars. The Voice of Creative Independence should be setting an agenda, not pandering to it.