Blog Post 3 – Deception hurts. Online and Offline

The ability to be deceived online is as equal as it is to be deceived offline, in my opinion, but the time frame that one is deceived is probably shorter IRL than online. When you see someone face-to-face, you can see how they react (or don’t react) to certain things. You can see their behaviors and determine if it’s normal or sketchy. Oftentimes, you can Google their names or their image and find out a lot about them.

On the contrary, we are most likely to lie and deceive online than we are offline. We put our best digital foot forward and create a collage of what we want the world to see. We draft images and messages to convey how we feel, or what we want people to think we feel. We censor ourselves and set up our own guidelines for the person we’re painting digitally. When we have given life to our Frankenstein-like digital double, what that double does is under our control. What the world sees online is often the one thing in we can control, at least for some people. That’s why we spend so much time pruning and perfecting it. Little lies and half-truths can easily slip out, because, if we’re talking to someone whom we’ve never met, what’s the harm? What they don’t know can’t hurt them, right?

Ethically, I don’t believe online deception is any better or worse than offline deception.

Reading the tale described by Koerner, my mind went right to Brittani Louise Taylor, a YouTuber I watched when I was in elementary/middle school. She posted humorous skits, but after a while, I unsubscribed due to me becoming older and growing to enjoy different content.

Two years ago, I searched her up once more when I was feeling nostalgic and just wanted to know what she was up to and if she was still posting. I saw that she had met this guy online, who was handsome with an accent and seemingly charming. He wasn’t a YouTuber himself, but a doctor who enjoyed tennis in his free time. Then, I saw the video that they were engaged, and she was pregnant. Everything seemed fine in BLT’s life. Months later, I saw that her fiancé was no longer in the videos. Practically all of the videos that featured her fiancé were either deleted or private, his face blurred out. Things had “changed” she said but couldn’t give details due to legal issues. She promised that everything would be explained soon, though.

It was when Shane Dawson released the second part of his Conspiracy Theories series two months ago, that Taylor’s story was explained. Milos Mihajlovic, Taylor’s ex-fiance, deceived Taylor on multiple occasions, with him and his mother suspected to be involved in Serbian human trafficking. Mihajlovic met Taylor via Tinder. Taylor was instantly smitten with his impressive backstory, good looks and charm. He requested money from her on several occasions, in which she obliged. At one point, he even faked having cancer. Once he got her pregnant, he took much pride in it and his mother came over to live with them and see Taylor’s pregnancy through. When their son, Misha, was born, his mother took him out of Taylor’s arms and kept on saying “my baby.” Milos, was insistent on Taylor and Misha going back to Serbia with him. Taylor later noted that a healthy baby boy was worth a lot of money in Serbia.

She received sole custody of Misha and a restraining on Milos. She changed Misha’s name to Rex and authorities would be alerted if he was to ever be swindled out of the country. To Taylor’s dismay, another woman is already in Milos’s thrall and had a baby with him. Taylor fears for this new woman.

Taylor’s story is an instance where she was deceived both online and offline. She became hooked through online deception, but it was prolonged through online deception.

The case of Elrod may not have been as dangerous as Brittani’s, but that didn’t make it any less unethical. Luckily for both cases, they got out of it physically unharmed, but the fallout has changed their lives forever.

Blog Post 2: Surveillance and China’s Social Credit System

The Black Mirror episode, “Nosedive” premiered on Netflix in October 2016. With Bryce Dallas Howard as the lead, Lacie, the episode is set in a world where people can rate one another. These ratings effect where Lacie can live, her transportation and how others around her choose to interact with her. Her obsession to get a perfect rating makes her end up in jail, with an extremely low rating, screaming profanities at a man in a cell across from her, no longer caring about the rating.

What if I told you there is a country that has a system eerily similar to the one in “Nosedive”? Well, there is.

The Chinese government is developing at Social Credit System, described as a “national reputation system,” which is intended to be in full swing by next year.

The system is coordinated by the Central Leading Group for Comprehensively Deepening Reforms, a policy building body set up under Communist China. Multiple firms, including Alibaba Group, Tencent, transportation networks and dating services, began working to create the system with the People’s Bank of China in 2015.

