{learning} The Lessons from the Anonymous

In the course ICM820 we screened the documentary on the hacker group The Anonymous:

This online community, often know for its pranks and anti-Scientology actions, but also for its more directly political actions such as Operation Ferguson and Operation HongKong. We used the Anonymous as a case study of online community-building (or creation, or spontaneous formation) because it is quite unlike many other protest movements and groups form the past. As Gabriella Coleman, an anthropologist who has researched the group for a long time, noted in an article few years ago:

ANONYMOUS, WHICH CAME INTO BEING on the online message board 4chan eight years ago, is by nature and intent difficult to define: a name employed by various groups of hackers, technologists, activists, human rights advocates, and geeks; a cluster of ideas and ideals adopted by these people and centered around the concept of anonymity; a banner for collective actions online and in the real world that have ranged from fearsome but trivial pranks to technological support for Arab revolutionaries. In recent months, Anonymous has announced audacious plans to take down the seemingly invincible Mexican drug cartels; instigated and promoted the nationwide Occupy movement; and shut down the website of the Florida Family Association, which is behind the campaign against the television show All-American Muslim, and leaked the names and credit card numbers of donors.

This diversity of actors and purposes, alone, is a significantly different premise than that of many non-digital groups/movements, allowed precisely by virtual communication and organizing. Yet, we found several other take-aways that the Anonymous can teach us:

The SPEED and FLUIDITY of online communities:

What we took away from the documentary is that these online communities, while relatively easy to build, can be used in various ways. It’s almost scary just how quickly this movement came to be.

This is very much related to the lack of defined leadership – ideas and Operations take on like viral memes (this is the critique also about humanitarian campaigns such as KONY2012 – a viral campaign that overshadowed everything else related and then died so quickly):

As one Anonymous member said, we are like a flock of birds flying, if one moves we all move in the same direction. Somewhat like a push and pull movement that extends over a large amount of emotional spectrums.

ACCOUNTABILITY as a capital for (future) online communities that want to make a difference:

While these individuals or groups act anonymously and randomly, who is there to take accountability for the actions, especially when it causes people’s lives to be ruined? Stan Lee once said, “with great power comes great responsibility,” and the fact that these hacktivists have an amazing talent and a great deal of potential but are not owning up to it takes away from their credibility.

The power of the INDIVIDUAL in digital activism (think of Ed Snowden, too):

In the World of anonymous if you’re keeping your plans for your business secret, that is wrong, and all of your private files will be exposed, whether they hurt someone or not. All it takes is one person from the community to feel offended and boom, anonymous is blowing up your emails and phone lines, and creating horrifically mean memes and protesting outside your organizations doors.

At the same time, often the question for the Anonymous is about OUR FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS, as embodied by Internet Freedom. However varied as a group, the Anonymous exemplifies that , there is a new battle over meaning regarding freedom of expression, privacy, and so on, that is shaping our digital lives, globally:

Anonymous proves that, at the same time they are actually, whether legal or not, they are going out there and attempting to preserve our constitutional rights and freedoms.

We see that the overarching theme is to have something in common, whether that be a location, an idea, a favorite TV show, or a passion for fitness. In this case (as was stated in an earlier post) it was a group of ‘misfits’ with similar views on censorship, information freedom, and government policies who realized the truth of the age-old adage, ‘there’s power in numbers.’

While a lot of Anonymous’ efforts have been childish and unimportant, their efforts in the Middle East, their attacks on the hypocrisy of PayPal, Mastercard and The Church of Tom Cruise as well as similar organizations like Wikileaks, show that they have an important voice in society; the people should not fear its government – the government should fear its people.

Online, ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE. You can find others who are interested in the same ideas, issues, products, etc. (think of Anderson’s Long Tail business model for the digital era, or Godin’s “We are all weird” slogan)…

In terms of what can this teach us about digital community building in general – is simply, it’s possible. If you have a group that feels strongly about something, truly believes something needs to be brought to justice, you can cause a blip in the system.

No matter who you are, what your cause is, and what you’re fighting for, on the internet you’re always bound to find someone who is willing to take up arms with you.

Or, as quoted by Gabriella Coleman:

{learning} Digital Dissidents_ICM820

After looking at our online generosity, we now look at online rebellion. This post is an intro to the theme you will explore via a documentary.

