Twitter – Distraction or Augmentation?

It was interesting to observe the role that Twitter played in class and how it offered another channel to contribute in class and develop social capital. The instances where I felt I gained the most credibility/ recognition in class were related to tweets I made about articles and information from outside of class. For this information, I pulled from other networks and relied on the strength of weak ties. Benkler (2006) notes that “weak ties … allow… people to transmit information across social networks about available opportunities and resources” (p. 368). Similarly, Gladwell (2010) suggests that weak ties are “our greatest source of new ideas and information.” Our class has read all the same articles, so I was able to add value by going outside that shared experience. The Twitter feeds had quite a few people bringing in ideas from outside of class and outside of our class network. I did a quick review of the 73 tweets on the #COMM506 stream last Tuesday and Wednesday: 31 tweets echoed information discussed in class, 4 tweets brought in external links that directly related to class material, 21 were comments of appreciation for contributors, 10 related to general class themes rather than the specific content of the class, and only 7 or so were tangents or commentary that related very indirectly to class. The experience of tweeting during class and this quick analysis suggests that Twitter augmented the class rather than simply serving as a distraction.

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Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing… Anonymously

Coleman’s discussion of the development of Anonymous exemplifies a lot of the concepts that we’ve discussed in class. Kadushin notes that “network structures of all kinds do develop from repeated interactions over time.” Coleman reflections on Anonymous’ beginnings follow the establishment of a effectance network with group norms. She suggests that even though Anonymous is not a cohesive group, through shared activities, brainstorming initiatives, and interactions, they have established shared norms: they are “oriented towards issues of censorship, information freedom” and firmly believe that “anonymous speech is necessary for a healthy democratic society.” Strategic expectations like not targeting the media or promoting violence are also shared. The idea of “lulz” as an activist “release valve” is also a common expectation.

Coleman describes Anonymous as “anti-leader and anti-celebrity.” Yet, while Anonymous does not have what Kadushin calls formal leadership, “IRC operators” or “ops” are very much informal leaders. Coleman reports that “those who are more present on the network and have put in more work carry more authority.” The idea that you get what you put in in terms of work is very much tied to social capital. These individuals end up informally policing and enacting network and cultural norms. The best example Coleman provides the example of how individuals who take credit for Anonymous activities get called on it or banished.

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Julian Assange – A real life “Enemy of the State”?

After having watched the clip of “Enemy of the State” in class last week, I took a break over the weekend to watch the whole film. It was as enjoyable as I remembered, if a little more scary this time given last week’s discussions about online security (or the lack thereof).

Retrieved from Google Images

I saw an interesting parallel between Will Smith’s character and Julian Assange in terms of how they were portrayed as pariah’s by the media. Assange’s comments about journalists needing to be or have frequent access to an electronic surveillance expert in order to protect their sources reflected how necessary Gene Hackman’s character was to Will Smith’s continued existence. Nevertheless, Assange comes across as a lot less black and white in terms of the good guy – bad guy spectrum. His reflections on how the U.S. Government is trying to reinterpret the Espionage Act were disturbing, but they were undermined by the fact that Assange does tend to come across as arrogant and self-oriented in media coverage, including the Rolling Stone interview.

Both Assange and the film insist that people need to be active in protecting their civil liberties. Assange argued that “You can either be informed and your own rulers, or you can be ignorant and have someone else who is not ignorant, rule over you,” which is something similar to what Chris Parsons told us last week. In our other reading, Kidd reflects on the need for audiences to be more engaged with and less passive about the news they receive. She notes “most people still do not have the time to produce their own stories, nor to read Indymedia with the critical eye and self-motivated searching that the site demands.” Articles on Assange are interesting to read, because one is never sure exactly how much salt to read them with.

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Who’s responsible for online privacy?

During her presentation on the app, Girls around Me, @LeahMcYYC asked whose responsibility it was to ensure people’s information is secure – we who provide the information or the platform like Facebook into which we enter it. From my perspective, privacy settings on social media (especially social media on which children are active) should default to the safest settings. Behaviour architecture research suggests that more often than not people will remain with the default settings regardless of what they are. In Moubarak, Guiot, Behhamou, Benhamou & Hariri’s (2010) study on the Facebook activity of resident physicians and fellows, researchers noted that residents on Facebook were more likely to change their default settings after they had been on Facebook for more than a year.

