Social Media and Honesty

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This is the second of two follow up posts to a liveblog of a panel about social media for nonprofits. Here I’d like to focus on the fact that the internet often brings out the honesty in us: we say things we wouldn’t say otherwise, and very often these are nasty, negative things. Many people think this is the worst thing ever to happen and it means none of us should ever go on the internet and we should totally just accept that that’s how the internet is because duh it’s the internet (hyperbole, hyperbole). However there are some things about this bald honesty that are really positives, and which we should take advantage of.

The first element of this is that it exposes people who are really quite horrible. People feel more free to say sexist, racist, and cruel things online than they do otherwise. It reveals a lot of the things that they are likely thinking underneath but have learned to hide. That means that those of us who understand why these things are inappropriate can call them out and explain what’s wrong with their actions, as opposed to face to face interactions in which they hide their true feelings and we can do nothing about it.

It’s hard to face an enemy who won’t show its true face. If people are constantly hiding their racism but still acting on it in subtle ways, it continues to have impacts but is much harder to call out and change. Giving people a forum to voice their true opinions allows those opinions to be honestly engaged with and hopefully changed for the better.

But the other element of this is that it allows all sorts of unpopular opinions to get into dialogue together: sometimes these are even POSITIVE opinions. We get to hear from people who normally are not allowed to speak: people who practice BDSM, trans* people, people with mental illness, immigrants…all of these honest experiences are put out there to intersect with the opinions we hear every day. And perhaps hearing these true experiences will help those with negative stereotypes to move beyond the simplistic impressions they have of others and find a real understanding of difference.

Sometimes these bald-faced opinions are things we need to hear. Sometimes they’re things we hear all too often but never so clearly stated. But honesty, in my opinion, is rarely a bad thing. It can be difficult to hear and should generally come with compassion, but if we want to improve as a society, we need to clearly know where we are and how people see the world.

Of course being baldly honest when you’re acting as the representative of a company is not the best policy, but individuals being truthful about their opinions will probably help us to understand what the problems in our society are and how to fix them.

Social Media and Social Justice

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A few days ago I liveblogged from the North Star Nonprofit conference about social media and nonprofits. The tips presented in that panel were great for businesses or nonprofits that are looking to use social media for branding, however in the next two posts, I’m going to touch on how social media can be an impressively useful force for individuals to use and how the rules for using social media as an individual are diametrically opposed to how one should use it as someone building a brand.

 

There are a number of elements to this, but the underlying theme is that social media gives everyone a voice equal to anyone else’s. There are few other places where this is true. Because of this, groups that are oppressed or are minorities can use social media in amazing and unique ways.

 

As an example, let’s look at Adria Richards, someone Kruger pointed to as an example of how we don’t need to say everything we think on social media. Adria Richards is a woman in the tech industry. As any woman who has had any experience with sexual harassment can tell you, more often than not speaking up about it to the “appropriate” authorities does almost nothing. There are myriad stories of women reporting their rape to the cops and being ridiculed, of women trying to report sexual harassment and nothing happening, of being blamed for their own harassment or for how uncomfortable they feel. While I don’t know Richards’ personal story, at a guess I would say that she has experienced this before and knows that the traditional avenues of trying to address sexual harassment or inappropriate comments in the workplace don’t work.

 

Enter social media. Where typically Richards would likely have to simply sit through whatever is happening that makes her uncomfortable, or risk being ridiculed or blamed by management, now she can simply tweet about it and make the world aware of the clearly inappropriate behaviors of these men. She took matters into her own hands because she knew that the systems in place were not effective and would not help. As an individual, this is an incredibly brave thing to do, and an incredibly resourceful move. It was effective, and it illustrated the ongoing problems of sexism and harassment in the tech world.

 

As an individual, Richards used the available technology to protect herself and the other women in the tech industry. To an outsider it may seem like she’s making a big deal of nothing, but constant sexual comments, discrimination, and sexual harassment make things like this a big deal.

