Tweetbombs, Community Guidelines, and Slacktivism, oh my!

Periodically I like to clean out my safari reader and my email and archive some of the more useful links that I’ve marked or emailed to myself. Today, I found some links about tweetbombs and the ethics of attention, The Nation and their new community guidelines policy and the subjectivity of slacktivism. These links are all from the month of April and all concern ethics and social media, two big interests for me in my own engagement with troublemaking.

The Tweetbomb and the Ethics of Attention

A blog post by Ethan Zuckerman.
In this article, Zuckerman reflects on the ethics of using twitter, specifically tweetbombing, to get the attention of key celebrities/personalities. He recounts how World of Warcraft gamer “Athene” and his targeted Xeni Jardin by sending her tons of tweets about “starving children in the horn of Africa.” When she tweeted back that the tweets “were not cool,” especially because they clogged up her feed and prevented her from engaging in her ongoing conversations with other twitter users about chemotherapy and living with breast cancer, the tweetbombs became increasingly abusive. Zuckerman wonders about the ethics of attention and how twitter users and Twitter (as a company and administrator of the platform) should/can address the issue of tweetbombing and the problems with demanding, not just requesting, the attention of others on twitter. This article is useful for learning more about the history of tweetbombing. And, as an added bonus, Zuckerman repeatedly describes the unethical actions of Athene and the twitterbombers he enlisted as those of “assholes.” Nice. Might be helpful with my own project of the troublemaking ethical imperative: Don’t be an asshole.

Community Guidelines: The Nation

A page on The Nation’s website.
I follow The Nation on twitter and couldn’t resist checking out the tweet they posted yesterday on their new community guidelines. While I haven’t done that much research on community guidelines/comment policies around the interwebs, I have been interested for some time in how various organizations/sites grapple with ethical issues concerning the management of online communities and conversations. (For example, yesterday, I mentioned Pinterest’s “be nice” rule in my blog post.)

Some interesting points that I found on their description:
1. They call people out for the classic, “I’m not racist, but…”

We do not welcome homophobia, sexism, racism, classism, anti-Semitism or other intolerance. Keep in mind that this does not always take the form of racial slurs. If you find yourself typing “I’m not racist but…” or “I’m not sexist but…” you should probably think twice.

2. They caution agains derailing a conversation. I like this idea, and think it’s important to keep comments focused, but this seems like it could be hard to manage…and very time consuming:

De-railing. Posts unrelated to the article at hand will be deleted. We define this loosely so as to encourage the free flow of conversation. However, if it’s obvious you didn’t read the post, and don’t care to, your comment will be deleted.

3. They encourage users to help out with the labor of managing the community by providing various ways for readers to guide/develop the community, like flagging inappropriate/abusive comments and liking particularly good comments. I suppose this partly answers my question in #2. 

Thinking more about these community guidelines has made me curious: Does The Nation hire someone full time to manage this community? How is the difficult labor of this job compensated? Thanks to a quick search on google, I have one answer to these questions. Check out this job posting for a comment moderator at the Huffington Post:

This is an entry level position and we will train you. If you can read quickly, make quick, impartial, decisions and want a foot in the door in community management or online media then this is a perfect job.
Preferred skills:
– Focused speed reading – our moderators read the equivalent of Moby Dick 18 times a month.
– Experience moderating blog or forum based communities a plus.
– Availability during weekends and evenings a big plus.

The Subjectivity of Slacktivism

An online article by Sarah Kendzior at ALJAZEERA
In this online article, Kendzior briefly summarizes the critiques leveled at slacktivists, especially those involved in the Kony2012 campaign, and then argues that what is missing in these discussion is the voice/voices of the slacktivist:

What the conversation on slacktivism is missing is the voice of the slacktivist. Their self-defence is often dismissed as irrelevant – who would confess to lazily clicking “like”? But slacktivism is not a “useless and harmful” way of describing online behaviour, as Tufekci has argued. Slacktivism is a real thing – it is one of the varied and often contradictory ways we engage with political material online. The same people who are slacktivists toward one cause can also be staunch and sincere advocates of others. The same people who engage in low-stakes, pointless actions – changing their profile picture to a cartoon to protect child abuse, turning their Twitter green to save Iran – could have a passionate commitment to the cause in question, but no knowledge of how else to participate.

She continues by comparing the Kony2012 and Trayvon Martin hoodie campaigns and then wonders, “whether it is the choice of cause, and not the method of media engagement, that gives slacktivism its ugly connotation?” I like her conclusion. She argues that we can’t just dismiss slacktivism without first closely looking at our motivations for slacktively (did I just make up that word?) supporting a cause, motivations like curiosity or sympathy and empathy.

On assholes, douche bags and bullshitters, part one

Or, My Ethical Imperative: Don’t be an Asshole

Inspired by STA’s recent post, Beware the self-identified “expert”, I’ve decided to do a little bit of research and reflection on the origins and meanings of asshole and douche bag. For good measure, I’m throwing bullshitter into the mix too; I’ve already written about it on this blog and I think it’s fitting to include it beside asshole and douche bag because they all seem to be useful ways to describe people who are either too excessive or deficient in their troublemaking practices.

I appreciate the terms over other moral judgments, like bad, evil or immoral. And when I think about how to evaluate my own practices or how I want others to evaluate my practices, I find not being an asshole (or a douche bag or a bullshitter) a much more compelling achievement than being a good girl.

