This is the WordPress Page

This is actually a WordPress post. Using a special kind of frame, we can actually share the content of one site to the other.

Essentially by posting on the WordPress, the site actually auto-updates from the WordPress page. This means that we can retain the simplicity of WordPress posting for real time and regular updates, but at the same time implement our own, custom frames (for the logo, sponsors, et cetera).  We get the ease of use of WordPress, but the customization options of a private site.

That said, WordPress has also added a template customization feature we might be able to use for a similar purpose.  Specifically and nicely, the WordPress site now allows for what they call WYSIWYG (“wissy-wig”) customization (“What you see is what you get.”) This simplifies customization and tailored coding for the page, however it does cost additional money and I’m still not sure how much customization is actually contained within.

Where we go from here is really up to you, but I’m really taken with this option to create a relatively stable site which keeps drivers, fans, and sponsors happy, but that also retains the simple user-interface of the WordPress approach.

Thanks for taking a look, Ms. Ann!



Class Options for December 5th, 2012

Hey everybody!

Next week is our last class meeting, and we thought it might be fun to meet together someplace other than the classroom to perhaps grab some food and socialize as we round the semester out.

As this IS a class in democracy and social media, it seems reasonable that we should perhaps discuss some options together and then maybe vote on a final meeting choice. (I would, however, encourage everyone to think about options in Mid-Town, the area across University Avenue from the U.F. campus.)

There are many wonderful choices, and I can’t imagine a better way to round out the semester than with a chance to meet and socialize with each other outside of the traditional classroom environment.

Does anyone have any preferences, suggestions, or desired places to meet?  Please let us know in the comments!

UGC and Participation: The Communications Scholar’s New Clothes?

This week’s readings both broached the relationship of user-generated content (UGC) with traditional (i.e. “one-way” communications models). Although the two articles examined the phenomenon from markedly distinct perspectives, with one observing UGC on commercial sites in developed settings, the other UGC as content on both the internet and through traditional communications systems (video and radio) in the developing world, the two articles did find common ground.

From my perspective, one theme which bound the two articles together was summarized nicely in a rhetorical question in the Jonsson & Ornebring piece. “Are audience members addressed as user-citizens, or user-consumers, or some kind of combination of the two?” For Jonsson & Ornebring, the answer was both. UGC was seen not only as the act of participatory citizenship, but also a predictor of increased site use as well as a net-strengthener of future consumption behaviors. In short, participation, as the authors argued, became something of a branding exercise for the host news organizations.

In the Tacchi piece, a somewhat more troubling emphasis on the consumption side of UGC emerges. The author observes about research regarding EAN. Ironically, despite professing qualitative and participatory methods, the metrics used to assess the “success” of UGC in development and social change applications are the same ones we’ve always used. Tacchi makes an ambitious attempt to present the approach as somehow novel or locally sensitive, employing a plethora of buzzwords like “impact,” “qualitative,” “engagement,” et cetera, yet the section is rounded out: “This produces qualitative data in a way that aims to not only ‘prove’ impact to donor organizations, but also allow the organization to ‘improve’ its practices.”

This is to say that once the veneer is stripped off and the fancy lingo removed, the basic scenario is the same as that partially observed by Jonsson & Ornebring. For Jonsson & Ornebring, UGC is in part an effort to address user-consumers (i.e. the “old” communications business model). For Tacchi, new models are validated only through the application of antiquated metrics of “success” which serve to either maintain, increase, or end, “participatory” communications opportunities. (This is to say that both contexts, despite the optimistic premise of UGC, are still dependent on the traditional business models UGC claims to subvert. Replace “donor organizations” with “advertisers” and boom… Tacchi has officially discovered the media.)

As a field, communications scholars have this amazing tendency to perceive newness where in fact, it isn’t. (At one point, Tacchi discusses the exciting new, participatory communications system emerging in India called the radio.) As is my custom, an old South Park clip naturally leapt to mind. Equipping users with the tools to generate their own content isn’t necessarily a novel addition to communications, that’s pretty much how communications systems start.

The frustrating thing, though, is this isn’t necessarily the case. True participation and user-generated content can be tremendously powerful, however, this week’s papers struggled to differentiate the old from the new, a differentiation necessary for UGC to achieve it’s true potential.

