Your Digital Footprint: How Personal Information on the Web Can Haunt You Forever

This is a true story but the name as been changed. A boy named Christopher grew up in beautiful Baltimore City, surrounded by loving family and neighbors. He went to a good school – a private scimageshool, where the students received scholarships and tuition breaks on a sliding scale, and his prospects were bright. One day, just after Christopher turned 18, he was hanging out with some friends at the local Burger King. A police car pulled over, asking to see ID. Christopher did not know the cop had spotted a friend with a beer bottle – and all of them were underage. Some of his friends had guns illegally as well. Christopher was arrested and his picture was posted on the police department’s Facebook page and on three different independent mugshot websites.

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You might think that was the end of Christopher’s bright future. But when he served his time he excelled in his unit without any disciplinary actions. He earned his upholstery degree, his GED, and a handful of certificate classes and long-term groupcommitments (Bible studies, etc.). Upon departure from prison, Christopher entered into a transitional program for men formerly incarcerated, where once again he excelled, obtaining high grades in classes, networking with potential employers, and serving the building selflessly.

 It looked like he might be back on track. But then, there are the photos on the mugshot websites. The sites’ operators want $600 to remove them. Christopher’s case manager tells him that the maximum he will likely earn with these photos is $14/hour – but for the next ten years, likely only $9-12/hour. He won’t be able to work with children, most likely, since parents could likely see his photo online. Many potential employers will scoff at the potential of having Christopher work for them, knowing public ridicule could be harsher than it’s worth.

Christopher represents hundreds of thousands of people who face a similar plight: he/she has committed a crime, served time, engaged in positive reform in the community … and never can move passed their past due to photos posted connected to an arrest. On some of these websites, the information is not even accurate. Mug shots are taken at the time of arrest, not conviction. Why does a single mistake have to dog somebody forever if they cannot pay the extortion money these websites demand?

The Internet potentially makes every encounter with the criminal justice system permanent.   Some more serious crimes are required to register frequently for many years, regardless of how long the offender has lived a productive life and made worthwhile contributions to society. And in some cases, the permanence of the Internet record itself seems like more punishment than the crime itself. Consider the case of Zach Anderson, a 19-year-old boy who had consensual sex with a girl who lied about her age and said she was 17, when in fact she was 14. Even the girl’s parents did not want him punished.   But now Zach must register as a sex offender for 25 years, and that status will be known to anybody who is interested at the click of a button.

It is not just that Zach will always have some explaining to do, it’s challenging for sex offenders to obtain housing, jobs, even education. It is a hallmark of democracy that the criminal justice system operates in the sunshine to prevent abuses by the authority. But when can people who have had encounters with the criminal justice, either arrested or convicted of crimes be allowed to recall their privacy? How long should it be before they can claim the right to be forgotten? How long should it be for the worst mistake a person may have ever made—the low point of their lives—have to be a hurdle for them in reconstructing a positive future.

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Some police departments have stopped routinely posting mug shots to their Facebook pages, either for all people, or for minors. Sure the public has a “right to know” about the activities of the criminal justice system. But at some point, under certain circumstances, shouldn’t people be able to reclaim their right to privacy as well?

Beth Awalt, Graduate Student

Master of Arts in Emerging Media

Loyola University Maryland

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Cyberbullying and the “Bystander Effect”: The Dark Side of Social Media

Social media has the ability to bring people together from across the globe. It’s become a source for people to connect, learn about new things, and expand their networks. Social media has created a whole new way of communicating and at this point, many users might not want to imagine a life without it. But social media also has a dark side: cyberbullying.

cyber-bullyingCyberbullying is defined as any bullying that takes place using electronic technology, according to StopBullying.gov. This could range from mean texts sent to a specific target to rumors spread over social media. Since technology has become so much a part of a person’s daily life, cyberbullying is now a tactic for those who want to do harm.

