Author: mabennett136

Fond of cheese, wine, and Magellan.

Defining Digital Ethics

Sara Perry, an anthropologist at York University specializing in prehistoric and visual archeology, talked at the Center for Digital Ethics Fourth Annual International Symposium on Digital Ethics about the relationship between gender and digital culture. She has had personal experience with online harassment, especially sexual online harassment, and discussed her research on harassment in the professional academic sector. Many times people associate online harassment as being anonymous, where online strangers contact victims and act behind a digital mask. Perry’s experience, and her research on online harassment in the academic sector, contradicted this generalization. Stereotypical faceless perpetrators were replaced by coworkers and colleagues, people Perry saw every day and interacted with frequently. Worse yet, Perry and other victims were at a loss on how to solve these problems due to a lack of tools in stopping/preventing the harassment from continuing as well as absent or aloof institutional support/intervention. Perry’s situation, and the situations of so many others, is extremely relevant due to the increased participation of professional academics in using new media, as encouraged by their respective institutions. This “exposure of their professional identity”, as Perry describes it, leads to greater risks.

The utopian ideal of new media continues to be broken down by cases such as Perry’s. The Internet is an “unruly and wild” place, Perry quoted. This can take away from the element of productivity the Internet has, as much as it encourages it. Where this becomes the most evident to me is in the lack of action taken to stop online harassment, by the victims and by institutions. Perry resolved her online harassment problem by ignoring it, but is this a truly resolved solution for this situation? The world of new media is complex and not completely explored. We are all still learning the ropes, navigating the waters of digital spaces with blind instincts. While we are sailing around, the waters are only expanding. This unbalanced-ness leads organizations to respond to problems, such as online harassment, with an aloofness that can be misinterpreted as apathy. Just as Susan Etlinger, an Industry Analyst with Altimeter Group, recommended to do with big data and Burcu S. Bakioglu, a postdoctorate fellow in New Media at Lawrence University, recommended to do with virtual worlds, a code of ethics needs to be drawn out and defined. Institutions need to make a decision on how to respond to these types of situations rather than drown in their complications. For as much as they encourage the use of new media, institutions need to be responsible and regulate their employees’ misuse.

As much as new media gives power to strangers and the faceless, it also gives power to the familiar and those in close proximity. I used to think the Internet was dangerous because of the walls between the communicators and the under-exposure a user can have. After Perry’s talk, though, I realized the Internet is a dangerous place because of the hyper-exposure it gives users. New media requires a certain amount of trust among users, as you publically post your identity into a digital space accessible to many. This trust can be broken just as easily as it can in the non-virtual world.


Dara Byrne, an associate professor in the Department of Communication and Theater Arts at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, discussed her research on digital vigilantism. Specifically she discussed the Nigerian email, 419 scam, and the 419 Eater‘s response to such Internet scams. Byrne relates this community to other digilante communities like Anonymous and Perverted Justice. Born from the online fraud that scammed millions of dollars from its victims and rallied together by the lack of swift legal action from the Internet Fraud Complaint Center (IC3) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the 419 Eaters created a website promoting the ideas of punishment and justice against Internet scammers. Inside of this community, Byrne found “The Trophy Room”. Designed to display the scammers in positions of punishment, the Trophy Room was littered with compromising photos. The 419 Eaters validated their work as “scamming the scammer”, using the body as a vessel for justice and punishment. Within this community, Byrne also found a social element. Community members can earn points based on the trophies they receive, measured by the level of punishment inflicted on the scammer. Byrne described this as the 419 Eaters taking control over the definition of what is right and wrong in pursuing criminals.

Tapping into the ideas of surveillance and control, the idea of a digilante is a controversial one. The federal government has its own deficiencies in responding quickly and delivering swift justice to criminals, but when is it okay for a third party to step in? For something like the 419 Eaters, their response came from a legitimate need by the victims of the Nigerian email scams. Their message of justice, though, conflicts with a true idea of retribution and melds more along the lines of revenge.

Run by pleasure, the 419 Eaters encourage a selfish idea of justice. In a pornographic sense, the community members get back at scammers by using the same techniques the scammers used against the scam’s victims. They force the scammer to manipulate their physical body or pose in compromising position with photographic evidence of their legitimate identity. They spread fraud further through the online communities, only this time using it for their own personal benefits. Essentially, no one is gaining any ground in stopping the scams from happening. They continue the idea of a scam rather than eradicate it. It is as if they don’t see scamming as the problem, but the fact that they were the ones to get scammed as the issue. This does not prevent any other people from falling victim to the 419 scam or even decrease the spread of the 419 scam. Their intention for justice seems skewed if the ultimate result is not a prevention of the 419 scam. The fire fueling the 419 Eaters community will keep on burning and the trophies will keep stacking higher.


