Handbags Don’t Cure Cancer

If I wore a bra, it would probably be black. Or grey. Maybe white, red or blue, depending on what else I was wearing. It would be as comfortable as I could get it, but I wouldn’t expect it to cure cancer.

If I had a handbag, I’d like it on the kitchen table. Or the backseat of the car. Maybe even in the bathtub, or on the toilet. But I wouldn’t expect that telling people where I put it would cure cancer.

But that’s the latest Facebook meme going around at the moment. Last year it was “tell us what colour bra you’re wearing… it’ll be cheeky, give the boys a thrill and raise awareness about breast cancer”. This year it’s “tell us where you put your handbag… it’ll be cheeky, give the boys a thrill and remind you about breast cancer”.

I’m well aware that breast cancer is a terrible thing. I do not need to me reminded of it. I have a family history of it. Reminding me about it serves no purpose. I can see, however, that it can be good to remind women to get their regular breast scans – but are “cheeky” Facebook campaigns going to be all that effective? I would be very surprised if many women posted “I like it on the coffee table” thought even for a second “Hey, I really should book in for that exam”. Those that did, I imagine, were already planning it anyway – perhaps because of a recent scare or a history they’re very aware of.

And why do we only see these ‘cheeky’ status updates for breast cancer? Lung cancer is the most common cancer – affecting both men and women – and is by far the most lethal. This year, the US National Cancer Institute expects more men to be diagnosed with prostate cancer than women diagnosed with breast cancer. Prostate cancer has a similar survival rate to breast cancer, but nobody’s suggesting Facebook status updates to ‘remind’ men or make them aware to do a PSA test. Let’s face it, breasts get all the attention because they’re sexy.

Well I’m going to change that. I need a catchy, slightly naughty theme to change my status update to. Since prostate cancer only affects men – just as breast cancer mainly (but not only) affects women – I’m going to make it something uniquely masculine.

Next week, I’m going to change my status to “I did it XX times today”.

Where ‘XX’ is going to be the number of times I scratched my crotch.

And I’m going to encourage all my male friends to do so, as well. You know, to remind them to get their prostates checked. And because it’s a little bit sexy, a little bit cheeky, I’m sure it’ll catch on. It’ll go viral. Men will finally take ownership of their prostates. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll even make the prostate sexy, like boobs.

Cala Boca Galvao (Anatomy of a Meme)

It’s world cup fever, and the internets is no exception. Google’s got it, Twitter’s got it, and if you’ve got it you can surf the net to the sound of vuvuzelas. Like anything popular, it gets a huge amount of real-time Twitter action, but some disgruntled fans in Brazil started a hoax that took the world by surprise.

Commentators of all sports routinely face criticism: whether they’re too enthusiastic, not enthusiastic enough, or have a one-word “special” vocabulary (looking at you, Mr. McAvaney). Carlos Eduardo dos Santos Galvão Bueno, more commonly known as Galvão Bueno, is a Brazilian soccer commentator who cops a lot of flak for his passionate calls. Wikipedia describes his style as “flashy, pointed with superlative adjectives, and … a large number of mistakes.” Exasperated during a World Cup match, one Brazilian fan tweeted “Cala Boca Galvao” – literally “Shut up, Galvão”. And then, as the cool kids say, it went viral.

The phrase caught on, being retweeted and quoted over and over. Before long, “Cala Boca Galvao” was a trending topic, prompting hundreds of non-Brazilians to ask “What’s Cala Boca Galvao?” – which got the phrase trending even higher. And that, according to the New York Times, was the beginning of “one of history’s most successful cyberpranks”. Sure enough, enterprising Brazilians seized on the opportunity. “It’s an endangered Brazilian bird”, someone informatively tweeted. And soon there was an a flyer, a fake Twitter account and this brilliant Youtube clip. Tweet “Cala Boca Galvao”, the story went, and 10 cents will be donated to Save The Galvao Foundation. The newly created “Galvao” and “Galvao Bird” Wikipedia pages were very popular for a short time, before they were taken down by the watchful Wiki Police.

