Shaping Discussion on Blogs

There are many cases in which a blogger may want to try to direct or control the flow of discussion on one of their posts. This can be done in various ways with varying degrees of success. Rettberg gives one example that highlights the difficulty of shaping the discussion without simply shutting it down. A blogger who goes by SouleMama had written a post concerning the fact that her family had caught whooping cough. In the post she asked that her reader’s not turn this into a vaccine debate, both because she disliked arguing and because the strain they’d caught was unaffected by vaccines anyway. This, and the example of Beckie0 below, illustrate the fact that an audience will steer the discussion in whatever way they want regardless of the author’s wishes. SouleMama ended up closing down the comments on that post because the audience couldn’t help but start a debate, even though she had asked them not too. In this case, which is far from unusual, appealing to the audience’s sense of pathos is only effective if the audience is sympathetic enough to listen.

Rebecca Brown (A.K.A. Beckie0) Is well known on Tumblr and Youtube for her topic-driven blog and vlog concerning Trichotillomania. Because that is what she’s known for, there is a presupposition from the audience that they can drive the topic in that direction, even if a post has nothing to do with Trichotillomania, as is evident in this Instagram picture she linked to in a Tumblr post. The photo and caption were about blueberries, but people started commenting about Trichotillomania anyway. She did try to call them out, as she has multiple channels for discussing Trichotillomania and this wasn’t one of them, and another person blatantly told her she couldn’t tell other people what to talk about. Excuse me? Super rude. This shows that, in the blogosphere, the original poster has very little control over how discussion unfolds. Beckie0 also often has trouble within the “Trich” group on Facebook, in which she had posted things concerning her condition to what she believed would be an understanding audience, only to find herself censored at every turn. I guess this would be an example of controlling discussion from the viewpoint of the one being controlled, and an excellent example of what happens when a blog (or in this case a Facebook group, which is sort of like a blog that anyone can contribute to) crosses the line from guiding the discussion to acting more as a blog dictator. Basically they’ve said “Yeah, this is a welcoming, understanding community, so long as you post what we want you to post.”

So what is a blogger to do? It seems that the human side of shaping discussion by leading towards (or even flat out asking people to avoid) certain topics often fails, so let’s take a look at the technical side.

On Tumblr, there are three main ways to have a “discussion” on a post. The first is that, if the author ends the post with a question, a box will appear at the bottom in which others can answer. This is controlled by a character limit, and isn’t very effective for back-and-forth discussion. The second is that, on a text post (as opposed to images or videos), there is sometimes a “reply” button. It is similar to the comment option here on WordPress, but it doesn’t appear on all text posts. I’ve been on Tumblr for 2 years and I still have no idea how they determine which posts do or do not get this button, as there doesn’t seem to be a setting to control it or anything like that. The most common method of discussion is to reblog and add your own comments. There doesn’t seam to be any way of preventing others from reblogging a post, so unfortunately none of these options offer any control to the original poster, so the audience can still say anything they want. On Tumblr, anyone can say anything. There is no moderation, it depends entirely on human decency, which isn’t always abundant.

On sites such as WordPress or Blogger, it is much easier for the blogger to moderate discussion on their own posts. There are a variety of settings concerning discussion available. The blogger can choose to restrict the ability to comment at all to registered, logged-in users, and there are multiple options for how individual comments must be approved. If the blogger doesn’t particularly care how people comment, then they can set it so that no moderation is required. For those a little more wary, the “comment author must have a previously approved comment” setting allows them to moderate each users’ first comment, and then from there they must trust that the user will comment in a similar manner in the future. Bloggers who desire complete control can set it so that each comment must be approved before it is displayed. One negative aspect of such a controlling setting is that it can be a LOT of work to read and moderate every comment, especially if you run a popular blog. And

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Derivative Work on Youtube

Recently I found this gem of a video on Youtube. People have been making parodies of Les Miserables (and this line specifically) since it came out just over a year ago. Now, the original book was published back in 1862, and I’m not entirely sure if it’s considered public domain or not. The other movies featured definitely aren’t. What I find interesting is the idea that the movie is a derivative work of the book, which means that videos such as this one are derivatives of a derivative!

