Quinnipiac Assignment 09 – ICM 552 – Content Moderation and Ethics

Quinnipiac Assignment 09 – ICM 552 – Content Moderation and Ethics

Content Moderation Principles

Ratings systems are not new. Even before the Internet, film reviewers like Siskel and Ebert would routinely award stars or thumbs up or down. Book reviewers would favor a work with placement in a well-known periodical, such as the New York Times Review of Books.

But there’s been a change. Reviews are now big business. Under social technographics theories, Critics encompass over 1/3 of all users online.

Quinnipiac Assignment 09 – ICM 552 – Content Moderation and Ethics
Critics (Social Technographics) – Image (http://image.slidesharecdn.com/vamsocialmediafinalcombined-100317211719-phpapp02/95/virginia-association-of-museums-vam-2010-conference-museums-building-communities-through-social-media-combined-presentation-11-728.jpg) by slidesharecdn.com and use of Social Technographics verbiage are claimed under fair use for educational purposes.

I believe that there are differing ethical considerations, depending upon the type of content being critiqued. There are fundamental differences between works of art and consumer goods and services.

Rating Consumer Goods and Services

For the rating of consumer goods and services, a lot of the measurements are quantitative ones. E. g. a size 10 shoe is supposed to be within certain length parameters. Those don’t change if the shoemaker is a large company or a tiny one-person cottage industry. The same is true if the manufacture of the shoe is promised within a certain time frame. Either it’s delivered on time, or it’s not. The one-person operation and the huge multinational conglomerate both have the same seven-day week. In some ways, it’s reminiscent of the contractarian ethical theory, whereby ethics are based on mutual agreement. The shoemaker tells the consumer that the shoe fits a size 10. The consumer purchases the shoe based upon reliance that the shoemaker is providing a product that is within the accepted length parameters. If the shoe is too long or too short, then the shoemaker is in breach.

There are subjective qualitative measurements as well. Is the shoe stylish and comfortable? Is it in fashion? Some of those variables are under the control of the shoemaker. Others, like the whims of fashion, are not.

But the reviewing of consumer goods and services is generally in the objective and quantitative realm. If the shoe doesn’t seem to be in fashion, or the consumer doesn’t like the color, the consumer doesn’t buy it in the first place. Reviewing after the fact is usually of fit, durability, and other measurable considerations. That’s not quite the case with works of art.

Rating Works of Art

For rating works of art, there is virtually nothing that’s measurable or objective or quantitative. While a film critic might dislike, say, the Lord of the Rings films because of their length, that’s generally not the only reason a professional critic will supply. Instead, the critic will mention whether the plot held their interest, whether the characters were true to the source material, whether the actors’ performances were credible, and whether a parent can safely take their children with them to the picture. About the only one of these review elements that is quantitative is the latter, and even the question of suitability for children is a subjective one.

Further, a bad review for a consumer good or service can (and should) lead to improvements as the company attempts to make amends. According to Beth Harpaz’s article, Debate over ethics of deleting negative reviews, companies should actively try to improve their customer service after a complaint.

TripAdvisor spokesman Kevin Carter said businesses are instead encouraged to reply to reviewers publicly on the site. It’s not unusual to see a negative review followed by an apology from a business detailing what’s been done to make amends.”

But no such option truly exists for works of art. A reviewer who doesn’t enjoy the scenes of the burning of Atlanta isn’t going to get an official new version of Gone With the Wind unless the reviewer personally edits the work. Even then, the edited version would be seen as unofficial and unsanctioned (and likely a copyright violation). All that the reviewer can do is (a) dissuade people from voting with their wallets for certain works of art and, possibly, (b) convince the artist to try better next time.

For works of art, it’s more of the Eudaimonism theory of ethics – the well-being of the individual has central value. Does the work entertain? Does it enlighten, uplift, or inspire? Gone With The Wind can. The Venus de Milo can. Shoes, however, cannot.

Sharing Less

Sharing Less

There is something to be said for mystery.

