Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Internet Shaming in the Social Media Age: Is it Right?

Is Internet Shaming Always OK?
Publicly shaming bad behavior is as old as mankind, but in the Social Media Age it seems to happen more frequently and it certainly happens a lot faster.

Various cases in the past year or so have highlighted the rapidity and breadth of consequences for people perceived to have wronged others. Just a few examples:
  • Justine Sacco, communications director for the New York-based internet empire InterActive Corp, tweeted before she boarded a flight in December 2013: "Going to Africa. Hope I don't get AIDS. Just kidding. I'm white!" By the time she landed in South Africa the Internet outrage was about to lead to her firing.
  • Author Daniel Handler (a.k.a. Lemony Snicket), presenting at the National Book Awards in November, told an insensitive anecdote about a black girl who is allergic to watermelon. When Internet outrage ensued he promised a $10,000 donation to and to match up to another $100,000 in gifts to We Need Diverse Books.
    Curt Schilling
    Curt Schilling
  • Former Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling congratulated his daughter, Gabby, on Twitter Feb. 25, 2015 for her acceptance into Salve Regina University. Two Twitter users used this as an opportunity to make lurid comments about his daughter. He responded by outing Adam Negal and Sean MacDonald in a blog post called "Is it Twitters fault?" As a result the two young men were blasted on Twitter. They shut down their accounts and Negal was subsequently suspended from his community college in New Jersey.
Some clearly think this online Internet shaming is OK, even laudable.

Alex Reimer writing for the online news site BostInno in Boston says the Schilling online shaming is an example of "how the Internet can be used for the greater good."

In a piece called Curt Schilling Publicly Shamed 2 Cyber Bullies, & It Was Awesome he says: "If the humiliation Nagel and MacDonald have suffered stops even one cyber bully from hurling personal insults behind the comfort of his keyboard, then this may be one of Schilling's greatest accomplishments."
Alyssa Rosenberg
Alyssa Rosenberg

But Alyssa Rosenberg, who blogs about pop culture for The Washington Post's Opinions section, has a different point of view. In a piece called Why I stopped shaming online harassers she asks, among other questions: "What kind of speech should trigger consequences?" and "Who gets to pass judgement?"

In a thoughtful summation of several instances of people who have been punished online, some for things they did and one because an ex-boyfriend impersonated an innocent woman, Rosenberg concludes: "Until we get a better handle on these precedents, I’ll be sticking to my Mute button rather than reaching for Retweet to expose angry people to a wider audience which might feel moved to chastise them."

"Knowing that the people who want to say ugly things about me online are shouting into the void feels like punishment enough."

Laura Hudson, a writer at Wired magazine offered a cautionary tale in her July, 2013 piece Why You Should Think Twice Before Shaming Anyone on the Social Media. In the piece she recounts an incident at a tech conference called PyCon where two males' talk - using sexually suggestive double entendre - within earshot of a female attendee led the latter to tweet out a picture of the two and comment on their inappropriate behavior. She had a large Twitter following and the online reaction was swift and loud. One of the young men's employers recognized his employee and fired him. When there was an equal backlash to the firing the young woman lost her job too.

Hudson says it’s as if online shaming "has become a core competency of the Internet, and it’s one that can destroy both lives and livelihoods."

"Increasingly, our failure to grasp our online power has become a liability — personally, professionally, and morally. We need to think twice before we unleash it," she writes.
Monica Lewinsky at her TED Talk
Monica Lewinsky at her TED Talk

Another, perhaps unlikely, voice against Internet shaming is that of Monica Lewinsky, the former White House intern who was involved with President Clinton. In a March 2015 TED Talk called The Price of Shame she calls for a revolution away from the culture of humiliation towards an "internet community of empathy and compassion." While admitting she made mistakes as a 22-year-old the now 42-year-old says she knows better than most how painful and long-lasting Internet shaming can be.

And then there's this: The Gawker writer who first outed Justine Sacco’s seeming racially insensitive tweet about AIDS and Africa, Sam Biddle, wrote a follow-up piece in March, 2015 called Justine Sacco Is Good at Her Job, and How I Came To Peace With Her.