The dividing line between helpers and dissidents is ambiguous if not arbitrary. Often, a specific issue inspires a community that both aims for socio-political and cultural change, as well as offers support (helper) functions. An example of this could be the YouTube-based It Gets Better project, an  initiative that seeks to offer support for Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans, Queer youth.

Similarly, there are different modalities of ‘digitally enabled social change’. For example, in their research, scholars Jennifer Earl and Katrina Kimport suggest this continuum of online activism from e-mobilization to e-tactics to actual e-movements:

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Digital Dissidents for Democracy

In terms of major aspirations of radical structural change, and acts of resistance, we all are familiar with the the  powerful examples of the Arab Spring, and brave individuals and groups (not only “We Are All Malala” but  also “We Are All Khaled Said”). Yet, political Internet activism has long roots, for example in the Mexican Zapatista movement.

Social media have recently brought different opportunities, and challenges, to E-mobilization, E-tactics, and E-movements. Here’s an insightful account by Rasha A. Abdulla,  associate professor in the department of Journalism and Mass Communication at the American University in Cairo: The Revolution Will Be Tweeted. Read her account of Egyptian Spring — and if you’d like to ask any questions, please post below!

2012-06-28 09.16.42Movements have gone global because of digital media. Arguably, the Occupy Movement, for example, has used an interesting mix of communicative tools and media, from hand gestures to online and mobile organizing — but certainly spread around the world because of social media. (Here’s a fascinating account of the birth of the movement). Occupy Sandy broadened the movement from protesting to doing hands-on disaster relief work. It also spurred a collaborative documentary project.

Other times, social media platforms feature more spontaneous political reactions and protests, such as the infamous YouTube Muhammad video and its tragic aftermath — and the related Twitter response #MuslimRage that followed, as a protest to a mainstream media story  (a condensed account with a great discussion and a slideshow on HuffPost).

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[Source: http://www.cnn.com/2012/09/19/opinion/obeidallah-muslims-rage/]

This excellent article from The Guardian showcases an array of examples of political digital humanitarianism (my term, but I’m sure you know where I’m going with it). The blog iRevolution, mentioned in the article, is one of my go-to sources of all things techie assistance from disasters to revolutions.

Media Reformers

But we have also discussed how, sometimes, digital platforms are not only tools for democracy, but tools for surveillance by non-democratic regimes (as Evgeny Morozov notes).

And that leads us to a very particular form of digital community-building for social justice, the one by those communities that are concerned about our digital (human) rights, and reforming the media themselves, for a more democratic world (the terms often used are Media Reform and Media Justice).

Here’s a short and simple video I did (for a group of Freshmen students) on digital human rights; here’s a related blog post.

In some cases, and countries, media reform efforts take an organized, official form. An anti-copyright movement transforms into a political party, as in the case of the Pirate Party that is active in numerous countries.

Although internet access and digital divide are often considered as basic questions of infrastructure, and hence most often considered as the responsibility of national governments (and activism seeks to change those policies), there are numerous free wireless and mesh network projects that help underserved communities to gain access.

In other cases, issue-driven global communities are formed to counter corporate-driven Internet. Some advocate for, and create, open source code (see Katrina’s great comment on this as a reply for the Digital Helpers assignment); others wish to create a global community that wants to share their creative work with a self-defined licensing, not by corporate-owned copyright.

Back to Basics: Internet Freedom

Yet others are fear for diminishing freedom of the Internet itself. Apart from blatant censorship 2012-07-16 13.52.43and dramatic government responses such as the recent one in Syria, there are more ‘subtle’, yet no less important, challenges. Here’s a short video by the journalist/researcher/global internet freedom activist Rebecca MacKinnon (once more — she’s a favourite — in the Oslo Freedom Forum). Using the Nordic telecom company  TeliaSonera as a poignant example, she’s discusses her concern about the ways in which commercial imperatives and business practices may, in fact, endanger free online expression.

Here is an extensive list, compiled by Rebecca, of global and national organizations(communities?),  that work for maintaining the freedom of the networks. (Perhaps you’ll find inspiration from the list for your country case?)