Sharing Less
Buchaechum, one of the Korean traditional dance for Royal court of Joseon Dynasty (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For a fan dancer‘s artfully concealing fans, if you will. For a dark corner where the camera does not go, and where we do not allow others to see. Perhaps not even our lovers, our mothers, our children and, most assuredly, not our government.

This post is a riff on Learning Not to Share, an article by Rich Barlow in my alumni magazine, Bostonia.

Wait a second, oops! I just told you where I went to college. Better cover that up, and sweep it out of the way.

Oh no, wait! I just told you it was undergrad. Good thing I didn’t tell you one of my professors studied under Wittgenstein.

D’oh! I probably just gave away that I majored in Philosophy! Wait, I’ll come in again.

It is like this, over and over and over again online. We share. And we share again. And then we overshare. While the above few tidbits probably don’t tell you too much about me, there is plenty of additional information out there. There are plenty of minefields where I might accidentally drop something whereby someone could steal a password, stalk me, take my identity, burgle my house while I’m away, etc.

Stephen Baker, the author of The Numerati, talks about what is essentially digital nosiness — too much information out there, and we’re all inviting it in, in the name of greater security, or peace of mind. We want to make sure our teenagers are driving safely so we agree to put a black box in the car. We want to know that our elderly parents are all right (but we are not committed enough to move them home with us, or move to their homes or cities, even briefly), so we install sensors in their beds to make sure they get out of them every day. And, as privacy is eroded, we accept more and more of these intrusions until they are no longer seen as intrusive, and a privacy (and shame!) tradition that harkens back to biblical times is canned in favor of The Age of TMI.

Is it possible to shut the barn door, when the horse has hightailed it for the next county? Sadly, probably not. But this oversharing is nothing new. I well recall, when I was practicing law (uh oh, another identifier!), prepping witnesses for depositions. E. g. if the opposing counsel asks, “Were you driving?”, the answer is yes, no or I don’t remember. It is not, yes, and the car is blue. If the lawyer wants to know the color of the car, she’ll ask. Don’t volunteer anything.

Yet, inevitably, people would do just that — they would volunteer all sorts of stuff. The vast majority of it was completely harmless. But every now and then, it opened up different things, and drew others into question. Or it got the whole thing onto some wacky tangent and it then became hard to throw a lasso over the proceedings and get them back to the matter at hand. A deposition, once, which was going to take maybe 45 minutes took the better part of a week as a witness and opposing counsel kept feeding one another more digressions — even after I repeatedly told the witness to just stick with getting the actual questions answered and nothing more. This tactic, by the way, did not, ultimately, harm my client or help the opponent. All it did was make the matter stretch out that much longer. And, I am sure, it nicely increased my opponent’s bill (I was salaried — a deposition could take three years and I would not be paid any extra. Dang, there I go again, oversharing!).

Some sharing, particularly in the face of things that have been taboo for too long, seems to be, to me, to be a very good thing. Take, for example, the physical demands and changes that go along with weight loss. In the interests of full disclosure, this is a subject rather near and dear to my heart as I have lost substantial weight in the past few years. So I put it out there — the fact that stretch marks don’t really go away and what post-weight loss plastic surgery is really like and how sometimes, no matter how much you want to convince yourself otherwise, the oatmeal just does not taste one bit like fried chicken.

I think that this kind of oversharing can have a true benefit. Give hope, or at least some amusement and information. And trample away shame until it’s gone.

But there is plenty more out there where that came from, and it is often all too much, and it can be damaging. Give away too much and you are the naked fan dancer, all out of fans.

So my suggestion is: tread lightly, and as wisely as you can, and ask yourself: will this information do more harm than good? Will it hurt me or my family? And even if the answer to both questions is no, my advice is: consider it and weigh it anyway, and decide, one way or the other, based upon reasoned understanding and not on expediency, or going along to get along, or trying to be cooler than everyone else in school. Above all, do not sleepwalk and step backward into these kinds of giveaways. If you are going to toss aside that last fan, at least look your audience in the eye when you do so.