Remix Comments, now with extra Madeon

As I am quite possibly the world’s most digitally inept individual, I didn’t feel confident about producing my own remix video. That said, I did want to include a link to one of my favorite remixes here. This is a remix by the digital artist Madeon consisting of samples from 39 of his favorite pop hits. It’s similar to Girl Talk in a way, but his remixing is actually more thorough, and the emergent product draws from, but is wholly unique from the original content.

Long story short, a lot of the discussion in class skewed awfully close to simple content ripping, or stealing content for the intend of re-presenting it in contexts and for purposes very similar to those of the original artist. Madeon, however, illustrates to me how a talented “remix artist” can use sampled content to create something wholly unique from it’s source material. (Plus, it’s just a very catchy song.)

Crowdsourcing: Ancient Mayan, Genetic Mysteries, and Weapons of Mass Destruction

This week’s readings on crowdsourcing provide a revealing look at both the benefits and drawbacks of seeking problem-solving assistance through reliance on the online community. As the world grows increasingly interconnected through interactive communications technologies, there can be little doubt that crowdsourcing solutions to problems will gain in traction as a low-cost, highly-creative option for individuals and groups seeking “out-of-the-box” solutions to world problems.

Truthfully, although the internet and digital communications certainly provide unique advancement to the desire for crowdsourced solutions, I was particularly piqued by the relationship of the phenomenon with history.  Having recently watched a documentary on the way in which ancient Mayan symbols were decoded, I couldn’t help but notice certain overlaps between this week’s readings and the way in which early-20th Century linguists attacked the interpretation of the Mayan language. 

Much like both articles this week, early efforts to decode Mayan characters were similar in that the content was made publicly available, and many efforts to decode the characters came from individuals outside of the traditional academic structures.  Indeed, looking outside of the traditional community of linguists and anthropologists enabled the development of highly unorthodox approaches to the question of Mayan semiotics.

Brabham noted the importance of escaping the traditional systems and structures of thought in pursuit of unorthodox solutions to the problems of urban planning. Indeed, in the decoding of Mayan linguistics, the efforts of individuals unshackled by traditional academic paradigms enabled irregular approaches to the problem, culminating in the efforts of one Russian academic, Yuri Knozorov, completely isolated from other experts in the field via the Iron Curtain, to approach the problem of decoding ancient Mayan script in a totally unique (and successful) manner.  (Interestingly, when Knozorov saw leaders in the field claiming the text was completely undecipherable, rather than heeding the warnings as valid, he took the claims as a challenge, thus fostering that “game” like atmosphere for himself.)

Current communications technologies enable crowdsourced efforts far beyond those from history, however. For a modern day solution to the question of crowdsourcing, I’ve chosen a slightly irregular example, Stanford University and Sony’s “Folding at Home” (FAH) partnership.

Although Stanford researchers had access to valid models for simulating molecular behavior, they lacked access to computer systems potent enough to actually perform the task, which would require petaFLOPS of processing power.  Ironically, borrowing their solution from a similar one discovered by the Iraqi government under Hussein, Stanford and Sony formed a partnership utilizing the processing power of bundled Playstation 3s in pursuit of solutions to the problem, “Folding at Home.” Crowdsourcing the unused processing power of inactive Playstation3 units (with their owners’ permission), FHA essentially mimicked the processing power of a supercomputer via the networking of Sony’s video game consoles around the world.

To award participants, FHA also enabled the realtime observation of the research, as well as access to emergent data.  What is more, a realtime global map of other Playstation units engaged in FHA enabled users to feel part of a larger, crowdsourced effort.

Elections and Citizen Journalism: Trust and Looking Back to the Future of Political Coverage

When I was teaching, we had a problem that turned into a joke around the office.  Parents expected teachers to be extremely strict with the students.  Conversely, the students expected us to be extremely lenient.  To make the parents happy we had to make the students mad and vice-versa.  This insoluble dilemma became a joke, “If the parents are mad because you’re too nice and the students are mad because you’re too strict, then you must be doing a good job!”


This week’s readings seemed to carry a similar challenge for online journalists and audiences in a word that threaded its way through both articles: trust.  As Kaufhold, Valenzuela, and de Zuniga point out, Pew data suggests trust in the media is at a historic low.  For Akoh and Ahiabenu, mistrust undermines the relationship of professional journalists with election officials in African democracies. For Kaufhold et al, the lack of trust was seen as causal of political cynicism.  For Akoh and Ahiabenu, mistrust undermined the ability of journalists to validate elections by observation from start to finish, thus stymying manipulation between vote collection and tabulation.


