Monthly Archives: May 2010

trade your facebook in for a fakebook

Today, while speaking to WYPR (Baltimore’s NPR affiliate) about the latest iteration of Facebook privacy concerns, I brought up the idea of not using your real name on Facebook -that is, having a “Fakebook.”

We live within a cultural dynamic that both encourages us to live in public and punishes us for doing the same. Teens, who are more involved with their Facebook privacy than adults, have reacted by using fake names on Facebook so they have less to worry about when applying for colleges. Creating a “Fakebook” allows individuals to use their real Facebook in one way, their Fakebook in another, all while avoiding many of the consequences of living in public.

To be clear, not using one’s real name is against Facebook’s policies (see section 4.1), and the term “Fakebook” is usually reserved for creepy stalkers or malcontents. Even Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg states that “having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.” He is frighteningly out of touch with the many valid reasons why users might want to keep certain things private (hint: it often has to do with social inequalities, power and vulnerability).

So forget all of that. You can create a Fakebook and use it for good.

  • Step one: Create or modify your real Facebook page. Make sure it does not contain any information you wouldn’t want the whole world to see. You do not even have to accept friend requests, instead directing those you want to friend over to your Fakebook name using the site’s email system.
  • Step two: Use your Fakebook (almost) any way you want. If you want to be extra careful, do not create any obvious connections between your Fakebook and your real name.

Aside from the privacy gains, there is a political motive, too. In response to Facebook profiting off our increasingly private data, one may want to engage in some “database vandalism.” The idea is that Facebook makes money because their database is filled with so much ‘true’ information. Maybe you have a problem with this (granted, many do not). Maybe you are just upset that Facebook has a history of making things you set private as public behind a maze of privacy settings. If so, you can gum up the Facebook database by inputting lots of false information.

Your Fakebook will save you a headache the next time Facebook pulls the privacy rug out from under its users (as it has done over and over again) while simultaneously making a statement against the corporate ownership of our personal data. ~nathanjurgenson.com

publicly

Black Feminist Thought: Nearly twenty years on

Current policy that puts black men behind bars keeps black women in confines of their own. According to a recent Economist editorial, “between the ages of 20 and 29, one black man in nine is behind bars. For black women of the same age, the figure is about one in 150.” The author pointed to this statistic to demonstrate the decreasing dating pool for black women who are looking to start a family with black men. As incarceration rates rose between 1970 and 2007, the percentage of US born black women between the ages of 30 and 44 who were married dropped from 62% to 33%. According to researchers at the University of Chicago and the National Taiwan University, with every one-percentage point increase in the male incarceration rate there is an associated 2.4 point reduction in the proportion of women who ever marry. (more…)

The Daniel Pearl Freedom of the Press Act: A positive step in an ambiguous direction

2009 Reporters without Borders Press Freedom Ranking Map

By Rachael Liberman

In an effort to combine press freedom and human rights, President Obama signed new legislation, titled the Daniel Pearl Freedom of the Press Act, which would require, according to The New York Times: “ … the State Department to expand its scrutiny of news media restrictions and intimidation as part of its annual review of human rights in each country. Among other considerations, the department will be required to determine whether foreign governments participate in or condone violations of press freedom.” The Wall Street Journal quoted President Obama as stating (during the signing ceremony): “Oftentimes without this kind of attention, countries and governments feel that they can operate against the press with impunity. And we want to send a message that they can’t.” Further, UPI quoted Obama with the following: “All around the world there are enormously courageous journalists and bloggers who, at great risk to themselves, are trying to shine a light on the critical issues that the people of their country face; who are the front lines against tyranny and oppression.”

