Kudos and Criticism in Cyberspace

cyberstalker

The anonymous face of the web

Once the domain of faceless corporations and tech savvy cybernerds, the internet has become the virtual playground of the Twenty-first century. The boom in internet use that has resulted from the rapid uptake of digital technology, and which has seen the number of websites grow to over 600 million in 2013 has made cyberspace a very familiar place for the majority of the 2.4 billion users that now regularly access the web . Having this level of instant access to the web has added a new, conceptual kind of social interaction to our normal daily discourses.

Sites like Blogger or WordPress, Tumblr and Facebook have generated an online subculture that shares (and often over-shares) their experience, knowledge or even random thoughts with anyone that cares to read or watch them. Like everything else that we create, this subculture generates both a light and a dark aspect to its application.

Facebook Turns Ten

stalking-on-facebook

Happy Tenth Birthday Facebook!!

In a recent post to his timeline Mark Zuckerberg gushed effusively about how fantastic the first decade of Facebook has been for him personally. He waxes lyrically about the humble beginnings of what has gone on to become an almost global phenomenon that has, in many ways, redefined the nature of our social interactions as we enter a new millennium. While most of the MSM focused on Zuck’s enthusiasm for the Facebook community that has evolved, my personal takeaway from his edict was his reflection on why he was ‘the chosen one’:

“When I reflect on the last 10 years, one question I ask myself is: why were we the ones to build this? We were just students. We had way fewer resources than big companies. If they had focused on this problem, they could have done it.
The only answer I can think of is: we just cared more.”- Mark Zuckerberg

To commemorate the momentous occasion of the decennial of Zuck’s vision becoming a reality the 1.23 billion Facebook users are invited to view an online video look back of their contribution to the site. Looking over Zuck’s own video I didn’t see evidence that he cared any more than the average guy and the sanitized infographic that Facebook released to illustrate its evolution from a small student networking site at Harvard into the second most visited site on the internet notably skips past some of the less well received experiments that have been made on the website in the past ten years.

While Zuckerberg tries to focus on the positive things to have come out of Facebook, saying “It’s been amazing to see how all of you have used our tools to build a real community. You’ve shared the happy moments and the painful ones. You’ve started new families, and kept spread out families connected. You’ve created new services and built small businesses. You’ve helped each other in so many ways”, along with the opportunity to build that network of Facebook friends comes the temptation, overwhelming to some, to use the social sphere to less constructive ends. This dark side to the Facebook phenomenon is one that Zuck and his team are less comfortable talking about and, as anyone that has tried to have an offensive image or comment removed from the site will already know, Facebook really doesn’t give much of a fuck about how its users abuse their newfound freedom to comment on anything and everything that happens in the world.

How Web 2.0 Changed the World

Facebook stalking meme

A two way street?

In the age of Web 2.0 technology that has put the power of the internet into the hands of the average user, social media has created a platform that has encouraged people to engage with others on the web. This has created an environment where whatever you do or say either on the web or offline, there will be those that either love it or hate it and, with the immediacy of the access that is now available to users, their kudos or criticism can now be uploaded for very public consumption in a snap.

The technology for Web 2.0 has been around since the late 1990s but it didn’t reach anything near its full potential until 2006 when internet connectivity finally became a standard part of most households. It was the usability of the new configuration of the internet that made it a viable product that average people wanted to be engaged with. Blogging became a cool pastime for ordinary people and sites like MySpace and Facebook evolved the interwebz into a public forum where people (often unwisely) aired their differences with as much regularity as they shared photos of their cat or their dinner.

“The new Web is a very different thing. It’s a tool for bringing together the small contributions of millions of people and making them matter. Silicon Valley consultants call it Web 2.0, as if it were a new version of some old software. But it’s really a revolution.”- Lev Grossman Time Magazine, You- Yes, You are Time’s Person of the Year, Monday, Dec. 25, 2006

This early description of Web 2.0 delineates the advantages of having this level of individual connectivity in glowing terms without even a hint of the shadow that it also has the potential to cast over its billions of interactions. In 2006 it was perhaps too early to see how this new technology would change the way that we interacted with others and the impact that having anonymous (or nearly so) access would influence the attitudes and behaviors of individual users.

In its most constructive form this interaction, even when it is critical, is one of the best things to have evolved out of the interwebz and the ultimate extension of the original intention behind Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s original vision of the web as “a substrate for humanity, as something on which humanity will do what humanity does and the questions as to what we as individuals and we collectively do, are still just as important and just as much as before, up to us.”

This concept of the interwebz as a place where we do “what humanity does” raised the question of what is and what isn’t appropriate behavior in cyberspace. Even Berners-Lee saw the potential for the misuse of his invention, saying “I suppose the question is to what extent the people use it for things which should seriously concern us. For example, are people using the web to get information about how to do illegal things, whether it’s to make explosives, how to kill people, poison people, or whatever it is. So there’s a certain amount of danger that this tool can be used for bad purposes. It’s a very powerful tool.”

The Importance of Kudos to Business

yelp-bad-reviews

The cyber-complaints department

Of course the real reason for the development of Web 2.0 hasn’t been so that we can all Tweet our latest insignificant thoughts or post selfies on Instagram. It is designed primarily as an advertising medium to support that most human of activities, buying and selling. It has become such an integral part of the sales funnel for many businesses that a corporate presence on the web is as essential as a brick and mortar showroom to success. Many businesses now rely on their online advertising to attract customers to the sales floor.

To facilitate this emerging market sites like Epinions began to appear that took advantage of the ability for users of the new Web 2.0 technology to add their information to existing websites in the form of reviews. The intention was (as Epinion’s byline puts it) to provide a platform for “unbiased reviews by real people” and the service has been such a great success that most estimates indicate that as many as 92% of internet users read reviews and 89% say that reviews influence their purchasing decisions. The demand that ecommerce created for online reviews has spawned a long list of similar websites in the decade or so since this new feature was first added to the purchase funnel.