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Quinnipiac Assignment 08 – ICM 552 Dark Patterns in User-Oriented Design

Quinnipiac Assignment 08 – ICM 552 Dark Patterns in User-Oriented Design

Doostang versus Amtrak

For Social Media Ethics class, we were asked to compare dark patterns, which are designs which are put together in order to trick users into clicking on something (often to sign up for something they don’t want).

Doostang

Doostang is a rather unfortunately-named jobs site, claiming to have top financial and consulting jobs. Attempt to apply for a job through them, however, and you’re passed to a sign-up screen. Fair enough, a lot of jobs sites require an account. But this one’s just a little bit different.

Quinnipiac Assignment 08 – ICM 552 Dark Patterns in User-Oriented Design
Doostang sign up page

Instead of defaulting to selecting the free sign-up, or not selecting any of the radio buttons at all, Doostang defaults to signing its potential customers up for a $9.95 “Premium” 2-day trial.

But wait, there’s more!

And it doesn’t make Doostang look so good. The Better Business Bureau has quite the file on Doostang, and rates them a D-. What’s the most common complaint? Billing and collection issues. A complaint dated January 21, 2014 says it best:

Complaint: I never agreed to automatic renewal or recurring payments. As can be seen in my usage history, I did not know I had a membership to this site, and never used it. At no time did I authorize recurring payments.

Desired Settlement: Please refund all monies taken after the initial payment. Please do not make me take additional action.

Business Response: Doostang is very clear in stating that all memberships are automatically renewed unless canceled. Members may cancel their subscriptions at anytime.

This is one of Dark Patterns’s classic forced continuity complaints, and it’s also a roach motel, in that it’s deceptively simple to sign up for a Premium service on Doostang, but it’s a real bear to get out of one.

Amtrak

Amtrak, like many other common carrier transportation companies, offers the user the option to purchase travel insurance. However, the option is just that, an option.

Quinnipiac Assignment 08 – ICM 552 Dark Patterns in User-Oriented Design
Amtrak travel insurance purchase page

While the questions about buying travel insurance are set off in a different-colored box, and you must pass through this screen and make a decision before you can pay for your ticket, Amtrak doesn’t choose either travel insurance option for you. Instead, you are required to decide, one way or the other. There’s no question that Amtrak is trying to make the buying of travel insurance seem like a smart thing to do. But the consumer isn’t beaten over the head with numerous dubious reasons to make the purchase, and the screen is easy to understand.

Turning Doostang Away from the Dark Side

Doostang has two jobs to do, possibly three.
  1. Eliminate the preselection of anything on the sign-up page, or default to the free option. Clearly explain why a job seeker would want a Premium option. End forced continuity.
  2. Make it easy to cancel an accidentally added Premium service by adding online cancellation options and lengthening the time a consumer has before a full refund is no longer permitted. Close the roach motel.
  3. (Optional) Add more free services. Currently, Doostang only allows for applying to one job under the free service. This is the job connected to the referring URL. What if the free service was expanded, say, to that entire session, or for three job applications? A consumer just surfing in from a referral URL would never pay and, perhaps, would be served more advertisements. But someone clicking around, applying to a few jobs or opening up a long session would be using more valuable materials. Complaints of not knowing they were signing up for a paid service would have a lot less credence.

Come to the light, Doostang! It’s not too late!

Ditto Labs and Photo Recognition

Ditto Labs and Photo Recognition

What is Ditto Labs, and what do they do?

In Cambridge, Massachusetts, there is a start up company that is doing something pretty revolutionary when it comes to social media (and more traditional) marketing. What is it? It’s the ability to scour the enormous fire hose full of data out there, the thousands if not millions of images that are shared on a daily basis, and it looks.

What is Ditto Labs hunting for?

Brand logos! In May of 2014, Ditto Labs raised over $2 million for its photo analytics software.

Ditto Labs and Photo Recognition
Green logo used from 1987-2010, still being used as a secondary logo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Essentially, the software allows a typical company (say, Starbucks coffee) to view its brand imagery in the ton of photographs that are uploaded daily. Is a government official drinking from a hot cup with the logo? Did the paparazzi get a picture of a royal ducking into a Starbucks? Is someone wearing a tee shirt? Did someone take pictures of a 5K race sponsored by the company, and catch the logo in the background of the image? All of these are fair game for Ditto Labs.

