Archive for the ‘Internet Culture and Technology’ Category

Trolling and Anonymous

Saturday, December 13th, 2014

Useful research is finally emerging about trolling in its different forms. The Guardian had a nice overview article by a professor of business psychologies titled Behind the online comments: the psychology of internet trolls. Researchers at the University of Manitoba and UBC have published an article with the title Trolls just want to have fun (PDF preprint) that found evidence that sadists like to troll. They conclude,

The Internet is an anonymous environment where it is easy to seek out and explore one’s niche, however idiosyncratic. Consequently, antisocial individuals have greater opportunities to connect with similar others, and to pursue their personal brand of ‘‘self expression’’ than they did before the advent of the Internet. Online identity construction may be important to examine in research on trolling, especially in terms of antisocial identity and its role in trolling behavior. The troll persona appears to be a malicious case of a virtual avatar, reflecting both actual personality and one’s ideal self . Our research suggests that, for those with sadistic personalities, that ideal self may be a villain of chaos and mayhem – the online Trickster we fear, envy, and love to hate: the cybertroll. (Buckels, E. E., et al. Trolls just want to have fun. Personality and Individual Differences (2014), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2014.01.016)

By contrast, McGill professor Gabriella Coleman recently published a book about Anonymous, Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous. Coleman also compares the trolling of Anonymous to traditions of the trickster, but is far more sympathetic as she tracks the politicization of Anonymous. About trolling she writes,

Trolls enjoy desecrating anything remotely sacred, as cultural theorist Whitney Phillips conveys in her astute characterization of trolls as “agents of cultural digestion [who] scavenge the landscape, re-purpose the most offensive material, then shove the resulting monstrosities into the faces of an unsuspecting populace.” In short: any information thought to be personal, secure, or sacred is a prime target for sharing or defilement in a multitude of ways. Lulz-oriented actions puncture the consensus around our politics and ethics, our social lives, and our aesthetic sensibilities. Any presumption of our world’s inviolability becomes a weapon; trolls invalidate that world by gesturing toward the possibility for Internet geeks to destroy it—to pull the carpet from under us whenever they feel the urge. (Location 491)

She sees anonymous hacking as one of the ways we can resist the blanket surveillance that Snowden revealed. Anonymous may be the future of resistance even as it emerges from the nasty side of trolling. I can’t say that I’m convinced the ends justify the means, at least when you aren’t willing to take responsibility for the means you employ, but, she is right that it has become a form of resistance for the surveillance age.

Anonymous is emblematic of a particular geography of resistance. Composed of multiple competing groups, short-term power is achievable for brief durations, while long-term dominance by any single group or person is virtually impossible. In such a dynamic landscape, it may be “easy to co-opt, but impossible to keep co-opted,” … (Location 5691)

#GamerGate on Hashtagify.me

Wednesday, November 26th, 2014
hashtags data by hashtagify.me

Hashtagify.me is a neat site that tracks hashtags in Twitter. For example, here is what they have on #GameGate. They show the other hashtags that your hashtag connects to (like #NotYourShield) and you can get a trend line.

hashtags data by hashtagify.me

The trend makes it look like #GamerGate is going down, but I don’t trust their projection.

All of this is free. They also have a Pro account, but I haven’t tried that.

Thanks to Brett for this.

The Cult of Sharing

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014

Mike Bulajewski has written an excellent critique of the The Cult of Sharing. He describes the way ideas of community and sharing are being exploited by a new type of cult-like company like Airbnb and Uber. Under the guise of sharing and building community these companies are bypassing employment and labor legislation. What’s worse is that they are painting basic labor rights as the outdated way of doing things.

That’s because they’ve adopted a kind of cultural critique of capitalism. For them, the problem with capitalism is not the system itself, but rather depraved contemporary Western culture, which is greedy, individualistic, selfish and acquisitive, and rewards greedy, corrupt, ill-intentioned individuals. The opponents of the so-called culture of greed see the behavior of Black Friday shoppers and Wall Street bankers as equal manifestations of the same general phenomenon, and perhaps believing that we get the leaders we deserve, conclude that the public’s moral flaws makes them in some way responsible for the greed of Wall Street.

