Virginia Tech and New Media…some new insight

This is a follow-up to yesterday’s posting on Virginia Tech and New Media. In the news on TV last night, there was a footage of the shooter in a self-filmed video that he sent to NBC. The video showed him ranting about society and its failings and for forcing him into a corner, making his killing spree seem an inevitable ending. The use of the video highlights the Youtube generation we are in nowadays, so much so that filming himself and sending the images to the news centre to be broadcast was probably a most natural thing to do for the shooter, though of course we know that there was nothing natural at all in what was said and done.

I received some comments on yesterday’s posting.

Raincoaster commented that a VT had a pre-existing campus-wide text and email tree for emergencies and didn’t use it once the first shootings happened. “Let’s look at the way the institution could have used new media to prevent an additional 30 deaths, but didn’t.”  Jonny applauded technology for being used to give people a voice to share their grief and worries as many often really just need an easy forum to talk. “If the flip side of this is macabre capitalism then so be it – personally I think it’s a worthwhile trade-off.” 

Thanks for the comments, guys. What do others think? Let’s hear you.


Virginia Tech and New Media

There is no doubt that many have been affected by the shooting tragedy at Virginia Tech. Not another one? Not another student shooting case on campus? Not another case of the tragedy of easy access to firearms? Not another case of a misfit individual in society? These are the questions that will haunt society in the aftermath of one of the worst campus shooting cases in the US.

An interesting development is the role of new media in all this. With the sudden turn of events on campus and with many reeling from shock and confusion, new media has become a way for people to find out about what has been happening.

In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, before there was any news available from traditional channels of information, and instead of using traditional phone lines for fear of jamming them, and because they would be jammed, many students tried to find out if their campus friends were okay and what was happening on campus by logging on to the social networking sites like Facebook, blogs and websites.

People were getting first-hand accounts or recounts in blogs. New media also became a way for people to express their hurts and confusion. Apparently, a recording of the gunshots recorded by a student on his mobile phone has also become available on the Net. Such close-hand ‘reporting’ is not possible in such a situation something that traditional journalists can’t do. In the Straits Times article “Students turn to Net for information”, it was reported that Virginia Tech freshman, Bryce Carter hid in his dorm and “did what anyone his age would do in a time of crisis” – he blogged.

The Virginia Tech webpage has also become a Memoriam site of sorts, allowing people to read about the details of the event and sharing their thoughts and grief through a dedicated memorial link. You can even listen to the podcast and get a transcript of the address made at the memorial service. I think all these links help people to be closer to the situation, and in so doing, perhaps provides a channel for airing their thoughts and emotions. Importantly, there are also crisis hotlines available to provide counselling for those in need.

 It’s indeed a sad day when an individual is so alienated that he turns on society in such a cold and brutal way, and it’s a sad day that following the massacre, threats of copycat killings surfaced in several states in the US. It’ll be a sadder day if there is a backlash against South Koreans (the nationality of the shooter). Already, the South Korean government is warning of possible repercussions.

Many are trying to come to terms with the situation, and there are many who have taken a look at what’s been happening at the Virginia Tech massacre and other similar incidents. Let’s hope that something good will come out of this. Something good must come out of this. 

New Media seems to be playing a pivotal role so far in allowing people to make connections and communicate and seek catharsis of sorts for their grief. If only Cho Seung-Hui, the gunman, would have made use of it earlier. 

Code of conduct for bloggers

Something else has been brewing in the blogosphere, and has been rocking the cyberworld.

Tim O’Reilly, the person who came up with the term Web 2.0, is working with Jimmy Wales, creator of Wikipedia, on a set of guidelines for bloggers. The code of conduct is aimed at guiding bloggers in their online discussions and debate. On a posting dated Sunday 8 Apr 2007 on O’Reilly Radar (O’Reilly’s blog), the man put forth a draft of the Code of Conduct which I am reproducing here (accessed on 11 Apr 2007):

We celebrate the blogosphere because it embraces frank and open conversation. But frankness does not have to mean lack of civility. We present this Blogger Code of Conduct in hopes that it helps create a culture that encourages both personal expression and constructive conversation.

1. We take responsibility for our own words and for the comments we allow on our blog.

We are committed to the “Civility Enforced” standard: we will not post unacceptable content, and we’ll delete comments that contain it.

We define unacceptable content as anything included or linked to that:
– is being used to abuse, harass, stalk, or threaten others
– is libelous, knowingly false, ad-hominem, or misrepresents another person,
– infringes upon a copyright or trademark
– violates an obligation of confidentiality
– violates the privacy of others

We define and determine what is “unacceptable content” on a case-by-case basis, and our definitions are not limited to this list. If we delete a comment or link, we will say so and explain why. [We reserve the right to change these standards at any time with no notice.]

2. We won’t say anything online that we wouldn’t say in person.

3. We connect privately before we respond publicly.

When we encounter conflicts and misrepresentation in the blogosphere, we make every effort to talk privately and directly to the person(s) involved–or find an intermediary who can do so–before we publish any posts or comments about the issue.

4. When we believe someone is unfairly attacking another, we take action.

When someone who is publishing comments or blog postings that are offensive, we’ll tell them so (privately, if possible–see above) and ask them to publicly make amends.
If those published comments could be construed as a threat, and the perpetrator doesn’t withdraw them and apologize, we will cooperate with law enforcement to protect the target of the threat.

