Community Management – Handling Yourself as a Good Netizen

Handling Yourself as a Good Netizen

Are you a good netizen?

I have been managing Able2know for over twelve years.

It is a generalized Q & A website and the members are all volunteers. I have learned a few things about handling yourself online during this time.

Chill Out

  1. There are few emergencies online. Take your time. I have found, if I am in a hot hurry to respond, itching to answer, it usually means I am getting obsessive.
  2. When it’s really nutty, step away from the keyboard. I suppose this is a corollary to the first one. Furthermore, I pull back when it gets too crazy-making, or try to figure out what else may be bothering me, e. g. I haven’t worked out yet, something at home is annoying me, etc. Being online, and being annoyed, does not equal that something online caused the annoyance.

Be Clear

  1. All we have are words (emoticons do nearly nothing).
    Handling Yourself as a Good Netizen
    what are word for? (Photo credit: Darwin Bell)

    I like to make my words count, and actually mean exactly, 100%, what I write, but not everyone hits that degree of precision in their communications. I’ve learned to cut about a 10% degree of slack.

  2. Not everyone gets you. You might be hysterically funny in person, but bomb online. Or you might feel you’re a gifted writer, but you write to the wrong audience. You may be hip for your crowd, but hopelessly out of it in another. This is not, really, a personal thing. You can either waste your time trying to get everyone to love you or you can recognize that you didn’t convert one person and move on from there. Choose the latter; it’ll save your sanity every time.

Keep Chilling Out

  1. Be Zen. E. g. I’ve found the old, “oh, you go first” kind of thing smooths the way a lot. I am not saying to not have your say and let everyone else win all the time. It’s just, ya kinda pick the hill you wanna die on, e. g. what’s really important. Stick to those guns. The others, not so much. E. g. getting into a shouting match and kicked off a site due to your hatred of the Designated Hitter Rule – even on a sports or baseball site – falls in the category of you’re probably overreacting and being really, really silly. I doubt that that is a hill most people would try want to die on. But defending your beliefs, fighting prejudice, etc.? Those are probably better hills.
  2. And the corollary to #5: controversial topics are controversial for a reason. They get under people’s skin and make them squirm. Be nice; don’t do that all the time. So try to engage people in other ways. There are plenty of people on Able2know who argue a lot about politics. I am not a fan of arguing politics. But we also get together and play Fantasy Baseball (talk about your Designated Hitter Rule). Or we swap recipes, or pet stories, or the like. But then, when a forum member gets sick or becomes bereaved, people who just argued till they were blue in the face turn around. And they virtually hug and offer tributes, prayers (or positive, healing thoughts) and words of comfort. And this user multidimensionality warms the heart. Over the years, people have gotten better at it. If someone’s really bothering you, it’s possible that, in other contexts, you’d get along. You might want to see if you can find some common ground, and other contexts.

Sing Along with Elsa and Let. It. Go.

  1. Know when to stop, or even let others have the last word. When I am really angry, I usually just withdraw. However, this isn’t a surrender. Instead, I’m tired and life’s too short. You do not become a smaller, or less worthwhile person, and you haven’t lost (whatever that really means, particularly on the Internet, ferchrissakes) if you walk away and wash your hands of things. You are entitled to call it quits on an argument or discussion.

Finally, I hope you learn from my insanity and my mistakes. Life’s too short to let it get to you too much!

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Hesitation Generation

Hesitation Generation

Hesitation Generation. So as I travel around then ‘net, I also take note of what is happening in my own backyard. What I have seen is an odd and somewhat disturbing trend.

I am the Project Manager for Able2know and in some ways it’s got its finger on the pulse. But, a caveat, the pulse is rather limited. This is a mere fraction of the web and therefore, by extension, an even tinier fraction of the world. Yet this is the world I know, and so I will report on it.

Relationships

A2K is a generalized Q & A website where people can post all manner of questions. The availability and quality of the answers varies greatly. Keep in mind: no one is paid to answer questions on Able2know.