And Personal Democracy Media, the TED-like organization of practitioners, scholars, activist, policy-makers already mentioned earllier, offers great video lectures on Net Policy & Activism. The videos showcase how important media policy-making has become in terms of democracy (and possibilities of community-building), and how it thus become a great interest to media-focused activism.

Hacktivism

Yet, there are also are those who wouldn’t be interested in participating in global deliberations, but who use direct digital actions to make their voices heard; those whom some call cyber-terrorists, others hails as freedom fighters: The Anonymous and other hacktivist groups. Here’s a great article by the anthropologist Gabriella Coleman on the nature of the Anonymous as a community — “Our Weirdness is Free” (see also her article in the Social Media Reader, in Dropbox) And here’s a Wikipedia timeline on the activism of The Anonymous.

These are all concrete examples of the transformative power of digital media. But they still are relatively isolated experiments, digital communities for social justice only in the making. So the question becomes: Are we, postmodern individualist humans, capable of working together for true freedom and equality? Now that we know more about the world, and connect more easily with others, than ever before in human history — can we really accept others? Or are online communities temporary and fleeing constructions?

Technology isn’t good or bad — it is what we make of it. And as one of the founders of the Pirate Bay, the file sharing site that helped to spark the founding of many European Pirate Parties (political parties), notes:

“You can’t beat politics with new technology all the time. Sometimes you have to actually make sure that politics are in line with what people want. A lot of people are giving up on politics and thinking they can solve issues with technology. These kind of arrogant behaviours towards the rest of the society are a bit disgusting,”

{learning} The Art of Evaluation_#ICM820

We at #ICM820 course have discussed successful strategies of community-building as well as cases gone very wrong. But evaluating – quantitatively measuring and qualitatively assessing – successes is a tricky issue.

From a macro-level vantage point of societies and its institutions, we could ponder how to assess media systems (or, as many tend to say about the digital era of multiplicity, media ecosystems) work effectively, democratically, openly, and so on. I have collected some links to projects, ideas, and cases that aim at measuring media systems and media development from a global perspective.

The meso-level of organizations outlook would be to look at effectiveness of particular political, economic, social, etc. communities, organizations, or campaigns. Is it about eye-balls, likes/shares/follows, comments, retweets/repins etc.? Is it about the ratio between lurkers vs. active participants? Professionally, do we value media differently than we did before, in terms of it as an advertising distribution tool, a news source, a forum for debate, an entertainment source? Here are just some examples of the infinite amount of views on how to measure success and impact in the digital age:

Also:

Finally, at the micro – or individual – level: How do you (does one) measure a digital community? Usability, access, relevance, engagement/familiarity, security…?

As experts of digital communities, how do we balance structural/technological concerns, big data metrics, and individual experiences?

{learning} Another #ICM820 Post: Communities of Commerce and/or Politics

Up until now, we have thought about the consistency of a digital community, the role of media in its formation, the ways of participation, as well as the spatial (proximitydimension of in such communities.

Now we move into the specific, often explicitly planned purposes of communities.

The purpose of this post is highlight some aspects of the importance of digital communities to two major areas of our societies: political participation and commercial activities. In a way, we are taking macro (society) and meso (institutions = business) perspectives to some  purposeful communities.

In the following weeks we will look at these domains more closely, including their intersections, variations, and other possible domains that we might detect. But for the time being, we are briefly mapping the plusses and minuses:

PLUS FOR POLITICS: The Ways of Digital Democracy

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When the Internet came along, there were so many promises of democracy. One of them is the easy access to participation:

An open platform for community building. An accessible arena for deliberative discussion. A means to reach across space and disregard time to forge new relationships and rekindle old ones. An arena to deliberate and solve global issues and to form a multitude of new alliances across geographic, institutional and other sociocultural borders.

Over the last two decades now, cyberspace, known by its alter ego the virtual public sphere, has been overlaid with potential-filled promises to be the venue to engender democracy and build community (…)

Once a means merely to connect people to one another, the internet, with its dressing of Web 2.0 finery, is said to have evolved into a place for substantive social organizing.