Websites like Yelp, Google+ Local and Local.com have become standard reference points for consumers that are looking for anything and everything that they want to buy. At the same time, because of their very nature these sites have become a soap box for consumers to express their feelings about products or services that they have paid for. Because satisfied customers are less likely to tell others about their purchase experience (studies indicate that dissatisfied customers are inclined to tell between 9-15 people while 13% will tell more than 20 while satisfied customers only tell 4 to 6 people about their positive experience) these review sites have become a controversial tool in the online marketing world. On one hand they provide an easily accessible touch point for new customers to discover a business while on the other hand they create a platform where it is more likely that disgruntled consumers will air their grievances against the business. This requires that businesses take a very proactive and narrow path in managing these online properties and a workable code of conduct for dealing with this new aspect of their advertising.

Negative SEO and Facebook Bullies

negative-seo

Black hat SEO

The importance of these online directories has increased as internet usage has moved towards being a mobile activity and smart phones have allowed us to access information about businesses and their products on the spot. Because of the immediacy and the user relevance of all of this data, search engines rate it very highly and use customer reviews as one of the key indicators for assembling the SERPs for business or product related searches. This, in turn, gives those businesses that have more customer interaction at the top of the search results. If those interactions are generally positive then the influence on potential customers will also be generally positive but, as it would seem is more likely to be the case, if the reviews are negative then this will be the impression that is created for a new customer that has found a business via one of the search engines.

In the highly competitive world of business this creates an opportunity for (unscrupulous) operators to flood their competitors’ directory listings with negative reviews in an attempt to divert new customers away from their showrooms. This sort of practice is more prevalent in some industries like the restaurant trade where a good rating on Urban Spoon or Zagat can make quite a lot of difference to the weekly takings. The practice of spamming (that is really what this amounts to) your competitors’ online listings like this has become known as negative SEO and it has come to be viewed as a definitely ‘black hat’ online marketing technique. In fact, it is frowned upon so much that it is one of the surest ways to be banned from most of these sites and even Google will eliminate your URL from their SERPs if they catch you at it.

Business directories are only one place where this sort of underhanded use of Web 2.0 platforms goes on and, because most brands keep some sort of social media presence, sites like Facebook are also prime targets for these tactics to be used. And, because all of the users of these networks are ultimately presented almost as a brand themselves, sites like Facebook also create a place for people to leave their opinions about others where they are very likely to be seen by all of their friends and family. This is the doorway to the darker side of social media that Zuckerberg skates around so carefully in his reminiscences on the evolution of his new social tool.

The online Bully

The online Bully

If negative SEO attacks can have so much power in the business world (it is currently illegal in many countries) how much more influence can a negative social media campaign have against a private individual. Three factors make social media the perfect medium for making assaults on someone’s character. Firstly, the nature of social sites means that many of the influencers in a person’s life will be connected with them via their webpages and so anything that is written on them will be highly visible in their peer groups and to employers etc. Secondly, the prevalence of mobile technology and the suitability of social media to an always connected environment make access easy and, finally, the ability to disguise a true identity behind an alias so as to preserve anonymity and avoid direct responsibility often empowers people to do things on the web that they may not do in meat space. All of this has seen the bullying move from the schoolyard to the internet and stalkers now follow your trail through cyberspace rather than by hiding in the bushes in your front garden.

Virtual Crime and Punishment

cyber crime scene

The scene of the crime

As is the case with most new technologies that come along, legislation to govern our use of the internet has been slow to develop. This is most likely due to the lack of a clear definition for the use and misuse of new technologies as people become used to dealing with them and find ways to use them which, whilst not illegal (at that moment), are not in accord with society’s expectations. So, as people begin to use new technologies, new laws evolve to govern their misuse and where computers are involved, the complexity that they represent naturally generates complex legislation to govern the purview of their lawful application.

The laws that govern our use of cyberspace are generally divided into legislation against specifically digital properties, like hacking someone’s email account or Facebook page, and using digital technology to make a personal attack on someone. The hacking laws were developed (at least here in Australia) late in the 1990s to protect computers against hackers and to make creating malware an offence. These laws are covered in Division 477 of the Federal Criminal Code (1995) and outline a range of high-tech crimes that have evolved out of the digital age. In short it says:

“A person is guilty of an offence if the person causes the unauthorised access, modification or impairment of a computer or the data held in a computer with the intention to commit, or facilitate the commission of, a serious offence against a law of the Commonwealth, a State or a Territory (whether by that person or another person) by the access, modification or impairment.   Penalty:  10 years imprisonment.”

The second kind of legislation took much longer to evolve in the Parliament as its effects are far more insidious and difficult to prove. The boom in social media use has also created the conditions for the development of new interpersonal forms of communication and, while many of these new connections are very positive they have also created the conditions for their abuse and the new crimes in cyberspace at the beginning of the new millennium are cyberstalking and cyber bullying.

In June 2011 the Victorian Parliament amended the stalking laws to include the use of digital technology to harass someone. This law, now called Brodie’s Law, is an amendment to the Crimes Act (1958) and especially affects the Stalking and Personal Safety Intervention Orders acts (2008 and 2010). It makes it an offence to use the internet or a phone in a threatening, harassing or offensive way, making threats, stalking (including messaging someone to harm or scare them), accessing internet accounts without permission, defamation (spreading lies to intentionally hurt someone’s reputation) or encouraging suicide and carries a penalty of 2 years imprisonment.

How Far is Virtually Too Far?

This second type of virtual crime is much less concrete that the older anti-hacking laws simply because terms like ‘threatening’, ‘harassing’ and ‘offensive’ admit to a certain openness of interpretation. Unlike creating a virus that tries to steal users’ data (like credit card numbers and bank account details) from their hard drive, the effects of cyber stalking can be hard to pin down and their effects aren’t always as obvious as the case of the young woman for whom the law in Victoria has been named.

change.org logo

change.org logo

The recent death of an Australian celebrity which was apparently a suicide that was, at least in part, motivated by a bad reaction to cyber bullies, has once again brought the issue into the very public spotlight of the mainstream media. For the moment at least, this has put a very public face on the usually unknown victims of these crimes and has generated a huge amount of sympathy from the public that has seen over 40,000 signatures being added to a petition on Change.org demanding that the government and social media sites like Twitter take a stronger stance on cyberbullying. Of course the petition doesn’t have any concrete definitions for any of its demands and so it is really something of an empty gesture but at the same time it encourages us to ask where the line in the virtual sands lies between the use and the abuse of social media sites. At what point does sharp, stinging criticism become offensive harassment and exactly when does satire step over the line and become character assassination?

