prof. e.

Mass Communication, [multi]media, methodology and much, much more!

Archive for the ‘websites’ Category

Porn: a Threat to Public Health

Posted by prof e on April 11, 2016

The research is in, and the facts overwhelmingly support concerns that pornography is unhealthy, dangerous, and taking a toll on public health. According to a report published in the Washington Post, which cites 40 years of peer-reviewed research, porn “shapes how we think about gender, sexuality, relationships, intimacy, sexual violence and gender equality — for the worse.”

Another article, published in Time magazine, views porn through a different lens. According to this article many young men are finding that they are incapable of being sexually aroused by their partner because of years of exposure to extreme pornographic images. These are not moralistic crusades by puritanical killjoys.

These men, and the thousands of others who populate their websites with stories of sexual dysfunction, are all at pains to make it clear that they are not antisex. ‘The reason I quit watching porn is to have more sex,’ says Deem. ‘Quitting porn is one of the most sex-positive things people can do,’ says Rhodes. One online commenter, sirrifo, put it more simply: ‘I just want to enjoy sex again and feel the desire for another person.’

And if you’re a woman who thinks this is a guy problem, think again. The Time magazine article has a sidebar about the effects of porn on women. Women who use porn experience some of the same negative effects as do men. And for women, the often violent and abusive nature of pornographic sex makes women more likely to face similar behavior from their partners.

It’s time to take this matter seriously and recognize it for what it is…a multi-billion dollar industry that does great physical and psychological harm to its customers.

The Time magazine article ended with this poignant quote by a man who decided to cut back on porn: “When I think about it,” he writes, “I’ve wasted years of my life looking for a computer or mobile phone to provide something it is not capable of providing.”


Posted in ethics, media effects, media industry, research, websites | 1 Comment »

Living Inside the Bubble

Posted by prof e on March 2, 2016

I’ve posted about the “Filter Bubble” and mentioned it in another post, but a new trend is emerging that takes the concept and makes it even more troubling.

First, let me take a minute to review the idea behind the filter bubble. According to Eli Pariser’s Ted Talk, the filter bubble is a dangerous and unintentional consequence of software algorithms that social media platforms use to customize our user experience. In an attempt to keep us online and engaged, social media platforms feed us the content stream that they believe is of greatest interest to us.

DrumpfinatorSounds good so far, right? But the problem is that by putting some things in and leaving others out our social media experience can begin to reflect and reinforce our personally held biases. Pretty soon we’re only seeing Facebook posts from people who agree with our political/social/religious positions. And while that may make us more comfortable it doesn’t do much to make us more aware of, and sensitive to, other points of view.

Now imagine for a moment a software hack that allows you to create your own filter bubble. Google’s Chrome browser allows users to download and install extensions that can do any number of things, including changing your browser to display certain words instead of other words.

This gained quite a bit of attention recently when John Oliver’s rant about Donald Trump went viral. With more than 13 million views in just a couple of days, the video makes reference to a claim that Donald Trump’s family name was originally Drumpf. That was all that some clever software programmer needed to create a Google Chrome extension that is designed to turn every mention of Trump into Drumpf! That’s right, the next time you search for Donald Trump, the results page will display results for Donald Drumpf. When your friends post about Trump on Facebook, your browser will automatically change it to Drumpf. Presto Chango, out with Trump and in with Drumpf!

ChoiceLanguageChromeExtensionsSounds like a great idea, right? But consider this. The Chrome extension website offers up some other “fixes” that are slightly less funny. Don’t like your news feed filled with comments about pro-life or pro-choice arguments. Just download the Chrome extension Choice Language or ProLife. Your webpage will no longer display the offending terms. Choice Language changes the words “Pro-Life” into “Anti-Choice”, while the Pro Life extension changes “Anti-Choice” or “Anti-Abortion” into “Pro-Life.” Simple as that you can browse the web and never encounter an offending phrase.

Ahhh, if life could be so simple. Imagine being able to rewrite the evening news or edit a popular film so that is more closely reflects your view of the world. Imagine the joy of never having to encounter an uncomfortable idea or thought. Imagine living in a bubble…a self-made filter bubble.



Posted in ethics, media effects, new media, social media, websites | Leave a Comment »

Mining Mountains of Crap

Posted by prof e on April 14, 2014

SADYOUTUBE_4This blog post is prompted by a segment that I heard recently while listening to the On the Media podcast from NPR. On this particular segment (you can listen to the 8-minute segment at Hunting for YouTube’s Saddest Comments) TLDR hosts PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman interviewed Mark Slutsky, a filmmaker behind the website

In the segment Slutsky mentions the idea that archeologists frequently gain an understanding of ancient cultures by excavating their garbage dumps. Supposedly we can learn a lot by examining the discarded refuse of ordinary life. Of course the local dump is where all of our refuse is collected in one nice convenient place. If the world is still around in a few millennia I’m sure that our landfills will yield equally compelling artifacts of what we value and what we don’t.

