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

Thinking Global, Acting…at all?

Actions speak louder than likes

If only it were that simple...

If only it were that simple…

Wouldn’t it be great if solving all the problems in the world was simply a matter of clicking a button? One small contraction of a fingertip muscle and all forms of poverty, famine and injustice would vanish in an electronic pulse through the web. One millisecond later could see us sitting complacently on a wharf with Charlie Brown, watching life drift by in a sea of serenity. Alas, a utopian fantasy that unfortunately does not translate to reality.

Whilst we all may dream of effectuating social change, converting this dream into real life actions is another story. Technological convergence has changed the face of activism and facilitated the development of global participatory politics. Social networks and new media are connecting people from all walks of life like never before, equipping citizens with a voice and thus the power to promote social change. But how effective is online activism in creating REAL change?

It is undeniable that social networks have helped to coordinate action across dispersed networks, for example in the 2011 Egypt Uprisings, and The American Occupy and Spanish Indignados movements. Social networks are accommodating an alternate method of political engagement, creating a culture in which “ questions of dialogue, dissent, critical engagement and global responsibility can come into play”. In fact politicians have recognised this fundamental shift in engagement and have moved to accommodate it, expanding their campaigns onto social media platforms such as Pinterest to tap into this online pool of political intelligence. Both the Obama and Romney families created pinboards during the 2012 American Presidential campaign that contrasted personal and political content to create an online base to engage the public.

However, many argue that online political engagement and activism is “superficial”, lacking the community ties that drive social change. Whilst Kony 2012 succeeded in terms of its ‘spreadability’, informing a global audience of the social injustice surrounding Joseph Kony and child soldiers, it failed in generating REAL LIFE ACTION- in mobilising crowds to bring Kony in. This campaign is a perfect example of “slacktivism”. When fighting for a cause can be as simple as liking a Facebook page, or retweeting a link, there is no cost to participate, no risk to the individual and thus no obligation to see a project through.

So while online activism allows for dissemination, coordination and civic engagement, what it lacks is the commitment of participation. However, as Nelson Mandela said “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”. The informative benefits of online activism could be the first steps to generating REAL change. Where Kony 2012 failed, others may succeed in the future. While we are all ‘thinking global’, it may take a little time to act ‘local’ or even at all. One day Charlie…, but not just yet.

Picture sourced from: http://gwangjublog.hwy-6.com/?p=4584

A Family Just Like Yours

“I’m a cool dad, that’s my thang. I’m hip, I surf the web, I text. LOL: laugh out loud, OMG: oh my god, WTF: why the face” (Episode 1.1).

Phil Dunphy- the quintessential dad. We can all relate to the embarrassing puns, the cringe worthy attempts to connect with our generation. I will never forget one particular day when my dad collected me from school- the car pulled in, the window rolled down and a high pitched parody of Regina George’s line from Mean Girls was heard “Get in loser, we’re going shopping!”  A classic dad moment.

Modern Family. Fast becoming one of the most popular series of primetime television, the ‘mockumentary’ style comedy explores the stories of three unique ‘modern-day’ families.

The show humorously handles several significant issues including race, sexuality and gender roles. However, the stereotypical characters have caused debate within the public sphere (defined by A Mckee in The Public Sphere: An Introduction as the “virtual space where citizens exchange ideas and discuss issues”) due to their alleged misrepresentation. Michelle Haimhoff criticised the show in The Christian Science Monitor for being “sexist” and “unrealistic” in presenting women such as Claire as “stay at home” mums while their husbands are successful businessmen.

Rock on- The 'traditional family'- who are you?

Which character are you in the ‘modern family?’

Furthermore the lack of physical affection displayed by the gay couple, Cameron and Mitchell, in season one sparked a Facebook campaign demanding that the two be allowed to kiss, the ensuing episode “the Kiss” drawing praise from many critics.

Despite these criticisms, the key to the success of Modern Family may actually lie in the depiction of these stereotypical personas and family models, as EVERYONE can relate to a certain aspect of the show. Whether, like me, it’s Phil Dunphy as your dad or the sibling rivalry between Hayley and Alex, it is this sense of familiarity that causes most members of the public sphere to look past the criticisms and see the show for its true comedic value.

Picture sourced from: http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/tv-and-radio/review/tv/modern-family-20100519-vdgs.html

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/