Posts Tagged the new york times

Can the (digital) past be erased?

On April Fool’s Day, The New York Times published an article called “Erasing the Digital Past.”  I thought— is it possible?  Reading the stories like the one below, I cringed:

“And then there is the Philadelphia physiologist who became unwittingly linked to a consumer advocacy site, when it listed him as a graduate of a distance learning school that was shut down. “I felt totally victimized because there was nothing I could do,” said the physiologist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he did not want added attention. “My case load started to dry up.”

Luckily, I don’t have any digital skeletons in my closet, but I could definitely see how one misstep or unlucky accident could lead to embarrassing results.  It turns out, if I did, I could hire an online reputation manager to help fix that.  Sites like Reputation.com literally bury search engine results by “spotlighting flattering features and concealing negative ones.”

Much like celebrities, who the article cites as employing reputation companies, politicians could do the same.

While there are some “scandals” that are just plain funny (i.e., Scott Brown’s Cosmo photoshoot), other blasts from the pasts could certainly rear their ugly heads to hurt a candidates reputation.  And as the article points out, even though something is on the 7th page of Google doesn’t mean that someone won’t find it— especially an angry voter or competitor.

As more and more people literally grow up online, it will be very interesting to see how that shapes the future of politics.  Will one Facebook picture of underage drinking sink a candidacy?  Will one Tweet about hating potatoes mean that Idaho voters would never support a campaign?  Even if it’s years later?

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Social Media + Ethics = Mess

I always enjoy seeing familiar names in the media, so it was interesting to see Andrew Noyes quoted in the New York Times article I was reading with this blog post in mind. Noyes recently spoke at an Ogilvy Exchange held at my work about Gov 2.0.

In Ethical Quandary for Social Sites, Jennifer Preston looks at something that recent events (covered in a few previous blog posts) have called into question: “whether a company should maintain its commitment to remain neutral about content, even when politicized content could offend users or even put people in danger.”  Most sites with social aspects have terms of service that they can turn to in cases of questionable content, but the article points out that Flickr does not always enforce its own rules.

Andrew Noyes of Facebook sums up the view of many sites— “We want Facebook to be a place where people can openly discuss ideas and express their views, while respecting the rights and feelings of others.” In other words, they want to serve as a forum for their uses to communicate much like they would in other parts of their lives— what is said via text, email, and spoken word can also be communicated on Facebook (and on Twitter, on Flickr, and YouTube, to name a few).

Clearly Mark Zuckerburg never thought that by creating the next “hot or not” he would enter into a situation where the Israeli government has big asks— but now that is the case.  While a strict terms of service can help to justify removal of posts that incite violence, or of users who are not using their full names, if it is not always enforced (although realistically, that is not possible), isn’t it stifling to enforce the T.O.S. only in the controversial cases?

I don’t think that this article demonstrates the “end” of this issue in the social media realm— but if a site takes down a page at the request of a government/organization, it becomes a slippery slope— who is to say that the next person to request removal of a page does not deserve their wishes granted, as well?  And what role does a social media site play in these ethical/political/social struggles?

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Is Twitter just another place to run your mouth?

Lately, it seems that social media has converged with current events more than ever before.  But as much as the media is covering uprisings in the Middle East that are using social networks to mobilize, they are covering embarrassing gaffes by people who should know better.

For example, an employee of New Media Strategies (the workplace of a friend of mine) accidentally tweeted from the account of a client, @ChryslerAutos; “I find it ironic that Detroit is known as the #motorcity and yet no one here knows how to fucking drive.”  Clearly, the Tweet was meant to be sent from a personal account, but it was not deleted before some of the account’s nearly 9,000 followers retweeted the tweet— making actual deletion impossible.  The employee was fired, and the firm is enduring even more backlash, with Chrysler refusing to renew their contract.  The tweet was covered far and wide, from The New York Times to Mashable.

While the New Media Strategies/Chrysler incident was embarrassing and the employee should have never tweeted (even from a personal account) something that could be perceived so negatively by the client, clearly it was a mistake.  What’s even more damaging for reputations is when Twitter reveals that people held in high-regard are just ignorant racists.  For example, Cappie Pondexter, (@cappa23) a WNBA star with the New York Liberty tweeted that the earthquake and tsunami in Japan probably happened because “they did pearl harbor so u can’t expect anything less,” and stated that “What if God was tired of the way they treated their own people in there own country! Idk guys he makes no mistakes.”  Not only do these remarks make her look racist—they make her look just plain stupid and insensitive.

A final incident that caught recent media attention was at the expense of Gilbert Gottfried, a comedian of Aflac duck-voice fame.  He also tweeted (@RealGilbert) disparaging remarks about the earthquake/tsunami in Japan— one of Aflac’s largest markets.  Aflac let him go and pulled all commercials with his voice.

In an era where media interviews are no longer the only way to connect with the public, are politicians and other public figures more at risk than ever of committing gaffes that hurt their reputations?  Or is there so much clamor that no one even notices everything but the big stuff?  I think that this just reinforces the necessity for proofreading.  It is essential for people to remember that tone does not come across well online— so a backhanded remark meant to be funny can actually be quite damaging (i.e., Kenneth Cole’s tweet about uproar in Cairo).