 

This is one example that is illustrative of how minorities and oppressed groups can use social media to gain a voice. There have been a number of campaigns by women, LGBT groups, and people of color flooding the social media of companies who have done something inappropriate and discriminatory. These are the types of campaigns that would never be seen otherwise, but because of the incredibly public nature of social media, everyone becomes aware of them and the company is forced to act. Similarly, when discrimination happens, social media gives the oppressed party a voice. Where typically they would be forced to go to authorities who may or may not be sympathetic, social media allows them to speak up for themselves, connect to others with similar experiences, shed a light on what has happened to them, and make it clear that they will not stand for it anymore.

 

An important element of this is the anonymity of the internet. While there is often vicious pushback to people speaking out, there is some measure of safety in that the people who are responding likely do not know where you live and cannot harm you. In addition, being able to hide your demographic information behind an avatar can be an important step towards gaining respect online. A prime example of this was the website “I fucking love science”, created by a female grad student simply because she really loved science. She acted as a curator for interesting science articles across the internet and gained a huge internet following. After becoming fairly famous online, she inadvertently mentioned her gender. The response was vicious: many people insulted, threatened, unfollowed her. This is a prime illustration of the fact that in order to gain respect, oppressed groups often have to pass as the dominant group. The internet allows us to do this, but also to then reveal ourselves and break down people’s conceptions of what we should have been.

 

Because of the intensely democratic nature of the internet, people who otherwise would be silenced get to speak. Incidents that would be ignored in most cases get publicity, particularly when they happen to people who are well-known and respected in their fields. On a professional level, this can be difficult as it might lead to getting fired like Richards did, but on a personal level and on an ethical level it is often the way we move forward and change things. The voices that get heard online are so important to leveling the playing field for women, GLBT people, racial minorities, and anyone else who is rarely heard. Recognizing that rocking the boat can be a positive thing is so important for seeing the potential of social media.

SKEPTECH!

Friends. Nerds. Readers. Countrymen. I have a request for you all. As you may remember, last year I was on a panel at SkepTech, a wonderful conference put on by a few local colleges’ skeptical groups. It was a FANTASTIC success, and I even won a little plushie sperm for my tweeting prowess.

Well SkepTech is happening again, this April, and I encourage ANY of you remotely near Minnesota to get your patoots there for some insane fun. But in order to make the magic happen, funds are required. It’s not like the organizers are using this money to pay for their yachts: they’re mostly poor college students who just want to be able to provide a forum for people to talk about technology and skepticism.

But wait! I’m not just here to ask for your money, because I can’t actually accept your money because I’m not actually organizing this conference. What I am here to do is offer you the opportunity to bid on a select and fantastical item. What is this mystical item you ask? A digital portrait of your dashing visage, executed by the one and only Zach Weinersmith, the author and illustrator of the wildly famous Sunday Morning Breakfast Cereal webcomic.

So please, click the link, throw in a bid and get the loveliest portrait of yourself you will ever have.

My Friends

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There are people in my life who challenge me. They make me aware of the things that I once thought and that still creep into my mind. I look at them and I see the lies float past and my only defense is to remind myself “this person is my friend. They are wonderful. I love them. Every person I think these thoughts of is a friend, wonderful, loved. Each person I think these thoughts of has the rich individual experience that I do.” These people teach me about the inner lives of difference.

 

I have a friend who’s severely overweight. I don’t see him often, and in my mind he loses weight. I bring him closer to what I view as normal, closer to everyone else I know. The other day a picture of him popped up on Facebook and I felt a flash-flood of disgust before the shame set in. This is my friend. How dare I change his body to fit my expectations? How dare I ask myself who he is to be Other? How dare I feel disgust at him, someone who feels and thinks and exists in all the complex ways that I do? How dare I reduce him to his body, to the intimate ways that he feels the world and fills the spaces around him, ignoring how his neurons fill that body and his mind is so intimately tied with its senses and he is his body?

 

This is one of my challenges.

