Twitter and Social Justice

Posted: December 17, 2014 in Uncategorized

Twitter and Facebook are two of the most popular social networking sites – they also happen to be powerful devices in social justice movements. This comes to mind because over the past two weeks, I have participated in four protests that demonstrate the outrage within my community over the unlawful deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown. I shared photos of these protests with hash-tags such as #EricGarner, #MikeBrown and #ShutItDown in between the links I have shared about my blog. Statistics show that black men are incarcerated at a disproportionately higher rate than any other type of male in the United States. This fact is merely one of the many examples of how black people and in particular, black men, are still discriminated against in this country. The problem is that the racism in this country is so deeply rooted within American culture that it is the norm and those of the majority are often not able to recognize it. Also,  I don’t think the justice system was designed to protect black people.

I found out about each of these protests via Facebook and Twitter. Facebook allowed me to invite other Facebook friends to join me and I could also see which of my Facebook friends were already going as well as how the turnout of each protest was going to be. Twitter came in handy as I showed up late to some of the protests, but people tend to live tweet so if the protest was moving around, I could follow the live tweets and located where the protestors were. Facebook and Twitter served as the bridge of communication for large groups of people that wished to come together for the same cause. This makes me think of the role social media played during the Arab Spring.

The protests were meant to address the fact that the judicial system is obviously flawed and so social media users took to Twitter and Facebook to express their grievances. Of course, the trolls were in full effect. When scrolling through my timeline, I saw many people making extremely negative comments in relation to the deaths of many of these unarmed black men. One comment I saw often that really made me angry stated something to the effect of, “if black people would stop breaking the law then police would stop shooting unarmed black men”. As if black people are the only ones that break the law. As if the men that have been shot had to have been committing a crime for police to have shot them. I know racism is an uncomfortable topic for some people to talk about, never mind the fact that others live and fight against it day in and day out. This brings me to Dorthy Kim’s blog, The Rules of Twitter. I found this post particularly interesting as she discusses the uses of Twitter in relation to ethics. Kim’s assessment of the uses of Twitter as a mediated public space, a mediated public protest space and a space for public community grief, are incredibly accurate.

On discussing Twitter as a digital mediated public space, Kim focuses on how some Twitter users feel that Twitter’s demise is due to its transformation from a “back porch”, to a bustling “Broadway”. The difference is that this back porch invokes the image of a predominantly white suburb and Broadway is like multiracial NYC. She defines its abandonment by some classes as “digital white flight”. Though I know what “white flight” and “white fear” mean, I was not aware of the fact that many middle class white male Twitter users are dissatisfied with how open it is to the masses. I feel that this is a subtle form of racism, so this could be an explanation as to why so many people feel the need to make nasty comments in relation to Ferguson and other similar events, although everyone in my community is hurting.

Kim also describes Twitter as a space for public community grief and I think Kim nails it when she states communities that are affected by tragedy should be the focus, and not individuals that choose to be allies. This is a recurring issue I am witnessing with the protests in relation to Ferguson. We have many white allies that support our cause for justice but white demonstrators tend to step in the spotlight. Oftentimes they will be the ones that provoke police officers and turn the protests into riots, but it is black people who will make the headlines for being “thugs”. The support is appreciated from our white counterparts, but they just need to be a little more mindful of why they are even there – to support the black community and to advocate for equality.

This reminds me of the promotional video we watched on Kony2012. As I watched the video, I recall seeing the majority of the American volunteers were white which was a huge contrast to the “poor” black African children. The image this video presented demonstrated “the white man’s burden” which I feel is a subtle form of white supremacy and self entitlement. This also makes me think of all of those movies Hollywood loves to make where the middle class white teachers go into the poor black community and save the “ghetto” children. Movies like Dangerous Minds and Freedom Writers. It may not be explicit, but these sorts of movies are quietly conveying the idea that white people are the saviors. We are all people and we just have different sin colors so I will never be able to fully comprehend why “the white man’s burden” seems to be legitimate in this country.