In “A Response to Lesbian Ethics,” Marilyn Frye (rightly) asks, “Why should one want to be good? Why, in particular, would a woman want to be good? (56). Her short answer: you shouldn’t. Her longer answer: The demand to be a good girl is intended to keep women in line, to pit them against each other–the “good girls/ladies” vs. “the bad/rebellious women,” and to prevent them from challenging dominant systems of power and privilege. Being a “good boy,” isn’t much better. In The Future of School, which I wrote about last year in this post, Paulo Freire objects to any efforts to label him a “good boy.” He writes:

I am not a “good boy.” I try to be a good person, but “good boy” — God forbid! If you want to hurt me, call me a “good boy.”

I am an educated person, very educated, polite, disciplined, and courteous. That I am, indeed, and more. I try to be respectful, but “good boy,” for God’s sake, no! So I am antagonistic to all this.

In the Queer/ing Ethics course that I taught last spring, we spent a lot of time imaging what an ethics outside of/against/beside the moral framework of good vs. bad might look like. Could an ethic with the moral imperative to “not be an asshole” fit as a queer ethic? It reminds me of Kate Bornstein’s key value: don’t be mean. Ze writes about it in the blog post: What does mean mean?

I’ve been telling people for nearly four years that the only rule in life they need to follow isdon’t be mean. It’s not even a rule. “Don’t be mean” is a value, meaning it’s something you can apply to every choice you’ll ever make for the rest of your life. If one rule can cover that much ground, I think that the rule deserves to be called a value.

Bornstein appreciates how the demand to not be mean is more expansive, and less regulating, than be kind:

And why didn’t I simply write, be kind. I almost did.

But people have ruined that word by calling for a kinder, gentler nation and then effecting a nation that’s very close to the opposite. Another example: someone could consider truthfully that they’re being kind to you when they stop you from being a homosexual… because then you won’t go to hell. It’s become too easy for people to convince themselves that they’re not being mean when they simply call themselves kind. Nope, the word kind can be stretched way out of shape. So, be kind couldn’t be the rule.

Bornstein’s discussion of “kind” reminds me of my recent troubling of Pinterest’s Pin etiquette: Be Nice. Interestingly enough, since posting about this rule, Pinterest has changed their rule to: Be Respectful. I like that much better. In fact, I think I suggested something to that effect in podcast #6 with STA over at The Undisciplined Room.

Speaking of the podcast, I just remembered that I need to prep for the one we’re doing this afternoon. Time to stop thinking about assholes, douche bags and bullshitters. In concluding this post, here are a few sources that I want to examine more closely on the topic:

1. Douche Bag by Katie Keenan. An assignment for a really cool looking class, Thing Theory from 2007.
2. On the Evolution of Douchebag
3. my class summary from queering desire, including a discussion of the hipster douche bag.
4. A Taxonomy of Proud Assholes
5. Are you dick on purpose or were you just born that way?
6. Brown Betty’s Taxonomy of Assholes
7. Bitch Media’s Douchebag Decree

A Dis/infographic: The Best and Worst Types of Tweets

If you’ve spent any time on Pinterest, you might be familiar with infographics; people love pinning and repinning them. An infographic or information graphic takes complex information and date and organizes and represents it in an easy-to-read graphic or set of graphics. As Reif Larsen writes in their “This Chart is a Lonely Hunter: The Narrative Eros of the Infographic,” infographics are everywhere:

our media are now saturated with such infographics, both on-and off-line, as a host of publications such as The New YorkTimesGoodTheGuardianWiredTime, The Economist, The Believer, and The Wall Street Journal all regularly depend on data visualizations to provide their readers with that on-the-spot, quasi-highbrow sociological analysis.

And many of the infographics created in these publications are pinned and repinned on Pinterest. Many people (myself included) are skeptical of the value and usefulness of these infographics. What exactly do they tell us about anything? Do they just look pretty on our computer or iPad or iPhone? I suspect that’s why they get pinned so much on Pinterest, which is often lauded for how “pretty” it is.

A well done infographic, one that allows us to make connections and understand complex data can be a wonderful thing. But what about the bad or fluffy ones? What purpose do they serve? And why do people want to pin them so often?

Lots of folks are discussing the limits and benefits of infographics. On my Pinterest board, Troubling Infographics, I’ve slowly been gathering articles about infographics and examples of (mostly bad) infographics. I’ve also added my own commentary, usually in the form of critical questions, to these infographics. After studying an infographic about twitter yesterday, I’ve decided that it was time to create my own infographic, or what I’m tentatively calling a dis/infographic, that troubles (challenges, questions, wonders about) the data on the graphic and how it is mis/represented. To create this dis/infographic, I’m putting my limited Pixelmator skills to the test.

Around 2 or so hours later…

Ugh. It’s a few hours since I began working on this dis/infographic, and I’ve finally finished. Let’s just say that I’m not good friends with Pixelmator right now. I’m happy that I experimented with making it though. I can’t decide if I want to try it again or not? Is it too much of a time suck or a useful exercise? If I could build up my skills some more, it might be a good way to trouble graphics, etc. Hmm…still not sure. For now, here’s my dis/infographic:

And, here’s the study that the original infographic (and my troubling of it) is based on: Who Gives a Tweet?