Well as this particular series of blogs comes to an end, it’s time to reflect back on the course. The material covered throughout the five weeks provided an in-depth look at the various social media sites available, many of which I have never used and more still that I had never heard of. While I do not use social media to any extent I can see how it could be used as a valuable resource and not just for its entertainment value. Was there anything new that I discovered? Most of the communication theories were new to me and while I now know about a lot more sites, I doubt that I’ll be using any of them any time soon.  It’s not that I don’t see the value in social media – it’s hard not to. Over the last few years there have been many news stories associated with social media. These stories demonstrate the growing importance of social media across the globe. Events such as the Arab Spring showed how just how quickly information can spread and how quickly protests can be organized. The more recent Boston bombings showed not only the benefits of accessible real time information but also some of the downfalls such as the misinformation that was being circulated. For better or worse, social media is here to stay. As with any tool, it’s knowing how to use it, knowing what can go wrong when it’s used incorrectly, but also knowing just how helpful it can be when it’s used to its full advantage.


Collective Action – Kony 2012

The last assigned post! This week’s discussion focused on the role of social media and activism, so fittingly the viral campaign Kony2012 will be discussed. Apparently I was the only person on the planet who hadn’t heard about Kony2012. It was one of the top viral videos of 2012, setting a record for the most views in one day. Well that explains why I hadn’t heard about it. I’m not a big YouTube follower (surprised?). So first off I watched the video. I can understand why it went viral. The video plays on people’s emotions with its talk about how we have the power to change things to prevent the atrocities to children taking place in Uganda. The director, Jason Russell, uses his own son, Gavin, throughout the film to contrast the difference in circumstances between the children in Africa and those in the west – child soldiers verses Jason’s cute, happy, bouncing son. Strengthening this idea the narrator states, “Kony abducts kids just like Gavin”. The video does present facts, photos of atrocities (face mutilations), as well as support from well know public figures. It also includes an expiry date for the film (hence the date in the title) which adds to the urgency of the need to act – here is what you need to do. It’s easy to see how the video went viral; no one likes to see this kind of thing happening especially to children. A quick click and you can send the video to all your friends – similar to the way that chain letters work, read this and pass it on to your friends and you’ll have good luck all day (or bad luck depending). It’s also a rah, rah, let’s get together and do something, video. It seems that no matter the idea, people like to participate in these social media phenomena as demonstrated by the popularity the recent Internet meme, Harlem Shake, and the many flash mob videos regularly appearing on YouTube. Not to make light of the situation, but I did have reservations by the time the video wrapped up, especially the idea of making Kony famous (infamous maybe, but not famous). However, the video did make me aware of the situation as well as making me what to delve a little deeper into the topic to find out if there was a resolution.

The second part of this week’s discussion was Ethan Zuckerman’s response to the Kony21012 video. I believe Zuckerman raises many valid arguments – foremost this is not the simple problem that’s presented in Koney2012. Zuckerman argues that the simplified version of events – the bad guy needs to be caught – is very one-sided and does not consider other relevant points such as the difficulty in finding Kony and bringing him to justice. Zuckerman’s concluding paragraphs nicely sum up the difficulty of activism and social media. Using the simplifying story did make it easy to raise awareness to the injustices being carried out, however explaining the situation in greater detail, “would be lots harder to share, much harder to get to “go viral”. In other words, without the video how many people would have ever heard about Kony? I suspect not as many as did through the video initiative.

There is further criticism about the Kony2012 campaign and its associated organization Invisible Children (see Zuckerman’s reference to Grant Oyston’s blog for other criticism), and while many valid arguments are made there is no doubt that the campaign did raise awareness and start many discussions. How can that be a bad thing?

Consuming the Social

This week’s topic deals with the changing relationship between the consumer and business. The first thing that stand’s out for me is how business has embraced the Internet. Most businesses have some kind of Internet presence even little ‘mom and pop’ stores have gotten on the bandwagon. Many businesses also make use of a number of social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube (many use Facebook’s ‘Like’ as a promotional tool. Advertising has become rampant across the web with ads popping up on almost every page. The one thing that I find really annoying is that my every move is tracked for the purpose of ‘helping’ me decide what to purchase. While this can be helpful, for example suggesting a book based on my previous purchases, I once again feel like I’m being manipulated for the sole purpose of capitalism – the power of suggestion convincing me to buy something I didn’t know I even wanted. The gamification of shopping is yet another manipulation – offering reward points, or the benefits becoming a preferred customer to influence customers.

