Building Social Perception through Digital Information

wikipedia-researchPaid advocacy has become a largely debated topic in recent years. Paid editing—also known as sock puppetry or black hatting—is when individuals or companies pay writers to create and edit reference material for promotional purposes. This practice is troublesome because it blurs the distinction between editorial content and advertising. A notable example of this dilemma involves, Wikipedia, a collaborative website allowing anyone to contribute and modify reference articles (Shirky, 2005).

In August 2012, one of Wikipedia’s editors removed a page representing an internet security company- CyberSafe– after discovering that the article’s linked citations were relevant to internet security, but did not specifically reference the company (Owens, 2013). After the page was removed, numerous users expressed opposition, constructing arguments that were similar to those on the CyberSafe page. This coincidence raised suspicions in the Wikipedia editor, causing him or her to submit five user accounts for “sock puppetry investigation” (Owens, 2013). The analysis confirmed that they were in fact “sock puppet” accounts and that black hatting was happening far more often than they thought.

t-shirts-on-8bitDecals45Executive director of Wikipedia, Sue Gardner, explains that in addition to violating the website’s core principles of providing unbiased and credible information. She argues that editing-for-pay produces content that is often prejudiced and misleading.  Moreover, Gardner (2013) explains that paid advocacy is a breach of Wikipedia’s editorial policies regarding “neutrality and verifiability” (Gardner, 2013).

After a lengthy investigation, Wikipedia announced that it would block “381 user accounts for paid editing” (Earhart & Barbara, 2015). Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, explained that the decision was made after Wikipedia discovered an embezzling scam involving a network of users with fake accounts. These phony accounts were used to solicit individuals and businesses into paying a Wikipedia editor to create their page and have it protected from negative editing (Dredge, 2015). Hundreds of people were deceived because the “faked accounts” impersonated senior Wikipedia editors and falsely claimed that their practices followed Wikipedia guidelines.

As a result, those who paid for editing services were surprised to discover that their pages were deleted for guideline violations. Wikipedia’s investigation into black hat accounts revealed that “more than 200 individuals and businesses have fallen victim to the fraud” (Owen, 2015) and around 250 pages were deleted (Owen, 2015).

information-wants-to-be-free-10544In response, Wikipedia has asked the public to contact them if someone offers to create of protect a page in exchange for money. Furthermore, Wikipedia emphasizes that “decisions about content. . . are made by the community of volunteer editors – they edit and maintain Wikipedia for free, so everyone can access free, reliable knowledge,” (Owen, 2015).

Deceptive marketing practices permeate several aspects of digital media. Paid advocacy is especially problematic in cases where the members generate content through consumer reviews.  Over the years, the media has started to focus on consumer reviews, exposing stories where companies pay individuals and/or employees to write reviews that enhance reputation. Paid editing is becoming increasingly common in consumer reviews, as expressed in a 2012 Gartner study, estimating that “one in seven recommendations or ratings on social media sites like Facebook would soon be fake” (Streitfeld, 2013).

Untitled (4)For businesses, online reviews carry significant value and greatly influence their current and future success: : “In a 2011 Harvard Business School study, a researcher found that restaurants that increased their ranking on Yelp by one star raised their revenues by 5 to 9 percent” (Streitfeld, 2014). To counteract the negative effects of paid advertising, the FTC has started conducting investigations on companies that pay for product or service reviews and fail to disclose this affiliation with consumers.  For example, the chief executive of US Coachways was exposed for hiring freelance writers and mandating his staff to create fake accounts so they could write positive comments to downplay the negative reviews. After the investigation, US Coachways was fined $75,000 and agreed to stop writing fake reviews (Streitfeld, 2014).

On November 7, 2015, CBC Marketplace News aired a story about a man who was fighting to have his online review removed from TigerDirect.com. The man explains that he wants his review taken down from the website because the company edited his review to make it appear more positive.

