Facebook has been getting lots of press and pie in the face over its shifting privacy policies. Social media expert danah boyd has led criticism of Facebook’s effort to devalue privacy for its own gain. She’s even suggested that we might regulate Facebook as a utility just like electricity or water works.

A new Pew report suggests we might not need to rush to regulate Facebook or other social media to protect privacy. Young users appear to be leading the way in figuring out how to control their own privacy online:

The Pew study found, for instance, that social networkers ages 18 to 29 were the most likely to change the privacy settings on their profiles to limit what they share with others online. The percentage who did so was 71 percent, compared with just 55 percent of the 50- to 64-year-old bracket. Meanwhile, about two-thirds of all social networkers who were surveyed said they’ve tightened security settings.

The survey also determined that:

  • about half of young people in that 18-29 bracket have deleted comments that others have made on their profile, compared with just 29 percent of those ages 30 to 49 and 26 percent of 50- to 64-year-olds. The numbers were similar when it came to social networkers who removed their names from photos that were tagged to identify them.
  • When asked how much they can trust social networking sites, 28 percent of the youngest adults surveyed said “never.” A fifth in the 30-49 bracket said that and just 14 percent of those ages 50 to 64 agreed.

[Martha Irvine, “Image-Conscious Youth Rein in Social Networking,” AP via Yahoo News, 2010.05.27]

I don’t advocate a completely unregulated, Wild-West Internet. We need rules, sometimes customs and mores, sometimes laws, to make any social undertaking work.

The social Web has been widely accessible for only a few years. Our Web customs and mores are still evolving. We’re only just realizing that the Web isn’t some exotic foreign land or desert island where we can indulge our inner streaker without consequence. The more we use it, the more we’ll get a sense of how it’s all connected and how we need to behave ourselves to maintain our reputations and privacy as we see fit.


Those darn bloggers, making the news environment better. I don’t have the full paper handy, but I can link to Serena Carpenter’s abstract:

The presence of a diversity of information offers citizens access to a range of ideas, expertise and topics. In this study, a measure of content diversity was created to determine whether online citizen journalism and online newspaper publications were serving this function in the USA. Based on the findings from a quantitative content analysis (n = 962), online citizen journalism articles were more likely to feature a greater diversity of topics, information from outside sources and multimedia and interactive features. The findings suggest online citizen journalism content adds to the diversity of information available in the marketplace.

Serena Carpenter, “A Study of Content Diversity in Online Citizen Journalism and Online Newspaper Articles,” New Media & Society, published online February 9, 2010.

Keep on blogging!

Hey, speech students! Here’s your chance to critique your instructor. (Well, actually, you had a chance with the course survey; here’s another one!) I gave the first talk at the inaugural IgniteSD event in Brookings on April 21. You could look at it as 60-some people coming to a diner to hear a bunch of visual aid speeches. You could also look at it as 60-some people spending a spring evening giving a darn about what their neighbors have to say.

Here’s my Ignite talk on blogging:

The video doesn’t capture all of the slide show. The Ignite format requires each speaker to put together a sequence of 20 slides, each timed to display for 15 seconds. That’s 5 minutes on the dot, no more, no less. To keep my main points in time with my slides, I had to practice more than usual and fight my urge to go off on tangents. I like the discipline of the format, although it does restrict a speaker’s ability to adjust to the audience — to hold for laughs, to elaborate on ideas the audience seems puzzled by, or even to stop and take questions. But at five minutes a pop, that just means you concentrate on interacting with the listeners before and after the talk.

My critique notes:

  1. Check position on stage: I started standing right in front of my slides! I’m used to my classroom, where the projector is on the ceiling and I can move freely without blocking the beam. At IgniteSD1, the projector was on a table, and I didn’t catch it right away because the beam was just below my eyes, at my chin. Eventually I realized what a shadow I was casting and moved stage left.
  2. Some enunciation gets mushy — I notice early on the word pajama-clad disappears. Part of this may be audio pickup from the camera mic, but no excuses: you should always spit your words with the intention of making your voice clear to the weakest microphone or hearing aid in the house.

Ignite is a lot of fun, for speakers and listeners. Keep an eye out for an event in your town!

Speech students, pay attention: some big guns in the U.S. military hold PowerPoint in about the same esteem they hold al-Qaeda:

“PowerPoint makes us stupid,” Gen. James N. Mattis of the Marine Corps, the Joint Forces commander, said this month at a military conference in North Carolina. (He spoke without PowerPoint.) Brig. Gen. H. R. McMaster, who banned PowerPoint presentations when he led the successful effort to secure the northern Iraqi city of Tal Afar in 2005, followed up at the same conference by likening PowerPoint to an internal threat.

“It’s dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control,” General McMaster said in a telephone interview afterward. “Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable” [Elisabeth Bumiller, “We Have Met the Enemy and He Is PowerPoint,” New York Times, 2010.04.26]

Ironic that it takes soldiers to tell us that bullet points aren’t the best way to explain a complicated problem.