Don’t Feed the Trolls

Anyone who has been on the internet (especially on social media sites and forums) has probably encountered a troll at least once. A troll is “One who posts a deliberately provocative message to a newsgroup or message board with the intention of causing maximum disruption and argument” (according to urbandictionary). You’ve probably heard advice along the lines of, “don’t feed the trolls, interacting or arguing with them only gives them satisfaction. Ignore them or they win.”

Steph Guthrie, founder of Women in Toronto Politics, has an eloquently accurate response to such advice.

 

Yes, that’s right. It doesn’t do any good to allow these “trolls” to continue their completely innappropriate behavior. This point is further proven by performance artist Marina Abramovic, who did a piece in which she stood completely still while audience members were allowed to use any of 72 objects to do whatever they wanted to her, and she didn’t react. For six hours the audience’s actions escalated. One person even pointed a gun at her head. This piece proved that aggressors are not deterred by a lack of reaction. Once the six hour time limit was up, Marina began to move towards the audience, and they scattered. They were not deterred by her silence, they were afraid of consequences.

The Wolf Hunt

(A.K.A. Why “treehuggers” give actual wildlife/habitat management people a bad name and make me want to rip my hair out.)

I’ve encountered people like this multiple times (here on campus and outside the State Fair 2012), but until now I didn’t have the inherent knowledge to challenge them on the spot. This time I had the internet at my disposal to check the numbers.

Basic summary: people are protesting the wolf hunt in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan without actually bothering to learn anything about why wolves were de-listed as endangered or what the regulations of the wolf hunt are.

Basic explaination: Wolf populations are sustainable, and so strictly regulated harvesting was introduced mainly for ecological reasons. No more than 220 wolves are to be killed in Minnesota (leaving ~2,000 alive, well above the planned minimum population for the state). The hunt was introduced to prevent wolves from encroaching on human habitats (which would be dangerous for both wolves and humans), and the prevent wolves from entering a full-blown boom-bust population cycle (which I explained in the post I linked to above).

Bootcamp Week 2

This week has certainly been interesting, what with all the different things to learn about. RSS feeds, Creative Commons, Intellectual Property… And along with that continuing to try to post daily. I’ll admit, once the homework from other classes started to come in, it became harder to keep on top of my posts (I’ve only got 12 posts including this one). Hopefully with some better scheduling (both in scheduling my time and using the “schedule post” feature) I’ll be able to maintain a steady stream of original posts and comments on others’ posts. Having the WordPress app on my phone makes it much simpler to keep up with everything while I’m on campus, reading between (and sometimes in) classes. One of the other bigger difficulties I’ve had is figuring out what to blog about aside from assigned topics. I’ve done fashion, upcycling, music videos, social media, Disney, marijuana, and even a little venting about my computer. (I’ve also got a post in progress about hunting wolves and why it’s not totally evil.)

It’s been somewhat enlightening to read everyone’s opinions on Creative Commons and Intellectual Property. In this day and age (and in this demographic in particular) it seems many have similar views on how easy it should be to share creative (and educational) material. (In the case of educational things, that may just be because we’re tired of doling out our hard earned money on books. Seriously, is the ink of a textbook laced with gold? There’s really no other way to explain why they’re so damn expensive.)
Overall I believe it’s been an interesting 2 weeks, and I’ve learned many new skills already, such as using hyperlinks (because apparently it was much simpler than I always thought), adding pictures, and embedding videos in my posts.

CC and IP

Intellectual Property generally refers to works of art and writing, but broadly it covers any kind of idea, and can be protected by patents, copyrights, or trademarks. These laws may seem very similar, there are differences between them.

