Category Archives: Cybercivility

#RadicalCivility

#RadicalCivility

 

 

 

The erstwhile utopian vision of the Internet as a place where people can do as they wish without consideration for others and without repercussions died a painful death when the reality of the ugly way too many people actually behave online set it.

It’s time to change direction and create the Internet we want to have for the next one-hundred years.

 

We need a global movement that transforms the Internet from an insidious playground of harassment and hate to an online culture that embraces #RadicalCivility.

What is #RadicalCivility?

  1. Making a conscious decision to help stop the epidemic of harassment, hostility and hatred online
  2. Realizing we live in the real world where our behavior has ripple effects
  3. Refusing to spread negativity and hatred around like a contagion
  4. Helping create an online culture where people can fully engage and contribute without fear or threat of being the target of abuse, harassment, or lies
  5. Holding ourselves to a higher standard than our critics and opponents
  6. Realizing that strongly-held beliefs don’t need to devolve into online attacks
  7. Letting go of the notion that in order for us to be “right” we need to prove to others that they are “wrong”
  8. Responding instead of reacting
  9. Doing the hard work of learning how to express our frustrations in a constructive way
  10. Using our critical thinking skills before posting online
  11. Recognizing that true freedom of expression means allowing others to have a voice as well
  12. Being more interested in the truth than in proving we are “right”
  13. Giving support and comfort to those being unfairly attacked online
  14. Putting our energy into finding real solutions instead of merely bemoaning the problems
  15. Deciding to be positive role models for others online

How do YOU define #RadicalCivility? Share your ideas on social media with the hashtag #RadicalCivility!

 

 

A New Poll Finds that Harassment is Widespread Online… Here’s What You Can Do!

 

A shocking 25% of American adults have been bullied, harassed or threatened online, or know someone who has, according to a new poll of 1,007 Americans over the age of 18 conducted in May 2014.

A joint effort between Rad Campaign, Lincoln Park Strategies and Craig Newmark of craigconnects, the survey reveals other sobering information:

 

  • Online harassment happens all over the Web
  • The social network where the most people reported being harassed is Facebook with 62%, followed by Twitter in distant second with 24%
  • The type of harassment that is greatest online is sexual harassment
  • When asked why they ignore online harassment when they see it, 42% answered that they simply didn’t know how to respond effectively
  • The majority of people (62%) think the laws regarding online harassment either non-existent or aren’t strong enough

 

While keeping in mind that this is a self-reporting survey, the findings nevertheless illustrate the seriousness of online harassment and attacks, and the fact that people are increasingly becoming disenchanted with the negative behavior they experience.

We know online harassment and attacks are a huge social problem. We know they are a huge social GLOBAL problem. And it’s up to all of us to help turn things around.

While the steps needed to make this happen aren’t simply or easy, and also won’t solve the problem overnight, they will be concrete actions towards creating a positive cultural shift in online communication.

Here are some starting points:

  1. Educate the public about the depth and severity of this problem through awareness campaigns and first-person accounts of the emotional, reputational and financial damage such attacks can cause.
  2. Help law enforcement members become fluent in social media and the various SM tools so they recognize online harassment and can better assist those who come forward asking for help.
  3. Empower bystanders to help deescalate situations.
  4. Create a dedicated “Friends Brigade” comprised of of individuals who offer public support to those being unfairly attacked online.
  5. Ask social networks to introduce official codes of conduct that users must sign in exchange for being able to access and use the platforms.
  6. Introduce state and federal legislation penalizing some of the most egregious online behavior, such as revenge porn.
  7. Financially support the creation of the free CiviliNation Academy for Online Conflict Management, which will feature hundreds of videos showcasing a combination of animated videos that teach core concepts and videos offering interviews with experts in online reputation management, privacy protection, identity management and legal solutions.

 

 

One Mother’s Shocking Google Alert on Her Name

 

Jennifer P. is a wife and mother of three who never imagined that she would have to worry about revenge porn. However, a Google search revealed images linked to her name. To protect the identity of the other woman involved in this story, Jennifer has chosen not to reveal her full name here.

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CiviliNation: Tell us what you found online when you conducted a routine search for your name.

Jennifer P:  I am active online both personally and professionally, and have profiles on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google Plus. I work in government relations and am also a governing board member for an elementary school district. Both positions are somewhat high profile and put me in contact with prominent people. I am also a student and have received press coverage for scholarships I’ve won, and have done promotional work for both my college and my university. As such, I try to manage my online reputation carefully. To do this, I have Google News alerts set up for both my name and any organization with which I am associated. In addition, I regularly Google myself to see what might come up if someone were doing background research on me or one of the organizations with which I am associated.

A few weeks ago, I noticed a link on the second page of the Google search results that concerned me. It was a link to MyEx.com with an invitation to view nude photos of me, but I also noted that the link information claimed I was from a different state. This, combined with the fact that the link was on the second page of the search results, made me feel confident that anyone doing a background search on me would not assume that the link was legitimate or associated with me. I did not click on the link or investigate further.

