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Is There A Space For Us?

Friday, November 3, 2023
15 mins

Real Voices Wanted

The idea of 'citizen journalism' is not an easy one to define precisely.

We asked Google 'Bard' for an explanation and examples. Here's what it returned:

'Citizen journalism is the collection and reporting of news and information by members of the public, often through the use of social media and other online platforms. Citizen journalists are not professional journalists, but they play an important role in the news ecosystem by providing eyewitness accounts of events, reporting on under-covered stories, and holding powerful institutions accountable.

Citizen journalism has become increasingly popular in recent years, thanks to the rise of smartphones and social media. Anyone with a smartphone and an internet connection can now become a citizen journalist.

Here are some examples of citizen journalism:

  • A bystander filming a police shooting and posting the video on social media.
  • A blogger reporting on a local protest that is not being covered by the mainstream media.
  • A group of volunteers using social media to coordinate disaster relief efforts.
  • A Twitter user sharing breaking news about a terrorist attack before it has been reported by the mainstream media.
  • A YouTuber creating a video essay about a current event, using their own expertise and analysis.

Citizen journalism can play an important role in democracy by providing a platform for diverse voices and perspectives. It can also help to hold powerful institutions accountable and ensure that the public is informed about important issues.

Here are some specific examples of citizen journalism that have made a significant impact:

  • The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami: Citizen journalists were among the first to report on the devastating tsunami, providing eyewitness accounts and images that helped to raise awareness of the disaster and galvanize the global response.
  • The Arab Spring: Citizen journalists played a vital role in documenting the Arab Spring uprisings, using social media to share information and videos that helped to inspire and mobilize protesters.
  • The Black Lives Matter movement: Citizen journalists have been at the forefront of covering the Black Lives Matter movement, providing valuable insights into the experiences of Black people and the systemic racism that they face.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic: Citizen journalists have played an important role in reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic, from documenting the early days of the outbreak in Wuhan to holding governments and businesses accountable for their response to the crisis.

Citizen journalism is a powerful tool that can be used to inform the public, hold powerful institutions accountable, and promote social change.'

That text was generated in approximately six seconds. We have not tinkered with it in any way.

Could you tell?

We already know that much of social media 'copy' is generated via the use of algorithms and bots.

What's the difference? Here's 'Bard' again...

are step-by-step instructions that computers follow to solve problems or complete tasks. They are used in a wide variety of applications, including search engines, social media platforms, and recommendation systems.

Bots are software applications that perform automated tasks over the internet. They can be used to carry out a wide range of tasks, such as customer service, social media marketing, and even financial trading.

The main difference between algorithms and bots is that algorithms are a set of instructions, while bots are software applications that use algorithms to perform tasks.

Another way to think about it is that algorithms are the brains of bots, while bots are the bodies. Bots cannot function without algorithms, but algorithms can exist without bots.

Here are some examples of how algorithms and bots are used together:

  • Search engines use algorithms to rank websites and return the most relevant results to users' search queries.
  • Social media platforms use algorithms to personalize users' feeds and show them the content that they are most likely to be interested in.
  • Recommendation systems use algorithms to suggest products, movies, and other items to users based on their past behavior.
  • Customer service bots use algorithms to answer customer questions and resolve issues.
  • Social media marketing bots use algorithms to schedule and publish posts, engage with followers, and track results.
  • Financial trading bots use algorithms to buy and sell assets based on market conditions.

Overall, algorithms and bots are two important technologies that are used in a wide variety of applications. Algorithms provide the instructions, while bots put those instructions into action.'

'You're joking, right?'

All seems straightforward enough, doesn't it? But they're still not 'human'. For example, an algorithm, using AI and bots, couldn't make up 'jokes', could it?

'Yes, AI can make up jokes. In fact, there are a number of AI systems that have been specifically designed to generate jokes. These systems work by training on large datasets of existing jokes, and then using this knowledge to create new jokes.

One example of an AI joke generator is WitScript, which was developed by comedy writer and AI researcher Jon Toplyn. WitScript is able to generate contextually relevant jokes on the spot, in response to a user's text.

Another example is Bard, a large language model from Google AI that is trained on a massive dataset of text and code. Bard can generate different creative text formats, including jokes.

AI-generated jokes are not always perfect, but they can be quite funny. And as AI technology continues to develop, we can expect to see even more sophisticated and humorous AI jokes in the future.

Here is an example of an AI-generated joke:

What do you call a fish with no eyes?


This joke is funny because it is unexpected and plays on the pronunciation of the word "fish." It is also a bit silly, which is often a key ingredient in a good joke.

Overall, AI is capable of generating jokes, and the technology is still under development. It is exciting to think about the future of AI-generated humor, and how it can be used to entertain and educate people.'

Christmas cracker 'Dad' jokes count? Well, we all have to start somewhere. It's a work in development. But even if these bots can simulate human humour by processing existing examples and spitting out permutations, they still doesn't actually 'feel' anything, do they? They take no enjoyment from creating or sharing the humour. Therefore, it seems fair to assume that they cannot really feel anything else: fear, love, confusion. But can AI simulate such emotions?