While this new legislation, named after a reporter for The Wall Street Journal who was killed by Pakistani terrorists in 2002, does successfully call attention to the human rights element within journalism, the “report” that the State Department would “begin” detailing is actually already in effect. Among many organizations that track press freedom around the world, the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters without Borders are two that already rank countries according to press freedom and human rights violations. In fact, according to their website, CPJ “is a an independent, nonprofit organization founded in 1981. We promote press freedom worldwide by defending the rights of journalists to report the news without fear of reprisal.” It would appear that this new legislation would then include an alliance between the State Department and these successful organizations. Unfortunately, this doesn’t appear to be the case: The Wall Street Journal reports that although there was a provision in the Act to give grants to independent media (which may have included these nonprofit organizations), it was removed in the Senate. In the end, while this new legislation does bring national attention to the risks that journalists take while covering stories in conflict zones (or non-conflict zones), many questions are left: How will this “list” from the State Department force other countries to change? How will this information depart from the facts we already receive from CPJ and Reporters without Borders? What about the fact that most of these journalists are independent bloggers who are risking their lives due to organizational/structural/financial issues within the industry?

Studying the Sociology of Journalists: The Journalistic Field and the News World

Press Freedom Index 2009 from Reporters Sans Frontieres (Reporters without Borders)

Students protest in Puerto Rico, but where’s the news coverage?

Two weeks ago, my post, the 40th Anniversary of Kent State: a gap in our historical knowledge?, addressed the reasons why we remember certain events and not others. As a current example of the way in which history is created, I offer the example of the protests that are taking place at the University of Puerto Rico and the lack of media coverage of said event. When the violence at Kent State broke out,  there were no online news outlets, no blogs, no video phones. Vast systems of information diffusion are currently at our disposal and a nearly constant stream of news filters into our world. And yet, still, only some events are covered – some incessantly, in fact – while others are not. The extent to which the media affect our perception of events and how history is recorded is so significant that it is almost unknowable.

A few days ago,  a professor at the University of Puerto Rico posted an intriguing bit of information and I only saw it because he’s a friend and it appeared on his Facebook page: There were protests taking place at UPR. Further, students had settled in at the University and Police were surrounding the property. A father of one of the protesters had been injured by police and tensions were escalating between students and the police. The university, in fact, had been shut down for months leading up to this situation – summer classes had been canceled, dorms evacuated. Where was the media coverage? I logged onto the New York Times website. In fact, I would soon discover, my friend had written in to the Times specifically because there had been no coverage of the protests. I searched Google and the only articles that seem to exist are those linked below from a local PR paper and from a Taiwanese paper. The only discernible mention of the protests by the Times is by Mariela Ramos, a resident of PR, who wrote an online letter in response to another Times article, “The Forces Move on Protesters as Tension Grows.” Her letter appears here:

“The students of the State University of Puerto Rico have been on strike for 22 days. Yesterday, the strike vote was ratified by the students at an Assembly, and today the Police is not letting food or water in, as a coercive method for the protesters to give up their struggle. A parent was hit and arrested for throwing food over the gate. Violence may erupt any minute, as Police officers surround the entrances and await for the order to enter and move the protesters by force. The world should know this is happening right now in American territory.”

(more…)

Facebook Fatigue and Privacy Panic: Has the Golden Age of Social Media Ended?

For years, we have been deluged with stories about the dangers of online social media.  But in the last several months, a new kind of story has suddenly swept the mainstream media and the blogosphere alike.  This new type of story highlights burgeoning discontent amongst the user-base of social media sites and, at least implicitly, questions whether mass exhibitionism on social media is just a faddish blip on the cultural radar.

For example, recent articles discuss how high school students have grown cautious and are adopting pseudonyms to avoid having their profiles examined by college admissions committees.  More broadly, social media is being problematized for its infinite capacity to absorb attention, which makes it, at minimum, a potential distraction, and, at worse, an object of obsession.  Most prominent, however, is the issue of privacy.  We know that Facebook continues to expose more and more details about us, while they have made it increasingly complex to adjust our privacy settings.

What are we to make of the media’s newest infatuation: Does 2010 really mark a major turning point in the history of the Internet?  While an answer to this question would be speculative at best, a more manageable, and decidedly more empirical, question lies at its core: Is there a real mass movement afoot to reduce or terminate exhibitionism on social media, or is the media imposing a sort of baseless, top-down narrative on the millions of people who have integrated social media into their everyday lives?