Hence inquiries about voltage are generally answered with an admonition to hire a licensed electrician. Requests for medical advice are answered vaguely, and nearly always involve telling the poster to follow up with their personal physician. Inquiries about the law receive a nearly identical treatment, save for the advice to contact an attorney.

And then there’s relationships.

You don’t need a degree in psychology to be able to dispense advice. Anyone who appears to be clinically depressed is told to seek treatment. Anyone who appears to be abused is advised to leave, and to contact their local authorities.

But it’s the people in the middle who I’m talking about.

Communications

What does it mean when someone stares at you? What is a good idea for a first date? How do I ask someone out? How do I get someone to ask me out? And the saddest – how do I get over a heartache?

And it’s amazing to me (and it really should not be anymore) how many people are paralyzed at the thought of actually speaking to the object of their desire. They wait and think they are seeing signals, and then they ask what those supposed signals mean. It’s like reviewing the Zapruder film, frame by agonizing frame.

My advice is usually – ask.

  • How do you feel about me?
  • Do you want to go out for coffee?
  • Are you seeing anyone right now?
  • What would you like to do together?

So many of them thank me and promise they will ask (I have heard back from some, and  they tend to report either success or relief that they finally know).

But why the heck couldn’t these people have figured that out from the get-go?!?!?!

Back to Ike

It can be a little bit like the 1950s, where girls preen and sit by the telephone, waiting for Prince Charming  to deign to call – and heaven forfend he should take more than 20 minutes to get on the stick and call! And guys hem and haw about the most letter-perfect thing to say, when the reality is that the perfect thing to say is something, as that beats the pants off saying and doing absolutely nothing. The same is true in non-cis relationships, of course.

Hesitation Generation
Ubuntu Kitty Smart Phone Preview (Photo credit: j_baer)

I’m not so sure who that dynamic favors, except for the phone companies. Because minute numbers go sky high, and Facebook’s advertisers benefit as people check each other’s statuses and relationship statuses obsessively. And  then they get to serve yet more ads.

It seems as if everyone wants to fast-forward through the movie, and cut the suspense. Instead, all they seem to want is the sunset and the fateful kiss. Dorothy clicks her heels together before she ever leaves Kansas. And nobody seems to miss the Munchkins and the Wicked Witch and the Tin Man and the rest of the middle part. All that matters is the destination, and never the journey.

Risks

Something is missing here, and what’s missing is the taking of chances. I get that these are generally rather young people. The vast, vast majority of them are between the ages of 13 and 28. That 15-year span is the worst – it’s a combination of raging hormones and self-absorption. But nowadays that’s spiked with a seemingly inbred inability to take a chance. Plus it’s all fueled by the artificial immediacy of far too much social media.

Hesitation Generation
Risk (Photo credit: The Fayj)

Instead of risk-taking, everyone seems to want the risks scrubbed out of their lives. They want the endgame handed to them on a silver platter yet refuse to do even a smidgen of the legwork required in order to get there.

Sample Size

A caveat – this is, to be sure, a small group of people. Furthermore, they are self-selecting. Very confident folk are far less likely to request advice in any endeavor. Plus there is the age issue, as I have already mentioned.

People in their forties ask relationship questions, too, but those tend to be different. They are less about an initiation of connections and more about either reentering the dating pool or the dynamic of being a parent (or dating one) while in the game.

Upshot, Kinda

So, where does that leave us?

An inability to take risks does not bode well. It clouds decisions on everything from trying a new brand of fabric softener to consenting to an experimental drug trial. It colors employment and investment choices, and keeps people out of new business ventures and away from new books, films and music.

The upside, naturally, is that it may be preventing sexually risky behaviors. That’s a good thing, of course.

However, risks are often good, and a life without them is rather dull indeed. It can be mindless consumerism as people give themselves the same personal rewards over and over again.

The trick, as in all things, is to find a balance.

And now, a bonus.

How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?

Hesitation GenerationOne last thing – here, for free, is my standard heartache cure. Your mileage, of course, will vary.