[N]ot only have we now found an extensible environment to support our diverse and distributed public activities, but we are also spawning a culture of participation that enables us to showcase our individuated productions while simultaneously adding both nuance and weight to the composite portrait of public activity. (Erickson & Aslama)

To be sure, social media communities have brought conflicts and protests for the entire (wired) world to view. Most wold argue that from the Arab Spring to Hong Kong, we all monitor and, to some extent, participate as witnesses f major polirtcal events.

A key figure in theorizing media and democracy, Peter Dahlgren (Dropbox reading) has categorized ways of online activity and interaction that is relevant to political participation and democracy:

  • e-government,
  • advocacy/activist domain,
  • civic forums (“where views are exchanged among citizens and deliberation can take place. This is generally understood as the paradigmatic version of the public sphere on the Net, but it would be quite erroneous to neglect the others”),
  • the parapolitical domain  (“airs social and cultural topics having to do with common interests and/or collective identities; political participation is always a possibility”), and
  • the journalism domain (from major news organizations to bloggers).
Case in Point:

Democracy is changing.

A new force, rooted in new tools and practices built on and around the Internet, is rising alongside the old system of money intensive broadcast politics.

Today, for almost no money, anyone can be a reporter, a community organizer, an ad-maker, a publisher, a money-raiser, or a leader.

If what they have to say is compelling, it will spread.

The cost of finding like-minded souls, banding together, and speaking to the powerful has dropped to almost zero.

Networked voices are reviving the civic conversation.

More people, everyday, are discovering this new power.

After years of being treated like passive subjects of marketing and manipulation, citizens want to be heard.

Members expect a say in the decision-making process of the networked organizations they join. Readers want to talk back to the news-makers.

Citizens are insisting on more openness and transparency from government and from corporations too.

All the old institutions and players – big money, top-down parties, big-foot journalism, cloistered organizations – must adapt fast or face losing status and power, and some of them are. That evolution is happening as some governments, political organizations, businesses and nonprofits begin to embrace participation and transparency.

The realization of “Personal Democracy,” where everyone is a full participant, is coming.

This is a part of the Manifesto of the Personal Democracy Forum, a TED-like “hub for political practitioners and technologists”. The topics of their video lectures showcase the diversity of takes on digital democracy (please do explore for ideas and inspiration, here). And, according to Johnson’s high hopes about communities (Dropbox reading):

… [A] new model of political change is on the rise, transforming everything from local governments to classrooms, from protest movements to health care.

[T]his new political worldview [is] influenced by the success and interconnectedness of the Internet, by peer networks, but not dependent on high-tech solutions — that breaks with the conventional categories of liberal or conservative, public vs. private thinking.

PLUS FOR BUSINESS: Free Labour, Viral Marketing of the Long Tail, Brand Trust

OScreen shot 2014-10-03 at 6.49.38 AMnline communities have given businesses the advantage of The Long Tail (Anderson – Dropbox reading): Niche markets are interested in, and will get to know about, niche market products.

In addition, digital communities are free labour for businesses. They do a lot of the work of marketing research companies (everyone is at least somewhat aware of the fact that we reveal key data about us online), as well as advertising agencies and media outlets.

Hence: Viral marketing campaigns are working to a great extent because we are working. We share with our communities (and for a few other reasons: here is a fun  analysis of successful recent campaigns). As our friend Seth Godin would note, the power of the sneezers — those who are central in spreading ideas — is multiplied because of digital communication, and communities.

At the same time, the distance between us and companies, brands, and products has never been more like “trusted friends” than today.  This is how Forbes magazine summarizes the benefits in terms of trust to one’s brand:

  1. Communicating Thought Leadership: One way for a brand to lose credibility with a social audience is to simply spam them with “opportunities” to purchase a product or service without providing any value. This value can come in many forms, but should be designed to teach, entertain, ignite discussions, and gain honest feedback. Social media is the perfect platform for a brand to communicate their expertise in a given industry, and do so by providing great content that people will share with others. This is how companies can become thought leaders in their space.

  2. Transparency: This is an area that executives and decision makers have feared the most but a hurdle that must be overcome for a company to be successful using social media. In today’s digital world, transparency is an inherent reality, as people will be talking about issues associated with your brand online. Companies need to embrace this and get involved in guiding that conversation. In a report from eMarketer, 77% of buyers said they are more likely to buy from a company if the CEO uses social media, and 82% trust the company more. This is impressive, and telling of how consumers want to engage with brands and top-level executives.

