Online anonymity: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

An article came out today by J. Nathan Matias (find it here, it’s really interesting) calling for a re-examination of online anonymity, which for so long has been painted as a pantomime villain that automatically leads to abuse and problematic behaviour.

In the article J. Nathan Matias argues in essence for a reversal of the approach to anonymity and abuse, calling for a re-evaluation of online abuse that acknowledges the fact that it is and obviously is not solely an online phenomenon, but that it emerges from pre-existing social structures and resources. This is really interesting, especially in the wake of a re-emergence of anonymous platforms such as Yik Yak (before the update) and ask.fm.

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Picturing the Social Conference

 

This sounds like such a great event. Below the break is the details of a one-day conference on June 20th in Manchester with some really awesome people talking about image sharing and online visual culture. Thanks to the always awesome Mark Carrigan for the heads-up about this one! If you’re not following him I thoroughly recommend that you do!

As the internet becomes increasingly multi-modal, and as an increasingly diverse range of Social Media sites are becoming purposefully heterogeneous, understanding visual culture is so important.

What’s so great about this event, and what I love about Digital Sociology at the moment is it’s really broad in scope. So many fields with so many epistemological stances all want to try and understand the increasingly ubiquitous role of Social Media. We need this diverse input in the field, we need to throw open the doors and try and come at this from a range of perspectives.

I cannot make the day so I’m going to follow along online, but I thought I’d flag it up for all those up north interested in Visual Culture and wanting to look at it from a purposefully broad perspective. More of this sort of thing please!

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Curating identity online. Why do we insist that this is a unique feature of online social interaction?

I’ve been noticing a trend in the discussion of Social Media

In digital research there has been a move towards accepting that the internet is now a mundane and routine part of life, and as such an equal move away from distancing social media and the internet writ large from the rest of everyday life. Most researchers accept that the internet has quickly become routine. Rather than being a sparkly wonder for which we had to schedule time in our day to sit down and literally plug in, it has become accepted, ubiquitous, and demystified.

We have lifted the curtain and found that Oz is just some old white guy.

Research is now accepting that the internet is not a space to escape everyday life but a space in which we continue to project and live everyday life via new modes and new mediums.

However, researchers still seem to want to put some of the sparkle back into the internet; they still want to see it as something special and unique in some way. And in part this is true. The internet offers new possibilities, new ideas, new opportunities, new methods… BUT not everything that happens on the internet is unique and solely found online.

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#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.

Peeple-page-002