Because personal cyber-attacks come directly into the victim’s home via the web or their mobile phone it seems to share a lot in common with traditional domestic violence and for this reason the cyber specific stalking laws are amendments to the statutes that govern intervention orders. Generally, a transgression of acceptable cultural norms or a violation of another person’s rights in the form of indexed criminal behavior is a commonly accepted, although broad definition of domestic violence. Closer examination reveals that it is really a cluster or pattern of interrelated behaviors, which cannot only impact another person’s freedom and rights but also effect various aspects of physical health and emotional wellbeing and a comprehensive definition of domestic violence now includes all behaviors that exert physical force to injure, control, or abuse an intimate or family member, forced or coerced sexual activity, destruction of property, acts which threaten or abuse family pets, as well as nonphysical acts that threaten, terrorize, personally denigrate, or restrict freedom (Psychological Abuse in Violent Domestic Relations, edited by Daniel O’Leary, PhD, Roland D Maiuro, 2004). At the moment this defines behavior that would be considered to be cyberbullying or cyberstalking.

This implies that when your tweets shift from disagreeing with a point of view on some topic to making denigrating comments that refer to the person rather than what they have said that you may have strayed into cyberbullying territory. Similarly, stalking some celebrity or even just harassing someone that you don’t like via their Facebook page by leaving denigrating or purposefully damaging comments may be illegal and constitute a serious indictable offence regardless of whether you have any physical contact with the person or not. In addition, comments that you don’t consider to be offensive and which weren’t made with any intention of causing distress may be interpreted as being abusive by the person that receives them and, potentially, by the magistrate that they approach for an intervention order to make you stop making them. It is this uncertain level of interpretation that will continue to make these internet laws a point of public discussion for many years to come.

All of this also makes it a sure bet that the operators of the huge social media sites like Facebook and Google+ aren’t going to involve themselves in the social morass by taking responsibility for monitoring or removing any potentially litigious content until the definition of what is abusive on the web is much more clearly defined. In the meantime, as these issues become more commonplace it still may be alright to jump onto your friend’s Facebook account while he’s passed out to post embarrassing pictures of him, but don’t be surprised if he slaps you with an intervention order for your trouble.

 

References:

Facebook’s Decennial

http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2014/02/03/facebook_10th_anniversary_social_network_turns_10_looks_back_at_its_history.html
http://www.dailystar.co.uk/tech/363872/FACEBOOK-TURNS-10-Here-s-ten-fun-facts-you-never-knew-on-Facebook-s-10th-birthday
http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-02-04/facebook-turns-10-the-social-network-in-numbers/5237128
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Facebook

Web 2.0

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Web_2.0
http://www.webopedia.com/TERM/W/Web_2_point_0.html

Online Presence Statistics

http://www.reviewpro.com/reputation-research-statistics-2767
http://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20130604134550-284615-15-statistics-that-should-change-the-business-world-but-haven-t

High Tech Crime

http://www.afp.gov.au/policing/cybercrime/hightech-crime.aspx

Criminal Code Act (1995)

http://www.comlaw.gov.au/Details/C2012C00776/Html/Text#_Toc339546822

Crimes Amendment (Bullying) Act 2011

file:///C:\Documents%20and%20Settings\D%20G%20Mattichak\My%20Documents\Downloads\11-020a.docx
http://www.justice.vic.gov.au/home/safer+communities/crime+prevention/bullying+-+brodies+law
http://www.findlaw.com.au/articles/4793/cyberstalking-and-the-law-.aspx

Charlotte Dawson Cyber Bullying Petition on Change.org

http://www.change.org/en-AU/petitions/the-australian-government-charlotte-s-law-tougher-cyber-bullying-legislation

Psychological Abuse in Violent Domestic Relations, edited by Daniel O’Leary, PhD, Roland D Maiuro, 2004

http://books.google.ca/books?id=pv6XIjT4MpUC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false

Posted in Computers, D G Mattichak jr, media, social media | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Layering Social Conventions on Facebook

Middle-Finger-1

Communications in the Digital Age

I had the experience of being formally ‘unfriended’ on Facebook recently and it gave me pause for thought about the way that social media has changed the way that we interact with people in the Digital Age. While the naysayers and luddites trumpet on about the internet having a degenerative affect on our social skills, this incident showed me that, in fact, quite the opposite is true. Facebook has added layers of complexity to our basic relationships that its designers doubtlessly never dreamt of as being a part of their user experience.

In many ways, this act of unfriendliness demonstrated how much the internet has added to our social interactions in microcosmic form. The trouble all began when I made a new friend. Seemingly, this is an innocent enough thing to have done. I first met the new friend on Facebook and we later became acquainted in meat-space and our cyber-friendship evolved. The problem with this was that a certain faction among my old friends harbored animosity for the newly acquired acquaintance which simmered away until it finally reached a zenith of social necessity.

It seems that the catalyst that finally necessitated the drawing of cyber-battle lines revolved around the evergreen motive for online hostilities (at least in the uber secretive world of arcane occult societies)- the publication of an image on a website. As I happened to be the designer of this particular piece of real estate in the blogosphere, I was approached to remove the offending picture. My reply was, that while I was the web designer I was not the webmaster and their request should be directed to the owner of the website. Apparently, inflammatory e-mails were exchanged like cannonades across the void of cyberspace and, after these opening hostilities, ambassadors were sent out to inform all of the parties not directly connected to the conflict between the two warring states, but who have pre-existing diplomatic ties, exactly which side they are not on. And so it was that the embassy from one side delivered my “unfriending” in a formal manner so that I could be made aware of the general disapproval in my choice of associates.

In synopsis; the “unfriendly” notification informed me that the “unfriender” (let’s call him ‘the party of the first part’) had had a very nasty message delivered via his inbox from my webmaster friend (hereafter referred to as the party of the second part) and, as I was the obvious connection between them (I still don’t quite know how when this is actually a squabble between witches and I am not, nor have I ever been, nor will I ever want to be a witch of any description whatsoever), that I (referred to as ‘the party of the third part’) was to be banished from the part of cyberspace currently under the control of the party of the first part (and their immediate associates). I know- it is complicated from where I am looking at it too.

