The Dark Side of the Net- Under the Cloak of Anonymity

“Under the cloak of anonymity people feel like they can express anything”

Internet trolls- hiding under the cloak of online anonymity

Internet trolls- anonymous and dangerous

Anonymity: an alluring cloak of hidden identity. From the simple delight of a prank call to the more sinister evolution of internet trolling, the reverberations of such obscurity across virtual space can be unexpected. Who could have foreseen the outcome of the innocent 2Day FM prank call last year to the hospital that was treating Kate Middleton for morning sickness?

It is true that the internet has become a “microcosm of society” in many beneficial ways, empowering users through a participatory culture that encourages the free flow of ideas and expression. However, as logic follows; “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.”

Welcome to the dark side of the net, and cue internet trolls. Emboldened by the anonymity of cyberspace, ‘trolls’ abuse the benefits of a participatory culture as they freely voice opinions online that are considered inappropriate offline. Seemingly devoid of a moral compass, they relish the opportunity to post messages in online communities that are often threatening, sexist or racist. One internet troll, with online alias Nimrod Severan, justified his bigoted and racist comments on Facebook RIP pages to a BBC reporter by arguing that Facebook is an open forum where one is entitled to his or her own opinion. And this is where the issue arises. Does a crackdown on trolling risk contradicting the democratic ambitions of the net?

Some suggest the best way to deal with online trolling is to not ‘feed the trolls’, while many propose that pre-moderation of comments or a complete shutdown of comments, as carried out by the King’s Tribune online edition, is the only way to stop trolls in their tracks.

However, perhaps an alternate solution comes in removing the cloak of anonymity that many internet trolls hide behind. While hidden identity may allow one to “break taboo subjects and speak against the hive mind”, as one comment on the SMH article The Dark Side of the Net suggests, the abuse of this power by internet trolls should not be tolerated.  Democracy works in two ways- freedom of speech, but also freedom of action under LAW. Just as the hashtag #mencallmethings was used to “name and shame” misogynist internet trolls, and The Antibogan exposes those who commit online injustice, perhaps we should be focusing on unmasking the anonymous. While this is not suggesting total transparency of online identities, the threat of exposure may cause trolls to think twice before making a misogynist or racist comment in fear of retribution. Taking away their anonymity may be the solution to locking away the Hyde in every Dr Jekyll for good and in maintaining a HEALTHY online democracy.

Picture sourced from: http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Government/2012/11/16/Anonymous-Launches-OpIsrael-in-Retaliation-for-Gaza-Strikes

Opening the Door to a Party of Paradoxes

Imagine a world in which everyone has the right to speak, act and think as they want without restraint. The ultimate democracy. No filtration, no control, no authority to deny opinion. Welcome to the World (Wide Web).

All content disseminated through the media was once subject to comprehensive filtration by “gatekeepers” (including publishers, mainstream media and government censors). Only information considered well informed and appropriate was allowed into public circulation. While many non-democratic countries such as China maintain strict filtering laws today, the transition to a digital media environment and the rise of the internet in many western cultures has wrenched the door of censorship off its hinges, allowing the free flow of content and expression. But what are the implications of this new media landscape – a world without gatekeepers, without regulation?

Empowering users through the freedom of expression.

The positive repercussions are numerous. A free media environment empowers users, allowing open discussion of opinions. Clay Shirky explains in How Cellphones, Twitter, Facebook Can Make History that this freedom of expression has led to the rise of active, engaged consumers (or prosumers) and a dialogic landscape “where audiences can talk back and to each other”. For example, during the 2011 American presidential campaign, Barak Obama created the website mybo.com as a public forum for discussion of his policies, encouraging citizens to collaborate and converse in an open environment. Participants were given a voice to actively contribute to the campaign. Political empowerment is just one major advantage of a world without gatekeepers.

The risk of misinformation in a free media environment.

The risk of misinformation in a free media environment.

However, lack of regulation can also have negative consequences. For example, Duncan Gere describes in his article in Wired UK how an image of battle tanks and soldiers in camouflage was circulated on Twitter during the London Riots of 2011, causing the public to claim that the army was assembling in the suburb of Bank. This picture turned out to be from the Egyptian protests earlier in the year. Twitter became a “swirling maelstrom of fear, uncertainty and doubt, punctuated by moments of absolute nonsense”. As can be seen, when there is no implicit filter and no cost of entry in a free environment, the value of the message can diminish and result in the spread of misinformation. But without filters or gatekeepers, how do we judge the credibility of these sources? The internet is increasingly becoming a tangled web of multiple truths. So who do we believe?

