What You Say Online – Minors Edition

Dude, why did you say that?

Over at my LJ I spent some time recounting this story of post-election bursts of racism, and talking about my own experiences growing up in one of these similar types of towns where it’s 99.999% white people and racism continues to rear its ugly head.  The quick version: Barack Obama wins the national election.  A bunch of racist people take to the internet to voice their racist opinions.  Some of these people saying these racist things were teens.

And that’s where things got interesting.

The folks over at Jezebel recognized that a bunch of these tweets were coming from teenagers, who posted a ton of their personal information online.  Their full legal name.  Their school.  Pictures of themselves in their school uniforms, or team uniforms. Details about potential recruiting for colleges, etc.  So, they started calling up the schools, and pointing out that these students were in pretty much every case violating the code of behavior for their student body, and not serving as a positive role model or representative of the school.  And then they wrote an article about it.  They named their names, their schools, and more.

Today, Read Write Web called out Jezebel for violating journalistic ethics by engaging in public harassment of minors. The argument from RWW is that traditional journalism respects that minors who commit criminal actions or who engage in inappropriate behavior would not normally be named in an article or on a news broadcast.  Juvenile court records can be sealed, and often are, to allow for the mistakes of a young person to not tarnish the potential for a normal adult life.  The salient component from the RWW article:

When a minor commits a crime in the real world, the cops know who the kid is, as do the neighbors and everyone in the community. The journalist covering the crime knows the kid’s name, and if anyone wanted to, they could find out the minor’s name just by pulling up the public police report.

And this is where the internet is different, and it’s a point that I addressed in my personal blog.  Writing something on the internet doesn’t stay in your little town.  It is something that is PUBLISHED.  By putting your name, your location, and your words out there for anyone in the public to see, you are inviting the criticism of the world, and engaging in the very same game that publishers and journalists have been playing in for years.  The internet pierces the bubble of the local domain and expands your influence to the entire world.

This is why a viral video can spark an embassy attack.

What you do online means something, and it has consequences.  Some people are being visited by the Secret Service because they made threats against the President on Twitter.  It’s gravely serious.

So, the question is, should this news outlet publicly state the names of these teens who posted racist tweets?  I am standing by Jezebel on this one.  These teens already put themselves out there.  They may not have realized what they were doing would have such a profound impact, or even be picked up as national news.  And that is a failure of educating kids about how the internet works.  These kids probably thought that nobody read their stuff, and that they were just writing for their friends.  When in reality, what they are saying, however inane it might be, is viewable by anyone.  And that is the wake up call that they all just received.

This is core information literacy stuff right here.  Developing an online reputation, managing your personal information, exercising care and caution in what you say and how you say it to people.  All of these things are important, and kids don’t get it.  And with caching, and archiving, they will be subjected to the words they put out when they were at their most vulnerable.

I recall reading an article about a high school that developed an internal social network for their students.  The purpose of this social network was to give the students a kind of internet training-wheels so that they could experiment in a controlled environment before they went and swam in the deep end of the pool (Facebook, Twitter, etc.)  The student would spend the year in that environment, play around in it, get comfortable with it, and then slowly they would start to slip up, and then have a consultation with one of the faculty members or the principal.  The purpose of this exercise was to develop an understanding of what you say online, and how this can negatively affect you.  This absolutely needs to be incorporated into early education, and I’m talking like children 10 years old or less.  This is not intended to scare the kids, but to teach the kids about the lasting impact they will leave on the world, and the trail of information that may be used against them, even from when they are very, very young.

At the library we see kids on the internet pretty much all day long.  Some of these very young kids are on facebook and they are sharing pictures with each other. I will guarantee you that probably not a single one of them understands the privacy settings.  Hell, most adults don’t understand them.  And beyond that, they’re not thinking about what these pictures may say 10, 20, 30 years down the road.  And they absolutely need to learn that.  Being online isn’t a game.  It’s real.  And the consequences can haunt you forever.

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My Personal Social Media Habits

The evolution of my social media life 2002-present

Today I have spent the large part of the day going back through my LiveJournal history to pull out articles with the potential to edit them all into a book of essays.  But as I was going back through time I started to notice how adding new social media systems completely transformed my online habits.

In 2002 I joined LiveJournal as a means of keeping in touch with friends.  I did some casual blogging and wrote a few articles here and there, but for the most part it was filled with ridiculous bullshit, memes, and off the cuff comments about pretty much everything.  In the peak of my LiveJournaling I might have hit something like 6-8 posts per day.  Most of them short, and ephemeral.  I think my favorite series was “chair dance of the day” where I would post the song that was rocking my socks off in my cubicle while I droned on in the daily grind as a government documents cataloger.