Still, the link bothered me. A few days later I searched again, curious to see if the link was still there. This time the link appeared at the bottom of the first page. I quickly clicked on the images section of the Google search results, and was absolutely horrified to discover that, while the first few images were photos of me from various social networking sites and news articles, nevertheless explicit, faceless, and pornographic images of a female body appeared as well.

I was mortified. Obviously I knew that these pictures were not me. But I also knew that the way the images appeared in the search results, coupled with the link to MyEx.com appearing on the first page, might cause people who did not know me to assume these were of me.

I decided to click on the link to MyEx.com to see if there was any way to get the photos removed. The page had a disparaging description of the person in the photos who shared my name, and multiple photos of her, few of which showed her face. As upset as I was that someone might think the photos were of me, I felt deep sympathy for her. Yes, someone might think these photos were of me, but at worst I had some awkward explaining to do. However, the woman who had the same name as me was violated in a terrible way – the photos were originally taken by her husband and then posted online after a bitter divorce. I felt uncomfortable about the existence of the photos, but I knew she must be feeling betrayed and humiliated because they were actually of her.

CiviliNation: What concerns did you have about your personal and professional reputation if these pictures were discovered and believed to be of you?

Jennifer P: I was concerned that, were someone to come across these photos and believe them to be of me, I could lose future job and scholarship opportunities. I worried that if someone saw these photos and decided they were of me, the photos could be used to damage my reputation in the community and by association, the reputation of the organizations with which I am associated. If that were to occur, I could lose my position on the school board or my job.

As I thought about it further I realized that the loss of my reputation could affect my kids as well. I have three boys, ages 16, 12, and 10. What if one of their friends’ parents believed the photos to be of me? What if one of their friends saw the photos?

While I don’t necessarily think that there are many people out there who are conducting Google searches on me, I  do know that the best way to handle any situation is to consider all possible outcomes. And I know that I frequently conduct Google searches on people for any number of reasons – from background for networking to just general curiosity about people I meet. Furthermore, it is not entirely unlikely that a person taking interest in something happening with our school board might perform an Internet search on board members and, coming across disturbing images like the ones mentioned earlier, might draw the wrong conclusion.

CiviliNation: What did you do when you first discovered the images online?

Jennifer P: I decided that the simplest thing to do would be to contact MyEx.com, explain my situation, and ask that the photos be removed. At the top of the page of photographs, right next to the disparaging comments about the woman in the photos, was a button that said “click here to have these photos removed”. When I clicked it, the link immediately took me to a site that listed three alleged online reputation management companies that charged almost $400 but made no guarantee that the photos would be removed.

I went back to MyEx.com to try to find a “contact us” page or a customer service email. There was no contact information available on the website, but I located an FAQ page providing information about what someone could do to have the pictures removed. This page offered two suggestions: 1) if you are underage, contact your local law enforcement agency, and 2) if you can prove you hold the copyright to the photos, contact a lawyer. Neither of these options applied to my situation.

Based on online research I conducted, I found out that it is incredibly difficult to get these types of photos removed if you are the primary, intended victim. I found stories of individuals who lost their jobs and stories of people who had spent thousands of dollars trying to get photos removed without success. Incredibly frustrated, I decided my best defense was a good offense. I needed to tell people about the photos before people began to assume they were me.

CiviliNation: How did your family and friends, as well as your employer and the school board, react when you told them what had happened?

Jennifer P: Everyone I have spoken to about my situation has been incredibly supportive. Many were surprised to learn about the concept of revenge porn and had difficulty understanding why there was no legal recourse for me or for the primary victims of the practice. All were outraged about the lack of legal recourse and support available for victims.

My boss was an incredible resource, talking me through various scenarios, and assuring me that my job would be secure regardless of any fallout that may occur if the photos were discovered in a way that caused problems. My social network offered to do whatever was necessary to help boost appropriate search results in an effort to push the photos and MyEx.com links down in search results. My family and friends assured me that they would support me as well.

I did not broach the subject with my 10 and 12 year old because I first wanted to see what developed. However, I did have a conversation about the situation with my 16 year old and used the opportunity to talk to him about the concept of sexting, about trust within a relationship, and about not judging someone based on anything other than first-person, personal experience.

CiviliNation: What actions have you taken to try to clean up your online profile and make sure people don’t assume the images are of you?

Jennifer P: I’ve done quite a bit to resolve the issue, and I’m pleased to report, I’ve been incredibly successful. I also think I’m incredibly lucky.

Citing Google’s webmaster quality guidelines, I requested that the company either remove the links or somehow disassociate the images and link from my name. I also came across DMCA Defender, a company that guaranteed it would help remove photos online for a fraction of what other online reputation management companies charge. This organization did not seem to be affiliated with MyEx.com in any way, and while I was skeptical of the guarantee, I decided to try.

Within two days, DMCA Defender had the page with the photos removed. Within a week, the link and photos began to drop in the search results. At this point, there is no trace of MyEx.com or the images in a Google search of my name – although Google now does suggest the state the other woman was from when I enter my name into the search box.

