Anonymous Commenting and Authenticity

By Anitra Cottledge

Recently, a colleague of mine was interviewed for the local news regarding a retention initiative for students of color. It was a great segment, and I told him so. A day or so after the segment aired, he emailed the link for the clip to several people, and pointed our attention to the comments.

I groaned. Lately, I dread reading the comments sections of online blogs, newspapers, and other publications, particularly when the story has to do with social justice in some way or another. I’m sure you’ve seen comments of this ilk; just see some of the commentary surrounding Naomi Schaefer Riley’s comments about eliminating black studies.

Some of this is part of being a citizen in a democratic society; we are expected – at least, in theory – to engage in healthy discussion in which we can respectfully debate and disagree with statements if we so choose. I think that social media, including blogs, can be a powerful site of rich, public discourse. For instance, whether or not you identify yourself as a feminist, I would hope that most of us can see the role and impact of blogs like Feministing or Crunk Feminist Collective in activism, conversation and thought-creation.

That being said, a lot of times, the comments on social justice-focused articles make me want to bang my head on a desk. When I read comments that I feel are trollish, bigoted, over-the-top, or just downright hateful, I just sigh. Or growl. Or throw something.

Lately, the phenomenon of anonymous commenting has brought up a few questions for me: Is anonymity a boon or a curse? Are people who use anonymous commenting as a platform to talk trash or share their racist/homophobic/sexist/classist/ableist/etc. views just acting out? In other words, is there a performative aspect to anonymous commenting that doesn’t accurately reflect a person’s views? Or is anonymous commenting a way for people to showcase the way they really feel about an issue? Does it give voice to those who would not otherwise be heard, and those who feel like they can’t express the way they feel in face-to-face dialogues about social justice topics?

And if people’s actual views are more in line with the vitriol or ignorance they spout anonymously on the intrawebz, where does that leave us when we need to have face-to-face conversations about these same topics?

I have heard some people argue that people should be forced to login with their Facebook or Twitter account to post comments to some websites, but I’m not comfortable with that, nor do I think that’s the answer. For one, people could be using pen names or fake names on FB and Twitter. Also, that’s a little too much policing of people’s privacy.

Privacy is another element of this conversation. When the cast of The Hunger Games became public, there were several racist remarks made about the casting choices. There was even a Tumblr site created to expose “Hunger Games fans on Twitter who dare to call themselves fans yet don’t know a damn thing about the books.”

Should we call out these folks who make these comments? Some would argue that if your Twitter stream, for instance, is public and attached to your name, then you don’t have a leg to stand on when your comments pop up on popular blogs the next day a lá Gwyneth Paltrow.

As usual, I don’t have definitive answers, just a backpack full of questions. What say you, Student Affairs Women Talk Tech readers?

Anonymous Commenting and Authenticity

Linkage Love: Beyonce, Technology and Connection

by Anitra Cottledge

Remember this YouTube critique of Beyonce’s “Run the World (Girls)” song/video from last year?

Whether you agree with the YouTube critique or not, whether you like the song or not, whether you think Beyonce is awesome, a feminist, an iconic entertainer, all of the above or none of the above — you have to admit she does know how to work technology to engage her fans and to share (carefully chosen) pieces of herself and her life.

A few examples:

• When Beyonce debuted her Tumblr site earlier this year, everyone was all aflutter. The Tumblr site features personal Beyonce photos through the years. Beyonce shared this message with her fans, “I Am: This is my life, today, over the years – through my eyes. My family, my travels, my love. This is where I share with you, This will continue to grow as I do. Love, Beyonce.”

• Queen B used her website to post a very touching letter to FLOTUS Michelle Obama about the ways in which FLOTUS has inspired her. The kicker? FLOTUS personally responding to the letter via Twitter.

• Beyonce’s hubby Jay-Z posted the first pictures of their daughter, Blue Ivy, on his website.

• Back on the Tumblr site, she posts two video previews of her first post-baby show, Revel. P.S. FLOTUS and her daughters were in attendance at the show.

• And just as an added bonus, Melissa Harris-Perry mentioned on her show this weekend that she would love to have both FLOTUS and Beyonce come spend some time with her in #nerdland. (I, for one, think that would be a really interesting conversation.)

Again, I think the moments that are shared by Beyonce — or any other celebrity or public figure, for that matter — are carefully planned. After all, Beyonce is notoriously protective of her privacy, and I think that makes sense.

The real question for fans is: do the ways in which Beyonce and her team utilize technology promote a sense of connection or intimacy in her fans? And from a practical standpoint, as those of us in student affairs look for innovative ways to use technology to connect with students, staff and faculty, are there lessons to be learned from pop culture and stars like Beyonce?

Linkage Love: Beyonce, Technology and Connection

Highlight a Woman: Dr. Latanya Sweeney

by Anitra Cottledge

To steal a phrase from Brenda, normally, the “highlight a woman” post features a female student affairs professional. Unfortunately, I couldn’t immediately think of student affairs women outside of my co-bloggers who are focused on/passionate about technology.

But today, luck would have it, I came across this lecture by Dr. Latanya Sweeney, and it seemed apropos to highlight a woman, while not in student affairs, who works in higher education. And frankly, Dr. Sweeney had me at “digital privacy.”

SweeneyDr. Sweeney is the director and founder of the Data Privacy Lab at Harvard University. A brief highlighting of her accomplishments, in her own words:

Distinguished Career Professor of Computer Science, Technology and Policy at Carnegie Mellon University and an elected fellow of the American College of Medical Informatics, with almost 100 academic publications, 2 patents, citations in the Federal Register for 2 regulations, and 3 company spin-offs. I have received professional and academic awards, and testified before federal and international government bodies. In 2009, through a national GAO search, I was appointed to the privacy and security seat of the Federal Health Information Technology Policy Committee.

Amazing. In 2000, Sweeney debunked assumptions of anonymity when she “analyzed data from the 1990 census and revealed that, surprisingly, 87 percent of the U.S. population could be identified by just a ZIP code, date of birth, and gender.”

Please take a moment to wrap your head around that statistic. True, Dr. Sweeney’s focus is that of a computer scientist, or as she would say, “computer (cross) policy” scientist. My lens, much like yours, may be different. Your frame of reference for these issues could be educational uses of technology, social media, or the law, just to name a few. But I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that issues of data, privacy and the digital landscapes in which we all live and work are issues that extend well beyond student affairs and beyond higher education.

Dr. Sweeney’s mission? “The goal is to allow society to reap the benefits of emerging technologies while enjoying privacy protection.”

I think that many different people share this goal, and the potential for interdisciplinary work in this arena is huge and exciting. It’s fascinating to see the approaches that diverse groups of people take towards this and similar goals.

And if you aren’t sold yet, Dr. Sweeney writes poems, rides motorcycles, and one of her favorite quotes also happens to be one of my favorite quotes by the indomitable Audre Lorde: “When I dare to be powerful -to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.”

I’m so excited that I stumbled across this amazing woman and her work! Who are some other women who are doing incredible work in technology?

Highlight a Woman: Dr. Latanya Sweeney