Fighting Back Against Abuse: The Future of Women and Online Harassment

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TRIGGER WARNING: This post deals with sensitive topics such as rape threats and sexual assault. Some of the material included is explicit in nature.

In recent years especially, the Internet has become an extremely hostile space for women. From gaming to social media, there has been an explosion of online harassment, often with very little recourse for the women who are facing rape and death threats. What kinds of abuse are women facing online today? Why is it so hard for them and for our institutions to cope with these problems? And finally, what can Internet users and social media companies do to address these issues in the future?

To begin, let’s look at some of the statistics regarding online harassment. A recent PEW research study detailed the many forms that online abuse can take: name-calling, trolling, doxing, open and escalating threats, vicious sexist, racist, and homophobic rants, attempts to shame others, and direct efforts to embarrass or humiliate people. While these issues affect both men and women, it affects women disproportionately so, with 73% of women online reporting that they have faced some kind of abuse.

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This begs the question of whether or not the Internet is a “welcoming” place for women. Along this vein, PEW asked its sample to rate how “friendly” certain Internet neighborhoods were for men and women. The results show that most people consider the Internet to be equally welcoming for men and women, with the exception being online gaming where the largest discrepancy between men and women exists.

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These perceptions, however, don’t seem to match the reality of most women. Although many reported social networking sites and apps (such as Twitter and Facebook) to be equally friendly to both genders, the women surveyed were most likely to report social networking sites and apps as the scene of their most recent instance of online harassment.

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This discrepancy may account for why this problem has gone unaddressed for so long. If the majority of people perceive the Internet as equally friendly towards both men and women, it is difficult for women who do suffer abuse to get the wider community to recognize how serious the problem has become.

While statistics are always useful for painting a larger, contextual picture, they tend to gloss over the more human element. The fact of the matter is, the majority of women online face very real, very visceral threats regardless of whether or not they are public figures or just your everyday Internet user. Here are a few examples of typical tweets that women receive almost daily:

The examples don’t end here. Emma Grey’s tongue-in-cheek listicle details 13 things you can do on the Internet to receive a rape threat (#13 is, quite simply, be a woman) that links to the real stories each point is based on.

Here is a horrifying and moving piece by journalist Amanda Hess detailing how Twitter harassment and cyber-stalking ended in a physical confrontation with a man who was later hospitalized for mental issues and then arrested. She highlights particularly the law enforcement’s failure to aid her, even though she had abundant evidence of violent rape and death threats made against her.

Sadly, Hess’s experience is far from unique. Here’s a list of the most prominent cases of online harassment in the last few years. Jill Filipovic shares a similar story about how quickly virtual threats become physical ones when a Twitter troll tracked her down and threatened her, and media critic and activist Soraya Chemaly wrote a great piece on why women are particularly vulnerable to uniquely cruel kinds of online abuse. Journalist Amanda Marcotte has also opened up about how years of harassment on Twitter led her to disable users’ ability to tag each other in tweets on her Twitter feed. In yet another example of how online threats can escalate to real world violence, game critic Anita Sarkeesian (check out my blog post for more information) and game developer Zoe Quinn were both forced out of their homes after repeated rape and death threats from the group #GamerGate.  Lastly, here’s a truly stomach-turning collection of years’ worth of rape and death threats made against Rebecca Watson.

This is a fantastic longer piece detailing exactly what qualifies as Internet aggression and what we should to to combat it:

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For a quicker overview of things, this NPR piece on the Diane Rehm Show also does a great job of detailing the #GamerGate controversy more specifically. In it, you also hear more from Hess about her traumatic experience and her frustrating dealings with law enforcement.

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What’s apparent from the overwhelming amount of examples is that a very serious problem exists for women online, one where they face a daily barrage of violent messages that takes a huge emotional toll, and sometimes a physical one in the cases where virtual stalking translates into real-world threats. In light of all this evidence, why is it so difficult to recognize that an issue exists and work towards a solution?

Well, one problem is that there is currently no legal definition of what constitutes online harassment, and the standards for proving something to be a true threat are difficult to meet in the context of the Internet. The Supreme Court is weighing in on the issue for the first time in an upcoming court case, but as of now no legal precedent exists on how to handle this kind of abuse.

