Class, Wed, 4/19

Fastwrite: Last thoughts: How have social media changed the ways we interact with one another (or not)?

Fenton and Lee

  • Chapter 7, Building a Community: In what ways do you find the advice F&L offer about blogging on pp. 88–90 useful? In what ways might it be constrictive?
  • Interview tips, pp. 16-17: For use in your profile of a digital writer (due Thurs, 4/27).

Writing: Profile of a Digital Writer

To Do

  1. Thurs, 4/20, 10:00 am: Post a link to and reflection on your Writing as a Social Action to this site. Please identify four or five posts that particularly interest you, and comment on them.
  2. Fri, 4/21, class: We’ll discuss the Writing as Social Action posts.
  3. Mon, 4/24, class: Identify the digital writer you want to profile and set up a time to talk with them.

The Internet is a Dangerous Place

I found it interesting that there was a similar stance of technology as dangerous in all three books that we have read so far this semester. Each book has made a stance on the pulpit of technology and the pros and cons of these advances as they continue to develop and intertwine with our evolving society. But especially when it came to Ronson and Boyd since there was a hint of these authors leaning more towards pro technology only to outline some key dangers of it. Boyd implies it is a means of communication that we never had access to before. Ronson points out how it can give a voice to justice and gives power to people who would otherwise have no means of making themselves heard. In each case, however, there is an underlying concern of technology as a dangerous thing when mismanaged and misused.

Ronson and Boyd both seemed to have strong feelings of technology as a way of communication and interaction with people. In Boyd’s case, she emphasized this idea that younger generations have more restrictions when it comes to interacting with people out in society than what the older generations once had, there’s less available space for these kids to be themselves with other young people. Thus the incorporation of social media opens up a gateway for youth to interact with like-minded people, creating a new space for them to open up. However, this also opens the door to things such as cyber bullying, hackers and access to inappropriate content that would otherwise be unavailable to them and so on. Ronson too starts his book with the same ideals of technology as a beacon for something  good, like justice. He begins with an example of how his identity over twitter was stolen and used as an “infomorph” by a team of academics who only took it down after a barrage of internet shaming. Ronson illustrates how even if something is askew in the internet world, if someone misuses the channels of technology in a heinous way, it could be righted by the mass voice of the people. Here too, we see as the book progresses, there is an underside to this method of justice he once admired. Innocent lives were ruined forever by this mass voice, but whether the sentence was truly deserved or not, one thing was clear, there was no forgiveness or redemption for these people who were publicly shamed.

It can be said that any new advancement or step forward, no matter how well intended, can be misused and thus become a hazard. I think throughout these books, we see that despite how well intentioned the use of technology can be, there is always going to be someone to misuse it, creating a sense of danger in the online world entirely unique from ones in reality. Even if Ronson and Boyd want to point out and emphasize just how much good can come from technology, they cannot avoid the fact that there is so much bad tied along with it, and I think that, despite how positive the tone of these books may seem at first, it elicits a deep cynicism towards technology and how helpful it actually is.

Class, Fri, 4/14

Voice and Tone

Guidelines for Concept in 60

Responding to Ronson (and boyd and Carr)

In groups: Discuss your responses. Select a a piece to present on Monday that you feel pushes our conversation beyond where it is now.

To Do

  1. Mon, 4/17, class: What are you going to do (have you done) for the Writing as Social Action assignment? Be ready to speak briefly about your project. We will also discuss the responses to Ronson you’ve chosen on Friday.
  2. Wed, 4/19, class: Read Fenton and Lee, chapter 7 (pp. 83–99). Think about possible digital writers you may want to profile for next week (due Thurs, 4/27).
  3. Thurs, 4/20, 10:00 am: Post your report on Writing as a Social Action to this site. Read and comment on the posts of your group members.


Don’t Point Fingers Regardless of Your Intentions

Ronson was onto something when he analyzed the Stanford Prison Experiment and interviewed the people involved. He thought he had debunked this widely known experiment but instead, his findings were still incredibly applicable to the observations he makes on social media and the viewpoints danah boyd shares in her book It’s Complicated. Specifically, they both discuss social media as an immensely powerful tool that can be used for good or bad but at the end of the day it is the person behind the screen who is at fault for their actions online.

Boyd examines the presence of bullying amongst teens on social media and Ronson examines the modern publicity of shaming. Regardless, both agree that about root of any good or bad and boyd explains herself when she says: ““People choose what to spread online, but the technologies that they use to do so are created to increase the visibility of content that will attract the most attention” (Boyd 146). Social media users decide what they post, whether it may be an insensitive tweet about AIDS or an attack in response to that. Nevertheless, this content is more public than ever because things like retweets, shares, likes and reposts exist. Just over a decade ago, this wasn’t the case; the only people who had a voice were people in the public eye but now “The silenced were getting a voice. It was like the democratization of justice.” However, some people may not know what to do with this newfound power or how to use it for good.

I think this goes back to Ronson’s discovery: study participant, Dave Eshelman, who played the role as a guard and seemed to have become irrationally violent admitted that everything he did was on purpose because he thought he was doing something good at the time. This directly relates to boyd’s position “The dynamics of drama and attention don’t unfold because of social media, even if teens can use technology for these purposes” (Boyd 147). Twitter is not to blame for the absurd tweets sent to Sacco about deserving to get fired and raped. Twitter users thought they were doing something good by addressing an inappropriate tweet but although their intentions may have been honest they were just adding to the cycle of violence.