 

I have a friend who is trans*. Most days I don’t think about his sexuality or his gender. Most days it doesn’t matter because he is my wonderful, sweet, perfect friend. But every now and then I find myself wondering, my mind probing at what he’s like, asking what his name used to be (I’M SO SORRY), and I know I’ve crossed the line when I remember that his body and what his body looks like is so much less than the whole of him. It is such a miniscule piece, one that is so unimportant to our relationship that I can’t fathom why I would wonder about it. He is so much more. His stories, his perspective, his experience: they transcend my questions about his genitalia (and let’s be honest, I really shouldn’t have those questions anyway).

 

This is one of my challenges.

 

There are so many of these people, people who are complex and interesting, people who are my token people. I wish they were not my token people. I wish I knew more of them (this is not helped by the fact that I am antisocial). I wish I could understand their lives in a deeper way, and my challenge is that I have only one and I must fight against making them a token in my life. They challenge me every time I recognize them as more  than an idea, more than their weight or their gender or their sex or their race. I know that they are more than that, and my training in this world has left me incapable of separating them from it. And so they challenge me.

 

I want to tell myself their stories. I want to be honest with myself when I see others like them and remind myself that they see the world each day through their own eyes, that they struggle and love and feel, that they wonder and feel hurt and imagine how I see them. I want to see them with full lives, with full minds, with full thoughts. And so my friends challenge me, and I thank them. They remind me that behind each pair of eyes, each face that I don’t understand, there are worlds I cannot imagine.

Live Blogging North Star NonProfits: Tweet Her? I Barely Know Her!

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This post is a liveblog of a presentation by Cameron Bloom Kruger.

Social media exists alongside all other kinds of communication with our audiences, but we have to think about where our communications might overlap with the communications our audiences would like to use. We should aim for that sweet spot. Oftentimes, social media is that sweet spot, but we need to be strategic about which social media we’re using.

Social media is like real life only online. Social media is a conversation, and we need to strategically decide which conversations we want to be a part of and which conversations we have the time to effectively be a part of. Here are some analogies of the different types of conversations you might have on social media:

Facebook is a coffeeshop: you’re sitting and having a conversation, might tune out that you’re in public. Be personal and unique. Oftentimes it gives you a false sense of privacy. Intimate in public.

Twitter is a crowded bar: too many people all talking at once. You can yell if you want, but you don’t always want to do that.

LinkedIn is a networking event: you have your business card and you want to make connections. BUSINESS. This isn’t the place for being unique, it’s the place to get a job.

Google+ is a conference lunch. A circle of people mostly isolated from other conversations. If you want to break out and move to a different table you can, but most people won’t.

The Internet is Leaking: can these communications affect and break into real life? Absolutely social media affects our “real world” (a term I’m not wholly comfortable with because the interactions we have online are absolutely real). The feelings we have about a brand that appear online carry over into our in person interactions with that brand.

More often than not, the emotions associated with social media are negative (according to studies about people’s impressions of social media interactions). We see a lot of arguments, blocking, and discomfort from online conversations. The feeling seems to be that because there is a wall of technology, individuals can be more real, more raw and say things they wouldn’t say normally. Kruger seemed to indicate that this is a bad thing, and for branding it often is, however in a follow up post I’d like to address why this bald honesty can be a tool for good online.

Cautionary Tales: we could be driving conversations in positive ways. Here are some things not to do.

If content is fire, social media is gasoline.

One example is Adria Richards. We don’t always need to say exactly what we’re thinking on social media, and we need to be careful to think about the consequences once that gasoline fire gets started. Again, Kruger indicated that Richards’ behavior in this case was inappropriate because she could have handled the situation less publicly. I find this example unfortunate because there has been a lot of ink spilled over the gender politics of this particular incident, something I’ll touch on in a later post. Suffice it to say that social media often gives a voice to those who are rarely heard otherwise, and this may have been an example of that.