'Yes, AI can simulate human emotions. This is done through a variety of techniques, including:

  • Natural language processing (NLP): AI systems can be trained to identify and understand emotional language, such as words and phrases that express happiness, sadness, anger, and fear. This allows AI systems to generate text that expresses emotions in a way that is similar to how humans do.
  • Machine learning (ML): AI systems can be trained to recognize and respond to emotional cues, such as facial expressions, vocal tones, and body language. This allows AI systems to simulate emotions in their own behavior.
  • Rule-based systems: AI systems can be programmed with rules for how to express emotions in different situations. For example, an AI system might be programmed to smile when it is happy, or to frown when it is sad.

While AI systems can simulate human emotions, it is important to note that they do not actually feel emotions in the same way that humans do. AI systems do not have the same biological and neurological underpinnings as humans, so they cannot experience emotions in the same way.

However, the ability of AI to simulate emotions can be very useful in a variety of applications. For example, AI chatbots can use simulated emotions to make conversations more engaging and natural. AI tutors can use simulated emotions to provide feedback to students in a way that is more motivating and supportive. And AI-powered video games can use simulated emotions to create more immersive and realistic experiences for players.

Overall, the ability of AI to simulate human emotions is a powerful tool that can be used in a variety of ways. As AI technology continues to develop, we can expect to see even more sophisticated and realistic AI simulations of emotions in the future.'

'Beat it bot!'

Even in the busiest comments sections of the most popular websites dealing in political/cultural discourse, it is becoming difficult to know when one is conversing with a bot. We can never be sure to what extent the propaganda war raging online (covering a multitude of important issues) is being affected by non-human players. But no matter how convincing they may be, there is always human control. Even at the algorithmic level, someone, somewhere, was responsible for design and had a specific remit, editorial influence. We can reveal this by asking the same AI tool questions which, inadvertently or not, reveal political bias. For example, we recently asked Bard to provide examples of situations where the people/electorate of a nation felt betrayed by their leaders:

'Here are some examples of when the people of a nation felt betrayed by their leaders:

  • The Watergate scandal: In the early 1970s, US President Richard Nixon and his top aides were caught covering up a break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters. The scandal led to Nixon's resignation and damaged public trust in the government.
  • The Iran-Contra affair: In the mid-1980s, the Reagan administration secretly sold arms to Iran in exchange for the release of American hostages held in Lebanon. The administration then used the proceeds from the arms sales to fund the Contra rebels in Nicaragua, despite a congressional ban on such aid. The scandal led to the indictment of several high-ranking Reagan administration officials and further damaged public trust in the government.
  • The Iraq War: In 2003, the US invaded Iraq under the false pretense that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. The war was highly unpopular with the American public, and many felt that they had been betrayed by their leaders.
  • The financial crisis of 2008: The financial crisis of 2008 was caused by a number of factors, including risky lending practices by banks and deregulation of the financial industry. The crisis led to a recession and the loss of millions of jobs. Many people felt that they had been betrayed by their leaders, who had failed to regulate the financial industry and who bailed out the banks with taxpayer money.
  • The Panama Papers: In 2016, a leak of millions of documents from a Panamanian law firm revealed that many wealthy people and world leaders were using offshore tax havens to avoid paying taxes. The leak led to protests and calls for reform, as many people felt that they had been betrayed by their leaders, who were not playing by the same rules as everyone else.

These are just a few examples of times when the people of a nation have felt betrayed by their leaders. When leaders break the trust of their people, it can have a devastating impact on society. It can lead to cynicism, anger, and even violence. It is important for leaders to be honest, transparent, and accountable to the people they serve.

In addition to the above examples, here are some more recent examples of when the people of a nation have felt betrayed by their leaders:

  • The COVID-19 pandemic: In many countries, people felt that their leaders did not do enough to protect them from the COVID-19 pandemic. There were also allegations of corruption and mismanagement of public funds.
  • The war in Ukraine: Many people around the world feel that Russia's invasion of Ukraine is a betrayal of the international order. They are also concerned about the humanitarian crisis that the war has caused.
  • The rise of populism: In recent years, there has been a rise in populist leaders who have promised to "drain the swamp" and put the interests of the people first. However, many people feel that these leaders have not delivered on their promises and have instead used their power to enrich themselves and their allies.

These are just a few examples of times when the people of a nation have felt betrayed by their leaders. It is important to remember that leaders are not infallible and that they can make mistakes. However, it is also important to hold them accountable for their actions.'

This response, while informative and broadly accurate, needs to be more specific if our current predicament (as Scots) is to make sense, not only to us but others seeking to understand what's happening here. So we ask it again, this time citing Scots' feelings about their 'leaders':

'Yes, some people in Scotland feel betrayed by their political representatives. This is due to a number of factors, including:

  • The failure of the UK government to deliver on its promises to Scotland. For example, the UK government promised to give Scotland more control over its own affairs in the wake of the 2014 independence referendum. However, many Scots feel that the UK government has not delivered on these promises.
  • The perception that the UK government is not listening to Scotland. For example, the UK government has been criticized for its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in Scotland. Many Scots feel that the UK government has ignored their concerns and has imposed policies that are not in their best interests.
  • The feeling that Scotland is not being treated fairly by the UK government. For example, Scotland receives less funding per capita than England from the UK government. This has led to accusations that Scotland is being short-changed by the UK government.