Cyberbullying has often been associated with teen depression and suicide. In 2013, a number of suicides were linked to the social network Ask.fm, where users are able to ask each other questions anonymously. The deaths led to Ask.fm making efforts to create a safer site. There are many studies that have researched the connection between depression and cyberbullying but often, teens that suffer from cyberbullying, suffer in silence due to fear that their parents might take away their Internet access. Because these users don’t want to be left out of social media, it’s important for sites to take proper action when dealing with cyberbullying.

Many people have been a witness to and/or a victim of bullying, both online and off. When it’s happening in the hallways of a school or even in one’s own home, it’s easy for others to see but even then, people don’t always step in. This is described as the “bystander effect”; people are less likely to step in when there is a large group of people present. The “bystander effect” explains why people don’t automatically react to a person yelling at another in a crowded room or why people don’t take action when they see someone being mugged on the streets. But it can also explain why people don’t try to stop cyberbullying.

In a new study by the National Communication Association, researchers examined bystander intervention in cyberbullying. The study used two-pronged approaches on undergraduate students. The first group had to recall and react to actual Facebook cyberbullying incidents, while the second group was given a hypothetical cyberbullying situation where they witnessed embarrassing pictures being sent without the owners consent and were asked how they would intervene, if at all.

The results showed that a psychological phenomenon known as “diffusion of responsibility,” similar to the “bystander effect,” was present throughout the experiment. Researchers also found that those who perceive “invisibility” during social communication may execute antisocial or dangerous behaviors. This type of “invisibility” viewpoint explains the behavior of those who “troll” or partake in online harassment behind an anonymous profile.

There are 37 states in the U.S. that have made cyberbullying a crime. These laws are making it known that cyberbullying is dangerous. Cyberbullying can effect more than just teenagers as well. Harassment, direct threats, stalking: these are all things that can happen to anyone on social media. Rumors and gossip can spread like wildfire simply by the click of a button. Although cyberbullying is treated differently by each state, laws are becoming more specific about what is considered unconstitutional and providing victims with the tools to take action against those who have done harm. You can learn more about cyberbullying and how your state handles this issue by visiting Stopbullying.gov.

Danielle Bilotta, Graduate Student

Master of Arts in Emerging Media

Loyola University Maryland

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The Ethics of Broadcast Live Streaming: Balancing the Private Versus the Public

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Live streaming is not a particular new phenomenon. Websites like UStream, Justin.tv and Live Stream have existed for years providing users with the ability to broadcast from the comfort of their laptop and/or desktop computer. However, in March 2015 both Meerkat and Periscope entered the social media application market and changed how mobile users are able to broadcast and stream video, now straight from their smartphones. While Meerkat and Periscope exploded in popularity, so did the number of legal and ethical issues raised.

Legally, the site created basic issues of copyright infringement and financial losses with television networks and video content creators who complained as users live streamed their products. . For example, professional sports and their broadcast partners have mixed feelings about live streaming apps.  Professional baseball is fine with it; hockey is not.  The recent Mayweather/Pacquio fight lost money to live streams from the actual event as well as from streams of the pay-per-view broadcasts. However, these apps also bring up just as many ethical issues.

First, applications such as Meerkat and Periscope allow users to broadcast live video from anywhere at anytime without the permission of those who may be present in the broadcast. This lets users transmit images of other members of the public without their permission and sometimes even without their knowledge. Should users sign agreements and be asked the permission? And is it logistically or even physically possible to get permission to stream a person’s image? Hypothetically, could a live stream broadcaster record and profit off a person’s image without their knowledge and without compensation? And what about the recording and broadcast of minors who are unable to consent without the permission of their parents and/or guardians?

Another ethical issue is that due to the nature of any kind of live content, especially video, it is difficult to have users exercise control over the environment. This makes it difficult for broadcasters to control what their viewers will see. So what happens if inappropriate images and sounds are being broadcast via live streams? Who is responsible for unplanned events that could be viewed as offensive or inappropriate for their viewers? If it’s broadcasters, should or could they be punished? What about the people actually live streaming the content?