Don’t feed the trolls! Trolls: People who hide behind anonymity and try to get an emotional reaction. Essentially Kruger suggests that we shouldn’t feed the trolls. Don’t engage with those people who are ragging on you because it will inflame things. If you can capitalize on that negative attention, do it, otherwise don’t escalate the situation.

Jumping on the bandwagon: don’t do it. You don’t need to post about everything in the world that happens just because other people are posting about it, and you absolutely don’t need to try to capitalize on serious issues. If something relates to you, then post about it.

Sounding like a robot: Don’t respond to people with form letters. Be real. Actually listen to what they’re saying.

These things don’t move us forward. Start small, target a particular audience and engage with them narrowly.

3 Tips:

1.You are the brand. People want to talk to YOU not a logo.

2.Contribute more than you receive-put out good content and you’ll reap the benefits. Not just about you.

3.Learn to listen. Be a good conversationalist. Find out what people have said about you.

All of these tips are incredibly helpful, but I will say that there are some important differences between social media as an individual vs. social media as an organization, and that many of these tips have been fiercely debated when it comes to being an individual on the internet, particularly a woman or other minority person on the internet. Don’t feed the trolls is only the most infamous of these. When using social media as an individual who is representing an organization, it’s a hard balance to find, but it’s one that we should be thinking about with more nuance than “should” and “should not”.

Being Childless: Prejudices and Pitfalls

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Note: This post is very much an exploratory post for me about a variety of issues. I’m taking some time to examine how I feel about children and try to understand what about my behaviors might be disrespectful to children. I’d really appreciate it if you find something offensive in this post if you were polite about it and helped me come to a better understanding of why it might cause harm. I’m also going to be using childless and childfree somewhat interchangeably here, although I know that that’s not the most appropriate. I’m aiming to stick with childfree when it’s a choice and childless for an overarching term of those without children.

Somehow children and having children have decided to take over all of my blogs and twitters and internet haunts and have become the topic of the day. This is weird. I don’t really have any friends with children, I don’t have children, and I have no desire to ever have children (and if you tell me that it’s just because I’m young and some day I’ll want them and it will be great you can just leave now). I’m not used to thinking about children or the difficulties and questions surrounding raising children. And I particularly found myself challenged by a few posts by Libby Anne about prejudice against children. Many of the things she was saying were attitudes that I held: I don’t particularly like kids, they make me uncomfortable, I often find them frustrating when they’re in my spaces. Generally she suggested that people who hold these types of attitudes are “childist” and are discriminating against others. I’d like to delve into some of the nuances of what it means to be childless and still respect children and their parents.

Let’s start with a fact: children are an imposition. They are in fact a burden. Many people would argue that that isn’t the case because they provide so much back to us and they are human beings that are deserving of respect and love. I’m not trying to say these things aren’t the case, but they are human beings who are not capable of caring for themselves, or even of fully processing their world. This means that they impose upon adults in order to survive: they require the time, money, and resources of adults. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Many things in life involve some sacrifice and imposition and a whole lot of joy, and kids are probably one of those things. It doesn’t seem to me to be prejudice to recognize that fact.

Children are also different from adults. Yes, they are human beings, yes they have legitimate emotions, and yes they are fully autonomous. However their brains have not developed completely, they don’t know how to manage their emotions or their world yet, and they often simply view the world differently from adults. Again, this is not a bad thing, but it is not prejudice or stereotyping to say that children’s brains are different from adults’ brains. That’s a fact.

As someone who is child-free on purpose, I have taken these elements into consideration. I am not very good with children because of those reasons. Realizing that another being is wholly dependent on you is a scary proposition, and as a responsible adult I know I’m not cut out for it. Because of that, I avoid children. I’m not good with kids and so I don’t want to be around them because I don’t like being around people who I cannot socialize with. Interestingly, to many people this would be viewed as a prejudice, or as discrimination against children.