During slavery, black people were not considered people, but rather property. In 2014, we may no longer be considered property, but still we are not seen as equals. As long as the judicial system continues to disregard the value of black lives, the protests will continue and social media will continue to play its role in the organization and news coverage of these movements. Please understand I have no animosity towards white people whatsoever. I am discussing the way our society has been structured.

 

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The “Cyber Struggle”

Posted: December 2, 2014 in Uncategorized

In an earlier post entitled “Navigating the Web of Legislation”, I discussed how in 2012, Albany County attempted to respond to cyberbullying by passing a law that makes participating in cyberbullying, a crime. This law was the response to a case involving a 15 year old high school student by the name of Marquan Mackey-Meggs, who was also the first to be charged under this law. The then teenager, who was a student of Cohoes High School, created a Facebook page entitled “Cohoes Flame page”. The contents of this page included graphic and sexual comments about his peers ranging between ages 13 to 16. Mackey-Meggs would post photos of other students and would include insulting captions about whoever was in the photo. He identified some of the students that were listed on his page as individuals he has performed sexual acts with. He also accused some students of being promiscuous, listing their alleged sexual partners, and labeling some of them as “sluts”.
Police were able to track down Mackey-Meggs by his IP address and charged him as an adult with eight counts of violating the Albany cyberbullying law as well as harassment. He told police the page was meant to be funny and it sounds to me as if he were trolling. As mentioned in an earlier post, trolling entails making nasty comments about others via the internet with the intent to inflict emotional pain as well as get a rise out of viewers.
The Cohoes judge dismissed the harassment charges but not the charges on cyberbullying counts which can result in a fine of up to $1000 as well as one year in prison. Mr. Mackey-Meggs pleaded guilty to one of the counts of cyberbullying, but only on the condition that he could challenge if the law was constitutional in higher state courts. His sentence was three years probation.
Summer of 2014, New York’s highest court deemed Albany County’s cyberbullying law unconstitutional being that it is too broad and it also violates the First Amendment’s protection of speech. Albany County Local Law C’s description of cyberbullying goes as follows: “sending hate mail, with no legitimate private, personal or public purpose, with the intent to harass, annoy, threaten, abuse, taunt, intimidate, torment, humiliate or otherwise inflict significant emotional harm on another person”. Because the law was deemed as too broad, the courts are in the process of narrowing it down.
The majority of cyberbullying for teenagers does not happen via email, it happens via social media networks. The intent of the law is good and lawmakers are acknowledging the fact that cyberbullying is a problem that is only worsening as technology continues to advance. What is difficult is defining what actually constitutes as bullying. I supposed extreme examples of aggression, such as insisting someone kill themselves, could easily be classified as bullying. But what about the expression of other forms of negativity that are not as extreme? There’s also no way to include every single word in the dictionary one could use to inflict harm as examples of bullying and words can easily be interpreted differently. Lawmakers have their work cut out for them, but they are indeed trying.

 

A Subculture of Hate

Posted: December 1, 2014 in Uncategorized

As technology continues to advance, the platforms in which cyberbullying can be perpetuated continue to multiply. As mentioned in the ‘About Me’ section of this blog, one of the purposes of social networking is merely for entertainment, but social networks that are dedicated to cyberbullying for entertainment purposes are on the rise.

One example of such a social networking site is 4chan. 4chan is an image and message board created by then 15 year old Christopher Poole. It was designed to resemble the Japanese message boards 2chan and Futaba. Users may upload photos and comment on photos in complete anonymity.It is the birthplace of the wildly popular memes, which are photos with humorous captions on them. They generally involve making fun of whoever is in the photo and because the use of 4chan is in complete anonymity, there is no limit to what photos users can post and what captions they can include on the photos. There is also no limit to what comments users may leave on these photos. Anyone can become a victim on 4chan.