In both cases, the lack of trust in the relationship of journalism with democracy seems to emulate my experience.  For Kaufhold et al., if members of both parties are convinced that the media is biased against their candidate and FOR the other then the reporting is relatively balanced.  If African citizens are convinced that the media isn’t covering elections thoroughly and election officials are convinced that the media is asking for too much access, then the media must be doing its job.


Ironically, I felt as though Kaufhold et al mentioned a cure for mistrust in political journalism, although they perhaps missed it in their data (IMO they reported it backwards). The authors argue that “people who trust citizen journalism are substantially more active online.”  This suggests that faith in citizen journalism precedes online activity, which I suspect is an inversion of the interaction.  I argue that increased online activity informs confidence in citizen journalism, rather than vice-versa. 


If this is valid, it stands to reason that as African consumers gain increasing access to online media, and as election officials grow more familiar with their journalist counterparts, an overall increase in trust among the groups will emerge.


As for the impact of citizen journalism on politics, I felt an irony in this week’s prompt.  A lot of people presume that balance in political reporting are the status quo in America, but both of these priorities emerged in an effort by the media to reach larger audiences for their advertisers.  Before the early-20th century, ALL political content, including media coverage, was funded by partisan groups and parties. I would argue that, rather than facing a new era in political content, we may actually be facing a reversion to the highly-partisan content of the past.  Perhaps instead of predicting the future, the key to understanding what tomorrow holds for political reporting may be lie a century ago.

The question of how and why content “goes viral” is a critical one for communicators seeking to utilize the internet to disseminate digital messages.  This week’s reading attempted to utilize experimental research to better understand the forces that drive virality. Breaking down viral content into emotional factors, authors Berger & Milkman attempted to develop a better understanding the relationship of emotion and “activation” in the decisions of users to forward digital content to their peers.

Intriguingly, despite the thoroughness of Berger & Milkman’s analysis, it seems as though there may be gaps in the research, possibly some problematic intersections of the factors they chose to research. While it was found that certain emotions and content-types were more likely to activate the forwarding of content, there may be dangerous intersections left unexplored in the piece. A troublesome dynamic regarding “viral” content emerges at the intersection of anger (which Berger & Milkman found increased the likelihood of content forwarding) and humor (which was also drove forwarding).  One case which (troublingly) falls into this intersection is the viral conflict between YouTube user Jessi Slaughter and web community 4Chan.

In July of 2010, a series of videos posted by 11-year old Jessica Leonhardt (user name KerliGirl13) exploded in visibility when they were posted to the online forum 4Chan.  4Chan, in particular the /b/ forum, are well known as cyber-pranksters, and when the YouTube rants of KerliGirl13 hit the site, the members quickly decided to teach the girl a lesson in internet obnoxiousness. What started out as a “flame” attack quickly devolved into something more dangerous as 4Chan users collected increasingly personal data about the girl behind the account.  To make matters worse, the public profile of the case actually increased when an additional film of the father of KirliGirl13 screaming nearly incoherently and thoroughly demonstrating a complete lack of grasp of how the internet operates.  Borrowed from YouTube and posted to boingboing, the clip quickly launched the case into “viral” status.

A case of online bullying run-awry turned all the darker as members of the 4Chan group ran down offline contact information about KerliGirl13, posting her address and telephone numbers online for members to extend the online attack into the offline world as well.  When the bullying became death threats, local police had to intervene to stymy potential violence.

The story of KerliGirl13 highlights gaps in Berger & Milkman’s coverage.  While Berger & Milkman observed relationships between humor and anger in viral content, they didn’t discuss the potentialities of content which generates both anger and humor.  What is more, in an online culture that glorifies schadenfreude, situations such as KerliGirl13 can quickly become digital firestorms. It also merits further investigation of how “viral” content affects audience interpretation of the content itself. Here, for example, it seems as though the further that audiences get from the source of content (as in “viral” scenarios) the easier dehumanization of the subject comes. Behaviors that would never be acceptable ordinarily suddenly may become seemingly acceptable in viral situations.

Viral Online Media: When Bullying Goes Mainstream

Twitter: Valuable Social Network or Postmodern Abbott & Costello Routine?

