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May 30 2013

11:00

Activist Campaign Successfully Targets Facebook's Advertisers

Last week I wrote up the #FBrape campaign's strategy: to hold Facebook accountable for the misogynistic content of its users by pressuring advertisers. Only seven days after the open letter was published, Marne Levine, Facebook's VP of Global Publicy Policy, published a response agreeing to the campaign's demands to better train the company's moderators, improve reporting processes, and hold offending users more accountable for the content they publish.

facebook-logo.jpg

The campaigners say they generated 5,000 emails to advertisers, and convinced Nissan to pull its advertising from the platform. This is great initial traction for a social media advocacy campaign, but it represents a miniscule percentage of Facebook's users and advertisers. For people interested in shaping what kinds of speech social media giants allow, the #FBrape campaign quickly confirmed the relative value of targeting companies' revenue sources rather than directly petition the corporations. The #FBrape campaign also had a clear moral high road over the terrible instances of speech it campaigned to censor. But the results are still illuminating, as we struggle to determine how much power companies like Facebook wield over our self expression, and the organizational processes and technical mechanisms of how that power is exterted.

Continued attention will be required to hold Facebook, Inc. to its promises to train its content moderators (and an entire planet of actual users) to flag and remove violent content. Facebook has also promised to establish more direct lines of communication with women's groups organizing against such content. This is the kind of personal relationship and human contact groups have clamored for (see WITNESS and YouTube's relationship).

'fair, thoughtful, scalable'

Technology companies have tended to avoid establishing such relationships, probably because they require relatively large amounts of time in a venture that's taking on an entire planet worth of communications. Facebook itself lists its preferences for solutions to governing speech that are "fair, thoughtful, and scalable." Given the crazy scale of content uploaded every minute, Facebook might look into algorithmic solutions to identify content before users are exposed to it. YouTube has conducted research to automatically categorize some of its own torrent of incoming user content to identify the higher quality material. According to their post, Facebook has "built industry leading technical and human systems to encourage people using Facebook to report violations of our terms and developed sophisticated tools to help our teams evaluate the reports we receive."

This is unlikely to be the last we hear about this. By publishing an official response, Facebook gave 130 media outlets and counting an excuse to cover the campaign, which few had done prior to the company's reply. And whether they relish the position or not, social media companies like Facebook have positioned themselves as arbiters of speech online, subject to the laws of the lands they operate within, but also comfortable codifying their own preferences into their policies. Kudos to Facebook for taking a minute to respond to some of the messy side effects of connecting over a billion human beings.

Matt Stempeck is a Research Assistant at the Center for Civic Media at the MIT Media Lab. He has spent his career at the intersection of technology and social change, mostly in Washington, D.C. He has advised numerous non-profits, startups, and socially responsible businesses on online strategy. Matt's interested in location, games, online tools, and other fun things. He's on Twitter @mstem.

This post originally appeared on the MIT Center for Civic Media blog.

March 15 2011

15:49

Social media: cutting both ways since the 1990s

Originally posted at my own blog.

Social media -- those avenues to send instant, short, widely-distributed messages and images -- cuts both ways:

  • It can be used to organize protesters, but it can also be used to identify protesters and arrest them.
  • It can be used to spread information, but it can also be used to spread MISinformation.
  • You can use it to promote your organization and cause, and others can use it to tear down your organization.

And it's been used to organize protests since the 1990s - so can we stop now with how "new" it all is?

Back in 2001, while working for UNDP/UNV, I researched how handheld computer technologies were being used, or could be used, in community service / volunteering / advocacy. It wasn't called "social media" or "micro volunteering" back then, but even without the snazzy jargon, I knew something very exciting was going on, something that was changing the way communities are engaged and mobilized. Among the discoveries in my research was that grassroots advocates had used handheld computer or phone devices to help organize and direct protesters during the 1999 Seattle demonstrations against the World Trade Organization, and that in 2001, protesters in the Philippines used cell-phone text messaging to mobilize demonstrators to help oust President Joseph Estrada. In addition, in China, also in 2001, tens of thousands of followers of the spiritual group Falun Gong continued to exist-despite a harsh crackdown-in a vibrant community fed by the Web and encrypted text messaging. I created a web page just on the subject of using text messaging for advocacy - but I was not the first to do so, as you will see on the page.

I also noted in that page that hand held technology can lead to widespread misinformation as well: "Musician and U.S.A. Green Party activist Jello Biafra noted in an article on Zdnet.Uk: 'Be careful of the information gossip you get on the Internet, too. For example, late in 1997 I discovered out on the Internet that I was dead.'"

We're not hearing enough about how effective Web 2.0 tools are in promoting misinformation and negative speech. For instance, micro-blogs, tweets, texts and other technology spread misinformation about and within Haiti, as well as other disaster zones (it will be interesting to see what misinformation gets spread in Japan). During the swine flu panic in the USA a while back, we saw Twitter's power to misinform, and rumors still affect polio eradication campaigns. So-called "new" media has helped spread misinformation to derail government health initiatives here in the USA rapidly and efficiently.

It's not just the misinformation that's a problem in trying to use social media to mobilize community activists and educate the public: in an interview with Radio Free Europe, Evgeny Morozov, author of The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom, noted that internal security agencies welcome the use of new- and social-media tools. “The reason why the KGB wants you to join Facebook is because it allows them to learn more about you from afar,” he said. “It allows them to identify certain social graphs and social connections between activists. Many of these relationships are now self-disclosed by activists by joining various groups.” Al Jazeera profiled cases in Azerbaijan, Tunisia and Moroccans where the government or those opposed to any change in government were, indeed, using Facebook accounts to anticipate protests and easily monitor and arrest protesters.

And then there's social media, like YouTube and blogs, being used by GOTCHA media advocates, as I blogged about yesterday: there could be just one person in your community with a video camera and a dream of humiliating your organization right out of existence, and social media makes that easier than ever to do.

Don't roll out the comments saying I'm anti-social media. Don't start pulling your hair and gnashing your teeth, chanting, "Jayne hates Web 2.0!" I love the Interwebs. But it's long-overdue for a reality check on all these "Twitter revolutions." Yes, there are lessons to be learned - but we're not focusing on the right lessons. Back in 2001, the Ruckus Society featured Longwire's Communications Manual for Activists on its web site, and included tips for using various hand held devices and avenues-two-way radios, CB radios, cell phones, pagers, satellite communications and more in community organizing. Those lessons from a decade ago could teach current activists a lot about using social media tools effectively.

September 22 2010

13:57

26 Organizations Recognized on 2010 Top-Rated SciTech Nonprofits List

GreatNonprofits recently announced that 26 organizations working in the science and technology fields have qualified for the 2010 Top-Rated Science & Technology Nonprofits List, based on user reviews submitted during a national campaign in August.

read more

August 24 2010

13:06

The New Online Journalists #10: Deborah Bonello

As part of an ongoing series, Deborah Bonello talks about a career that has taken her from business journalism in London to video journalism in South America, and a current role producing video at the FT.

What education and professional experience led to your current job?

After I graduated from Bristol University in 1998 (I wrote for my student newspaper Epigram for most of my time there), I moved up to London and started working for Newsline, an online news service run as part of the media database product Mediatel.

A year later I was taken on by New Media Age as a reporter, where I got to watch the dot com boom become the dot com crash and work with the then-editor, Mike Butcher, now the editor of TechCrunch Europe.

From there I moved to Campaign to edit their Campaign-i section, and when that got cut because of budgets after a year I spent the next few years freelancing on media business magazines (Campaign, Media Week, NMA, FT Creative Business) and watching how the traditional publishing industry took on the internet.

By then, I was fed up of London and business journalism, so I headed off to Latin America. After a year in Argentina as a print only journo, I moved to Mexico to launch NewCorrespondent.com, an experiment in digital journalism, with help from Mike Butcher.

The idea was to use free online tools – YouTube, WordPress, Twitter, Facebook, BlipTv and more – to publish multimedia journalistic content. NewCorrespondent.com became MexicoReporter.com and three months became three years. After my first six months of running the site in Mexico, I got taken on by the Mexico bureau of the Los Angeles Times, started shooting video and got trained in it by some of the best in the business (Scott Anger and Tim French). I contributed daily written and video dispatches to their Latin America blog, La Plaza, as well as latimes.com and the newspaper.

MexicoReporter.com became a go-to for English-speakers living in Mexico, as well as people around the world, and it was through the site that I also got commissioned to produce video pieces for the Guardian and Al Jazeera, amongst others, as well as for radio comment on breaking news such as the swine flu epidemic, violence against journalists and escalating drug-related violence in the country. The video caught the attention of the FT, and as the Los Angeles Times took their foot of the video pedal, it seemed like a good moment to move. I am currently working as a video producer and journalist in the FT’s London office.

What does your job involve?

I film, produce and edit video news, features and interviews for the Financial Times website, sometimes working as a one-man-band shooting operation, sometimes working with in-house camera operators and our correspondents around the UK and abroad.

Where do you see your career/job developing in future?

That all depends on how video journalism develops, but I am very excited about the potential of online journalism and video. TV and video are converging, which means new program formats and genres are emerging all the time, and everyone is experimenting with different styles of telling stories in video and multimedia.

I am especially interested in how the costs of technology have come down so dramatically that we should see a new generation of visual and text storytellers base themselves abroad at a fraction of the cost, tapping into the need for reduced costs in foreign reporting that the traditional media so desperately needs to survive to keep that content strand going.

Right now, if you’re a journalist that isn’t using new technologies to tell stories, you’re edging yourself out of the job market. Rather than the end of journalism as we know it, I think multimedia signifies a brave new world where our old disciplines still count but can manifest themselves across so many different platforms and media that your work is as creative and innovative as you want it to be. We just have to make sure we keep our eyes on the journalistic disciplines, and use technology as a means to an end rather than just for the sake of it.

In the long-term, I see myself based out in the Spanish-speaking world as a multimedia foreign correspondent.

August 06 2010

17:12
14:29

Blog for water and get to Africa

Changents is hosting a contest with P&G Give Health calling for bloggers to share why they are clean water Change Agents. What's in it for bloggers? A few great things:

read more

May 13 2010

08:37

Press Gazette: Libel reform and FOI on LibCon agenda

The new Liberal-Conservative coalition government in the UK has made assurances that it will extend the scope of the Freedom of Information Act and review libel laws.

Libel reform has been the subject of an ongoing campaign by Index of Censorship and English PEN. All three main political parties pledged their support for reforming current libel legislation before the election, but there were concerns that a change in government could threaten the campaign’s progress.

Says the report:

The promise of a review of libel laws was expected as it was an assurance made by each of the leading parties in the build up to the election – however, it doesn’t go as far as the commitment made in the Liberal Democrat manifesto to place the burden of proof back onto the claimant in certain libel cases.

Full story at this link…

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