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Internet access among diverse audiences

Something quite powerful that was mentioned in this week’s videos is the idea that social media is literally flattening the world.  As smart phones and Internet access are more and more prevalent, outreach to wider audiences is more and more possible.

Recent events have highlighted the absolute importance of Internet access when it comes to reaching repressed audiences.  The State Department’s recent announcement of a policy on Internet freedom, covered by The New York Times shows just how important that is.

The State Department announcement re-affirmed their support of the free flow of information (though NYT points out that Wikileaks is a glaring exception to this affirmation), and highlights the types of services that it will support in an aim to prevent oppressive governments from limiting the freedoms of its citizens via the Internet.  These include:

  • Circumvention services, allowing Internet users to work around firewalls
  • Training so that relevant parties can secure email from surveillance or wipe cell phones if they are in danger

It will be interesting to see how the U.S. government’s public support of Internet access for all plays out.  This research could also help the government innovate its practices in crisis situations or other instances in which Internet access is especially strained.

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The Dark Arts of Search Engine Optimization

Sunday’s edition of The New York Times featured a great story on search engine optimization.

The Dirty Little Secrets of Search, by David Segal, looks at an interesting phenomenon: J.C. Penney’s unusually high ranking on Google for words that you wouldn’t necessarily associate with it. Of course, J.C. Penney sells bedding, and dresses, and furniture, but it is not considered an industry leader in any of those fields. So why was it the highest ranking search result for all of those words and many others?

Image courtesy of The New York Times

Using a dicey strategy (that they haven’t owned up to–yet), there are links to J.C. Penney from all over the web. Links to your website from others increases your search results as Google interprets that as high relevance/influence, and as Segal noted, “there are links to JCPenney.com’s dresses page on sites about diseases, cameras, cars, dogs, aluminum sheets, travel, snoring, diamond drills, bathroom tiles, hotel furniture, online games, commodities, fishing, Adobe Flash, glass shower doors, jokes and dentists — and the list goes on.”

But J.C. Penney has not received the ultimate online “death penalty:” complete removal from search results. Instead, Google promised “corrective action,” which Segal documented:

At 7 p.m. Eastern time on Wednesday, J. C. Penney was still the No. 1 result for “Samsonite carry on luggage.”

Two hours later, it was at No. 71.

At 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Penney was No. 1 in searches for “living room furniture.”

By 9 p.m., it had sunk to No. 68.

In other words, one moment Penney was the most visible online destination for living room furniture in the country.

The next it was essentially buried.

Was it worth it, for J.C. Penney? Probably. Though this tarnished their reputation among those who care to understand SEO, or read the Times cover to cover, they like reaped great rewards using this strategy. Segal’s article notes that “A study last May by Daniel Ruby of Chitika, an online advertising network of 100,000 sites, found that, on average, 34 percent of Google’s traffic went to the No. 1 result, about twice the percentage that went to No. 2.”

Check out the article for a more in-depth look at the dark underbelly of SEO.

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Tweeting on the Hill

Last week, Twitter was abuzz with, you guessed it, an article about Twitter.  The New York Times had a very interesting piece about Adam Sharp, Twitter’s newest employee and Capitol Hill’s first-ever Twitter liaison.

Twitter, as a Helpmate, Goes to Capitol Hill

The New York Times, By Ashley Parker, January 29, 2011

The article provides great insight into the Hill’s embracing of Twitter and social and digital media as a whole.  What I liked most about the article is that it is not just about Sharp encouraging Congresspeople to tweet- it’s about increasing the amount of relevant, useful, interesting content that Congresspeople tweet.

As a follow up, Sen. Claire McCaskill’s Tumblr post  about why she probably doesn’t follow you on Twitter is a great peek at how Congresspeople actually view Twitter.  To her, Twitter is the closest to two-way communication she can have without holding daily town hall meetings.

Twitter has increased drastically on the Hill- and will continue.  It will be interesting to see how Sharp increases not just the adaptation of Twitter, but the quality and amount of content actually tweeted.

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Social networks and political organizing (in Egypt)

As political unrest unravels into uprising in Egypt, the general public is getting a firsthand look at the utility of social media in political organizing and in crisis situations.

Michael Hickin’s Wall Street Journal article, Will the Revolution Really be Tweeted? takes a great look at social media’s role in the current situation.  The Internet played a huge role in organizing and planning, but of course, it can no longer be utilized as Egyptians no longer have access.

Though social media can no longer be of use to Egyptians organizing on the ground, quick innovations from the groundswell like Google’s speak-to-tweet service are allowing for instant communication to those who are hungry to stay in the loop.

As ‘Generation Facebook’ uses social networks to unite around common causes, those who were once powerless are finding strength in numbers, and social networks are facilitating relationships and coalitions never before possible.

It will be interesting to see how increasing use of Facebook and Twitter can empower the stifled in the future.  Facebook apps and Twitter hashtags are encouraging communication between those who, in previous years, would never connect.  If today’s Egypt had Internet, it would only serve to further the cause of the protesting citizens.

This example of social media and Internet access as a crucial political freedom is being played out minute-by-minute on traditional media platforms, and the importance of the digital realm on politics cannot be ignored.

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