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Author Archives: Bridget

The US Message Board & Online Anonymity (Phase 1) With Link to Final Project Blog

// Posted by Bridget on 04/14/2012 (5:09 PM)

Click here to visit my final research project blog…

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Throughout this semester the topic of online anonymity keeps resurfacing in different avenues of the digital landscape. In my project, I have immersed myself in the US Message Board website.… Read more

Click here to visit my final research project blog…

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Throughout this semester the topic of online anonymity keeps resurfacing in different avenues of the digital landscape. In my project, I have immersed myself in the US Message Board website. The US Message Board is an online political forum that includes many different categories of politically related topics (such as: politics, religion, healthcare, conspiracy theories, race/racism) as well as more miscellaneous/general topics (such as: sports, food and wine, etc). While some users can choose taglines that reflect pieces of their assumed-to-be-real names, most choose fictional tag names, incorporating to some extent the idea of anonymity.

Many people critique the educational value, or lack thereof, of discussion forums like US Message Board. During my digital travels, I have been reading discussions while thinking about the following questions: What causes people to feel this way? Do users accredit their posts’ information or educational background? How do users interact and are discussions advanced? How does the idea of anonymity play into the discussions? Would they be different without it?

When I began my immersion in the US Message Board (USMB) site, I began by reading their “Rules & Regulations”. While the overall tone of the page at times appeared humorous and sarcastic, there were basic rules that they regularly enforce. Among them: linking information to sources (citing), no pornographic/obscene/indecent images, all users share the right to express their own beliefs/faiths/opinions, and every user must not reveal personal contact information about themselves or others (full name, address, phone number, and e-mail address). This page ends with, “Currently whipping the hamsters to keep things running.” In a way, USMB acts a little like 4chan – except it doesn’t tolerate porn. Every user utilizes an anonymous identity, and they can say whatever they want (though USMB doesn’t tolerate as much language as 4chan does). After reading these rules and concluding USMB members might be like 4chan users, I braved myself for some low-level educational value in the discussions. However, the topics on USMB actually hold relevance and importance; unlike say the “Sexy Beautiful Women” category on 4chan.

Since the USMB features so many different discussion topics, I decided to narrow down my investigation to the current debate over taxes. The discussion titled, “So people who earn a million a year pay a lower tax rate than the middle class” has been my latest investigation. While the first post presented how much a person earning a million dollars a year would pay in income tax versus a person earning fifty thousand dollars, shutting down the seemingly naïve claim of the discussion topic. Then you get someone commenting about how most Americans do not pay their fair share, then comes a user commenting “Obama bin lying…”. This combination of substantial, “fact” filled posts with random comments that don’t seem to add anything has appeared to be a common pattern in USMB discussions.

However, I have found (much to my surprise) many posts that seem to contain factual, relevant information that sparks questions and feedback that advance the conversation (not always the original discussion topic, but the current conversation of the board). Contrary to the USMB’s Rules and Regulations, many of these statistics, “facts”, or quotes ever appear to be cited to referred to another source. How can I accept these claims to be true? Many of the USMB users seem to either agree with other users’ uncited claims – perhaps by either knowing them to be true (if it could be considered general tax knowledge) or by blindly accepting and trusting their community’s members.

That being said, there are some comments by users who seem to have the untrusting reader in mind. One user provided links to various news articles, providing a point of information he summarized below each. While you didn’t have to agree with his conclusions, the sources he was basing them off were there for you to see. This brave user was consequently shut down immediately by the next user who picked specific points from the various articles to dismantle the other user’s claims. Poor guy.

While people like Stewart Brand envisioned online communities to be a place of trust, growth, and educational expansion, I cannot confirm this ideal for the USMB – at least not yet. While many opinions are made on the site, the replies seem to most often spark a back and forth bashing of different viewpoints, never opening up the table for compromise or an understanding of opposition.