 

 

 

 

  • Expect to feel lousy for a while, and understand that that is a natural reaction. Congratulate yourself – you were affected enough to really feel something.
  • Relationships often keep us from doing other things, such as seeing other friends. So spend some time with your friends.
  • Explore things to do on your own. Some are inward, such as making art or even baking cookies. Others are more outward, like taking a class.

More You Can Do

  • Fill up your time. Being busy gives you few opportunities to wallow in misery. Your boss is likely not without sympathy, but you still need to write the reports, etc. or do whatever it is that you do. Treat your leisure time a little bit more like a job, in the sense that you should make some commitments and stick by them. If your leisure time is to paddle a canoe, then paddle the damned canoe. Don’t back out of that.
  • Do something physical. Exercise can not only fill up your time, it can also help with depression.
  • Do something for someone less fortunate than you. Read to a blind person. Serve at a soup kitchen. Visit people in a nursing home. Volunteer at a group home. These actions don’t just help the community, they can also help you gain some sorely needed perspective.
  • Don’t jump into a new relationship right away. Being single does not have to automatically mean being lonely. This is a time to cultivate your inner resources.
  • If you think you need it – and in particular, if you are experiencing suicidal ideation – seek out the care of a professional. There is no shame whatsoever in getting the help that you need. If you need medical help to mend a broken heart, it should be no different from seeking medical help to mend a broken arm.

Enjoy the Bee Gees, Hesitation Generation.

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Facebook to Allow Users to Login with Less Info

Facebook to Allow Users to Login with Less Info

According to The Boston Globe,  Facebook announced in late April that, “its 1.3 billion users would soon be able to limit the information they reveal to other websites or mobile applications when they log in through their Facebook identities.”

Facebook
Facebook (Photo credit: Scott Beale)

The idea behind this move is to address users’ concerns about revealing their personal data just to check out a website.

The enormous social networking site is also considering making it possible for users to log into other sites anonymously.  That is, the login would be anonymous to the other site, but not to Facebook. Because, of course, Facebook wants to gather (presumably) anonymous data for the purpose of aggregating it and better understanding user behavior.

One of the reasons why Facebook has grown so enormous (1.3 billion users) is because it reveals such intimate details to online businesses. Likes are routinely scanned. Birth dates are revealed. Even photos and friend lists are sometimes shared with outside businesses. The aggregation of quantitative data (we are studying this at Quinnipiac, in ICM 524,  which is the Social Media Analytics class) is vital to any number of sites understanding people’s behavior on the web.

The truth is, any person who believes that any of their clicks are not being counted, timed, compared, or otherwise measured is in for a real surprise. They are.  And this is not necessarily any sort of a bad thing, I might add. For data to be best understood, there really does need to be an awful lot of it. And what better site to bring a lot of data than the behemoth itself, Facebook?

Caveat clicker.

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Quinnipiac Assignment 13 – ICM 552 – Right to Privacy vs. Right to be Forgotten

Right to Privacy vs. Right to be Forgotten

In 2014, a European Court of Justice ruled that there is a right to be forgotten on the Internet. Essentially, older information can be removed from searches if –

…the data appear to be inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive in relation to the purposes for which they were processed and in the light of the time that has elapsed.

The ruling is vague and passes the individual judgment calls regarding relevancy and adequacy from the courts to the search engines themselves. In practice, because of its dominating market share, this means that this European Court of Justice has almost ceded jurisdiction to Google.

There is no such ruling in the United States. As Jeffrey Toobin put it in The New Yorker

In Europe, the right to privacy trumps freedom of speech; the reverse is true in the United States.

But why?

The Balance Tips Toward Privacy

Quinnipiac Assignment 13 – ICM 552 – Right to Privacy vs. Right to be Forgotten
English: Courtroom at the European Court of Justice Deutsch: Gerichtssaal im Europäischen Gerichtshof (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Europe, the balance tips in favor of privacy (and at the expense of the freedom of written and oral expression) because of recent European history. On a continent where the memory of the Holocaust is still fairly fresh, courts are reminded that the Dutch government kept a comprehensive listing of its citizens. The list was gathered under utilitarian motives, in that there was a desire to maximize benefit, e. g. to provide a better delivery of social services. But when the Nazis came, they used that self-same list to track down Jews and Gypsies.