It’s not all bad, however. It’s much easier to compare products and prices over the web – it saves having to actually go to the various stores. Product reviews provide another advantage. I often use reviews for advice about products that I might not be that familiar with, for example a lawn mower motor – does size matter? I also use book reviews frequently. I’ve never posted a review. I suppose if I found something extremely good or extremely bad I might consider posting a comment, but only if it didn’t involved having to sign up for yet another site. Social media sites could also be used as a valuable resource, eliciting information from knowledgeable friends; however I tend to ask for advice from my friends, face to face. I do think that the web can provide customers with some protection. A string of bad reviews or complaints will surely draw the attention of the business and hopefully force the business to provide an acceptable solution. Like anything on the web it is user beware. False claims will crop up. There is bound to be someone who will try to abuse the system or someone who happens to get a lemon and complains bitterly, but the educated consumer should be able to spot these anomalies.

Social Gaming

Who would have though I’d be playing Internet games for a university course? Well that’s exactly what this week’s post is about. While I do like playing games (and I will admit I have played the occasional game of solitaire on the computer, I was hooked on the adventure game Myst for awhile, and I even played the shooter game Doom) I haven’t yet got hooked playing games on sites such as Facebook and I don’t consider myself to be a true “gamer”. Maybe it comes down to the time I have available and how I choose to spend that time. A quick game of cards on my computer or a game on my phone while waiting for an appointment is something that can be used as a time filler and can be switched on and off as needed.

For me, when I think of playing games I relate it to playing at a table with a group of friends, getting together at a predetermined time and a place, chatting, having something to eat, and so on. I know other students in the class said that they can do all the same things over the Internet but for me it’s just not the same. I like the feeling of actually being in the same room, of having that personal connection. That being said, I can see why others participate in social media games. For example friends who don’t live near each other can still arrange to ‘meet’ for a game, they can chat online, and it gives them the opportunity to maintain a long-distance friendship. For others maybe it’s the chance to ‘meet’ new people. For others maybe it is the competitive aspect of scores, and bragging rites, and while I do like winning (and who doesn’t), having my scores posted for all to see is not something I’m terribly interested in.
But back to the game playing for this course … I decided to Candy Crush Saga because two of my friends are playing it on Facebook. I know this because I regularly receive updates about their progress. After completing round one I’m asked if I want to share my results (no, I don’t). I play on but don’t complete the level so I’m asked if I would like to buy extra credits or ask my friends. Another option is to watch an advertisement to gain a new life or even start another game to earn credits for this one. I feel like I’m constantly being manipulated and I don’t particularly like it. The commercial aspect takes the fun out of the game so I move on to another. This time I try Words with Friends. I don’t know anyone who plays so I opted for a random opponent. It was extremely slow paced, so it wasn’t long before I lost interest. I considered downloading the app to my phone, but when the installation process stated that it would have access to my contact list I aborted the install. I wouldn’t subject the people in my contact list to unnecessary messages and or advertisements and I hope that they feel the same way. Maybe it’s because I work on a computer all day that I don’t want to spend my social time on a computer. That being said, I can see why so many people do enjoy social gaming. It just doesn’t happen to be for me.

The “Internet” Me

I didn’t expect to find too much information about myself on the Internet and I was correct in my assumption. It only makes sense as I don’t post personal information. I haven’t filled in any of my personal details on either my Facebook or Twitter account, and I don’t subscribe to any other social networking sites. I’m just not sure I want all my personal information spread across cyberspace. I’m also not sure why I’m hesitant. Maybe it’s because of the news reports about identity theft or the fact that it feels like big brother is watching my every move (and trying to decide how best to use the information for their profit). Yes, there are privacy settings that can be set, but they seem to change like the weather and I don’t want to have to remember to modify my settings every time the site makes changes. I did Google myself to see what kind of information would turn up. I didn’t find much which makes me quite happy. There was some information pertaining to my work, a mention in my paddling club’s newsletter and the fact that I have a Facebook page, but it was all rather mundane and none of it was of a personal nature.

While some people may create alternate online identities, I haven’t created any other me’s, mainly because I haven’t found any reason to do so. As for personal branding, I guess you could say that mine is private. I can see where having one’s information on the net could be an advantage (or disadvantage depending on what it posted). It opens up the opportunity to connect with past friends and acquaintances. For those searching for employment, having a page on a site such as LinkedIn provides an easy way to get your resume out to a vast audience. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll change my mind, but for the time being I’m keeping my privacy settings turned on high.