The sharing economy is clearly not the kind of economy where wealth and prosperity is shared between rich and poor. On the contrary, it worsens income inequality and concentrates wealth in the hands of those who need it the least. Progressive advocates are well aware of this, but they also see an upside: these startups teach their workers moral lessons about sharing, community, giving and service with a smile.

I’m not sure this is going to be the problem Bulajewski thinks it will be, but he has me worried. I hope that that shine of sharing will wear off and consumers/sharers will begin to treat this as any other industry. I also think the media will soon start reporting the downside of staying on someone’s couch or getting a ride with someone who isn’t licensed. It’s like the internet, which we all thought was a nice sharing community, until it wasn’t.

Kim Kardashian Hollywood App

Saturday, August 30th, 2014

Someone mentioned the Kim Kardashian Hollywood app and how successful it was so I thought I should try it. The app is free and as addictive as this article documents, Oh God, I Spent $494.04 Playing the Kim Kardashian Hollywood App. You probably think you are above all the Kardashian stuff, but you aren’t!

Neither talent nor intelligence are needed to succeed in Kim’s app universe. There are no puzzles or hidden object searches or anything like that. There isn’t even any strategizing. You mindlessly tap on the screen to earn and spend money.

Anyway, the philosophy of the app can be found in the hints given while loading:

Dating famous people will get you more fans too.

Dating costs money, but it’s a quick way to level up!

Changing your look and buying nice clothes can get you noticed by the media.

You can get friends or game contacts to help you with projects by hiring them as co-stars.

NYTimes: Inequality and Web Search Trends

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

The Upshot in the New York Times has a nice article titled In One America, Guns and Diet. In the Otehr, Cameras and ‘Zoolander.': Inequality and Web Search Trends by David Leonhardt (August 18, 2014). They combined data from Google on favorite searches by county with socio economic data to show what searches correlate with the richer and poorer areas. While few of the correlations are surprising they provide details that one wouldn’t think of. Not only are religious searches more common in poorer areas, but so are searches for “about hell” and “antichrist.” In wealthy areas by contrast they search for “holiday greetings” presumably because they are more likely to live far from family.

Ayway, a neat study that illustrates who the aggregation of different datasets can work.

Weaponizing the Digital Humanities

Monday, July 21st, 2014

Jan Christoph Meister has posted a blog about Weaponizing the Digital Humanities. His entry comes from an exchange we had, first around the paper about stylistics to psychologically profile people. (See my conference report on DH2014.) After the session we ended up talking with someone probably from the intelligence community. It is a bit startling to realize that we merit attention, if that is what it is. Certainly research on recognition of typing patterns might be of interest, but it is hard to imagine what else would be of interest.

The other side of intelligence interest in our field is our interest in surveillance. What can we learn from the intelligence agencies and the techniques they develop? I’m certainly intrigued by what they might have been able to do. What responsibilities do we have to engage the ethical and interpretative issues raised by Snowden’s revelations. My blog entry Interpreting the CSEC Presentation: Watch Out Olympians in the House! would be a attempt to interpret Snowden documents – perhaps paleography of the documents.

Meister rightly opens the ethical issue of whether our organization should have a code of ethics that touches on how our research is used. We have a code of conduct, should it extend to issues of surveillance? The humanist in me asks how other fields in the humanities have dealt with the sudden military application of their research. There was/is an issue around the involvement of anthropologists and sociologists in Petagon-funded projects.

Xanadu Released

Sunday, June 8th, 2014

Screen shot of Xanadu

Hacker Trips has an article about how Ted Nelson’s Xanadu finally gets released after 51 years (with Transclusion). The article describes a conference in Ted Nelson’s honour. At the end he is quoted to the effect,

To wind up his story, Ted Nelson stated that he was “dealt one of the best hands in history, and misplayed it to the hilt. [He] could have accomplished so much more. [He] was here 1st, and it’s all gone wrong. [He] believes this would be a very different world and better world if [he] had gotten leverage. The world has gone the wrong way.”

Nelson also announced a demo of a working version of Xanadu with transclusion. Open Xanadu is up at the Xanadu site.

Museum of Online Museums

Wednesday, May 28th, 2014

From Twitter I learned about the Museum of Online Museums. The idea is great. It is part of a site by Coudal Partners, “a design, advertising and interactive studio … as an ongoing experiment in web publishing, design and commerce.” I’m not sure what that means? Will this survive? They also have an enormous Board which seems to be voluntary.