One case of cyberbullying on 4chan involves an eleven year old that goes by the name of “Jessi Slaughter”. The 11 year old girl was rumored to be involved with the lead singer of an Emo band and some of her peers were jealous of her and began calling her names such as “slut”. Jessi’s response: “If you can’t stop hating, you know what? I’ll pop a glock in your mouth and make a brain slushy.” This comment was posted on 4chan’s /b/ message board where bullying seems to be the most intense and all of her personal information was posted online. People began tormenting her relentlessly and doing what is now called “trolling”. Trolling is posting hateful comments just for attention or to get a rise out of everyone that can read the comments. Some trolls suggested Jessi kill herself and her response was a video of her crying profusely while her dad yells at the camera in the background.

Cyber bully expert and attorney Parry Aftab covered the Jessi Slaughter case on Good Morning America, thus making herself a target to 4chan users. They shut down her websites wiredsafety.org and aftab.com, vandalized her information on Wikipedia and created a malicious rumor accusing her of child molestation. Aftab was supposed to do a follow up report on the Jessi Slaughter case the next day but instead, she chose not to return to GMA to discuss the topic. The cyberbullying expert had been relentlessly cyberbullied! Go figure.

Another social networking site that has gained popularity because it advocates cyber bullying is Encyclopedia Dramatica. I think the name itself is pretty self-explanatory. Encyclopedia Dramatica is a self-described parody of an encyclopedia that offers politically incorrect descriptions. Many of the posts on Encyclopedia Dramatica are racist or sexually explicit. The majority of posts are done by trolls. Anonymity tends to be a troll’s best friend.

One example of how Encyclopedia Dramatica contributed to cyberbullying was in the case of 13 year old UK teen, Sam Leeson. In 2008, Sam committed suicide after being taunted by bullies on the social networking website Bebo. Sam was often targeted by trolls because he was goth-emo. People that dress and listen to music of this lifestyle are often targeted by bullies because they are a little different than mainstream. Eventually, it got to the point where Sam could not take it anymore and he hung himself in his bedroom. The Encyclopedia Dramatica page dedicated to Sam is filled with hateful comments about the deceased teenager. Some of the trolling includes cartoons of Sam with a noose around his neck and even a video depicting a parody of Sam’s death exists on YouTube as well. It is devastating for Sam’s family to see this hateful page and Sam’s death being made a mockery of is not the first and will not be the last.

What is really scary about these social networking sites that are dedicated to cyber bullying is just that – the sites exists solely to inflict emotional pain to its victims. These “communities” are a sub culture of the social networking culture, and are constantly growing and gaining popularity. Many social networking sites offer an option to users to “report abuse”, but one can see why this would not exist on websites that are dedicated to cyber bullying. Encyclopedia Dramatica, like many of these other hateful websites, hides behind “free speech”. Victims should steer clear of these types of websites at all costs, and most importantly, don’t feed the trolls!

 

Mr. Nice Guy

Posted: November 26, 2014 in Uncategorized

Most of the research I have done on how social media networks, school and parents are working to eliminate cyber bullying, entail battling the phenomenon with other forms of technology. This generally includes advanced software or applications that can be utilized across various platforms. Nothing wrong with this if it is effective. I did, however, find one method that is taking the old approach of using technology to combat cyberbullying, and making some adjustments to it so as to place more emphasis on the humanistic aspect of users.

Arturo Bejar, who is the director of engineering for the Facebook Protect and Care team, is attempting to evoke empathy from Facebook users to correct any harm that may have been done by a nasty post. He believes many Facebook users may not be aware of how hurtful some things they say can be and will feel bad and will be willing to retract comments if they realize they were offensive. Bejar points out the fact that human beings read one another’s tone of voice and facial expressions when communicating, but this is lost when communication is done via devices. In response to that, Bejar has created tools that allow users to elaborate on why they have reported a post as offensive. For example, when reporting a post, it can be labeled as “its embarrassing”. Interaction via the reporting tool has gone from 50% to 78%.

When teenagers have used these features of the reporting tool, only 20% of them actually used the form. Once Facebook added descriptive language such as “feelings” and “sadness”, this number grew to 80%. Bejar has concluded teenagers just need an outlet to express their feelings. He also indicates when asking users why  they made an offensive post, they admit they thought it would be funny or would be like by their friends, not to alarm anyone, surprisingly.