Furthermore, under Communism and its surveillance state, European individuals found their privacy rights being violated, particularly by the Stasi in East Germany. Personal information was used to harm individuals and to pry into their private lives. Hence there is an overall mistrust of data gathering.

The Balance Tips Toward Free Expression

The opposite is true in the United States. Here, where the Holocaust did not directly come, and where the history of free expression goes back to Peter Zenger, the balance spills toward free expression. There is no ‘right to be forgotten’ law in America, and it seems unlikely that such a right would ever become recognized in the law. Instead, the push is in favor of expression, and if a request for an article, image, or website to be taken down is made, it is made on a copyright basis. Aggrieved parties are encouraged to seek a remedy of asking a webmaster to take down an image, article, or link as a courtesy. Barring that, parties also will attempt to take over copyright and demand a take down that way. This was the strategy employed by lawyers when unauthorized photographs of actresses Kate Upton and Jennifer Lawrence were leaked.

When Worlds Collide

Or, at least attitudes do. Without a world court or global consensus about the Internet, Google and other search engines are going to have to comply with differing and potentially conflicting rulings about what can and cannot be indexed. As more courts get involved, and dissimilar legal philosophies are imposed, Google’s attempts to be in compliance will get more and more complicated. There is a very real possibility that search will splinter even more, and searchers in, say, Tijuana, Mexico would see different results from searchers 30 minutes away in San Diego, California. And, potentially, those searchers could cross the border and find suppressed (or not) information online.

For an international phenomenon like the Internet, this sort of parochialism probably won’t last long.

Quinnipiac Assignment 12 – ICM 552 – Privacy and Big Data

Quinnipiac Assignment 12 – ICM 552 – Privacy and Big Data

The Price of Handing Over an Email Address

Quinnipiac Assignment 12 – ICM 552 - Privacy and Big Data
The old MSN Hotmail inbox (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the best pieces of advice I ever got when I was first surfing the Internet and beginning to understand the online community was to get a private throwaway email address. The idea was to use an online provider (I originally used Hotmail, and then moved over to Yahoo!) and not give out the address my husband and I had gotten when we signed up for our Internet Service Provider, Brigadoon. Brigadoon is long gone, replaced by several iterations and that service is now provided, in my home, by Comcast.

Eighteen years later, the Yahoo! account is one of my primary email addresses. Although my husband still uses the Comcast address, I almost never do.

It was an odd thing, back then, to use a separate address. We didn’t do this offline, e. g. neither of us had a post office box. Was it an unreasonable push for privacy in a marriage where we had vowed to be open with each other? Or was it a reasonable need for a separate space, almost like a separate set of friends or a man cave?

Of course, as we began to be spammed, I learned why this was such a good idea.

Throwaway Email Addresses

In fact, I also learned that using Gmail was better for activities such as job seeking. Now my resume sports a Gmail address, even though I still read most of my email via Yahoo!

But the throwaway address itself has become a more predominant one for me. And so now I am finding I don’t like it quite so much when it’s put out there.

LinkedIn and My Email Addresses

Once again, LinkedIn is a bit of a bull in a china shop when it comes to email addresses. I currently have several addresses on my account, some of which are no longer active. However, if I attempt to apply for a job through the LinkedIn site, a drop down menu appears where my email address will be added. There is no opting out. You have to pick an email address to be sent along with your application, even though it’s possible to communicate on LinkedIn itself. Your telephone number can be altered or deleted, but not an email address. You have to send one along to whoever posted the job.

Does this compromise privacy? I think it does, as there are a lot of reasons why I might want to remain a bit hidden when applying for a job. Employers are able to post jobs anonymously, but potential employees aren’t being given that luxury when it comes to applying for those same openings. It’s just another example of potential employees and their possible future employers not being on anywhere near the same level.