A paradox has been created. While we all desire free expression and total transparency of the media, we also require a certain level of filtration to decipher the vast amount of available content. We must seriously consider whether we need to maintain gatekeepers and, if so, in what capacity.

Picture One Sourced from: http://www.blueglass.com/blog/people-power/

Picture Two sourced from: http://www.cartoonstock.com/directory/m/misinformation.asp

Snap, Click and Share- A Drop in the Ocean of Content

A pang of nostalgia is felt when one considers the evolution of the camera. Gone are the days where a jar of hard-earned pennies was cracked open to buy ONE precious Evolution of the Cameraroll of camera film. The ensuing months were defined by a harsh selection process, only those golden moments were admitted to the red carpet roll, an exclusive VIP list devoted to the ‘top shots’. The result? Memories, locked in time, to be placed in a photo album and left to collect dust as the years progressed.

One of the greatest ongoing evolutions of today’s convergent society is the shift from locked to generative platforms. Locked platforms, just like the cameras that used film, could be compared to an autocratic system. Producers dictated how, where, and when the platform could be used and with what limitations.

When we consider the capabilities of modern cameras, it’s easy to see the dramatic change in this ideology.

Smart cameras, just like the smart phone, have evolved to be “bigger than the sum of their parts”, facilitating instant editing and global sharing of those ‘Kodak moments’.  The camera has become a generative platform, empowering users by allowing active engagement.

Furthermore, a democratic technological society has been created as consumers are able to mould the platform to suit their individual needs.

For example, Twitter’s original purpose was to simply share “the momentous and the mundane”, as Evan William’s (co-founder) points out in Ted Talks. Unforseen were its further uses in business, politics and news broadcasting that evolved in reaction to consumer needs. Users also shaped their own way of replying to each other, inventing the integral @ symbol.  In the same way Pinterest, initially an image sharing social network, now accommodates marketing, educational, political and charitable practices as consumers ‘pin’ relevant material from around the web to form boards tailored to their personal needs.

These new generative platforms are flexible and adaptable, allowing individual personalisation and, as seen with smart cameras, constant connectivity.

However, constant connectivity has transported the image from an exclusive red carpet into a sweatshop of mass production. As Clay Shirky points out in an interview on The Communicators, we are “constantly online”- 3, 000 photos are uploaded to Facebook every second. Has the shift to generative platforms reduced the overall quality of content or just made it harder to find? Perhaps it is this vast increase in content that has catalysed the creation of platforms such as Pinterest in an attempt to navigate the chaos of the internet.  Within this chaos, the nostalgic simplicity of the old camera can be oddly comforting.

Picture sourced from http://blog.lafraise.com/en/tag/the-evolution-of-camera/

Thirsty? Try Some Concentrated Media Ownership!

By Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator

Habitual breakfast connoisseurs generally greet a new day with a bowl of cereal, a coffee and a good newspaper to read. A metal spoon poised to enter the bowl of enticing cornflakes and a metaphorical spoon prepared to mentally ingest the daily bulletins.

Our taste in media, just like our taste in culinary delights, is subjective. In relation to the daily news, we engage with and ‘digest’ the edition whose perspective resonates most closely with our own. We are all aware that different news outlets can present alternative views on the same story. Certain media follow certain lines of bias in order to meet their political, social, or personal agendas.

This diversity of views is essential within a democratic society for consumers to make informed judgements on content. And this is why it matters who controls the media, or more pertinently- HOW MANY control it. As Elizabeth Hart outlined in her article Media Ownership “Whoever owns the media owns the message”. Increasingly it seems media ownership is becoming more concentrated. In Australia 11 out of 12 capital city daily papers are owned by either Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation of John Fairfax’s Holdings (E. Hart, 2008). The critical issue with this bottleneck trend of ownership is the limited perspective presented to consumers as the underlying message conveyed through media of the same owner is often the same.

The ‘bottleneck’ trend of media ownership in Australia

However an interesting platform has recently developed to combat the bias of this global phenomenon. The American website Allsides places stories from alternative newspapers side by side in order to expose bias and provide a “well-rounded view of complex stories.” This website cleverly alerts consumers to the issue of concentrated media ownership in news outlets by revealing their underlying agendas in a comparative environment.

Clearly in order to maintain a healthy democratic media environment, it is important to retain diversity of media ownership, to ensure a range of perspectives and a choice of opinions. I mean who wants to be eating cornflakes every day?

Pictures sourced from:

http://freer.com/bits/2010/10/17/the-dangers-of-media-ownership-concentration/

http://www.mapleleafweb.com/political-cartoons/growing-concentration-media-ownership-canada