In other cases, companies are supportive of banning paid advertising and have started to take action to prevent it. Amazon, the largest online retailer, is using the U.S. legal system to crack down on paid advocacy. An NBC News story explains that Amazon has filed a lawsuit against 1, 114 individuals that were paid to post reviews for products found on their website. The company claims that writing fake reviews “tarnishes their brand,” and damages its reputation as an online retailer. Amazon hopes this lawsuit will serve as a future deterrent and help the company rebuild trust with customers.

Paid advocacy is a growing concern for many people- do you think it will cause users to become distrustful or  skeptical of customer reviews? Does paid advocacy ‘devalue’ online ratings and other informational content? Do you think the FTC will have the resources to effectively monitor fake reviews? Does Amazon have the right idea in taking legal action against those paid to write positive reviews?

fake-reviews-1

References

Dredge, S. (2015, September 6). Wikipedia Founder Backs Site’s Systems After Extortion Scam. Retrieved November 18, 2015, from http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/sep/06/wikipedia-founder-backs-sites-systems-after-extortion-scam

 Earhart, E., & Barbara, J. (2015, August 31). Hundreds of “black hat” English Wikipedia accounts blocked following investigation « Wikimedia blog. Retrieved November 18, 2015, from https://blog.wikimedia.org/2015/08/31/wikipedia-accounts-blocked-paid-advocacy/

 Gardner, S. (2013, October 21). Wikimedia Foundation Executive Director Sue Gardner’s Response to Paid Advocacy Editing and Sockpuppetry. Retrieved November 18, 2015, from https://blog.wikimedia.org/2013/10/21/sue-gardner-response-paid-advocacy-editing/

Owen, J. (2015, September 11). Wikipedia Senior Editors Impersonated in Scam which Tricked Hundreds into Paying for Content to Go Online. Retrieved November 18, 2015, from http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/wikipedia-senior-editors-impersonated-in-scam-which-tricked-hundreds-into-paying-for-content-to-go-10496801.html

Owens, S. (2013, October 8). The Battle to Destroy Wikipedia’s Biggest Sockpuppet Army. Retrieved on November 17, 2015, from http://www.dailydot.com/lifestyle/wikipedia-sockpuppet-investigation-largest-network-history-wiki-pr/

Shirky, C. (2005). Epilogue: Open Source Outside the Domain of Software and Source. In Perspectives on Free and Open Source Software (pp. 483-488). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Streitfeld, D. (2012, January 26). For $2 a Star, an Online Retailer Gets 5-Star Product Reviews. Retrieved on November 18, 2015, from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/27/technology/for-2-a-star-a-retailer-gets-5-star-reviews.html

Streitfeld, D. (2013, September 22). Give Yourself 5 Stars? Online, It Might Cost You. Retrieved on November 18, 2015, from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/23/technology/give-         yourself-4-stars-online-it-might-cost-you.html?_r=0

Advertisements

Virtual Communities and Online Banking

3-Important-eLearning-Tools-to-Encourage-Community

Virtual communities are described as groups in which “people with common interests, goals, or practices interact to share information and knowledge, and engage in social interactions” (Chiu, Hsu, & Wang, 2006, p. 1873). Community of practice (CoP) is a concept pertaining to groups that are “formed by people who engage in a process of collective learning in a shared domain of human endeavor” (“Introduction to Communities”, n.d.). CoPs provide an effective lens in examining the development and exchange of knowledge in organizations.

Although there are many reasons that motivate individuals to join online communities (social, educational, etc.), the Harris Poll from Business Week found that 42% (Chiu et al., 2006, p. 1872) of virtual community members claim their involvement is professionally- related and 35% join groups for personal or social reasons. Organizations are becoming increasingly aware of the benefits associated with virtual communities: “Driven by a knowledge economy, many organizations have recognized knowledge as a valuable intangible resource that holds the key to competitive advantages” (Chiu et al., 2006, p. 1872). Consequently, the value and growth of virtual communities depends on their ability to facilitate social interaction and knowledge sharing.