Unfriend

One Less on Facebook

Now, I have been “unfriended” in the past but the process is generally not so formal. The usual practice, as most of us would already be familiar with it, generally involves being deleted quietly from someone’s friends list and barred from having access to the private information and innermost thoughts that they post for 1 billion people to read on the web. This added facet to the “unfriending” process at first seemed like a call back to the schoolyard where your 3rd grade buddy told you that he couldn’t be friends with you anymore because the cool kids said so (it is also kind of like the way that your buddies’ spouses tell them not to go to the pub or play the horses with them anymore). Obviously, the “unfriender” could have just clicked on the delete button and been done with it but taking the time to send me a note to inform me of my impeding state of “unfriendedness” implies a deeper communication (unless the cool kids got to him).

This added layer of intention is a part and parcel of the social media experience and has fundamentally changed the way that we interact socially. In the dark ages before the interwebz (yes there was such a time), nobody would write somebody a nice note to tell them that they had decided to scratch their name out of the rolodex. Communications with people that you had chosen to “unfriend” tended to fall into one of two categories; legal proceedings or death threats. Nobody’s mum made them sit down and write the kid down the road a nice note to say that they weren’t allowed to play with them anymore- you just avoided them at the pub and stopped answering the phone when they called.

Dislike

When will Facebook add this essential function?

The separation afforded by the internet has made it possible to add a layer of complexity to the process of dumping someone from your birthday party invitation list. It allows you the comfort of being able to let them know exactly which character flaws you cannot abide, express your disappointment in their life choices and still maintain the mask of regret at having to sever ties, creating an image, at least internally, that you have done everything possible to save the relationship with an otherwise irredeemable rogue. Not only is this process of justification a salve for your conscience but it allows you to cut off the party of the third part on your own terms- or so you think anyway.

Where, except on Facebook could social interactions develop such levels of complexity?

How to Unfriend Someone on Facebook- Mashable

Posted in blogging, D G Mattichak jr, Des Reaburn-Jenkin, media, social media | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

The Opening Salvos in the Election of the Next Wizard of Oz

Unless you live in The Land Down Under you are probably unaware that Australians will be called upon to exercise their democratic right to elect their next Fearless Leadership to sit in the (somewhat) hallowed halls of the Parliament on 7 September. Our duly elected overlords have been softening the populace up to the idea since the beginning of the year when then Prime Minister Julia Gillard (remember her? me either) announced the auspicious day as 14 September.

A Political Sacrifice

Winning the favor of the voting public

Since then Julia has become the former PM and the former PM Kevin Rudd (of Kevin 07 fame) has been reinstalled in the top job (it isn’t as confusing as it sounds) after a “Night of the Long Knives” during which the shadowy men in grey suits of the Australian Labor Party sacrificed Ms. Gillard on the Altar of Political Propriety in an effort to reinstate their previously high popularity with the electorate in the face of the rapidly approaching Day of Reckoning. This sacrifice was held to appease the Kraken beast of poor performance in the Polls of Public Opinion and, in the time honored tradition of the Westminster Parliamentary system, the party threw the sacrificial victim into the volcano to gain the favor of the gods so that the people would love them as much as they had once done.

Almost the first thing that the new PM did was to announce a new election date and kick off the 2013 Labor campaign in earnest. His opposition in the upcoming bout, Tony Abbott, seemed reasonably ready for this turn of events and pushed the start button on the Liberal’s efforts to win government in response. With the armies of the two opponents assembled on the field they drew the battle lines by informing the Australian public of the important issues that they would debate in the coming weeks and the battle commenced.

What This Election is About

Rudd vs Abbott

Rudd vs Abbott
photo- Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Both leaders began by telling the voting public what the upcoming election will be about- which is handy because we thought that it was about the economy (or at least 38% of us thought that it was kind of important to debate). In fact, according to Kevin, the election will be about a “New Way” in government that moved away from the “wall-to-wall negativity” that has been dominant. Meanwhile, the Fearless Leader (FL) of the Liberals told us that it is “not about Mr. Rudd, it’s not about me, it’s about you” (I think that an ex girlfriend said that to me once).

So now that the issues have been made so clear to me, I settled in to watch my fourth favorite spectator sport (behind cricket, Formula 1 and Australian Rules Football), politics. The opening salvo was fired on both sides when the protagonists met for the first Leaders’ Debate at the Press Club. In this opening round, the two leaders really didn’t say anything new and really limited themselves to squaring up to the opposition and testing his defenses. In spite of what they both said, the election will be decided by the economic policies that are put forward and the track record that both parties have accrued.

Show Me the Money

In the red corner (Labor), Kevin has the strong Australian economy and a less fascist approach to dealing with refugees that arrive here (but only slightly left of the Liberal Fuehrer). His weakness is his record of being hard to work with and for making unilateral decisions. In the blue corner (Liberal), Tony is strong on rhetoric and focused on finding fault with the government’s current efforts but has a fiscal weakness that can only grow into a serious debilitation unless he explains how he is going to slash taxes and still pay for everything (without slashing social services to do it).

Kevin veritably beams as he says the words “Triple A Credit Rating” and the clouds part as the Light descends from the heavens and angels trumpet him in his glory. Tony grimaces at this same phrase; in the current global economic situation it is tantamount to a Political Weapon of Mass Destruction (PWMD). His feeble efforts to remind us that Kevin took the nation from a surplus (i.e. we had money in the bank) to a $250 billion deficit are drowned out by the national pride at having a better credit rating than most of the Western World. The reality is that they are both right and they are both wrong.

The surplus that Tony keeps banging on about was achieved through the sale of the national telephone network, Telstra, which was in itself a major disaster for Abbott’s predecessor John Howard (George Bush’s arse kissing buddy who was dubbed a “Man of Steel” by George Dubbaya for jumping striaght into the War on Terror in 2001). Kevin’s AAA credit rating came on the back of a mining boom that was fortuitously timed to offset the crashing global economy and which is now winding back as the orders for Aussie minerals goes into decline in a recessive world economy. So, in the end, they are arguing about money that they don’t have to spend anyway.