Still not satisfied, and with “What’s Cala Boca Galvao” tweets still flying around, Brazilians came up with a new meaning. It’s Lady Gaga’s new single, they replied whenever someone asked. Sure enough, it wasn’t long before various fake video clips showed up on YouTube.

This is the beauty of the internet – it can be a tremendous source of information, and a wonderful way of communicating with people all over the world. But all information, whether on the internet or elsewhere, needs to be treated with a due sense of scepticism. This is obviously a rarity for a hoax to be so well executed – the internet’s crowdsourcing nature generally enhances quality and accuracy. Perhaps the risk of being duped is the price we pay for listening in on other people’s conversations.

When Social Media Stops You Getting a Job

Is your online life putting your job – or potential future jobs – in jeopardy? Social commentator Mia Freedman wrote on her blog last week how she used Facebook and Twitter accounts to help sift through potential new employees. Having sorted through the pile of resumes and leaving five possible candidates, she looked online and quickly wrote off three of them.

“One had a constant stream of Facebook updates bitching indiscreetly about her current job. Another evidently spent much of her time getting drunk and a third had some very strident views I disagreed with. Stridently.” – Mia Freedman

Her post sparked a lot of debate in the comments, with the majority of people seemingly alarmed or appalled at her actions. Someone called N/L said: “I don’t think I would be happy to be working for someone who thinks it is appropriate to snoop into my private life before interviewing me,” and OhEmGee said “There is this thing called a life OUTSIDE of work. It is my OWN time. If I knew that I could be working for someone who felt that it is ok to use Facebook as a tool to determine the person I am…well I probably wouldn’t want to work for them anyway.” I found those sorts of comments fascinating. Why should people insist that publicly available information be kept out of the selection process?
The more information an employer has about job-seekers, the better they are able to decide if the person will be a good fit in their organisation. Surely that’s obvious? If you’re doing something in your private life that makes you unsuited to a job then perhaps you should either stop doing it, or get a different job. The claim that “it is my OWN time” and therefore has no bearing on your job suitability seems naive to me. What you do in your own time is a reflection of your personality. And much as we’d like to believe that jobs are always awarded based on merit we have to be aware that personality plays a huge part in our work lives. Particularly in a small business, where an individual can have a dramatic influence on the culture of the workplace.
As I’ve said before, I’m a very open person. The only part of my Facebook account that is private are my status updates and posts, which is largely in case I update my status from Work and The Boss wonders why I’m not working. And I’m perfectly happy with my current employers (many of whom are “Friends” on Facebook) or potential new employers looking around my public profile. In fact the most incriminating thing on my Facebook profile is probably that I’m bisexual, I don’t like Andrew Bolt very much and I watch a lot of TV. And I don’t really want to work for any employer who has a problem with that. I’m a person, not a collection of qualifications. Anyone who employs me gets the whole package, not just my skill set.
What do you think? Should people get jobs based solely on their merit and qualifications? Or is there room for personality as well? Do you lock your social media profiles so potential employers can’t see them?

What Facebook Should Do

The world’s largest social network, Facebook, claims to have more than 400 million users (a little hint to Facebook: if you have a page of statistics, timestamp it so we know when those stats were updated). But it’s facing a growing outcry from disgruntled users, as it frequently alters its privacy policy making more and more information public. The blogosphere is being flooded with posts explaining why you should – and why people havequit Facebook. Quit Facebook Day is a website calling for people to delete their Facebook accounts on May 31 in protest. Four students at New York University have raised over $US147,989 in initial fundraising to develop an open Facebook alternative with an emphasis on privacy.

It’s going to be a very, very long time before Facebook can win back the trust of many people. There’s a very bad vibe about the company, and its founder Mark Zuckerberg in particular, that will hang around a long time. But I do think there are a few, very simple steps Facebook should take which will give users a bit of faith. Jeff Jarvis has some more in-depth suggestions on his blog, but I think there are four crucial changes Facebook needs to make to begin with.