For this week’s blog assignment, I turned a developmental yet critical eye towards my long under-utilized Twitter account. Twitter is one of those odd social networks that I’ve never quite managed to wrap my head around.  I find myself somewhat frustrated by the individuals who seem to think that it represents a new, egalitarian level of access to erstwhile celebrities (a view thoroughly debunked by the Marwick and boyd piece).  I equally find myself disconcerted by the notion that meaningful communication can occur in an environment with a strict 140 character limit (a problem discussed at length by Wilson). Similarly, I don’t know why I would seek a connection through Twitter with brands that already pepper me with content through unsolicited advertising.  Why would I go out of my way to make their lives easier?


Despite these past frustrations with Twitter as a means of networking, I gritted my teeth and set to work on this week’s blog assignment. At first I sought to implement the criterion listed (although I made the mistake of not looking at the blog assignment until late Saturday night).  I selected a list of influential tech microbloggers. (After all, who better to demonstrate the strengths of Twitter as a means of communication than individuals who self-profess expertise in the tech sector?) Unfortunately, I quickly discovered that these users who approach Twitter from a professional perspective in fact treat the media similarly to any other job (i.e. 9-5 Monday-Friday).  Following a few hours of resounding silence, I decided that I would like to look more deeply into the phenomenon of “Twitter faking” as discussed by Wilson.  As Wilson had already delved into the political dynamics of fake twitter accounts in an Australian setting and as Marwick and boyd had discussed celebrity twitter activity, I decided to juxtapose the two approaches and examine fake celebrity twitter feeds.

Returning to Twitter after such a prolonged period of apathy, I was a little surprised by some of the dynamics of adding such active users to my feed.  To be more specific: IT’S MAKING ME CRAZY!

It’s not that I don’t like it, truly it’s not.  It’s just that the constant live-updating makes a person like me feel like I have to keep my newsfeed open ALL THE TIME, otherwise I’ll miss an update. Every time I navigate away for a few minutes, when I return I invariably find a message alerting me that a few dozen new tweets are waiting for me. This process was complicated all the more that many of my feeds (both older and added as part of this assignment) were tweeting furiously about Felix Baumgartner’s outerspace skydive.

On some level, participating (meagerly) with the Red Bull Stratos project through reading and retweeting activity about the event was interesting.  The mere feeling of being a live participant in an event through which I had no engagement whatsoever other than a live-streaming video and twitter feed was pretty eye-opening, but it was by no means the end of my experience.

Particularly troubling for me was a component of the Twitterverse which emerges at the juxtaposition of this week’s assigned readings.  Marwick & boyd argue that “Celebrity practitioners must harness this ability to maintain ongoing affiliations and connections with their fans, rather than seem uncaring or unavailable. Thus Twitter creates a new expectation of intimacy” (p 156). Conversely, Wilson’s analysis suggested a system which “offers tangible rewards and reinforcements for successful fakers… we can see that faking lies closer to paideia but embodies some quantitative rewards” (p 458).  On some level, this combination lies at the heart of my confusion as to exactly how to feel about my Twitter experience over the last few days.  On the one hand, retweeting events like Baumgartner’s record-breaking parachute jump does foster this sensation of intimacy with an event, and indeed with other Twitterers (Twits?) who added to the live discussion as well.  Conversely, following characters such as ItIsJimCarrey (not Jim Carrey), MorgonFreeman (not Morgan Freeman), and ChuckDamnNorris (not Chuck Norris) collectively add to cynicism-fostering sense of disconnect between the social media sphere and reality.

I may try to continue this experimental foray into the Twitterverse to see if these disconnects start to make any more sense over time. Follow me to see how I do! @PaxMelanoleuca

Hacktivism and Pirate Culture: Revisited

One of the prevailing themes I heard in class on Wednesday was an overtone of cynicism about Anonymous and other, similar “hacktivist” groups. In ways, I also think that some of that cynicism is justified. Their activities in the West are frequently related to self-oriented objectives such as the right to free access to entertainment seen in the Pirate Bay and Megaupload activities. We also heard a lot of complaints about their methods, such as their disclosure of private information about innocent students as a form of “protest” against the student aid system in the Team Ghost Shell case.


Personally I feel like a lot of the emergent cynicism we heard in class the other day is justified.  Hacktivist entities or “collectives” can represent a lot of power concentrated into the hands of (for lack of a better word) anonymous agents who in general can’t be held accountable for their activities.  It’s not so much that the groups are bad, but simply that they are phenomenally powerful and completely unaccountable to anyone.

