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Quinnipiac Assignment 05 – ICM501 – Impression Management Online

Impression Management Online

I am one of many people who were born before the Internet existed.

Impression Management Online
Permanent Record: Al in the Box (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It can be a bit comforting to know that any youthful indiscretions are not on record anywhere. It’s not on file. You know that whole thing about, “This is going on your permanent record?” That doesn’t exist.

Or, at least it didn’t used to exist. Now all bets are off.

With the dichotomous public/private nature of online interactions, people seem to think that they’ve got privacy when they have anything but. A confession to a forum isn’t going to be shared with Google, right? A chat room cyber session won’t end up copied into a Word document, yes? And a quick topless photo on Snapchat won’t be saved as a screen shot, right?

Not so fast.

The persistence of digital memory is something that Stacy Snyder knows all too well. As Rosen, J. (2010, July 21). The web means the end of forgetting. New York Times.[Link] said, “When historians of the future look back on the perils of the early digital age, Stacy Snyder may well be an icon. The problem she faced is only one example of a challenge that, in big and small ways, is confronting millions of people around the globe: how best to live our lives in a world where the Internet records everything and forgets nothing — where every online photo, status update,Twitter post and blog entry by and about us can be stored forever. With Websites like LOL Facebook Moments, which collects and shares embarrassing personal revelations from Facebook users, ill-advised photos and online chatter are coming back to haunt people months or years after the fact.” (Page 1)

What is amazing to me is that the image of Snyder that gave her such problems was of her drinking alcohol when it was legal for her to do so everywhere in the United States (she was over the age of 21 at the time). She was not driving. Snyder was not engaging in unprotected sex (at least not in the image in question). She was not providing alcohol to a minor. Yet the image, of her in a pirate hat and drinking from a plastic cup, with the caption, ‘Drunken Pirate’ was enough to get her school to deny her a degree – and a federal district judge agreed.

Innocence?

In addition, it could have even been ginger ale in that cup. All that mattered: it appeared that “she was promoting drinking in virtual view of her under-age students.” (Ibid.) Perception trumped everything else. Reality, apparently, was of no matter. And the fact that the consumption of alcohol is legal throughout all of the United States (even in dry counties) for those of us who are of age? That part doesn’t seem to matter, either.

So online life has other characteristics and other consequences. As Boyd, d. (2007). Why youth (heart) social network sites: The role of networked publics in teenage social life. In D. Buckingham (Ed.),Youth, Identity, and Digital Media (pp. 119-142). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. [PDF] noted, “I argue that social network sites are a type of networked public with four properties that are not typically present in face-to-face public life: persistence, searchability, exact copyability, and invisible audiences. These properties fundamentally alter social dynamics, complicating the ways in which people interact. I conclude by reflecting on the social developments that have prompted youth to seek out networked publics, and considering the changing role that publics have in young people’s lives.” (Page 2)

Public

So what Snyder did, or didn’t do, was less important than the fact that it ended up online. Boyd’s enumeration of the chief characteristics of social networks lays out the pitfalls well. In addition, Boyd states, “These four properties thus fundamentally separate unmediated publics from networked publics:

  1. Persistence: Unlike the ephemeral quality of speech in unmediated publics, networked communications are recorded for posterity. This enables asynchronous communication but it also extends the period of existence of any speech act.
  2. Searchability: Because expressions are recorded and identity is established through text, search and discovery tools help people find like minds. While people cannot currently acquire the geographical coordinates of any person in unmediated spaces, finding one’s digital body online is just a matter of keystrokes.
  3. Replicability: Hearsay can be deflected as misinterpretation, but networked public expressions can be copied from one place to another verbatim such that there is no way to distinguish the “original” from the “copy.”
  4. Invisible audiences: While we can visually detect most people who can overhear our speech in unmediated spaces, it is virtually impossible to ascertain all those who might run across our expressions in networked publics. This is further complicated by the other three properties, since our expression may be heard at a different time and place from when and where we originally spoke.” (Page 9) (Ibid.)

One More Issue

I would argue that there’s a fifth component that Boyd is missing. Although it’s possible this did not become a major factor until after the Boyd article was written. And that is malleability. Content these days is altered in all sorts of ways. It’s done for fun, or to make a point, or even to commit malice. Photoshop an underage student next to Snyder, and she’s got an even worse problem on her hands. And if she was intoxicated enough to not recall the finer details of that evening, then she might not even be able to defend herself from what would essentially be libel. The Photoshop artist, along with the school, is her judge and jury.