I think Bejar’s plan of appealing to people’s feelings when making posts is a brilliant idea. The numbers (earlier reported on this blog) don’t lie. Of course, cyberbullying is still happening on Facebook, but at least now we know attempting to humanize one another through technology is an effective start.

 

The Holy Convocation 2014 recently took place in St. Louis, Missouri. It is an annual even hosted by the Church of God in Christ where Christians from all over the country come and pray and worship the Lord together. At this years Holy Convocation, a man came to the altar that wanted to be delivered from homosexuality. Christianity teaches that God loves everyone and this includes homosexuals, but he does not love certain acts, as homosexuality is described in the Bible as an abomination. The video of Andrew Caldwell wanting to be delivered has gone viral. Why? Mainly because Andrew displayed very poor grammar. At one point Andrew declares he is not gay anymore and is “delivert”. He also states he will not date “a men” does not like “mens” anymore, and he will love “a women”. Although Andrew describes in an interview how difficult growing up for him was as an African American homosexual and that his desire for deliverance was sincere, social media users went into a frenzy. The memes and trending hash-tags on Andrew being “delivert” have exploded in popularity. One individual went as far as to create a cartoon using the audio from the video of Andrew at the altar and provided captions to highlight Andrew’s grammatical errors. I must confess, I myself, could not stop laughing when I saw it.

Andrew is now suing Twitter and other social media networks for $50 million dollars because he states these networks are allowing their users to make fun of him and bully him. Andrew states the hate comments he is receiving have caused him to have a nervous breakdown and quit his job. Andrew has also gone into seclusion, he claims, and states the situation is destroying his life mentally and financially.

Andrew genuinely is a victim of online bullying as the jokes on him are incessant, but it is rather difficult to determine if his testimony was authentic or if it was all for show. If it was indeed all for show, this would be a great way to view cyber bullying from a productive perspective. The ease and popularity of cyber aggression is actually catapulting Andrew Caldwell into fame. Recent news indicates he is in the process of writing a book about his experience being a gay black man as well as what it is like being the butt of so many jokes. He is also recently engaged and excited about having children which has the internet like “huh”?

Relying on cyber aggression to produce fame is not a new concept, particularly in Hollywood. Oh how our society loves to treat celebrities like demigods, but cannot help but have a field day when they stumble. Another individual that seems to rely heavily on the internet’s propensity to turn people into jokes would be Kim Kardashian. Kim K is a socialite and is best known for a sex tape she released with her ex boyfriend r and b singer Ray J. She owns a clothing line along with her sisters, is the daughter of a famous attorney, and is currently married and has a child with superstar rapper Kanye West. Kim is known for various antics that set that set social media ablaze such as her recent photo shoot with Paper Magazine that completely exposes her well oiled buttocks as well as a fully exposed frontal photo. The memes are popping up everywhere with the most common being her exposed backside photo shopped onto a coffee machine dispensing coffee to make it appear as if the coffee is coming out of her buns. Internet users are also photo shopping all types of things in between her butt crack. These racy photos Kim likes to take make her a popular trend across all social media platforms and this is how she became famous in the first place: via the sex tape her and Ray J created.

It is disturbing to see how creative outlets like social media are being transformed into “weapons of mass destruction”, and it is interesting to see how individuals are taking this destructive tool and using it for their own personal gain. Certainly no one wishes to become a victim of cyber bullying per se, but we know if antics are ridiculous enough they can earn someone plenty of attention. Its  just a part of the package deal.

 

I am particularity becoming more interested in how technology is able to assist in the fight against cyberbullying and I came across a social network called ‘We Heart It’. The site allows users to share photos with one another but does not allow for comments to be posted on these photos. The only action that can be taken in responding to a friend’s phone is liking it or “hearting” the photo. Hearts on Instagram are the equivalent to likes on Facebook, so its no wonder the heart is symbol the network primarily uses. I wonder how much popularity this app will gain  if interaction is limited to solely to hearting photos. Although the ability to comment on photos does not exist with We Heart It, browsing through the site I am able to see the app still offers many of the features that are so popular on most social media networks today. Uploading photos to other social media networks, using filters and following others, just to name a few. I will have to watch the app for the next few weeks and see if it becomes a hit.