Same Sex Marriage and Other Social Media Driven Policies

The Simpsons Same Sex Marriage

Even Homer’s on board with it

Another formidable weapon in Rudd’s armory is his announcement of a conscience vote on the issue of same sex marriage. This issue is currently accounting for a large percentage of the newsfeed on most social media sites as countries around the world pass laws to recognize these unions. It is such a contemporary hot button topic at the moment that Obama cites it as a major ideological difference between his government and the policies of the Russian president Putin. With that kind of exposure it is an issue that already comes with a highly polarized and focused support mechanism that any politician that is worth his salt would try to leverage.

Apparently Tony isn’t on Facebook very often because in his words same sex marriage is “an important issue, but not the most important issue” and he vaguely promises to put it on the table at some time in the future.  On the other hand, Kevin’s finger is on the pulse of the people when he promises to put his conscience vote to the Parliament with 100 days of being reelected. This exposes the real weakness that is endemic in the Liberal camp with handling social media and the internet in general while Kevin is obviously more tuned in to the pace of cyber opinion. He also understands the widespread feeling that Australia should be a part of this modern zeitgeist by being at the forefront of these sorts of sensible libertarian movements, rather than following the lead of other countries.

Refugee Boat Welcomed by the RAN

The Royal Australian Navy Welcomes Some New Visitors
photo news.com.au

Another issue that has social media working against both sides is the stream of refugees that arrive on Australian shores every week. As of April 10 this year there had been 75 boats carrying 5031 asylum seekers that had arrived illegally in Australia. That amounts to about 15,000 refugees arriving here every year which, when compared to the 60,000 that apply for asylum in the US or the 300,000 that arrive in European countries every year is quite small. In fact, according to the UN, Australia accepts only about 3% of the asylum claims made in industrialized countries and that the levels of refugees arriving here remain very low in comparison. The issue of their illegal status is also Liberal bunkum as Australia is signatory to the UN Refugee Convention that makes it legal for people to enter a country to seek asylum regardless of how they arrive.

This works against Tony and the Liberal Nazi Party and he is constantly beating the “Stop the Boats” drum even though it is physically impossible to do anything to curtail the exodus of refugees. When asked how he will stop them he has no answer and that is because it would be illegal for him to send them away. In the red corner, Kevin is talking tough about setting up refugee camps in Papua New Guinea, but this is just an obvious band aid solution that will be dropped like a hot potato as soon as the Labor Politburo is back in the driver’s seat. The reality is that they are arguing about something that neither of them has any control over (again).

Taxes and More Taxes (but Never Less Taxes)

Tony Abbott in the Ring

Tony Takes One on the Chin

Neither leader wanted to discuss the details of their tax plans in the opening round of the great bout. Abbott claims that he will scrap the carbon tax while Rudd points a finger at him and accuses him of planning to raise the Goods and Services Tax (GST). Of course the voting public of Australia understands that he is a Liberal and so when he gets into office he will tell us that it is just too impractical to unwind the carbon tax now and so we will be keeping it. Liberals have developed a habit of turning about face on their policies that they use to get themselves elected when faced with the economic realities of governing.

He has also proposed that he will scrap the current government’s National Broadband Network (NBN) scheme and implement his own which, he claims, is $60 billion cheaper. Again, Tony’s inability to understand the cyber age that he lives in has led him to make a bad call as millions of Australians see a future with dial up internet speeds interfering with the live streaming of their favorite American television shows. At the same time Kevin has inherited the much publicized NBN scheme which is popular with voters (because it will improve the quality of their television streaming experience) and so this is another area where Labor seems to have the upper hand.

The pillars of every good election campaign season are education, health and aged care. Apart from telling us that his government wouldn’t be able to afford to help us pay for the education of our children with plans to scrap the Schoolkids Bonus which effectively adds between $400 and $800 to the tax bill of families for every child that they have in school. His reason is that “we just can’t afford it” and he assures us that he is being “honest and upfront” about it. Giving him a mandate to govern on that basis really just opens the door to further social welfare cuts that we “just can’t afford” if he becomes PM. Neither side wants to discuss the ins and outs of their funding plans for aged care which begins to beg the question of “can we afford to get old?”

The State of Play

Kevin on the Comeback Trail

Kevin on the Comeback Trail
photo: news.com.au

When Kevin Rudd executed his coup in late June, the Gillard Labor Government was in dire straits in the opinion polls. This was largely due to the impasse that was created by the formation of the minority government after the 2010 election that made her dependant on three independent Members of Parliament to pass her legislation. It was partly due to her ineffectual style of leadership that continued to allow the Rudd splinter faction to conspire against her. At the same time Tony Abbott has droned on with the same slogans for years and this has created a public image of him as a naysayer who has been reduced by his years in the political wilderness of the opposition benches to opposing everything just because that’s all that he’s got.

Since the Night of the Long Knives in June, Kevin has rallied from the lows of Gillard’s alarmingly low 29% approval rating to a respectable 50% (it was as high as 52%) while Abbott can rally only a meager 34% . Of course this is not about electing the Prime Minister and the two party preferred polls show that the opposing sides are now running neck and neck. The Rudd factor has brought the Labor Party’s election hopes back from the dead (much like Kevin himself) but it has only leveled the playing field.

That is only Round 1 and as we approach the designated day there doubtlessly be a number of gaffes and contradictory statements made by both sides that will ultimately decide the difference between them. Kevin Rudd needs to convince that he can maintain a steady hand on the tiller as he guides the nation through the treacherous waters of the delicate state of the world’s economy while still providing the services and support that got his party elected in the first place (more or less). Tony Abbott has to convince us to trust him in the face of his lack of exact figures or concrete policies. So far the most amusing thing to come out of the campaign is Tony Abbott’s words of wisdom; “No one, however smart, however well-educated, however well experienced, is the suppository of all wisdom”. We can only hope that there is more high quality campaigning like that over the next month.