Decide once and for all how far is too far. Facebook needs to set the one privacy policy and stick to it. Since 2005, Facebook’s privacy policy has been changing every year – sometimes twice a year. Changing the rules all the time is a clear sign that you’re up to no good. Fuck off, Facebook. Develop one privacy policy, and stick to it. Define how far you’re going, and how far is too far. Explain it well – clearly, in plain language, because currently your 5,830 word privacy policy looks like the bastard child of a spin-doctor and a lawyer. In fact, given your attitude to privacy I’m surprised your policy isn’t just three words: “You have none.”

Opt In vs Opt Out. If Facebook is going to provide me with more services – like “Instant Personalisation” – then it needs to let ME decide if I want to use it. Currently, Facebook assumes it knows what’s best for me, and opts me in. Fuck off, Facebook. No matter how much information you have about me, you will NEVER truly know me. You can guess, and offer suggestions – and maybe you’ll be right sometimes. But often you’ll be wrong. So don’t force me to accept your assumptions. Let me say “Yes, THAT sounds like what I want!” instead of “Eurgh, I don’t want THIS!”. Currently, Facebook believes there’s only one Opt In or Opt Out choice users need – whether or not to use Facebook at all.

Everything is opt-in on Facebook. Participating in the service is a choice … Please don’t share if you’re not comfortable.

– Elliot Schrage, Vice President for Public Policy at Facebook, in this revealing Q&A session in the New York Times.

Privacy must be default. Facebook started out with everything private. So private, in fact, it was limited to universities only. Then it opened up to everyone, and since then it’s been a steady progression from private information to public. This, as Gizmodo suggests, is a bait and switch: suck users in by telling them that what they post is restricted to only their friends and family, then switch the terms and conditions so it’s open to everyone. Facebook needs to change everything to private and restricted, and give people the option to decide what, if anything, they make public. This is important because unfortunately, most people don’t realise how much of what they do on Facebook is public. Nobody reads lengthy Terms and Conditions pages (especially when they’re as complex as Facebook’s), as demonstrated when a video game company put a “sell your soul” clause in their sale agreement. And that’s what the website Openbook is trying to demonstrate. Openbook was quickly hacked together when Facebook announced its last privacy change, and allows people to search publicly viewable Facebook posts and updates.For example, these people just told the world they’re going to a strip club, and all these people have just chucked a sickie.

Simple Control. It shouldn’t be hard to add a drop-down menu whenever you post something – a status update, a photo, a link – that lets you determine who can see it. It works well for LiveJournal, but Facebook could do it better – let people choose which group can see it, or even specific friends.

Personally, I’m not bothered by the privacy debacle that’s surrounding Facebook. my profile is almost all completely open to the public anyway (the only thing I have restricted is status updates). I’m pretty open about my life, as I’ve written here before I’m comfortable with having very little privacy online. I do object to much of what Facebook has done recently though – I’m happy to make most of my information public, but I want to do it on MY terms, not Facebook’s. It’s an attitude thing, and I’m inclined to agree with tech entrepreneur Jason Calacanis’ assessment: Zuckerberg’s “drive, skill and fearlessness are only matched by his long record – recorded in lawsuit after lawsuit – of backstabbing, stealing and cheating.”

I won’t be quitting Facebook on May 31 – although I’d like to. All my friends are on Facebook, and until there’s a viable alternative I’m going to keep using Facebook to interact them. I’m going to be following Diaspora closely though, it’ll be interesting to see if a truly open, privacy-focused social network can be built to rival Facebook.

The Age shows a surprising lack of Fearless Good Judgement

Vile, obscene and offensive. That’s how the Herald Sun described tweets that comedians Wil Anderson and Catherine Deveny made about the Logies. And reading the sensationalist outrage the Herald Sun whipped up about them, I was reminded of Julian Morrow’s brilliant talk at the Andrew Olle Media Lecture last year. Co-founder of The Chaser and executive producer of their controversial War on Everything television program, Morrow knows a lot about public outrage.

The Deveny tweets are a perfect example of what Morrow meant when he described the ‘primary and secondary audiences’. The primary audience is the target of the media production. They’re the people that tune in each week to watch a TV show, the people that buy a particular newspaper regularly or subscribe to a magazine. The primary audience is also the followers of a Twitter user, fans of a Facebook page or subscribers of an RSS feed. The secondary audience, as Julian put it, are those who “come to access controversial content because it’s controversial”. And that’s what the Deveny tweet scandal is all about.