5. We do not allow anonymous comments.

We require commenters to supply a valid email address before they can post, though we allow commenters to identify themselves with an alias, rather than their real name.

6. We ignore the trolls.

We prefer not to respond to nasty comments about us or our blog, as long as they don’t veer into abuse or libel. We believe that feeding the trolls only encourages them–“Never wrestle with a pig. You both get dirty, but the pig likes it.” Ignoring public attacks is often the best way to contain them.

O’Reilly was inspired to come up with the guidelines after a known technology blogger, Kathy Sierra, received death threats following a dispute about whether it is okay to delete comments one deems as unsuitable that have been posted by visitors to one’s website. Some feel that this is tantamount to censorship, and deleting a visitor’s comments is a curtailment of the freedom of speech of the visitor.

O’Reilly has even designed a badge that websites can display if they want to show they are linked to that code of conduct: (very sheriff-like!)

 Civility Enforced Badge

and for those who want to be forewarned, he suggests another type of badge, the “anything goes” badge for sites that want to warn possible commenters that they are entering a free-for-all zone. The text to accompany that badge might go something like this: This is an open, uncensored forum. We are not responsible for the comments of any poster, and when discussions get heated, crude language, insults and other “off color” comments may be encountered. Participate in this site at your own risk. anythinggoes2.jpg

This move has been pretty controversial. O’Reilly wishes to impose a level of civility on the lawless blogosphere.  “A culture is a set of shared agreements that allows us to live together,” O’Reilly wrote in a blog posting calling for a code of conduct. “The proposed code calls for blog content to be deleted if it is abusive, threatening, libelous, false or violates promises of confidentiality or rights of privacy.”

But looking at the comments made on his blog, many are against being told what they can do or say on their blogs or others’ blogs. IAn article in Today, Bloggers rail over imposing civility online, shows some reaction to it: “So-called ‘community standards’ are merely the latest example of the agents of normalcy and entrenchment subconsciously attempting to organize, dictate, tame and pacify.” Some also rail against the banning of annonymous posts, saying that many in oppressive regimes need to post their comments annoymously.

Frankly, I don’t see the big deal in this. I mean, if someone posts something abusive, irrelevant or dangerous on my blog, shouldn’t I have the right to take it off? What if others start associating me with all the offensive comments? Worse, whatif they start acting on those comments? But of course, this is done for cases such as abusive/irrrelevant/abusive comments. If not, I would think that any blogger would welcome the chance to engage in a conversation with his visitors and clarify his stance via the comments made and responded to. I don’t see the big deal about allowing anonymous postings too, if they these have something worthwhile to say and are not abusive/irrelevant/dangerous.

I’m not crazy about the badges-they smack too much of accreditation, Case-Trust? and all that we have in Singapore. Not too sure if that kind of regulatory body is needed for the blogosphere. Besides, who will make up that regulatory body? Especially when the blogospehere is boundary-less. Even Malaysia’s PM has come out to say that they will not be asking bloggers to register, as they realise that they can’t implement that policy, even if they wanted to. 

I think a lot has to do with the maturity of the blogger and the readers. What do you think?


Policing cyberspace and banning Youtube…again?

Something’s brewing in cyberspace in South East Asia, especially in Malaysia and Thailand. Thailand has just banned Youtube, after a couple of video clips insulting the Thai King have emerged. These clips are probably a reaction to the sentencing of a European man to 10 years in prison for defacing posters of the Thai King while he was in a drunken state in Chiang Mai. The Thai government has even sought Youtube’ help to limit access to the site in Thailand.

In Malaysia, bloggers are coming together to form an alliance to seek protection as a group, after several bloggers have been sued by the Malaysian government for making false allegations about the government. The government has even mentioned the possibility of asking all bloggers to register and declare their full identities, which of course has drawn much flak from its bloggers. Anyway, given the nature of cyberspace, such policing will prove tough as bloggers could easily sign-up for external blog accounts.

In Singapore, another kind of cyber-policing or detective work was done when someone in a car forum managed to track and expose another member as being the peson responsible for a car crash during a test drive that left the car saleswoman dead. His detective work was done in cyberspace via car forums and through online car interest group members. The cyber-exposure has drawn so much interest that the traditional press has even gotten into the action and has started to pursue the story! I think increasingly, we will get new media stories driving traditional media stories, as people decide what they want to see and read in the media.    

First virtual US polls in MySpace

This is a follow-up posting to my previous posting on New Media and Politics, which talked about how the US presidential election hopefuls are using new media to engage new voters.

 Just the other day, MySpace announced that it will hold the first virtual US presidential elections on first and second January 2008. This is ahead of the actual elections and will give its members who are 18 and above (18 is the legal voting age in the US) a chance to practise their voting rights and “engage in their democracy”, according to Cherie Simon, president of Declare Yourself, an organisation that  encourages users to register to vote.

The virtual polls, will no doubt, be an interesting one as it would give the US a glimpse of their new president! 

By the way, my blog post on New Media and Politics made it to WordPress’ Blog of the Minute on 2 April 2007! Yeah!