Why is the Beeb buying the UN’s hysteria over ‘cyber violence against women’?

You might recall that way back in, er, October the United Nations published a report on Cyber Violence Against Women and Girls.

Two things happened. First much of the media regurgitated its claims without question, and then a few bloggers started pulling apart the report, which was replete with errors, phoney assertions and even a citation that linked to the author’s C Drive.

The whole saga was catalogued by the feminist writer Christina Hoff Sommers, who debunked the stats and slammed the “totalitarian” recommendations of the report.

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Podcast Ep. 22: Remembrance Poppies, Essena O’Neill’s ragequit and Justin Trudeau cabinet

RD E22, Justin Trudeau, Remembrance Poppies, Essena O'Neill

A beleaguered Right Dishonourable returns this week to discuss the latest in current affairs, social issues and whatever, with John joining Jazza and Jimmy once again.

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Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn starts vlogging after an ‘eventful week’

Jeremy Corbyn, No More War, August 2014 by Garry Knight

Given the role that social media played in electing him to the top of the Labour Party, perhaps it was unsurprising that Jeremy Corbyn would make a foray into the murky world of YouTube vlogs on Friday.

Speaking in a single take, Corbo rambled on the topics of Islington, prime minister’s questions, and the various rallies and events he has been going to or plans to attend.

Clearly the Labour leader is still invested in the sort of grass roots campaigning that has defined most of his political life, but when he describes an obscure campaigner as “legendary” is only serves to highlight his distance from most Britons.

Judging by the video title there is also a rather dismal lack of understanding about search engine optimisation in the Labour camp. Should this turn out to be a long-term play perhaps they will put out an advert for someone who can drop a decent hashtag…

Image Credit – Jeremy Corbyn, No More War, August 2014 by Garry Knight

Facebook’s ‘real name’ dilemma is just part of the battle for a public commons Internet

The Demise of Facebook, March 2013 by mkhmarketing

It is worth remembering that the explosion of the Internet was in part prompted by a donation from one Tim Berners-Lee, a scientist who decided that the World Wide Web would be gifted to humanity – a decision that cost him uncounted billions in profits he might have made by selling it.

I mention this a year after a furore broke out over Facebook’s decision to demand that users register with their “authentic identity” on the social network, by which the company meant your legal name.

This was and continues to be a problem for those wanting to use the social network under an assumed name, a group that includes victims of violence, political campaigners and transgender people. Apparently it also affects certain ethnic groups whose naming conventions don’t match up with the standards Facebook has set.

As such a so-called Nameless Coalition is campaigning to convince the social network to reverse its policy. Writing in an open letter online, the group said:

“Facebook maintains a system that disregards the circumstances of users in non-western countries, exposes its users to danger, disrespects the identities of its users, and curtails free speech.”

For its part the social network claims that the measure is necessary for security reasons. In a statement to the press an aptly nameless spokesperson for the company said:

“While we know not everyone likes this approach, our policy against fake names helps make Facebook a safer place by enabling us to detect accounts created for malicious purposes. It makes it harder, for example, for terrorist organizations to hide behind fake profiles, school bullies to anonymously smear the reputations of others, or anyone else to use an anonymous name to harass, scam or engage in criminal behaviour.”

Of course Facebook, Twitter and their ilk are under considerable pressure from governments as a potent comms channel for miscreants. Over the last year security forces in Britain and the United States have been open in criticising Silicon Valley for its adoption of encryption, the boffins being more concerned about user’s privacy than spooks’ ability to pry.

Whether drag queens are a genuine security risk is a matter readers will be able to consider for themselves. But Facebook’s dominance on social media (its users number 1.5bn) is now exposing them to a regulatory quandary – when does a privately developed technology become so essential to life that it falls into the public realm?

That sense that Facebook is a public good was recently captured by Lil Miss Hot Mess, a drag queen from San Francisco, who wrote on the Huffington Post:

“Yesterday I received an email from a mother who is a survivor of domestic violence and prefers to use a pseudonym to safely avoid her ex; she told me she uses Facebook primarily as a means of connecting with other parents whose children have disabilities and have endured abuse. After trying to explain her situation to Facebook’s bot-like customer-service team, she – like thousands of others – is now cut off from very vital support systems.”

As Lil Miss Hot Mess goes on to say, Facebook is a corporation, and ultimately concerned about the bottom line. It’s inaccurate to say that the social network is “monopolistic” – indeed, its competitors are the likes of Twitter and Google – but demands that social networks have a public responsibility will only rise as people increasingly use them.

Silicon Valley is not without a sense of public duty. But it is also full of ambitious people wanting to make big bucks and maintain control of their babies. Reconciling these impulses will be a key political battle of this century. And for my part, I’m hoping more people will fall in line with Berners-Lee.

Image Credit – The Demise of Facebook, March 2013 by mkhmarketing

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl: the perfect comedy for the lonely social media generation

Image Credit – From "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" by Fox Searchlight Pictures

Even people who have 5,000 friends on Facebook can feel like they have none. This sad, scary idea is what Me and Earl and the Dying Girl examines with honesty, heart and a lot of humour.

The idea that social media can make us feel more isolated and lonely isn’t new. Various studies have looked into it over the years, and many continue to. Supposedly, not interacting with people face-to-face is something our brains aren’t equipped to handle – Internet dating is particularly counter-productive, as we can’t release all those sexy hormones correctly.

Satirist Charlie Brooker once referred to Twitter the world’s largest video game – the idea being that we’re all playing a game where we try to get as many favourites and retweets as possible. This quest to present our most broadly appealing selves is what the film’s protagonist does every day at high school.

Greg, an extremely neurotic but secretly quirky young man, tries to maintain friendships with every clique at school without belonging to any of them – censoring everything he says and does in order to get the most “likes” possible. That is, of course, until he meets Rachel.

As the title suggests, Rachel is a girl dying of leukaemia. But whilst you’ve seen boy meets girl too many times before, and whilst you’ve seen boy meets sick girl before, you won’t have seen a more heartbreaking portrayal of two teenagers rendered unable to be intimate by a world in which digital interactions are more practised than real ones.

Jesse Andrews’ script, based on his debut novel, hilariously but poignantly points out how dangerously neurotic teens are becoming. Somewhere between adverts that tell us we’re too ugly, online bullying or that mindfuck struggle between 15 minutes of YouTube fame and not making waves, it’s easy to argue that teenagers have never been assaulted by more pressures capable of making them feel inadequate.

Sadly evidence of the above can be found on Andrews’ twitter page, where on more than one occasion he’s replied to someone that they need to love themselves more.

Essentially, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a mature version of this year’s Pixar film Inside Out. It teaches us that life can be very unfair and that sadness is natural, even helpful. It also teaches us that the most rewarding, powerful relationships in our lives can appear from nowhere – that we might not see someone right in front of us if we’re staring at our phones.

In a world where we can all-too-easily beat ourselves up in front of a screen over what message to send, or what to say to stay relevant, it’s important to remember to look up and live.

Image Credit – From Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Fox Searchlight Pictures