An interdisciplinary symposium on freedom of expression
in the age of digital censorship and surveillance

What do we mean when we say 'content moderation'?

Digital Censorship, Surveillance and Creative Workers

Saturday, May 25 - Sunday, May 26, 2019
Hart House, University of Toronto


This symposium addresses urgent concerns regarding control of digital space within and beyond the art and creative communities in Canadian and international contexts. It explores how artists and creators can contribute to a more ethical web. Some of the key topics of the symposium include:
• examples of activism against censorship and surveillance in the arts in the Canadian and international context
• examples of the current artist- and tech-involved initiatives of “taking back the web”
• and potential empowering alternatives in the digital sphere

The symposium will explore three approaches as examples of artist- and tech-involved activism against two main and interconnected systems of oppression: artists as developers/co-developers of the Web’s Infrastructure; artistic “gestures” as activism against online censorship and surveillance; and storytelling— changing narratives through technology and science fiction.

Featured Speakers and Co-facilitators:

Jillian C. York [Berlin] (Electronic Frontier Foundation)
Skawennati [Montreal] (Aboriginal Territories in Cyberspace)
Mathias Jud [Berlin] (Can you hear me?)
Jonathan Penney [Halifax] (Citizen Lab, Dalhousie U)
Sarah Friend [Toronto/Berlin] (Our Networks)
Garry Ing [Toronto] (Our Networks, OCAD U)
Dante Sanchez [Toronto] (Toronto Mesh)
Connor Turland [Toronto] (Holochain)
Dawn Walker [Toronto] (University of Toronto)

Curated and organized by Pegah Vaezi in conjunction with her Master of Visual Studies degree in Curatorial Studies thesis at the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design, University of Toronto.

Presenting Sponsors

Lead Sponsor

Community Partners

Crowdfunding campaign supporters
Greg J. Smith and three anynomous donors

Background Image Credits:
Sarah Friend, Perverse Affordances, 2018.
Skawennati, Becoming Skywoman, machinimagraph from She Falls for Ages, 2016. Courtesy of the artist.
Mathias Jud and Christoph Wachter, Can You Hear Me?, 2014. Courtesy Wachter & Jud.
Skawennati, Kahentéhshon Meets You-Know-Who, machinimagraph from The Peacemaker Returns, 2017. Courtesy of the artist.

Saturday, May 25

10am - 5pm

*The schedule is subject to minor changes and updates.

Sunday, May 26

12pm - 3pm

*The schedule is subject to minor changes and updates.


Opening Keynote
Negative Space: Erasure and Resistance on the Social Canvas

Jillian C. York
Historically the domain of the state, the regulation of online speech has in large part been ceded to corporations, driven by profit and accountable only to shareholders. Their revenue model—what scholar Shoshona Zuboff calls "surveillance capitalism"—is reliant on closely tracking our behaviors and desires while simultaneously restricting our expression to ensure desirability to advertisers. What impact does this have on artists and culture? What are some of the ways that artists and others are pushing back?

Plenary Talks & Panel Discussion

Sarah Friend, Mathias Jud and Jonathan Penney / Moderator: Dawn Walker

Can you hear me?

Mathias Jud
The question ‘can you hear me?’ was the title of an installation on the Swiss embassy in Berlin. The situation of surveillance through US- and British secret services have been inverted in this intervention. An open mesh network allowed users to send their messages anonymously - on the frequencies that are intercepted - to the secret services.

The objections and debates of the one’s with a voice, mark the political field. Of course there are reasons to exclude troublemakers, to withdraw attention from trolls or to filter viruses. What is the protection of the regular operation mode and where does censorship start?

With installations such as ‘Can you hear me?’ this situation was brought into the world wide spot light. Further there are marginalized voices that are overheard and excluded. Canalizations and categorizations of users and their options of expression have a profound impact. We will go on a search for traces, an archeology to sound the forms of exclusion. We can follow the cultural, economic and political turns. They coin the sociopolitical discourse and write themselves into our infrastructure, almost unnoticed. They can be traced back into our own hard- and software tools, as deep as into the kernels of our mobile phones.

Cobwebs that connect us: What is a social network?

Sarah Friend
How do we model social networks, and how do the ways we model social networks shape our interactions within them? A web of trust is a cryptographic construct that attempts to capture 'trust' and use it as a form of identity - and we see it widely referenced, peer to peer applications like CirclesUBI and Secure Scuttlebutt use a social graph inspired by a web of trust to secure their network and shape interactions. In this talk, we'll discuss the web of trust as a primitive and look at examples, from both the peer to peer and traditional web, to think through how subtle differences in these network topologies effect the content and norms on the platform. We'll also touch on the surveillance potential of social networks, and how even on an encrypted or pseudonomous network, leaked metadata can often be used to identify users.

