Tag Archive: google


Carrying on the second part of Digital Commandments which were developed with a group of university students.  It is interesting to note how the pioneers of the internet, mainly American Computer Scientists, were very utopian about the new world they were creating.  There was a lot of talk of open-source sharing,  even Google started with its famous ‘Do no evil’ maxim.  The atmosphere has significantly changed, Google is now finding itself fighting legal cases all over the world.  Facebook has turned all its 2 billion users into products,  they have 15,000 employees but only 14 people/entities own more than 1% of its stock.  So in spite of all the cheerleader’s claims about Facebooks  ‘mission’  – as a company, its wealth is profoundly unequally shared and it seems non-meritocratic.

What can account for this mood-change when we think and talk about the internet? As the web became more commercialised those utopian voices are being drowned out by dystopian ones…. Which leads us nicely to the sixth digital commandment  :

6. Thou shall not gamble/spend online with money you do not have  (This led to the most heated debate of the night. Some of the students had heard horror stories of people blowing student loans etc.  Also  as one pointed out, ‘If you are looking at leaving uni with a 50k debt than you stop taking credit seriously until the bailiffs knock on your door’) 

7. Thou shall prioritise speaking to real friends ( We discussed the problems of social isolation, particularly acute withdrawal, which is growing problem on big campuses.  We agreed that is much more effective concentrating on sharing our problems with a few real friends – face to face – over a cup of tea.  The students were particularly interested in the MIT professor Sherry Turkle’s writing – such as ‘Alone Together – why we expect more from technology and less from each other‘ )

8 Thou shall avoid ‘false intimacies’  ( All seemed to agree that when you are lonely, which we all can be, trying to fill the void online led to all sorts of dark places and the risks of blackmail or manipulation seemed to be increasing.  This was something where the ability to digitally discern was important  )

9. Thou shall be true to thyself  ( Many friends are projecting false images and lifestyles into their digital lives …. which leads to jealousy, comparing yourself all the time. To be a digital missionary was about integrity, not using a false name, not doctoring images etc)

10. Thou shall be an online peacemaker  (There’s a lot of anger out there and we don’t need to add to it!) 




trollsIt has long been a concern of mine the amount of anger on the internet and the corrosive effect of trolling.   I am particularly concerned with the effect of trolling on the young people I work with.  A major concern for young people is to create an online identity, which makes them particularly vulnerable to trolling – as ridicule, jealousy and betrayal create wounds that are not easy to heal.  The unique environment of the internet creates ‘collapsed contexts’ i.e. the audience is unlimited, and potentially world wide, unlike the normal fixed context of a face to face conversation with a friend or a group of friends.  One aspect of the unlimited context is that when someone is bullied on line or humiliated they start imagining that all of their friends and family have witnessed this (whereas usually a handful of people might have read the comments) .  This then leads to a toxic spiral downwards and self harming or the occasional tragic suicides, that seem to be linked to sites such as ask.fm.

We are building a community on-line and it us up to us what type of community we are building.  Certain people have a lot more power and influence than others – Zuckerberg (Facebook), Schmidt (Google) etc.  With that power comes responsibility and their is little evidence of them taking this seriously.  Have you noticed how  on certain sites, You Tube, Facebook you just expect to see angry and nasty comments whereas on other sites e.g, Flickr – the tone of the comments is much more positive?   I think a link can be made here to the famous ‘broken window’ theory in criminology.   This explanation comes from the original 1982 article in Atlantic Monthly –   Consider a building with a few broken windows. If the windows are not repaired, the tendency is for vandals to break a few more windows. Eventually, they may even break into the building, and if it’s unoccupied, perhaps become squatters or light fires inside.Or consider a pavement. Some litter accumulates. Soon, more litter accumulates. Eventually, people even start leaving bags of refuse from take-out restaurants there or even break into cars.

The point is that further petty crime and low-level anti-social behaviour will be deterred if you fix the windows and clean the litter, and that major crime will be prevented as a result.  On Facebook and You TBroken windows on an old brick factoryube therefore there are many broken windows, which means that trolls feel very happy to go in and send offensive messages.  However on Flickr and other places informal social controls can be an effective strategy to reduce unruly behaviour.  Effective moderating and community watchmen can change the feel of a website and its comment threads.  Perhaps more political pressure needs to be put on Google (who own YouTube) and Facebook to start taking responsibility.