What is Tumblr’s Connection?

In August of 2014, Ditto Labs announced that they were partnering with Tumblr to capture all of the logos on the many, many images shared, manipulated, commented upon, voted for, and re-shared on that blogging service. There are an estimated 120 million posts created on Tumblr on a daily basis, and most of them have at least one image. Many of them sport several.

The search for brand logo recognition makes some sense, as brand logos mainly change in size but not in color or aspect ratio (although that is possible, of course). That is, a Starbucks logo is going to look like a Starbucks logo.

 

Campbell's Soup Cans by Andy Warhol, 1962. Dis...
Campbell’s Soup Cans by Andy Warhol, 1962. Displayed in Museum of Modern Art in New York. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

If Starbucks changes their logo (and they have in the past), they will simply hunt for all possible iterations of it. And if an artist on, say, Deviant Art, looks to make art with the logo (a la Andy Warhol and Campbell’s soup cans), there really can’t be too much alteration. Otherwise, the logo turns unrecognizable, and the artist’s use of the logo is not understood by the people he or she is showing the art to.

When will this work for people?

Not so fast! For humans, the differences are a bit too tricky. Even assuming more or less steady weight and hair styles throughout a person’s life, there are still going to be changes that reflect the aging process. Facebook can still be fooled when it comes to suggesting tags. It will be harder to make something like this work for human facial recognition.

But I bet that’s coming.

Book Review: Zen in the Art of Writing

Book Review: Zen in the Art of Writing

For the social media writing class at Quinnipiac, we were required to purchase Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury. The book proved to be optional.

I read it from cover to cover.

Book Review: Zen in the Art of Writing
Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury

As a fiction writer, I particularly loved his ideas about how to get ideas. On Page 33, he wrote –

“… in a lifetime, we stuff ourselves with sounds, sights, smells, tastes, and textures of people, animals, landscapes, events, large and small. We stuff ourselves with these impressions and experiences and our reaction to them. Into our subconscious go not only factual data but reactive data, or movement toward or away from the sense of events.

“These are the stuffs, the foods, on which the Muse grows.”

That is just a great way of looking at things. What Bradbury is essentially giving the aspiring writer permission to do is: get your inspiration from everywhere, and from everything. The smallest memories can do it. Don’t give up on your weirdness. Don’t suppress it. I love this concept.

On Page 50, he writes about praise. As writers, we might aspire to everyone loving us, and buying our works or at least reading them or, at minimum, being aware of them. But Bradbury offers a different definition of success –

“We all need someone higher, wiser, older to tell us we’re not crazy after all, that what we’re doing is all right. All right, hell, fine!”

It’s okay to want to be loved. And it’s okay to be weird.

Who knew?

Review: 5/5 stars.

How Social Media Can Ruin Your Life

How Social Media Can Ruin Your Life

Oh. My. God.

You did WHAT???!?!?!?

Quick, lemme tweet it!

No, I’ll take a picture and upload it to Instagram.

Can’t forget to blog it!

This kind of gaffe deserves a Facebook post, too!

foursquare
foursquare (Photo credit: cambodia4kidsorg)

You know what’s it like. You post a selfie taken at the ballgame. Except you told your boss that you were home sick, with the flu. You were supposed to be with your significant other. But, oops, you checked into Foursquare. With your friend. You know, the one with benefits. You rant against your kid’s soccer coach on Twitter. And he calls you out on it.In May of 2014, The Boston Globe presented a half a dozen ways that social media can ruin your life.

English: Data from April 2011 Editor Survey th...
English: Data from April 2011 Editor Survey that lists Social Media activities (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The article presents some boneheaded moves, including a poor choice of a Halloween costume (because evidently the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing are a laugh riot to someone out there), a Candy Crush addiction, and some poorly thought out tweets.

