Category Archives: social bookmarking

On Moderation

The First Amendment prohibits Congress from making laws abridging the freedom of speech and generally has been interpreted to apply to state and local governments. In my experience, it does not provide untrammeled rights for an individual to say anything, at any time, in any context. The First Amendment also does not apply to a community on Facebook which was created and maintained by a private individual.

There are many public spaces and contexts in America where moderation by judges, speakers, teachers and other community leaders leading discussions can and must make decisions about speech.

To put it another way, moderation is not the antithesis of open government.

Many parliamentary procedures are based upon Robert’s Rules of Order, which require whomever is leading the meeting to effectively serve as a moderator, wielding a mighty big gavel.

Courtrooms are moderated by a judge, who maintains order in the court. Town halls are conducted by mayors, councils and/or media, all of whom serve as moderators. Classrooms and libraries are moderated by teachers and librarians, who lay out rules for participation and use that enable all students and members of a community to have the opportunity to learn and participate.

In each context, there are rules and consequences. People in a courthouse may be held in contempt after sufficient outbursts. If someone keeps making off-topic comments at microphone at a town hall, for instance, a town councilor running a meeting might ask him or her to answer the question that was posed or to cede the space. Students who insult other students or the teacher, interrupt a class, answer questions with off-topic subjects or threaten others with violence are asked to leave a class — or even suspended or expelled.

In online forums, I think a team of moderators who rotate and adjudicate decisions based on a transparent set of rules would be appropriate. I generally think of the blogs and communities I maintain as classrooms and moderate accordingly.

As the creator and moderator of the Google Plus Open Government & Civic Technology community, I’ve been faced with decisions every week since I clicked it into life, including removing posts or, unfortunately, sometimes banning users. Spam has been an ongoing challenge. I’ve shared my own standards for communication moderation online, which inform how I handle comments on social media and blogs in general

It’s critical for online forum creators and moderators to be clear about the expectations for members of a community, from topical focus to frequency of postings to commercial content to behavior towards others, and to act transparently to address the concerns of those communities. It’s not easy, as we’ve seen on Wikipedia or Reddit or blog comments, but if we’re going to have any hope of fostering civic dialogue online, it’s critical that we all figure it out together, building better tools and models that neither amplify the loudest voices in the chat room nor chill voices speaking truth to power than need to be heard.

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Filed under social bookmarking, social media, technology, journalism, government 2.0

Twitter opens analytics platform to public [TL/DR: images get more engagement]

I briefly logged into Twitter’s free analytics service again today, prompted by a conversation on (you guessed it) Twitter about the demographics of an account’s followers and the news that it was now open to all.

Today, any Twitter user can log in and access the online dashboard and see what Twitter says about how people are interacting with your tweets, among other insights.

I was glad to see that dashboard is definitely working better now than when Twitter first gave me partial access. (I could see follower demographics but not impressions). I know that some people may see these stats as fake-ish numbers, but I wish Tumblr, Pinterest, Vine, Instagram & Google+ offered similar free dashboards for their users — certainly, it would be great if Facebook did for people who turned on the Follow feature.

What did I learn?

digiphile-Twitter-follower-demographics-august-2014First, looking at the highest impression number (155,000 impressions on this tweet) I was reminded that the concept of “free speech zones” remains controversial in the United States, and that tweeting about them can result in a different kind “engagements” than RTs or Favorites: angry @replies from lots of strangers.

This is particularly true if combined with a journalist embroiled in controversy over a misidentification of ammunition and the #Ferguson hashtag.

Second, the gender numbers in the demographics of my followers continues to be heavily skewed toward men (81% vs 19%), a situation that has endured more or less ever since the beginning of 2010, when Twitter began recommending me to new users in its technology vertical.

I invite and welcome any and all women who like to follow me to do so here, if you’re interested in the sorts of things I tweet about, just as I do on Facebook or other social networks.

digiphile-engagement-twitter-august-2014Finally, what Twitter Media and News staff had already told people who are listening is backed up by what they’re showing me: including pictures, maps and graphics in your tweets will raises your “engagement” numbers, at least as measured by people resharing tweets, favoriting them, @mentioning or @replying to them.

I’ve intentionally done that more over the latter half of August, and it shows up in the data.

It takes longer to find the right image for a tweet but the effort can pay off.