On the MoOM I found some neat online museums like the Sheaff : ephemera.

Around the World Conference

Wednesday, May 21st, 2014

ATW_Logo

Today we are running the Around the World Conference from the University of Alberta. This year’s topic is privacy and surveillance in the digital age. The Kule Institute for Advanced Study is hosting this online conference. Here are some of my opening comments,

I would like to welcome you to our second Around the World Conference. This year’s conference is on Privacy and Surveillance in the Digital Age.

The ATW conference was the idea of the Founding Director of KIAS, Jerry Varsava. The idea is to support a truly international discussion around a topic that concerns us all around the world.

This year we have speakers from 11 countries including Nigeria, Netherlands, Japan, Australia, Italy, Israel, Ireland, Germany, Brazil, the US, and of course Canada.

This ATW conference is an experiment. It is an experiment because it is difficult to coordinate the technology across so many countries and institutions. It is an experiment in finding ways to move ideas without moving bodies. It is an experiment in global discussion.

A World Digital Library Is Coming True!

Friday, May 9th, 2014

Robert Darnton has a great essay in The New York Review of Books titled, A World Digital Library Is Coming True! This essay asks about publication and the public interest. He mentions how expensive some journals are getting and how that means that knowledge paid for by the public (through support for research) becomes inaccessible to the very same public which might benefit from the research.

In the US this trend has been counteracted by initiatives to legislate that publicly funded research be made available through some open access venue like PubMed Central. Needless to say lobbyists are fighting such mandates like the Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR).

Darnton concludes that “In the long run, journals can be sustained only through a transformation of the economic basis of academic publishing.” He argues for “flipping” the costs and charging processing fees to those who want to publish.

By creating open-access journals, a flipped system directly benefits the public. Anyone can consult the research free of charge online, and libraries are liberated from the spiraling costs of subscriptions. Of course, the publication expenses do not evaporate miraculously, but they are greatly reduced, especially for nonprofit journals, which do not need to satisfy shareholders. The processing fees, which can run to a thousand dollars or more, depending on the complexities of the text and the process of peer review, can be covered in various ways. They are often included in research grants to scientists, and they are increasingly financed by the author’s university or a group of universities.

While I agree on the need to focus on the public good, I worry that “flipping” will limit who gets published. In STEM fields where most research is funded one can build the cost of processing fees into the funding, but in the humanities where much research is not funded, many colleagues will have to pay out of pocket to get published. Darnton mentions how at Harvard (his institution) they have a program that subsidizes processing fees … they would, and therein lies the problem. Those at wealthy institutions will now have an advantage in that they can afford to publish in an environment where publishers need processing fees while those not subsidized (whether private scholars, alternative academics, or instructors) will have to decide if they really can afford to. Creating an economy where it is not the best ideas that get published but those of an elite caste is not a recipe for the public good.

I imagine Darnton recognizes the need for solutions other than processing fees and, in fact, he goes on to talk about the Digital Public Library of America and OpenEdition Books as initiatives that are making monographs available online for free.

I suspect that what will work in the humanities is finding funding for the editorial and publishing functions of journals as a whole rather than individual articles. We have a number of journals in the digital humanities like Digital Humanities Quarterly where the costs of editing and publishing are borne by individuals like Julian Flanders who have made it a labor of love, their universities that support them, and our scholarly association that provides technical support and some funding. DHQ doesn’t charge processing fees which means that all sorts of people who don’t have access to subsidies can be heard. It would be interesting to poll the authors published and see how many have access to processing fee subsidies. It is bad enough that our conferences are expensive to attend, lets not skew the published record.

Which brings me back to the public good. Darnton ends his essay writing about how the DPLA is networking all sorts of collections together. It is not just providing information as a good, but bringing together smaller collections from public libraries and universities. This is one of the possibilities of the internet – that distributed resources can be networked into greater goods rather than having to be centralized. The DPLA doesn’t need to be THE PUBLIC LIBRARY that replaces all libraries the way Amazon is pushing out book stores. The OpenEdition project goes further and offers infrastructure for publishing knowledge to keep costs down for everyone. A combination of centrally supported infrastructure that is used by editors that get local support (and credit) will make more of a difference than processing fees, be more equitable, and do more for public participation, which is a good too.