In a series of negative reviews of USMB, retired users explain how much the site has changed since they initially began using it. The changes described remind me much of what many of the hackers we read about in Vanity Fair. Many of the USMB users became trolls and hackers who threatened other users via private messages with physical violence – including rape. Other threats were made verbally (well typed) with obscene language, which is tolerated on the site due to users’ protest for “freedom of speech”.

As of now, it seems my original doubts about anonymous online communities being a place for positive educational growth have been mostly confirmed. While I, like retired users, admit to many discussion posts containing educational, worthy information, sometimes it seems these posts are overshadowed by the hackers who use it for harm or uneducated users who post solely to undermine opinions not aligned with their own.

In the next phase of my project, I want to explore more discussions on taxes in other digital spaces. I will compare discussions utilizing anonymous identities versus real ones. How will the discussions be different? Will people be more concerned with citing their sources in an effort to legitimize their comments? Will people be able to criticize other posts as easily as they do in the USMB? My thoughts now are that when people post under the anonymous mask (and without source references), they feel much more confident and free to write whatever they wish, while users utilizing a true identity take more precaution in their online posts.


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The Possibility of Social Media

// Posted by Bridget on 03/24/2012 (10:34 PM)

While purusing various TED talks, I came across a very interesting and relevant one to the current issues we’ve been looking at. Clay Shirky (author of Here Comes Everybody) gives a very interesting talk called “How Social MediaRead more

While purusing various TED talks, I came across a very interesting and relevant one to the current issues we’ve been looking at. Clay Shirky (author of Here Comes Everybody) gives a very interesting talk called “How Social Media Can Make History.” In this talk, Shirky uses the event of China’s 2008 earthquake to illustrate the immense power of social media. Before news channels were even aware of this monumental event, Chinese citizens were using their phones to upload news in pictures, video, Tweets, etc. This instantaneous communication between people and larger media networks shows the huge power social medias (that we often take for granted) give us.

However, news of the earthquake was not the only issue transferred via social media networks at this time. When the earthquake happened, many schools collapsed, killing many children. Upon further investigation, Chinese protests formed among citizens in response to the horrific truths that were revealed – approved by officials, schools were being built to less than code. Huge protests began, and social media was not only censored by the Chinese government, but shut down completely.

Do you think we (our generation of Americans) will ever learn to utilize social media in a way to communicate news or protest? Or, do you think the mass majority of us will continue to utilize sites like Twitter for our own entertainment. If the government stripped our social media access, like China did, would we change the way we use them? Would we feel differently about social media networks and how we use them? While the United States is a very free nation, especially with regard to our Internet capabilities, many countries (notably China) limit their citizens’ accessibility to the web. Maybe we shouldn’t take sites like Twitter (which proves to be a very powerful communication tool) for granted, or only use it for leisure purposes, when other people may depend on it.


Categories: Uncategorized

Online Identities

// Posted by Bridget on 03/03/2012 (10:30 PM)

I came across a very interesting article and video featuring 4chan’s creator Chris Poole discussing his take on online identities, and in specific how Facebook and Google portrays both. He claims Facebook is a space where your online identity… Read more

I came across a very interesting article and video featuring 4chan’s creator Chris Poole discussing his take on online identities, and in specific how Facebook and Google portrays both. He claims Facebook is a space where your online identity is also your online identity, while the other online identity is based on anonymity, which often frightens people, thus influencing social media sites to base themselves on the “Facebook-ensue” identity. However, Poole makes the very good point that Google + “circles” and Facebook “smart lists” failed majorly in focusing on the importance of audience, and that social media should really focus on the user and who “they share as.” This is because Poole reinforces the fact that we are very multi-faceted people with multiple identities, and sites like Facebook limit a user’s idea of that by providing a “one-size-fits-all” method to expressing identity. However, he praises Twitter for their portrayal of identity by applauding the use of “handles” rather than full names (as Facebook does) and how a user’s Twitter page is interest-based, representing one facet of a user’s identity. Ultimately, Poole suggests the complexity of our identities is what characterizes our humanity, and as the line between online and offline is becoming increasingly blurred, us humans face a rather trying dilemma. He calls to not only producers, but users of the web, to utilize and seek social media platforms that focus less on a mirror-image, single lens identity, and a “right” one.