This topic was broached just last week by fellow Sociology Lens blogger, Nathan Jurgenson, who wrote “Facebook users are not leaving the service in large numbers, and other technologies of narcissism -such as Formspring- continue to march along.” Jurgenson is no doubt correct in arguing that these sites continue to grow rather than to diminish in size.  However,we still lack solid evidence demonstrating whether or not the way in which people are using social media, and their attitudes toward it, are changing.  Do people log in less?  Do they refrain from posting certain kinds of content?  Do they post false information?  Would they prefer to use a site that had a different privacy policy? (more…)

Formspring.me: Display at All Costs

Facebook continuously rolls back user privacy, the policy itself is increasingly convoluted, and technical hiccups have revealed users’ information – so, shouldn’t we be experiencing Facebook fatigue by now? (as PJ Rey predicted)

Sure, techno-pundits are crying foul, but Facebook users are not leaving the service in large numbers, and other technologies of narcissism -such as Formspring- continue to march along. Why?

While we know well how to become scared about decreasing privacy -and rightly so- we have only begun to articulate what increasing publicity means. I have described the will to document ourselves across the web as a new sort of “mass exhibitionism.” And while we all care deeply about privacy, this cultural impulse to live in public often wins out (often to the detriment of those most vulnerable).

Take, for example, the most recent social networking phenom, Formspring, where users answer questions about themselves that are often asked anonymously. The site has taken a dark turn. Rampant with verbal attacks, the site has already been connected to a suicide. Danah boyd often uses her expertise to dispel social media fear-mongering, so it says something when she describes the site this way:

“While teens have always asked each other crass and mean-spirited questions, this has become so pervasive on Formspring so as to define what participation there means.”

She goes on to ask,

“[w]hat is it about today’s cultural dynamics that encourages teens to not only act tough when they’re attacked but to actively share the attacks of others as a marker of toughness pride?”

I believe the answer to this question is that mass exhibitionism is simply a more powerful cultural force than even preserving oneself from cyber-attacks. Why?

The logic is just the same as what advertisers have long since come to terms with: bad publicity is better than no publicity at all.

To document oneself online is to exist. We create ourselves as product becuase what is worse than being made fun of is to not exist to begin with. Bad mass exhibitionism has come to seem better than no exhibitionism at all. ~nathanjurgenson.com

News flash: (some) Women in the Church are addicted to pornography

By Rachael Liberman

In a recent article from The New York Times, titled “Church Counsels Women Addicted to Pornography,” writer John Leland reveals predicable information regarding the Church’s response to overt female sexual behavior. While the fact that the Church is openly acknowledging this as a “problem” is newsworthy, it is the reaction and subsequent treatment that seems obvious and problematic. Leland writes, “The programs at Ms. Renaud’s group and XXX Church diverge from secular sexual theory by treating masturbation and arousal as sins rather than elements of healthy sexuality. Emphasis is on recovering ‘sexual purity’, in which thoughts of sex outside marriage are illicit.” Similar to the Church’s response to male pornography addiction, this article highlights an approach that blatantly ignores the drive or interest in pornography and focuses therapy on restoring the notion that “sexual purity” is the corrective path. Pornography, within this reasoning, has distorted the Church’s normative message regarding “sex” and “sexuality.” Crystal Renaud, a group leader for a Victory Over Porn Addiction group and founder of Dirty Girl Ministries, was quoted as saying: “It’s an injustice that the church is not more open about physical sexuality. God created sex. But the enemy has twisted it.” So what did we learn from this article? Certainly the fact that women are interested in the pornographic version of sexuality is nothing new – even if they do attend Church and practice organized religion. On the other hand, the fact that female Church leaders are trying to organize recovery groups brings attention to the “severity” (or profit possibility) of this issue within this community. In the end, this article does support the pervasive nature of pornography – and that it can no longer be categorized as attracting a seedy, unethical, secular, male-only viewership.

Dirty Girl Ministries: Helping Women Overcome Pornography Addiction

The 40th Anniversary of the Violence at Kent State – a gap in our historical memory?