John Thomas, the director of editorial content at Groupon and former editor of, spoke on his experiences working as a journalist in the online community. Focusing on what it means to be an editor in the digital world, he discussed online correctional policies, or lack thereof, in major websites. He admitted to witnessing websites post articles without going through the required processes of vetting and fact checking as they would for print articles. He discovered major news sources did not have online correctional policies for their online posts, which reach international audiences. He recognized the access people have in being able to personally review products, whether it’s the latest beauty product or highly regarded literature. He summarizes this by commenting on the existence of a new standard in journalism, where the individual determines the guidelines of online ethics. He brought up the example of the Chicago Tribune’s special section of their website titled “Mugs in the News”, dedicated to posting all mug shots in the news, regardless of conviction status. The Tribune is given free access to these photos, meaning they are posting these shots on their website purely for the commercial reasons of gaining more traffic.

Since when did posting something online make it not worth as much as print? Some people get their news purely from online sources. Others spend a majority of their day flipping through articles in order to pass time. I am one of them, using major news apps like CNN in order to update myself on current events. Twitter feeds provide real time updates to news stories and I can take articles anywhere with me on my mobile device. People from around the world read online articles. The idea that the articles posted online are scrutinized less than print articles and deemed as purely commercial endeavors goes against the basic principle of journalism as a system of education for the masses. News already steers towards emotional responses when they can, favoring the heartstrings stories over factual updates. Something like the Tribune’s “Mugs in the News”, though, incites people to stereotype and maybe even take matters into their own hands like Dara Byrne’s digilantes. News no longer can be a source of trust. Without news, the world goes fairly blind.

The Internet has been there to give people a voice, but when does it start taking others’ away? From something as simple as a young elementary-schooler’s review of War and Peace on Amazon to the complicated mess of GamerGate, the Internet is one large forum and opinion sharer. A person has to weed through fact and opinion, because the Internet is full of both, but the line is often blurred. Opinions are heard more than fact, due to their sting or ridiculous content. Thomas draws attention to the shift of online information, once regarded as factual, towards a more emotion inducing, opinionated posts. The digital world is still a legitimate world and should be treated as such. As it seems with most of the talks given at the Symposium, online correctional policies should be defined, created, and enforced. New media cannot be ignored, but it can be improved.



Whenever a new security camera or red light camera pops up in the city, people quote George Orwell’s 1984 and start joking about “Big Brother” watching over us. The exhibit, Chicago: City of Big Data, and the walking tour, both hosted by the Chicago Architectural Foundation, showed me that Big Brother is not only watching, he’s listening.

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From tracking tweets about food poisoning to keeping tabs on how its citizens move around, Chicago is using data in many different ways. Most of them seem productive, highlighting health problems and alerting proper city officials about residents’ concerns. The process for investigating foodborne illness transmission can be expedited. Rodent-infested areas can be targeted. Potholes can be discovered and patched up. For major metropolitan areas, where residences can stretch across 234 square miles, this helps keep the approximately 2.7 million residents happy.

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Data has always been important to urban areas, even smaller towns and villages. The architectural tour commented on how Daniel Burnham used to send letters back and forth with request after request for information, all to help in his urban planning design process. He wanted to create an effective and efficient city, which meant actually listen to what the city was trying to tell him that it needed.

Isn’t that the point of city officials? Isn’t Rahm Emanuel supposed to be in the mayor’s office listening to what his city wants and helping make those wants possible? Data helps the overwhelming amount of voices in this city get heard by the right people who can have a solution.

It’s only when the city starts labeling areas, by determining the demographics, where I feel the utopia starts to fall away. Sitegeist is a mobile application, available for download in the Google Play Store and the App Store, using publicly available information to show the user demographics for their current location. It seems as if the application was meant to help users get to know the neighborhoods more, including recommendations for local hangouts and restaurants, but the app includes more data than that. The app goes deep enough into public information as to show political contributions residents in the area have made. This reminded me of Eli Pariser’s TEDTalk on “filter bubbles” and how his Facebook feed slowly changed to include only liberal article posts rather than conservative. Sitegeist allows the filter bubble boundaries to include your neighborhood. Advertisements and the types of stores that open up can be screened to fit with the demographic profile. As convenient as that may seem, it also limits what you see and keeps you at a one-dimensional view.

There are a lot more Big Data projects happening in Chicago. Array of Things, an Urban Center for Computation and Data project, reminds me of the high frequency sonar detector from The Dark Knight. In the film, Lucius Fox reluctantly allows Batman to use a sonar device, which uses mobile phones to create a real-time map of Gotham City. It has been a couple of years since I saw the movie, but I remember the phones were used as a means to hear and see everything that is going on simply from accessing the audio capabilities (speakers, etc). The Array of Things uses sensor boxes to collect data, in real-time, about the surrounding area. One category of data collected is pedestrian traffic flow, where the sensor boxes recognize the presence of mobile devices from their signal emissions.

