Tag Archives: censorship

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The 5 People Who Could Destroy Twitter

I’m a fan of Twitter – it can be really useful. But status update services and microblogging are relatively young technologies. Twitter is the frontrunner now, but it’s still possible that everything could go south really fast. Here are five people (or more accurately, types of people) who could destroy Twitter and what can be done to stop them.

The list is in no order, except I’ve saved the most dangerous for last.

1. Spammers

Seeing a lot more spammers on Twitter lately... Twitter spam is growing, and my guess is it’s a profitable business to be in. Spammers are getting crazy refollow-rates with very little effort put into their fake profiles. Part of this is a technical problem, with Twitter playing catchup to the collective innovative power of the greediest jerks on the internet. The more difficult part is social – users’ trust barriers are too low. Either Twitter finds ways to deal with this, or people will start treating reply tweets, direct messages, and invites the same way they do unsolicited emails now. One of the reasons I stopped logging in to MySpace was a flurry of fake friend requests that followed every session. Twitter runs that risk, in addition to the risk of service degradation.

What can be done? The good news is that no communication medium can be considered successful until someone has tried to send you unsolicited marketing and scams over it. But the Twitter team needs to redouble their efforts and head off potential problems proactively. For example, there are lots and lots of apps built on top of Twitter’s API – and almost all of them ask for your username and password. How long until one of those apps is compromised, or worse scammers make password-phishing apps of their own? Twitter needs to implement strong API keys or something like OpenID.

2. Anyone who uses url shortening services.

It’s hard to fit both a witty observation and a url in 140 characters, especially given url inflation. Bit.ly, Tinyurl, and the like perform the valuable service of giving you more space. They also cloak the destination of almost all the links on Twitter and get everyone used to following links blindly. I’ve already had friends whose accounts were hacked in order to send out a tweet like: “Check out this hilarious video: http://tiny/innocuousgibberish”. The New York Times’ account has been hacked, among others. Twitter can work on improving security and removing spam, but the more everyone uses url shorteners the more we train our friends to click recklessly. I’m as guilty on this one as anyone.

What can be done? People post links to Twitter frequently enough that maybe it should be separate field with it’s own character limit. If that’s too much complication for the brilliantly simple interface, maybe url previews should be enforced. Clients can do this now, but to be safe it should be done by Twitter.

3. Pirates, ninjas, zombies, and mafia thugs

Ah, I remember logging into Facebook the day I got my first “robots vs. hobos vs. Chuck Norris vs. etc.” request. “Ha,” I thought, “that’s a somewhat entertaining way to extend an internet meme into a social networking site.” Little did I know the horror that was about to unfold.

In all seriousness, the “tag, you’re it” games and gratuitous survey apps didn’t ruin Facebook, but they did make everything a bit more tedious. Those apps still fit within the umbrella of social networking – they don’t work at all in Twitter’s use model. When I log in, I want to see, very quickly, what the people I’m interested in are doing or reading. I don’t want to weed through their halves of various games I’m not interested in.

What can be done? This one is up to us – just don’t do it. Twittering with a hashtag for an event, a theme, etc. is fun and useful to others. Sending around vampire bites is not.

4. Chinese government officials

Think periodic fail whale sightings is bad for Twitter’s reliability? China can (and does) just block the whole site, most recently in advance of the Tienanmen Square anniversary. Why does this matter? China is a huge market, and growing. The days where being big in the U.S. meant major marketshare on the whole web are running short. What’s worse countries with theoretically free speech like Australia are following the Chinese model, proposing national internet content control (i.e. censorship).

What can be done? Many American companies just give up. Even Google has had to bend to government pressure. This is not easy to remedy. Perhaps there’s a way to take advantage of the small byte size of tweets, decentralize serving, and wrap access with something like Tor to get it through the Great Firewall. Let’s hope there’s a grad student or genius hacker out there with the right idea and Twitter is smart enough to hire them.

And finally, the absolute worst, most pressing threat the Twitter’s survival is…

(drumroll….)

5. Your mom

Despite the allure of turning this into one big “your mom” joke, I am completely serious. What happens when your mom joins Twitter? Do you censor yourself? Take your tweets private? Delete off-color tweets from your recent past?

There’s no right answer. Just about any social software eventually runs into this dilemma where the very different ways you communicate personally, professionally, and publicly collide.

What can be done? Some of the problem might fade as the userbase of sites like MySpace, Facebook and Twitter ages. But that will take years, so what can Twitter do now? It might help to have better relationship management. You could at least put your friends in one group and family in another. But in general, this strikes me as the toughest problem of them all – I don’t think there are any real solutions for the general possibility of parental embarrassment, or all efforts of every teenager in the world has yet to reveal discover them.

Disagree? Any threats I missed? Please post in the comments below.

The Internet, the Marketplace of Ideas, and the Public Sphere

This thesis paper was originally written for a journalism course at Ohio Wesleyan University in 2001.