In it he writes about a dinner meeting with Sacco during which he realized that her original tweet had been a poor attempt at irony, that his quick retweet had ruined her life and that he needed to say sorry.

So, what do you think? In the social media age should shaming be an acceptable response to perceived online wrongs or inappropriate behavior (online or otherwise)? And, if so, should it be within some kind of personal guidelines and only under certain circumstances? Or should it be something we avoid altogether?

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Twitter threat? Clones seem to be multiplying

Could Twitter clones take over the social network?
Social media is based on basic social niceties - greetings, thank yous and even compliments.

So it’s disturbing to see a proliferation of what appear to be fake Twitter accounts that seem to have no purpose but to make conversation or flatter other legitimate Twitter users and then to send commercial tweets. 

The accounts look so similar and act in such a similar way they can only be "Twitter clones." 
Examples of the Twitter clones or fake accounts
Four of the Twitter clone accounts
In the past week, for example, I have been followed by nearly 30 of these accounts - all seemingly run by women and all seemingly wanting to engage in conversation or at the very least get my attention. 

The accounts follow me and then tweet messages at me such as: "you're the best," "hehehe!!," "totally just followed you," "the best tweet" and "best follow I ever did," among others.

The accounts have no bio information, mostly feature face shots of young women and have names such as Enedina Biler, Aurelia Lieser, Loreen Greenfield, Shana Rancatti and Anastacia Breighner.

Occasionally these accounts reply to a tweet of mine with "easily the best tweet so far today" or "you're the best." When you examine the accounts they have a mix of these messages and others that seem commercial (including some in Japanese).

The accounts are so similar-looking and essentially tweeting the exact same material that I have to believe they are the work of bots … but to what purpose?

A Google search on fake Twitter followers and fake Twitter posts doesn’t reveal any insights.

A good guess might be that these are accounts set up to attract legitimate followers who in turn will start receiving offers via direct message and commercial-type tweets.

If you have any insights into what and/or who is behind these proliferating accounts please post them in the Comments section here.

Some examples of these clone Twitter accounts
(WARNING: Some sites have NSFW images):
Have you noticed any of these accounts? Social media relies on social niceties, so please report these accounts as you see them.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

SXSW-Interactive: The Big Takeaways

Live video streaming, alternate human-ness, a robot zoo and people dressed as giant squirrels pitching a new social app … yup, must be that annual nerd fest known as SXSW-Interactive in Austin, Texas. My highlights:

Video streaming: So Meerkat was the talk on the streets both because it was new and seemingly everywhere you went someone with an iPhone (it is iOS only at this stage) was live-streaming a speaker or a party. It was also a popular topic after it was announced Twitter had purchased Periscope – a rival still in beta - and would be limiting how much access Meerkat users would have to such things as Twitter followers.

Wearable tech: It was unusual to see someone not wearing a fitness tracker, but SXSWi went far beyond that with 3D-printed fashion, "smart" textiles and discussions of the impacts of the "quantified self." It seems certain that wearable tech will be a major trend in 2015. For example, unveiled at the conference was the world's first "smart band-aid," aimed at helping in the fight against Ebola. Speaking of fitness trackers I should make special mention of the Misfit Shine – a next-generation fitness tracker that looks like jewelry and tracks a wider range of biometrics than its predecessors including how many flights of stairs you walk, the difference between deep and light sleep and the caloric values of foods you are eating. (I should also be transparent and say that courtesy of a Rochester Institute of Technology grad I was given a Shine at SXSW).

The 'Short Circuit' lookalike was part
of the Robot Petting Zoo
Robots: The Robot Petting Zoo was a personal favorite featuring tech from drones that could repair bridges to robots who would allow teachers to teach a class from across the world to small autonomous robots capable of helping in a natural disaster. The range of ground and aerial robots was impressive. The "zoo" even featured a modular robotic cabin that can be stacked up like coffee cups to provide emergency housing after a disaster. On a sidenote: There was even human-based anti-robot protest that briefly caught the media’s attention.