But what does this have to do with comments on Youtube? Or, you might ask, what do archeologists and communication scholars have in common? Simply that there is a lot of garbage in Youtube comments…and an occasionally gem as well. Slutsky is mining the comments for gems, and saving them for the future. Tough work. But after listening to a few of the gems I can understand what keeps him going.

Posted in interactive media, new media, research, social media, websites | Leave a Comment »

Facebook turns 10

Posted by prof e on February 3, 2014

FacebookHitsPubertyTen years ago Mark Zuckerberg, a student at Harvard University, launched Facebook. If you want to see a Hollywood version of the beginning and early years of the company, see the 2010 film The Social Network, written by Aaron Sorkin and directed by  David Fincher. In the film, Mark Zuckerberg is portrayed as a brilliant, but self-absorbed, geek who takes his own ideas and combines them with ideas from other innovative students to create the foundation of what would become the Facebook we know today. Blinding ambition and underdeveloped social skills aside, Zuckerberg creates a social sharing network that grows beyond his wildest dreams. Of course there are plenty of plot twists, including law suits from estranged partners and competitors, to keep the film humming along. In fact, the DVD case is inscribed, “You don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies.” And just for the record, the current number of monthly active users is just north of 1.2 billion!

Since the early 200s, much has changed for Facebook and a host of social network services (SNS) competing for your attention. Some start-ups, like Instagram, were purchased by Facebook, while others, e.g., Snapchat, rejected Zuckerberg’s advances (and his $3 billion offer)!

Rumors and speculations about the teen market abandoning Facebook (even as their parents and grandparents join up) have been growing. A recent study by two Princeton University PhD students uses comparisons to Myspace to predict a rapid decline of Facebook users over the next several years. While many bloggers and experts have criticized the methodology and conclusions of the study, (Facebook itself offered up a rather humorous and snarky rebuttal) there appears to be mixed evidence regarding the decline of teens and college-age users.

Long a proponent of radical transparency, Zuckerberg created a network that asks users to log in as themselves without the option of hiding behind a pseudonym or avatar. The requirement that users “own” their own content is seen by some as a benefit, and by others as a limitation. In social media spaces where anonymity is allowed and encouraged, loss of civility is too common and other users can feel victimized by empowered bullies. Case in point: YouTube comments recently overhauled their comments to make users more accountable for their posts.

As Facebook approaches its pre-teen years it is important to look carefully and critically at what it has become and what we are becoming as we spend more and more time online.

In 6 New Facts about Facebook, PEW research identifies several interesting facts about Facebook.

  1. Our greatest fears about Facebook are about “oversharing”
  2. …but sharing is why we love Facebook.
  3. The median number of friends is 200
  4. …and some of us have been asked to “unfriend” someone on Facebook.
  5. We like to “like” and comment on others’ posts…but we’re not as fond of posting.
  6. And, even those without Facebook accounts are likely to live with someone who does.

Posted in interactive media, new media, social media, websites | Leave a Comment »

Keg-Stands, Casual Sex and Scare Tactics: The Selling of Obamacare

Posted by prof e on November 20, 2013

got_insuranceA new set of advertisements intended to get young people to sign up for Obamacare have been released online. Produced by  The Colorado Consumer Health Initiative and ProgressNow Colorado, these ads are designed to be an antidote to conservative ads designed to scare young people away.

Rather than pay airtime or insertion rates, these ads are designed to generate social media buzz which, they hope, will drive traffic to the website. One way to create buzz is to push the envelope. The tactic has been used many times before. You might remember the Superbowl ads that were “too hot” for broadcast TV. Recently Kmart has been raising some eyebrows with a series of TV spots for the retailer. One recently played on the phrase “ship my pants” and another features an unusual performance of Jingle Bells.

What the Obamacare ads are attempting to do is to attract young healthy customers…the very demographic that is needed to fund medical care for the poor and elderly. Here’s a link to a video from HuffPo that provides running commentary on whether the approach will work with Millennials. What do you think? Are these ads effective and will they convince young people to sign up?