Another piece of the puzzle is that the Internet is a global network, but reports of serious threats go to local law enforcement, who have no real power or jurisdiction to track down any one abuser. Women are left in a catch-22, where they must ignore or laugh off extremely frightening (and personal) threats, or report each and every instance of abuse to local law enforcement who a) lack the power to apprehend the perpetrator, much less convict them and b) often dismiss such concerns altogether as “unreasonable hysterics.” Most officers recommend that women report such abuse to the online site directly.

Unfortunately, women don’t fare much better with online platforms themselves. The gender imbalance in most online companies means that it is largely males who decide how to deal with the billions of instances of female-directed abuse, and companies like Twitter have a long history of telling women “too bad, so sad.” Women are largely told to fend for themselves on Twitter, where official recommendations are to fill out a form for each, individual instance of abuse (and even then, not all rape threats violate Twitter policies) or to just remain silent. The company has suggested that “abusive users often lose interest once they realize you won’t respond” so it recommends unfollowing them, blocking them, or in extreme cases, calling the police. Twitter does ban abusive users from its network, but only when they issue “direct, specific threats of violence against others.” According to one article, that’s a criminal standard stricter than the code you’d encounter at any workplace, school campus, or neighborhood bar. In fact, Take Back the Tech, which is a global campaign to raise awareness about violence against women online, gave Twitter an “F” on a report card assessing its policies on dealing with instances of abuse.

It is easy for Twitter and companies like it to pass the blame as well, since the Telecommunications Act of 1996 does not hold website administrators liable for content posted by users. With the police officers washing their hands of the issue in favor of administrative regulation and online platforms skirting around the issue altogether, who is left for women to turn to in order to address these instances of rampant abuse?

It seems that in light of such failures, women are turning to each other and to themselves. Third party developers, like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, have developed an app called Block Together, which allows users to share their list of blocked users with friends and auto-block new users who at-reply them. A similar app, Flaminga, offers filters that allows users to instantly mute all Twitter accounts that share certain features, such as use of a sexist slur or accounts that are following a particular user. Both apps allow you to share your blocked lists with other users in what becomes a community-wide effort to prevent abuse.

Another example of a coping tactic is the use of humor and public shaming. A relatively recent instance of this was a young woman who sent screenshots of rape threats to the mothers of the men who sent her the messages. The images have since gone viral.

The blog Bye Felipe is another excellent example of this.  It creates a safe space for women to share their experiences and validate one another through laughter (for more on this topic, check out my blog post how women are using social media to fight abuse).

I got the chance to ask Alexandra Tweten, the creator of Bye Felipe, a few questions about her project and her opinions on where the future of women on social media is headed:

Q: Around how many submissions do you receive for Bye Felipe? Does Bye Felipe generate more interest when there are specific controversies trending elsewhere (like #shirtstorm, #GamerGate, or #DudesGreetingDudes)?

A: It’s been a steady stream of submissions ever since the article in The Atlantic came out, which was the first press coverage. I have about 2,300 unread submissions in my email inbox, 200 Instagram direct messages and 300 Facebook messages that I haven’t even opened. I only started it on October 13, so it hasn’t been around very long, but I definitely see an uptick in submissions and follows when Bye Felipe is mentioned in the press, or shared on popular blogs. There have been a few news articles that link shaming men online such as Straight White Guys Texting and Nice Guys of OkCupid, but I think the most traffic comes from online news rather than Twitter discussions or hashtags.

Q: What do you think drawing public attention to the abusive actions of men online accomplishes? Do you think it has the potential to be an effective means for change, or is it a more cathartic, validating experience for the women who share their submissions?

A: I wanted to draw attention to this issue for a few reasons. 1, to validate other women. A lot of women feel bad when they receive these messages or think that it’s something they did to cause the guy to react. I’ve received many thank you messages from women saying they feel better now that they know lots of other women get hostile messages from men. 2. I also wanted to let men know what it’s like to be a woman online. Men who don’t send these types of messages a lot of times have no idea that this is the environment we as women deal with. I hope that men who witness other men participating in the behavior will help police it and discourage it. For the men who send hostile messages, I wanted to publicly shame them. I hope they are embarrassed that they acted like that, and don’t continue that behavior. I hope all men take note and think twice about sending a hateful message because women already deal with them enough. 3. In airing these messages, I wanted to start a conversation about harassment and point out how prevalent it is in our society.