Understanding the Impact of Surveillance

Jonathan Penney
With Internet censorship and new forms of technological tracking and surveillance on the rise globally, understanding the impact of digital surveillance—and its chilling effects— has taken on greater urgency and public importance. In this talk, Jon will draw on his own recent research and other new studies in the field to help fill in some of the gaps in our understanding of chilling effects online. Among questions he will tackle: What is the nature and scale of surveillance chilling effects online? Does the impact of surveillance persist or is it merely temporary? Are certain people or groups more impacted than others? And what are the implications for creativity, art, and expression today and tomorrow?

Participatory Workshop
Bursting the Cloud: Alternative Architectures

Connor Turland
“The cloud” painted an alluring, appealing picture for a data hungry populace. The old days of external hard drives and annoying backups were being whisked away. Your data would always be at your fingertips, and you should, in fact, just forget about it. We fell in love with the cloud. Did we know what we were falling for?
This workshop explores alternative architectures of data besides the predominant “cloud” model. We will explore how the ground broken by the early peer-to-peer (p2p) file sharing technology paved the way for a next generation of p2p architectures and protocols that are only now maturing enough to start paying close attention to. Without relying on Big Tech, we can still have a high quality digital experience and connection, by retrieving values of sovereignty, community solidarity and resilience and applying them to our digital lives. It will be a combination of quick and simple demos, with interactive modeling of some common patterns in p2p architectures such as “gossip”, and “distributed hash tables”.

Participatory Workshop
It Works On Paper: The Networks We Need

Dante Sanchez
Get ready to doodle! We will outline some of the problems the web faces today before we break into groups to sketch the networks we want to see tomorrow. Drawings in hand, we will discuss what we think of when we say "ideal network", and what resources we can leverage to bring our ideas closer to reality.

Participatory Workshop
Tools for the Next Revolution

Mathias Jud
The workshop is a journey into possibilities of expression in the communication society and uncovers the narratives and power structures behind it. Participants will experience their own Internet independent Wifi communication network, learn how to use it and how to extend the range of Wifi-Networks with self built Antennas.

Closing Keynote
Towards Thrivance: Changing Narratives Through Digital Media and Science Fiction

Skawennati will present some of her own work in the digital realm, focusing on why she has chosen the stories she has told. She will also talk about AbTeC/IIF's Skins workshops, in which they teach Indigenous youth how to make video games and machinima based on stories from their communities. She will tell you how their productions have changed in response to the stories they have presented to them.

Participatory Workshop
Speculative Design: Protocol, Platform, and Peers

Garry Ing
Thinking about the contents of the symposium, how can we create interesting ways of distributing the knowledge, experiences, and aspirations of our peers? Through a series of activities and methods, we will prototype and construct a (de)centralized network from the ways we communicate to the platforms that will layered over them.
Protocol: Could we speculate, and prototype, a new way of communicating with our peers? What are the boundaries for protocols like dat:// and ipfs? What are their strengths? Weaknesses? What values do they instantiate through their nodes and edges?
Platform: Could we speculate on a frame/mirror/window for us to interact with the network? If the browser is an interface for TCP/IP, what is an interface for our new protocols? What are the possible affordances we give to the user? Turing Complete User
Peers: Over time, what accumulates on the network? Speculate on how we will reflect on this protocol in the near-future In a time frame ~10 years into the future Reflect on the projects like Geocities and the vernacular web What will the network archivists of the future find through our collective protocols?

Durational Activity - May 25

Sarah Friend
Socialgram is a durational activity where we attempt to visualize the social behaviour of symposium attendees - if the symposium were a social network how would it look? We'll use a pen and paper game as well as web interface to explore this question over the course of the day, visualizing every conference attendee as a node in a social graph. Part self-surveillance, part social-cartograpy - who will be the most social node of them all?


Jillian C. York is a writer and activist whose work examines the impact of technology on our societal and cultural values. Based in Berlin, she is the Director for International Freedom of Expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation and a fellow at the Center for Internet & Human Rights at the European University Viadrina. Jillian co-founded, an award-winning project that seeks to encourage companies to operate with greater transparency and accountability toward their users as they make decisions that regulate speech. She is a frequent public speaker on topics including censorship, surveillance, and the impact of social media on our lives and our societies. Her writing has been published by the New York Times, Al Jazeera, the Atlantic, the Guardian, Quartz, The Washington Post, and Die Zeit, among others.