Posted in advertising, interactive media, new media, politics, PR, social media, websites | 43 Comments »

Swimming in the Deep End

Posted by prof e on November 17, 2013

Time magazine: The Secret WebTime magazine’s cover story this past week was about a part of the internet that remains hidden to most of us. Estimated to be 500 times larger than the “Surface Web,” the “Deep Web” has legitimate uses, e.g. confidentiality for journalists and their sources, anonymity for undercover police operations, a safe haven for political dissidents, and a place for ordinary citizens to store information safe from nosy busybodies. While Google, Facebook and a host of other internet companies continue to harvest and exploit our user-data for commercial gain, the Deep Web provides a counterbalance; freedom from the prying eyes of corporate and governmental operatives.

But this safe haven also provides cover for those who traffic in illegal drugs, weapons, fake IDs, child porn, and other forms of contraband. Secrecy and anonymity in the hands of criminals and evildoers yields potential for the worst kinds of behavior.

The technology that makes this possible is powerful encryption software (Tor) and untraceable digital currency (Bitcoin). The combination of these two technologies makes it possible to operate with complete anonymity and privacy–with virtually no chance of being identified by law enforcement officials.

The recent arrest of Ross Ulbricht, the person accused of operating the illegal drug trading website Silk Road, was only possible because Ulbricht carelessly interacted in the “Surface Web” where his actions were noted by FBI operatives.

Speculation abounds as to the future for nefarious activity online but odds are pretty high that the closing of Silk Road will lead to a virtual Hydra. In case you have forgotten your Greek mythology, Hydra was a serpent monster with many heads. The tricky part was that it grew two new heads each time one was cut off. According to an article at The Daily Dot, “The Deep Web won’t die. It’s just going to plunge even deeper.”

Here’s a short video that explains more about the Deep Web. Try not to be too distracted by the voice-over that sounds like it came from a 1970’s episode of The Twilight Zone.

Posted in global media, interactive media, new media, politics, websites | 15 Comments »

The “Holy Grail” of Advertising

Posted by prof e on April 9, 2013

In this social media saturated landscape, word-of-mouth (or word-of-MOUSE as the case may be) advertising carries a lot of clout. Because so many of us are skeptical of traditional advertising pitches, a referral from a trusted friend…yes, even a Facebook friend…is highly valued. In fact, according to Reuters, “Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg was quoted as saying that a trusted referral was the ‘Holy Grail’ of advertising.”  And just as money is what advertising is ultimately about, money is also central to a class-action lawsuit that Facebook lost when it was accused of using Facebook users’ “likes”, without their consent, to pitch products to their Facebook friends.

This is not a new story. Most of it transpired in Summer and Fall of 2012, but the lesson is worth reviewing and repeating. The poster-child for this particular violation is Facebook user Nick Bergus. According to,

The most egregious example of a user becoming the inadvertent spokesman for a less-than-lube-in-barrelsqueaky-clean brand, of course, is Nick Bergus, who became the leading pitchman for Passion Natural Water personal lubricant — in 55-gallon allotments.

A class-action lawsuit, brought in California court, sought damages from Facebook for their use of “sponsored stories” without paying Facebook users or allowing them to opt out. According to Reuters, “A ‘Sponsored Story’ is an advertisement that appears on a member’s Facebook page and generally consists of another friend’s name, profile picture and an assertion that the person ‘likes’ the advertiser.” In the case of Nick Bergus, his likeness was used to sell 55-gallon drums of personal lubricant.

Now that the lawsuit has been settled, a potential 125 million Facebook users are eligible for a settlement of … wait for it … two cents each, or up to $10 if they apply.

One thing is certain, the advertising business is changing. Native ads, what some are calling the “next wave” of advertising, are replacing traditional banner ads, pop-ups, and pre-rolls. As new media companies attempt to find new ways to monetize their business, too often they step over boundaries intended to protect users’ privacy.

Posted in advertising, interactive media, media industry, new media, social media, websites | 1 Comment »

Think Twice about SOPA and PIPA

Posted by prof e on January 18, 2012

If you plan to work in the media industries as a professional content creator, you need to pay close attention to the current debate over SOPA and PIPA. The two bills being debated in congress are designed, with substantial input from lobbyists representing “old media” interests, to shut down global websites that profit from the illegal distribution of copyrighted material: music, films and TV shows primarily. The issue is being framed by internet and new media companies (largely located in Silicon Valley) as a battle for internet freedom of expression and the rights of end users. Several major internet sites have gone black today or have modified their home page to express solidarity with the protest movement. But what about the rights of individuals and companies (largely located in NY & LA) that create media content?