Q: What role do you think humor plays in these exchanges?

A: Humor is an important piece of Bye Felipe because most of the time, the first thing these hostile men will attack is the woman’s looks. We are already barraged with everything in popular culture that tells us that our looks are our most important and most valued asset. When men demean women’s looks, they are trying to harness the inherent power they possess because of their gender. I make fun of these guys to try to take away that power they have in making women feel bad about their bodies. I’m saying, “look at you, you’re ridiculous, and your words don’t hurt us. You should be ashamed of yourself for sending hateful messages.” I have hundreds of thousands of followers backing me up. I refrain from posting serious threats or stalking messages because I don’t want to make light of an actual dangerous situation. There’s a tumblr called When Women Refuse that chronicles real violence women face when they say no. I use humor to dismantle any harm that these insults may cause.

Q: Why do you think that there has been an escalation of hostility and aggression towards women online in the last few years especially? What do you think of how pervasive it has become in recent media reports?

A:I don’t necessarily think there has been an escalation of hostility, but I think it has been reported on more, and people have been paying attention to it, calling it out, and saying it’s wrong. I think historically this hostility and aggression was just seen as commonplace, and something that women just expected. It wasn’t seen as a problem, or at least a problem that you talked about freely. Now with the internet, it’s easy to reach millions of people quickly and effectively, so I think the conversation has changed. People are starting to call out aggression and inequality faster and louder than before. I’m thankful that catcalling and rape and harassment has become prevalent in media reports because unless you’ve experienced it, you don’t really know the extent to which it is problematic or harmful. The message has been allowed to reach a much larger group of people, who can now understand at least a little bit, that it is a very real problem. I think Bye Felipe is such a simple concept, and something that women just deal with every day that they don’t even notice it. I wanted to point it out and say, “Hey everyone, look, isn’t this messed up?” It’s wonderful that these stories are being seen as problematic in the media because that’s how you change minds.

Q: What, in your opinion, could be done to make social media spaces more women-friendly now and in the future?

A: I think it should be easier to ban trolls, but silencing them doesn’t fix the root of the problem. We’ve got to have a discussion as a society and say what is appropriate behavior and what is not appropriate behavior. Unless something changes in the misogynistic undercurrent of our culture, women will continue to receive these messages, if not online, in real life as well. I don’t think OkCupid or Tinder or Facebook should be censored, but I think it should be easier to block people who you don’t want to interact with. Harassers should face more serious consequences.

Q: I found Bye Felipe through Instagram. Do you consider this its main platform? If so, why Instagram as opposed to other social media sites? Do you envision expanding to Twitter specifically in the future (beyond the small number of already existing posts there)?

A:I started it on Instagram because it was easy. It was literally a split-second decision to create it, and it was just a simple way of conveying the message and keeping the screenshots together. It is the main platform, although I have a Facebook and Twitter page, but I’m not as active on those because it’s mostly a side-project for me. I have a full time job, so I don’t have time to update on three separate platforms all the time. facebook.com/officialbyefelipe and @bye_felipe on Twitter.

Q: Twitter and WAM! have recently partnered to create an online harassment report form. Do you think this is an appropriate means of addressing the problem of online abuse? What other recommendations would you make based on your own experiences and your contact with other women’s experiences via Bye Felipe?

A: Yes, I think the harassment form is a great idea, and it should be continued into all of the other social media platforms as well. Policing harassment is such a difficult issue, and efforts to improve it is vital. I think it needs to be easier to block harassers or ban them from sites. It should be easier to stop them from seeing your personal information. A lot of women have said that if they block a guy on OkCupid, he just comes back with a different account and continues the harassment. We need an improvement on that.

Thank you again to Ms. Tweten for sharing her invaluable insights.

Although Bye Felipe and spaces like it are undoubtedly useful, they ultimately service the preferred solution of most online companies (including Twitter): that users ignore abuse or deal with it on their own, without bothering those in charge. That’s where groups like Take Back the Tech, Who@, End Online Misogyny,  and WAM! come in. All are organizations (some professional, some just a coalition of users) that spread awareness about the plight of women online and put pressure on platforms like Twitter to implement far-reaching solutions. WAM! especially has made some significant progress. It has recently teamed up with Twitter to create a comprehensive form to report online abuse, which many are calling a huge step forward. The form would allow women to report all instances of harassment in one sitting, as opposed to having to individually report each abuse. The whole process, from filing the complaint to Twitter’s response, is then monitored by WAM! to ensure that each case is being appropriately dealt with.