Skawennati makes art that addresses history, the future, and change from her perspective as an urban Mohawk woman and as a cyberpunk avatar. Her early adoption of cyberspace as both a location and a medium for her practice has led to groundbreaking projects such as CyberPowWow and the Skins workshops on Aboriginal Storytelling and Digital Media. She is best known for her machinimas—movies made in virtual environments—but also produces still images and sculpture. These are included in both public and private collections and have been widely presented across Turtle Island in major exhibitions such as Now? NOW! at Denver’s Biennial of the Americas and Looking Forward (L’Avenir) at the Montreal Biennale. Born in Kahnawà:ke Mohawk Territory, Skawennati graduated with a BFA from Concordia University in Montreal, where she resides. She is Co-Director of Aboriginal Territories in Cyberspace (AbTeC). In 2015 they launched IIF, the Initiative for Indigenous Futures.

Mathias Jud was born in Zurich lives and works in Berlin. Since over twenty years he works in a collective with Christoph Wachter. They are professors at the Weißensee Academy of Art Berlin, have participated in numerous international exhibitions and have been awarded many international prizes. Their art works include open-source projects that uncover forms of censorship of the Internet, undermine the concentration of political power and even resolve the dependency on infrastructure. The tools, provided by the artists, are used by communities in the USA, Europe, Australia and in countries such as Syria, Tunisia, Egypt, Iran, India, China and Thailand. Even in North Korea activists participate. But not everyone is fond of these projects. Their findings on secret prisons on US military bases in Guantanamo and Iraq have not been covered by the US media. The PR China denied Wachter and Jud to enter the country since 2013.

Jon Penney is a Research Fellow at the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab and Director of the Law and Technology Institute at Dalhousie University. He is also a Research Associate of Princeton’s Center for Information Technology Policy and the Civil Servant Project at the MIT Media Lab. From 2012 to 2015, he was a Fellow and then Research Affiliate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University.A native of Halifax, Nova Scotia, he has studied law at Columbia Law School as a Fulbright Scholar and at Oxford as a Mackenzie King Scholar. He holds a doctorate in “Information, Communication, and the Social Sciences” from the interdisciplinary Oxford Internet Institute at the University of Oxford (Balliol College, 2016). Jon’s research lies at the intersection of law, technology, and human rights, with strong empirical, interdisciplinary, and social science dimensions. From the Internet to AI and beyond, his work aims to understand technology’s role in censorship, surveillance, and other emerging threats to people’s rights and interests.

Sarah Friend is an artist and software engineer, with special interest in blockchain and the p2p web. She was a member of Consensys for over two years and is currently contributing to CirclesUBI, a permissionless democratically-operated universal basic income. When not doing that, she creates games and other interactive experiences. She is a proud Recurse Centre alum, and is one of the organizers of Our Networks, a conference on all aspects of the distributed web in Toronto.

Garry Ing is a designer and researcher currently residing in Toronto. He is a contributor at Toronto Mesh, sessional faculty at OCAD University teaching interactive media, and co-organizer of Our Networks, a conference about the past, present, and future of building our own network infrastructures. His research practice is around network poetics, irl-to-url methods, near-future software, and net art. Previous work and collaborations has been with the Strategic Innovation Lab (sLab) at OCAD University, the Technologies for Aging Gracefully Lab at the University of Toronto, Normative, and Format.

Dante Sanchez graduated from the University of Toronto with a Bachelor in Applied Science. In the last twelve years, he has developed instrumentation for Geophysics, Environmental, and Life Sciences research. He joined Toronto Mesh two years ago after growing increasingly concerned with issues surrounding online access, privacy, and surveillance. Toronto Mesh is a volunteer group dedicated to helping communities create better networks with open-source and peer-to-peer technologies that promote digital literacy and privacy.

Connor Turland is a software developer, educator, and facilitator, with a focus on collaborative, open source, and peer-to-peer technologies. He is especially concerned with finding ways to augment the conversations, and thus the thinking, that is necessary for humans to address the wicked challenges that face us collectively. This has led to much technical and social experimentation in tools and processes that restore agency, unlock higher potentials and collective intelligences. His work also hinges on the theory and practice of peer-to-peer as a basis for social interaction and non-hierarchical power structures.

Dawn Walker is a researcher and PhD student at the University of Toronto focused on participatory design tactics for building environmental civic technologies. She also imagines possibilities for grassroots and decentralized (environmental) data with EDGI and Data Together. A keen urban agriculturalist, Dawn would rather be in the garden.