Finally, the ethics of privacy and security are important to note. Live streaming lets viewers know where you are… and thus where you are not.  If you’re not at home, potential thieves can take advantage of that knowledge. Periscope especially has the problem of reporting exact locations, which is sometimes very accurate and sometimes within a few blocks.  Offering an option for city in addition to the exact location is an easy fix for those who want to be less exact.

The use of applications such as Meerkat and Periscope, present multiple ethical issues and challenges in the appropriate use of social media. While it is difficult to resolve many of these ethical issues, it is important to not only identify, but also address how to use broadcast live streaming applications in a way so as to minimize the amount of ethical challenges the social media community faces.

Tarah Wilson & Kristian Monroe, Graduate Students 

Master of Arts in Emerging Media

Loyola University Maryland 

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Who Decides What you See? Why Understanding Social Media Censorship is so Important.

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(Source: https://globalvoicesonline.org)

Social media companies have come under fire recently for their censorship practices. Some companies, like Instagram and Facebook, have been accused of hypocritical policies that lead to content removal. Other companies, like Twitter, have faced criticism for their lack of willingness to prevent online harassment. Because social media sites have become a fundamental piece of not only the way we communicate, but also the way we receive news and information, it is important to understand who is determining what we see.

Though social media sites present the illusion of free speech, ultimately, as private companies, they are not held to the same standard as the government is with the First Amendment. As a result, major social media companies have begun to incorporate the right to censor individuals into their statement of principles. As Timothy Karr explains, “Many users of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube may see these and other social media outlets as soapboxes for free speech. They’re not.”

But who is actually making the decision to edit content? In his article, the Delete Squad, Jeffrey Rosen revealed that representatives from social media companies from all over the world are meeting to discuss the role of censorship on social media.

The reality is that more often than not, the decision on what to censor is not left in the hands of a legislator, judge, or lawyer. It is typically left up to “fresh-faced tech executives” from various social media companies. The “deciders,” as Rosen calls them, will often make their decisions with little knowledge of the legal ramifications. In many ways these young people wield a lot of power. As Rosen would argue, “Their positions give these young people more power over who gets heard around the globe than any politician or bureaucrat—more power, in fact, than any president or judge.”

The curious thing about social media censorship is that there is very little knowledge of where the line is drawn. As Marjorie Heins explains in her article for the Harvard Law Review: “unlike censorship decisions by government agencies, the process in the private world of social media is secret.”

For example, Instagram has had a continued battle with users over their definition of pornography. The relatively recent development of the “Free The Nipple” campaign has been made famous by celebrities such as Rihanna, Miley Cyrus, and Scout Willis who have all posted photos of their bare breasts in order to point toward the hypocrisy of the difference between the treatment of male and female anatomy. On the other end of the spectrum, Twitter has also been at the center of controversy for being too liberal with their definition of freedom of speech. This controversy came to a head this past spring as the site has been pressured by Congress to suspend accounts linked to Islamic State terrorism.

In 2012, Amine Derkaoui, a 21-year-old Moroccan man, began to lift the veil on the process of social media censorship. Some social media companies, in this case Facebook, have hired small armies in third world countries in order to review questionable content. In Derkaoui’s case, after being upset by his pay ($1 an hour) for his job on the Facebook censorship brigade, he released the “bible” of censorship, which included a controversial list of priorities for deleting content. For example, while pictures of shirtless males were fine, images of women breast-feeding were forbidden. Equally as intriguing, images of “crushed heads” and mutilated limbs were also fine, unless those images contained visible internal organs.2_Social-media-as-a-pathway-to-news

These seemingly arbitrary sets   of guidelines are problematic as they also specified that the news media was not exempt from censorship. This is particularly troublesome when you consider that an increasing amount of Americans rely on social media not just to connect with one another, but also for news and information. A recent Pew Research Center survey concluded that nearly half of adults, who use social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, also rely on it for news and information.