The future of online harassment is extremely high stakes for many women who suffer from such abuse daily. Although there are many obstacles ahead, I believe that we cannot discount the progress that is being made. The upcoming Supreme Court decision will greatly impact the debate on whether law enforcement or online companies bear the responsibility for regulating abusive comments. Additionally, users and third party organizations alike are banding together to increase pressure on online platforms, and those platforms are responding both with potential solutions and with improvements to current systems (like the Twitter harassment form) that better equip them to deal with abuse effectively. All in all, the Internet may be a hostile place, but women are carving out their own safe spaces (Bye Felipe among them). In continuing to spread awareness, those spaces and the women in them have the potential to effect change one platform at a time, ensuring that we move forward into a brighter future.

 

 

 

Scott Pelley Explains the World: A Review of CBS Evening News

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As I sat down to do this assignment, it struck me that this is probably the first time I have watched a network newscast in years, and even then I’m not exactly doing so voluntarily. I couldn’t help but wonder if I were being unfair to network news. As it turns out, the answer to that question is both yes and no.

(It is frustratingly difficult to embed CBS video…here’s a link to the video I watched: http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/1118-government-urges-broader-recall-of-defective-air-bags-band-aid-charity-regroups-to-fight-ebola/ )

I was greeted by the somber face of Scott Pelley as he detailed the program’s agenda against the backdrop of photos and somewhat overly-dramatic music. I’ve been watching for only around 7 minutes and I’ve already noticed that one of Mr. Pelley’s favorite things to say about a story is that it is historic: the recent Synagogue attacks in Israel are “the worst in recent history” (and while they are no doubt tragic and horrific, so are many of the atrocities occurring in that region. I don’t know that I’d call this particular one “historic”) and temperatures across the United States are at “historic lows for this time of year.” This seems like a rather vague description to me, but he’s said it twice already and the music is increasingly dramatic so I’m paying attention.

The coverage was pretty standard. They packed a lot of information into 20 minutes, broken up at around 3 minutes per story. The stories themselves were all fairly newsworthy, although I think the order of importance was a little flawed and there was an odd story here or there. The program jumped between domestic and international issues with no real rhyme or reason: the first four stories were about defective airbags in the South (domestic), the “Wall of Winter” covering much of the US in snow (domestic), the Synagogue attacks in Israel (international), and another instance of domestic abuse within the NFL (domestic again). There was also a very strange balance of stories with a wider scope (such as the the nationwide cold spell) and oddly focused ones (such as the a story about an elderly couple whose house was destroyed when a plane inexplicably crashed into their living room).

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I was extremely surprised that they glossed almost entirely over the issues in Ferguson, only devoting about a minute of time to them, but spent a solid 3 minutes talking about how a Democratic congresswoman is losing votes in her home state because of a bill on an oil pipeline (no information on the actual pipeline itself, which seems like the more important story to me). Priorities?

I was, however, pleasantly surprised by how much context each story gave. At least 4 stories (the Synagogue attacks, the defective airbag story, the terrorist reform center piece about Saudi Arabia, and the Rockstar collaboration to raise money for the Ebola crisis) all had a solid 30 to 40 seconds of contextual information that dealt either with background, how the story will move forward, or both. As someone who has unlimited access to background information on the Internet, I didn’t think they could one-up me on knowledge, but I learned more than I was expecting to. Well done, CBS.

That being said, I also learned that transitions between stories are some of the most awkwardly uncomfortable things to watch. Scott Pelley deserves kudos for his valiant attempts at casually switching from a discussion of brutal murder to concerns about a few feet of snow. I honestly can’t think of any way to make that work.