It’s widely recognized that childless adults, particularly adults who choose to be childless are often badgered and sometimes oppressed or discriminated against by the people around them. Many people with children want to say that the childless have turned things around and begun acting the same way towards them and their children. Of course there are some childless individuals who treat children poorly, just as there are some people with children who treat children poorly. But making statements about disliking children, about wishing children weren’t in your spaces, or about preferring people not to talk about children are not prejudice: they’re preferences. Children are a very different type of being, and each of us gets to choose what sorts of people we have in our spaces. For those of us who are childless, children can be difficult and scary. Wanting to avoid that is 100% logical.

Just the same as I choose my social spaces so as not to be around racist or sexist people (who I don’t know how to be around), I choose my social spaces so as not to be around children (who I don’t know how to be around). (This is not to say that I am equating children with racists and sexists, but rather that they’re both groups of people whose brains I don’t understand). It’s frustrating to me that I’m expected to coo over small people who confuse me, rather than running for the nearest exit as I would with anyone else that I’m afraid of (yes children scare me. I don’t like being confused). I’m frustrated that it’s labelled as “prejudice” when there are in fact major differences between the brains of children and adults and I don’t know how to bridge that gap. It’s frustrating to me that when I say kids are LOUD and I don’t really want to be around them, I get labelled as someone who thinks kids don’t have humanity or don’t deserve my respect.

While the world is not my personal garden and I can’t edit it to my taste, I should get some choice in the question of who I am around, particularly whose noise and body are in my space. We accept this with adults. And yes, kids don’t understand it, but I’m still allowed to make adjustments for myself and to request that the parents make adjustments. Particularly because children often don’t understand boundaries and more often don’t understand auditory boundaries, it doesn’t seem out of line for the childless among us to avoid them because we like our boundaries.

Now I will in no way defend people who call kids scum or evil, but I have been known to call them (to steal a phrase from Tennessee Williams) no neck monsters. But I’m going to level with you: I would call anyone who was screaming on the bus a monster. It’s not about dehumanizing the kid, it’s really just about me and my desire to express my discomfort. Like I said, kids are a burden, and I think we get to recognize that, particularly those of us who didn’t choose that burden but sometimes get saddled with parts of it simply because we’re out in public.

Of particular note here is friends with kids. I love you. I have no problem with your kids. But I want no part of the responsibility of children because I might break your kid so please don’t put your kid near me or in my lap because I will freeze up like a deer in headlights and start wondering what would happen if I accidentally dropped them. If I’ve made it clear that I am not comfortable around children, please don’t expect me to be overjoyed when you bring your kid over, or when you ask me to come over and be around your kid.

With all these thoughts in mind, I do still have some questions: Is it prejudice to recognize the differences in child and adult brains and have a preference between them? Is it a privilege to be childfree and to be able to avoid children? What are the potential oppressions that the childfree can enact on those with children? I’m not sure about many of these, but I suspect that there are some great privileges that people without children get, and which they often expect people with children to have (like time, flexibility, etc). I do suspect that we need more communication on all sides, and more exploration of what the needs and wants of all parties are so that public spaces can better accommodate everyone. And more than anything, the question that has been looming in my mind through this whole post is whether or not it’s prejudice or disrespectful to avoid children. I’d love some feedback.

Politics and Millennials: Never Known Different

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Last night I started reading Barack Obama’s The Audacity of Hope. I don’t have a whole lot to say about the book yet, but one thing that stuck out to me was that as Obama was talking about the polarization of politics, he mentioned Bush v Gore as one of the starting points of that polarization. When referring to his early days as a senator, he mentioned that the older senators felt that things were getting less and less productive, and that the aisle was getting wider and wider, starting at around 2000.

The first election that I remember is Bush v Gore. I was about 10 at the time, and we had a mock election in my 4th grade classroom. I decided to vote for Gore because he liked The Beatles. Afterwards, I went home and talked to my parents and they explained some of the issues that the election was about. I started to have an inkling that I was probably a Democrat. Even in that classroom there was heated passion about which candidate should win, and some anger towards people who disagreed.

