From ccourses

Reflection 3 – Your stalker, my friend

“And we have a name for anyone who goes out of their way to find that old stuff: stalker. And we don’t really wanna work for, date, or befriend genuine stalkers.” Danah Boyd

We have been talking about issues of trust and networks over at #ccourses and I am in a deep reflective dive about all these issues. Particularly because I have been having some backchannel conversations with people who feel that what may be intended as ‘connecting behaviour’ by some is silencing them to the point of no longer participating.

This has made me reflect on the questions posed by reflection 3 on CT101: ‘How do you use these [web 2.0] accounts differently? Which are public and which are private? How do you make your choices and why?’ more deeply than the trivial ‘should I leave Twitter?’ or ‘is Facebook for me?’ We are encouraged to look at Danah Boyd’s article quoted in the introduction to this blog post.

I like the strategy she suggests: blog a lot and then your old stuff gets buried under your new stuff. Who can find it, anyway? And if they do: Stalker!

She suggests that even if privacy is dead, an assumption I question but will take as given here, we can still take control of our public persona. This, of course, is what digital storytelling can be all about. How do we tell the story of ‘me’ in the way we set up our spaces and the words, images, sounds we chose to associate with? And to Danah’s point how much of that is a purposeful choice?  She tells us,

“Don’t whimper about how Google is destroying your reputation. Take control!”

This is sound advise if you are going to have a ‘mediated me’ but a little naive, in my view. She focusses her advise on how I narrate myself online – make sure comments are representative, treat audio and video the same as text, shape your story to your ends. When we look at the ‘send’ side of online communication it makes sense to say: ‘create a public Internet identity, maintain it, link to it, build it, love it, hug it, and call it George”.

It is on the dismissal and unexamined nature of her advise on the ‘receive’ side of communication that the article falls down. We are to expect ‘unexpected audiences’ and plan for that; and let’s not be so idiotic as to think about the dangers of a mediated self.

“Every advice column I’ve read warns people of the dangers of living online. I think that this is idiotic. People need to embrace the world we live in and learn to work within its framework. Don’t panic about being public – embrace it and handle it with elegance.”

Actually, no. I do not ‘need to embrace’ the world I live in, I can also choose to change it.

What I see around me is that there are real dangers, choosing to live online can destroy reputations without a given individual being able to exercise any control. The more I focus on the ‘receive’ side of online communication, the more I see how limited our choices are. Expecting ‘unexpected audiences’ is really not enough.

What happens when the unwanted attention shapes or destroys a reputation? What happens when the unwanted attention does not allow my freedom of expression? What happens when the spiral of silence kicks in? How do individuals deal with ‘posses’ who travel together and may choose not to like what you write in e-mob style?

The more choices to be ‘public’ one makes, the more likely one will find people who disagree with one’s world view and are unable to engage meaningfully with disagreement. The open web does not come with a built in facilitator to teach people the skills of systemic dialogue. The conversation ‘out there’ makes me despair for us humans at times. Take this video as an example.


A beautiful animated poem about the impact of trolling behaviour. A few things struck me on watching: the fact the ‘The Troll’ in the film is not a behaviour but a person to be blamed, the tone of the comments about the video, the final sad and only little option left to the person being trolled.


Being on the receiving end of unwanted attention when I chose to shape a public mediated self is a profound and complex issue. Your troll is my friend, your collaborator is my stalker, and your freedom to express a view that somebody is a jerk can destroy a life. Sometimes the behaviours are clear cut and there are laws to protect us, but more often than not it is shades of grey and in the eye of the beholder. There are examples both sides of serious casualties. Recently Brenda Leyland was found dead in the UK – a twitter troll to some, a loving mum to others. Today I read about Kathy Sierra, a tragic story of a life fundamentally changed by unwanted attention that led to discussion about a ‘code of conduct’ for bloggers. What stays with me is her bravery to use the public forum to make issues known and these words,

“I have cancelled all speaking engagements. I am afraid to leave my yard, I will never feel the same. I will never be the same”

I have never heard about any ‘blogger’s code of conduct’ before – so clearly not something that got taken up widely. Is it really enough that I have the option to ‘mute’ or ‘block’ or ‘disable comments’? It occurs to me that all these options are not dissimilar to a rape victim being told to dress more modestly or not walk home alone after dark. The burden of responsibility rests on the ‘victim’ not the ‘persecutor’. Reading the comments on the trolling video, I am also struck by how the communication follow the classic drama triangle in Transactional Analysis. The victim get attacked by the persecutor as rescuers come in to defend the victim. The problem is that the roles just cycle around and the game keeps going ad nauseam.

Yes, I use the tools at my disposal to tailor my social media presence to learning. I choose who I interact with. Do I feel this is enough? My experiences over the last few days have left me painfully aware of the dangers Danah Boyd dismisses as idiotic. How do we teach/learn the kind of communication that allows us to step out of drama triangle? Unwanted attention is a side of ‘public’ that needs us to deeply reflect about the dangers of public not dismiss them. Ignoring them won’t make them go away.

We need more meaningful dialogue and less shallow answers. Listicles that simplify the complexities of interacting in mediated environments either for fun or learning or both, lessen our human worth and keep our fears underground. Read Kathy Sierra‘s last post on her blog for engagement with complexity or Alec Couros strategies to deal with identity theft. We can engage with difficulty and explore shared strategies for coping and change.

Will my experiences change my private-public balance? I don’t know yet. I am reminded of a premise from appreciative inquiry and wonder how it might apply in this situation:

We seem happy to trade our privacy for a cookie, so may be Danah is right that a concern for privacy is a thing of the past…