Another app I came across that is specifically designed to interrupt cyberbullying is called StopIt. This app allows those that may be witnessing an instance of cyberbullying to photograph what they see and report it  to their school’s database in real time. One of the reasons cyberbullying is able to continue is because teenagers have a fear of telling someone what is going on. What makes this app so useful is that when a student chooses to report an instance of cyberbullying, it is completely anonymous. The app also has additional features such as a the STOPit button that allows users to forwards screen captured images of instances of cyberbullying and forwards it to a per-approved trusted adult. This feature is not anonymous. One feature of STOPit I think is particularly useful is the HELPit button that links youth with a support organization if they need someone to talk to. As mentioned earlier, teenagers typically keep the bullying to themselves because they fear and adult would not understand and would not be able to help. Although the HELPit button is useful for encouraging teens to talk to someone if they need help, the issue of if they will do it or not still persists.

Albany County recently made it a crime to participate in “cyber-bullying”. Some aspects of the law include

1. “any act of communicating…by mechanical or electronic means”

2. “disseminating embarrassing or sexually explicit photographs”

3. “with the intent to harass, threaten, abuse…”

Suicides that have been caused by cyber bullying or bullying in general are continuing to rise at an alarming rate. Although the intent was good, this ordinance is far too broad and vague and being able to classify certain types of activities as bullying would be  difficult. There are no clear parameters as to what constitutes as bullying and what doesn’t. The First Amendment protects the right to freedom of speech so where exactly do we draw the line between what may be bullying or merely venting? After all, that is the whole point of social networking – an outlet for one’s self expression. Albany County will have to reevaluate the ordinance.

Watch Like a Hawk?

Posted: October 29, 2014 in Uncategorized

One solution to combating cyber bullying that seems to be persistent entails parents and or schools  monitor kids’ social media accounts. This is a really tricky subject for parents and schools alike. If a parent is monitoring their child’s social networking accounts without their knowledge, eventually the parent will come across something they are going to want to confront their child on. Of course, as a parent you need to be involved in your child’s life to protect them but what concerns me is the potential damage that can be done to the child-parent relationship. Is there a possibility the child will begin to have trust issues with their parent?

What complicates the matter for schools monitoring children’s accounts is the issue of privacy. How much of a child’s activity Some brands of software parents and schools alike can use are Mobicip, Net Nanny, Online Guardian and Social Shield. All of these applications have features that alert parents or teachers of certain keywords sent to a student’s phone or social media account. In terms of blocking and filtering, recording digital footprints, installation and ease of use, Net Nanny seems to score the highest in comparison to other parental control software.

Some of the features entail masking profanity, blocking websites that may not be suitable for the child’s age and a dashboard that allows parents to monitor all activity on social network cites like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest. Based off of the service provided by the software and the reviews of users, Net Nanny could be a great resource to assist parents in interrupting cyber bullying.

Eliminate from Within

Posted: October 28, 2014 in Uncategorized

There are a number of ways in which out society as a whole can fight back against cyber bullying to eliminate it. One way that I thought was brilliant was by empowering teenagers themselves to be agents of change. The actions taken by these agents of change need not necessarily be radical.

Pacer National Bullying Prevention Center is one organization that sees teenagers as instrumental in interrupting or preventing bullying of any sort. They have started a movement called WE WILL Generation that harnesses the influence peers can have on one another. The tactics the movement employs are geared towards teens interrupting face to face cyber aggression, but none the less, can be utilized to combat cyber conflict.