In March of 2008 I joined Facebook.  My LiveJournal stats started plummeting.  But that was because all of the daily minutiae and casual conversations with friends migrated over there.  From 2008-2012 my posts on LiveJournal not only got less frequent, but they became substantially longer in each instance.  I basically began writing lengthier, more thoughtful work on LJ once I removed the more frequent friendly conversations.

There was an experimental phase that I went through in 2008/2009 when I was crossposting twitter feeds into LiveJournal.  Going back through my archive today I can’t imagine why I would have done that.  It’s like spamming someone with a block of text messages.  I imagine that I quit doing that because I felt the same way when I looked at it then.  It doesn’t fit right.

I remember once lamenting how little I used my LJ to my Facebook friends.  But the fact of the matter is that I was totally using LJ.  Just using it better.

Last February I made the move of separating out the content about library science and technology into a specific blog for itself.  The primary reason for this was so that I could get better tracking and stats on my posts and given that a major number of library people were using WordPress it totally made sense to do that.

When Google+ opened up I jumped right onto that as well.  But again, I’ve discovered that the content that I post there is sometimes wildly different than the content that I post on Facebook or Twitter.  There I tend to look at more professional folks and some cool content curators.  But for the most part the things that I’m sharing are more directly focused on my public career.

I think this is something that most social media users are not necessarily looking at comprehensively, but more subconsciously.  Different social media systems encourage different kinds of content sharing, and as such the readership of each of your social media groups is also going to vary wildly.  I have more crossover in terms of Twitter followers and Google+ users, than I do with the crossover between Facebook and LiveJournal.

For me separating out this content has been a really great step.  It allows me to share the right stuff with the right people, and to actually remain connected to everyone that I care about personally and professionally.  But until today it hadn’t really sunk in how different my presence is online in each of these different services, and especially how my use has changed over the last 10 years.

How I Use Social Media

I, like many many other people, am plugged into a ripe half-dozen social media sites.  Each of them has different functionality that makes it vary just ever so slightly from its cousins, and as a matter of course I have evolved in using them.  So here is a cluster of the sites that I use on a regular basis and the way in which I use it.

Facebook

I have the most connections on Facebook. But I made a conscious choice early on to only accept Facebook friends who I either a) actually knew in person and felt comfortable with or b) had clear intentions that I would be meeting them at some time in the future and trusted them.  These restrictions have meant that I have massaged my Facebook profile to be just crazy enough to still fit in with my crazy friends, but polished enough that my co-workers on Facebook would not be inadvertently treated to things that they ought not to see.  I feel comfortable sharing photos that I’ve taken, links to things that I’m reading online and silly status updates.  I occasionally get a little political, and sometimes share some spiritual stuff there.

Twitter

Twitter was a service that I had practically abandoned until I got the iPad.  Flipboard has TOTALLY changed that.  Flipboard converts all those tweets into a collection of valuable articles that I’m actually engaged in reading.  So, I resubscribed a bunch of friends and co-workers that I had ditched before, and started jumping on feeds for news sites and celebrities that I respect.  Now, via Flipboard, I am reading and retweeting articles that I would never have seen before.  So I am basically using it as a link sharer.  Zite is anther iPad app that makes Retweeting easy and I am using it all the time.  You’ll see me tweeting in bursts over the course of a couple of hours at a time.  It’s cause I’m reading probably a hundred articles from the iPad and I’m on a brain jag.

Google+

The experience on Google+ has been much more professionally oriented for me.  I’ve added about 200 people to my “Librarians” circle and I’ve got a growing collection of people that I follow across a bunch of different tech and geek sites.  It’s a place where I have been able to discuss issues around library science, philosophy, technology and get actual feedback from people who have proven to be incredibly reputable and active. I find myself really trusting the people I’m working with on Google+ to give me answers to questions that are thoughtful and maybe even provide links or citations.  It’s very cerebral interaction.  No offense to my Facebook people, but my friends are not always my colleagues.  That’s okay too.  They don’t have to be.

LiveJournal

Again, LiveJournal is a service that I kind of abandoned for a while, and then when I took my trip to Asia I just dove right back in like nothing ever happened.  But I discovered that my writing style had dramatically changed.  I had gotten into more thoughtful blogging, with links and citations as well as images.  Perhaps it’s just that I had been writing for like a month solid, but maybe it’s a product of the fact that I had been involved in blogging since 2002 and I had just matured as a person and a writer over that time.  But LJ was always a personal space, and it still is.  It’s a place for public confession and public soapboxing.  I have no compulsion about making bold statements over on my LJ about politics, sexuality, religion, the occult, and whatever else happens to strike my fancy.  It’s been less frequent since my Asian extravaganza.  But I’ve been shifting gears of late.  So, LJ hasn’t been on the forefront of my thoughts.

