The Press is often accused of manipulating the news to reflect private interests; now citizens are being given the chance to turn the tables.
Coming to Lighthouse as part of Brighton Digital Festival 2014, the award-winning Newstweek is an installation that invites visitors to set their own news agendas. Hidden within an innocuous plug socket is a device that acts as a virtual router, allowing users to access and edit national news websites being viewed through the local WiFi network. For the duration of the festival, Lighthouse’s gallery space will be transformed into a ‘News Fixing Bureau’ where visitors can surreptitiously satirise, spin or subvert the news being read by those nearby.
Newstweek was created by Berlin-based artists Julian Oliver and Danja Vasiliev to highlight how our news – and so our understanding of our reality – is frequently contrived and controlled by media ‘gatekeepers’.
“While news is increasingly read digitally, it still follows a top-down distribution model and thus often falls victim to the same political and corporate interests that have always sought to manipulate public opinion,” they explain.
“Newstweek intervenes upon this model, providing opportunity for citizens to have their turn to manipulate the press; generating propaganda or simply ‘fixing facts’ as they pass across a wireless network. As such, Newstweek can be seen as a tactical device for altering reality on a per-network basis.
“It also signals a word of caution, that a strictly media-defined reality is a vulnerable reality; that along the course of news distribution there are many hands at work, from ISP workers, numerous server administrators and wireless access point owners.
“Moreover, with the increasing ubiquity of networks and their devices comes greater ignorance as to their functions, offering a growing opportunity for manipulation of opinion, from source to destination.”
Newstweek has been built on the principles of Critical Engineering, a term coined in the manifesto published by Oliver, Vasiliev, and Gordan Savicic in 2011.
The Critical Engineering Manifesto states the authors’ belief in engineering as ‘the most transformative language of our time, shaping the way we move, communicate and think’ and their work as ‘critical engineers’, “to study and exploit this language, exposing its influence.” The manifesto provides an analytical framework for creative practice that exposes the technological and scientific systems that underpin much of society. By making these infrastructures and systems visible, the ‘critical engineer’ reveals the political and power structures at play, instigates critical discussion, and questions who has agency within these systems.
Projects created such as Transparency Grenade (2011) and Newstweek (2011) are designed both as functional tools, which both reveal and disrupt the invisible information and communication networks that surround us, and conversational catalysts. Their intention is to expose the deep reach that science and technology have in our lives, and to try and encourage more active forms of intervention and agency.