In their book Nudge, Thaler and Sunstein insist that we can use the science of choice to make it easier for people to make their lives healthier and safer. Making default settings the safer/healthier choice and putting healthy food at the front of the cafeteria are two examples they provide of behaviour architecture.

Ultimately, we are responsible for our own online safety, but online companies like Facebook should help not hinder us.

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A Rookie Mistake – on and offline

The discussion around the false differentiation that has been made between online and offline crime and the need to be as savvy and careful online and off really hit home. John Brownlee’s reflections on the app Girls Around Me emphasizes that the web can make us vulnerable, but only if we let it by not being careful with our information just as we would be offline.

For me, the Facebook “Relationship Status” is a tiny case in point.

Retrieved from Google Images.

I can see the value of providing this information. I have friends that are a couple because he asked her out when her relationship status changed to single, which he might not otherwise have known. But it is necessary to be discriminating about providing it – just like you would be offline. Why? … I have also had a friend who announced she was in a relationship on Facebook before the person she was in a relationship with was of the same mind. Awkward. A rookie mistake on or offline, but online makes the mistake a little more public.

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Individualism & Integration

I have been trying to wrap my mind around two ideas that Kendall and Kadushin attribute to Georg Simmel, a turn-of-the-century sociologist. According to Kendall, Simmel believed that the move toward individualism in Western culture was tied to the increase or cross-cutting in people’s social networks. Kadushin reports that for Simmel clusters within networks provide bridges between different status and circles and serve to integrate society.

A few centuries ago, we would have almost been guaranteed to have smaller denser networks than we do now. where Plop me down in the 15th or 16th Century and there’s a good chance, I would grow up in a farming community, marry a farmer, have kids who would become farmers (or marry them), attend church, and die in the same community; within that community, virtually everything including hobbies, knowledge, experience would be things I shared in common with the entire community. At the end of today’s class, I wound up in the “everyone else group” that did not share any of the commonalities that determined the other groups (having a cat, reading the rankings on red wine bottles, running, etc.) To have so little in common would never have happened even 60 or 70 years ago, we all would have belonged to most of the same clubs and associations. Now there are so many organizational affiliations to chose from – your network is unique to you. Simmel suggests that the different groups, identifications, networks that we have access to now have influenced our culture’s leaning toward individualism. When we start to have less in common, it is a lot easier to focus on ourselves and how we’re different.

Yet, alongside this dark, fractionated individualism, Simmel suggests that the clusters and varied affiliations within our networks – the same ones that enable individualism – also serve to integrate our society. The small world novel suggests that these social circles intertwine us into society in a much broader way that begins to undermine borders, class systems, glass ceilings, etc. Its an interesting tradeoff between between bonding and bridging ties that carries with it a lot of cultural implications.

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Network Diversity & Community Involvement

Keith Hampton’s article “Comparing bonding and bridging ties for democratic engagement: Everyday use of communication technologies within social networks for civic and civil behaviours,” builds on many of the sociological networking concepts that Kadushin has introduced in his earlier chapters. Hampton is particularly interested with democratic engagement within which he includes both political participation and community involvement. Previous research has posited that the structure of social networks is able to predict democratic engagement. Hampton seeks to explore the role of bonding or bridging ties on democratic engagement as well as how information and communications technologies influence this engagement.

Through a telephone interview asking people about their civic involvement, their networks, and their technology, Hampton posits that the following positive relationships exist:

  • size and heterogeneity of core networks and democratic engagement
  • core network size and some civic & civil behaviours (community group involvement, listening to a neighbour’s problems & helping them with chores)
  • core network heterogeneity and likelihood of participating in a sports league & listening to a neighbour’s problems
  • more face-to-face interactions with core network and likelihood of helping neighbours with chores and helping to care for a member of their family
  • more mail and likelihood of caring for a member of a neighbour’s family and lending them money
  • texting and likelihood for participating in a sports league
  • instant messaging and likelihood of helping a neighbour with chores and loan money.
  • use of social networking services and likelihood of belonging to a community organization

Based on his data, Hampton suggests that civic engagement is more correlated with bridging ties and network diversity than bonding ties.

One of the challenges that I had with this paper was Hampton’s focus on the “overall network” in the paper when his results are largely associated with the core network. Moreover, he establishes a binary between weak (core) and strong ties while at the same time establishing a binary between bonding and bridging ties. Although Hampton differentiates between bridging and weak ties, weak and bonding ties end up being conflated. What results from Hampton’s use of these binaries is the expectation that the results will not focus on the core to the extent that they do.