And maybe, just maybe, LinkedIn should rethink this policy, and give job seekers an opportunity to hide themselves better, at least when the initial application goes out.

Quinnipiac Assignment 10 – ICM 552 – The Future of Big Data

The Future of Big Data

What is the future of so-called ‘Big Data’? Big data is defined as being characterized by a large volume of information being (or able to be) analyzed by computers in an effort to comprehend human behavioral patterns. More often than not, the behaviors that are being observed and studied are related to either spending or voting.

I spent over a decade of my career as a data analyst so here are my predictions. Come along with me and we’ll go to ten years from now.

Special Prices

The Future of Big Data
English: first-degree price discrimination Español: Discriminación de precios de primer grado (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Have you ever struck up a conversation with a stranger on an airplane? If so, then at some point, you might have compared what you paid for airfare. For your trip to, say, Albuquerque, you might have paid $450. Your seatmate might have paid $250. The people in the two-seater across the aisle from you might have paid via frequent flyer miles, and those miles might have been obtained via flights that cost $1,000 or as low as $100. What’s going on here?

Everybody on the airplane is subject to what’s called ‘first degree price discrimination‘, which, according to Adam Ozimek of Forbes, “involves charging every individual customer a price based on their individual willingness to pay.”

Now,  you probably would have preferred paying $250 to $450, particularly when it seems that your seatmate’s experience is identical to your own. But you might not have been given the opportunity to do so. Or maybe you were, either by the time you were booking, or where you were booking from (either your IP address or where you surfed in from), and you didn’t know it at the time.

But here we are, ten years from now. And guess what? First degree price discrimination is the rule, and not the exception. You go to buy groceries, and you are shown choices. Green bananas cost more than yellow ones, because you can store them longer, and so can the supermarket. A mixed salad costs more than the fixings not only because of the labor involved in putting it together, but also because you are willing to pay extra for the convenience. You are offered the choice between a whole chicken and one that’s cut into pieces. Combine it with broccoli and pasta and you’re presented with offers for soy sauce or tomato sauce, and the prices are dependent not only on what you paid last week, but also on your spending habits. Are you more likely to cook Italian or Chinese style foods? That will also determine which prices you’re offered, as will the supermarket’s stock and the expiration dates for the sauces.

You can really throw a monkey wrench into things if you step out of character and throw a party, and shop for it. Suddenly the system might think you have a dozen teenagers, based on all the pizza and chips you bought.

In some ways, it’s the electronic equivalent of an outdoor market. But instead of people haggling over rugs or spices, it’s the use of big data, as the supermarket attempts to predict what you’ll pay, what you’ll buy, and what will keep you coming back. How do you beat it? Current conventional wisdom is to clear cookies, surf privately, and be patient and watch for changes. But what if you need it now? And what if this is all happening in the grocery aisles or at the checkout counter? About the only things you can do are to pay in cash or put your purchases back, thereby opting out completely.

More Unfairness

Here we are, still ten years from now. And there’s even more social stratification. The rich are richer. The poor haven’t budged much. The middle class is even more squeezed. Why?

This is another issue with big data – biases. So much attention is paid to the quantity of data that its quality can sometimes be overlooked, as can its relevance, or the reason for the quantity. Take the tweeting that goes on after a disaster. During the manhunt for the Boston Marathon bomber, all sorts of tweets came from Boston and Cambridge. But how many tweets are there currently about a tsunami (these disasters often occur in poorer countries, although not always) and Germanwings?

The bias is heavily in favor of more tweets about the Germanwings air disaster, versus an unspecified tsunami. When just looking at raw numbers, Germanwings looks like a far more important news story. But is it? Or is it just being tweeted about more because (a) it’s new (as of the writing of this blog post) and (b) it happened in the West, where there’s more use of Twitter?

The Future of Big Data
Mentions of Tsunami on Twitter versus Germanwings, data taken from Topsy, March 31, 2015.