I don’t know how much of the success of ridding the Internet of the photos is due to DMCA Defender, and how much to Google, but I am extremely grateful that the are gone.

CiviliNation: Did you ever image that you would be a victim of revenge porn in any way?

Jennifer P.: I had never given the concept of revenge porn much thought before I encountered those images in association with my name. I certainly didn’t think this would be an issue that I would have to deal with in any way, directly or indirectly. I remember when I first began engaging in social media and the concept of sexting first became something people talked about, thinking that I was glad I was old enough to have avoided the entire social media phenomenon during my teen years. It never occurred to me that, at the age of 40, the mother of three, I might have this issue touch my life in any way.

It is a strange position to be in. I am both a victim of revenge porn, and at the same time not. In other words, while the issue touched my life, I was not the intended victim. Perhaps I was what someone might call an unintended victim. All-in-all, fortunately I did not have any negative fallout from the experience. I was in a position to talk about the issue without having to be the target of “victim blaming” that often occurs when the subject of revenge porn comes up, which is when people make outlandish and hurtful arguments that the victims are someone responsible for these types of pictures now being online because they posed for them (although there are plenty of examples where private photos of people are leaked online where people didn’t share these pictures with anyone else or weren’t even aware they were taken).

CiviliNation: Has this experience changed how you act online or how you engage with others?

Jennifer P: Fortunately, this experience has not changed how I act online or how I engage with others because I’ve always tried to be careful to behave online just as I would in person, and to take into account that online, I have no control over my intended audience. I always ask myself before I post something online if it is something I would say, do, or feel comfortable explaining in any setting. Along those same lines, I’ve always tried not to judge another person by a single action or by secondary information. If anything, this experience has reinforced my desire to manage my online reputation and to give everyone the benefit of the doubt in all situations.

CiviliNation: What role do you believe the law should play in helping reduce online reputational harm against individuals?

Jennifer P: There definitely needs to be some sort of legal recourse for victims of online reputational harm. The law is far behind the times when it comes to online regulation. However, I understand why it is difficult to craft legislation that provides protections for victims without infringing on the rights of others.

There is currently a bill working its way through the legislature in my state of Arizona that criminalizes the practice of revenge porn. Specifically, the legislation makes it a class 5 felony to post or distribute a photo or video of another person in a state of nudity or engaged in a sexual act without explicit consent. If the individual is recognizable in the image, the distribution of the photo becomes a class 4 felony.

This is a start. It doesn’t address my issue specifically, as the photos were never of me. And it doesn’t get to the problem of websites that post the photos without providing an opportunity for the victims to have them removed. It certainly doesn’t address the problem of victim-blaming that might occur when an individual tries to report the situation to law enforcement. But it’s a start.

During testimony at the first committee hearing, one legislator suggested that taking the photos or allowing the photos to be taken implied consent, and that if an individual did not want these types of photos distributed, they should not take them. Fortunately, in spite of his viewpoint on this, the bill passed through the committee and then the House unanimously.

The bill was ready to be heard in a Senate committee the same week that I discovered the images associated with my name.  I contacted the legislator who sponsored the bill and shared my story with him. I gave him permission to tell my story without my name if the opportunity presented itself during deliberation.

The bill passed the Senate committee hearing unanimously as well and is awaiting a full Senate vote. I expect that Arizona will soon be one of the few to provide legal recourse to victims of revenge porn.

Close of 2013 & Thank You

As 2013 is ending, all of us at CiviliNation want to thank you for your ongoing support.

Thank you to those who reached out to us to let us know we’ve made a positive difference in your lives – you are why we do what we do. Thank you to those of you who publicly shared your stories with the CiviliNation community so that others being attacked and harassed online know they are not alone. And thank you to our donors who enable us to continue to fight to make the Internet a positive and embracing environment for all.

Our mission – to foster an online environment where every person can freely participate in a democratic, open, rational and truth-based exchange of ideas and information, without fear or threat of being the target of unwarranted abuse, harassment or lies – remains more important than ever. But there is still a lot of work that needs to be done to make that a reality.

One important step in that direction was the February release of CiviliNation founder Andrea Weckerle’s book Civility in the Digital Age: How Companies and People Can Triumph over Haters, Trolls, Bullies and Other Jerks. It’s a practical resource for both individuals and businesses that offers real-world solutions. If you haven’t done so already, we encourage you to buy a copy for yourself, your family and your company and start putting the enclosed information and tools into action. (All proceeds of the book go directly to CiviliNation.)

Another step we took was gathering support for the creation of the CiviliNation Academy for Online Conflict Management. Featuring a combination of animated videos that teach core concepts and videos showcasing experts in online reputation management, privacy protection, identity management and legal solutions, the Academy will house a library containing hundreds of videos. Our goal is that this resource library will become the go-to destination to obtain real-world information and leading advice when individuals and organizations face the misunderstandings, clashes, and reputational hits that happen online on a daily basis. Our hope is that in 2014 we can fully fund the creation of the Academy, which began with our July fundraising campaign.