Much of the early discussion that I’ve seen on Facebook and Twitter has bought into the new media companies’ arguments that this attempt to curtail copyright infringement will stifle creativity and growth on the internet. Others argue that the regulatory oversight will amount to censorship of creative expression. This is completely understandable from the perspective of those who are end users of content rather than creators. For the average consumer, more access to free content seems like a good thing. However, if you’re thinking that you’d like to work in the media industry as a content creator, you might want to consider what the future holds for you if creativity is not rewarded and protected.

Copyright laws exist to protect intellectual property and to reward the creative community for their investment of time and resources in the creative development process. Music, video and film content does not create itself, and those responsible for its creation and distribution deserve legal protection from those who would like to acquire, redistribute, or aggregate that content for their own personal or corporate benefit.

Now, while it may be clear that I am in favor of reasonable protection for copyright holders, I am not convinced that SOPA and PIPA are well-designed legislative tools to accomplish that goal. The video below points out some of the weaknesses of these bills and raises serious questions about their practical application.

So, what do you think about SOPA and PIPA? Bad idea? Good idea? Good idea poorly executed?

Posted in 1st amendment, interactive media, media industry, new media, politics, regulation, social media, websites | 8 Comments »

Happy birthday email!

Posted by prof e on September 4, 2011

You may be surprised to learn that it has been 29 years (and a few days) since email was copyrighted by then 16-year-old V. A. Shiva. While the growth of SMS (text messaging) and social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter have taken some of the traffic that might otherwise have gone to email, Shiva is confident that email will continue to be a significant form of electronic communication for some time.

Current estimates are that approximately 300 billion email messages are sent daily, and about 90% of those are spam. Fortunately for us spam filters delete most of the unwanted email messages before we have to deal with them.

For more information about the history of email and current statistics about users, see the article and info-graphic here.

Posted in interactive media, new media, websites | 29 Comments »

Online Recipes, Public Domain, and Internet Vigilantes

Posted by prof e on November 14, 2010

Last week we talked about Dog S*!t Girl and the Chinese crush video…two early examples of the effectiveness of Human Flesh Search Engines for uncovering and punishing misbehavior, both off- and on-line. Wikipedia even has a page on Internet Vigilantism that discusses the phenomenon and references the two examples above and several additional examples.

Now it appears that a new virtual firestorm has overtaken the internet…or at least the corner of the net that is populated by food bloggers and online magazine publishers. According to an article in the Los Angles Times, a food blogger by the name of Monica Gaudio had one of her articles lifted and reprinted by the food magazine Cooks SourceCooks Source is published in print, as well as on Facebook. But don’t go looking for their Facebook page or website because both have been removed after hackers and netizens have come to the aid of Gaudio by blasting Cooks Source (and its managing editor Judith Griggs) for not only misappropriating an online article and using it without permission, but because of the clueless (and rude) email response that Griggs sent to Gaudio after Gaudio asked for both an apology and that a $130 donation be made to Columbia School of Journalism in lieu of payment. According to Gaudio’s blog, this is the email that she received from Griggs at Cooks Source:

“Yes Monica, I have been doing this for 3 decades, having been an editor at The Voice, Housitonic Home and Connecticut Woman Magazine. I do know about copyright laws. It was “my bad” indeed, and, as the magazine is put together in long sessions, tired eyes and minds somethings forget to do these things.
But honestly Monica, the web is considered “public domain” and you should be happy we just didn’t “lift” your whole article and put someone else’s name on it! It happens a lot, clearly more than you are aware of, especially on college campuses, and the workplace. If you took offence and are unhappy, I am sorry, but you as a professional should know that the article we used written by you was in very bad need of editing, and is much better now than was originally. Now it will work well for your portfolio. For that reason, I have a bit of a difficult time with your requests for monetary gain, albeit for such a fine (and very wealthy!) institution. We put some time into rewrites, you should compensate me! I never charge young writers for advice or rewriting poorly written pieces, and have many who write for me… ALWAYS for free!”

Well, it appears that the online “spanking” may have been well deserved if the facts of the case are as they have been presented. In any case it will be a lesson for any future online publisher who is tempted to “borrow” someone else’s work without permission.

There are several big ideas here that should be noted: 1) copyright is copyright, both in print and online, 2) information travels at the speed of light on the internet, and the viral potential of social media is an amazing thing to behold, and 3) vigilantism is no substitute for the judicial system. The attack on Cooks Source and Griggs may be deserved…but do we really want angry mobs delivering their version of justice before all the facts have been reviewed?

Additional sources for your consideration:

Posted in interactive media, new media, print, websites | 10 Comments »