I’m sure that the following will, eventually, be the kinds of behaviors that could be added to a successor article (Note: some of these are real, some are speculative. I won’t name names. You decide whether any of these have really happened, or are still in the ‘maybe’ column):

  1. Claiming a permanent injury for your lawsuit and then checking in from a dance contest
  2. Court-ordered Gamblers’ Anonymous meeting blown off for a trip to the track – and a selfie with the dogs or horses running their hearts out in the background.
  3. Dissing your ex, big time, on Facebook or Twitter, and your child growing up to read your sunshiny status updates.
  4. A job interview, as you tout your fine record of academic achievement, with old Instagram photos of you showing off your barely passing C-average transcript.
  5. Politicians caught with underage drinking photos, sexting, pictures of their junk, and a panoply of other nuggets of over-sharing.

I love social media but man oh man, people! Have a little self-control and some common sense.

Quinnipiac Assignment 07 – ICM 552 – Wal-Mart and the PR Disaster on Wheels

Quinnipiac Assignment 07 – ICM 552 – Wal-Mart and the PR Disaster on Wheels

In 2006, Wal-Mart got into major trouble when the company published a fake blog without divulging its origins or backing. Wal-Mart’s PR company, Edelman, apparently was behind the creation of an entity called Working Families for Wal-Mart (WFWM). In turn, WFWM put together the promo.  Continue reading Quinnipiac Assignment 07 – ICM 552 – Wal-Mart and the PR Disaster on Wheels

Supporting Indie Authors

Supporting Indie Authors

I have recently been published, and one issue that comes up, time and again, is how people can go about supporting indie authors. In particular, friends and family who are far from the business of writing or social media or public relations or marketing or the like still want to provide a boost to their loved ones.

For the writers, who may feel strange suggesting or requesting such support, I hope this little guide can do just that. Instead of asking, perhaps they can simply point to this blog post.

The #1 Way You Can Support An Independent Author

This one’s easy. Buy their book! Which version? Any version!

Authors might get better percentages of the take if a book is in a particular format. If that is the case, and you don’t mind which format you purchase, you can always ask your friend the writer. While we always want you to buy the book (and a sale is better than no sale), if we have our druthers and there really is a difference, it certainly doesn’t hurt to ask.

The #2 Way To Support Independent Authors

Supporting Indie Authors
Untrustworthy by JR Gershen-Siegel

Once you’ve bought the book, a fantastic way to help out even more is to provide an honest review. Amazon, Smashwords, and many publisher sites provide a means of reviewing novels and other creative works. Be sure to review where you purchased the book. Why? Because then you can be listed with verified purchase next to your name. This adds considerably more credibility to your review. What should you say in your review? If you loved the book, say so. If it was a decent read but not your cup of tea, say that as well, as it’s honest, fair, and remains supportive. After all, not everyone loves the same thing. If you’re not in the demographic group that the work is aimed at, then that’s perfectly fine. You gave it the old college try and that’s just fantastic. The longer the review then, generally, the better. Specific references to events in the book, without giving away spoilers, are really helpful. E. g. something like: I loved the character of ___. She was believably vulnerable.

What if you hated the book? Should you lie? Absolutely not – and, I might add, don’t lie even if the author has specifically asked for positive reviews only (that is an unethical request, by the way). If the book is truly awful (I’ve read books that have made me want to burn people’s computers, they were so horrible, so I know exactly where you’re coming from), then you have the following options:

  1. Don’t post the review at all, and say nothing to the author.
  2. Don’t post the review at all, but mention it to the author. Be prepared for, potentially, some negative push-back, in particular if that person specifically requested just positive reviews. You can sweeten the pot by offering some other assistance (see below for other things you can do to help).
  3. Post a short review. Reviews don’t have to be novel-length! You can always write something like Interesting freshman effort from indie author ____ (the writer’s name goes in the blank). There ya go. Short, semi-sweet, and you’re off the hook. Unless the book was an utter snoozefest, the term ‘interesting’ can be appropriate. If the book was absolutely the most boring thing you have ever read, then you can go with valiant or unique (so long as the work isn’t plagiarized) instead of interesting. Yes, you are damning with faint praise. But sometimes faint praise is the only kind you can give out.
  4. Post a negative review. Be prepared for your friendship to, potentially, end. Is that the worst thing, ever? I’m not saying to be mean. Don’t be mean and don’t take potshots at a person’s character or personality. This is about the book and not about your relationship with the person (although it can sometimes turn into that. But keep the review about the creative work only). But if the friendship means more to you, then seriously consider options #1 or #2 instead.