We’re looking forward to a wonderful 2014!

 

Common Decency, Inc. Prevails against Ripoffreport.com in Lawsuit that Challenged Boycott – Interview with Michael Roberts of Rexxfield

Michael Roberts is a licensed private investigator and the Founder of Rexxfield, a company that assists and supports individuals who have been the victims of online lies, defamation, and privacy invasion by identifying anonymous authors and  “…rendering all reasonable assistance in order to have deceptive materials retracted or hidden from the public domain and the victims’ good name and reputation restored.” In this interview with CiviliNation, Michael shares his thoughts about the recent lawsuit by Ripoff Report against him and how he prevailed.

 

CiviliNation: On November 18, 2013, a ruling by the Superior Court of Arizona in Maricopa County (Arizona Case CV2013-012936) found against Xcentric Ventures, LLC dba Ripoffreport.com in its attempt to obtain a preliminary injunction against you and the websites you maintain that have been critical of the Ripoff Report. By way of background, what is Ripoff Report and why do you oppose it?

Michael Roberts:  Ripoffreport.com is a notorious website that, according to a Florida appeals court has “appalling” business practices and  “…appears to pride itself on having created a forum for defamation. No checks are in place to ensure that only reliable information is publicized.”

I oppose Ripoffreport.com because it is a source of personal injury, through defamation, for hundreds of thousands of victims, for which there is no reasonable relief, except a small proportion of victims who can affords tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars for litigation,– and even then without any guarantee of relief. It is estimated that less than 20% of the 1.7 million reports are credible, the rest are likely to be malicious competitors, jilted lovers, or other poison-penned vandals.

CiviliNation: Which of your websites have spoken out against Ripoff Report and what did they report?

Michael Roberts: I administer two websites that were subject to Ripoff Report’s failed litigation; the first is BadForPeople.org,  which is a protest and exposé platform that focuses on unethical journalism in both the traditional media and the new media (the interwebs), and AuthorizedStatement.org, which is a temporary right-of-reply provision for victims of internet and media defamation. The latter gives victims a loud voice on page 1 of Google to refute their detractors. The boycott of Ripoff Report’s financial enablers was the brainchild of Dr. Janice Duffy, I simply executed her plan through my websites; Janice did the heavy lifting and research.

CiviliNation: Why is the Arizona court’s ruling important?

Michael Roberts: On November 18, 2013, the Superior Court of Maricopa County denied Ripoff Report’s request to enjoin the speech of our team, it found that our activities are protected as free speech under the First Amendment. The Court wrote:

“Defendant Roberts is free to stage an internet boycott of Xcentric, and is free to include in the boycott those who do business with it. Both his threat to boycott those who do business with Xcentric and his postings that make good on the threat are protected speech, so long as all he does is expose their decision to do business with Xcentric.” {ref}

There have not been too many effective challenges to the incivility of Ripoff Report’s founder Ed Magedson, due, for the most part, to the deficient and ironically named law “Section 230C of the Communications Decency Act”. Until that law is repealed or revised to provide the relief implied by its title, then victims will have only two options, (1) expensive litigation or (2) protest. Thanks to Judge Randall H. Warner, other victims and activists now have a comprehensive “how to boycott Ripoff Report” manual by way of his very clear findings, which read as an instruction manual.

CiviliNation: Are there other websites and organizations that have the same questionable business model as Ripoff Report?

Michael Roberts: Yes there are many, we have a considerable to-do list including TheDirty.com and quite a few “MugShot” sites that have been in the news lately.

CiviliNation: What is the harm that sites like Ripoff Report inflict on individuals and businesses?

Michael Roberts: Depending on how much a victim’s livelihood depends on due diligence conducted through Google, the impact ranges from mild aggravation through to debilitating social, financial, emotional and vocational paralysis.

CiviliNation: Why do you believe individuals and businesses continue to fall victim to Ripoff Report?

Michael Roberts: Because it is estimated that at least 1% of the population have anti-social personality disorder (psychopaths), the air they breathe is other people’s pain. When individuals such as Ed Magedson make his appalling website available to other conscience free miscreants, it is a perfect storm. Until Ed’s immunity under the CDA is removed or reduced, there will be no relief. Alternatively, if the executives in Google who have the power to reduce RipOffReport’s search ranking do so, then Ed Magedson and his malicious users will once again be irrelevant to all except those in their immediate sphere of influence. There will then be room for an ethical “gripe site” that can balance legitimate criticism with social justice and responsibility.

CiviliNation: Do you have any suggestions for what the public can do to protect itself against such sites?

Michael Roberts: My tongue in cheek advice is to change your name of John or Jane Smith so that you can disappear into the crowd; Ripoff Report and sites like it can only hurt you if your name or business name if relatively unique. On a more serious note, you can effect change by supporting our boycotts, retweeting our tweets, emailing links, and boycotting those who advertise on Ripoff Report. Even better, launch your own boycott and send us your links. Judge Randall has laid out the game plan… run with it!

Read more about Rexxfield’s Michael Roberts here.

 

Cia Malone’s Story: How I Became a Target of Online Attacks

Cia Malone is a 23-year old from Ohio who blogs at Cia Pink Pumpkin. After hearing her story, we asked her to share it publicly. We appreciate her doing so and hope it will help others better understand the devastating effects that online attacks can have on individuals. The thoughts expressed here are hers alone.

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Late one night I was on the Facebook fan page of my favorite body care brand, Bath & Body Works. Someone whose name I didn’t recognize made a really cruel and inappropriate racial slur to another person on the page. Not knowing if the commenter was serious, I wrote that I hoped she was joking and if not, that she would hopefully delete what she wrote because it was inappropriate. A moment later someone told me that this was the work of an online troll.

That was my very first encounter with a troll. Before this incident I didn’t even know what “troll” meant. And since I didn’t know what a troll was or how to deal with one online, I made the mistake of continuing to engage this person and fighting back. I quickly learned that retaliating just fuels the fire.

The next morning I received the following message on my Facebook account:

Cia you are such a dumb cunt. I can’t stand you and neither can most of the other posters on the boards. They only play nice with you because they can’t tell you how they really feel or they’ll get deleted. I speak for many when I say you are the laughing stock of the fucking boards and don’t even know it. Nobody gives a fuck about your lame ass outdated blog. You still live with mommy and daddy at 21 years old. You are dumb enough to admit you have to sneak bbw [ Bath & Body Works] bags in the house so mommy won’t chastise you. What a fucking loser.

Still trying to figure out who everyone else in the secret group who hates your guts huh? Keep guessing bitch. rofl

I told you that you have no friends on the bbw forum. You are a snarky self absorbed ocd maniac psychotic bitch with shit for brains. We know all of your personal info all the way down to where you live so don’t fuck with us again or you will regret it. Oh and sharpen up on your investigating skills because you have no clue who we really are but we know all about you. We found you on google maps in Clinton. The store in Canton laughs at you behind your back too btw. Get a fucking clue and go the fuck away. Just die already! Our group makes fun of you every day while playing nice with you on the boards to make you think you’ve got allies. What a dumb fucking cunt you are and we are only getting started baby.

When I got this first message, I felt scared and sick. I had never been spoken to like that before. I had never dealt with this level of animosity from another person.

From that point forward I became the target of this individual. Trying to understand why she acts the way she does, I read over her messages and comments to me and even asked others who know her what’s behind all the ugliness. And the conclusion I’ve drawn is that she finds me and my blog annoying and therefore has obsessively fixated her hatred and negativity on me.

It’s been two years since this started and in that time, my attacker has created a tiny group made up of a handful of individuals who have joined her in attacking me and trying to shut my blog down. They’ve harassed me, threatened me, and posed as innocent individuals under fake accounts to befriend me and join private Facebook groups I was a member of in order to publicize private conversations I had within those groups. They stole content from my blog and, under fake identities, sent me messages about new beauty products that allegedly were going to come onto the market in order to make me look foolish if I published them.

My attackers are primarily women ranging in age from about their early twenties to their late fifties. While I don’t condone the actions of the women in my age group, I’m especially perplexed by the meanness of the older women. The three worst are all close to or older than my mother. If my presence online bothers them, you’d think they would be mature enough to ignore me, stop reading my page, or even block me.

A couple of weeks ago the attacks against me moved from online to the phone.  After listening to a recent message I thought it was really sad that someone has so empty a life that they would take the time to disguise their voice and phone number in order to leave a hateful message. I told my fiancé about the message and he became more angry than I’ve ever seen him.

The phone message was a clear escalation in the harassment and needed to be treated as such. I filed a police report and started the formal process of documenting the actions that have been taken against me for the past two years. In addition to filing a report, I also spoke to my cousin, a detective on a local police force, and he gave me a number of useful suggestions for what to do if the attacks continued or escalated even further.

Dealing with the harassment for the past two years really has taken a toll on me.  Anytime I get an email, a Facebook message, or a comment to my blog, there’s a part of me that is dreading reading it in case it is someone harassing me again. It’s a horrible thing to put up with and frequently leaves me anxious and stressed, like there’s a huge weight on my chest and I can’t breathe properly.

The attacks have also affected me professionally. By copying and stealing a lot of my original ideas, these women have intentionally taken steps to try to ensure that my blog could not grow. During this time period I’ve shut down my old blog and started over again in the hope this time that my content will not be copied. My previous blog was getting 1,000-6,000 views per day, depending on the season and the availability of in-demand content. Now I’m starting over at zero as I try to turn it into a profitable business.

Being attacked because people find me annoying is sad. In general I consider myself a happy, energetic, and optimistic person. Apparently that bothers some people, especially people who are not as content. Misery loves company, and I feel like a decent portion of the hatred comes down to just that.

The media talks about what society can do about this problem.  Sadly, I believe that people like the women harassing me will always exist, motivated by their own anger and ugliness. But while we won’t be able to change others, we CAN change ourselves, starting by modeling the right behavior through our own actions.

I mentioned above that I was not completely faultless when it comes to online incivility, so I am starting with myself. I’ve begun by making an extra effort to reflect more positive emotion in my online comments. Just a few extra words, and maybe a smiley face, can help convey the message the way we intended it. On the flip side, I think when we read things online we need to assume, unless direct and clear insults are made, that the poster had the best intentions in mind. This could help avoid a lot of conflict. Another thing is the good old “write it, walk away, come back and read it before you post it” approach. We all lose our tempers occasionally, and unfortunately online we are often more tempted to say something outrageous than we would say in real life. Walking away and cooling off ensures that whatever is being said is not said out of uncontrolled anger.  Also, while venting can be ok, bashing others is not. This is something I admit that in the past I was guilty of with regard to one of my harassers. If this person continues to attack or target me I won’t feel guilty for venting my frustration about it in private, but I won’t bring myself down to the same level as my harassers and bash them.

Incivility I can handle, and it’s something I’ve admitted to struggling with in the past. But harassment and threats take it to another level. Perhaps after we deal with these extreme forms of negative behavior we can move on to the problem of incivility. Imagine what would happen if every website using ICT had to register with the federal government? What if every month every website was required to turn over a list of every new account registered to their site, every account deactivated, and the IP address of each one? The cowards who hide behind fake accounts and anonymous profiles online would suddenly be revealed.  And much of the online attacks and harassment would be eliminated because people would not want their bad actions be made public.

I understand that some people will consider this a violation of their constitutional rights. But the Internet opens a new realm of possibilities that our founding fathers could never have even imagined, and our government needs to adapt to these new possibilities.

New Comment Tool Concept Aims to Encourage More Civility Online

 

This is a guest post by Raed El-Younsi, a social entrepreneur and peacemaking advocate based in Barcelona, Spain. Raed submitted the winning entry to CiviliNation’s Create.It campaign contest and won a Skype video call with CiviliNation’s Board members Andrea Weckerle, Jimmy Wales and Kami Huyse.

Raed is fascinated by the combined power of language + design + technology for social change. You can reach him at: info[@]karma.cat

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The internet gives us an unprecedented opportunity to understand one another.  And yet anyone familiar with internet “discussion” boards knows that NOISE, group think and personal attacks can drown out most attempts at constructive dialogue.  (For an extreme example, try discussing politics or religion in the YouTube comments.)

Similarly, the recent U.S. Government shutdown is a visible symptom of a much deeper trend: the polarization of our global society, online and offline.

I won’t go into why this is a bad thing.

So how did it get to this? Some people might say the current state of affairs is inevitable, and a testament to the destructive nature of human beings.  Personally, I believe it has more to do with the reward and incentive system at play.

Online, that means the feedback system.

Whereas technology is changing at breakneck speed, the “thumbs up and thumbs down” system has barely changed since its inception, save some minor variations.

We’re talking about a system based on the gladiators in the Roman circus.  To me, this is a system that is ham fisted and can easily lead to ultra-competitive behavior.  And I believe that, with such a feedback tool, we are unwittingly rewarding, and thus perpetuating, antisocial and divisive behavior.

Going into online discussion boards often means going into “hostile” territory and, as such, it can be a risky proposition.  People often resort to attacks out of boredom, to be seen, or to “rally the troops” and win the numbers game.
Strategically, our options are usually fight or flight – aggression or avoidance.

There is an incentive to attack because of the perceived danger in the environment which, ironically, makes the space less and less safe.

There is also an incentive not to participate in the conversation because, on top of often being an exercise in futility, getting involved can make one a sitting duck for attacks or derision.

But by not participating, it’s as if we were relinquishing our schools to be run by the bullies.

Again, I won’t go into why that’s a bad thing.

So what’s a possible alternative?  How could we encourage participation, while potentially making collaboration and openness sensible choices?

I’m convinced that the answer lies in rewarding civility.  Not just civility for its own sake, but for what it can bring along: namely, a safe environment in which we can let our guards down, where we can feel trusting enough to be open and vulnerable.  And I believe that such an environment, in turn, would give us a clearer recognition of our shared humanity regardless of our worldview.

So how can we encourage people to disagree without being disagreeable?  How can we help people to develop and use a collaborative conflict style online?  How can we help to reduce seeing others as “enemy images”?  How can we drown out all the saber rattlers and the screaming hawks, and help bring the quieter voices – which generally tend to speak for peace and reason – to the forefront?

In order to get that kind of environment, we need a special kind of community moderation (in both senses of the word).

The same way as a well-managed forest, this new system needs to incorporate a set of “firewalls” to protect the trees from arsonists and careless campers.  At the same time, it would remove dead wood from sight and help new plants (constructive comments) see the light of day.  It would basically nourish what strengthens the forest and starve what doesn’t.

Practically speaking, this means focusing less on “action” (solutions, strategies, etc.) and more on the relationships.  I am convinced that, once there is trust, solutions have the space to surface with ease.  But, with no trust, there will never be communication and common ground, no matter how well developed the idea may be.

“[I]t’s clear that how you say something matters nearly as much as what you say, and sometimes even more, because the message you’re trying to communicate won’t get through if people are turned off by your approach.”
                                – Andrea Weckerle

To help in gauging this, the proposed feedback system takes into account both the content (what) and the tone (how) within the comments.

It also brings further accuracy and nuance to the rating system, providing better feedback regarding our communication styles.

[Unfortunately, some communities have intrinsic (and financial) incentives to keep things polarized; they are obviously not our target market.  Similarly, the idea was to create a more sophisticated feedback tool for more sophisticated issues.  As such, not all online communities may be ready to be early adopters of such a system.]

I think the internet is a great place to start  in our quest for civility, and not only because incivility is so rampant and boldfaced (caps locked?) here.  I believe that if civility can reliably happen online, it could happen anywhere else.

I am convinced that this system would underscore our difficulties in speaking about controversial issues without blaming others.  And it would also give us a better understanding of what helps to escalate conflict and what helps to defuse it.

As I said initially, the internet gives us an unprecedented opportunity to understand one another.  By thinking of new ways to tap into this new and boundary-less human experience, we could be setting the building blocks for peace on a truly global level.

“The axis today is not liberal and conservative.  The axis is constructive-destructive.”
                                – Steve Jobs

Many thanks to Andrea Weckerle, Kami Huyse and Jimmy Wales of CiviliNation for their feedback and encouragement, and for their trailblazing work in making this common vision a reality.

You can watch the video presentation of the proposed feedback tool below.  This is a work-in-progress and, as such, your suggestions are welcome, as well as any interest in helping to develop and test the tool.

 

 

Snark Free Day 2013 – Lessons Learned & Hopes for the Future

 

This guest post by Jennifer L. Evans, Houston Affiliate of the PRConsultants Group and a member of the 2013 Snark Free Day Committee, talks about the spark behind PRCG’s Snark Free Day concept and what they hope to achieve in the future.

We’re proud to have been able to support them in this year’s effort and look forward to helping them grow their initiative in years to come.

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The subject of adult online bullying and general incivility came up repeatedly during the annual conference for PRConsultants Group in the spring of 2013. Atlanta affiliate Melissa Libby really inspired her colleagues to launch a volunteer-led awareness campaign for a one day break from snark. Louisville affiliate, Nicole Candler, volunteered to lead a committee effort that included creation of a web site, an awareness video, media relations outreach, a Facebook and Twitter campaign and a generally uncivil character “Jonathan Snark.” Our goal was and is simple – to reduce negativity, cynicism and snark in person and online for at least one day. Our call to action asked that participants share their campaign commitment with friends and family, fan the Facebook page, and then most importantly – on October 22 – walk the talk by being snark-free in all their communications with others ala Snark Free Day.

Was our one day campaign successful? We think so. Snark Free Day generated national attention with 1,000+ (and counting) hits all over the US in traditional media outlets, news reports, blogs, and social media channels by people who liked, didn’t like and/or were just generally amused by it – New York, Boston, California, Texas, Florida, DC, etc. Hundreds of people supported the Facebook event, confirming they would be “snark-free” for one day. Numerous individuals and groups have reported back to tell us how rewarding their experience was. In fact, one non-profit organization whose sole mission is focused on kindness saw their own Facebook page “fans” double in one week because of their engagement and advocacy of our campaign. By and large, there are people in the world around us who appreciate a gentle reminder to be a little kinder.

Were there pie-in-the-face moments? Not really. Like any idea that is promoted in our digital world, there were certainly some loud, negative and snarky responses from predictable (and unpredictable) sources. Some of the affiliates on the launch committee were surprised by friends and associates who either recoiled at the idea (citing that snark-free is counterproductive to PR or journalism or some other lame excuse) or generally ignored the call to action. That’s ok, maybe we’ll get them on board next year…

Yes, there will be a snark free campaign effort in 2014! Numerous ideas have poured in with suggestions on how to enhance the campaign, groups that want to participate in a bigger way and more. If you want to be a part of our future effort, please consider subscribing to our blog and/or sending a message to info@prconsultantsgroup.com asking to be on our “insider” list. Thanks to CiviliNation for encouraging others to participate in Snark Free Day – we look forward to working with you again in 2014!

 

Kindr: An App that Aims to Promote Kindness

 

This guest post by CiviliNation advisor Sue Scheff features a Q&A with Kindr founder Matt Ivester. It’s a fascinating read, cross-posted from Sue’s personal blog, that talks about how Ivester’s past experiences with online attacks helped shape the direction he’s taking today.

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Recently I was asked to interview Matt Ivester, the creator of the now defunct site JuicyCampus.com, a site that was a stomping ground for online haters and bullies. Thankfully, years later he’s turned things around by making a positive difference in the lives of students online.

Matt, who is also the author of the bestselling book lol…OMG!, explains why he changed course and is now focused on making a positive difference through projects such as his new Kindr app.

1.  What is Kindr, and what inspired its creation?

Kindr is an iPhone app that makes it fun and easy to send compliments to friends and family.  The compliments range from range from hilarious to light-hearted to sentimental. “You’d have a real shot at winning America’s Next Top Instagrammer, if that were a thing,” and “You always pick the best songs when riding shotgun” are two of my personal favorites.  Also, through a partnership with the Huffington Post, the app also provides a “Good News” feed featuring the inspiring acts of kindness that take place all over the world.

The inspiration for Kindr really came from thinking about cyberbullying, and asking ourselves “What’s the opposite of cyberbullying?”  We think the answer is kindness, and we’re excited about using the same technology that has enabled cyberbullying to become so pervasive to now make kindness go viral.

2. Your press release describes Kindr as “a technology company dedicated to making the world a kinder place.” Creating a kinder world is a very ambitious goal. Aside from creating the app, how do you envision making that happen?

At this point, we’re not sure what will come after the app. But our work with the app is far from over.  Building version one was the easy part.  In order to actually achieve our goal of making the world a kinder place, we’ve got to get a lot of people using the app.  We’ve got to get feedback from our users about what aspects they like and which could be better.  We’ve got to make it work outside the US.  And we’ve got to make it super viral.  We’ve had tens of thousands of compliments sent in just the first couple weeks here, but we want millions.  So for now we’re going to keep fine tuning it, listening to our users, and thinking up new ways to facilitate kindness through the app.

3. Increasing kindness online is obviously important to you. Some would say that compassion is even more important. Do kindness and compassion mean the same thing to you?

Kindness and compassion are certainly closely related, but to me they aren’t the same.  Compassion is the ability to empathize with others, understand that we all fall short sometimes, and that bad things can happen to good people.  Compassion is the emotion we feel when we see someone who needs our help.  Kindness is the action part that follows compassion – it’s what we do in reaction to that emotion.

That said, I’m a big believer in everyday kindness.  We don’t need a reason to be kind.  Sometimes the best kindness is kindness for its own sake.  There’s a great video called This is Water, which is derived from a commencement speech by David Foster Wallace.  You’d have to watch it to really understand, but basically, it likens fish swimming in water to us living our lives.  It points out that our “water” is made up of all the everyday situations we encounter like grocery shopping, waiting in line, driving in traffic, etc.  Kindr isn’t about any particular event, group of people, or period of time, that triggers compassion in us and leads to kindness. Instead, it’s about making every day better – to make the water a little more enjoyable to swim in.

4. Kindr is currently an iPhone app. Will you be creating a version for other platforms as well?

We would love to have an Android app (and Blackberry and Windows apps, too).  But with such a small team it just wasn’t feasible for launch.  It would be great if some big company heard about Kindr and offered some help to get us up on those platforms.  Barring that though, it will probably be a few months before we are available on any other platforms. It’s definitely a high priority for us, and in the meantime, everyone can always read the compliments sent to them, regardless of platform.

5. You wrote the book lol…OMG! What Every Student Needs to Know About Online Reputation Management, Digital Citizenship, and Cyberbullying. The book has been out for about a year now. What are the top things students have told you they’re glad you taught them about online behavior?

Over the past few months I’ve spoken at quite a few high schools, and having the opportunity to hear directly from students has been really interesting.  Recently, they’ve been asking a lot of questions about Snapchat, and many are surprised when I explain how easy it is to save the snaps they send to friends (either through a picture by a second phone, or with apps like Snap Save).  It definitely makes them think twice before using Snapchat to send provocative pictures.

The other thing that a lot of students appreciate knowing (before it’s too late) is that college admissions officers are increasingly using the Internet to find additional information about applicants.  The latest survey by Kaplan says that 27% of admissions officers have Googled an applicant to get additional information.  It really drives home the importance of being what I call “conscious content creators” and actively managing their online reputations.

6. A few years back you created JuicyCampus.com, which you described in your book as “the biggest college gossip website in the country) (first paragraph in Preface). Online gossip sites are often cesspools of attacking and demeaning behavior, some of them via the content they directly post, others via the comments, and frequently a combination of the two. JuicyCampus.com had its own share of well-publicized problems. How did JuicyCampus.com’s failings inspire you to join the anti-bullying movement?

I talk about JuicyCampus in terms of my own personal “lol…OMG!” experience.  I started it thinking it would be fun and funny (lol), only to realize later that it had unanticipated negative consequences (OMG!).  I was young, and the social Internet was still relatively new, so when I started the site I just didn’t understand how fundamentally different online gossip was compared to offline because of the permanence, immediacy and incredible reach of the Internet.

Running JuicyCampus forced me to confront issues of cyberbullying before the term “cyberbullying” was even in our vernacular. I’m glad that I have been able to take what was such a negative experience for so many people and turn it into something positive, first with my book and now with Kindr.