The Election Debate

Abbott & Gollum Meme

Tony’s Largest Obstacle
photo: Facebook

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-08-12/leaders-release-surprise-policies-during-election/4879798

http://au.news.yahoo.com/election/a/-/article/18453916/leaders-debate-election-2013/

Refugee Statistics

http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/1295782/Asylum-seekers-Where-Australia-stands

http://www.news.com.au/world-news/ten-myths-around-asylum-seekers-arriving-on-boats-in-australian-waters/story-fndir2ev-1226676024840

http://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/ois_rfa_fr_2012.pdf

http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/statistics_explained/index.php/Asylum_statistics

The Polls

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/opinion/columnists/poll-delivers-another-crushing-blow-for-julia-gillard/story-e6frg75f-1226668492405

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-07-23/newspoll-shows-labor-support-receding-after-rudd-bounce/4836658

Posted in Australia, Australian History, D G Mattichak jr, Economy, media, newspapers, print media, Scumbags, social media, tax | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Customer Training in the Age of Digital Efficiency

My local supermarket recently installed the new self checkout stations and as I stood in line waiting for a real human being to process my purchase the old fashioned way I had the time to reflect on what these new wonders of technology represent. I can appreciate that for many consumers these automated checkouts will have a genuine appeal as they won’t have to waste their time standing in line with their milk and bread waiting for the cashier (remember them) to total up their bill. On the other hand, the trend towards automation in the retail business seems to dehumanize the commercial process and puts one more layer of distance between the multinational mega-corporations that own these grocery chains and the people that shop in their stores.

Retail Transactions in the 21st Century

self checkout station

self checkout station

Unless you live in a remote part of the earth where everything isn’t bar coded, or under a rock (or both), then you will be familiar with the process. When you come to pay for your purchases you are confronted by a bank of screens with all of the scales, bags and barcode readers are lined up at the front end of the store with a single attendant overseeing their operation. This person is there to offer assistance to customers that have difficulties with operating the technology and to make sure that every potato gets weighed. Obviously, if your customers are sufficiently trained in operating the machines then they will require less help and they should be able to process themselves more efficiently. This, in turn, reduces the need for the supermarket to employ checkout staff as now the customers themselves have made the job redundant.

In my mind, this raises two separate, yet equally important issues. Most obviously this is a move by the plutocrats that largely control the food chain in Western civilization in the modern day to reduce their costs by employing fewer people. It really was a stroke of genius to think of transferring the responsibility for totting up the bill to the guy who is also forking out the cash. Of course this stratagem requires that the consumer is properly trained in using the machines and indoctrinated with the philosophy that makes using them more appealing that dealing with another person face to face while you pay for your goods. While this may appeal when you are just dashing in to top up on condoms, vodka and Kool Aid, do you really want to be trained by a corporation in the correct operation of their latest labor saving technology?

The Consumer in Its Natural Habitat

While passing through the checkout to pay for my potatoes and carrots (and resisting the temptation to throw a Mars Bar and a Red Bull in my shopping basket in the checkout line) I had the chance to observe the other customers’ reaction to the new machines in their familiar supermarket. Older people walk right past them like they aren’t there and are totally disinterested in even finding out what they are for (which I found interesting- I wonder how many of them went home and posted to Facebook that the local Woolworths had new machines?). Customers that are obviously familiar with them roll straight through the checkout like there’s nobody else in the place and disappear without a whisper.

at the checkout

Consumers in the wild

The most interesting customers to watch are the ones that see the long line at the express lane (which is still the same as it was before the new machines) and look with trepidation at their other speedy alternative. Armed with their all purpose credit/debit card they launch into the uncertainty of self service. The questions that arise are painted on their faces as their inner voice protests at its natural disinclination for learning how to operate a new digital device. The first inhibition to arise is driven by their inexperience- Will I look like an idiot in front of the whole world? (at least those members of the global population that are present). Will I charge myself too much for my broccoli? Will I look like I have put those M&Ms in the bag without paying for them? (smile at official supervisor of self checkout area reassuringly). Will I feel as satisfied after my purchase?

Personally, I have avoided these new machines simply because I am too lazy to be bothered with checking out my own groceries. The whole idea of having to weigh turnips and onions is too much of a hassle to go through just to be a few minutes quicker through the checkout. I also like the cashiers at my local purveyor of generic brands- I have been going to the same supermarket just about every day for years and it is a nice diversion from a busy day to exchange meaningless pleasantries while I exchange my hard earned cash for my dinner. Judging by the length of the line at the last attended cash register while the new machines stand unused, their touch screens blinking aimlessly while they await their next self service oriented customer,  I am not alone.

Obviously there hasn’t been the level of acceptance among the customers that has been required to justify the automation of the sales process. The managers who beamed as the efficient new machines were installed by ghostlike technicians who whisked them in in the dead of night and spent a couple of days unobtrusively calibrating them for maximum profits. These beaming smiles have turned to frustrated frowns as they watched customers line up for the human touch, looking across their once familiar supermarket at the new intruders with eyes like a horse that’s seen a snake. It seemed as if the integration of the new technology into the sales funnel and the necessary indoctrination of the client base were going to be more difficult than it first appeared that they would be.

My Close Encounter with the New Technology

Grab it & Run

Where has all the money gone?

The stalemate at the cash register between customer and machine obviously had to be moved on and as I stood in line with my chicken drumsticks and tins of expensive cat food pondering whether my personal economy could still support my tobacco habit, I was approached by one of the managers who kindly offered to put my purchases through the new fangled cash register ma-bobs for me. As I have been a regular customer for a number of years the management of the local food barn recognize me at least well enough to know what brand of cigarettes I smoke and so this led me to believe that I was a targeted customer for a personal introduction to the pleasures, and convenience, of using their 21st Century innovation on the age old practice of retail.

As she led me to the automated area of the checkout process the manager looked at me and I could see that she understood at a glance that I had absolutely no intention of paying any attention to the process at all. I like to believe that the frown that this evoked on her very serious face was intended for her overlords rather than myself (she has, up to this point, always been lovely to deal with). When we arrived at the shining new machines the area was populated only by ourselves and a couple of truant schoolboys that were paying for Chup-a-Chups while walking out with their pockets filled with Skittles.

The young manager looked at them and sighed before smiling patiently at me and indicating the place where I was to put my basket full of goods for processing by the new system. As I complied I stepped back a prepared to be amazed. I sensed that she wanted me to be a more active participant in the process and perhaps I could even say something like; “Wow! I had no idea that it was so simple. I will use this every time that I visit your emporium henceforth. This will make my life so much better.”

Unfortunately, none of that happened. Instead, I stood grinning like an idiot as she scanned my generic packet of raw sugar and weighed the beans that I had selected for my dinner. The whole demonstration broke down completely when she mistakenly selected Navel Oranges while weighing my Imperial mandarin and she had to go through a complicated process to remove it from the transaction. Still and all, she took this reversal well and resigned herself to the possibility that I would never learn how to checkout my own celery and quick cooking oats and completed the transaction with good grace.