Check out these other Big Data sites:

Open City Apps

Urban Center for Computation and Data

WBEZ: Chicago Public Data

City of Chicago: Data Portal

Which programs do you find interesting? Which would you use?

Which programs could you do without?

Is there any you see as an invasion of privacy? As a filter bubble generator?

Are you surprised that Chicago is this involved with data?

More than a hashtag

Before reading Silver’s article on The Difference Between Thick and Thin Tweets, I thought of Twitter as a place to be sarcastic about my life in 140 characters or less. I would always add a witty punchline at the end, crafting a perfect joke into something short and without punctuation so it can follow a hashtag symbol. Outside from my friends, I only chose to follow the accounts of people who were funny and of newscasters as well as major news sources. I wanted my Twitter feed to only be filled with current events, from CNN to Rolling Stone Magazine, and jokes, from Adam Devine to Modern Seinfeld. I would read these tweets while on public transportation, figuring out what is going on in the world and simultaneously laughing at it.

My first thought to Silver’s definition of what constitutes a thick tweet was that these are the tweets I usually skim over. When something doesn’t grab my attention right away, I scroll. If something looks like it uses all 140 characters in a cluttered way, I scroll. This “Internet prowling”, as Rich describes in his article Literacy Debate: RU Really Reading?, is not meant to replace reading a book. I’m not expanding my creativity with a fiction novel or having an internal philosophical debate with Plato’s Symposium. I simply use Twitter as a way to quickly stay informed and temporarily entertained. I am taking advantage of the Internet’s ability to give to me different points of view and in a shorter amount of time than it would take me to get that information from a book.

I never realized that I could be the tweet someone clicks on in order to look at an interesting article included among the 140 characters. I was always doing the clicking. From one source to the next, I filled my transit time by jumping from one spot on the web to a different one. My tweets never included anything more than an “@” or a “#”. I didn’t link to the pages I was looking and reacting to. It’s not that I didn’t want to share what I was seeing with my twitter followers, it’s just that the thought never occurred to me to use Twitter in that way. Which is ridiculous, because now I see that Twitter in the perfect platform for posting a short reaction to an article you just read. I like how Zachary Sims, quoted in Rich’s article, describes the Internet as more of a conversation. Thick tweets are a perfect example of that. 140 characters opening up a discussion with your Twitter followers. 140 characters encouraging thought, debate, and reaction.

When do you catch yourself skimming over tweets? Whose tweets are they? What do they look like?

Did you find yourself using Twitter in a more conversational way after posting your thick tweets?

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I also found an article from last year, on Twitter’s advertising blog, about how mobile devices are connected to the use of Twitter. This blog post breaks down mobile users into statistics and includes commentary for advertisers. This opens up a whole new discussion, but since we had been talking about “filter bubbles”, I figured it was relevant to see how marketing direction changes based on how users interact with these platforms.

Taking From The Internet

When I saw the translucent, orange or blue, oddly squared Macintosh, my immediate thoughts would turn to computer games. Stocked with educational puzzles disguised in an underwater universe or a spy world, computers were not introduced to me as a tool to get homework done. Rather, it was the hour or so within the school day that I actually looked forward to. Computers were exciting. They didn’t feel like real school, with paper and pencils and lists of multiplication tables. The computer games used all of my problem solving, mathematic, literary skills, but in a new digital environment. These were single person games, though, encouraging fights between peers or siblings over who got to control the mouse and who had to look at the screen over a shoulder. Computers didn’t become a community for me until I started using email, AIM, and MySpace later on.

As I grew into the Internet, everything became continuous. It wasn’t only school that spread outside of the classroom, it was my friendships. It was my favorite movies and TV shows. My favorite books. History classes required daily news articles to be brought in, from online, to bring us all up to date on current events. After the school bell rang, I still had access to all of the people I saw in school on email, AIM and MySpace. I could go on FanFiction websites for my favorite movies, where the characters and story continued on where the VHS or DVD left off. Before computers, these kind of connections existed, but in a digital world it was now all at my keyboard and not something I had to wait longer than a dial-up tone for.

In the early stages of Internet, I was a taker. I found websites, articles, games and I took them to become a part of my life. The Internet was personal, because I could take whatever I wanted. It was all right there for me to grab.

I wonder if my habits have shifted to become more of an Internet contributor as I’ve gotten older. Have you all seemed to shift more towards contributing to the Internet in any ways? What can be considered Internet contributions? Posting pictures on Facebook contributes to the Internet, as well as comments on YouTube videos or news articles or BuzzFeed posts, but how can that be measured against a blog post or an article? How does this relate to the personalized aspect of New Media?

I also found this New York Times article about growing up with technology and it’s relationship to distraction and procrastination. How do you feel your relationship to technology first started out as a kid and how have (or haven’t) you changed? Are you disinterested in classes now if the professor does not use some form of technology or new media?