PowerPoint presentations are apparently pretty common in the field, the Pentagon, and even the White House. They aren’t all bad: General David Petraeus tells Bumiller the program has its advantages, like sharing maps and statistics. But slides with bullet points too often produce sloppy thinking:

Commanders say that the slides impart less information than a five-page paper can hold, and that they relieve the briefer of the need to polish writing to convey an analytic, persuasive point. Imagine lawyers presenting arguments before the Supreme Court in slides instead of legal briefs [Bumiller, 2010].

Read more officer thinking on PowerPoint:

“Before PowerPoint, staffs prepared succinct two- or three-page summaries of key issues. The decision-maker would read a paper, have time to think it over and then convene a meeting with either the full staff or just the experts involved to discuss the key points of the paper. Of course, the staff involved in the discussion would also have read the paper and had time to prepare to discuss the issues. In contrast, today, a decision-maker sits through a 20-minute PowerPoint presentation followed by five minutes of discussion and then is expected to make a decision. Compounding the problem, often his staff will have received only a five-minute briefing from the action officer on the way to the presentation and thus will not be well-prepared to discuss the issues. This entire process clearly has a toxic effect on staff work and decision-making” [Thomas X. Hammes, “Dumb-Dumb Bullets,” Armed Forces Journal, 2009].

Thomas Ricks, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and author of two books on the Iraq War, notes that the use of PowerPoint slides instead of written text permeated the US military during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. Ricks noted in his book Fiasco, that General Tommy Franks’ reliance on passing PowerPoint slides to his subordinates in order to plan the initial stages of the war, instead of explicit, written orders, caused much frustration among senior military officers. Ricks notes that military leaders such as General Robert McKiernan were often baffled as to how to interpret the slides. Ricks also interviewed Dr. Andrew Bacevich, who felt that substituting PowerPoint slides for formal, written orders was “the height of recklessness” [Crispin Burke (a.k.a. Starbuck), “The TX Hammes PowerPoint Challenge,” Small Wars Journal, 2009.07.24]

[but see also Burke’s praise for PowerPoint done right in Capt. Travis patriquin’s game-changing 18-slide presentation on the 2007 surge in Iraq]: The 18-slide presentation—looking for all the world like something out of a Jack Handey sketch—was distributed among a number of senior officers. Despite the near-Hollywood production values which go into many PowerPoint presentations, it was this presentation which caught the attention of senior officers. The ideas presented by Captain Pataquin helped to change the course of the Iraq War. The format and look of Patriquin’s message wasn’t what counted—it was what he said. For all the satire and adolescent humor contained in his presentation, it presented a much clearer message about The Surge of 2007 than nearly any other document.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs isn’t just for psych students: it’s a handy framework for public speakers to use to figure out how to persuade their listeners. It states (among other things) that different people will be motivated by different needs at different times. A pitch appealing to a sense of patriotism or moral duty may work with some customers, but not others. It may even work with with certain customers one month but fail to move those same customers a month later. As people’s needs are met (or no longer met), they will present different levers that you can use to motivate them.

The diagram of Maslow’s Hierarchy I presented in class is available on Wikipedia. You can also read another instructor’s take on Maslow and persuasion here.

Of course, all you really need is a little INXS:

When the Army buys rifles and trucks, it wants equipment that any mechanic in the field can fix. Depending on GM to fly their own mechanics to an overseas base or the middle of a battlefield to make repairs to Army equipment, only to keep their mechanial knowledge secret from the soldiers using the equipment, would be bad policy.

But right now, that’s how most electronic voting systems work. States and counties purchase proprietary hardware and software and have no way of opening up the systems to determine whether they are recording votes properly, let alone to fix problems.

Open source to the rescue: the Open Source Digital Voting Foundation is promoting the use of open-source software in our elections. Eight states — California, Washington, Oregon, New York, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont and North Dakota — are participating in OSDV’s Trust the Vote Project, which is building and sharing software to support voter registration, ballot design, ballot tabulation, and auditing.

On a function as central to democracy as elections, it makes sense to use hardware and software created in a democratic spirit. Open source software allows us to improve the electoral process with technology while also creating an avenue for greater participation, accountability, and citizen ownership of the ballot box.

We’re a democracy: open that data!

President Obama still has lots of work to do, but under his open data initiative, the United State federal government is moving toward a culture of greater information openness:

Moves by President Barack Obama’s administration to open up government data in the US need to go further but have succeeded in creating a culture of greater openness, according to an independent report.

The report ( http://bit.ly/ds4TIy ), from non-partisan think-tank the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, looks at how technology has been used to implement the Open Government Directive, a memorandum written by President Obama on his first day in office focusing on three areas: transparency; public participation; and collaboration ( http://bit.ly/duz9JA ).

The first of these areas, transparency, has been the biggest success of the directive, the report says, with an “unprecedented” volume of data available to citizens online. However further moves are needed, it says, including addressing problems with access to government datasets through the central portal data.gov ( http://bit.ly/9yd810 ) [Tristan Parker, “U.S. Open Data Moves ‘Have Created New Culture’,” E-Government Bulletin, 2010.04.01].

Now we just have to hook everyone up to broadband and make sure their education includes healthy doses of media literacy and civics so they know how to use all that data.

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