The internet is her character’s executioner.

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Quinnipiac Assignment 04 – ICM501 – Search and Algorithmic Surfacing

Search and Algorithmic Surfacing

In Google We Trust

We trust Google. Or, at least, it seems that way.

Quinnipiac Assignment 04 – ICM501 – Search and Algorithmic Surfacing In Search Engine Society (pp. 85-117).

Cambridge, UK: Polity Press. [Library Catalog Entry | Posted to “Course Materials” on Blackboard], Lavais says, “In examining how adolescents search the web, one research study (Guinee, Eagleton, & Hall 2003) noted their reactions to failed searches. Searchers might try new keywords, or switch search engines, for example. One common reaction was to change the topic, to reframe the question in terms of what was more easily findable via the search engine. The models of search suggest that searchers satisfice: look for sufficiently good answers rather than exhaustively seek the best answer. Because of this, the filters of the search engine may do more than emphasize certain sources over others; they may affect what it is we are looking for in the first place. It is tempting simply to consider this to be poor research skills – or worse, a form of technical illiteracy – but simple answers do not fit this complex problem.” (Page 87)

Whether we search for a local pizza parlor or the best place to go on vacation or for a gynecologist, search engine rankings and how webmasters address Google’s complicated algorithm all shape what we see. Inevitably, we end up trusting these results. Yet are they the best possible results? I would argue that they often are not.

Bestsellers and White Hats That Might Be a Little Grey

Consider the case of New York Times bestselling authors. Google the term new york times bestselling author, and you’ll get the actual list and two Wikipedia entries and then you’ll get the website of Carly Phillips. Just below that is a Forbes article about how to buy your way onto the list.

Wait … Carly who?

I went through the first ten pages of results (further along than most seekers would) and didn’t see JK Rowling, George RR Martin, or Stephen King. I do not believe it is search fraud or any other form of black hat SEO. As was written by Battelle, J. (2005). The search economy. In The search: How Google and its rivals rewrote the rules of business and transformed our culture (pp. 153-188). New York: Portfolio.  [Posted to “Course Materials” on Blackboard], “Among the first-tier companies – Google, Yahoo, Microsoft – search fraud is already taken extremely seriously, and efforts to combat it are intensifying. ‘We’ll never rum a blind eye to this,’ says Patrick Giordani, who runs loss prevention at Yahoo’s Overture subsidiary. ‘Our goal is to stop it all.’” (Page 188). Like I wrote, I don’t think that’s what is happening here.

Getting There is Half the Battle?

If Phillips can get to the top of search rankings, then more power to her, assuming that she gets there using white hat techniques only. But just because she hits the top of the search results says nothing about the quality of her prose or even the number of times she’s hit the New York Times bestseller list.

The New York Times bestseller list was, for years, considered to be an objective measurement of popularity. But not necessarily quality. However, when EL James (author of Fifty Shades of Grey) doesn’t make it to the top ten pages of search results, that means something. When Phillips gets there via search engine magic, it says more about the quality of her SEO than of her fiction writing. For seekers who accept the first few results without question (albeit possibly after rewording their searches a few times), the algorithm pushes content to them that isn’t necessarily truly serving their interests. And, much like we saw with recommender systems, that might even be driving users’ reviews and maybe even their personal preferences.

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Quinnipiac Assignment 03 – ICM501 – Copyright & Copyleft—Intellectual Property Online

Copyright & Copyleft—Intellectual Property Online

Copyleft? Way back, when intellectual property was fairly siloed, and hard to copy, it was not that difficult to assert copyright. Actors and actresses plied their trades on stage or the big or small screen but the best anyone could do in terms of copying them was to either take a bunch of still photographs or pretend to behave the same way. Music could be replayed, or maybe recorded onto a reel to reel recorder or even a cassette. Books could be laboriously copied by hand or photocopied.

No Confusion

Copyleft
English: Cartoon about free culture, intellectual property and Internet Piracy. Found on The Pirate Bay in late February / early March ’09. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In all of these instances, the quality was extremely poor. The gulf was so great in terms of beauty and readability, not to mention access to distribution channels, that it was obvious which was the original and which was the copy. The pale imitations really couldn’t make any money. Artists were pretty safe.