Also, check out this related article….


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Punishing Digital Criminals

// Posted by Bridget on 02/28/2012 (11:32 PM)

Today, an interesting article headlined Wired’s website. Police in four South American countries arrested 25 participants in the Anonymous collective for alleged attacks on Columbian and Chilean websites. These attacks were tracked back to 2011. The article presents a… Read more

Today, an interesting article headlined Wired’s website. Police in four South American countries arrested 25 participants in the Anonymous collective for alleged attacks on Columbian and Chilean websites. These attacks were tracked back to 2011. The article presents a very interesting point – that people committing crime digitally, or via the internet, need to start being concerned by the possibility of tangible punishment. The Internet may not be as truly anonymous as we once thought it to be. Digital criminals are now at very much the same legal risks as other criminals. Perhaps theft in the form of a house robbery may be equally weighed to identity theft and information hacking online by courts. What does this mean for the future? As we learned from the Stuxnet situation, things occurring via the Internet and other digital technologies are no longer some intangible, “unreal”, distant concept anymore. As our world advances and progresses, we are continually integrating these technologies into our own physical lives. This is blatantly seen in the physical arrest of Anonymous members committing crimes on the Internet. The Internet, as well as many other technologies, is being involved more and more in our everyday lives. We need to treat them, as well as the actions we take with them, as tangible pieces of our lives. That being said, our technological responsibilities are becoming every bit important as our physical responsibilities.


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Humans vs. Computers

// Posted by Bridget on 02/04/2012 (4:59 PM)

In the last few pages of Turner’s From Counterculture to Cyberculture, he critiques all of the cyberspace revolution with the simple but powerful claim that the computer-based systems theory can only be applied to humans until a certain extent. In… Read more

In the last few pages of Turner’s From Counterculture to Cyberculture, he critiques all of the cyberspace revolution with the simple but powerful claim that the computer-based systems theory can only be applied to humans until a certain extent. In other words, humans will always have unpredicted actions with their ability to have free will. In this link, you are able to play the human in the game of Rock-Paper-Scissors-Shoot against a computer. With the “novice” level, the computer plays against you randomly, assuming having never played against a human before. However, with the “veteran” level, the computer plays against you at a level of having gained 200 rounds worth of experience playing against humans, observing their actions and predicting future outcomes. When I played against the computer though (at veteran level), I was surprised to see I beat it far more many times, and we often tied. So as statistics and probability can be used to observe human behavioral patterns, computers can never fully guess our actions – ever. So perhaps Turner was right after all, treating humans like computer-based programs is simply impossible, we are far too radical for them. Computers are based on systems, predictions, and patterns. Humans, however, are seemingly very random. Our emotions play into our actions, and vice versa. Computers do not let such human occurrences get in the way of their performance. Regardless of if this is a positive or negative aspect, Turner’s completely legitimate in his criticism. No matter how much we observe human behavior, computers can never fully conquer humans, as demonstrated in the game.


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Today’s Communes: Intentional Communities

// Posted by Bridget on 01/30/2012 (4:48 PM)

In a 2007 USA Today article, author Judy Keen writes about today’s communes, claiming in her title “Thriving communities no haven for ‘deadbeats’ “. While hippies of the 60s and 70s are largely associated with drugs and free love,… Read more

In a 2007 USA Today article, author Judy Keen writes about today’s communes, claiming in her title “Thriving communities no haven for ‘deadbeats’ “. While hippies of the 60s and 70s are largely associated with drugs and free love, the people living on communes today are far from those categories. In fact,

“Environmentally conscious living for people of all ages is the new ethos. Even the label ‘communes’ has fallen from favor. Call them ‘intentional communities.’ “

These intentional communities do resemble the older hippie communes with the following: a “longing to get back to the Earth…a nostalgia for peace”. Indeed, these intentional communities hold nature very essential to their existence, keeping farming at the center with eco-friendly practices in place.