  • Copyright laws cover artistic creations such as literary work, paintings, and music.
  • Patents cover inventions, giving the creator power over how their inventions are used by others.
  • Trademarks cover goods and services.  For example, companies often trademark icons or logos associated with their products (Such as the McDonald’s “I’m lovin’ it” slogan).

The concept of such strict laws over ideas contradicts the societal expectation of innovation. It basically says “I had this idea, no one else can use it ever or else.” However, with 7 billion people in the world, I think it’s incredibly likely that more than one person will independently think up the same idea. And what do we do then? Put them in an arena and let them fight for the rights to their idea? (Ok, that might be a little extreme.)

 

The basic idea of the Creative Commons License is to make it easy to freely share works that would otherwise be straight-up copyrighted. There are multiple types of licenses used to achieve this goal, depending on how available the author wants their work to be.

  • Attribution basically means “do whatever you want with my work, as long as you give me credit for the original stuff.” Users can copy, distribute, and even make derivative work based off of the author’s material. Attribution should be as thorough as the user can make it, including the author and work’s names, any copyrights attached, the CC license attached, and whether or not the user has changed anything.
  • Share-alike gives users the ability to share derivatives so long as they use the same type of license as the original work (so they can’t share a copy under the Attribution license unless the original is also under the Attribution license.)
  • Non-commercial work can only be distributed or shared for noncommercial purposes. Simplistically put this means the user can’t make money off of the copies.
  • No Derivative Works means that a user can copy and distribute the work, but changing anything (even punctuation) is a big no-no. Verbatim copies only.

An author may choose any combination of licenses to suit their needs/desires. I personally would probably use Attribution, Non-commercial, and Share-alike if I were to publish anything that I wasn’t specifically trying to make money off of. Authors also have the option of placing their work under CC0, renouncing all copyrights and making the material Public Domain. The use of Creative Commons completely changes the restrictive nature of Intellectual Property laws, giving more freedom to the audience.

I find this diverse, adaptable form of copyright to be incredibly well suited to internet use. For the most part, people who put their work up on the internet (like on DeviantArt or FanFiction sites) aren’t looking to make money off of it, or to say ‘no I’m the only one who can distribute this’ (if that’s your thought process, you probably shouldn’t put your work up on the internet in the first place). What they really want is just for people to acknowledge their talent. They’re looking for a way to get their stuff out there, and it won’t go very far if others can’t distribute it, but licenses such as Attribution and No Derivative Works gives them the ability to also protect their work from being stolen or altered. In fact, Attribution seems to be so common that it’s kind of just socially expected. There have been so many times where I’ve seen people on Tumblr rant about how those who repost another person’s art without linking to the source or otherwise giving credit are the worst kind of people, simply because they recognize how much work artists put into their pieces and know that it’s downright disrespectful to not give them credit.

Because I love to tear apart news articles

(Apologies in advance, this is a VERY LONG AND THOROUGH  post that I’ve been working on since Jan. 17.)

A while ago, one of my Facebook friends posted this article on why marijuana is THE MOST DANGEROUS DRUG. It’s a little known fact about me that I love to take articles with somewhat extreme viewpoints and bring in facts that were purposefully overlooked or outright falsified. (I did the same here and gosh it was great to have a respectful debate with someone for once.)

So, on the the article at hand.

First of all, there’s the ethos of the author. The broad subject is why marijuana is dangerous health-wise. The article is written by James Backstrom, a county attorney, not a medical professional of any kind. Logically, he must have gotten his information from other sources (which are likely biased, based on the stigma surrounding this topic). One must question the legitimacy of this article right from the get-go. -15 points.

The very first point made in the actual discourse is that harder drugs such as meth are more destructive and addictive, but somehow marijuana is more dangerous. Let’s look at some facts.