Introduction

Discussions about the Internet are dominated by colorful and often ill-defined metaphors.  One is expected to surf the information superhighway over to the infobahn, on the way to the digital town hall in the global village to peruse the marketplace of ideas.  This last metaphor, the market where ideas are offered, considered and either accepted or rejected like so much fruit, is more than just a colorful image.  Media and cultural studies often examine the marketplace of ideas theory and the public sphere when examining how mass media work in a democracy.  The Internet seems a natural place to look for both.

Often discussions about the marketplace of ideas and the public sphere are confined the question to whether or not they are worthwhile goals- many critics see them as impossible or rife with flaws.  The marketplace of ideas notion of traditional mass media seems out of sync with reality.  High entry costs into the mass media, central ownership by large corporations, the popular media’s tendency to marginalize radical and little-known ideas, etc., all act as barriers to a free flow of ideas.

The Internet, however, could theoretically create or function as a public forum.  Every media consumer can become a media producer on the Internet, and in some ways (newsgroups and mailing lists, for example) the line between consumers and producers of media are blurred.  Unlike other media, the cost of making a web site viewed by millions is not necessarily larger than a web site viewed by only a handful.  Communication is instantaneous and choice is not limited to what is provided by a few large companies.  Radical groups in every subject from terrorism to literary theory are able to publish as easily as mainstream political parties.

But is the Internet the true public forum, or even a real marketplace of ideas?  A quick look at Internet usage statistics shows relatively few large producers dominating traffic.  According to Nielsen/Netratings, for example, AOL Time Warner recorded 65,954,683 unique visitors in March, out of an estimated 101,965,365

active Internet users that month.1 With well over one billion web sites on the web to visit and the average user only visiting 10 unique sites a month, most of the traffic is going to a limited number of places-just as most readership goes to a limited number of magazines, newspapers, television stations, etc.

But why are web sites with less money and fewer corporate ties having a harder time getting viewers?  What barriers have arisen to make it hard to get a large audience, and why has the Internet followed the lead of central corporate ownership like the rest of the mass media?  How is the Internet like a public forum and how is it not?

Thesis

The Internet does not function as a de facto public sphere or marketplace of ideas but it does have enormous potential.  Barriers such as the Digital Divide and website funding problems keep the Internet from being a completely free forum while most users most of the time seem to have no interest in entering the public sphere at all.  A few notable examples, however, prove that the Internet has the power to allow public communication, debate, and opinion formation to flourish when users take advantage of it.

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Examining the feminist critique of pornography

In Doyle and Lacombe’s “Porn Power: Sex, Violence and the Meanings of Images in 1980s Feminism,” they argue feminists in the 80s who saw pornography as violence against women and their chief rivals, the Feminists Against Censorship, both missed an important point-many women use pornography for positive purposes.  Though the latter group argued the sexist images of porn came from sexist society, not men’s violent desires to use women, they still implicitly disapproved of it.

The authors argue that this agreement that mainstream porn could not be positive as well as their unwillingness to listen to women who enjoyed porn or worked in the sex industry meant that although the sides fought bitterly, their stance was effectively the same.  In the 80s, the only point of view allowed by feminists was that porn is bad, is against women, and cannot be enjoyed by women without harming them.  Doyle and Lacombe argue this simply is not the case.  They cite a Time poll that showed 40 percent of x-rated video renters were women.  More importantly, both sides failed to get above conventional ideas about power.  For example, some women find mainstream porn to be empowering in that it often breaks class barriers and shows women pursuing pleasure guiltlessly.  The lines between porn and art are often blurred, and most porn actresses do not find their work unpleasant at all-despite the assumption by most feminists that they are forced to do this demeaning thing by circumstances.  Porn created with a male audience in mind arouses even liberated women, and many porn workers consider themselves feminists.

I think they’re bringing up a valid point.  I truly doubt that 40 percent of porn consumption is done by women, and other studies I’ve read about Internet porn viewership usually place the number lower.  But it is true that modern mainstream pornography (which isn’t that different from 80s or 70s porn) is created and used by women who are not being deluded into victimization by the patriarchy.  As a fairly strong supporter of the First Amendment, I am against the efforts to ban obscenity altogether, but I’m not sure the Feminists Against Censorship can be so easily disregarded.  Their notion of resisting sexism in porn and perhaps creating a new kind of porn I think is admirable so long as they keep in mind it’s their opinion.  One thing I’m not sure I completely buy is the recent notion (reflected by many of the sex workers in this piece) that “acting” in porn and using your body for profit is real empowerment.  First of all, many of these performers are not valued for their performance, skill, artistry, and certainly not for their personality or worth as people.  They are valued as disposable objects by 15-year-olds with modems and creepy old men in quarter-fed viewing booths.  Empowerment is having the ability to choose to do anything and if you work hard enough, to succeed.  The fact that you are paid well is not empowerment in any sense outside catalogue shopping.  Second, they are doing nothing to change society’s basic attitudes that such women are sluts and such men are studs.  The overall effect is not as negative as many feminists think, but I doubt it’s very positive.