My first memories of politics and the electoral system are remembered by older people as the time when politics started going to shit. The only politics I have ever known is a politics that is sharply divided, one in which there is no middle ground, one in which Republicans and Democrats have become more and more radical in their opinions. My whole generation has grown up in the midst of politics that looks like this. Is this unlike any other generation? What will that mean for us as we grow up? Have we all become cynical and tired? I don’t have hard and fast answers to these questions, but as a Millennial myself, I can speak to some of my own feelings about politics, and make some predictions about how my generation may change what’s happening right now.

I do think that to some extent Millennials are cynical of the political system, and that’s because they’ve never seen it functioning. They don’t trust it to function because it never has. When we hear people talking about how bad politics is now, and how it used to be so much better, it sounds like misty-eyed nostalgia to us. There’s no evidence in our minds that there ever was a good time or that now is worse than it used to be. This is all we have known and it appears to be the norm. Because of that, I doubt many of us will see a long term use for the traditional methods of politics. We are willing to vote, we’re willing to be activists, we’re willing to work on campaigns, but few of us think it will actually do much. I see many millennials who want to take things into their own hands. I see many, many young people who are blogging and writing their own opinions about politics, signing petitions, getting in touch with their congresspeople, engaging in civic hacking, volunteering, and generally finding other ways to improve their communities that aren’t through the traditional means.

One of the things that I see among a lot of my friends and peers is that we’re sick of arguing. We want to make the world better, yes. But we want people to stop being jerks on our facebook pages, we want a little peace and quiet. We’d rather go volunteer at that Humane Society down the street than have people bitch at us and bitch right back, because that’s all that ever happens on the internet. We don’t see that as progress. We do however see education as intensely important, particularly the more liberal-minded among us. We feel like we need to explain ourselves and our opinions to others, but we don’t want to piss people off anymore. Of course there are always more or less argumentative people among us, but I see lots of friends who view politics as something that just gets in the way and makes everyone sad.

Oddly enough, one of the consequences of this kind of radio silence is that we all seem to be a little more certain that we’re Very Right and that people who disagree are The Enemy. That’s because we rarely allow ourselves to hear opposing arguments unless we absolutely can’t avoid it, and when we can’t avoid it it’s often said by the craziest version of that opinion (e.g. Rush Limbaugh). If the only people talking are the ones who don’t care about offending others, we get a fairly skewed view of our opposition. I know that I rarely hear logical, calm, and intelligent presentations of the conservative viewpoints. This makes it incredibly easy for us to straw-man those who disagree with us and assume that they’re horrible individuals.

An additional element of this is that because we have so many possible sources of information, we can pick and choose what we hear so as to create an echo chamber. Then we assume everyone thinks like us because those are the only people we hear. I see many people who are completely set in their ways, but who are not interested in talking to others about their opinions. It’s an odd combination, and is not a good situation for positive movement. We are distant from people who think differently from ourselves. We don’t understand them, and many of us don’t want to because it sounds terrifying.

And so we’re angry. We’re angry that things aren’t working out, that our country appears to be falling apart, that our systems are ineffective, that we don’t have jobs, that we don’t have healthcare, that people like to say shitty things about us all the time. But we’re also hopeless. We don’t know how to talk to each other, we don’t know how to fix the system, we can barely even support ourselves and we wonder how people think we should have the time to fix the country.

It seems to me that Millennials are ready for a complete overhaul. We see congress as bull. We don’t give a fuck about the pres, cause the pres never gets shit done. Supreme court who? We’re not uninformed. We know about these things, we just don’t see them as worth our time. We don’t know what we want government to look like, but particularly with how connected things are today, it seems to us that there are better ways of making decisions than electing people to go to Congress for us when we have seen that all that does is corrupt them. We don’t know what this looks like. We just know the government as it is is not functional and we don’t like it. We’re disengaging from it. We’re moving into the nonprofit and private sectors. Is it any surprise when all we remember is disappointment from the government?

Most people who are paying attention already know this, but they seem flabbergasted as to why young people might be so cynical about the government. It’s simple. Look at the history we’ve lived through. This is what we know: the government doesn’t work.