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The newscast often jumped from person to person as well, including field reporters, experts, and a weatherman. My personal favorite was Holly Williams, who was reporting on a terrorist reform center in Saudi Arabia. The story itself was very interesting, but what really made me cringe and (although I’m somewhat ashamed to admit it) laugh inwardly was her thinly veiled tone of absolute disbelief and derision when speaking about what she dubs the “spectacular failures” of what is more like a “hotel” than a “prison.” The look on her face at the center’s proud display of “rehabilitated” terrorists’ artwork mirrored my own feelings, and her incredibly professional dedication in the face of an interviewee remarking that he would have undoubtedly tried to murder her had he encountered her prior to his incarceration is impressive beyond words.

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Overall, I thought some aspects of CBS were enjoyable and even admirable (particularly the amount of context they had to situate their stories and give them larger significance), while other aspects weren’t so successful. I think the decision to gloss over Ferguson was a terrible one, especially considering how much attention that story is receiving just about everywhere else. I also thought the angles of certain stories were strange at best (I’m talking to you, oil pipeline that seems extremely significant but I somehow still know nothing about after three minutes). I’d say that these reports are definitely targeted towards an older demographic, although an argument could be made that by ending the newscast with a prompt to visit the CBS website or to log on to Twitter, Facebook, or other social media sites, CBS is attempting to appeal to a younger target audience. They even have little widgets right below the video that allow you to share a pre-typed Tweet or Facebook post with the click of a button. With only 3 shares on Facebook and 14 Tweets (only one of which is from an actual person, rather than an organization) however, an argument could also be made that they are somewhat failing at this endeavor.

At the end of the day, I enjoyed the colorful personalities on the CBS evening newscast, and I certainly learned more than I was expecting to. That being said, I don’t think I’d tune in again. Sorry Mr. Pelley. It’s not you, it’s me.

 

Not-So-Pretty Princess: The Internet Fights Back Against Restrictive Gender Roles

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We live in a world where young girls are constantly bombarded with media images, images that tell them how to look, how to dress, and how to police their weight in order to be worth something in our society. But perhaps one of the most pervasive of these images (and one of the images that start at the youngest age) is that of the princess.

Here’s a quick look at one extreme example of how these harmful images can follow young women well into adulthood: meet Kelly Lee Dekay, a fetish model who wore a corset for 7 years to shape her waistline to an excruciatingly tiny 16 inches. Her inspiration? The highly sexualized, “adult” version of a princess-  Jessica Rabbit.

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Aside from the serious health risks that come with this kind of behavior (seriously, ladies: corsets do not do your internal organs or ribcages any favors, so maybe skip the Spanx at your next function?), these kinds of media messages have been shown to increase eating disorders among adolescent girls. Honestly, there is something seriously wrong with a society where over 80% of ten-year-old girls have been on a diet. As increasingly larger numbers of younger girls are inundated with these kinds of images, what can we do to help our young girls enjoy the princesses they love while keeping healthy views of their own bodies? Not only that, but how can we teach them to not be passive, dainty damsels in distress, but rather active players in shaping their own futures?

Here’s where the Internet comes in: social media has been an incredible way to spread images of body positivity and messages that encourage young girls to break free of the restrictive gender roles encouraged by stereotypical depictions of princesses. For example, here’s a great article that shows what Disney princesses would look like if they had realistic waistlines (the banner photo for this post is one example).

And here’s an incredible video that dresses little girls up as (adorable) princesses and then allows them to hilariously tear down gender stereotypes with their rather unexpected language. Way to fight for gender equality little ladies! The end even touches on how restrictive gender roles are just as harmful for men (WARNING: contains graphic language):

And lastly, here’s a fantastic music video by the incredibly talented, 15-year-old YouTube star Benny, whose artistic and haunting portrayal of gender roles pushes for more acceptance and fluidity for men and women alike:

UPDATE: In response to criticism about how some of their princesses reinforce stereotypical gender roles, the Disney Channel has launched the “I am a Princess” campaign in order to inspire young girls to empower themselves. What do you think of their efforts? Leave a comment below with your thoughts!

Who Has the Last Laugh? How Women on Social Media are Fighting Abuse Through Humor

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What do Instagram, Youtube, and Twitter have in common? The answer may surprise you: all have become platforms for women to draw attention to the harassment they face online, and all are playing crucial roles in creating solidarity among women and garnering support from many social media users to push for change.

