A Totally Unfiltered, Public Digital Messaging System – What Could Go Wrong???

December 28, 2017 by Dave Haynes

Photo – realities:united

There is much hand-wringing underway in Toronto after a new subway station opened with a $500,000 art installation that let anyone walk up to a kiosk and put up a brief eight-character message on a set of suspended lights.

The installation at the city’s just-opened new Pioneer Village station serves as functional lighting but the light bars set up in squares can spell out letters that look like old calculator read-outs. There are five interfaces installed around the station and anyone can just walk up and use them.

Trouble is, no one thought to write any software into the thing to block naughty or hateful words. So some 10-year-old boys can walk up and knockout POOP or some 20-year-old racist SOBs can walk up and put in something truly vile.

The installation was commissioned by the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) to a German art studio, which seems to be in “what’s the problem?” mode.

The installation is “an experiment of the freedom of speech of the individual versus the influence of the group,” says Jan Edler, a co-founder of realities:united, in an interview with the Toronto Star.

“You can not only enter text anonymously, but you can also override and erase text anonymously. The censoring of inappropriate content if there is any is not done through an automated system but is being organized or is supposed to be organized by the group of people in the station,” Edler explains.

Oh yes, that will work. Let boys be stupid and adults be awful, and assume everyone else will fix things.

Gloriously naive and stupid.

Just about anyone in digital signage who has thought about social media and public commenting knows there are simple ways to set up in the software lists of unacceptable words, or to run some sort of moderation set-up. Edler told a TV network that kind of censorship was something out of North Korea.

Umm, sure.

Edler told the Toronto Star concerns about naughty content did come up ahead of the installation and were discussed “quite thoroughly” throughout the process, including with TTC lawyers. It was agreed the mechanism that allowed others to erase messages was “an appropriate” way to address those concerns, he added.

The lights are up but the kiosks are not active, and have not been since the subway line extension went live a few days ago.

Both sides are discussing a resolution. About two minutes spent talking with the guys at Pattison Onestop – which has run the digital display network on TTC platforms for more than a decade – would have been enough to fill the TTC people in on what was going to happen with this open commenting system, and maybe got them insisting on a black list system for bad words, in multiple languages.

In a related matter – $500,000 for an LED lighting fixture and some small kiosks???

Chances are, yet more money will be wasted coming up with a fix.

  1. Luis says:

    Oh oh oh… I have a good one… a few years back, a client decided to put a kiosk where users could take pictures and automatically post them on a videowall made of 4-49″ panels.

    The pictures were all displayed in mosaic style, with the total being about 100 pics at any given time.

    So, people would go up to the kiosk, load up their mobile screen with a “porn scene”, put it in front of the camera, take the pic… and up, up they went into the video-wall.

    True story!!!

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