Long Live Secrets on the Internet

Excerpt from this article:

The spilling of personal secrets online, a practice borne of the print tradition of asking for advice, is similarly greater than any individual secret. Before apps like Secret and Whisper, there was Group Hug and PostSecret—the inspiration for which came from early-aughts projects like Found magazine, which publishes scraps of found paper like grocery lists and notes left on windshields, and confessions in public spaces like bathroom graffiti. PostSecret began by asking people to mail their secrets on postcards that would then be scanned and published online. Subject matter runs the gamut from heartbreaking to silly to uplifting to shocking.

… “When other people hear people sharing secrets it allows them not to feel alone,” said Frank Warren, the founder of PostSecret. “It allows them to feel almost instant empathy and it gives them courage to face and share.” PostSecret still has a website, but it shut down its app three years ago after only a few months because Warren was concerned about bullying and hackers who made community members feel unsafe, he said.The appeal of telling an anonymous secret is as much the anonymity as it is the catharsis of revealing something. And anonymity has as venerable a history online as advice-seeking had in print. “I see Whisper, Secret and others as part of the same movement as Snapchat and Glimpse,” said Ethan Zuckerman, the director of the MIT Center for Civic Media, in an interview last fall. “When everything is on the record and attributable, we’re all feeling a need to breathe. That might mean being able to have a one-on-one conversation that’s hard to archive, or to have a space where you can truly speak freely.

…”The web is a very powerful place where we can express parts of who we are in ways we just can’t in our everyday social lives, which I think is powerful, liberating, a little bit scary and can be very uncomfortable to people in the short term,” Warren told me. “But in the long term, I think it allows us to work out some of the parts that are hidden within us individually and as a culture. It’s a difficult process. But it’s always healthy to illuminate those parts of us that are otherwise in darkness.”

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F**k the High Road: The Upside of Sinking to Their Level

Excerpt from this article:

Don’t feed the trolls: it’s probably the most common refrain in online discussions, especially when dealing with misogynists in feminists conversations. The idea is that the best way to deal with sexists is to starve of them of the attention they’re so clearly desperate for. Besides, we think, why sink to their level?

But the high road is overrated.

…Indeed, one of the questions I’m asked most often by younger feminists is how to emotionally and mentally deal with the incredible amount of hate that gets thrown their way. My advice has usually been not to talk to brick walls—to think of their activist energy as a precious resource and save it. But I’ve never fully taken that advice. Responding to—and making fun of—sexists has always been a part of my feminist work. Not just because it shines a light on misogyny or holds people accountable to their words—but because it’s fun.

Who’s that girl? The curious case of Leah Palmer

Ruth Palmer and Benjamin Graves

Excerpt from this article:

Have you met Leah Palmer? She is an attractive, single, fun-loving 20-something Briton currently living the high life in Dubai. She has an active social-media presence and often chats with family and friends on sites such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. If you are a man, you might even have spotted Leah on dating app Tinder, looking for romance. Ignore the man in the photo. He is her nasty ex-boyfriend. Actually, Leah Palmer does not exist.

The woman in the photograph is Ruth Palmer, and she is happily married to Benjamin Graves. He is not a horrible former partner, he is her husband. Ruth recently discovered that for the past three years somebody has been routinely lifting photographs of her, her family and friends from social networks, and setting up a network of fake media profiles of them – which all communicate with each other.

How One Stupid Tweet Blew Up Justine Sacco’s Life

Excerpt from this article:

It was a profound reversal for Sacco. When I first met her, she was desperate to tell the tens of thousands of people who tore her apart how they had wronged her and to repair what remained of her public persona. But perhaps she had now come to understand that her shaming wasn’t really about her at all. Social media is so perfectly designed to manipulate our desire for approval, and that is what led to her undoing. Her tormentors were instantly congratulated as they took Sacco down, bit by bit, and so they continued to do so. Their motivation was much the same as Sacco’s own — a bid for the attention of strangers — as she milled about Heathrow, hoping to amuse people she couldn’t see.

Edited to add links to these other articles on Jon Ronson’s book:

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed review – Jon Ronson on rants and tweets: “This terrifying study of social media fury is another superb product from brand Ronson, humorous journalist and moralist par excellence”

The Internet Shaming of Lindsey Stone: Article by Jon Ronson about how “When a friend posted a photograph of charity worker Lindsey Stone on Facebook, she never dreamed she would lose her job and her reputation. Two years on, could she get her life back?”

