Author: hannahkotto

Digital Abuse Not Limited to Social Media

We’ve all heard about people experiencing abuse in online social platforms, but did you realize it happens in professional digital spaces as well? I’ll say I’d honestly never thought about it until this past week when I attended Sara Perry’s Gender & Digital Identity talk at the CDEP’s Fourth Annual International Symposium on Digital Ethics last. Perry is the Director of Studies of Digital Heritage at the University of York, and her talk focused on how abuse in digital media occurs in professional settings.

Perry’s research included conducting a survey of nearly 400 individuals, both male and female, in 250 different professions. A third of all participants, across all disciplines, reported some incidence of inappropriate or uncomfortable interactions in a professional capacity online. Additionally, participants noted that most of these perpetrators where known offline. Perry designated four categories for these incidences: personal attacks, professional attacks, general badmouthing, and sexual/physical/racist attacks. Of the respondents, more women admitted to receiving sexual/physical/racist threats while more men reported professional attacks.

Perry went on to mention specific quotes from the surveys she received. One woman responded that “harassment and the ever present threat of harm” has had such a huge impact on her life that she’s “erased [herself] online.”

Perry noted that less than 3 out of 5 respondents indicated that they had taken action against abuse online, and those that did take action mostly did so independent of someone else’s support. The most common reaction reported was to disregard to the communications entirely.

What I found most concerning, but not necessarily surprising, was the reported institutional non-response. Perry discussed how most institutions have no policies in place regarding digital abuse in professional settings, and the majority of institutions simply ignore the problem entirely.

Perry attributed some of this non-response to the stigmas surrounding cyberbullying, especially in professional settings. She mentioned a quote from Audra Mitchell, a fellow University of York lecturer, that online abuse “is most certainly not part of ‘what we sign up for’ as academics. This kind of behaviour would not (we can only hope) be tolerated on campus, a conference or any other workplace, but when it happens online, its victims are expected to simply put up with it.”

So where do we go from here? The number of responses and the details of their experiences online can be discouraging, but Perry and other academics have proposed some possible solutions. Perry mentioned Kate Clancy’s proposal for developing cross-institutional codes of conduct instead of one-off policies that are implemented and patrolled independently. By broadening and standardizing these codes of conduct, it removes pressure from institutions to craft and monitor their own individual policies while hopefully creating more protection and greater support for individuals who are facing these digital attacks.

While I hadn’t really considered the state of professional digital interactions, Perry’s research findings do seem to reflect the general digital landscape in terms of gendered abuse. The reality of abuse on social media is widely discussed today but I think few realize that it’s not just limited to social platforms.


(I Think) I Understand That

I think I can safely assume that the majority of my classmates’ blogs posts this week about LambdaMoo can be boiled down into “I just don’t get it.” It’s a totally alien experience for most of us, and I agree that it was a bit strange.

However, I think I do get it. I can definitely see the appeal of an interactive, text-based community in which your experiences can be as unique as you choose. That doesn’t mean I was any good at it though. It was frustrating at times because I wasn’t familiar with the language necessary to play. Although it only requires simple commands in English, there was still a significant communication barrier at times.

This happened more than once.

This happened more than once.

While I haven’t quite got the mechanics down yet, I did enjoy my time on LambdaMoo. The closest experience I can liken it to would be a digital choose-your-own adventure book that is ever expanding and ever customizable. In many ways it felt like I was just reading and exploring spaces I’d constructed in my own head. When you read, you take in physical descriptions and synthesize them into some sort of image in your mind. The LambdaMoo experience is just the same. So even though it is technically only interactive in a limited way (i.e. just text input) I think the environment you can imagine for yourself is infinitely personalizable in that you create your own visuals. Other video games may allow you to run and jump and shoot, and they may have awesomely detailed graphics, but the more information that is presented to you outright, the less you can ultimately input.

One particular adventure.

One particular adventure.

Douglas Rushkoff argues that “our digital experiences are out-of-body,” but, especially in regard to my LambdaMoo experience, I would disagree (2011, p. 85). This was an entirely “in-body” experience in that it was all me, all in my head. I was reading the text provided and creating my own little imagined world, bringing my personal thoughts and experiences into that space. All of the things I’ve ever seen, read, and thought about help to inform and populate my little world, and no one else online can experience the exact same thing.

I can’t really speak as to the community of LambdaMoo because I didn’t interact with anyone “real”, as far as I am aware. That was definitely one confusing aspect, determining what was an actual person and what was just part of the game landscape. Overall though I’d say it was a positive experience. I could see myself getting sucked into the rabbit hole and losing a few hours if I tried to play again, so I’ll approach with caution.

Rushkoff, D. (2011). Identity. In Program or be programmed: Ten commands for a digital age. Berkeley, CA: Soft Skull Press.

Big Data

This past Wednesday I visited the Chicago: City of Big Data exhibit at the Chicago Architectural Foundation. I was pleasantly surprised by how interesting and interactive it was. The main focus of the exhibit was how data is collected and put to use in an urban environment.

I was really interested by the “Your Block: Revealing Chicago’s Data Infrastructure” display. It outlined the variety of methods used to collect all kinds of data, from fire, water, and river sensors, to speed cameras and energy meters.

Evernote Camera Roll 20140926 151237

This display mentions a dozen different ways data is collected in urban environments.

As a history lover, I also really liked the several displays that offered a look at Daniel Burnham’s 1909 Plan of Chicago and how data has been collected and used to adapt these plans, including the development of Lake Shore Drive.