After paying with my digi-dollars in the usual fashion, complete with being asked if I possess a loyalty card and whether my cash reserves needed a top up, I felt a bit guilty for having so easily thwarted the gambit. After all, she was just another foot soldier slogging it out in the trenches at the behest of her Fearless Leaders. Still, all that I could manage was a smile and a heartfelt thanks which seemed small consolation for the long day of similar exchanges that she undoubtedly saw in her own future.

The Cyber Voice of Public Opinion

moses

Moses goes online old school style

The encounter made me wonder about what the world really thought of the automation of the purchasing process in this way. Obviously, the supermarket manager demographic was going to rate it pretty bloody highly, but the facts are that this is a very tiny subset of society. What I wondered was how was the new technology going down with the man on the street and the busy soccer mum? Of course I went to the blogosphere where, if there is an opinion (or more) to be had on any subject, it is certain to have been voiced.

The first thing that I noticed was how good a job the cash register companies did of blitzing the interwebz with their messages of positive reinforcement. Apparently you can buy popularity on the internet if you have the bucks- who’d-a-thunk it? The SERPs are loaded with industry content that extols the virtues of the automatic payment system and even the images SERPs aren’t loaded up with the usual derogatory memes that are a standard part of every activist’s Facebook Timeline. The imbalance suggested that the cash register manufacturers had spent up big to make sure that they bury any dissenting voices under a mountain of positive reinforcement. Like every other new major technology that hits the market, this one is worth a lot of money and nobody wants the online conspiracy theorists and socialist bleeding hearts to spoil the party.

A bit of digging around in the online media sites and in the bowels of the subversive blogosphere turned up a couple of interesting facts. The first was that not all supermarket managers thing that self serve checkouts are all that great! (I know!) It seems that customers just aren’t as efficient at putting their purchases through the barcode scanners and weighing their cabbages as a pro cashier (no! really?). One major American supermarket chain is actually removing the self checkout units from their stores in order to improve their sales volumes. At the same time, their main competitor is planning on installing 10,000 units in their stores in the next year alone. The mega-corporation that manufactures the machines estimates that they will sell 60,000 of them every year by 2018.

The supermarket demographic do have a voice in this conversation, saying that it is difficult to find people to fill the cashier jobs that they already have and this is the best solution. Officials in the retail industry have been quick to join the dots and say that it isn’t their fault that they can’t find people to work for them and so they aren’t really getting rid of any jobs. In reality, I think that they have trouble finding experienced staff and the automatic cash registers are cheaper than training kids to do the job (the self checkout units never want a day off either). Of course there is no mention of what the long term goals of integrating this technology are but it is fairly easy to see the broad strokes of it even in its infancy.

Retail Service- Then & Now

checkout girl

Will this be the only chick we see at a checkout?

Many years ago, in the Dark Ages of the 1960s, I remember that the supermarket used to employ somebody to put your groceries into a bag for you while you watched the cashier add up your bill. This archaic system was streamlined and the poor old box boy lost his after school job as cashiers had to double as packers as well. Other chains offered cheap groceries in exchange for using their DIY packing system. Soon, we had forgotten the box boy and, with the introduction of laser scanners and digital transactions the process was speeded up even further with computers tracking the scan rates of the cashiers to ensure that they met efficiency standards. Gradually, the digital technology became the accepted norm and cashiers no longer even needed basic math skills as the electronic register told them how much change they need to make. As the skill level dropped from being a personal representative of the business who filled the vitally important point of sale role the cashier became just another replaceable cog in the corporate machine.

Having negated the need to put much of a human face on their business through the monopolization of the grocery markets and by desensitizing their customers to the digital beep of the barcode reader, the next step is to remove the cashier altogether. This isn’t altogether surprising as most of these low paid positions are probably going to face becoming automated by the march of technological evolution. What is disturbing about this is the plan by the corporate overlords to make being trained essential to being a customer.

I don’t feel the need to be trained by my local supermarket chain in how I can be a more efficient customer and, in all likelihood, people of my generation aren’t the primary target of this technology. It is the schoolboys with their pockets full of shoplifted candy who will become the integrated customers of tomorrow. It is probably worth the cost of a few packets of candy to invest it the education of their young customers.

Posted in Australia, Computers, D G Mattichak jr, Economy, Scumbags | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Facebook Occultists

Since I first ventured into cyberspace I have come into contact with a great many occultists and it has made me aware that far more people are interested magick than I might have imagined. In the 1980s when I first took an interest in the Dark Arts the world of occultism was generally secretive and purposefully obscure. The web has changed all of that.

Once impossible to acquire books of magick can be downloaded making the Wisdom of the Ancients freely available to anyone with internet connectivity and a PDF reader. In addition to this, modern students of magick seem to be an exceedingly literate bunch and they produce articles, books and blogs for online consumption at a rate that has never before been possible (myself among them at AnkhafnaKhonsu Esoterica- pardon my plug).

This has been a revolution is the once eremitic world of magick and it has spawned a generation of online occultists of different descriptions. The place where these post modern magi meet to swap incantations in the 21st Century is Facebook. An ardent seeker can find hundreds of open groups on the social site that have the word “magick” or “witchcraft” in their names and the variations on these make for tens of thousands of groups, some small and other with thousands of members, that are devoted to the discussion of the occult.

Of course, among these legions of occultists there are many very serious students but they are generally hidden in a crowd of less than serious magi. As a keen occultist as well as a dedicated cyber-geek I spend a considerable amount of time engaging with people through these sorts of groups and while I do find many very well informed students of magick to chat with, it is the occult personalities that really make my travels through the occult cyberspace truly enlightening and entertaining. Over time I have gotten into the habit of classifying the more entertaining occultists that I find on the interwebz into some amusing species.

beardsley

The Enterer on the Cyber Threshold

The Neophyte

This poor soul has strayed into the dark part of the web in search of guidance. As they take the place of the Enterer on the Cyber-Threshold they are confronted by an overwhelming choice of disciplines, references to obscure books and a cast of thousands who have Facebook nom de plumes like Frater Antichrist and Lady Lillith Babalon. All of this just muddies that already murky waters of the occult even further and if they manage to summon up the pluck to actually post a question to the group like “How do I do XYZ with magick?” they either receive 50 conflicting answers or an imperiously hidden master peers down his digital nose and belittles them for their ignorance.