Our Digital Technology

Chiu et al. (2006) integrate Social Cognitive Theory and Social Capital Theory to examine the motivational factors that affect professional virtual groups. Technological advancements in communication and information systems have had a globalizing effect on CoPs. Unlike conventional communities, CoPs lack a concrete reward system that reinforces “the mechanisms of mutual trust, interaction, and reciprocity among individuals” (Chiu, 2006, p. 1876). In their study, Chiu et al. (2006) identify outcome expectations and social capital as two main factors that impact individual motivation in professional groups: social capital and outcome expectations.

Broadly defined, outcome expectations are the predicted consequences of a given performance. Outcome expectations affect group collaboration because “individuals are more likely to engage in the behavior that they expect to result in favorable consequences” (Chiu et al., 2006). Social capital refers to “the network of social connections that exist between people, and their shared values and norms of behavior, which enable and encourage mutually advantageous social cooperation” (“Social capital,” n.d.). Social capital has a major effect on a group’s knowledge base. Chiu et al. (2006) explain that understanding the role of social capital in virtual communities can “lead to greater level of knowledge sharing in terms of quantity or quality” (p. 1884).

A U.S. bank consumer study (2015), shows that “70% of consumers across all generations (85% of millennials) believe banks that are current with the latest technology are more trustworthy.” Although consumers clearly value technology when it come to their banking, 4 out of 5 Americans claim that “when it matters most, they value people more” (“U.S. Bank,” 2015). Gareth Gaston, executive vice president of U.S. Bank explains that “people want more from their banks than apps—they want advocates.”

The study’s findings show that while many traditional practices (writing checks, physically depositing pay checks, etc.) have declined dramatically in the last decade, nearly 80% of consumers are afraid of bad customer service from banks that “go completely digital” (“U.S. Bank, 2015). Dominic Venturo, chief innovation officer at U.S. Bank, explains that “Consumers are challenging the industry to meet them where they are, and that requires a mastery of the delicate balance between convenience, security, and personalized engagement” (“U.S. Bank, 2015). This study shows that while members appreciate the ease and accessibility of banking apps, they still desire social capital—in the form of social connection and cooperation.

toon405As traditional banking practices continue to decline, do you think banks will be able to strike a balance in creating virtual communities that provide both convenience and good customer service? Or do you think consumers will learn to become more comfortable with banks that have “gone completely digital”?

 

References

Chiu, C., Hsu, M., & Wang, E. (2006). Understanding Knowledge Sharing In Virtual Communities: An Integration of Social Capital and Social Cognitive Theories. Decision Support Systems, 1872-1888.

Social-capital. (n.d.). Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. Retrieved November 15, 2015, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/social-capital

U.S. Bank Consumer Study Raises New Perspective on How Banks Balance Technology with a Human Touch. (2015). Retrieved November 17, 2015, from http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20151116005811/en/U.S.-Bank-Consumer-Study-Raises-Perspective-Banks

The Changing Landscape of American Journalism

Woodward and Bernstein
Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein: Washington Post reporters who broke the Watergate Scandal.

Hamby (2013) explains that during elections, journalists need access to  candidates for good reporting and that the mainstream media has become increasingly restricted from this privilege. When reporters spend time with the candidates, they develop richer stories and share “key insights about a candidate” (Hamby, 2013, p. 4) through conversations, body language and other personal observations. Hamby (2013) explains that many news organizations and networks cannot afford to pay journalists and camera crews to follow political campaigns. Additionally, the investment is a gamble if the news organization has the “wrong audience” because Hamby (2013) claims that candidates are more likely to cooperate with organizations that have the biggest audiences or internet traffic. They are also more inclined to work with journalists who will cast them in a positive light.

The digital era is changing the landscape of journalism. The internet allows reporters to send and publish content in a matter of minutes, creating a highly-competitive atmosphere. This means that not only are journalists required to gather information and report stories, they are also expected to be the photographer, camera person, and producer. Hamby argues that digital media platforms like Twitter, Politico, and Buzzfeed, have become increasingly influential with politicians and the American public. As a result, newspapers have been transformed into news organizations that promote a vast array of content through multiple online platforms. Hamby (2013) explains that despite the media’s enhanced ability to publish stories on more platforms than ever, the Pew Research Center found that political candidates and “their allies—spokespeople, cable news surrogates, Super PACs and the like—were the source for about half of the prevailing narratives about the campaigns in the press” (p. 33).