Things Have Changed

Then came the Internet. As Boyle wrote, in (2008). The Internet threat. In The public domain: Enclosing the commons of the mind(pp. 54–82). New Haven: Yale University Press. [Link|Whole-book PDF], “The strength of intellectual property rights must vary inversely with the cost of copying. With high copying costs, one needs weak intellectual property rights if any at all. To deal with the monk-copyist, we need no copyright because physical control of the manuscript is enough. What does it matter if I say I will copy your manuscript, if I must do it by hand? How will this present a threat to you?

There is no need to create a legal right to exclude others from copying, no need for a ‘copy right.’ As copying costs fall, however, the need to exclude increases. To deal with the Gutenberg press, we need the Statute of Anne—the first copyright statute—and the long evolution of copyright it ushered in.” (Paragraph 20)”

Simplicity

Complicating matters is the fact that not only is copying simple, and widespread distribution a snap, but audiences are less inclined to be pure ‘audiences’ (e. g. listeners) in the first place. We tend to not passively consume content anymore, like we did as recently as the last century.

Instead, we mix and match and mashup and grab. This revolution in content experiencing has brought with it a desire to redo and remake much of what we see and hear. It’s not enough to lay down the opening riff of Rick James’s Super Freak into MC Hammer’s U Can’t Touch This. These days, people photoshop Justin Bieber’s face into the Bad Lip Reading version of Game of Thrones, which of course is a YouTube video that scrubbed the original sound and added new lines, and edited and spliced together unrelated scenes, sometimes adding modern touches like a bullhorn for Sean Bean.

Quinnipiac Assignment 03 – ICM501 – Copyright & Copyleft—Intellectual Property Online

Borrowing

Baio, in his video (2013). Reuse [Video]. Presentation given at Portland/CreativeMornings, Portland, OR. [Link], cites Zach Barth of Infiniminer, who said, “The act of borrowing ideas is integral to the creative process. There are games that came before Infiniminer, and there are games that will come after Minecraft. That’s how it works.”

Baio further uses the Harlem Shake as an example of sampling – it’s been sampled several times and it is even a sample of a song that contains a sample of an even earlier song.

To Baio, the fan fiction writers and photoshoppers who add “No copyright infringement intended” as captions to their creations are not only not protected from suits, but their efforts to shield themselves are somewhat clumsy. Putting their creations online invites lawsuits. But cover songs are different and don’t need explicit permission. Instead, it’s just a quick fair use type of license. I found a way to do this for $15 via Limelight: https://songclearance.com/

Copyleft?

Ironically enough, this mashup, copy, and reuse model is reminiscent of the kind of society that John Philip Sousa warned was going to die away when radios came onto the scene. As Larry Lessig noted in his 2007 TED talk on laws that choke creativity [Video]. Presentation given at TED2007, Monterey, CA. [Link], he says that John Philip Sousa was afraid that we would stop being a read-write culture and turn into a read-only culture losing its creativity and left with only top-down creativity.

In the 20th century, a lot of our culture was passively receiving content. These days, we remix (this is different from piracy, as it’s a change in content to say something new) in a manner that in many ways harkens right back to Sousa’s time.

Remixing

Why is it ostensibly better for remixing and repurposing to go on at home and not in the greater world? Perhaps every teenager has – or knows someone who has – made up some sort of song parody at one time or another. They may have written or read fan fiction, or retold a fairy tale or fable for an acting class. They may have worn a Halloween costume that spoofs a fictional character in some fashion.

Why does it turn into a problem when the fan fiction is posted on Wattpad, or the images of the Halloween costume go onto Instagram, or the song parody or fable retelling makes it to YouTube? Certainly some of these are concepts that are under the public domain, but not all of them are.

Artistic Ownership

As a writer, I certainly don’t want to see my creations copied. This is why I am working with a publisher in the first place, to be somewhat protected by their Legal Department and to benefit from their experience and their Marketing Department. But as someone who has also read a great deal of fan fiction, I can see the side that would prefer opening up copyright a bit more, or at least would assure that mashup artists would be recognized as just that, as artists, instead of being hounded as copyright infringers and plagiarists. Is there a middle ground? If there is, I’m not so sure I can see it just yet.

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Quinnipiac Assignment 02 – ICM501 – Regulation & Resistance

Regulation & Resistance

One of the hardest concepts for the legal field to grasp, it seems (at least in America) is the concept that something might be out there, and it might not be subject to any real sort of regulation. The Internet and the world of computers can often be strange places, anyway, and attempts to regulate them can make them appear even stranger.