  • According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, methamphetamine changes the way your brain functions long term (after the ‘high’ fades), and leads to “extreme weight loss, severe dental problems (“meth mouth”), anxiety, confusion, insomnia, mood disturbances, and violent behavior” as well as psychotic tendencies such as paranoia.
  • The NIDA also states that cocaine has similar effects on the brain, and “constricts blood vessels, dilates pupils, and increases body temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure.” It can also cause heart attacks, strokes, and death.
  • Heroin causes a menagerie of problems, including “fatal overdose, spontaneous abortion, and infectious diseases like hepatitis and HIV…fatal overdose, spontaneous abortion, and infectious diseases like hepatitis and HIV”

Marijuana is more difficult to get accurate information on, again due to the stigma. One of the first, and most famous, tests of how it affects people was the Heath/Tulane study in 1974 (discussed in the documentary The Union). According to the study, the test subjects (monkeys) where forced to smoke the equivalent of 30 joints per day, which caused brain damage, atrophy, and death. The study attributed this to marijuana, but Heath was vague about the method used to administer the drug. Turns out he had the monkeys fitted with gas masks and pumped all 30 joints worth into them at once without additional oxygen. They monkeys weren’t killed by marijuana, they were exposed to carbon monoxide (which is released when ANYTHING burns) and suffocated. (And even if the marijuana was to blame, 30 joints per day is kind of a lot, and I doubt anyone other than Snoop Dogg smokes that much.)

But this was 40 years ago. More studies have been conducted. What are the known health risks today? That’s still a little fuzzy.

  • According to the NIDA, marijuana affects a person’s learning and memory, raises heart rate, causes palpitations and arrhythmia, irritates the lungs, and causes temporary psychotic reactions. There’s also a link between marijuana and mental health problems such as depression and anxiety. There is no evidence that cannabis can be used medicinally.
  • Foundation for a Drug Free World states that in the short term marijuana can cause increased heart rate, panic and anxiety, poor coordination and reactions, lethargy, and depression. Many more long term effects are also listed.
  • According to the BSU Student Handbook, health risks include “Damage to heart, lungs, and/or brain nerve cells lung cancer, bronchitis, infections , decreased motivation, depression, paranoia, impaired memory.” (They also list “pancreas addiction” as an effect of alcohol. That plus the MANY grammatical errors in a UNIVERSITY PUBLICATION makes me question their ethos.)
  • There have been numerous studies on the medicinal capacity of cannabis to treat epilepsy, cancer, depression, anorexia,  and a variety of other complaints. Upon thorough investigation, it’s found that the medicinal uses actually CONTRADICT the “health risks” such as depression and cancer.

But the health risks aren’t the only reason that author James Backstrom claims marijuana is more dangerous. he states that “marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug in America.” …what? What does that have to do with whether or not it’s dangerous? You know what else is commonly used? Computers. Does that in and of itself make them dangerous? Nope. Invalid point, -15 more points.

“Treatment admissions for marijuana abuse have been higher than for any other illegal drug in our nation since 2002.” That’s because on marijuana charges, the defendant can choose jail (and a criminal record), or treatment. No brainer. For all other narcotics the choice is jail or… jail. This is a stacked statistic (don’t even get me started on statistics, I believe that they’re completely useless in most cases), -30 points.

The article goes on to explain the health risks, which I’ve already covered, and adds that marijuana has “50-70 percent more carcinogenic hydrocarbons than does tobacco smoke.” Tobacco contains 20 carcinogens. The number found in cannabis is apparently under heavy debate, since nearly every source I check says something different. The most credible I’ve found is an article by Robert Melamede of the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health, which states (I think, if I’m reading the science-speak correctly) that tobacco and cannabis have many of the same carcinogens, but other biological factors cause tobacco to be more effectively cancerous than marijuana. Also, the statistic (grr!) provided by the original article contradicts the information on cancer that I’ve provided above.

Another point brought up is that the potency of today’s cannabis is much higher than it was in the 70s. This is a malleable “fact” due to the actual fact that the potency depends on the strain. Is it likely that the general potency is higher? Yes, but the media has greatly exaggerated the increase. -20 points for hyperbolic scare-tactics.