WordPress

This blog was established with clearly defined outlines.  It is a place for me to write about professionally related topics of interest like books, technology, libraries, conferences, and other things that I feel will be of general use to folks in the information professions.  I may occasionally diverge, but not too far from that plan.  I’m also pretty glued to my stats page and looking at what it is that people are actually interested in reading about.  Sadly, my book reviews aren’t as gripping as talking about how much I hate memes and parsing out the intricacies of terms of service agreements.  We’ll see if those trends hold, but I’m thinking that the shine will wear off of Google+ enough to thrust me into discussing other things.

Yahoo Groups

I’ve pretty much given up on Yahoo Groups, and many listserves as well.  In fact, I’m not even logging into my Yahoo email for much of anything any more either.  I’m debating just killing it.  My gmail is much cleaner and doesn’t get the hundreds of messages a day that I get there.  But email groups just don’t mean anything to me any more.  It’s like getting a daily newsletter.  Things function better in Facebook where you can get your updates as a quiet little number hanging out there.  And if the group gets crazy you can just drop them with the push of a button.  No maze of links to go through.

Klout

I don’t really use Klout for any kind of public thing, like I do with everything else.  But I do find it fascinating in a Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator kind of way.  It’s kind of fun to watch the little score jump around like the Dow Jones telling me how popular I am online and who I’m “influencing.”  I’m no internet celebrity, nor do I fancy that I will ever be such a person.  This won’t be from lack of putting myself out there.  But I’m content just being me, online.  Though vanity will always drag me back to look at that Klout score.

Alternion

A friend recently remarked to me that I was too scattered online, and that he wanted one place to stay caught up with all the myriad things that I do.  A kind of “Meta-Eric” if you will.  After being totally flattered, that someone would actually try to hunt down all of the disparate pieces of me online I wondered if it would be possible to actually see all of those bits in one place.  Enter Alternion.  This is a beta level social media dashboard client, with API access to over 220 different social media applications.  You just start going through their MASSIVE list of sites to which you post your random crap and you can begin to synchronize your life into one handy place.  They’re currently just test-driving the service, and it’s a little buggy. But the developers are really great and they love getting feedback on how to improve things.  It doesn’t do everything, because not everyone is interested in opening up their API yet (I’m looking at you Google+!).  But it does do a tremendous amount of things that is pretty damn impressive.  I’ve added the tab to my standard FireFox windows.  I’m actually kind of rooting for this service.  I’m hoping to see my friends updates rolling by like a stock ticker all day.

Just a couple of quick observations.

Apps have changed the relevance of some services over others, as evidenced by my upsurge in Twitter usage via Flipboard and Zite.  These apps make the social media service more relevant, not less.  I hope that in time these apps become web based and accessible to anyone, and not just iPad users.  I mean, the iPad is great for some things, but it’s a pain in the ass in many other ways.

Aggregation sites like Alternion are going to need to become more common.  This patchwork landscape we’ve built up is bizarre and leads to a lot of identity fragmentation.  I know that for some people that’s necessary, and I admit that it’s been useful for me to parse out my life in this way.  However, I feel even stronger that I’ll want something for a unified access feed that I can link to something like my about.me landing page.  I think that’s going to be extremely important in the future when we’re marketing ourselves for jobs.

Granular Sharing

I swear that one day I will stop talking about Google+.

One of the things that struck me the other day as I was writing the post about LiveJournal was the realization that LJ had recognized early on in the social media scene that people want choices when they’re sharing certain information.  LiveJournal developed communities of people around a certain interest, and those entries could be public or private depending on the community.  Many of the snark communities are private until you become a member, and all the entries on it are blocked until you are approved by a moderator.  Within your personal journals you are able to make any entry totally public, available to your friends, available to a customized group of friends, or even available to no one but yourself.

To my knowledge there is no other blogging software that exists that has this level of customizable sharing.  And actually, to my knowledge there is no other social media platform until Google+ came along that allowed that kind of granular level of sharing.

Now, some people have asked me if I’ve made use of the customizable sharing of Google+.  The answer is not really very much, because I live a fairly public life.  That said, I like having the option of keeping things a little closer to home than not.  There are plenty of things that I would prefer to keep private, and yet feel comfortable talking about those things with a select group of friends.  This could be health issues, religious question, questions that I feel are only appropriate if asked of people within my field of work just to name a few.

There are some people in my life with whom I would divulge anything.  My mother for instance.  I cannot keep a secret from her, nor would I ever want to.  Also I have a select group of friends with whom I feel comfortable confiding things that I don’t want to announce to the world.

When I was more active on LiveJournal I made very heavy use of this.  One of the common things that I would keep private were conversations about my job. There come times in every job that try your soul, and when I was in that dark place about 6 years ago I needed to share those troubles with people I trusted.  To do that I went to my LiveJournal community and confided in a select group of trusted friends.  The resulting conversations led me to try to start my own business, to see if I could make a go of it on my own.  Ultimately the home business did not pan out (hello tanking economy!), but the support that I got from my friends at LiveJournal was all the incentive I needed to get encouragement in my troubled time.