It’s a bit of a selection bias, too, as readers might select or retweet information about the Germanwings crash as they’ve heard of it, and then more retweet and it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy that the information will continued to be spread at a more rapid rate than news of tsunamis.

Ten years from now, we might not even notice the selection biases going on around us, or that we ourselves have made. After all, we’ve told Facebook or its successor, and all news outlets, that news about, say, dolphins, is important to us. Hence we are served up more and more tales of dolphins, whereas stories of famine or elections or the like aren’t served up quite as quickly as we, and a statistically significant portion of our peers, continue to choose fluff pieces and familiar storylines over hard news, particularly if it’s about faraway places.

Make Big Data Smaller

How do we get off this train? Let’s come back to the present time. Let’s deliver hard news even if it’s not necessarily requested, because it matters. Let’s make pricing more transparent to consumers. And let’s look for reasons for data quantity and popularity that go beyond numbers. Just because there’s more of something, doesn’t make it better or more important. It just means there’s more of it.

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.

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”

Of Ice Buckets and Virality

Of Ice Buckets and Virality

You have to be on another planet (or, offline) to not know about this. It has, most likely, been covered in the mainstream offline media by now (I don’t watch a lot of television, and I have not yet seen it in newspapers, but that does not mean it is not coming).

I am, of course, talking about the terrifically inventive charitable idea du jour –  The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

English: Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis MRI (pa...
English: Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis MRI (parasagittal FLAIR) demonstrates increased T2 signal within the posterior part of the internal capsule and can be tracked to the subcortical white matter of the motor cortex, outlining the corticospinal tract), consistent with the clinical diagnosis of ALS. source:Radiopedia.org and case (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On July 31st of 2014, Pete Frates, who has ALS, challenged some celebrities, including New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, to what would become known as the ice bucket challenge (note that the challenge already existed, per the linked article, but the concept did not begin to gain viral social media traction until July 31st) . The premise is simple – either donate $100 to ALS research or douse yourself with ice water. You’ve got 24 hours and, once you’ve done either (or both), challenge at least three more people. The idea spread virally. A lot of people were pleased to see something other than Gaza and Ferguson in their news feeds.

ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) is a serious medical condition for which there is no known cure. It is a disease of the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that control voluntary muscle movement. ALS is also known as Lou Gehrig‘s disease. Complicating matters is the fact that there are only about 30,000 or so people in the United States who are known to have it. Hence big drug manufacturers aren’t pursuing cures, as such cures and research are not profitable enough. It is essentially an orphaned disease.

But let’s get back to the challenge.

Purpose of the Challenge

I can come up with five purposes, and probably three (maybe four) of them were not the original ones.

  1. Raise money for ALS research
  2. Boost awareness of the disease
  3. Lean on drug companies to pressure them to work on developing a cure
  4. Lean on politicians to push them to pressure drug companies or perhaps pass laws subsidizing or otherwise encouraging research into orphan diseases
  5. Hire a celebrity spokesperson (or more than one) to advocate for the victims of the disease

The challenge performs the first two tasks perfectly. Either you pony up the funds or you get soaked – and that’s all done on camera and is uploaded to social media. Most people reveal their choice on Facebook, which has 1.4 billion users. The last three purposes are the kinds of things that this sort of attention can be used for. I do hope the big folks in ALS research don’t squander this opportunity, and try for all three.

Why is it Viral?

The challenge hits about every mark when it comes to virality. Here are some reasons.