WE WILL Reach Out is one of the methods the movement advocates. It encourages youth to offer support and kindness to peers they are aware are victims of bullying. One way of doing so is by being there for them to  eliminate some of the isolation that goes along with being a victim of bullying. Many students that find themselves to be targets of cyber aggression feel that no one know what they are going through and they are the only ones. Oftentimes, victims of bullying keep the torment to themselves for various reasons, like fear of backlash or embarrassment. Just like what is commonly seen in domestic abuse cases when that one good friend convinces the battered to get help, one teen could encourage another to do the same.

WE WILL Reach Out also trains teenagers to build up their peers. It is dangerous when an individual is suffering from low self esteem, low self-worth and low self confidence. When someone does not value themselves there is no telling what types of things they could do to themselves or allow to be done to themselves. Now add bullying into the equation which tends to tear down one’s self esteem. The movement encourages building up anther’s peers in various ways such as talking with them during breaks, including them in conversations and inviting them to various outings. I think positive reinforcement from a peer has a different meaning than that from an adult. Adolescence is an insecure time fro everyone and being able to connect to your peers is important.

A third aspect of the WE WILL campaign is what the center calls “Turn a 180”. This involves redirecting a conversation that has taken a negative turn into a positive direction to deescalate bullying. The same can apply via social media. Social media is all about building new relationships,establishing new ones or just finding creative forms of self expression.  Just as hurtful words can be easily sprawled across one’s Facebook page, so too can words that deflect hatred.

As earlier stated, what better way to combat conflict than to enlist the help of  individuals within the community. In this case, teenaged students.

Chasing a Ghost

Posted: October 28, 2014 in Uncategorized

I recently came across an article on a 15 year old girl from Newark, New Jersey who had  fallen victim to cyber bullying. For three years, Nafeesa Onque had endured the embarrassment of one of her peers creating  fake social media accounts pretending to be her. This individual befriended all of her family, friends and associates via the various social networks and would post various inappropriate stats such as ones with sexually explicit content. The imposter would even pick fights with some of Nafeesa’s associates. Because the imposter had done such a good job imitating Nafeesa’s social networking accounts, one of Nafeesa’s peers the imposter insulted online, even approached Nafeesa and hit her in the face not knowing Nafeesa was being harassed by an anonymous person. Needless to say, Nafeesa and her mother were at their wits ends trying to figure out who the person was, why they were doing this and how to stop them.

What blows my mind is the amount of dedication the bully exhibited in attempting to destroy the victim’s image. The tactics used entailed uploading sexually explicit stats and sending offensive messages to Nafeesa’s entire network.Nafeesa, a popular and social cheerleader, began to withdraw from all social events because she did not know who she could trust.

There were a few steps Nafeesa and her family had taken to end the stalking. One of which was refusing to remove her real Facebook profile because she did not want the tormentor to completely take over her digital life and “win”.

As earlier mentioned, Nafeesa’s mother also regularly reported the fake profiles to the websites’ administrators who would then have them removed due to their offensive content. This solution was only temporary as another website would be created in a matter of days. Nafeesa then was bounced around between various agencies before coming to the desk of a 10 year veteran of the New Jersey State Police’s digital Technology Investigations Unit. Sgt. Allen handles many cases on cyber bullying but the severity of Nafeesa’s stood out to him. Sgt. Allen hunted all of the phony profiles and was finally able to find the impersonator’s internet protocol address. The aggressor was apprehended and admitted her jealousy of Nafeesa’s popularity.

The primary aspect of what makes digital aggression so attractive to bullies is the level of anonymity one can maintain while exhibiting damaging behavior. Social networks  allow  users to be anyone and anything they want to be; the sky is the limit, and because social media is meant to be public, the audience is virtually endless. This is what makes it so challenging to report and combat cyber aggression. You don’t really know who you are looking for as the cloak of anonymity is effective. Its like chasing a ghost. Luckily for Nafeesa, her and her mother’s persistence is what ended her nightmare. She did not remove her real Facebook page and give in to the fake ones. Her mother made sure to report each incident to Facebook or MySpace administrators to have the offensive pages removed and these reports were documented. These actions combined with the diligence of Sgt. Allen’s search for the ip address is what caused Nafeesa to triumph in the end.