The reason that I get grouchy is that I hate how the risks that we’re concerned about are shaped by the fears of privileged parents, not the risks of those who are already under constant surveillance, those who are economically disadvantaged, and those who are in the school-prison pipeline.

How do you not like the Internet? That’s like saying, ‘I don’t like things that are convenient. And easy. I don’t like having access to all of mankind’s recorded discoveries at my fingertips. I don’t like light. And knowledge.’

Fangirl – Rainbow Rowell (via abookparty)

In this world of instant communication, I don’t think it will ever be possible to completely eradicate a lie once it’s loose in the atmosphere

Bill Kovach, quoted in a Chicago Tribune article from 1999 (!) debunking the myth that Catharine MacKinnon actually said/wrote “all heterosexual sex is rape,” a anti-feminist claim that predates the Internet. (Found the article thanks to feministing.)

Reading the article and the criticism of 24-hour journalism on the hunt for the next sensation at the cost of well-researched content, I am torn in my reaction.

At first, I was disappointed that things haven’t improved since then. Tribune writer Cindy Richards was optimistic: “Viewers are turning off the hype and tuning into National Public Radio.” Kovach adds a bit of interesting historical context I wasn’t entirely aware of. In the 1920s, the introduction of the radio brought along a sensationalist frenzy in a similar way to the hype brought along by 24h cable news or the Internet.

Then again, comparing the criticisms in the article to today, things haven’t deteriorated that far in the last 15 years. People have created their own finely-tuned information bubbles, and digital gossip rags like TMZ are apparently out new whistle-blowers. But culture still exists, and the Internet is also home to in-depth reporting and platform for voices that would otherwise remain unheard. The digital tools that make spreading lies so easy also make it easy to debunk those lies. Both in 1999 and in 2014. That, on this grey and cold November Friday, gives me hope.

The Internet Cesspool Threatens Emma Watson After Mild Feminism Speech

Emma Watson gave a speech on gender equality recently, making a pretty reasonable appeal to men and women to work towards equality. That is not radical at all. Still, Internet pricks decided that she needs to be harassed for it, just like every regular woman speaking out for feminism saying anything at all on the Internet. In the case of Emma Watson, they are threatening to release illegaly obtained nude photos of the popular actress, and want to make her (fictional) death a trending topic on twitter. As Robyn Pennacchia at Death and Taxes points out, these people are not only the worst, but also self-righteous in a really twisted, misogynist way:

The frightening thing is that, like most of their other campaigns against women, they truly see themselves as just warriors fighting for what’s right. They believe that this is what Emma Watson has coming to her for daring to speak up or identify as a feminist.

This is primarily because they firmly believe that any woman who speaks up on women’s issues is completely disingenuous and only doing it for the purposes of crass, self-serving, self-promotion, and that any man who does is looking to get laid, because they actually cannot possibly imagine a scenario in which someone would genuinely give a shit about women.

That article also quotes some of the threats made in the cesspool, if you’re interested in reading that kind of thing. (Don’t.)

(hat tip to Franca on facebook)

Your Papers and Footnotes, Please

Tim Parks questions the necessity of footnotes and strict references in academic publications:

There is, in short, an absolutely false, energy-consuming, nit-picking attachment to an outdated procedure that now has much more to do with the sad psychology of academe than with the need to guarantee that the research is serious. By all means, on those occasions where a book exists only in paper and where no details about it are available online, then let us use the traditional footnote. Otherwise, why not wipe the slate clean, start again, and find the simplest possible protocol for ensuring that a reader can check a quotation. Doing so we would probably free up three or four days a year in every academic’s life. A little more time to glean quotes from Barthes, Borges, and Derrida…

I must admit that I question texts that aren’t referenced, even on tumblr, and really like having footnotes, despite usually ignoring the actual content of the footnotes when reading for pleasure….

[For the sake of it: Parks, Tim. “References, Please.” NYRblog. N.p., 13 Sept. 2014. Web. 20 Sept. 2014.}

Trolls, Public and Private Space, And the Need to Stop Being Dicks

I have to comment on this passage from a Salon interview with law professor Danielle Citron, discussing the difference between trolling and cyber harassment:

My book truly deals with actionable harassment, not abuse that cannot be regulated (often called “trolling,” a loose term). Consider one of the earliest cases, of game developer and blogger […], where there are repeated credible threats of rape, doctored photographs of her being strangled, and lies about her. Then, a cybermob posted her Social Security number and home address, as well as defamatory lies about her. Whoever was responsible for those actions, even just some of them, would be treading on legal grounds –we can regulate true threats, defamation and certain privacy disclosures such as the disclosure of SSNs (which is like publishing your bank account number). To be sure, some of the folks who doxxed [the tech blogger] and published her SSN were self-proclaimed trolls, but nonetheless they engaged in unprotected activity by spreading defamatory lies and publishing her SSN.