  1. It has a strong visual and auditory appeal. The dousing, the screaming, or even smug people signing checks and getting doused anyway – don’t underestimate how much humor there is in seeing someone getting their (allegedly deserved) comeuppance.
  2. Humor is one component to virality, or at least it is one of the elements that is somewhat more likely to be present when any piece of media goes viral. By definition, the flipping of super-chilled water onto anyone’s head is going to be funny.
  3. Another component that is often present in viral media is uplifting images, text, and actions. This is why Upworthy does as well as it does. When people write a check instead of dump water, they hit this mark instead. Either way, if they speak a bit about ALS and what it’s like, they also hit this mark.
  4. Timing – initiating the challenge in January would not have worked as well. While people have been answering polar bear-style challenges for years, if you want to go viral, you want the majority to participate, or at least believe that they might want to participate. Selecting the month of August was brilliant, as this is either the warmest or second-warmest month in most years in the Northern Hemisphere. That is, the hemisphere where people are, in general, more likely to be wealthy and more likely to be online. In short, these were the people most likely to either participate in the challenge or at least watch videos of it and read articles (like this one!) about it.
  5. The second piece of timing is how it came when so many people had seen a lot about Gaza and Ferguson, as I stated previously. For many, the challenge was a welcome bit of good news in an otherwise dreary Dog Days of Summer media landscape.
  6. There is an element of daring in it but, except for the elderly (Sir Ian McKellan notwithstanding) and the gravely ill, it’s not really dangerous. But do watch out for slippery floors. Yes, there are already blooper videos out there (many of them are NSFW; Google is your friend if you’re interested in such things).
  7. Virality is baked right into it. One aspect of the challenge is to call out at least three other people and challenge them. Furthermore, they have 24 hours to respond either way. Hence you have added three more names (although the names begin to repeat after a while, so the trebling of participants stops after a while, eventually shrinking a lot closer to a doubling of participants. The duplication of names is also more likely because most people run in somewhat small circles where their neighbors, friends, family members, etc. are shared. The 24 hour time limit plays very well into most people’s demands for more and more and different entertainment to consume, on daily, hourly, or even minute by minute basis.
  8. Social media has shaped a lot of our behaviors, and the ice bucket challenge plays nicely into how ordinary people are finding out that they are now entertainers online. They have followers, and they are beginning to understand that they need to provide content for their followers. This is why so many people are obsessed with taking selfies, or Instagramming everything they eat or wear – they know they need to provide content, but they’re stumped as to what to provide! The challenge provides a perfect prompt.
  9. The involvement of celebrities added a cool factor. The involvement of politicians – and the whole thing was bipartisan – allowed a way for political rivals to talk to each other. After all, who could be against trying to defeat a horrible disease?

The challenge has even spawned parodies and copycats. There’s the rice bucket challenge in India, the rubble bucket challenge in Gaza, and the Orlando Jones bullet bucket challenge. It’s a helluva clever campaign, and deserves all the props it’s been getting.

Upshot

Amusing and upbeat, the challenge has, as of the writing of this blog post, raised over $50 million for research. Please give generously and, in the meantime, enjoy Bill Gates getting drenched.

Bruins denounce Twitter Hate

Bruins denounce Twitter Hate

According to USA Today,  the Boston Bruins organization quickly moved to denounce the racist tweets that surfaced in 2014 when Canadien PK Subban scored a winning goal against the black and gold in overtime.

Bruins denounce Twitter Hate

In a statement, Bruins President Cam Neely said, “The racist, classless views expressed by an ignorant group of individuals following Thursday’s game via digital media are in no way a reflection of anyone associated with the Bruins organization,” 

Twitter is, I feel, a wonderful medium. But it also has a capacity for speedy publication of half-thoughts. It seems, sometimes, to be a nearly perfect medium for rapid fire hate speech. What, if anything, could be done? How could something such as this incident be prevented in the future?

Subban was targeted for his race. Certainly Bruins fans were angry about their team’s unsatisfactory outcome. Yet the response was absolutely and completely out of proportion to the offence. In fact, it was thoroughly misplaced. Disappointed sports fans of course have the freedom to speak their minds. There is really no law or rule against becoming emotional, or even incensed. Many, many sports fans have perhaps overly deep emotional investments in their beloved teams. But this was different. In this instance, Subban was set apart, isolated, and attacked for not the color of his jersey, no. Instead, Subban was the subject of Twitter fury due to the color of his skin.

What did Martin Luther King say? That he had a dream that, someday, his children would be judged, not for the color of their skin, but for the content of their character. Unfortunately, that day is not quite here yet, it seems.

What do YOU think?

 

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