Intriguingly, though, after class (and feeling pretty justified in my suspicion) I happened to be on where I encountered a photo expose on the ongoing protests in Cairo, Egypt.  In particular, secularist and anti-Muslim Brotherhood activists are protesting against the policies of elected President Morsi (a member of the Muslim Brotherhood).  Conversely, pro-Morsi activists have also taken to the streets, and unfortunately the situation is quickly devolving into violence. If you’d like to learn more, the full story can be found here.

Halfway through the story, I found this image:

A young man, clearly in the throes of extreme pain being evacuated by comrades on the streets of Cairo, clutching a Guy Fawkes mask…

While on the one hand, I don’t necessarily agree with the ideologies or the methods of Anonymous and other, similar group, I can’t help but feel that perhaps the effects of these hacktivist groups is perhaps greater than the sum of their parts.  It’s easy to be cynical about a group who hacks to protect their “right” to copyright violation, or who dump information about hapless students all over the internet.  At the same time, though, this image suggests the empowerment that the idea of groups like Anonymous can have for the subaltern, for the previously disenfranchised.  This young man isn’t engaged in hacking, nor are his objectives necessarily aligned with those of Anonymous.  At the same time, though, the imagery and the symbolism of the group and its signature Guy Fawkes mask may be the source of one man’s courage to take to the streets of Cairo to protest what he perceives as unjust governmental policy…

Truthfully, I still can’t help but feel somewhat cynical about groups such as Anonymous.  At the same time, though, to dismiss them based on their activities here, and to ignore their role as symbolically empowering voices of dissent around the world is to over-simplify the story and to neglect a hidden power in hacktivism around the world.

Hacktivism and Pirate Culture: Where do these labels come from?

The role of “hacktivism,” or the use of internet facilitated means for driving social discourse in a certain direction on a selected protest topic, is a controversial one. By controversial, I don’t merely mean the illegal means utilized by online hacktivists in pursuit of their objectives, but also in the way these methods are perceived and interpreted by their non-activist peers.  Although “hacktivism” certainly makes for a thrilling label, it’s efficacy in achieving objectives has been ambiguous at best.

In 2011, for instance, the hacktivist community of “Anonymous” hacked into the corporate servers of the  Sony Corporations’ “Playstation” videogame division to protest the prosecution of a fellow hacker who went by the handle of GeoHot (George Hotz).  GeoHot had posted videoclips teaching individuals how to hack their Playstation consoles to play illegally downloaded videogame content. Perceiving the prosecution to be a violation of GeoHot’s rights to free-speech,  Anonymous counter-attacked by hacking Sony’s corporate servers.

The story of Anonymous’ attack on Sony exposes several of the flaws in the “hacktivist” model, as well as several shortcomings in the study we read this week by Lindgren & Lundstrom.

It should first be pointed out that while Lindgren & Lundstrom limited their analysis to Twitter activity, Twitter has been negligibly (to be generous) used by actual hacktivist communities.  Anonymous, for example, does most of their strategizing on the message board, 4Chan (link is safe, boards are wildly NSFW, for a safer look at the process, try here).  Long-story short, while Twitter may work for lighter forms of social media protest,  more extreme forms of “hacktivism” are too blatantly illegal to use such exposed means of communications, forcing groups such as Anonymous & LULZSEC to use more backchannel avenues.

The Anonymous-Sony narrative also exposes the ambiguity of control of many “hacktivist” collectives. Ironically, the second article we read for this week by Rattay is a little behind the times.  In particular, while the attacks against Sony were positioned as activism, they also took the time to steal the credit card information of Sony network users. Indeed, even in the midst of the crisis, considerable debate raged among individuals claiming to “represent” Anonymous (such as Barrett Brown in this weeks’ readings). Some claimed that Anonymous HAD hacked the network, and others insisted that it hadn’t.

Most significantly, when Anonymous took down the PlayStation network, it accidentally drew up battle-lines in the controversy regarding GeoHot.  In particular, when the network crashed (let alone when the credit card data was stolen), it positioned both Sony and its users as mutual victims of Anonymous, thus, accidentally pushing the PlayStation Network users to perceive themselves as similar to Sony as they were both victims of the Hack.  This perception actually drove many users to more vociferously support Sony and to criticize “Anonymous” rather than to driving them to support the hacktivists.

Taken collectively, stories such as Anonymous’ attempt to take down Sony suggest that hacktivism may not be as effective as it perceives itself to be.

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