“Even more troubling is that marijuana serves as a gateway to the use of other illegal drugs.” Ah, the gateway drug argument. Though heavily used, it is simply an example of how the stigma created the culture. Marijuana is illegal, so where can users get it? Only from drug dealers, who usually solicit a variety of narcotics to maximize profits. Said drug dealers try to push the harder drugs on customers who would otherwise only use cannabis, creating the illusion that marijuana use leads to cocaine or heroin or meth use. In places where use is legal, do you think regulated dispensaries such as Harborside Health Center pushes cocaine on their customers? No, they even promote the idea of “Wellness Not Intoxication.” Once again, statistics are presented to show how teenagers who use marijuana are more likely to use other drugs than those who don’t, and once again they are both misleading and influenced by the above scenario. Here and throughout the article they say “studies show,” yet they never cite any sources for these studies. Who knows who conducted the studies or how they were done? It could be a Heath/Tulane situation all over again. Even the wording of the statistics of problematic, clearly conveying a bias against cannabis, they say, “Sixty percent of adolescents who use marijuana before age 15 will later use cocaine.” Alright, but how many of the total number of people who use cocaine used marijuana previously? That would be a much more revealing and less biased study.

Finally, Backstrom brings up the link between marijuana and violence. Anyone remember the phrase “reefer madness“? It’s deja vu all over again here. Later on, when young people were protesting the Vietnam War, the opinion on what marijuana did magically swung to the opposite end of the spectrum. It no longer made one angry and violent, it caused pacifism. Isn’t that convenient? -10 points for flip-floppy-ness

“Nationwide, 40 percent of adult males arrested for crimes tested positive for marijuana at the time of their arrest.” This statistic means LITERALLY NOTHING. Why? Because depending on ho much and how often one uses it, it can still turn up on a urinalysis for 84 DAYS after the actual use. That means those men could’ve smoked nearly 3 months prior to committing their crimes, and therefor marijuana had nothing to do with it. -15 points for ignorant BS. “Marijuana is in fact the cash crop that drives the illegal drug trade” BECAUSE IT IS ILLEGAL. If it were regulated, it would be taxed to high heaven, and that “cash crop” would go right back into whatever the hell our taxes go towards nowadays. Instead it’s going to whatever dealers spend it on. Oh, and we’d also have more money in our economy because we wouldn’t be spending $42 BILLION on prohibition.

So basically all the dangers are either made up (like many of the health risks) or created by the fact that marijuana is still an illegal substance, and Backstrom is just an attorney who thinks he knows science.

Finally Set Up My Feedly

And I’ve got to admit, I find to to be… redundant? I mean I’ve already got all the blogs I’m following compiled in the WordPress reader, so I don’t really see a reason to go through all of the hassle of following all the class blogs again just to do the same thing in a second place. Also, after playing around with the Feedly app on my phone, it seems cumbersome at best. I really just want to scroll through the posts, but there’s all this swiping and pages flying everywhere (Oh god I sound like my grandpa trying to figure out email…). I’m still going to give this a shot, but I’m feeling quite pessimistic about it. Is anyone else feeling that way?

Frustration Over the Internet

So I’ve basically spent all my time outside of class today trying to work through my reading for lit class. Now that I’ve finally finished it (sorry of, one can only take so much 17th century spelling and grammar), I decided I would wrap up my night by setting up my feedly rss reader. The internet had other ideas. The browser wouldn’t respond to ANYTHING, so in true exasperated college student fashion, I gave up. I’ll try again in the morning, maybe even go to the library if I have to.

The First Week of “Bootcamp”

So, a little recap of what I’ve learned in the first week of weblogs and wikis bootcamp. First of all, I was somewhat surprised by how little I used the assigned manual. I found it to be easier to grasp how to do things by figuring it out on my own, but it’s also really nice to know that I have instructions if I get stumped.
This week, in addition to setting up my blog, I’ve learned how to use hyperlinks and insert pictures and videos into my posts. I’ll admit I was a bit nervous getting started; I thought it would be difficult to think of topics to blog about. However, once I dived into it I found it easier than I’d expected.