Social Media Crisis Simulation: A personal favorite was the Polpeo/eModeration workshop called Rehearsing A Crisis Breaking on Social Media. Using Polpeo’s software and dividing the room up into teams the room was a hive of frenzied activity for 2½ hours. The scenario: A tech executive is out of control at SXSW and has been seen drunk and with what looks like white powder on his nose… hmm, wonder what inspired this scenario! In any case: a fun exercise and great learning experience.

Memorable presentations:

Martine Rothblatt and Bina 48
Dr. Martine Rothblatt: The founder of Sirius XM radio, the CEO of United Therapeutics and author of Virtually Human: The Promise – and Peril – of Digital Immortality sat down with Lisa Miller of New York magazine to discuss transhumanism, cyber consciousness, pharmaceutical development and robotics. In what was a truly mind-blowing discussion the transgender activist covered the idea of cyber clones or an alternate consciousness we may all have one day. This cyber clone would be able to go places we could not and would represent us or live on once our physical bodies die. She also discussed robot replacements for loved ones and has famously made a robot version of her wife Bina (a robot called Bina 48). One of her key takeaways: "I think everyone can question authority. I think the worst thing we can do is bow down to authority. I [also] think everyone can be curious and ask questions."

Daniel Pink: The author of Drive and To Sell is Human offered seven key tips for changing people’s behavior that seemed equally applicable to marketers and parents. Among those tips two stood out: "Use a Question to Change Behavior" because people come up with their own reasons to agree with you and "Make Time to Rhyme" because rhymes increase information processing fluency.

Eric Schmidt, Megan Smith, Walter Isaacson: Google chairman Schmidt and United States Chief Technology Officer Smith made up a panel moderated by Walter Isaacson, author of Steve Jobs and The Innovators. In what was an interesting discussion about how innovation can and can’t be the future of the human race the most interesting moment came when an audience member pointed out that the two men on stage kept cutting off the one woman on the stage.… Smith responded to the comment by speaking about the challenges she’s faced as a woman in business and government. Yes, SXSW was also about women in tech, but it seems that even in 2015 some men can’t give them their due.

Interesting apps - beyond the ones already mentioned:

Peepsqueeze is an app for iOS (Apple) or Android that combines multiple video greetings from family and friends and turns them into one seamless, downloadable video keepsake to send to someone for a special occasion – birthdays, weddings … you get the idea. Users don’t need any editing experience just start a squeeze and let others add to it.

Hater is an iOS-only app that does what Facebook users have been asking for for a very long time: Allows users to give a big thumbs down to something they really, really don’t like. Who needs a big old Like button when you can lay some angst on something that bothers the you-know-what out of you?

xocial (Say it: soh-shuhl), offers a way for people to say thanks to anyone and by doing so publicly encouraging the good in all of us. The app offers a “hugs and kisses” score (Get it? X and O and is kisses and hugs?) and the more thanks you give and receive the higher your score.

And one that has not launched yet, but looks interesting: Squirl bills itself as "a brand new way to discover your next read." But it’s a lot more than that. This Foursquare-type app guides users to locations featured in books and alerts users when they are walking through a place featured in a book. It then connects you to that book for a short read or a chance to buy it.


One thing that was noticeable is that SXSW is no longer just for the humans. 

Internet star Grumpy Cat at SXSW
Grumpy Cat was in
da Bacon Haus
Internet-famous Grumpy Cat was causing huge lines outside the pop-up store called Bacon-Haus (a thinly disguised marketing attempt to promote a new bacon-infused line of Friskies cat food).

Mophie, the phone case and device-charger company, deployed a pack of St. Bernards. When someone tweeted Mophie that their device’s battery was nearly dead a St. Bernard would be dispatched with a charger in the small barrel attached to its neck. OK, as far as I know no lives were saved, but it was fun nonetheless.

Numerous celebs were seen toting various breeds of teacup-sized pooches in handbags. Nothing new about that, but at least to my mind the number of cafes catering to said pooches was interesting. From water bowls to snacks….

The Squirl squirrels at SXSW Interactive
The Squirl squirrels
And then there were the giant squirrels … OK, OK people in squirrel suits promoting the not-yet-launched Squirl app mentioned above. They were seemingly everywhere…

On that nutty note my work is done. Thanks SXSWi!

A special thanks to the RIT MAGIC Center and its MAGIC Spell Studios for getting me there and back.