re:publica 2018 | Between populism and popculture


By in Blog
On May 17, 2018

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POP – The re:publica 2018 in Berlin was all about the Power Of People and popping digital bubbles and echo chambers. As one of the largest conferences about digital culture in the world, re:publica 2018 provided not only a programme full of engaging topics, it offered interesting speakers – my celebrity highlights included whistleblower, Chelsea Manning and principal researcher at Microsoft Research, Danah Boyd. The theme of the conference was POP and one thing is for sure – the conference set out to burst some bubbles around privacy, big data and artificial intelligence. And with Trump, Brexit, Cambridge Analytica and GDPR – what we see online and who and how data is controlled couldn’t be more timely.

Talks and keynotes at re:publica 2018 centred around politics, the effects of algorithms and the future of the digital society – while the STATION Berlin was dressed in the colour of hope, bright green. But more often than not you could also hear some darker tones: populism in politics, Fake-News, powerful corporations with even more powerful algorithms.

The speakers at re:publica 2018 tried to give attendees a reality-check. You could even hear the word “war“. Danah Boyd mentioned in her opening keynote a war of cultures within a networked society with populism, the media and tech-companies as the opponents.

During those keynotes the attendees were given a clear message: digital technology cannot be discussed without being intertwined with politics and regulation. For example; how do algorithms, big data and artificial intelligence affect our lives? And how do politicians work with these developments that are more and more part of our everyday lives? Do we increasingly need to talk about ethics and morals?

The impact of these discussions is already important. Right-wing populism manages to guide certain discourses online with specific terms. Try and search “black on white crime“ in Google and you will find websites of right-wing populism parties on top of your search list – a clear digital bubble.

However, re:publica 2018 was not only about showing a dark Status Quo of the digital society. Star guest Chelsea Manning, an American Whistleblower, notes that we can see light at the end of the tunnel. She emphasizes one big solution for these problems within a networked society: assuming responsibility. Only with responsibility, there can be change. And who could argue with the idea of companies, people and of course PRs taking on more responsibility for the data they provide or manage?

Raising awareness was definitely a key goal at re:publica 2018. The concerns about the future are beginning to fall on open and curious ears. I’m sure that others (not just me) walked away realising that thinking outside of a digital bubble sometimes helps to understand the world and other people a little bit better. #POP

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