The following is a follow up on BZ’s earlier posts regarding Anonymity, Credibility, Behavior Change and other issues. BZ had posted several guest blogs here, and received useful comments from guests and other bloggers. Here, BZ summarizes and responds.
I am in the position of grading BZ for this work. His grade will be based on how many comments he gets, so please help him out!1
Over the course of a couple weeks I had the opportunity to have some commentary posted on this blog, with the goal that people would respond to the statement, sometimes answering questions asked, sometime contributing to the topic from their own viewpoint. This post is my take on what I thought were the most important messages conveyed by the responses to each of my posts.
My first post was Anonymity & Credibility
Bates, Anthis, & Smith write in their 2008 article Advancing Science through Conversations: Bridging the Gap between Blogs and the Academy “Because many science bloggers are practicing scientists or experts in their field, they can provide a unique educational bridge between academia and the public and distill important experimental findings into an accessible, interactive format.” (Bates, 2008). Blogging clearly plays an important role in our information intake – but what did the responses to my post about information presented by anonymous sources have to say? By far, I think the biggest take home message from the responses gathered is that we as readers tend to use our own judgment to determine what sources we feel are more reliable than others, and that trust plays the largest role in this personal judgment call.
“Personal judgment is a filter for credibility and reliability at all times, I believe. Different newspapers, TV networks, commentaries, websites, blogs, etc., are more or less reliable depending on the experiences or knowledge I bring to them. I don’t think you can forego all your background when analyzing information. When reading blogs, I look at the blogger’s information. Even if the name remains anonymous, I look for credentials that give the blog credibility, comments on the blog written by people who seem to know what they are talking about, the number of hits the blog has. For others, these may not be sources of credibility.” -Raul
“Like people, some blogs are more reliable than others. When reporting information from anonymous sources, journalists frequently give some indication about quality you can expect, e.g.: ‘a usually reliable source,’ ‘an anonymous source high up in the current administration,’ “a senior administration official who refuses to be identified as the vide president,” ‘a complete idiot off the street who says he is a plumber but is not licensed as such,’ and so forth. And so reports on what ‘the blogs’ are doing might also contain some clues about how accurate those blogs are expected to be. I have my own litmus test for reliability” – Virgil
My second post was Anonymity & Behavior Change
I was a bit disappointed to find that the majority of posters on Greg Laden’s blog are apparently good natured folks that wouldn’t dream of misrepresenting themselves or behaving (acting?) any differently online than in person. Most research I’ve read in this area suggests otherwise from most users of the Internet, leading me to believe that the readers here are obviously unique.
Stephanie Zvan runs a blog that attempts to outline some of the tactics used by individuals who maliciously try to cause problems and otherwise behavior poorly in a virtual community in her 2008 post How to Hijack a Thread. Some of the key steps include:
- Lay your groundwork. Watch the group interaction. Make yourself known to the community. Engage on a topic or two. Piss a few people off so they’ll react to you reliably later.
- Build a fire. Say something known to be controversial. Be sure to compliment community members–in the most backhanded way possible.
- Make yourself the injured party. Re characterize any objections to your statements as referenda on your character. Loudly protest your ignorance of even the concept of a dog whistle. Of course you didn’t say that. Abuse yourself sarcastically in strong terms to show how misunderstood you are.
Virtual communities allow for someone to plan their attract with some forethought. It would be interesting to interview a wide variety of individuals to find out if they behave that way in real world situations, or if the internet allows them to behave in a way that is different from face to face community interaction. What studies are available on this topic say that yes, we as humans are more prone to behaving differently online than in person.
Stephen Doheny-Farina, author of The Wired Neighborhood, describes an incident where a fellow MediaMoo user told him that his interests “sucked” and then logged off of the system. Farina was a bit shocked (despite earlier mentioning that he felt more casual and free interacting online) by this behavior, not recalling ever being told that he or his interests sucked to his face at a professional conference. Then it dawned on Farina – this person did not tell him that he sucked to his face; he was far more removed than that. It may also lead to extremes such as in the case studies done by Sherry Turkle as described in her book Life on the Screen where people explore different identities by pretending they are a different person than they are in real life.
My third post was Subjective Management of Forums/Blogs
It would seem that again, the reader values personal judgment. In this instance, reading a forum, blog, or other information source must be done over some length of time so that moderation may be witnessed first hand, and from this a personal “fairness” meter comes into play, informing the reader of whether the actions taken were justified or not.
“Institutions may wish to implement more formal vetting mechanisms, however, such as periodic review by institutional moderators or peer review by official committees of blog-literate individuals, established scientists, and bloggers. Institutions might use one of a variety of mechanisms to confer a visible token of this review–such as a “blog badge”–in order to both reward quality bloggers and help readers identify trusted blogs.” (Bates, 2008). This stamp of approval concept is an interesting one – rather than invest your time into multiple blogs to determine if they are of quality, you defer to a system that you can trust.