I was following Catherine Deveny’s tweets during the Logies (I was watching The West Wing though, which was infinitely more enjoyable). A few times I raised my eyebrows at some of her tweets, before shrugging and chuckling to myself. “That Deveny, she’s always stirring!” I thought. It didn’t bother me, because I knew I could expect that from her. I was her primary audience. The problem comes with the secondary audience gets involved. When the Herald Sun published selected tweets from her and Anderson – focusing of course on the more extreme – it sparked an outcry of disparaging comments. “What an obscene, nasty, vile woman she is” said one comment. “Absolutely disgusting,” said another, “making fun about molestation and paedophelia about an 11 year is disgusting”.

The old adage “if you don’t like it, don’t watch it” applies in new media just as it did in old media. If you don’t want to be shocked by Deveny’s tweets, if you want to live in a narrow-minded bubble, don’t follow her on Twitter.

Unfortunately, on Tuesday night The Age editor-in-chief Paul Ramadge sacked Deveny, saying her tweets were “not in keeping with the paper’s standards”. Which is odd, because her tweets have nothing to do with the paper. She wrote a column once a week for The Age, but these tweets were made on her own personal Twitter account, which clearly is not at all affiliated with The Age. As Jeremy Sear wrote on Crikey, “off-colour or not, her joking remarks were not in the context of her work for The Age. A personal Twitter feed, whether ‘public’ or not, is not a newspaper column”.

Sacking Deveny has prompted a massive backlash on Twitter and the blogosphere. Comedian Daniel Blurt lamented that “to be sacked for cherry-picking from over 30 Logies tweets reveals truths about the media and this country that are almost too distressing to contemplate.” Meanjin editor Sophie Cunningham blogged that “The Age have enjoyed her aggressive, provocative, and sometimes extremely irritating, style for some years but of course once she made a sexual crack about a child, well the sky fell in”. Morrow tweeted that  “deciding to employ Catherine Deveny is debatable but [The Age] sacking her now is deplorable. Ramadge: gutless, unprincipled, wrong”. Others saw the whole affair as a punchline: “I hope I don’t get fired for using my twitter stream to declare that @triplejdoctor is a VAGINA” tweeted Triple J’s Paul Verhoeven. The fake Andrew Bolt tweeted: “We gave Sam Newman a job on MTR just because he IS offensive”.

It’s clear from the huge backlash on Twitter that The Age acted rashly by sacking Deveny. They could have taken the Herald Sun head on and said “no, we are not the arbiter of social debate, we do not succumb to crass sensationalist journalism from rival newspapers”. But instead they folded, sacked her and lost the chance to prove themselves better. Julian Morrow said that “the temporary insanity of editorial crises does slowly abate and fearless good judgement can re-emerge with time”. But in the rush to placate readers from a rival paper, they capitulated. Let us hope The Age regains its fearless good judgement when the next scandal breaks.

Your online self lives long after you die

In the excellent science fiction series Caprica (Friday nights on SyFy in the US… gods knows when elsewhere in the world), grieving tech genius Daniel Greystone develops a virtual avatar of his deceased daughter Zoe. Based on every scrap of digital information she left behind, virtual Zoe is near enough an identical reincarnation. The series explores, in part, the ramifications our lives can have long after we’re dead.

Last week, Hungry Beast explored what happens to your various online profiles after you die. And at the same time, Gizmodo posted articles explaining in depth the options available to your family on Twitter and Facebook. But the basic rule with the internet is once something’s public, it’s always public. Particularly with Google’s cache and sites like Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, which allows you to view snapshots of over two million pages at different dates, everything that’s publicly viewable at some point or another online is nearly always publicly viewable. The lesson here is to consider very carefully before posting any personal information online, because once you do you can’t take it back. And that’s the advice given by Professor Jon Kleinberg at Cornell University who studies social networks. He was recently quoted in a New York Times article saying “When you’re doing stuff online, you should behave as if you’re doing it in public — because increasingly, it is.” Google CEO Eric Schmidt puts it a little more bluntly: “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place”.