Furthermore, many sites have star systems. Adding stars (even a single star) is helpful as this signals to readers that there is at least some interest in the piece.

The #3 Way to Support an Independent Author

Post and/or share the links to either the creative work or the author’s website, blog, Facebook Author page, or Amazon Author page, onto social media. This method is free and anyone can do it. This means tweets, Facebook shares, Pinterest repinnings, Tumblr rebloggings, clicking ‘like’ on Instagram, voting up a book trailer on YouTube or adding it to a playlist, mentioning the book in your status on LinkedIn, or sharing the details with your circles on Google+, and more. Every time you provide these sorts of social signals to social media sites, the content is delivered to more people. Without spending a dime, and barely lifting a finger, you can provide a great deal of help.

The #4 Way to Support Independent Authors

Be sure to follow your friends’ Amazon Author pages, and their blogs. Hit ‘like’ on their Facebook Author pages and follow them on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, etc. There are agents who give more weight to indies who have larger social media followings. You can hate the book but still follow the author.

You can also work some magic in person. Show up to any signings or discussions, even if you just drink coffee and don’t participate. Ask for the book at your local library or bookstore. Read the paper version in public (train stations are really great for that sort of thing). You can also talk to your friends, or email them about the work. Consider your audience, and don’t just spam your friends, but if your writer pal has written, say, a Christian-themed love story, then how about sending the link to your friend who has a son studying to be a pastor?

If your friend is local, try contacting your local paper and asking if they’d do a profile on the writer. They can always say no, but sometimes reporters are hunting around for short feel-good locally-specific blurbs. It never hurts to ask.

The #5 Way to Support an Independent Author

Here’s where it gets to be a time investment. Help them. A lot of serious authors ask questions about all manner of things, in order to perform proper research. Can you help with that? Do you have personal experience, or are you good at Googling? You can also act as a beta reader. Beta readers read either the entire draft or a portion of it or sometimes just the first chapter or even character bios. Here’s where you can be a lot freer with criticism, as this is all private. Is the mystery too easy to solve? The character names are confusing? The protagonist isn’t described clearly? The scenario is improbable? Then tell the writer. This isn’t correcting their grammar or their spelling (although it sometimes can be). This is giving them valuable feedback which will help them become better.

As always, be kind. This is your friend’s baby, after all. But if you can’t tell the difference between Susan and Suzanne in the story, then other readers probably wouldn’t be able to, either. Better that that is fixed before the book is released, than afterwords.

Final Thoughts on How to Support Independent Authors

The life of a writer can be a rather topsy-turvy one. You’re high on good reviews, and then you get one bad one and it depresses you. You write like the wind for weeks, and then you edit it and it feels like it’s garbage. You get writer’s block, or life gets in the way.

Sometimes the best thing you can do, as a friend, is to just listen, and be there.

Quinnipiac Assignment 06 – ICM 552 – Brian Williams and the Gaffe Heard ‘Round the World

Brian Williams and the Gaffe Heard ‘Round the World

On February 4, 2015, Brian Williams went on NBC Nightly News in order to apologize for falsely claiming that he was in a helicopter in Iraq in 2004 which took RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) fire.

Williams’s apology focused on not just the gaffe, but also on his motivations. He claimed that he was telling the story (incorrectly) in order to somehow honor a veteran. I hear a lot of flag-waving and appeals to patriotism. Williams says he misremembered an event from twelve years previously. While it may be difficult to recall events from more than a decade ago, the important and frightening ones tend to stand out. I would think that an incident of nearly being shot down, almost a near-death experience would be one of them. And so it is – except it never happened.