The government has already started deducting credit points from the people, starting with Sesame Credit in 2015, which deducted points from people who defaulted in court fines.

In February 2018, the Social Credit System reached a new high (or low, depending) in Shanghai using the Honest Shanghai app, which uses facial recognition to browse government records and then rate users.

A month later, millions of citizens were blacklisted from flights and train trips due to their credit score, just like Lacie was in “Nosedive.” Implementation plans for the system also include publicly disclosing “untrustworthiness” ratings.

So, the Chinese government and several private firms are collecting citizen data through automated algorithms to keep tabs on the population. Data that the government and firms can track include location, friends, health records, insurance, private messages, financial position, shopping history, dating behavior and more.

With this data, they are able to have more control over the masses. Fining people becomes easier, thus giving the government and firms more money. This surveillance seems to cover every Chinese citizen, but that seems difficult to find out. Are government officials and the CEOs of the firms tracked down? Maybe. If they are, will they be affected just like any other Chinese citizen? It’s hard to say when so much of this data collecting isn’t transparent with the public.

Full implementation of the plan includes rewards/punishments for the people based on their score. By the end of 2018, 17.5 million flights had been denied to travelers, but the reasons for their placement on the blacklist is unknown.

Another punishment is placed on children. If their parents have low scores, it can effect where they go to school.

The biggest Chinese dating site, Baihe, allows its users to post their scores. Now, one’s score can really effect one’s social life.

Religious rights (well, rights in the US) are taken away from those in China. Those who report Muslims to officials are rewarded, whereas those practicing are punished. The same goes to those who practice Falun Gong, forcing practitioners to renounce their religious beliefs.

Rewards include easier access to loans and jobs and faster internet speed, whereas punishments are the opposite. The system has also been used to prevent people from rent hotel rooms and using credit cards. Even excessive gaming reduces one’s score.

I personally don’t believe this type of surveillance is necessary, at least not to effect people personally. If it was only used on business, I think I could get behind it. Laws are in place already in China and elsewhere to reward and punish people for social activity, why perpetuate it further? What affect does buying and online gaming habits have on the wider community? There is no reason to punish people further. It only causes a greater distrust between the people and the government. In my opinion, it’s like the Chinese government is purposely trying to get citizens to revolt. With so much cause for distrust and hate, the Chinese government is currently the equivalent of someone who has “kick me” written on their back.

In Szymielewicz’s article on Quartz, what big data collectors know about US citizens through social profiling is described. Luckily, in the US there are apps that can provide us with a bit more protection than usual.

Encrypted messaging apps like Signal and Telegram can be used to keep our conversations private. One has to be careful, though, as popular messaging apps, such as WhatsApp are owned by Facebook. So, one has to check who owns the app and look at their privacy policies.

To prevent online tracking, apps like Privacy Badger and NoScript block ads and third-party trackers.

Though there are several apps that can claim that your information will be kept private, the most important thing people can do in the face of big data companies and government surveillance is to talk about it. Europe, as mentioned in the Quartz article, is already making strides for more transparency between big data collectors and consumers. There’s no reason we can’t do the same in the US and other countries, such as China.

What is mansplaining?

According to Merriam-Webster.com, mansplaining is “(of a man) to comment on or explain something to a woman in a condescending, overconfident, and often inaccurate or oversimplified manner.”

Although some might not know what mansplaining means, one can bet that every woman has experienced the phenomenon at some point or another. The term has been used to describe the likes of Matt Damon, Jimmy Iovine, Mitt Romney and more. Many women have used the term when describing situations in which men have said something condescending towards them, not necessarily trying to explain anything to them.

The results of an Instagram poll seen by over 300 people showed that 39 out of 40 women have been “mansplained” to and that 12 out of 15 men have either heard or participated in mansplaining. (Please note that the definition of mansplaining was not provided before the poll was taken).

These results prove that most women have been talked down to before by a man. More women were willing to participate in the poll than men were, which provides some curiosity as to why only 15 men answered their respective question, while there were 40 women who answered theirs. The demographic who viewed the poll was evenly divided by gender.