Many of the members of these intentional communities actually have jobs in towns or cities apart from their homes, demonstrating the co-existence of the technology-rich urban atmosphere with the nature-focused, farm-centered intentional community environment. This differs greatly from the 60s and 70s communalists, who shunned urban, corporate life in mostly all of its entirety (besides technology). Being a communalist back then meant giving up the typical, “acceptable” lifestyle to work towards the higher countercultural ideals. Conforming in any way to typical society meant compromising goals, and thus being rejected from true, devout communalists. However, today’s communalists often prove to be functioning, contributing members of society, while going home to a society that looks towards a different kind of society in the future.


Categories: Uncategorized

The Revived Hippie Culture

// Posted by Bridget on 01/30/2012 (4:08 PM)

While Ali makes a great point in her post “New Hippies?” that the stereotypical hippie still exists today (though fairly rarely), I think traces of the hippie culture we associate with the 1960s and 1970s’ counterculture are very

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While Ali makes a great point in her post “New Hippies?” that the stereotypical hippie still exists today (though fairly rarely), I think traces of the hippie culture we associate with the 1960s and 1970s’ counterculture are very visible in today’s Occupy Movement. This movement’s website clearly demonstrates the need for revolution and a change in the world – aspects very prominent in the counterculture of the 60s and 70s. Even in the website’s section titled “#HOWTOOCCUPY”, the “O” in occupy features a human fist, much resembling the fist used by African-Americans in the Black Power movement. These features are just some of the many of the Occupy Movement that are reminiscent of the “old” counterculture.
The Occupy Movement’s website also imitates aspects of the WELL network, utilizing a discussion post forum in which users can publish views and opinions related to various topics concerning the movement. This retro network forum symbolizes the community ideals held by counterculturists of the 60s and 70s. These community ideals are apparent in the Occupy Movement as a whole, bringing Americans of all races, ethnicities, incomes, genders, and ages together under a common goal towards a more economically and socially equal society. Perhaps the fact that the participants in the Occupy Movement represent a wide-ranging spectrum of people suggests that it has revised the 60s and 70s counterculture beneficially (in contrast to the very visible “exclusion fever” present in countercultural movements at the time).
Moreover, some of the physical aspects to Occupy Movement “campgrounds” located in target cities, such as Zuccotti Park in New York for Occupy Wall Street, resemble the communes that existed (and some that Ali points out still exist) in the 60s and 70s. As many of the Occupy movements take place in very urban settings, parks provide a stark contrast between the targeted audiences that reside in corporate buildings and the “99%” that protest from and (sometimes) live in (tents – resemblant of the communal geodesic domes) green, nature-oriented parks. The nature-focused aspect of a park suggests the call for a world in which life is less corporate(or building)-focused. Often, the actual inhabitants (or participants who stay in the parks) of the Occupy movemnts resemble the traditional, stereotypical hippie. However, the members of the Occupy Movement who live in the tents represent only a very small portion of the entire Occupy community that protests for the great change. While the Occupy members may be grouped under this hippie-looking-tent-occupier stereotype, their diversity and massive size (mentioned in the beginning) proves Occupiers are far more than that.
Although I focused the previous points on Occupy Movements taking place in the United States with Americans, the Occupy craze has spread globally. As of today (January 30, 2012), there are 2,853 Occupy communities worldwide. (To see more details click here) This movement promotes the international spread of its ideals through facilitating organization of different Occupy meetups and communication among those participants. This connection-oriented feature of the Occupy Movement is another resemblance of Brand’s WELL.
To go back to my original comment, it seems as though hippies (not restricted to our stereotypical 60s and 70s hippie figure) exist today in greater numbers than we might have first thought. The Occupy Movement is a clear example that brightly glows with resemblance and similarity to the 60s and 70s counterculture in all of its glory.