Should we be worried that our online personalities will remain floating aimlessly around on the internet long after we have, with apologies to Monty Python, ceased to be, expired and gone to meet our maker? Personally, I’m not worried. For a start, I’ll be dead and either playing boring music on a harp in Heaven or rocking out in the best parties in Hell. Actually, most likely I’ll just be dead. Point is, I won’t be in any condition to be embarrassed, ashamed, guilty or apologetic for my past existence. But that’s a limited, selfish view – my death will obviously affect others. Parents and friends for example. But the internet isn’t going to just cough up all my dirty secrets to them just because I’ve died. To see my private photos or posts on Facebook, they would have to be actively looking for them. And once I’m dead, they certainly can do so – as Gizmodo points out there are ways of gaining access to a deceased relative’s Facebook account – but doing that they’d know they might uncover parts of my life they didn’t know about. I suspect my family would probably prefer to remember me through their own memories and photos of me, rather than sifting through my online personalities that they previously didn’t have access to. That’s no way to grieve.

Hungry Beast recommends putting your login details in your will and stipulating what data gets removed. But as I said, once something goes online you cannot completely control it, and you cannot guarantee that once something is deleted from your social media site it will never resurface. Sure, you can ask that your Facebook account be closed, or your photos deleted – but how can you be sure none of your friends saved some of your photos? Or your ex? There is always the danger of previously deleted information resurfacing: get used to it. But whether you’re concerned about your online legacy or not, I definitely encourage everyone to have a “death plan” – a blog post or an email or something that your friends or family have so they know your wishes after you died. I made one a few years ago on my personal blog for my friends to see, so they know my thoughts on funerals and cremation etc.

What about you? Are you worried about what information will remain long after you’re dead? Have you ever had to close an account for a deceased relative? Let us know in the comments!

Ten Things Not to Post on the Net

HowStuffWorks has posted a handy little guide to privacy on social media. As I’ve mentioned before, on the internet (and social networking sites in particular) you have no privacy. So it stands to reason that if you don’t want something getting public, don’t post it online. Most of the suggestions are pretty obvious and common sense, but some I don’t agree with. Here’s a quick summary:

1: Anything You Don’t Want Shared Well, duh.
2: Password Hints Don’t tell everyone your Mother’s maiden name!
3: Your Password Not even to your boyfriend or girlfriend, in case the relationship sours.
4: Personal Finance Information Bank account details and PIN numbers obviously, but the HowStuffWorks article even says don’t post which bank your savings are in or what shares you have. That seems a little paranoid to me.
5: Your Address and Phone Number Basic first rule of the internets, really. In high school we had to sign a form saying we wouldn’t tell the over-friendly man in the chat room where we live or what our favourite lollies were. But it’s worth noting that with the rise of location based social media like Buzz and FourSquare, you need to be careful posting from home.
6: Photos of Your Kids Another one I don’t agree with. Anyone with a half-decent zoom lense can take a photo of your kid down at the park.
7: Company Information Also pretty self-explanatory. No company secrets or sensitive information. If you’re a counter-terrorist soldier, don’t post operational details publicly.
8: Linking Sites This kind of makes sense – don’t link a site for professional work-related stuff like LinkedIn with another site for boozy weekend romps. And as Jeff Jarvis says when he writes about “mutually assured humiliation”, with that sort of thing being more and more common we probably shouldn’t worry about it too much. But be mindful of clutter – your workmates don’t want to wade through hundreds of photos of you in a ‘boat race’ when they’re trying to find the latest ad-campaign design.
9: Social Plans Unless you’re short of cash and want to become a paid party organiser and world-famous wanker, probably best not to tell the whole world that you’re having a party and where it is.
10: Personal Conversations Essentially a repeat of Number 1 – if it’s something you wouldn’t normally talk about with any old stranger you should think about whether you want to post to the world about it. HowStuffWorks offers a simple rule: if in doubt, leave it out.

Check out the original post at HowStuffWorks here. Thanks to Alyssa Milano for the tweet.