As social media sites become more and more ingrained into society, it can be expected that more users will continue to rely on social media to view the news. Therefore, content editors—“the deciders”—will have an increasing role in not only monitoring their websites, but also potentially controlling how informed people will be. That is a tremendous responsibility.

Andrew Cevasco and Kristen Wurth, Graduate Students

Master of Arts in Emerging Media

Loyola University Maryland 

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Does Consent Make Nudity on Social Media Acceptable?

As humans, we see at least one naked body per day: our own. Nudity is something that we are exposed to from day one; it is only the nature of said nudity that changes with time. The way that we can see naked people used to be limited to Playboy, Pay-Per-View Specials, or strip clubs, but now you can see someone nude on the Internet in a matter of seconds. Our society has transformed in a sense where we used to desperately search for nudity and now it is damn near impossible to avoid. While nudity and porn are adamantly against some for the community guideline regulations for social media sites, they still exist. Regulation against these unlawfully nude accounts has been very hit or miss in what is viewed as acceptable or not.

Nudity and pornographic material is now more accepted, but has our consensual desensitization to nudity made social media an acceptable promotion platform? A wise person would tell you that there are two sides to everything: light and dark, on and off, up and down, day and night, hot and cold. Social media is not exempt from this ideal; there are good posts and bad posts, best practices and worst practices, and good nudity and bad nudity.

Social media allows users to create a profile among many platforms and connect with people around the world via images or text. The use of the hashtag on social media has revolutionized marketing and created a specific niche of contact between people and consumer. In this specific case, the consumer is the person who creates a social media campaign to reach the masses. The two that are most notable are #BreakTheInternet and #FreeTheNipple.

Both of these campaigns are, at the bare minimum (no pun intended), used as a platform to promote the acceptance of nudity and to create a positive relationship with the human body in all forms. “To me, our bodies are just bodies. Both men and women are over sexualized and I don’t think it should have to be that way,” Khwatenge said. “It’s up to society if it will ever be unacceptable. I don’t think nudity will ever be rejected as a social taboo. Society is always trying to push the envelope.”

instagram-reportWhile consensual nudity is something that has become more widely accepted, on the other end of that spectrum there are forms of nudity that are widely disliked. Some say that you have to go looking for porn to really find it on social media and in most cases they are right. But in certain instances there are times when unsolicited forms of nudity creep up on your feed. “Instagram has expanded its no nudity rule, stating: “We know that there are times when people might want to share nude images that are artistic or creative in nature, but for a variety of reasons, we don’t allow nudity on Instagram. This includes photos, videos, and some digitally created content that show sexual intercourse, genitals, and close-ups of fully nude buttocks. It also includes some photos of female nipples, but photos of post-mastectomy scarring and women actively breastfeeding are allowed. Nudity in photos of paintings and sculptures is OK, too.”

So if Instagram has attempted to create this fine line of what good and bad nudity is, why are there still so many amateur porn accounts? Or the other accounts that feature nudity that some users may find repulsive. Using words such as artistic and creative in nature leaves a lot of room for possible loopholes.

Nude modeling and amateur porn accounts on Instagram have follower counts on the rise. Some of the more popular being: Suicide Girls – 3.5 million followers, Suicide Girls Burlesque – 95k followers, Burning Angel – 54.7k followers, GodsGirls – 17.5k followers. The amounts of social media users that want to be featured on these sites are also in huge numbers. On Instagram alone the hashtag #SuicideHopeful has tens of thousands of posts. The creation and outright social boom of accounts like these are what has caused social media to surpass porn as the number one most view topic on the Internet.

