Medill 201


What Kind of Tech User Are You?
The Pew Internet & American Life Project asks this in a quiz you can take to get a sense of where you fit in the tech spectrum.
Here are my results:

You are an Digital Collaborator
If you are a Digital Collaborator, you use information technology to work with and share your creations with others. You are enthusiastic about how ICTs help you connect with others and confident in your ability to manage digital devices and information. For you, the digital commons can be a camp, a lab, or a theater group – places to gather with others to develop something new.”

To all of my students: What are you?

What do you do with trolls – those seething anonymous online commenters who post useless rantings in the comment section of blogs, news websites, anywhere they can. What is to be done? Newspapers have a long history of selecting which members of the public have their opinions made public. The job title was “Letters Editor,” and that person literally went through hundreds of letters from readers and selected a wide range to publish. They confirmed the writer’s identity and intent to publish and made agreed-upon changes with the guidelines of the paper.

Well, that was quaint. Now it’s every troll for him/herself out there, spewing whatever bile they want. Heated discussions ensued about how to balance community standards and free speech. Does having access to a computer give you the right to free speech anywhere you want to spit? If your local college newspaper allows cursewords does that have an impact on what comments the larger newspaper should allow? Do racists have a ‘right’ to rant? What about grammatically disasterous comments? Do people have a ‘right’ to embarrass themselves? 

All great questions forced upon us by the medium transforming the message — and the masses. Media are responding to commenters in different ways. Some have stopped comments entirely. Others try (often in vain) to monitor and make decisions case-by-case. The Portland Press Herald dropped reader comments. Period. See what you think:

  Portland Press Herald Drops Reader Comments in Response to ‘Vicious Postings’
Posted by Damon Kiesow at 10:48 AM on Oct. 20, 2010
The Portland (Maine) Press Herald has shut down its reader comments section in response to what its publisher describes as “vile, crude, insensitive, and vicious postings.”

Damon Kiesow reports in his excellent Poynter column today the ravages of trolls. New Media means we can’t silence hateful letters (and thus their hateful authors) by tossing them into the circular file. With all that hate, who has time to go through hundreds, if you’re lucky, thousands of comments to weed out the toxic ones. And who decides what crosses the line? Kiesow’s piece explores this and lists the policies of a variety of publications, exposing our field’s emerging efforts to manage this particular Pandora’s Box.

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We’re requiring students to include key words and a Tweet for every story they write in class. Two interesting ethical issues came up in my labs. First, students wanted to know what their goal is for the key words — are they supposed to use words that accurately reflect the story or should they sex their tags up to grab the most hits?

How do we balance those goals, they asked. What’s the ethical decision, they wondered. If you can work ‘Paris Hilton’ into your key words, even if it requires the most bizarre stretch, do you go for it to increase your SEO? Is that wrong? Don’t you want viewers/readers? If using certain words gets readers, why not? But what about credibility, accuracy and truth? But does your truth count if nobody reads its?

The second issue that arose was students’ tendency to accidentally libel subjects in their Tweets. In their actual stories they’d correctly write “arrested in connection with” or “allegedly such and such” but their Tweets were full-on convictions of nearly everyone.

“Allegedly” is just too many characters to fit in a Tweet’s 140-character limit.

Both issues sparked lively class discussions and raised all the right ethical and practical questions.