Q. and A.: Secret’s Founder on the Problems With Anonymity

Excerpt from this article:

Secret, a social messaging start-up that let people post messages anonymously until it shut down, was the talk of the technology world.

The start-up had raised more than $25 million in venture capital and was valued at $100 million in 2014, at less than a year old. For a while, Secret grew like a weed, as people swapped gossip and other tidbits on the service without revealing their identities.

Yet secrecy, it turned out, was not enough to guarantee that the company would remain a hit. The anonymity that Secret afforded let the service be used as a playground for bullies. So 16 months after Secret opened for business, the founders shut down the company and returned the bulk of the money to investors.

David Byttow, one of the founders and the former chief executive of Secret, discussed some of the lessons he learned in building the anonymous social service, how things went wrong and what he plans to do differently as he builds his next company. This interview has been edited and condensed.

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Fight Online Hate with Awesomeness

it-is-ok-to-be-awesome

Excerpt from this article on OgilvyDO:

…A Google Chrome plug-in which shields users from potentially upsetting content. Designed by Verve Search and inspired by ‘Everything Is Awesome’, Tegan & Sara’s infectious soundtrack to The Lego Movie, the app transforms text it deems inappropriate or insulting into the word ‘awesome’, spelled out in rainbow colours.

As a means of taking away cyber-bullies’ power, it’s a novel notion. The most obvious utility here would be as a parental tool, to protect younger and more vulnerable internet users from stumbling across language they’re not quite ready to process. It might even take off among grown-ups who have been cyber-shamed; I’m sure Justine Sacco, or Tim Hunt, or whichever poor soul Twitter targets next, would be thrilled with this pleasing-to-the-eye censor.

There’s no doubt that the trolls will be up in arms over this rainbow-hued infringement of free expression, and even some consumers may be concerned, especially after we all got so outraged when Facebook tried to moderate the content in our feeds. The difference here, of course, is that users have to opt in.

Coke’s Super Bowl Ad Puts Spotlight On Cyberbullying – UPDATED

Excerpt from this article:

With this ad Coca-Cola launches its #MakeItHappy campaign, which the company describes as a “movement to add more happiness to the Web and offset negativity.”

 Internet negativity is not news to anyone, and at the extreme end of this negativity, cyberbullying has had tragic effects on the lives of many. According to StopBullying.gov, a 2013 study revealed that 15 percent of high school students have experienced electronic bullying. But the Coca-Cola ad, addressing Internet negativity, and criticizing it, takes a step into the corporate mainstream.

UPDATE: Tricked Into Quoting Hitler, Coca-Cola Suspends Automated Tweet Campaign

The debacle illustrates that major brands like Coke can’t make campaigns featuring automatic tweets without the expectation that it will likely get highjacked…

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.