I took an interactive quiz that accompanied the “You: Your Data Trail” display, and (no surprises here) my results said I am a “social butterfly.” Basically, as an active social media user, my interests and activities are freely available to marketers, so companies have a fairly easy time directing relevant content to me.

Evernote Camera Roll 20140926 151238

How many ways do you share data about yourself daily?

As an avid Twitter user, I was really intrigued by the display about what information tweets can offer besides the 140 characters themselves. “What Can 6,922,484 Tweets Tell Us About Livability” posed the question of what makes a place livable and how it can be analyzed by social media activity.

As a general optimist, I think the continual growth in data collection technologies and analysis offers great opportunities for the future. I’m not sure I’d go as far as to say it will ever be a utopia, but I think there’s a lot of room for good to come of it. I don’t know where the line gets drawn, but I say that as long as the endless amounts of data being collected daily is put to use in improving the world around me, I’m fine sharing it. Where do you draw the line? What drawbacks to you see to this constant accumulation of data?

Skinny Thoughts

I love Twitter, unabashedly. I check it when I wake up and right as I’m going to bed. I endlessly refresh my timeline throughout the day, on my phone and my laptop (and sometimes both at once, I admit). Some days it even feels like I think in 140 character chunks.

My timeline is a mix of all kinds of people, from close friends to casual acquaintances, journalists to news outlets, corporations to parody accounts. I like to see a little bit of everything in my feed, so I do my best to avoid what Eli Pariser calls “filter bubbles.” However, some would argue that my attempt to keep my information intake wide open falls flat.

While preparing for this post, I came across this rather relevant thought from Stephen Colbert.

While the hashtag adds a bit of humor to the message, the statement still has a valid point. It calls to mind the words of Nicholas Carr, who wrote the following in regards to the ever-evolving way we take in new media: “My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.”

I agree with Carr that the way we take in information is changing, but I would argue it’s not a necessarily bad thing. The 430 Twitter users I follow provide me minute-by-minute with a wide range of topics to ingest, all from varying viewpoints, but admittedly that’s only because I’ve set it up to be so. If we don’t take advantage of the opportunities technologies afford us, there’s not much of a point in using them.

Now that being said, I don’t always practice what I preach, especially in regard to what David Silver calls “thick” tweets. I praise Twitter’s ability to spread all kinds of information and share diverse points of view, but I do love a good pun or a cat picture.

My attempt at a “thick” tweet.

It didn’t last very long.

I’d also like to push back a bit on the definition of “thick” tweets. Just because a tweet has several links, mentions, and hashtags, doesn’t mean it’s necessarily more informative than a “thin” tweet. I’ve often scrolled past a dozen “thick” tweets, instead favoring the ones with funny quips or thoughtful observations.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve avidly followed along with someone live tweeting a situation, eagerly awaiting the next update (whether newsworthy, like Ferguson, MO, or amusing, like that weird dude on the train).

I think there’s a lot of power and potential in  “thin” tweets, if used effectively. Like Julian Dibbell says, “by forcing users to commit their thinking to the bite-size form of the public tweet, Twitter may be giving a powerfully productive new life to a hitherto underexploited quantum of thought: The random, fleeting observation.”

So what do you think? Are formulaic “thick” tweets automatically better than well-thought out “thin” ones? Do links make a thought more important?

Where in time is new media?

I can’t recall my very first encounter with a computer, but the most vivid memories of my early computing experiences feature one woman—Carmen Sandiego. I spent hours hunting that devious thief throughout all sorts of historical periods, never managing to catch her in the end. For anyone who did not moonlight as a pint-sized sleuth in their childhood, I’m referring to Carmen Sandiego’s Great Chase Through Time, a 1997 reboot of a 1989 point-and-click adventure game. (A cursory Google search shows that it’s still available for purchase on Amazon, so if anyone has a spare PC running Windows 98, you’re all set to join in the fun.)

Where it all began for me: my first great computing love.

This was probably about the same time my oldest brother got his original Playstation, the very first video game console in our house. Of course, being the youngest sister, I wasn’t allowed to use it without explicit permission and supervision by my brothers (and Crash Bandicoot is just not as fun by yourself anyways). So, after extensive whining, my parents got me Carmen Sandiego, something I was able to play on my own with little assistance.

Although at the time I didn’t think much about it, looking back at these experiences now I can see how astounding new media truly are. In The Network Society, Jan van Dijk characterizes new media as being integrated and interactive. Integrated refers to the structure of new media; at the most basic level, data is combined as text, images, and sound into one medium. Carmen Sandiego was the first video game I ever encountered, but what I viewed as a toy was really a sophisticated piece of software. The interactivity of the point-and-click style game, despite being limited in comparison to today’s understanding of the term, provided me with hours of entertainment.

Reflecting now on how enthralled I was then by such a relatively simple piece of technology makes me think about young children today who have grown up around all this new media their entire lives. In the late 1990s and early 2000s I was generally aware, despite being young, that things like AIM, iPods, and cellphones were new, exciting types of media. I wonder if kids today have that same kind of feeling. Does a 6-year-old playing on his mom’s iPad realize that the new iPhone is “the next big thing”? Are they even aware that there was a time when we weren’t constantly surrounding by new and evolving technology?

Then again, haven’t we always been surrounded by new media in some way? All things were new once, from smartphones to cassette tapes to telegrams; maybe kids today aren’t as different as I thought.


Hannah Otto