Collaborative Communities – Wikipedia

So this week the chat is about Wikipedia. At least I have some familiarity with the site, so the assignment isn’t totally in uncharted waters. It’s is funny to be told to use the site for a course as most of my previous instructors warned the students not to use Wikipedia because of its ‘unreliability’. Personally, if I have reason to question the accuracy of any information found on Wikipedia a quick search of a couple of other websites and I can usually confirm the validity. Anyway back to this week’s assignment. First off we were to select a topic of interest. As this course is all about connecting to social media sites and as I have an aversion to releasing information I thought I’d check out privacy issues. The topic I selected is listed as “Privacy concerns with social networking services”. This article is currently flagged for discussion regarding a possible merger with a similar article entitled “Privacy issues of social networking sites”.

One thing that I found with this article (and with other in the past) is that some information is listed without any references forcing the reader to go to other sites to confirm the validity of the statement. A case in point is the reference to Adrienne Felt, a Ph.D. and her discussion on privacy issue with Facebook. How does one know the validity of this entry if there is no reference? In addition, the Wikipedia entry refers to Ms. Felt’s discovery as having taken place ‘last year’ when in fact further investigation suggests that ‘last year’ was more likely 2007.

Next was a check of the “Talk” pages. As neither of the articles had a “Talk” page associated with it, I selected a link to “Internet privacy” and checked its “Talk” page. I was surprised to see that this article is part of a 2012 course assignment through the Wikipedia Ambassador Program – good news I thought as the information should be fairly up-to-date and valid. However, some of the talk sounds more like a personal point of view rather than an objective one (see the addition, “MySpace? Seriously????”). I tend to agree with another post in which the author says that the article reads more like an essay than an encyclopedic entry. Another bone of contention is that much of the discussion is focused on US laws. I see this as problematic considering the topic is the World Wide Web. Where’s the discussion about laws that govern the Internet rather than specific countries.

The history of the article was next on the list to check out. The majority of the revisions seemed more to do with grammar than with actual content. Many of the contributors do seem to be members in good standing and the few that I checked have been around for a number of years.

While I don’t consider myself a regular Wikipedia user, I will sometimes use the site as a starting point for further investigation or for a quick check of something where the accuracy is not all that important (e.g. a word in a crossword puzzle).

As for the Wikileaks documentary, I can see pros and cons with both sides of the site. I can see where posting information can be beneficial in an attempt to stop injustices, but I can also see where there may be times where the public’s best interest may be better served by keeping some information private. As with most things, there is often a gray area. If I was living under the rule of a tyrannical dictator I’m sure I would be glad if their hideous crimes were made available to the world. However, living in a democratic country, I live with the belief (valid or not) that the government is acting in my best interest and if they decide that information should be secured for my best interest then so be it.

Micro-blogging Practices – Twitter

Well, here I go again with another new adventure, this time it’s Twitter.  I didn’t have an account (never really saw the need for one) so the first thing to do was to create one. No problem there, but now that I have one what to do with it!  Part of the sign up process requires that you choose five accounts to follow. First problem, who or what to follow? I opted for a couple of news sites, museums, and astronaut Chris Hadfield (after all for the last few months the media has been filled with news of Commander Hadfield and his tweets). I did search for acquaintances who I thought might have a Twitter account but couldn’t find anyone, so nothing much to report there, so back to Commander Hadfield. I found it interesting to hear about his experiences not only in space but also once he returned to earth.  For example he tweeted about how he had to adjust to the effect of gravity on his tongue and how this affected his speech – not something I ever would have thought about! 

As far as trending, many of the topics seems to be concerned with celebrities and I’m afraid I don’t have the time or desire to follow their every move. The other trends seem to be news items. While I do like to know what is making news, I don’t think that having a minute to minute report of every last detail of an event is that important to me. Even if I had some connection to the event, I don’t think that Twitter would be the way I would want to receive information. That being said, if I was in a situation where Twitter was the best or only method of communication I’m sure I’d be glued to my device. I did follow the Bosma case as it was a story close to home, but I find that it is just as easy to scan Google’s news section as it has information posted in a timely manner.

I can’t see myself continuing with Twitter once I complete my course.  I don’t like to be connected every minute of the day as the idea of being tracked feels like an invasion of my privacy.  I also don’t feel the need to post mundane things about my life. I only used Twitter by logging in once a day (and logging out again when I was finished). I realize that this defeats the purpose behind receiving up-to-the-second information, but I guess between work, home, school and my personal life I don’t have that much time left to spend searching through information that probably doesn’t hold much interest for me.  I find that a quick scan of the news or searching for a specific topic of interest gives me all the info that I need or that I have time for.

I suppose if I had an ‘issue’ that I wanted to promote Twitter would be a good choice. Commander Hadfield is a case in point. He certainly showed that Twitter can be used as a valuable resource. Not only did he share his passion for science by tweeting with school children across the country and the world, but his use of this communication tool garnered almost daily news reports thereby drawing the attention of non-tweeters to the mission.