cell phone reporting
News reporting in the Digital Age

There is less incentive for journalists to check the credibility of their sources or stories because there are few, if any, ramifications. Journalists escape responsibility by using disclaimers that they do not endorse their retweets or that their account is personal and not affiliated with their news organization. Hamby believes that these behaviors reflect a decline in journalistic values. Many reporters, having a narrow perspective of a campaign, tend to make small and seemingly insignificant matters into newsworthy events. Restricting journalists from gaining access to politicians significantly limits the the topics they can cover. This has lead to journalists writing about trivial and superficial matters like a candidate’s appearance or sense of fashion. Smart phones allow reporters to discreetly record audio, video, and images, blurring the distinction between ‘on the record’ and ‘off the record’ statements. As a result, politicians are hesitant in trusting members of the press and the competitive nature of journalism continues to pressure reporters  on being the first to break a story. The problem with being first is that it comes with the risk of being incorrect.

This reading made me think of a segment (about 1 minute, 55 seconds into the video) on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver where he exposes the inaccuracies of a Fox News story surrounding the migrant and refugee crisis.

The news station broadcasted a video that depicts refugees on a train singing “Allah is great” with a caption reading “Terrorists Inbound?” During the video’s broadcast, the Fox News anchor explained to the audience that the network is not saying that the individuals shown in the video are terrorists or affiliated with terror groups, but wanted to show how many migrants are Muslim. John Oliver ridicules the disclaimer, arguing that Fox News cannot deny casting the people in the video as terrorists when they deliberately paired it with a caption reading “Terrorists Inbound?” Furthermore, Oliver explains that the video is five years old and was posted on YouTube- before the migrant crisis- in 2010. This means Fox News used outdated footage of a group of Muslim people singing on a train and manipulated the context to create a more sensationalized story. I thought this was a great example of how quickly the mainstream media can report a story without checking their facts or sources. Aside from John Oliver’s segment and other news sources that followed up on the story, I did not find any news showing that Fox News apologized or even commented on their inaccurate and outdated report.

Can we really prevent the media from broadcasting false or misleading information? How can we hold media organizations accountable for the stories they publish? Can you think of an example where a media organization took responsibility for publishing biased or incorrect information? If so, how did they handle the situation?

References

Hamby, P. (2013). Did Twitter Kill the Boys on the Bus? Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy Discussion Paper Series, 1-95.

The Power of Online Groups

social media toolsThe cost of sharing and coordinating has dropped substantially in the last decade, allowing unorganized groups to work together quickly and effectively through shared awareness. New social tools and methods of communication help ordinary people organize groups and events with little effort or planning. Shirky (2008) argues that the documentation of information is directly connected with the rate of group organizing. He explains that social tools (like blogs) allow people to produce permanent, public documentation by publishing information online at relatively no cost. Shirky elaborates on this point, explaining that to “speak online is to publish, and to publish online is to connect with others. With the arrival of globally accessible publishing, freedom of speech is now freedom of the press, and freedom of the press is freedom of assembly” (p. 171).

In addition to promoting social awareness, public documentation also creates new possibilities for action and change: “Whenever you improve a group’s ability to communicate internally, you change the things it is capable of” (Shirky, 2011, p. 171). As a result, groups can have both a positive and negative social effect. Shirky explains that the distinction between real and online life is becoming increasingly blurred, changing how we exchange information and interact with one another. The internet provides a space for people to meet other like-minded individuals and form groups without the need for social approval. On the other hand, this freedom also extends to criminal and terrorist groups, making it cc2d64f5-f050-408a-8e8a-d19daaf485c9-620x372easier for them communicate and organize. Shirky explains that social tools only amplify our existing capabilities and the receptiveness of a social tool depends on its value in comparison to existing practices.