Today is the 40th anniversary of the Kent State shootings. Not long ago,  I looked out at my large section of a social problems course and asked if anyone could explain the events that took place at Kent State on May 4th, 1970. I wondered, in the silence following, how a lack of knowledge about this tragedy could exist. I rephrased my question…to no avail. This event is part of American History and is taught as such. And yet, when I think about my own education, I do not remember the lesson – was I absent on this day in middle school? Did all the students in my social problems class miss the same lesson? This led me to a question I often ask: Why do we remember certain historical events and not others? As this subject is the focus of many cognitive sociological studies of collective memory, it seems fitting to pose this question on a day like today. Why is Pearl Harbor something that most students can at least briefly describe and yet Kent State is not? Further (as the rather excellent NPR piece listed below reports) why would those who know about Kent State be much less likely to know about another similar event at Jackson State in Mississippi, which took place just over a week after the events in Ohio?

Perhaps there is some sort of cohort effect in not knowing about Kent State; students in my classes generally know what happened at Columbine High. Though they were quite young in the 1990′s, it is possible that Columbine is closer to reality for them. Or maybe this generation is more afraid of each other than of the armed forces. Perhaps protests of the Vietnam War are just too removed from the collective conscience of the current generation or the last few, for that matter. Or, further, maybe this kind of protest seems a relic from the mid 1900′s and irrelevant. There are plenty of other possibilities, but one way of looking at this is through the general lens of cognitive sociology, which suggests that certain events, identities, etc. are marked, while others are not. After all, the events at Jackson State are recalled much less frequently even among those who recall the Kent State atrocity all too clearly, so it cannot all be about generations or relevance. Additionally, certain events are lumped together (as in events pertaining to the Vietnam War – in this category, the events at Kent State could blend into the category overall and be easily forgotten) and then split from other events (such as Columbine or Virginia Tech, which are seen as more relevant, at least in part because they seem within the range of possibility in the current time). Cognitive sociology and in particular, the discussion of collective memory, marking, classification and perception can help us gain greater insight into why some things “matter” historically and others do not.  The piece by Brekhus et al below provides a lovely summary of the contribution of cognitive sociology. While the subject of the article is the contributions cognitive sociology can make to sociological studies of race, it can easily be extrapolated to a wide range of topics. Certainly, one possibility as to why Kent State is more prevalent in the American consciousness is precisely because race relations were more tense at Jackson State. The violence in Mississippi was perceived as at least partly motivated by race (which was not the dominant theme of the events at Kent State) and therefore could have been relegated to a less salient spot in the national consciousness.

Beyond theory, it seems frightening that we could collectively forget an event such as one in which students at a university were murdered. We can also learn a lesson about the importance of making history relevant for students so they will (hopefully) not forget other important moments in both American and global history.

On the Contributions of Cognitive Sociology to the Sociological Study of Race, Brekhus et al.

Shots Still Reverberate for Survivors of Kent State, Noah Adams, NPR

Images in this piece are thanks to the National Archives and Records Administration

Social Media: Documentation as Stratification

The new norms of exhibitionism and copious self-documentation have been regular talking points on Sociology Lens over the past year.  Consider Nathan Jurgenson’s posts, our digital culture of narcissism and facebook, youtube, twitter: mass exhibitionism online, as well as my own recent post, The Queer Politics of Chatroulette.

It now seems truer than ever for many social media users (particularly, teenagers and young adults) that “If you’re not on MySpace [and/or other social media sites], you don’t exist.” Moreover, the pervasiveness of documentation throughout virtually every aspect of our daily lives has led us to start living for the documents, rather than the documents simply reflecting some aspect of our lives.  Today, we must always behave as if our actions will be preserved forever and for all to see (because, most likely, they will).  In the world of social media, there is no longer a “back stage” as Goffman once observed.  As far as we know, there is always an audience watching our every move with rapt attention, ready to applaud or jeer at any second.

I argue that we should view this “will to document” (as Jurgenson has described it) as a new kind of habitus.  Habitus (according to Bourdieu) means simply “dispositions [that are] acquired through experience.”  It explains behavior that is neither hard-wired into our biology, nor simply a manifestation of conscious and rational decision-making.  Success in this hyper-surveilled, hyper-documented world is wholly dependent on acquiring a set of practices that produce both a highly-visible and favorable image of oneself. (more…)