Consider the TIVO case, where a rival was found to be infringing on patented technology. Without so much as a by your leave, data was wiped from users’ hard drives. Yet not one door was knocked on, and no one was asked to turn their hardware over or anything of the sort. Instead, like a thief in the night, users’ data was simply wiped. No fuss, no muss.

No harm, no foul?

And what did the users think? Had they even read and/or understood any information they were given about this wholesale wiping? How many users complained about lost data? Did any shrug and blame the technology, not realizing that what had happened was all a part of a legal settlement?

If the technology had not existed, or at least had not been so easy and clean to implement, what would have happened instead? Certainly it would have been harder to enforce the settlement. But that’s been the case for the hundreds (if not thousands, by now) years of jurisprudence. Settlements, court orders, and judgments often aren’t so easy to implement. That is not necessarily such a bad thing. Convenience isn’t always a benefit.

Consider Regulation

As Lessig, L. (2006). What things regulate. In Code: Version 2.0 (pp. 120–137). New York: Basic Books. [Link |PDF] points out, “We should worry about this. We should worry about a regime that makes invisible regulation easier; we should worry about a regime that makes it easier to regulate. We should worry about the first because invisibility makes it hard to resist bad regulation; we should worry about the second because we don’t yet—as I argue in Part III—have a sense of the values put at risk by the increasing scope of efficient regulation.” (Pages 136 – 137)

What happens to our society when it’s fast and easy to just jigger OnStar and listen in on conversations? Do we lose something when we can grab camera footage from tollbooths and match it to license plate images to names to Facebook accounts to tax rolls online? Do search warrants look like yesterday’s news? Or are they needed more than ever?

As early as November of 2003, the FBI was already trying to use OnStar as a surveillance device. cNet reported at the time that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled that the FBI could not use OnStar that way.

Regulation & Resistance
Seal of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But the finding wasn’t based on privacy concerns; it was contractual, as in the usage was not a part of the generalized agreement between car owner and OnStar provider (General Motors).

In 2011, OnStar felt the need to go to YouTube to reiterate to their customers that they can’t listen in without a customer knowing about it. They further explained that customers can always opt out.

More Centralization

Centralized control of electronics isn’t confined to just TIVO and OnStar. Appliances are also becoming the kinds of consumer goods that are black boxed, and made more difficult for the average tinkerer to repair or even understand. I have little electronics knowledge, yet I can set up a PC or a printer, and I can swap out a battery. What happens when even these more simple tasks are relegated to only a centralized control system? Of course the first thing that can happen is to charge for every sales call, and monetize basic repairs and upgrades.

As Zittrain, J. L. (2008). Tethered appliances, software as a service, and perfect enforcement. In The future of the Internet and how to stop it (pp. 101–126). New Haven: Yale University Press. [Link | Whole-book PDF | Other Formats] says, “A shift to smarter appliances, ones that can be updated by – and only by – their makers, is fundamentally changing the way in which we experience our technologies. Appliances become contingent; rented instead of owned, even if one pays up front for them, since they are subject to instantaneous revision.” (Page 107)

Cultural Shifts

What is most fascinating to me is that we have become a far less tractable culture. We aren’t passively consuming entertainment and information as much as we are now making it. We are content creators, many of us, rather than being content watchers and listeners. Yet this push to centralize appliance and consumer electronics repairs and upgrades seems to fly in the face of that. But Zittrain said it best, “In a world where tethered appliances dominate, the game of cat-and-mouse tilts toward the cat.” (Page 113)

Centralizing repairs and adding a kind of black box-style mystery to computers and similar devices is the kind of thing that happened with automobiles about a century ago. According to Kline, R., & Pinch, T. (1996). Users as agents of technological change: The social construction of the automobile in the rural United States. Technology and Culture, 37(4), 763–795. [Library Link], “In addition to providing a stationary source of power, cars found a wide variety of unexpected uses in their mobile form. Farm men used them as snowmobiles, tractors, and agricultural transport vehicles.” (Page 776)

But people don’t do that anymore; at least, it’s not so common outside of the Third World.

Takeaways

And so some good questions to ask are – is our ingenuity being squelched in worship of the almighty god of convenience? Is our liberty being compromised because law enforcement doesn’t have to get its hands quite so dirty, or take so many risks? What are we losing in the process?