These factors have led to a growing sense of disillusionment with the UK government among many Scots. A recent poll found that 56% of Scots believe that the UK government is not acting in the best interests of Scotland. This sense of disillusionment is likely to continue to grow if the UK government does not do more to address the concerns of Scots.

It is important to note that not all Scots feel betrayed by their political representatives. There are still many Scots who support the UK government and who believe that Scotland is better off as part of the UK. However, the number of Scots who feel betrayed by their political representatives is growing, and this is a trend that the UK government should be concerned about.'

Okay, fair enough, but that response clearly assumes 'leaders' to be a reference to whoever is in charge of UK government, not those elected representatives working in the Holyrood parliament. So we try to nail it down further:

'There are a number of reasons why many Scots feel betrayed by Nicola Sturgeon. Some of the most common reasons include:

  • The failure to deliver on Scottish independence. Sturgeon has made Scottish independence her central goal throughout her political career. However, despite winning a number of landslides victories for the Scottish National Party (SNP), she has been unable to deliver on this goal. This has led to a sense of betrayal among many Scots who voted for the SNP on the promise of independence.
  • The perception that she is more interested in pursuing her own political ambitions than in serving the people of Scotland. Sturgeon has been accused of being more interested in becoming Prime Minister of the UK than in leading Scotland. This perception has been fueled by her frequent interventions in UK politics and her decision to hold a second Scottish independence referendum in 2023, despite polls showing that the majority of Scots were opposed to independence.
  • The handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Sturgeon's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic has been controversial. Some Scots feel that she imposed too many restrictions on people's freedoms, while others feel that she did not do enough to protect the vulnerable.
  • The SNP's record in government. The SNP has been in power in Scotland since 2007. Over the course of this time, there have been a number of scandals and controversies involving the party. This has led to a sense of disillusionment with the SNP among many Scots.

It is important to note that not all Scots feel betrayed by Nicola Sturgeon. There are still many Scots who support her and who believe that she is doing a good job as First Minister. However, the number of Scots who feel betrayed by Sturgeon is growing, and this is a trend that the SNP should be concerned about.

In addition to the above reasons, some Scots also feel betrayed by Sturgeon because of her handling of a number of other issues, such as:

  • The cost of living crisis.
  • The NHS crisis.
  • The education crisis.
  • The climate crisis.

Many Scots feel that Sturgeon has not done enough to address these issues, and that she has prioritized her own political ambitions over the needs of the people of Scotland.

Overall, there are a number of reasons why many Scots feel betrayed by Nicola Sturgeon. It is important to note that not all Scots feel this way, but the number of Scots who do is growing. This is a trend that the SNP should be concerned about, as it could undermine their support in the next Scottish Parliament election.'

Now we're getting somewhere. (We could as easily have asked why so many Scots still have faith in Nicola Sturgeon.) But it is interesting to note that the response makes no mention of what, for many Scots, are the main reasons they distrust and feel betrayed by her i.e. the mysterious disappearance of £600,000 of 'ring-fenced' money raised for a second referendum campaign by 'Yes' supporters (not all SNP members/supporters) and the botched attempt to have Alex Salmond convicted as a dangerous sex predator.

So, while useful and highly responsive, the AI, in this case, fails us.

Reaching Out

There is only one way to know for sure that one is dealing with another human being and that is direct contact.

And so, we raise the question:

Should this place reach out to our intended audience 'for real'?

Yes, we maintain a degree of anonymity for reasons set out in our 'About' page and that has been levelled as a criticism. But that same degree of anonymity can be maintained in 'real life' meetings where the topic is sensitive and people want a sense of personal security to enable them to speak their mind. We have been listening to a variety of Twitter/X 'spaces' spanning a variety of contentious issues where the identity of the participants is no more or less revealing than whatever bio/handle they happen to be using. Anonymity need not stifle the quality of debate in any way and while the standards observed by responsible 'citizen journalists' can be subjected to the same verification processes applied to traditional mainstream media output, the expressing of opinion is a different matter.

We don't have anywhere near the same level of below-the-line engagement as established independence blogs. But we can reach out for direct contact of the type made possible by Twitter 'spaces' and are prepared to provide a long-term regular forum if there is enough interest. Please keep an eye on our Twitter feed for updates - if we decide to go ahead then plenty of notice will be given. In the meantime, we would be very grateful for feedback and suggestions.

The support we've had thus far is hugely encouraging but we have to find ways of doing justice to the great contributions we've received from readers as well as writers - we feel that this 'expansion' will help encourage the kind of difficult discussions we need to keep having, in 'reality' as well as online.

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