Occupier

Occupy Wall Street

Occupy Wall Street


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Exclusion Fever

// Posted by Bridget on 01/20/2012 (2:39 PM)

Fred Turner’s From Counterculture to Cyberculture not only provides an accurate history of the Whole Earth Network, but also convincing arguments discussing both its positive and negative aspects. With the ultimate hope of a Utopian future, participants in the counterculture… Read more

Fred Turner’s From Counterculture to Cyberculture not only provides an accurate history of the Whole Earth Network, but also convincing arguments discussing both its positive and negative aspects. With the ultimate hope of a Utopian future, participants in the counterculture that blossomed in the late 1960s embraced the ideals of psychedelics such as LSD. The high provided by such drugs allowed one to see things differently, feel liberated from the looming nuclear (and by association Communist) threat, have an individual yet communal experience, and have enlightened thoughts. Stewart Brand – one of the most influential participants in this counterculture, as well as creator of The Whole Earth Catalog, genuinely worried about losing his identity as he grew up in the 1950s, a period characterized by containment, anxiety, and fear. This desire to actively seek, secure, and improve one’s identity was very common among active supporters and members of this counterculture, and more specifically the Whole Earth Network.

Stewart Brand

While the liberal concept behind the Whole Earth Network might seem attractive at first, Turner has persuasively provided legitimized criticisms for this “way of life” Brand created. The following five points are representative of Turner’s critique:

  1. Members disregarded and ignored racial issues
  2. Traditional stereotypical masculine and feminine roles were enforced and continued
  3. Communalists acted as colonizers
  4. Members ignored the current Vietnam War
  5. Members utilized mainstream culture yet denounced it at the same time

The first point is especially intriguing. While the members of this counterculture envisioned a peaceful Utopian environment that was all-inclusive and welcoming, practically all of them were white Americans. The vast majority of this white crowd was young, well educated, intelligent, and wealthy. Without blatantly vocalizing racist views, the homogenous members all demonstrated an adherence to them. In The Whole Earth Catalog itself, only white men and (sometimes) women were pictured. This ignorance of other races proves to be even less liberal and progressive given the time period, when the fight for Civil Rights had just gained major publicity and attention. However, the members of the Whole Earth Network weren’t the only exclusive group at the time.

From 1960 through 1975, a revolution was occurring known as the Black Arts Movement (BAM). This site (Perceptions of Black) provides a detailed background of the movement as well as Black art images and excerpts from texts relevant to BAM debates. As the introduction points out:

“Advancing African American liberation through self-determinacy and, in time, Black Nationalism, the ‘Black Power Concept’ directed African Americans to separate from mainstream (understood as white) society to determine ‘who are black people, what are black people, and what is their relationship to America and the rest of the world’ ”

The BAM intentionally excluded the black community from the rest of America in order to find their identity and place in the world after suffering through a history of belittlement, injustice, and discrimination. It aimed to achieve this goal through the encouragement and demonstration of Black Power. Simultaneously, white men and women in the Whole Earth Network were excluding themselves most obviously to communes where they too sought to find their identities, in fear they would lose them.

Although both movements held very different (perhaps even opposing) reasons for their quests for identity, they shared the same common goal. They also excluded their respective groups from the rest of society not supporting them (or those not members of their respective in-groups) – for the BAM it was non-black America; for the Whole Earth Network it was practically white Americans not fitting the majority stereotype detailed earlier as well as individuals of other races, etc. While both movements may have had aspects that are seemingly liberal, open-minded, and welcoming, their actions proved to be quite the contrary. Both the Whole Earth Network – representative of the 1970s counterculture – and the BAM fell victim to the same illness that has driven problems throughout all of history – exclusion fever.


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