The very idea behind a news anchor is trustworthiness. The news, particularly here in America, is all about telling the truth to the public and the public’s right to know. The freedom of the press is of supreme importance. In the Society of Professional Journalists, Code of Ethics, it says, “Ethical journalism should be accurate and fair. Journalists should be honest and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information.”

Further, in the Poynter Institute, The New Ethics of Journalism, it states, “Truth remains our most important goal.” To my mind, the ethical arguments being made are of the categorical imperative. Immanuel Kant says that duty is to be observed in all situations and circumstances. Williams had an obligation to tell the truth every time he was on the air either delivering the news or talking about events related to delivering the news.

Brian Williams and the Gaffe Heard ‘Round the World
English: Brian Williams at the Vanity Fair celebration for the 9th annual Tribeca Film Festival. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Instead, he lied. And instead of initially apologizing, correcting the record, and perhaps checking his ego and his mouth before speaking about the matter again, he compounded the issue. The lie was repeated, almost taking on a ‘fish story’ quality. Or it was like how a story is repeated at a local bar, where the stakes get higher and the storyline slants ever more favorably for the storyteller. I feel his career is irreparably tarnished. I can’t see him recovering from this.

Social Media background check being used for jury selection

Social Media background check being used for jury selection

In 2010, the ABA Journal reported that lawyers admitted to using the Internet to ferret out information about potential jurors.

Social Media background check being used for jury selection
First woman jury, Los Angeles (LOC) (Photo credit: The Library of Congress)

Essentially what happens is, in some instances, while the names of the members of a jury pool are being read off, those people are being Googled. Sometimes the names are released the night before (at least, in Los Angeles County they can be), but it can also happen where lawyers only learn who would potentially be on a jury on the day of selection.

While state courts allow lawyers to bring laptops into court rooms, Googling the jury panel isn’t what they have in mind, says Paula Hannaford-Agor, who directs the Center for Jury Studies at the National Center for State Courts.

However, preventing counsel from checking potential jurors’ backgrounds online might pose a Constitutional question and may very well violate the First Amendment. The law is still fluid in this area; nothing has yet been decided or tested.

All of the above having been said, I’m not so sure where I fall on the spectrum. Preventing Googling doesn’t just seem to be a First Amendment issue – it also seems to be more of a common sense one. When the telephone was invented, and it suddenly made it possible to learn more about jurors (and far more quickly than sending letters or asking a messenger to run somewhere or another), was that ever questioned? Did it bother the jurors? Or did they perhaps not know about it? Or, maybe even if they did know, were they still so dazzled and flattered by the use of the brand-new technology that they didn’t care, or see any implications?

Then there’s the other end of things. Do I really want to be Googled if I’m in a jury pool? Welllll, lawyers are looking for every other possible advantage and nugget of information, so what would lead me to believe that they wouldn’t be looking there as well? If I am a somewhat sophisticated potential juror (and I am – I’ve practiced law fer cryin’ out loud), I know that, in particular in an expensive or high stakes (read: death row) case, both sides are looking for every possible angle. My bumper stickers are being scrutinized. My dress. My hair. Whether I’m wearing nail polish. My voter registration records. My work product, if available. Anything and everything.

Plus, as an avid Facebook and Twitter (and LinkedIn, and SparkPeople) user, I am well aware of the openness of my online life. And, for me, particularly after losing a boatload of weight, I feel it’s important to be open about a lot of things. Perhaps I overshare. No, wait, I definitely overshare. I know my life is open and there are all sorts of cracks in the armor.

Yet at the same time I, like many other people, feel there’s still a place where I can put on the brakes. Somewhere in there, there are vestiges of privacy. But are they still available to me if I end up in a jury pool?

Since I’m not in a jury pool under my own volition, I’m inclined to think that, even as I share yet another “before” photo or mention that I’m turning a particular age or whatever, that I can throw up a wall.

Can’t I? Even a little bit?

I’m curious as to what others think. Is this a squishy, I-want-to-be-left-alone area, or should we all just get over it? Is it the crest of a slippery slope that would erode privacy even more, or am I getting all hot and bothered over nothing?

Gentle reader, what do you think?

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My leap into a Social Media career

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