Adding that to the process reminds me of how I described Twitter back in 2008: a distributed microblogging platform.

While a few tweets may still be produced and received as simple, humble text messages, as in 2006, many more are much more complicated, and have been for some time.

Back in 2010, the map of a tweet already looked like this under the hood, with some 30 lines of meta data.


Years later, updates to the platform are much more complex, with integrated cards, videos and pictures. As Twitter rolls out e-commerce from within tweets, I wonder if better dashboards for sales, subscriptions and other conversions might be on the way for the social media company’s customers, if not, perhaps, all of its users.


Filed under article, blogging, microsharing, social bookmarking, social media, Twitter

Reflections on online cruelty and kindness

This morning, I read an interesting reflection on dealing with online cruelty in the New York Times by Stephanie Rosenbloom:

In the virtual world, anonymity and invisibility help us feel uninhibited. Some people are inspired to behave with greater kindness; others unleash their dark side. Trolls, who some researchers think could be mentally unbalanced, say the kinds of things that do not warrant deep introspection; their singular goal is to elicit pain. But then there are those people whose comments, while nasty, present an opportunity to learn something about ourselves.

Easier said than done. Social scientists say we tend to fixate on the negative. However, there are ways to game psychological realities. Doing so requires understanding that you are ultimately in charge. “Nobody makes you feel anything,” said Professor Suler, adding that you are responsible for how you interpret and react to negative comments. The key is managing what psychologists refer to as involuntary attention.

When I checked her reference, I found that Rosenbloom made an error with her citation of research, along with failing to link to it: the 2011 report on teens, kindness and cruelty on social networking sites by the Pew Research’s Internet and Life Project she cited found that a vast majority of young people (88%) had “seen someone be mean or cruel to another person on a social network site,” not 69%. That percentage refers to a happier statistic: “69% of social media-using teens think that peers are mostly kind to each other on social network sites.

On that count, I’m glad the author chose to end with a reflection on kindness and the psychology involved with focusing on positive comments and compliments, as opposed to the negative ones. Anyone who wants to see how a positive feedback loop works should look at how Justin Levy’s friends & networks are supporting him, or how dozens and dozens of friends, family and strangers supported me when I lost my beloved greyhound this week.

I’m not sure about the New York Times editor’s summary — that the “Web encourages bad behavior,” through anonymity and lack of consequences.

I think that what we see online reflects what humans are, as a mirror, and that what we see on social media (which is really what is discussed here, not the World Wide Web) is 
1) a function of what the platforms allow, with respect to the architecture of participation, and
2) what the community norms established there are.

Compare newspapers’ online comments, YouTube comments and Twitter to what you find in the comments at Ars Technica, BoingBoing or even, dare I say it, in the blogs or public profiles I moderate. As Anil Dash has observed, the people who create and maintain online forums and platforms bear responsibility for what happens there:

It’s a surprisingly delicate balance to allow robust debate and disagreement on politics, current events, technology choices, or even sports (hello, tribalism) while guiding conversations away from cruelty, anger, or even hatred, whether we lead a classroom or an online discussion. The comments we allow to stand offline or online largely determine the culture of the class, town hall or thread they’re made within:

While people bear always responsibility for their own cruel actions or words, it’s incumbent upon those of us who host conversations or share our thoughts publicly online to try to respond with empathy, kindness and understanding where we can, and with polite but resolute moderation when others do not respond to those tactics or attack our friends and communities.

[IMAGE SOURCE: Amanda Lenhart, Pew Research Center]


Filed under article, blogging, friends, microsharing, personal, research, social bookmarking, social media, technology, Uncategorized

On unwiring

For the last decade, I’ve thought about going offline like Paul Miller. Turn off, drop off, tune in to life offline.

I’ve never done it. Thinking back, I don’t think I’ve been fully offline more than a month since 1999. I do periodically unwire. A night out here, a long bike ride there, a long weekend in the woods.

The last time it truly happened for more than 24 hours was in January in Anguilla, where I took long hikes, paddles, swims or went sailing without a connection. (I didn’t attempt a tweet during my kite boarding lesson.) Or last August, up in Cape Cod. Vacation is now virtually defined for me as being offline, without commitments. Before that trip, the last truly offline time was my honeymoon, in Greece, where, again, there was (often) no connection to be had.

I may still choose to share my experience and stay connected while I’m on vacation, or “paid time off,” as my former employer calls it, but doing so was always on my own time, at my own choosing. Each time I disconnect, I’ve learned something valuable about myself, both in terms of the person I’ve always been and the man I’ve become.

I’m glad Paul Miller did this and shared his experience. I think such reflection is important and the insight derived from it has always helped to shape and guide my subsequent choices about using technology.

In particular, his shift to finding other distractions, from games to television, was a reminder that we have agency in our own lives. We can choose whether and how to maintain our relationships, our minds, our bodies and our professional, intellectual or recreational pursuits, whether we’re connected or not.

It’s tempting to blame “the Internet” for poor choices or bad habits — and there are reasons to be cautious about how games or social networks tap into certain innate aspects of human behavior — but my personal experience with the network of networks has been enormously empowering and uplifting.

Your mileage, of course, may vary.


Filed under art, blogging, microsharing, nature, personal, photography, social bookmarking, social media, technology

The White House joins Pinterest, invites users to holiday social

The White House joined Pinterest today. Over the past several years, the White House digital team has sought to leverage the growing unprecedented scale of its connections on these networks to influence national debates on proposed laws, policies and rules, applying public engagement to politics with mixed results. Now the team will be pinning as well as tweeting, blogging, liking and plussing.

Source: via Alex on Pinterest

As has often been the case over the past four years, I learned about the news first on Twitter, directly from a tweet by White House Digital Director Macon Phillips:

The White House was able to secure the /whitehouse namespace* and began pinning at

The decision by the White House to join Pinterest comes as the photo sharing website enjoys a period of hypergrowth in 2012 that resulted in a ranking amongst the most popular social media platforms in the United States. According to Nielsen’s 2012 Social Media Report, Pinterest grew by over 1,000% over in the United States in 2012, with even high year over year growth in unique mobile Web (4,225%) and mobile app (1,698%) users. Given that the White House has an official presence on every other major social media platform, the move recognizes a new reality: Pinterest is now among the top five social destinations in the country, and therefore worth investing time and resources for staff to engage there.

The White House had already joined other popular social networks over the years, including:

Kori Schulman, the director of online engagement for the Office of Digital Strategy in the White House, blogged about the White House joining Pinterest at the blog. (Sam Byford was quite dubious about that “open” frame in his post at The Verge.)

Schulman described the White House’s new Pinterest account as another way to open up the White House to more people:

From the very beginning, President Obama and the First Lady have taken steps to make this the most open White House in history. “It’s the “People’s House,” said First Lady Michelle Obama, “It’s a place that is steeped in history, but it’s also a place where everyone should feel welcome. And that’s why my husband and I have made it our mission to open up the house to as many people as we can.”

That’s why the White House is open for virtual tours 24/7 through the Google Art Project and why you can follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and other places around the web. And, it’s why we’re now thrilled to add Pinterest to the list.

The holidays are an especially exciting time for the White House to start pinning. During the 2012 holiday season alone, more than 90,000 visitors will have the chance to tour the White House holiday decorations, all hung with care by a team of crafty staff and volunteers. To kick off our presence on Pinterest, we’re inviting some of our newest followers to join us for a Holiday Social at the White House. Pinners will be invited to check out the décor, meet with the people that helped transform the White House for the holidays, join us for a craft project — and share it all with the Pinterest community.

According to Schulman, the White House will roll out its first pinboards on December 17th, the day of its first “White House Holiday Social,” a new, more general term for an in-person meeting between White House staff and people who follow its official accounts on social media platforms.

The White House has held a series of “tweetups” for Twitter users over the past year, starting with the first Twitter Town Hall. (I went to the second White House tweetup, which coincided with an in-person town hall with President Obama at the University of Maryland, where he told students that he was “absolutely convinced that your generation will help us solve these problems.”

The new approach to a “White House Social” will be more broadly applicable to future meetups, assuming that a second Obama administration continues to value creating bridges between offline and online networks of supporters.

The last descriptor is key: the White House has been experimenting on the Internet, generally — and with social media, specifically — to share the images, media and ideas that the administration wants to promulgate to the country, from proposed policies to political action. White House staff, including communications director Dan Pfieffer, have gone on the record to say that they believe social media campaigns have affected the debt ceiling debate and led to offline outcomes.

The White House’s most recent effort at public engagement through social media, in which the administration encouraged Americans to share what $2,000 dollars meant to them, resulted in 100,000 submissions at and 250,000 tweets that used the #My2K hashtag. That conversation was catalyzed this past week when President Obama logged on to Twitter himself again for a presidential Q&A in which he urged Americans to call, email and tweet to Congress regarding the so-called fiscal cliff.

As I’ve written before, however, real issues with meaningful use of social media by Congress persist, including an online identity ecosystem that has not provided Congress with ideal means to identify constituents online. The reality, when it comes to which channels influence Congress, in-person visits and individual email or phone calls from constituents remain far more influential with Congressional staffers than tweets. The probability that pins will prove to be any more significant in political debates remains to be seen.

The White House won’t be politically pinning alone on Pinterest. While Massachusetts Senator-Elect Elizabeth Warren’s campaign stayed off of Pinterest because of worries that copyright infringement claims could lead the social sharing site to be shut down, a growing number of political campaigns and government entities have joined the platform over the last six months.

Why? Pinterest represents not just a new horizon for White House digital efforts but one in which a specific interest group — women — can be found in engaged numbers that they are not elsewhere. Pinterest is strongly identified with women, with Pew Internet research back in February 2012 finding that 1 in 5 women on the Internet are on the social sharing service.

Whether the White House’s pins resonate will also depend upon whether politics, Pinterest and political media become more intertwined. To date, blogs, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter have been the primary online forums for digital politics. In 2013, pinning may take on new significance.

*The White House digital team initially could be found as WhiteHouse44, not /WhiteHouse. At some point in December, they were able to secure the standard namespace. The first White House board was “inspiring.”


Filed under government 2.0, social bookmarking, social media, technology

Revisiting standards for moderation and community on social networks

If the Internet and social media represent the new public square, it’s important to talk about the rules of the road.

Over the past year, I’ve seen a lot of spam and pornography links on Google+, Facebook, Twitter and on comment sections of the blogs I maintain.

Google and Facebook both give us the ability to moderate comments and, if we wish, to block other people who do not respect the opinions or character of others.

Now that a lot more people are circling me on Google+, following me on Twitter and subscribing to me on Facebook, it’s time to revisit a post from earlier this years. If you have found your comment removed, I’d like to explain why and offer some guidelines. Here’s how I think about maintaining community, with a nod to ASU journalism professor Dan Gillmor‘s example:

I can and do block spammers and people posting links to pornography in my comment threads.

I generally leave comments on my blogs, precisely because I value conversations, despite the issues that persist online. I have been moderating discussion in online forums and blogs for many years, including those of my publishers. My full thoughts on the value of blog comments — and the social norms that I expect people comments to live within — are here.

Vilely insulting me won’t help your case. Insulting others will ruin it. I was a teacher in my twenties. I would not tolerate disrespectful behavior in my classroom, either to me or to other students. If you can’t be civil and continue to insult others, much less the person hosting the forum, you were asked to leave and see the principal.

If the behavior persists, you will lose the privilege of participating in the class at all. Eventually, you get expelled. On Google+ or blogs, that takes the form of being defriended, banned or blocked from my public updates. I prefer not to block users but I will do so. I respect your right to speak freely on your own blog, Twitter, Facebook or Google+ account, whether that involves cursing or ignorance.

I strongly believe in the First Amendment, with respect to government not censoring citizens. That said, I do not, however, feel obligated to host such speech on my own blog, particularly if it is directed towards other commenters. I believe that building and maintaining healthy communities, online of offline, requires that the people hosting them enforce standards for participation that encourage civil dialogue.

I hope that makes sense to readers. If not, you are welcome to let me know why in the comments. And if your approach differs, please explain how and why.

Following is a storify from a forum I participated in that featured perspectives from other people entrusted with online community moderation:

[View the story “A story of online community, comments and moderation” on Storify]


Filed under blogging, journalism, microsharing, social bookmarking, social media, technology, Twitter

Visualizing conversations on Twitter about #SOPA

Kickstarter data dude Fred Berenson visualized conversations around SOPA on Twitter: View visualization

@digiphile snapshot

His data crunching strongly implies that I’ve been a “supernode” on this story. I’m not surprised, given how closely I’ve been following how the Web is changing Washington — or vice versa.

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Filed under art, article, journalism, microsharing, research, social bookmarking, social media, technology, Twitter