This week’s reading made me think of a current news story involving the cancellation of two public discussions scheduled to take place at the South-by-Southwest (SXSW) Interactive festival in March 2016, in Austin, Texas. According to the Washington Post, the SXSW festival is one of the largest technological conferences in the country. The cancellation of two panel discussions- one on gaming journalism integrity and the other on harassment in gaming- resulted from “numerous threats of on-site violence”. This occurred after the forums were linked to Gamergate, an online community known for harassing  women (game developers, users, critics)  involved in the gaming industry, using the hashtag Gamergate as a digital signature. Gamergate users have been accused of various acts of harassment including: posting misogynistic comments, publishing personal information (private phone numbers and addresses), as well as rape and death threats. The Washington Post describes the Gamergate controversy as “the undying culture war around diversity and inclusion in video games”. In a statement, SXSW event planners explained that to ensure the safety of attendees they felt they needed to cancel  the discussions. The cancellation has created a lot of public backlash, especially because one of the forums was based on digital harassment.

cyber stalkingOne of the panel’s speakers, Caroline Sinders, gave copies of her communications with SXSW organizers to the Washington Post which highlight the neglect of the event organizers. Sinders claims that the Gamergate community is well-known for online harassment and that event planners ignored her request for security provisions prior to the event’s cancellation. She believes the events could have gone on as scheduled if planners acknowledged the social impact of digital harassment and the need for organizers to take these matters seriously. Rather than confront the very issues leading to the panel discussion, SXSW decided to avoid the conflict by cancelling the forums altogether.

I think this article illustrates how online groups can use social tools for destructive purposes. Do you think the SXSW planners were justified in cancelling the panel discussions? Is it possible to manage online harassment without sacrificing anonymity or user freedom?

References

Shirky, C. (2008). Here Comes Everybody. Penguin Books.

HitREcord and User-Generated Content

groupDigital communication has dramatically changed how we communicate and exchange information. New technologies increase social visibility, making it easier for people to establish social connections. However, while the internet has increased social visibility, it also increases their exposure to public criticism. Shirky (2008) explains the significance behind communication shift: “When we change the way we communicate, we change society” (p. 17). Shirky (2008) explains that prior to the digital age, people relied on institutions for social action, explaining: “For most of modern life, our strong talents and desires for group effort have been filtered through relatively rigid institutional structures because of the complexity of managing groups” (p. 21). He further explains that institutions have high operating costs, therefore organizations tend to engage in group action where the outcome’s value outweigh operating costs. Therefore, in the interest of self- preservation, institutions must be selective in the group efforts they undertake. Digital technology has resulted in the adoption of new communication tools and practices, transforming the way we assemble and socialize.

Before the digital age, people relied on institutions for information (libraries, bookstores, television, radio, etc.) and organized communication. Before the internet, groups generally had to meet in person Shirky (2008) explains that electronic communication has had a major impact on social exchange: “More people can communicate more things to more people than has ever been possible in the past, and the size and speed of this increase, from under one million participants to over one billion in a generation” (p. 106). He explains that allowing unrestricted access to digital information and countless social platforms removed some of the institutional barriers that constrain social interaction by providing a global space for information exchange social interaction. Additionally, he notes that social tools are just that and are not themselves the direct cause of change: “Social tools don’t create collective action-they merely remove the obstacles to it. Those obstacles have been so significant and pervasive, however, that as they are being removed, the world is becoming a different place” (p. 159).

shutterstock_1354903191Shirky (2008) explains that a major effect of this shift involves the changing of social definitions- how we define ourselves and others. He argues that the digital age has caused people to become both producers and consumers of digital content. Anyone with a camera or cell phone can publish pictures or news stories online. His discussion of professional roles was particularly interesting to me- especially the dilemma involving journalist privilege. Shirky (2008) presents a number of situations that blur the distinction between amateur and professional. Individuals are no longer dependent on institutions for public exposure because they promote their work online to a number of different audiences. This example illustrates the idea of digital media breaking down institutional barriers by giving individuals the tools and resources to explore their creative interests.

Shirky’s (2008) discussion of user-generated content made me think about a show on Netflix, called Hit Record On TV.

