Fixing facts with Newstweek in Brighton Digital Festival

Fixing facts with Newstweek in Brighton Digital Festival

Fixing facts with Newstweek in Brighton Digital Festival

First published in News

FROM Big Brother-style re-calibrations of major events, to simply changing the name of a hated politician, Lighthouse is offering a chance to put a unique imprint on the day’s news.

Newstweek is based around an innocuous looking plug socket containing a virtual router. This creates a ghost mirror of the internet transmitted over a WiFi network which can be manipulated by its users.

Lighthouse is hosting a newsroom-style set containing up to six terminals allowing visitors to do their worst on news webpages from The Guardian to The Argus, which can be read by other users connected to the same WiFi network.

Although the hack created by Berlin-based artists Julian Oliver and Danja Vasiliev is likely to be used for fun projects or to make political points, Lighthouse’s artistic director believes Newstweek has more to say about how we receive our information – and how easily it can be intercepted.

“It’s a work that foresaw and has been trying to communicate the same things as Edward Snowden did last year,” says Juha van't Zeltde, who first came across Newstweek when it was first launched in 2011 at Berlin's Chaos Computer Club.

“There is a whole generation of artists who are reverse engineering our complex technological infrastructure, finding out how telecommunications, email and Facebook work – all the things that everybody uses on a day-to-day basis. The artists are becoming investigative journalists and whistleblowers.”

By focusing on news websites Newstweek is also making a statement about the potential for news to be manipulated at source.

“Information can be sent out which is sponsored, or is not entirely correct because it serves a certain agenda,” says van't Zeltde.

“By experiencing the architecture of the newsroom in Lighthouse you can become aware of it.”

It also makes a statement about the rise of the algorithms which decide what news we see.

“What was shown of [murdered journalist] James Foley's death on Twitter and on Facebook was very different,” says van't Zeltde.

“Twitter is more like a newsfeed showing harsh reality of what people are sharing.

“With Facebook you get shown what the algorithm decides to feed us. The more these systems become autonomous – using algorithm and robot journalism – the more the humans writing the stories are being cut out. What the system can deliver us is questionable. Artists are joining journalists and activists in showing how dangerous this could be.”

The power of Newstweek is its interactive nature.

“With certain artworks you have a suspension of disbelief, but by changing The Guardian website you become aware of how powerful it can be,” he says.

“Live internet and network art is a new art form – it’s the experience which finishes the work. It’s not like a painting which you admire, it’s something you do yourself. It's similar to how gaming is the equivalent of making your own Hollywood movie.

“This is a very powerful piece of work – it's subtle, but it lures you in.”

As well as changing the news, by taking part in the hack visitors to Lighthouse will experience first-hand how the information we are being fed is open to abuse. Changes to a news story don’t have to be made at source – but could be at point of access.

“The internet is being used as a complex tool for surveillance,” he says. “It is being used to find out what people do, and re-selling that information on to advertisers and media outlets. It is not the utopia we imagine it to be, or what Tim Berners-Lee imagined 25 years ago.”

Lighthouse is supporting the growing open source movement.

“They want to create a tool which is free to use and won't sell information to anybody,” he says.

“We want to stimulate public discussion and awareness about this situation which is unfolding, and what we can do about it. We want to find solutions so we can find pleasure and excitement in new technologies again.

“This isn’t some kind of tin foil hat situation – it’s much more of a coming-of-age in a post-PRISM world.”

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