The Disciple

For the Neophyte that does succeed in finding the Hidden Masters online they may evolve into the Disciple. These devoted acolytes have found the One True Path and they proceed to clog up the social newsfeed with meaninglessly obscure, cut and paste posts of quotes from their Chosen Master. Many followers of the cult of Crowleyanity fall into this class but they aren’t alone.

magician

It all looks good on paper

The Scholar

Cyberscholars abound on the interwebz and the occult has more than its fair share. These intrepid students have read all of the books but they never so much as waved a wand in anger. This gives them an academic opinion that is rarely matched by experience. Often indecisive (usually about what kind of magick power they want to wield first), they may lack the motivation or the courage to take the first step on the Path and so they restrict their efforts to making an informed commentary on the efforts of others.

Samuel Liddell MacGregor-Mathers

The Source of the Hidden Mysteries: Samuel Liddell MacGregor-Mathers

The Keeper of the Hidden Mysteries

This is the “official” occult sphere in cyberspace. These duly authorized magi have taken on the onerous task of being the official face of various occult societies. Much of this authority is based upon their belief that they have exclusive access to the secrets of magick- you know, the stuff that has never been published and that can’t be found on the web (as if such a thing actually exists). Often the motivation behind these bastions of the last of the ancient lines of these traditional occult orders is the dissemination of those very exclusive secrets for the not inconsiderable membership fees that they charge to admit you to their very ancient and honorable lineages.

anton lavey

The Ultimate Occult Look

The Occultist

This is the uber chic, post modern student of the magick arts. These guys can take on a variety of forms from the unaffected Chaos magician who rushes in where angels fear to tread to the serious student of the Golden Dawn or the Exorcist who conjures the 72 infernal spirits of the Goetia in his garage on weekends. This serious minded mage has a laisser-aller attitude to Magick Black and White and are quick to point out the natural fallacy of the good vs. evil debate. After all, White Magick is a powerful force but Black Magick is so much more fun.

dracos dark mark

Satan’s legions are signed up and ready to go

The Antichrist

These rejectionist occultists have come to realize that Jesus doesn’t want them for a sunbeam and so they have chosen to go over to the opposition. Anton LaVey made a fortune out of appealing to this kind of anti-establishmentarian with his Satanic Bible and his acolytes are still alive and kicking today. Christian bashing is a pretty popular pastime among occultists at the best of times and it would seem that if the Dark Lord is going to begin assembling his armies for the Armageddon that he will be able to find them all in Facebook’s thriving Satanic community. At the moment they are preparing the way for the ascendancy of Lucifer by posting antichristian memes on their timelines.

Gandalf

WWGD?

The Wizard

These inspired Middle Earthers are the shamans of cyberspace. They are on a spiritual quest to find the most obscure ancient practices so that they can dispense their Wisdom via a snappy WordPress site that is liberally decorated with runes and ancient seals for a genuine Tolkienesque look. Fervent meme posters, when they are confronted with one of life’s difficult decisions they are wont to ask themselves; “What would Gandalf do?” (WWGD?).

The Great Mage

This is the ultimate online Magus who claims all manner of unattainable grades in obscure magickal orders and yet has no demonstrable grasp on the basics of magick whatsoever. They enter online debates just to prove that they are right about everything and that nobody knows as much about magick as they do. When they are called out for being obviously stupid they make up for this minor shortcoming by claiming that they have been trained in the true method of high magick by their Hidden Masters and the rest of us can go and fuck ourselves.

Glinda the Good Witch of the North

Never any naughty magick

The White Witch

Sitting just inside the doorway of the great online occult emporium, swathed in clouds of fragrant patchouli scented incense and adorned with crystals and pentagrams, these purveyors of “good” magick see the internet as a marketing opportunity. They have erected their digital gypsy tent in cyberspace where they will read your Tarot cards, your palms and the bumps on your head in exchange for crossing their palm with silver. In an effort to maintain a non-threatening online profile that is designed to appeal to a target audience of bored suburban housewives, they post random spells in their timelines as proof of their natural powers over the secret energies of magick- but only nice magick. Never any of that nasty black magick. That’s the Satanists.

a coven of witches

Getting their story straight over a cup of herbal tea

The Traditionalists

The Fundamentalists of the occult world invariably belong to some obscure Tradition that can date its origins back to when Moses had a job as a stenographer at God’s Mt Sinai branch. For a more organic fundamentalism there are the many species of traditional witches who, in stark contrast to the White Witch are rarely commercially minded. Either way, these hard line believers take great pains to find obscure connections to the Knights Templar or to prove that Gerald Gardner was a big wheel in European OTO in support of their claims to having the quality magick. There is a heavy accent on oral flavored teachings and an insistence that unless you are invited to join their elitist group it isn’t possible to see the Truth and a propensity to play the debate winning “if I have to explain it to you then you will never understand it” card.

Jesus

I got your back buddy!

The Messiah

Here we are at the end of the world and someone has to step up if we are to survive the Apocalypse. These intrepid souls have been called to the Light by their special mission and they see the signs of the Great Averse One in everything. It’s okay though, because they are here to redeem the world. They have usually stuck their fingers in the occult light socket and gotten a little too much juice at some point and, combined with their meth habit it has really lit up their aura. They appear in the newsfeed with strange messages connecting the arrangement at Stonehenge, the Illuminati and the latest G20 summit in a sign that the Four Horsemen are mounting up and the dead will soon be rising from their graves. It’s okay if you don’t believe them as they will either save you in spite of yourself or damn you to hell with the rest of the infidels. After all, its hard work starting your own religion and there’s no time to argue semantics.

This list is hardly comprehensive but, then again, I haven’t hunted on all seven cyber continents yet either and there may be species out there that I am yet to discover. What about you, gentle reader? What mythical creatures have you met while riding the wild unicorn in the magickal world of cyberspace?

Posted in Aleister Crowley, D G Mattichak jr, Magick, media, new age, religion, social media, spirituality | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment