#IStillFacebookBecause …

This week, a fascinating hashtag started up on Twitter asking users why they still used Facebook. According to Twitter (when I last checked) 40000 odd tweets had been sent by users asking them why they still used Facebook, and the replies were fascinating, funny, and provided a really interesting insight into what’s happening on and with Facebook.

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Peeple, a new app bringing out the worst in people. We are #PeopleNotPeeple.

UPDATE: This post has been edited to remove reference to the user being unable to opt-in to the app and to contest negative reviews; features which have since been removed in light of the public backlash to the originally proposed app. As of launch you can now hide negative reviews that are posted about you, however, a ‘truth licence’ can be purchased whereby anyone can buy access to negative reviews you have hidden. In essence this new ‘safety’ feature does not stop abuse, does not allow you to truly hide abusive comments, and is particularly harmful to members of the LGBT community, and to abuse and rape survivors. Monopolizing from negativity, hate, and abuse is ethically hideous and morally bankrupt.

Peeple is due to Launch March 2016. The email announcing this launch is shown at the bottom of this piece. They have made some changes such as making the app opt-in, and adding features to screen and hide negative comments behind a paywall, but it is noticeable that though they insist that they have included safety features they still have not addressed the key concerns of many; the virtual panopticon they have created to assign value to pre-determined characteristics, and the very real possibility of abuse and harassment that this app fosters.

Peeple reinforces normative social Discourses by ranking us & making sure we adhere to these Discourses to improve our rating. It’s hideous. The creation of a Discourse of positive and negative social identities which also have a literal metric attached to them is still worrying and I sincerely hope that everyone rejects and questions the truly problematic core of this application’s aims. It is an application that exists to rank people against each other, to enforce unhelpful normative social expectations and values, and to assign metrics and values to these ideals in order to justify and perpetuate them.

I hate to scaremonger on the internet. I’m generally of the opinion that we should let the internet develop as its own beast, and that we shouldn’t restrict what is possible online. However, I can’t help but feel that the internet is taking an awful step into Charlie Brooker’s imagination. The Black Mirror is coming thick and fast.

A new app is on the horizon. An app that is more than probably going to garner popularity and that is going to bring out some of the worst aspects in people. Already valued at over $7 million, It’s due to launch late next month, and it’s called Peeple.

For those who haven’t heard of Peeple, it is an app that allows you to rank people that you know. Much like Yelp reviews of businesses, you will be able to rank people that you know and leave a ‘review’ for them.

Currently, to leave a review, you have to be over 21 with a ‘real’ Facebook account. They assure those nervous of bullying that this will lessen the chances. In order you review someone, you have to prove you know them, currently by having their phone number.

Some say that Facebook and Twitter are just popularity measures, Peeple, in essence, suggests that we shouldn’t hide this, but instead just jump to the point, and put a number in front of it rating you. The founders suggest it will be useful for checking out people in your life, or, for example, reviewing and researching babysitters.

Putting aside the awfulness of attaching a number and value to a person (and it truly is awful)… This app has some rather large questions to answer ethically. Although they assure potential users that this app has protection from fake reviews, there appears to be no protection in terms of accuracy of reviews. How do we protect from inaccurate reviews? How do we verify reviews? How do we control/allow for bias? How can subjective opinion be made objective? And, importantly, what affect does this have on the people being reviewed? Studies on Yelp have shown that you tend not to see the ‘middling’ every-day reviews of businesses, but instead only see the polar extremes of love and hate. Other review sites such as ratemyprofessor have shown that there is inherent sexism in such a concept. Peeple will undoubtedly be plagued by the same issues.

Most of the problems stem down to the fact that people are not treated as subjects. In Peeple, we will literally be treated as objects, as commodities, and ranked on our pros and cons. The agency will be removed for the person being ranked and rated; instead, they will become non-agentic – unable to act and make a choice. They are literally being acted upon, they are being judged against subjective opinion. The subjective opinion of others that you have encountered becomes an object that is used to rank you and rate you.

One of the co-founders recently said “we want to spread love and positivity…We want to operate with thoughtfulness.” in an ideal world this works but in reality it is ethically problematic to assume that only positivity will be spread via an application that ranks subjective reputation. It’s naturally going to facilitate bullying and hatred, it is open to abuse and treating behavior, and arguebly could even encourage these traits. Think of the impact of such an app to a gay person who is not yet ‘out’, to victims of rape and domestic abuse, to the trans community, to those already facing online abuse and harassment.

In essence, it is the endpoint of what Foucault was talking about with his work on the Panopticon. For those who aren’t up to speed, a quick, if glib, introduction. Foucault use a prison design by Jeremy Bentham in which all prisoners could be seen at all time by a central watchtower, and thus, began to police themselves and behave in case they were being watched. Foucault suggested that this was how humanity policed itself, under the threat of observation. If we think we were being watched and viewed, we are more likely to conform to societal norms and behave in line with expectations.

Peeple will extend this idea, and make any encounter public and permanent. A passing statement or a throw-away line could come back to haunt you, and be always attached to your rating and ranking. Something that you said whilst drunk could follow you around on Peeple forever. Much like the episode ‘the entire history of you’ from the eerily dystopic black comedy, Black Mirror, we are facing a reality in which we may not be able to live without constant review of every encounter.

And one does not have to go far to imagine the effects this may have psychologically upon even the most ‘well-adjusted’ people.

If I sound passionate and angry about this, it is because I am. I truly believe this is a hideous and unwanted application. If you choose to subject yourself to being ranked and judged, that is fine, and entirely your choice; more power to you, but I cannot justify using an application to objectifies the subjective opinions of others and uses this as a metric to rank and compare humans.

The app hasn’t launched yet, and it is still in beta, meaning things may change, but as it stands the app is due to launch in a month’s time.

UPDATE. The email announcement for the launch of the application can be found below.



Call For Papers: Eastern Sociological Society Digital Sociology Mini-Conference

I had the pleasure and privilege of attending and presenting at the Eastern Sociological Society’s conference in New York in February this year, and it was a fascinating, invigorating, and thoroughly useful and challenging event.

There was a wide range of speakers and attendees from a wide range of backgrounds, all with useful thoughts and ideas on the present and future of Digital Sociology. I’d thoroughly recommend it to anybody and am hoping to go again in 2016.

The 2016 event is to be held in Boston, at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel and Towers, March 17-20, and the Call For Papers is below. I’m submitting a paper on digital identity, and hope to see you all there!

Digital Sociology Mini-Conference

In keeping with the Eastern Sociological Society’s theme of “My Day Job: Politics and Pedagogy in Academia,” the Digital Sociology Mini-Conference seeks papers that address the many digital ways of knowing, particularly as those impinge on the work we do as scholars, both within and outside the academy. We seek abstracts, and wholly constituted panels, on a wide range of topics, including, but not limited to, the following themes:

·       Public Scholarship, Digital Media and the Neoliberal University: How is the participation of scholars on public, digital media platforms regarded within the neoliberal university?

·       Digital Sociologists, Legacy Institutions: What does it mean to do digital sociology within institutions that are steeped in legacy modes of rewarding scholarship? How are scholars navigating the landscape of getting hired, tenured and promoted with a strong digital presence, or without one?

·       Digital Sociological Methods: How do traditional, analog sociological methods become digital? Are there new, “born digital” sociological methods? Is knowledge production different now? Will big data replace survey methodology?

·       Critical Theories of the Digital Itself: How have we theorized the digital? What challenges does the digital pose to epistemologies underlying sociological methods?

·       Digital Structures, Digital Institutions: The datafication of everyday life is posing unique challenges to the composition of social institutions and giving rise to new instantiations of education, finance, labor, and governance. How do we theorize, study, and conceptualize the recomposition of these institutions?

·       Identity, Community, and Networks: How do sociological concepts of micro and macro, personal and public, “front stage” and “back stage,” evolve as digital and mobile technologies increasingly blur these boundaries? How do digital environments shape identities of race, gender, sexuality and queerness? And how do the identities of those who create the platforms we use shape the platforms? How do race, gender, sexuality and queerness shape the communities and networks in which we participate?

·       Digital Pedagogies, Digital Sociology: How are digital technologies changing the sociological classroom? Beyond simply a recitation of ‘what I did in my class,’ we’re interested in theoretical and empirical explorations of how to think about digitally-informed pedagogies in the sociology classroom.

We encourage submissions from scholars at all levels, and are particularly enthusiastic to support the work of graduate students and early career researchers. We welcome submissions for individual papers and for entirely constituted sessions. The organizers share a commitment to creating a field that honors diverse voices, and as such are excited to see scholars from groups that are typically underrepresented in sociology. When proposing entirely constituted panels, please keep this commitment to diverse voices in mind.

If you have any questions about proposals, topics, or session ideas please contact one of the organizers: Leslie Jones (lesjones@sas.upenn.edu), Tressie McMillan Cottom or Jessie Daniels (jdaniels@hunter.cuny.edu).

For individual presentations, please submit an abstract of no more than 250 words, as well as the title of the paper, name of presenter, institutional affiliation and contact details.   For wholly constituted sessions, please include a short description of the concept behind your session, and then include all of the abstracts (along with names and affiliations of presenters) in one document. Deadline: October 19, 2015.  Please email your submissions to: ESSDigitalSociology@gmail.com.   Those whose proposals are not accepted for the Mini-Conference will be alerted in time to submit to the ESS general call for submissions.

#SuperBloodMoon. How the Internet is augmenting our experiences of the world around us.

Last night (and in fact even as you read this today) a natural event was augmented and shared worldwide by the Internet.

#SuperBloodMoon highlights how the Internet and the offline world are not so separate, and how it is increasingly difficult to separate the two as separate spheres. Instead, the Internet is augmenting and changing the way millions of people experience the world and experience nature.

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Facebook and the LGBTQ problem

The last week has seen some tremendous steps taken for the advancement of LGBTQ rights, a fact that was rightly celebrated by many. One of the main and most visible way people chose to celebrate was through a Facebook image filter, which overlaid your profile picture with a rainbow flag in support of LGBT rights. This was tremendously popular way of showing support for the LGBT community, as well as celebrating Pride week, and the Supreme Court decision.

Leaving aside the fact that Facebook are most likely recording your use of this feature, this case raises some issues with regards to Facebook’s general policies towards the LGBT community, and, importantly, highlights the importance of site design and modality upon how we perform identity, and how we act and interact. Continue reading

How realistic should media be? Doing dinosaurs right.

A tweet by the always awesome Mike Rugnetta in the wake of early Jurassic World reviews got me thinking; how realistic does media need to be?

Some critics and fans have been questioning the accuracy of the movie, but this leaves several important questions. What does it mean when the audience asks for a movie to be more ‘realistic’? How realistic can a movie about a Dinosaur Theme Park in the 21st Century be? Which reality are we even talking about?

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University of East Anglia doctoral conference 2015

If anyone is in Norwich next week, I will be taking part in a Doctoral Conference hosted by the University of East Anglia’s Education and Lifelong Learning department.

The full details of the conference are below the break. It will be held on the 28th of May, with two concurrent sessions running all day.  There are some great talks in both sessions, covering topics from humour, art, education in Libya, and geeks, to maths and chocolate, the analysis of Seljuk coins, and migrant workers in the Pearl River! Continue reading