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The first of these, Instagram, is home to a page called Bye Felipe where women are encouraged to send in screen grabs of encounters turned ugly with men online. The site calls attention to the way many men turn extremely verbally abusive should a woman not respond to their advances on social media sites (such as Facebook, Tinder, OKCupid, and other dating sites). The numerous examples sent in, which range from mildly aggressive to absolutely horrifying, question the aspects of our media culture that make such behavior seem acceptable, while creating a space for women to come together, share their experiences, and feel supported and validated by others who have faced similar threats or abuse. The whole project is a great way to diffuse tension, since it uses humor as a way to publicly shame men who engage in this inappropriate behavior (one woman claims to have e-mailed her screen grabs to the offending man’s mother in what I imagine must have resulted in a very awkward mother-son conversation). This use of humor has become important in garnering support from the male online community: it presents the behavior as problematic, ensuring that men in general do not feel personally attacked. Instead, they feel like they are “in” on the joke, and this feeling of inclusion may make them more likely to join in on the criticism and push for change, rather than waste time on trying to defend themselves.

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This trend has also carried over to Twitter, where #DudesGreetingDudes has exploded in popularity. The hashtag began as a result of this viral video of a woman documenting her experiences with being catcalled at on the street over a 10 hour period.

The video, which was filmed on a GoPro camera (itself a tool of citizen journalists) and originally posted to Youtube, represents the amazing potential of people to take media into their own hands. This woman created her own original content about a public issue that affects women everywhere, and she used social media as a platform for sharing that content with the world. It also calls attention to the normalized double standard that exists between men and women, where the harassment and intimidation of women by male strangers on the street is supposed to be seen as a “compliment.”  Though she received some negative backlash, critiques of racist undertones in the video, and even rape/death threats, #DudesGreetingDudes has been an overwhelmingly positive response, where men and women alike come together to express solidarity, again using humor as a means to create an inclusive environment for calling out the unacceptable ways men treat women:

That last Tweet is a valid critique…do men only listen to other men? Are “women’s issues” only valid when they become “men’s issues?”And should women have to tiptoe around what amounts to verbal abuse and harassment by cloaking it with humor to make it more palatable to the masses? Let me know what you think in the comments section below, and if you’re interested in the darker side of social media and women, check out my blogpost on Anita Sarkeesian.

Either way, it is clear that social media is playing a huge role in allowing women to share their experiences and find support, whether they choose to do so with humor or not.

UPDATE: I recently discovered that, in response to complaints by many women online and the rampant media coverage on the controversial group GamerGate, the group Women, Action, and the Media (WAM!) has teamed up with Twitter to address such harassment. Women on Twitter can now fill out a form to report abuse and WAM! will pass on verified complaints to Twitter within 24 hours and track their responses.

The Sarkeesian Effect: How Anita Sarkeesian is Changing the Game for Women in the Video Game Industry

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Social media has been an incredible tool for any woman (or person for that matter) with access to a computer to actively engage with the media she loves and share it with the world. One such woman, Anita Sarkeesian, climbed the ranks of Youtube fame with her successful show “Feminist Frequency: Tropes vs. Women” which dissects the stereotypes that plague the video game industry. With a total of 175,425 subscribers and garnering 15,771,390 views since 2009, Sarkeesian has used her webseries to promote her expertise, and she is a frequent lecturer at universities, conferences, and game development studios internationally. Boasting a BA in Communications and a Masters in Social and Political Thought, it is easy to see why so many respect Sarkeesian as an authority on pop culture tropes. Here’s an example of one of her webisodes, which all focus on the problematic representation of women in video games and push for more fair and equal treatment :

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With just under half of the market share for video games composed of women and over half in social/mobile gaming (see above infographic), many women  feel a strong sense of solidarity with Sarkeesian, who stands as a beacon of inclusion and support in what may women feel is a “boy’s club.” Not everyone is happy about Sarkeesian’s well-researched and well-supported critiques of the industry, however, and while social media makes it easy for women like Sarkeesian to spread their message of social equality, the flipside of that coin is that it is all too easy for her opponents to bombard her with hate-filled backlash. This trend echoes the victimization that many women users and content creators complain they face in the video game industry, especially in light of the sustained refusal of industry leaders to step in. Most recently, a radical faction of the group GamerGate has been harassing women online with rape and death threats, specifically through the use of #GamerGate on Twitter. Sarkeesian has been on the receiving end of such hate, which she casually refers to as #hatemail (WARNING: content contains graphic language and is highly disturbing):