Tang commented on this topic: “I used to regularly read a news site called Indymedia that was supposed to be a forum for independent amateur journalists from around the world to share newsworthy articles and multimedia over the internet, a few years before anyone had heard of the word “blogging”. Since the site was founded on the values of free speech, the management decided to make the site a completely open forum with no limits on posting articles or comments. The site quickly went over to whoever could shout the loudest, spam the most articles, and spend the most time always getting in the last word in the forums. Meanwhile, quality information and debate dried up as anyone with a brain stopped contributing. That made me a firm believer in the benevolent dictator model.” Tang goes on to describe a different model: “Slashdot took a different approach and introduced the system of having moderators from the user base rank comments as valuable or worthless, and hiding the least valuable contents from the average user. It works well on a site with a large user base like Slashdot (and as a side benefit it relieves the admin of having to manage the comments) but smaller sites can get overrun by a large enough set of ideologically like-minded activists.” Later Tang points out a major issue with this method of moderation: “User based moderation a la Slashdot tends to lead to groupthink. Try arguing that Windows is a decent product or that the RIAA has a legal right to sue song warezers. You won’t get far with anyone. There’s also an interesting pattern about how people rate. No matter the high ideals and nuanced design that went into a ratings system, the bulk of users will only rate posts as I Agree (+max) and I Disagree (-max).”
Stephanie Zvan blogged on this topic, in her 2009 blog entitled Looking Like a Noob, writing: “It’s always a little strange when I’m out in the blogosphere and run into someone who really ought to know better but persists in acting like the n00biest of n00bs. Someone who still doesn’t understand that you don’t get to have things both ways. For example: If you use a theory to support argument, and someone goes to the trouble of finding a critique of the theory, you don’t get to say, ‘Nah, I don’t want to read it right now. I don’t really want to talk about the theory.'” Zvan continues: “Okay, the usual caveat about rules applies. The blogosphere is a freewheeling, anarchic place. Subject to the whims of the blog administrator, you can do any of these things. You do have choices–but they have consequences.”
Using our own personal judgment plays a role again in this topic: if a “dictator” method is employed, do we find the actions of the dictator acceptable? Or are they abusing their power? In a hive-mind method, do we follow the pack, or resist it, only to be frustrated by the overwhelming backlash of comments/moderation not allowing other viewpoints to breathe? These are questions we must answer for ourselves when determining what the blog’s information can be consumed as (we may still read a blog that has moderation we disagree with, and take that knowledge into mind – the information available there may be very one sided).
My final post was Subjective Filtering of Internet Content
In this case, everyone seemed to be on the same page. It was generally felt that our personal rights are squashed when governments or organizations tell us what is acceptable to read. Most posters also had personal experience displaying how filtering was hindering productivity.
“As someone who frequently contributes to the English Wikipedia I was involved in the recent filtering attempt by British ISPs. The filtering was at best ineffective if one knew about it but had the serious problem of massively reducing functionality of Wikipedia for British users while it was active” – Joshua Zelinksky
“Early on in browsers, some bluenose decided that “beaver” was obscene. Among those unfairly impacted were:
1. Beaver County, Oklahoma, and its county seat, Beaver 2. Beaver County, Oklahoma, and its county seat, Beaver 3. Beaver County, Pennsylvania, with its county seat, Beaver, the city of Beaver Falls, and the borough of Big Beaver 4. Beaver County, Utah, with its county seat, Beaver 5. Beaver State Park in Oklahoma 6. Little Beaver State Park in West Virginia 7. Beaver College in Pennsylvania, which changed its name to Arcadia University 8. Beaver Stadium at the University Park Campus of Penn State University” – CRM-114
“I work in a school. Obviously we need internet filters for the student server. But the teacher server also had a filter. This prevented teachers from having access to You Tube videos. Many teachers were annoyed that they couldn’t use some very neat You Tube videos to support what they were teaching. Recently, the administration and IT Team decided to allow access and provided teachers with instruction on how to use You Tube professionally. For example, they explained teachers shouldn’t search You Tube while displaying results to students because often you’ll see things you didn’t intend.” -Serena
What I learned from this exercise is that personal judgment plays a large role in determining the credibility of information posted. This was true of situations were the information was presented anonymously, or in situations were subjective filtering of content took place.
I also learned that most everyone agrees that some filtering is needed in various non-private situations (such as the workplace or school) but also acknowledge that the systems in place are faulty and cumbersome.
I’d like to thank everyone who responded and Greg for sharing his spot on the web with me. I hope that these comments were stimulating in some way, and that they were both though provoking and enjoyable to read.
Is it acceptable that we expose ourselves to such a mass amount of information, only having our own personal judgment (or what we perceive to be our own judgment – we may just be following the pack in some cases as Tang pointed out in his comments) as a filter?
What could be done to improve information filtering? Most of us agree on some basics of what should and should not be acceptable in the workplace or for children, but how do we address this issue more fully?
Batts, S., Anthis, N., & Smith, T. (2008). Advancing Science through Conversations: Bridging the Gap between Blogs and the Academy PLoS Biology, 6 (9) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.0060240
Doheny-Farnia, Stephen. (1996). The Wired Neighborhood. Connecticut: Yale
Turkle, Sherry. (1995). Life on the Screen. New York: Touchstone.
Zvan, Stephanie (2008). How to Hijack a Thread. Available: http://almostdiamonds.blogspot.com/2008/12/how-to-hijack-thread.html. Accessed January 15th, 2009.
Zvan, Stephanie (2009). Looking Like a N00b. Available: http://almostdiamonds.blogspot.com/2009/01/looking-like-n00b.html. Accessed January 15th, 2009.
1Only kidding about the grades being based on comment count.