  3. Quick & Responsive Customer Communication – If consumers know they can reach out to your company via social media and are encouraged to do so, this is a good opportunity to provide great service in front of a large audience. Don’t be afraid of customer complaints. Address them head on. These opportunities can often turn into great testimonials when customers are handled with care.

  4. Ensures Accountability: When companies are openly engaged in social media and encouraging their audience to interact with them, it ensures a certain level of accountability. In using social media aggressively, a brand can essentially hold itself accountable for providing great products, services, and customer service. They can’t afford not to! But isn’t that the goal anyway?

  5. Fun & Simple Engagement: Another way to build and maintain trust is through entertainment. Don’t always make it about your company and its services or value. This goes back to thought leadership and content marketing. Provide value in a fun and creative way through daily content, apps, videos, contests, sweepstakes, and infographics. The opportunities are endless.

  6. Social Responsibility: A great way to build trust with your customers is to let them know that you care about others more than just yourself. The same goes for building brand equity. Socially responsible brands often gain more momentum because their customers know they aren’t just about profits, but also giving back to their communities or the world around them. Social media channels are the perfect platform to communicate this message and let it spread organically. For example, Marriott is running a check-in campaign that encourages guests to check-in, and the hotel will donate $2 to charity. This promotion is intended to leverage a typical social interaction for the greater good.Screen shot 2014-10-03 at 6.27.57 AM

Case in Point:

One of the classic cases is that of the DKNY PR Girl. Started as a spontaneous (and first anonymous) personal gossipy fashion-focused Twitter account the phenomenon went viral and became a model on how to build online communities around a brand. Behind it all is the the senior vice president of Global Communications for Donna Karan International, Aliza Licht who finally revealed her identity on YouTube.

Licht’s recent view on creating an online brand community:

On Social Media: Be yourself…

Licht credits her social media success to its authenticity. “It’s organic and I think that’s why it works,” she said. She said posts are always better when they’re a natural extension of yourself and aren’t overly planned — since 2009, Licht said she’s only planned one post (on Tumblr) and hated the results, which she said felt disjointed with the other conversations she was having in real time. Since then, authenticity has been her key to success.

“I find things I like and turn them into social moments,” she said. If you’re trying to build up your own social media following or your company’s, don’t force it. Oftentimes, the less pre-determined posts are, the better.

…But understand you’re your own brand

By now, most people know that you have to be careful about what you post, tweet or Instagram. But as Licht explained, it’s still easy for people to post something in the heat of the moment that they later regret. While authenticity in posts is certainly important, there’s a line between being candid and being inappropriate.

“You have to be cognizant of what you stand for,” the social media maven said. “Sometimes I want to mouth off about something in the news, and literally will write the tweet and then delete it to try to vent a little bit … While I tweet off-the-cuff, I think about every single tweet.”

Bottom line: Nothing online is private. Only post things you want people to associate with you, even from a “personal” account.

MINUSES?

That is for you to map out.

Find out a bad, bad case of a digital community gone wrong, either in the realm of politics or business.

Share your cases here on VoiceThread: 3 sentences describing the case, 3 sentences about what we can learn from the case.

PS: How to Work With VoiceThread

Create a (free) profile for yourself.

Answer by recording a video with your computer webcam or its internal microphone, text/call, or write a comment. It is easy: Just follow the prompts that Voicethread gives you.

This screenshot illustrates the view when you are screening the video on Voicethread.

To leave comment, you will simply click the Comment button.

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Then you can choose whether you want to call in your comment (the phone icon), record it with webcam (the camera icon) or computer mic (the mic + record icon), or write it (the A + type icon). Just click on the comment option of your choice.

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In this screenshot,  you can see on the left my video comment playing (my profile picture = the dog):

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{teaching} The Future of Work and Learning – MediaLab 20 yrs


The future of work and learning

Kirsi Juva, Esko Kilpi, Teppo Säkkinen,  host Teemu Leinonen & me.
Old people in mega cities. Everything connected. What kind of work there will be in the future? To what kind of world of work we are educating people? Digital curators, social engineers, artificial intelligence designer, creativity experts, story tellers.

What do you think is the future — and see what we think: