Yesterday the Guardianpublished the results of a research conducted on the over 70 million comments that have been placed at Guardian articles over the years. The question was: is there a pattern in who gets most abusive comments? Given the Guardian’s policy to block comments (blocked by moderators) when they are not aligned with the spirit of constructive debate, this constitutes an extremely dataset to explore online behavior (it is reassuring by the way that only 2% of the 70m comments were blocked!). It has been long felt that women, and in particular women speaking from a feminist perspective, receive much online abuse in reaction to what they write. (Comment sections are one such venue, but think also of Twitter and other social media platforms.) But crunching the numbers is the right way to go if one wants to move from the level of ‘impressions’ to more concrete corroboration. The results will probably not come across as surprising:
Although the majority of our regular opinion writers are white men, we found that those who experienced the highest levels of abuse and dismissive trolling were not. The 10 regular writers who got the most abuse were eight women (four white and four non-white) and two black men. Two of the women and one of the men were gay. And of the eight women in the “top 10”, one was Muslim and one Jewish.
And the 10 regular writers who got the least abuse? All men.
In recent times there has been quite some discussion on the phenomenon of internet shaming. Two important recent events were the (admirable, brave) TED talk by Monica Lewinsky, and the publication of Jon Ronson’s book So you’ve been publicly shamed. Lewinsky’s plight mostly pre-dates the current all-pervasiveness of the internet in people’s lives, but she was arguably one of the first victims of this new form of shaming: shaming that takes world-wide(-web) proportions, no longer confined to the locality of a village or a city. Pre-internet, people could move to a different city, if need be to a different country, and start over again. Now, only changing your name would do, to avoid being ‘googled down’ by every new person or employer you meet.
As described in Ronson’s book (excerpt here, interview with Ronson here), lives can be literally destroyed by an internet shaming campaign (the main vehicle for that seems to be Twitter, judging from his stories). Justine Sacco, formerly a successful senior director of corporate communications at a big company, had her life turned upside down as a result of one (possibly quite unfortunate, though in a sense also possibly making an anti-racist point) tweet: ““Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” From there on, her life became a tragedy of Kafkaesque proportions, and she’s only one of the many people having faced similar misfortunes discussed in Ronson’s book. Clearly, people truly delight in denouncing someone as ‘racist’, as in Sacco’s case; it probably makes them feel like they are making a contribution (albeit a small one) to a cause they feel strongly about. But along the way, for the sake of ‘justice’, they drag through the dirt someone whose sole ‘crime’ was to post a joke of debatable tastefulness on Twitter. But who has never said anything unfortunate, which they later came to regret, on the internet?
I expect many readers to be following the ongoing debate, prompted by a poll run by Leiter last week, on the (presumed) effects that blogs have had for professional philosophy, both at the level of content and at the level of ‘issues in the profession’. (Roberta Millistein weights in at NewAPPS, and I agree with pretty much everything she says; another summary at Feminist Philosophers.) Now, there is a sense in which I am personally not in a good position to have an opinion on this, simply because I haven’t been around long enough to know what it was like before, and thus to be able to draw an informed conclusion. But I can say that my very process of becoming a professional philosopher (not so much content-wise perhaps, but in terms of deciding on the kind of professional I wanted to be) was considerably influenced by reading in particular the Feminist Philosophers blog. Also, I won’t deny that my career as a whole has tremendously benefited from my blogging activity at NewAPPS and at M-Phi, both in terms of the opportunity to discuss my ideas with a larger number of people than would otherwise have been possible, and (more pragmatically) simply in terms of increased visibility and reputation.
But obviously, my individual experience (or that of other bloggers) is not what is under discussion presently; rather, the question is whether blogs have been good for the profession as a whole. This, however, is obviously a multi-faceted question; it may for example be read as pertaining to the quality of the scholarship produced, to be measured by some suitably ‘objective’ criterion. (As a matter of fact, I do believe that blogs have been ‘good’ for philosophy in this sense, for reasons outlined here for example.) But it may also pertain to the overall wellbeing of members of the profession, in which case the putative effect blogs will have had could be conceived of in terms of a simple formula: for each member the profession (I is the set of all professional philosophers), estimate the net gain (or loss) in professional wellbeing by comparing their situation before (wb) and after (wa) the advent of blogs; add it all up, and divide the total by the number of members considered.
Most readers have probably been following the controversy involving Carolyn Dicey Jennings and Brian Leiter concerning the job placement data post where Carolyn Dicey Jennings compares her analysis of the data she has assembled with the PGR Rank. There have been a number of people reacting to what many perceived as Brian Leiter’s excessively personalized attack of Carolyn Dicey Jennings’s analysis, such as in Daily Nous, and this post by UBC’s Carrie Ichikawa Jenkins on guidelines for academic professional conduct (the latter is not an explicit defense of Carolyn Dicey Jennings, but the message is clear enough, I think). UPDATE: supportive post also at the Feminist Philosophers.
It goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) that we, NewAPPS bloggers, fully support Carolyn’s right to post her important analyses of job placement data, and deplore the tone and words adopted by Brian Leiter to voice his objections to her methodology. (This is not the first time that episodes of this kind involving Brian Leiter and junior, untenured colleagues occur; I for one deem such episodes to be inadmissible.)
I theorized and defended my use of snark here, but I hereby renounce its use. Although I do not think it "apt" to describe New APPS as instantiating a "self-righteous lynch-mob mentality"* (if indeed that phrase was meant to encompass us among its targets), I will nonetheless refrain from further use of snark or sarcasm or related modes. I will instead simply point out the rhetorical moves I think some folks are making; if I think someone is proposing ad hoc and inflated standards of proof, I'll just say so. Etc.
Last week the Guardian had an interesting piece on academic blogging. The authors, academic bloggers themselves, conducted a small-scale study with 100 academic blogs as their sample set, in order to identify the main trends in what academic bloggers really write about. It is often said that blogging is an outreach/impact tool for academics, to reach out for the educated public at large, but this is not what came out of this study. The results were interesting: 41% of the posts were on what the authors call ‘academic cultural critique’, i.e. “comments and reflections on funding, higher education policy, office politics and academic life.” A similar number (40%) were dedicated to communication and commentary about research. The remainder 20% focused on other aspects of academic practice, such as teaching and career advice.
Now, clearly the wide majority of these posts were not written for ‘the public at large’ as their target audience. While some of the research communication (40%) could well be geared towards non-specialists, the authors of the piece seem to suggest that most of them were of a ‘researcher-to-researcher’ kind of communication. Is this worrisome? Does this mean that academic blogging is failing to deliver?
I’m a newcomer to the world of Facebook, having joined only
in June of last year. I resisted for as long as I could, until I gave in to the
pull of being kept abreast of what people are up to, posting pictures of my
kids for family and friends scattered around the world, and possibly also some
less noble motivations. For the most part, it’s been a pleasurable experience:
I came to realize that there is a lot of meaningful philosophical interaction going
on on Facebook (whereas mathematicians, for example, seem to prefer to hang out
at G+), and got in touch with many philosophers who I had little to no contact
with. But as any newcomer to anything, I had to learn the rules of the game, in
particular what to post and what not
to post. (Which is not to say that I’ve achieved mastery level at this point;
far from it, as discussed below the fold.)
No, it's not a Robert Ludlum novel; it's a problem we face everyday on the internet.
First, let's define "troll": a troll is someone making purposefully inflammatory statements in order to provoke a response to that statement, thereby setting the terms of the debate, or exerting a heavy time cost on people seeking to set the record straight or establish what the proper problem field should be.
Now, the troll quandry, which is a double bind: 1) ignore them and they control the discourse; 2) engage them and you acknowledge them as a worthy interlocutor rather than as, well, a troll.
The recommended solution, DNFTT, assumes that the cost of strategy 1 is less than that of strategy 2. What do readers think?
As some readers may have noticed, the Typepad comments filter tends to classify a lot of bona fide comments as spam. I find it particularly amusing how it systematically classifies as spam comments that I write *to my own posts*; presumably, it should at least know that the author of the post him/herself is unlikely to spam their own posts...
We NewAPPS'ers discussed how to solve the problem, but it seems that the only reasonable thing to do is to regularly check the spam box to see if there's anything stuck there. So if your comments do not appear immediately, even when you try to re-post it, you can wait a little while until one of us un-spams the comment. If this hasn't happened after a couple of hours, feel free to email the author of the post to let us know.
Self-consciously following the example of PEA Soup, our friends at Brains ("a group blog on topics in the philosophy and science of mind") have announced a redesigned website as well as "beginning next month, Brains will begin hosting three symposia each year on selected articles from Mind & Language." (Full disclosure: among the first round of commentators is our very own Mohan.) Brains is also introducing a series of Featured Scholars--an idea generously borrowed from the folk at Flickers of Freedom ("an intellectual web community animated by a
shared intrigue regarding the fundamental questions of action, agency,
and free will.")
The Guardian on a roll this week (and there's one more coming!). Here is an interesting article on internet trolling. Short summary: "When people upset us online, it's too easy to label them trolls. We're all still learning the right ways to act in this space." In other words: apply the principle of charity generously, and be parsimonious with accusations of trolling.
It would be great to see some discussion on this here in comments, but keep it nice! No trolling and no premature trolling accusations, please.
Those who endorse and practice the Gendered Conference Campaign are often asked: why focus on gender instead of other under-represented groups, such as people of color, disabled or GLBTQ philosophers? This question comes up so often that I thought it might be worth trying to formulate an answer to it.
First of all, let me submit that we should worry about under-represented groups in philosophy specifically and predominantly with respect to groups that have been historically oppressed. A friend half-jokingly asked me why I do not worry about the under-representation of skate-boarders at philosophy conferences; without having to resort to essentialism, I suppose we can all agree that there is an important difference in historical background here. That women, members of certain ethnic groups, disabled people, GLBTQ people, and specific other groups have a long and complex history of systematic oppression and social injustice, in particular with respect to education and academia, is (I suppose) beyond doubt. So no, it is not any random, gerrymandered under-represented group that deserves the same focus; there are long histories of inequalities for specific groups that we are trying to catch up with.
Nigel Thrift is a very important researcher in geography, as well as being Vice-Chancellor of the University of Warwick. Here he comments on the link of blogs and SR:
For one thing that I have found really interesting about the turn to speculative realism is that is has clearly been fuelled by online communities which have turned above all to blogs as an important means of swapping material, revealing first thoughts, and making revisions. I doubt that the growth of speculative realism would have been so insistent without these communities scattered all over the world, or so rapid. Why?
He then offers five blog-related reasons for the quick SR spread. His conclusion about SR:
So did these blogs have an effect? I think that they did. In the case of speculative realism, they allowed the field to agglomerate more quickly than it otherwise would and to gain momentum faster than it otherwise would have. Get enough people to feel that they are in on something and they will want to diffuse it outwards. I think that they have also produced a field which is more heterodox than might otherwise have been the case, more willing to draw on traditions which were not avowedly philosophical: they contributed to an interdisciplinary formation which has one foot in philosophy but another in all manner of intellectual communities.
But his overall conclusion should also be of interest to us in light of the history of philosophy discussions we have had here (most recently this one on Beiser's NDPR review):
In other words, this chapter in intellectual history shows how a new variant of communication can have formative effects, and in fascinating ways. As a result of it and similar episodes in other fields, I am now quite sure that archiving the Internet is a worthwhile activity for intellectual historians of the future because, when the problem is reasonably well-specified, blogs can show communities worrying away at the issues in all but real time.
When should young philosophers (or young people in the humanities in general) have their own webpage? And what should they put on it? In this post on anonymity and pseudonymity I thought it at least possible that good blog comments could add to one’s brand name, or, in old-fashioned, less marketized terms, one’s reputation.
But when and how should one use the net for positive name-branding / reputation-building? When? I’d say the earlier the better. How? Or, in other words, what should go on a personal website?
Basically everything you would put in an application packet, and more: your CV, a statement on research, a statement on teaching, research papers, conference papers and Power Points (be sure you save them in PDF with reduced file size), syllabi for courses you have taught or would like to / are qualified to teach, course materials (outlines, study questions, exercises), even a videotape of your teaching.
Of course you have to beware spending so much time on a nice website that it distracts from the work of producing good stuff to put on there! Links to examples of good graduate student personal websites would be very helpful. Don't be shy; it kind of defeats the purpose...
At New APPS, although we encourage the use of real names,* we also allow anonymous and pseudonymous commenters. Most of the time there are no problems, but sometimes anonymity or pseudonymity allows for, (or even encourages?) trolling** or just plain jerkitude. (It's not that people can't be trolls or jerks with their own name; it's just been my experience that most trolls -- if not jerks -- take advantage of the cover of anonymity or pseudonymity.)
But even beyond the trollishness or jerkitude there's something annoying about anonymous or pseudonymous trolls / jerks: it's insulting to the named interlocutor, as if that person would try to exact some meatspace revenge on someone for a blog spat! Even if someone could (but how? Write a letter to their department chair or dissertation advisor?), that's a terribly insulting thing to say to someone that they are so petty that they would.
* when I entered the US university political economy of teaching, which I did as soon as I became a TA (for me, immediately post-BA), there was no blogosphere. (I didn't wear an onion on my belt, though.) So I never had to face the question of using my real name when commenting on blogs. Now this has probably been discussed at length among current graduate students, so forgive me if it's obvious or clueless or insensitive, but it's at least possible that commenting with your real name can help your brand name: write smart, serious / witty comments and you may, albeit very, very marginally, help your job prospects. But maybe I'm not sufficiently attuned to the relevant risk-reward calculations?
** The problem with most trolls is their mediocrity. A good troll is an artist, and I would be thrilled beyond words were the Prince of Trolls, Floyd Alvis Cooper, or the Dark Lord Himself, Venus_Montgomery, to visit New APPS.