Questions:

  1. Were you surprised by any of the results?
  2. Georg Simmel proposed that individualism grew out of the change from singular community tie to the multiple (cross-cut) ties provided by urban life, social media, etc? Are we increasingly individualistic, because our networks are so much more fragmented now?
  3. Can you think of any examples where network diversity has been discouraged to try to encourage a more homophilic, tighter-knit group?
  4. What do you think of Hampton’s speculation that political disagreement among core ties may lead to a tradeoff between political participation and civic behaviours?

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Cosmetics, Corporate Espionage & Network Motivations

A huge amount of working in management and communications is motivating employees. Chapter 7 of Kadushin was very helpful in providing a new frame with which to look at this challenge. Kadushin looks specifically at motivations associated with safety and effectance. Safety ties in particularly well with organizations that have built a strong organizational culture. The example that comes to mind is Mary Kay, because Hillary, Michelle, Leah, and I focused our group project on the culture of Mary Kay. The business spends a lot of time and money establishing symbols and rituals that reinforce the idea of fellow consultants and directors as “sisters,” mentors and trainees, and a support network of professional women interested in helping each other and their customers to become the best they can be. They build their conferences, their rewards structure, their ranking system to strengthen these ties in such a way that sales and recruitment has implications not just for themselves, but for their whole team. The culture works to build dense ties to motivate Mary Kay consultants.

In terms of effectance motivation, I thought of WestJet and, in particular, the incident a few years back in which an employee who used to work for Air Canada used his old login information to provide Air Canada flight load information to WestJet. Because WestJet employees own shares in the company and do well when the company does well, their success lies less in strong ties with each other and more on being able to take advantage of information from external networks. (Not that WestJet makes a habit of corporate espionage; I am merely suggesting that their structure makes an effectance network and individuals who can leverage other networks more useful.)

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Leaving Luddism

I admit it. I have been living in fear. I have had a Facebook page for years, but I only used it for work and I set it up under a pseudonym so my friends couldn’t find me. I figured it was less likely that something horrendously embarrassing might be posted, ruining any future political ambitions (of which I have none, but I always figured it was good to have options – even incredibly unlikely ones), if my profile wasn’t there to attach it to. I have also watched roommates sink hours and hours of what I considered fruitless time monitoring Facebook. Even Benkler’s assertion that Internet time comes mostly at the expense of television (the “deep-fried dough” of social experience) and shopping was not reassuring. (After all, I like TV and shopping.)

So I set up a second Facebook account yesterday. Under my real name even. Interestingly the people who responded fastest were those who live in different cities who I have not seen in years. Already I see what Benkler calls “a thickening of preexisting relations with friends…” (p. 357). I am a horrible correspondent; when I do write, the effort I put into each email to make up for the great deal of time that has passed since last I corresponded ensures that I won’t write again for another year. Responding to a post, however, doesn’t require nearly the same amount of effort or the expectations around immediate response. Maintaining these relations has become a more fluid process where previously it was a largely lapsed one.

Just in terms of our classes’ experience on twitter over the past week, I feel as if we are forming our own little “gemeinshaft” which is both satisfying and surprisingly rewarding. I certainly feel more connected to the rest of #MACT2011 than I did over the past year. Our twitter experience is the first social media experience that I found concretely supported that social media could provide or enhance a social community on more than a superficial level.

Meanwhile I keep getting welcomed to Facebook like the luddite that I now realize I am.

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Communication Evolution

Tomorrow’s reading provided an interesting parallel between the evolution of social networks then (ancient, in person) and now (today, online). Coren Apicella’s reflections on how the Hadza networks evolve to ensure that cooperation and altruism are survival traits are fascinating. Apicella’s description of the homophily that draws altruists to group together to provide a “net benefits for the sharers” without the deadweight of those who are more self-oriented.

Shirky’s article also touches on the threat of members who can threaten the survival of the group, though in this case, these individuals are not specifically the selfish. Shirky notes however a number of ways in which online groups have evolved to address this threat. Technology is not ultimately the solution to member behavior issues; rather, just as with the Hadza, it is the role of “society” to modify itself through membership barriers and behavioural norms that can be enforced. Shirky provides the examples of Slashdot and a number of other social media sites who have evolved means of ensuring the survival of the group, often at the expense of the individual.

We tend to consider the communications issues that arise with social media to be unique; however, this parallel and COMM 505 would suggest that part of human society is adapting itself to ever-changing communications technologies.

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