HitRECord is an online collaborative production company founded and directed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. In the show, Levitt presents the collaborative material created by users on his company’s website hitrecord.org. Users are permitted to upload, download, modify, and publish content. An example of collaborative material may involve one person uploading a piece of writing and a number of other users expanding on the story by adding music, sound effects, video, or other user-created effects. This online community is free to join and open to the public. Periodically, Levitt and other authors make community requests- asking for material on a particular concept and from artists working on various projects. Levitt makes the final decision on what material is aired on his show and adds that if the show airs a user’s material, they are paid for their contribution.

I think Levitt’s show and website serve as an excellent examples of user-generated content which Shirky (2008) defines as the “activities of the amateur creators are self-reinforcing. If people can share their work in an environment where they can also converse with one another, they will begin talking about the things they have shared” (p. 99). Levitt’s website becomes a ‘community’ through user interaction and collaborative contribution. This collaborative work becomes self-reinforcing through the continuous uploading, downloading, and editing of material by users.

I have never participated in a collaborative site like HitREecord and wondered if anyone has participated in a group like it? If not, would you be interested in joining a collaborative website like HitREcord? Why or why not?

References

Shirky, C. (2008). Here Comes Everybody. Penguin Books.

The Story of Stuff

Kelly (2010) explains that although technological inventions were intended to improve the quality of life, they also cause problems and complications. He explains that every year, more people die from automobile accidents (1.2 million) than from cancer. The automobile helps people by allowing them to travel and transport goods greater distances in a shorter amount of time. Despite this significant innovation, Kelly argues that we must also acknowledge the damage it has caused “This should be the first law of technological expectation: The greater the promise of a new technology, the greater it’s potential for harm as well” (p. 255).

Kelly states that evolving technologies require the acquisition of natural resources which has changed our ecosystems over time. Kelly explains that “technology takes from the least in the world— the nations with the most natural resources and least economic power— to enrich the most powerful. So as progress fattens the lives of the lucky few, it starves the unfortunate poor” (p. 203). He argues that despite the harmful effects of technology, it cannot be destroyed or ignored, therefodeforestation_2074483bre we must educate ourselves on how to make better decisions regarding its use.

After examining the negative effects of technology, Kelly explores the Amish culture and their lifestyle of “living off the grid”. His discussion of the Amish is interesting in how he shows that technology is sometimes needed to keep traditional methods in place. For example, he explains that the Amish use genetically modified corn seed because it contains a gene which creates a toxin and repels the corn borer, an insect that eats away at the corn stalks. Rather than purchase expensive farm equipment and machinery to manage the problem, the Amish plant genetically modified corn. Kelly also explains that while the Amish community is very self-reliant, they still use shovels made by machines and chemical pesticides for their crops.

Despite the problems created by technology, Kelly argues that the benefits slightly outweigh the negative effects. He explains that instead of fighting against technology, we should use it to help reveal its costs and “make better choices about how we adopt it” (p. 225). Kelly acknowledges the dilemma involved with technium: “To maximize our own contentment, we seek the minimum amount of technology in our lives. Yet to maximize the contentment of others, we must maximize the amount of technology in the world” (p. 238). To explain this point further, Kelly admits that while he may not use Twitter, watch television, or use a laptop- he benefits from those who do.

Kelly’s examination of technology and its impact on the environment reminded me of an interesting YouTube video I watched a few years ago called “The Story of Stuff”.

The video really changed my view on consumerism and its effect on our environment. In the video, Annie Leonard, explains that she has spent over 10 years investigating the materials economy (how we get our stuff). She explains that the materials economy as a linear system that starts with the extraction of goods which moves to production and distribution and then ends with the consumption and disposal of goods. She explains that this is a system is in crisis because we live on a planet with finite resources and our increasing demand for natural materials greatly outweighs our ability to replenish them. The Story of Stuff

One of the best examples used by Leonard involves her purchase of personal radio for the low price of $4.99. She explains that while standing in line, she began to wonder how $4.99 could possibly capture the true cost of the radio, noting that the “metal had probably been mined in South Africa, the petroleum was probably drilled in Iraq, the plastics were probably produced in China, and maybe the whole thing was assembled by some 15 year old in Mexico”. She explains that radio’s low price hardly covers the transportation required to get the radio from the place of production to the store shelf or the salary of the employee used to sell the product. Ultimately, she explains the cost is absorbed by the poor countries and people being exploited to produce and sell these products. Even more depressing is the fact that most of these items are trashed within 6 months.