Sadly, such abuse has followed Sarkeesian off the World Wide Web and into the real world. For the first time in her career as a lectuer, Sarkeesian was forced to cancel an appearance at Utah State University when she received an e-mail threatening a mass shooting. Here she is discussing the incident (which was itself controversial) along with her views on sexism in video game culture on The Colbert Report:

So what next for Sarkeesian? Well, she has made it clear that she will not be intimidated, and she refuses to back down. She will no doubt continue to be a trailblazer for women in the video gaming industry, using social media as a way to connect to her vast audiences and Youtube as a platform to share her thoughts. She has also been featured on several traditional media outlets, including CNN and the New York Times (linked above and below, respectively).Overall, her attitude is an optimistic one: she insists that despite the hatred of select groups the future of women and gaming is bright. Until then, you can catch this anything-but-a-damsel-in-distress on her Youtube Channel or on Twitter.

Photo Story: Cooking Arabic Rice in a Korean Kitchen

A culinary collaboration:

 

Special thanks to Gina Kim (pictured left), Chanmee Chung (pictured middle), and Jenn Lee (pictured right)- chefs and models extraordinaire!

Coming Soon to a 3D Printer Near You

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One of the newest technologies to transform the lives of both men and women in the media (among other industries) has been 3D printing, which can be used for anything from downloading and printing your own make-up to creating replacement body parts. Within the realm of media specifically, 3D printers (which kind of feel like something straight out of the classic cartoon, The Jetsons) have been used for an innovative purpose: set, prop, and character design.Many popular movies have utilized 3D printing in this way, including Paranorman, Iron Man 2, and The Hobbit. This video explores how 3D printing was used in The Hobbit, specifically:

Versions of the intricate props and weaponry used in The Hobbit can even be downloaded by fans, who can now print their own memorabilia through the use of online “blueprints.”

These movies represent genres that especially benefit from this new technology. Paranorman and other movies like it (such as Coraline) depend heavily on a stop-motion type computer animation that is incredibly detailed and time-consuming from a production standpoint. 3D printing has revolutionized the way these movies get made, saving countless hours of creative labor while allowing for an infinitely larger amount of variation in design, particularly in terms of facial expressions (see the gallery below for pictures).

On the other end of the spectrum, big-budget action and sci-fi thrillers have also benefited enormously from this new technology. In Iron Man 2, members of the design team and production crew were able to print life-size, wearable versions of Stark’s iconic armor as well as a wearable mask of actor Robert Downey Jr.’s face for stunt doubles (again, see the gallery below). These innovations have virtually erased many of the limitations faced in producing such movies, where prop design has always been very labor-intensive:

With more and more effects-heavy blockbusters being produced than ever before, it is clear that 3D printing’s role in Hollywood will only continue to grow in the coming years.

Infographics are “In”

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As this infographic-of-infographics (Meta, isn’t it?) points out, data visualization is “in.” This circles back to a point the Pulitzer Center’s Meghan Dhaliwal stressed when she guest-lectured: creating engaging infographics is an up-and-coming skill for journalists. So just how useful can data visualization be?

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I found this infographic about women in television. (If you’re interested, Forbes dives deeper.) It combines several types of data visualization in a way that I found useful without being overwhelming, a problem with many other infographics I encountered. It blocks data off in a way that’s visually pleasing, with more image-heavy content acting as a literal frame for more text- or number-heavy content.

I liked how the take-away points (the disparity between actual and represented populations, the decline of female writers to 15%) were set apart in images (the circles and arrow respectively). This way, if I didn’t want to interpret numbers or even read all the text, I could still walk away with a basic understanding of main ideas.

I found the line-graph easy to interpret (again, a relief from overly complex versions) and useful for comparing how women have fared over the years. The representation of “what 25% actually looks like” was more visually striking than merely reading the statistic, and it stuck with me more than it otherwise would have.

All in all, I think infographics are a great way to understand information “at a glance.” Especially with today’s short attention-spans (personally, I know I rarely make it to the end of longer pieces), journalists can use infographics to ensure their readers understand important points regardless of whether they read through the whole article.