Its moments like this that are why we need to have granular sharing that is functional and intuitive in social media. Even if it is only an option.

While these functions sort of exist in Facebook, they are really pushing you to share absolutely everything with everyone.  As part of my control freaky nature I have often disabled people from tagging me in pictures and I don’t allow anyone to write on my wall.  My one exception is to turn on wall writing for my birthday, only because everyone and their mother will write happy birthday on your wall.  It’s kind of cool, but I don’t want my wall turning into what happened on MySpace where people post ridiculous glittering unicorn .gifs and sexy shirtless dudes.  That’s just not something I really want to see on my Facebook Page, because I feel it’s supposed to represent who I am. Also, because things that get posted to your wall get reshared across all your friends, and I have coworkers on there, I try and control my message on Facebook.  Sometimes I wonder if anyone ever realizes that they’re saying what they do in a public forum.  I mean, it’s incredible how much people will share without a thought in the world as to who may read it.

I’m even more controlling when it comes to blogs.  I chose WordPress for this content because a lot of other library bloggers are on here, and that creates a great ping-back community when we cross link to each other.  Plus the dashboard is pretty awesome.  But the downside is that everything is public.  There are no secrets here, nor is there any way to make something secret here.  This is the place to publish, and by publish they really mean it.  They want your stuff to go out to the entire world, and make it available via whatever means necessary. Blogger and TypePad are the same in that respect, once it’s live, it’s live for the world to see.  No secrets.  For professional writing this makes sense.

But LiveJournal, at least as it’s been used in America, has always been a place for the personal.  It’s been where people go to bear their soul, and do silly quizzes at each other.  I also feel like it’s grown up a lot since I began using it.  Maybe it’s just me, and the way I use LiveJournal who has grown up.  To me it actually has the feel of a journal, the kind that one would keep as a paper diary, only in an electronic format.  The privacy settings allow it to retain that feeling, by being able to limit a post to only yourself, or to a limited group.  You’re not announcing something to the world as a whole, but rather to a small group of known friends.

Someone asked me if I was going to migrate my content off of LJ to protect it in case the company crashes.  I think that any content migration would have to be something that would respect the variant levels of privacy that I set in there.  So, no, there is no real way to maintain the integrity of the LJ blog in a content migration. There’s no way I would be able to recreate the individual user access that I have in there among the friends that used that service, and still do today.

The reality of all of this is that the people I have in each of my social networks are totally different.  There are some people who are on all of them with me, and some who are only on one or another.  There are some people I am more comfortable sharing with on LJ, some on Facebook, Some on Google+ and some here on WordPress.  Each venue has its own unique vibe, and the content that I post in each of those places varies, and that depends upon who’s in there.  So here’s a snapshot of who’s in where.

  • WordPress: Totally Public – WordPress is my professional voice.  It’s my soapbox for library and tech things.  I tend to write here about three times a week.
  • LiveJournal: Semi-Public – LiveJournal is my personal voice.  It’s where I share the more intimate details of my life, to varying degrees of openness.  I also have a second LJ for some occasional creative writing projects.  Writing comes in fits and starts on both accounts, sometimes I’m on a tear and go every day, and sometimes it’s nothing for a month.  Depends on my mood really.
  • Facebook: Friends and Colleagues – Facebook is kind of a free for all.  Its made up of people that I personally know, or plan to meet someday.  It’s kind of a blend of personal and professional.  I post some of the pictures from the crazy street performances I do with the faeries and talk about some professional and political things as well.  None of it, however, is anything that I would be embarrassed to show my mother.  Facebook is an every day affair.
  • Google+: Random Happy Mutants – Google+ is kind of a sandbox.  I have a lot of strangers in there, but all of them fit into neat little compartments of librarians, authors, comic book people, bears and Pagans.  If someone by chance adds me who I have no idea who they are I will look at who they are and who we share in common and put them in the appropriate group.  For those who don’t fit I put them in “the whole wide world” unless they are posting things I really can’t look at while I’m at work, like hot shirtless dudes.  I check G+ multiple times a day.
  • Twitter: Colleagues Only – Twitter I am on, but hardly use for anything.  I follow very few people, and all I post are relays from the WordPress.  Mostly because library people Twitter, and I push stuff out for them.  I never look at twitter any more.

So that’s where I’m at with social media.  It does consume an inordinate amount of time, but its time that I appreciate.  I feel like I’m truly connecting with people, that I’m learning things, and that I’m sharing things that are meaningful, fun, and occasionally funny.  I like having the option to share privately, and occasionally I do.  It’s not always, but sometimes it’s important to have that around.