I think this video serves as a great example how technology can be used to benefit people by informing them of potential consequences of technology and helping them to make better decisions on how it is used. In regard to the video, does anyone think that the major focus on consumerism (or capitalism) prevents Americans from seeing the costs of technology?

References

Kelly, K. (2010). What Technology Wants. Penguin Publishing Group.

Yelp for People and Online Social Rating

TechnologyKelly (2010) explains in the beginning of What Technology Wants that his primary interest is in understanding what technology is- or rather its essence. Kelly explains that despite its influence “technology has been invisible, hidden, and nameless” (p. 6). He argues that the term technology is not an adequate in describing its evolved state. Kelly reluctantly coins the term “technium” to represent the “global, massively interconnected system of technology vibrating around us” (p. 11). Kelly discusses the history and evolution of technology, describing it as an evolving organism with its own unconscious needs and tendencies: “Its mechanical wants are not carefully considered deliberations but rather tendencies. Leanings. Urges. Trajectories. The wants of technology are closer to needs, a compulsion toward something” (p. 16).

Kelly (2010) explains that while humans are able to delay technology, they cannot kill it. This is because we are driven and defined by technology. He argues that we have become “domesticated” by it: “We are coevolving with our technology, and so we have become deeply dependent on it. If all technology—every last knife and spear—were to be removed from this planet, our species would not techandbrainlast more than a few months. We are now symbiotic with technology” (p. 37). Kelly  acknowledges that because technology can be used for both good and evil, we must develop a deeper understanding of it to better manage its effects.

This week’s reading made me think of a recent The New York Times article discussing the potential release of a new app called “Peeple”. The proposed app is similar to Yelp– where users rate restaurants and hotels-  except Peeple would allow users to rate each other. After the idea for Peeple became public, it was immediately surrounded by criticism and controversy. The media, along with thousands of internet users, attacked the app as a source of internet shaming and questioned its ethical boundaries in rating human beings. The article reports that after the backlash, the app’s website and Twitter account have gone offline. Many people interpreted this an indication that the app would no longer be released. However, the app’s creator, Julia Cordray, responded to the rumors in an email, claiming that she “will not be shamed into submission” and explained that she plans to release the app in November. In examining the cached version of the Peeple website, reporters found that the user terms listed on the website state that “Users cannot remove x2872956119619e3885-Peeple.jpg.pagespeed.ic.bLYOvuriLSthemselves from the app”.

The article explains that in response to the public attacks and media criticism, Cordray released a video explaining that the app is intended to be a platform for positivity. Cordray explains  users would not be able to post negative comments and that negative ratings would not be posted immediately and would be reviewed over 48 hours before being posted to a user’s account. The 48 hour delay  allows users  to contest a negative rating or anything they deem inaccurate. Cordray explains that the ratings of individuals who have not signed up for the service would only display positive reviews since they are unable to contest negative ratings. Last week, in an interview with the Washington Post,  Cordray explained the effect of her app, saying “the way some amorphous online “crowd” sees you will be definitively who you are”.

Whether the app is released or not, the concept of rating individuals online is not new. For example, websites like RateMyProfessors and LuLu allow students and women to rate their teachers and boyfriends. Additionally, patients can review their physicians, dentists, and other professionals using a variety of websites. Keeping this in mind, it seems as though the release of an app that allows the general public to rate each other (whether Peeple or something different) is a plausible reality.lulu-app-screenshot1

I am interested in your opinions on whether an app like “Peeple” is something that could be used for good or evil? Would people monitor their actions more if they knew it would affect their online rating? Or would the app be used destructively- as a form of internet shaming? Is Cordray right in saying that how an “online crowd” sees you will be definitively who you are? Do you think Kelly would agree with this statement?

References

Kelly, K. (2010). What Technology Wants. Penguin Publishing Group.