BYOW Workshop: Build Your Own Words to Resist Algorithmic Censorship

Dates: Thursday, June 17, 2021
Times: 10am – 12pm PT / 1pm – 3pm ET

Cost: Free
Experience Level: None required

Our capacity for change is shaped by our capacity for language: new phrases, words, revolution are created by our ability to imagine new worlds and vocabularies. From hashtags and political slogans, words serve as reminders and provocations of where we've been and where we are headed.

Yet online, words are not just expressions — words are now a form of data. "The systemic manipulation and monetization of digitized language is a threat to the security and stability of modern society. The very words we use to communicate, learn, debate, and critique have become compromised by opaque algorithmic organisation and optimisation, and the market-driven profits of private companies such as Google. We might therefore ask ourselves, just how resilient and secure is language in the digital age?" writes researcher Pip Thornton. Whether in the US, in China, globally, language online has become the medium in which activism arises. Language has also become a form of data, ready to be co-opted, used to create machine learning systems for profit, such as words for training data that form AI models that can “write”. Words have also become an arena for automated censorship and moderation. In China, automated censorship has led to a surge of creativity as online netizens scramble to “fool the machine”, through creative use of homophones to images and new characters that bypass OCR (optical character recognition).

Writing has long been a form of dissent and provocation. Words can destroy worlds or create new worlds. Our new languages will be prismatic in nature, subject to the multiple, relational and transnational ways of expression.

In this workshop, we'll use the Hanzimaker and other parts of the Algorithmic Censorship Toolkit by Future of Memory to experiment with creating new words, phrases and vocabularies to document the past and think through the future. These new hybrid characters, a mash of multiple languages, just as diasporic as their creators will escape classification and recognition by automated systems. We see these characters as a form of visual poetry.
As Audre Lorde wrote, “Poetry is not only dream and vision; it is the skeleton architecture of our lives. It lays the foundation for a future of change, a bridge across our fears of what has never been before.”

What words will we be left with to describe the past? What words will build our future? What is the new vocabulary we need for different kinds of revolution?

This workshop is part of Revisions, a week long festival exploring how technological bias shapes our cultural realities.


Xiaowei Wang

Xiaowei Wang is an artist, coder and a writer. The creative director at Logic magazine, their work encompasses community-based projects on technology, ecology, and education. Their projects have been finalists for the Index Design Awards and featured by the New York Times, the BBC, CNN, VICE, and elsewhere.

Qianqian Ye

Qianqian Ye is an artist, educator and organizer based in Los Angeles. She currently teaches at USC Media Arts + Practice and works as a p5.js co-lead at Processing Foundation. She was born and raised in China and moved to the US in 2012. Trained as an architect, she explores the complex interaction between digital, architectural, and social spaces.

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