I don’t know if this stems from my optimistic nature, but I genuinely feel that the vast majority of people are not evil to the core. Shamings happen because in a crowd every sentiment and act is contagious and teens bully because they are so easily influenced by their peers. Ronson observes the powerful phenomena of public shaming on social media and boyd picks apart the roles of social media and of its users. I feel that they too would agree that everyone has flaws but it is much easier to pick at someone else’s and forget your own.

Behind the Screen Bullies

Ronson and boyd dissect the same subject, but they take different approaches of doing so. They both focus on how technology affects and enhances the publicity of negatively treating others. Ronson discusses shaming and boyd discusses bullying. Bullying is a stepping stone on the way to shaming. As we discussed in class, bullying tends to be a more “private” form of harassment usually done by one specific person. Shaming is harassment done in a very public forum, and can be done by anyone with access to the situation – whether they know the person being shamed or not.

Ronson and boyd both explain how technology plays a major role in shaming and bullying. Shaming and bullying have been around for ages, as Ronson proves with a brief history anecdote, but are now becoming more public in a different light due to technology. The internet and social media have created numerous ways for shamers and bullies to harass people, and for others to join in on the bashing. Ronson highlights online shaming done to adults, but boyd proves online bullying happens with teens as well.
It is interesting to think about how technology has affected this issue – from the publicity of it to the amount of people participating in it. When I think about stories such as Justine Sacco’s, I wonder why so many people felt it was their job to publicly shame and harass her. Of course she tweeted an insensitive comment, but the lengths that people behind their screens went to to punish her is concerning. We all make mistakes, even though they may not be that public or extreme, so when did we decide to publicly humiliate and shame one another for those mistakes to this degree? Online shaming and bullying has gone from more than just attacking the person for their mistake. It turns into attacking their character and values, and destroying their life piece by piece. Most of the people Ronson highlighted lost their jobs due to the amount of public shaming they received. While I do not condone the mistakes of the people boyd and Ronson highlight, I also do not think that the level of bullying and shaming (or any of it for that matter) people have taken up are okay either. It is a complex issue with lots of layers; but, I think that Ronson and boyd have both written interesting and entertaining books that peel away at those layers in order to help us understand the connections between bullying and shaming and technology.

Class, Mon, 4/10

Ronson, boyd, Carr

Read the four scripted exchanges between Ronson, boyd, and Carr produced in class on Friday.  Pick one that you were not involved in composing, and jot down some notes in response. Let’s use these scripts as a way of thinking about what these three writers agree on and where they differ.

boyd on Fake News

Having read It’s Complicated, in what ways does boyd’s”Google and Facebook Can’t Just Make Fake News Disappear” struck as you as running true to form? What surprises are there?

To Do

  1. Wed, 4/12, class: Read Fenton and Lee, chapters 5 and 6 (pp. 61–82).
  2. Thurs, 4/13, 10:00 am: Post your response to Ronson (and boyd and Carr) to this site. Read the posts by the other members of your group and be ready to talk about them in class on Friday.

A Tweet Is Worth a Thousand Lashes

After reading Ronson’s book “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed”, I think that the angle he takes in analyzing the use of social media to shame others quite intriguing. Obviously, this kind of online shaming happens quite frequently. That being said, what I find most interesting is the idea raised by Ronson that social media shaming is a reincarnation of the public punishment that pervaded American colonial times. Diving into American history, Ronson point out that public punishment was eventually made illegal in every US state, as it was perceived as too cruel and humiliating. However, he points out that online shaming is really no different than public punishment, perhaps with the exception of a lack of physical harm. In this way, there has almost been a renaissance in public punishment. This can be seen with writer Jonah Lehrer, who after he was caught plagiarizing material in his works, sought to apologize to the public. However, his public apology was made standing next to a big screen twitter feed where people slammed his apology and tormented him in real-time. As Ronson states, “As Jonah Lehrer stood in front of that giant-screen Twitter feed on February 12, 2013, he experienced something that had been widely considered appalling in the eighteenth century” (Ronson 56). Thus, Ronson is stating that Lehrer was in this moment a victim of the modern rebirth of public punishment through online shaming.


Moreover, an interesting note to take away from Ronson so far is the contrast between his angle of looking at social media, and how other authors like danah boyd view its use. While Ronson sees social media through the lens of a “great renaissance of public shaming”, danah looks at the use of social media on a much broader spectrum (Ronson 10). Although danah boyd does acknowledge the use of social media as a tool for bullying, she does not mention its utilization specifically for shaming, but rather for the incitement of teenage drama. “Whereas adults might have labeled many of these practices as bullying, teens saw them as drama” (boyd 137). Here, boyd points out the fact that many teens who use social media see actions that can hurt others as drama, not bullying. Moreover, boyd mentions bullying and more specifically bullying through the guise of drama, but does not discuss bullying at all through the guise of public shaming. Furthermore, boyd goes on to discuss the positive influences of social media and looks at it through a variety of paradigms. Ronson, however, sticks to the phenomenon of shaming, which can easily be labeled negative. What’s more, while boyd and Ronson are both discussing different forms of online bullying, both of the groups doing this bullying rarely see themselves as bullies. Teens see themselves as starting drama, according to boyd. Similarly, those shaming others using the internet see themselves as vigilantes and proponents of online justice.