What happened when I confronted my cruellest troll

Lindy West with her dad Paul

Excerpt from this article:

Being harassed on the internet is such a normal, common part of my life that I’m always surprised when other people find it surprising. You’re telling me you don’t have hundreds of men popping into your cubicle in the accounting department of your mid-sized, regional dry-goods distributor to inform you that – hmm – you’re too fat to rape, but perhaps they’ll saw you up with an electric knife? No? Just me? People who don’t spend much time on the internet are invariably shocked to discover the barbarism – the eager abandonment of the social contract – that so many of us face simply for doing our jobs.

…Some trolls are explicit about it. “If you can’t handle it, get off the internet.” That’s a persistent refrain my colleagues and I hear when we confront our harassers. But why? Why don’t YOU get off the internet? Why should I have to rearrange my life – and change careers, essentially – because you wet your pants every time a woman talks?

My friends say, “Just don’t read the comments.” But just the other day, for instance, I got a tweet that said, “May your bloodied head rest on the edge of an Isis blade.” Colleagues and friends of mine have had their phone numbers and addresses published online (a harassment tactic known as “doxing”) and had trolls show up at their public events or threaten mass shootings. So if we don’t keep an eye on what people are saying, how do we know when a line has been crossed and law enforcement should be involved? (Not that the police have any clue how to deal with online harassment anyway – or much interest in trying.)

Social media companies say, “Just report any abuse and move on. We’re handling it.” So I do that. But reporting abuse is a tedious, labour-intensive process that can eat up half my working day. In any case, most of my reports are rejected. And once any troll is blocked (or even if they’re suspended), they can just make a new account and start all over again.

…And then, there I was in a studio with a phone – and the troll on the other end.

We talked for two-and-a-half hours. He was shockingly self-aware. He told me that he didn’t hate me because of rape jokes – the timing was just a coincidence – he hated me because, to put it simply, I don’t hate myself. Hearing him explain his choices in his own words, in his own voice, was heartbreaking and fascinating. He said that, at the time, he felt fat, unloved, “passionless” and purposeless. For some reason, he found it “easy” to take that out on women online.

I asked why. What made women easy targets? Why was it so satisfying to hurt us? Why didn’t he automatically see us as human beings? For all his self-reflection, that’s the one thing he never managed to articulate – how anger at one woman translated into hatred of women in general. Why, when men hate themselves, it’s women who take the beatings.

You can also listen to Lindy West tell this story on the podcast This American Life.

Siri Meets Dr. Phil

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In just a few months, this New York software developer, operating under the pseudonym Ethan Gliechtenstein, has transformed himself into a postmodern advice columnist for the app age thanks to a free, single-function smartphone app called “Ethan.” It enables users to ask him, and him directly, any question imaginable (“Should I call my ex?” “Do penguins have knees?”) by text message, under the reassuring cloak of anonymity.

 As the downloading and use of the app went viral, “Ethan” became not just a contender for the world crown in thumb-typing, but a pioneer of a new form of Internet micro-celebrity: a human digital assistant whose cool, unflappable manner and dogged consistency give artificial intelligence a run for the money — imagine Dr. Phil crossed with Siri.

 …Like a psychiatrist who presents as a blank screen for patients to project themselves onto, Ethan is tabula rasa.

 “I’ve learned firsthand that, with lack of information, users end up filling in the details with their own imagination of what Ethan would be like,” he said.

 This spirit of anonymity, a prevailing characteristic of online culture since the AOL chat rooms of the ’90s and even earlier, seems to be a major part of its allure. But unlike of-the-moment “confession” apps like Secret that allow friends to divulge and discuss their secluded thoughts anonymously, like group therapy performed in the dark, Ethan combines the facelessness with a one-on-one intimacy.

 …“Ethan can be anyone you want him to be,” Ms. Ren said in an email. “Shrouded in anonymity, he is a mirror of yourself — always affirming, responsive, witty, and charming. He can be the best friend, confidante, and lover you never had.”

 Like an app masquerading as performance art, Ethan seems to suggest that online connectedness serves as its own end; whom you connect to is secondary.