Some reasons for why men did not participate in the poll could be because:

  • They are aware of their own or someone else’s involvement in mansplaining, and did not vote out of guilt or stubbornness.
  • They are not aware of what mansplaining means.
  • They are not aware of any unintentional gender biases they harbor.
  • They don’t like participating in Instagram polls.

When looking at some of the possible reasons behind men’s lack of participation, it can seem like I’m pitting one gender against the other, but that’s not the case. Mansplaining, although it can seem extremely negative, does not mean that the man who does it is a bad person. More often than not, men aren’t even aware of how their words are perceived or aren’t aware of any biases they may have against women.

One example of this is when a man told a woman, “I think you spelled your name wrong.” As silly as that statement is, what harbors underneath it isn’t as silly. The fact that the man thought the woman was daft enough to spell her name wrong (which she didn’t) is insulting, as harmless as the statement may have seemed to the man. Why did the man think she spelled her own name wrong? Is it a rare name that can easily be misspelled? Or does the man think the woman isn’t smart enough to even spell her own name? This is just one small, but telling example of what mansplaining is and how much of a gray area it can be.

This post was made with positive intent. The intent being to explain what mansplaining is and show how common it can be. Everyone should be more mindful of their words and look within themselves to discover any unintentional biases they may have.

 

Does humor incite violence?

I honestly feel like the relationship between humor and violence (in relation to the mosque shooting) is almost as backwards as the relationship between video games and violence (for example, the aftermath Columbine and other shootings). Perhaps it’s a matter of people watching what they say, but what progress does that allow us?

Blaming humor for violent acts made by others is liking pointing a finger. The people mentioned in the shooter’s manifesto are now being attacked and blamed for the act. It’s a witch hunt. I am sure there are people mentioned in the manifesto and/or live stream who believe the act in New Zealand was a terrible thing (PewDiePie), and some who intentionally incited violence (Dylan Roof). When we read the list of names mentioned in the manifesto, we are only fueling the fire. When we call these people out and push people to dislike them just because a lunatic (who actually KILLED people) mentioned their name, progress has ceased. Are we so animalistic that we pounce on something just because it makes a weird noise?

It seems impossible to attack an opponent who uses humor, but what can we do aside from bring attention to it or ignore it?  If we use digital writing to address this type of humor, we will only appeal to the people who generally agree with us. The trolls will keep trolling.

There can be a gray area between laughing with others and laughing at others, so it’s important to be able to spot the difference. Negative humor is insensitive, can break down confidence, is offensive, puts people against one another, reinforces stereotypes and is just plain ol’ rude. Positive humor, though, still exists, as there is humor that is based on empathy, building confidence, is inclusive, brings people closer and is actually funny.

A popular TV entity, which I believe is a conduit for both positive and negative humor, is the infamous Saturday Night Live.

A couple of weeks after 9/11, SNL invited the mayor of NYC, firefighters and police officers to join the stage for the opening monologue. After a time of American grief, “comedians were at a loss.” The mayor maintained that it was important for institutions like SNL to continue on. Lorne Michaels asked, “Can we be funny?” The mayor responded, “Why start now?”

Through this statement, the Mayor Giuliani supported laughter as a remedy to the tragedy and heartbreak that surrounds us.

SNL, though, is also known for their not-so-funny skits. For example, their ISIS skit with Dakota Johnson, which the internet did not find funny…at all. People were quick to point out that making a joke out of a group that actually slaughters people was in poor taste and inconsiderate to the families of the victims. And, of course, SNL did not respond to the backlash.

Jeet Heer does not do much when bringing thoughtful ideas to the table that can actually be used to combat the type of “jokiness” he describes. With a pack mentality, it can be hard to knock the jokesters off their pedestal by ignoring them, when several other people will be laughing along with them.

This may or may not sound like a bad idea, but I think one of the best ways to make a joke die down quickly is by asking the jokester to explain the joke. The person making the joke might make a jab at you and say that you’re stupid for asking, but then that just makes them look like an asshole and someone who doesn’t understand the meaning behind their own words. If they do end up explaining the “joke,” it turns up dead due to over-analyzation. Then, it’s just not funny anymore. It also makes the person making the joke to realize what they are saying.

I suggest we try addressing the jokes as tasteless, but we shouldn’t get caught up in fighting fire with fire.