That being said, they are not without shortcomings. Data is especially easy to manipulate, and I think infographics have the potential to be misleading. Unlike more traditional journalism where you can read another version of the story at a competing source, there is no way for readers to “fact-check” infographics unless they have access to the raw data set and/or the literacy to sort through it.

Last but not least, even though this is an ad, I thought it showcased some pretty interesting uses for infographics. I also noticed a few of them were pulled from media sources:

 

Also, for those who are interested in data visualization, here’s a nifty “how-to” infographic I stumbled upon (I’m not sure why it looks so small here):

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Digital Disruption Rocks the Music Industry

 

What a frustrating yet rewarding experience making this audio recording has been! From a 16-minute interview and several different music files to the finished project you can listen to above, this project led to several near melt-downs and a lot of hair pulling. As a first time user, it was tricky to navigate both the Zoom and Audacity, but I got into the groove of it eventually. Though it’s still a bit rough in areas, I must admit I’m very proud of the finished product.

Thank you so much again to the incredibly talented Spencer Robelen for allowing me to interview him over Skype. When he isn’t sharing his insights about how technology has transformed the way musicians make music, he composes and plays in several different genres, from classical to modern. I highly recommend checking out some of his other pieces, especially since many of them make the perfect soundtrack for studying. You can follow him on Facebook, subscribe to his channel on Youtube, or keep updated on his newest projects at his website.

Happy listening!

Radio Review: The NPR One App Experience

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NPR’s new app, NPR One, allows listeners to have a more customized experience with public radio. Personally, I enjoyed exploring it, although I think there is definitely room for improvement.

dead-phone-nathan-borror   To begin, I was excited to download the app, but using it really drained my battery. I went from 25% to 15% in a manner of 20 minutes. Since I anticipate that I’d be most likely to use this app again while on the go, this is a pretty big problem. Honestly, I probably wouldn’t listen to radio segments if it meant that my phone would die on me in the middle of my day.

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In terms of content, the app works by sorting segments into “buckets” (to use the visual metaphor above), which represent larger categories or topics. Users can then personalize the kinds of content that they are exposed to by either tagging a particular piece as “Interesting” or by skipping content they don’t like altogether. I personally had a love-hate relationship with this feature of the app. While I enjoyed getting customized content (for example, I found news about education much more relevant to my interests than music news), I found that tagging pieces as “Interesting” restricted my story choices fairly quickly. After flagging a few health stories, the app gave me an overwhelming amount of health-related content, more than I cared to listen to, frankly. I had a similar problem when I tagged a story about the domestic abuse controversy in the NFL. I found this to be frustrating, especially because it made the “Coming Up” page increasingly repetitive. I wish there were a way to maintain more variety, perhaps by including a “random content” category. I was also disappointed in the small quantity of stories offered in the “Coming Up” page. I would have enjoyed viewing a larger number of story choices at a time, or at least having a refresh feature that loaded new stories when I got to the end of the existing list.

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Overall, I thought the quality of the pieces were great. The sound was very clear and, once the stories loaded they played through seamlessly. One problem I have with streaming is that longer pieces tend to ‘stick’ in one place while downloading, which interrupts the content I’m listening to. I thought it was a big plus that this didn’t happen with NPR One. I suppose the downside of that though was how often I saw this screen. It may have been my data connection, but I felt as though many of the stories took quite some time to download. Had I been trying to squeeze in a few radio segments during spare time in my day, I probably would have run out of time to listen to them by the time they buffered. Building off this point, I would definitely use this app again, but only if I could integrate it into my daily schedule. I think it’s highly unlikely that I would just sit down and listen to the radio segments on NPR One. Instead,  I would most likely use it walking between classes or while waiting for lecture halls to clear out. The shorter length of a lot of the segments makes it a good option for killing time in my daily schedule.

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With this in mind, I wish there had been a “Save for later” feature. One of the stories I was listening to was over 50 minutes in length. Especially if I’m just flipping through content while going about my day, it would be nice if I could archive those longer pieces for when I can devote more time and attention to them.

Overall, I enjoyed using NPR One. I thought that the content was high quality and I enjoyed the customized experience. Most of the segments that appeared were relevant to my interests, though I do wish there was a way to balance that with more variety. I would use this app again, although I’d have to have a phone charger handy, just in case!