Porn has done what all industries do: adapt. “It’s not just on porn sites. There are more than 20 million porn sites, but now there’s more porn on Tumblr than there is on some of these porn sites. We live in a world where the number one app right now for teenagers is Snapchat – an app that allows you to take a photo or video of yourself and send it to your friends and in 10 seconds, it disappears.” Apps like Tinder, kik, or Snapchat have a widely accepted reputation for being apps to connect sexually with others, either virtually or in a real setting. Social media has allowed us to fulfill our sexual desires almost entirely in the open and it isn’t necessarily frowned upon.

Both the consensual and the non-consensual sides of this argument are important and necessary topics of debate. And they pose the continued question: are we really okay with nudity or not? Equally importantly, are we allowing porn to have its stake in certain sections of social media or not? . I think the answers to both those questions are one in the same, unequivocally, yes. The line between awe-inspiring and offensive nudity is so thin that social media can’t really find a way to combat it. While there are little battles that social media has won along with way, porn has certainly won the war. More often than not you’ll see some form of nudity online. Whether it’s sought out or not, it’s there and I feel like a majority of the time society has turned a blindly accepting eye. This is the new norm. Just as porn and nudity has adapted, we must adapt in the ways that we keep our children and ourselves away from nudity that we do not want to see.

Madeline McDowell, Graduate Student

Master of Arts in Emerging Media

Loyola University Maryland 

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The Costs of Speaking Your Mind Online

Social Media plays a huge role in today’s society. Today, there are 2,078 billion active social media accounts in the world (See full list of facts and statistics here). Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram allow us to network and communicate across a broad audience. For many of us, we use social media as a way to express and communicate our beliefs and opinions.

we are digital

(Source: Wearesocial.net)

In the U.S., the constitutional right to freedom of speech has always been valued. According to the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Although we may like to believe that this right gives us the freedom to post whatever we like on social media, the truth is that now more than ever our posts on social media could lead to major consequences.

In the video “Internet Privacy is Dead”, Lori Andrews, law professor at Chicago-Kent College of Law and author of the book, I Know Who You Are and I Saw What You Did: Social Networks and the Death of Privacy, states that the way you have been portrayed online has become more important than the person you are in real life. What you post on social media could haunt you forever and it is apparent that just because you have the right to freedom of speech, does not mean that you are exempt from the consequences that come with speaking your mind online.

In May 2015, a Subway employee was fired for celebrating two Mississippi cops’ deaths on social media. According to the New York Post article “Food Worker Fired After Praising the Death of Two Cops” written by Chris Perez, the Subway franchise commented that, “This behavior is unacceptable and does not represent our brand’s values and ethics.”

It’s important to note that this was just shortly after the civil unrest that occurred in Baltimore in April 2015. Currently, there is clear resentment against the U.S. police force and this employee was expressing that in her social media posts. Subway’s reasoning for terminating this employee was based on the fact that her behavior and opinions did not reflect the brand’s values and ethics.

Companies across the nation are surveying employees’ social media accounts and implementing company policies about what employees can post online. A fourth grade teacher was fired in June 2015 after posting a racist rant on Facebook in response an incident where a cop pinned a 15 year old girl to the ground while trying to break up pool party disturbance in McKinney, Texas.

According to an article written by Rebecca Klein, Frenship Independent School District, stated “The district is deeply disappointed in the thoughtlessness conveyed by this employee’s post. We find these statements to be extremely offensive, insensitive, and disrespectful to our Frenship community and citizens everywhere. These comments in no way represent the educational environment we have created for our students.”

What we are seeing is that employers are now holding their employees accountable for their actions online, and I believe this is a result of companies trying to protect their brand and/or image. Companies also have to attempt to stay in a neutral territory when it comes to controversial current events and the world of politics.

As a result, it is impossible for users of social media to have the freedom to post whatever they want online. So the question is, are the actions and policies that companies implement regarding their employees conduct on social media, abridging the right to freedom of speech? Absolutely. Is this fair? I believe that it is not fair, however I understand the concern from these companies regarding protecting their brands and the public perception of their company. When you post anything on social media, it is a representation of not only you, but also your employer. I feel that these policies and regulations are only going to become stricter as time goes on, which means that we are all going to have to be aware of the costs and consequences of speaking our mind online.

Brittany Kiser, Graduate Student

Master of Arts in Emerging Media

Loyola University Maryland 

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How Our Oversharing Has Made Facebook Millions

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It used to be a rule of thumb to not share personal information with a stranger. Nowadays, we practically put a copy of our Driver’s License on our Facebook page. We’ve slowly become accustomed to putting it all out there on the Internet and rarely second guessing it. We’ve contributed so freely to the world of data mining and have adapted to the concept of privacy invasion. Facebook has been 10 steps ahead of us. Between their constant and sly privacy adjustments they’ve slowly and effectively made us believe that it’s okay for them to track our every move.

The New York Times was the first publication to get through my thick head and really inform me what kind of information I’m sharing and subsequently who it’s being shared with. The author, Joe Nocera, an Op-Ed Columnist began by informing readers that Facebook made two major changes in its privacy settings:

  1. Every users News Feed would be searchable.
  2. Users had the ability to share content to not only friends, and not only friends-of-friends, but to the entire Facebook world.

I felt comfort in the fact that I was able to at least control the second rule but the fact that anyone could search my news feed was certainly troublesome to me.

We can’t forget that even though Facebook can be a fun source to connect, it does operate as a business. Facebook pretty much tracks your every move, a scary concept for us, but a smart business move on their end. Between sharing information with marketers or turning users information into endorsements, Facebook does a lot with their information behind the scenes.

What do they collect? Facebook has a full page dedicated to inform you in detail. They break it down into eight categories:

  1. Things you do and information you provide (location of a photo you posted)
  2. Things others do and information they provide
  3. Your networks and connections
  4. Information about payments (including your debit/ credit card number)
  5. Device Information (including your exact geographic location)
  6. Information from websites and apps that use our Services
  7. Information from third-party partners
  8. Facebook companies

Facebook claims that they then share all of this information they have collected from users “safely.” They break down sharing with third-party partners and customers by the following:

  1. Advertising, Measurement and Analytics Services (Non-Personally Identifiable Information Only)
  2. Vendors, service providers and other partners

imagesAlthough that information seemed to be broken down in plain English, you could then continue to another information filled page that consists simply of “How Ads Work on Facebook”.

Five years ago, in 2010, Facebook developed a program called Open Graph. The program’s purpose was to give marketers “a wealth of information about a Facebook user’s preferences.” A few years later, in 2013, the program expanded its program by turning user information into product endorsements, which are then displayed to their friends. These ads were seen to have a greater effect because it was their “friends” that were suggesting it, not Facebook.

Online identities changed with the demise of MySpace and the rise of Facebook. On MySpace, it was pertinent to have an online alias, but on Facebook, your first and last name is the appropriate way to display yourself. What changed within those five years that made this transformation sudden okay? Is it the fact that Facebook and MySpace were completely different platforms?

A columnist that interviewed Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg commented, “I think Facebook’s whole business model is habituating people to sharing all their information.” I couldn’t agree more. Somehow this program has enticed teenagers and adults to over share.

Nocera explains how other social media sites, such as Twitter, generally display public tweets and information. It seems on that platform, users don’t have an issue with privacy being non-existent. When he was doing research for his Op-Ed piece and contacted Facebook, he got the notion that Facebook felt like they had to compete and make the option to post publically accessible.

Between the advertising costs and making money off of data mining, Facebook specifically has hit the jackpot. As users of these platforms we really only have two choices—to accept the changes or to stop using it. I’d venture that most people accept the changes and adapt. Emerging media leaders should be aware that social media is more then a fun carefree place to connect with friends. We need to realize the value that these platforms have in the Marketing world and also the toll it has on its users.

Tess Lowth, Graduate Student

Master of Arts in Emerging Media

Loyola University Maryland 

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