By contrast, there the case of Zelda Williams. The person who repeatedly told her her father was ashamed of her may be called a troll, but that person is engaging in protected speech. So, too, the person who posted pictures of dead bodies. Even if that person did it repeatedly, it might not even amount to regulable intentional infliction of emotional distress, because Robin Williams’ death could be said to constitute a matter of public importance, rather than a purely private matter.


(I can recommend the interview in full.) I have no doubt in her assessment of the legality here. I just finished her book, Hate Crimes in Cyberspace, and liked it a lot, I might write a review of it soon. But the situation she describes above is similar to the situations that got me interested in the topic of hateful speech on the Internet. It really irks me.

For once, I personally think it is perverse that the death of a man, husband and father is considered a “matter of public importance” in this context. It is interesting to the public, without a doubt. I, like many others, was deeply affected by it. But not in the way the people who actually shared their lives with him are affected. I fail to understand why this harassment needs to be protected by the U.S. constitution: For Zelda Williams, it is a private matter. What kind of public discourse, what truth is improved by sending a young woman pictures of corpses and telling her her dad was ashamed of her?

Personally I think people who “troll” a grieving person in this manner can go and have their  CPUs overheat. But I think this story shows more than one problem facing us in the digital 21st century. With (social) media technology becoming ubiquitous the the lines between public and private spheres are blurring, and the form/degree of access to individuals for anyone is changing.  While this can be great, the new possibilities challenge our understanding of concepts like “public” and “private.” Years ago, no one would have sought out the postal address of a celebrity’s daughter to send her manipulated photos. Almost no one would’ve yelled such horrendous things at her in bars, schools, streets, .. public places.

Many will easily dismiss what happened to Zelda Williams (and countless others pushed out of social media) as it did not happen “in real life” and she only quit twitter. Honestly: For me, that would feel like not being able to walk through a part of my neighborhood, close to my home, filled with neighbors I like, because of aggressive strangers. For me, this is hypothetical, a mental excercise I can easily engage in.  Add the cyber harassment to the daily (street) harassment women* experience, and the world just got a whole lot narrower.

I’m not against these Internet-mediated changes in interpersonal communication, wonderful things are happening thanks to social media. But I do think that we need to find a way to use the amazing possibilities of teh Interweb and promote free speech while not being such colossal dicks to people. That way might not lead us through the legal or legislative system, but we need to find one. I cannot accept that this vicious form of “trolling” is something “we” can’t regulate. 

Vicarious Embarrassment – Vicious Entertainment

Actor/writer/storyteller Amy Salloway wrote a blog post telling the story of how a photo of her went viral and how she (or her in the glimpse of a moment captured by the candid  photograph) was laughed at, fat shamed, and dehumanized in the process. She also explains the story behind the snap, and how it connects to a – not just personal – context of (fat) shaming and body negativity. I can highly recommend it: I Was Fat-Shamed When An Embarrassing Photo Of Me Went Viral.

Memes/trends like this rub me the wrong way, make me feel uneasy, precisely because we as spectators don’t know the story behind the snap. While others bawl over laughing, I oscillate between non-laughter and depression. Yes, some viral images are wonderfully hilarious (they more times than not involve cats) but sometimes the entertaining part comes from pointing and laughing at strangers, perfectly ordinary, innocent, unsuspecting – and therefore not consenting – civilians. So many people jump at the opportunity to pick on others to make themselves feel better. This is neither new nor limited to memes, but an aspect of some of the the primary structural problems of our societies.

By the way: Salloway mentions that Ellen Degeneres, new empress of daytime television and of being “kind to each other”, spread this image via her newsletter to all her fans. The most popular, powerful girl pointing out the loser on the Internet, the massive, global, relentless schoolyard. Eternal digital middle school. No matter how many cars you gift to veterans, JC Penney gift cards you hand out to poor moms, or animal videos you show: If you utilize humor based on vicarious embarrassment, finger pointing, like this, your entertainment is not kind at its core. You’re doing kind humor wrong.