Government Surveillance

The idea of mass “surveillance” was once limited to spy movies and George Orwell novels, yet today, in part thanks to Edward Snowden’s revelations, surveillance is understood to be a widespread phenomenon that is part of daily life. Government surveillance, especially by the United States, pertains not just to enemies of the state, but to its very citizens as well. Angus West introduces 17 of these revelations thanks to Snowden (West 2013) and I wish to connect them to some of Neil Richards points in The Dangers of Surveillance (Richards 2013) here.


1) Can you hear me now?

According to documents leaked by Snowden, the Obama Administration “enabled the National Security Agency to collect caller information” from Verizon, ordering the company to hand over call records, and had similar relationships with AT&T and BellSouth (West 2013). This “invasion of privacy” was dubbed so by the American people, who were also concerned by the legality of such actions, especially since the U.S. Constitution affords several protections against “unwarranted searches and seizures” and against punishment due to freely sharing ideas (the First and Fourth Amendments). “Despite these protections” though, Richards argues that “courts lack the tools to enforce them” (Richards 2013, p. 1943).

Unfortunately, “the general principle under which American law operates is that surveillance is legal unless forbidden” (Richards 2013, p. 1942).Richards excellently points out that individual rights’ to protect themselves against privacy intrusion is limited. Most courts rest on the ability to prove privacy has been invaded, not just as speculation that it could be invaded, which is often difficult to prove.

This intrusion of the U.S. government into citizens’ personal lives, as well as private companies information & business dealings also highlights a greater problem that “surveillance transcends the public/private divide” (Richards 2013, p. 1935). Not only does such government intrusion & surveillance violate individuals’ privacy, it also leads to greater questions of the power the government has to demand access to private companies’ information and data.


16) “Dishfire” LOL

Elaborating merely on the revelation that the NSA collects phone records from major telecommunications companies, The Guardian also reported that the NSA can collect as much as 200 million text messages a day, using that information to pinpoint locations, extract contacts lists as well as financial transactions information. Not only did the NSA collect this information, but it also reportedly shared access with the United Kingdom’s intelligence arms (West 2013).

As Richards argues, “surveillance is primarily about power, but it is also about personhood” (Richards 2013, p. 1937). Though acts of espionage against foreign diplomats and powerful personnel, such as surveillance of EU members or at international submits, is outrageous, it isn’t necessarily unwarranted. As German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger pointed out “this recalls the methods used by enemies during the Cold War” (West 2013).

Yet such actions against a nations’ citizens without being prompted by a clear threat to national security, “affects the power balance between individuals and those who are watching” (Richards 2013, p. 1945). The fact that text messages – 200 million of them – can be collected in mass and then shared with a foreign government, seems to be almost a clear invasion and violation of individual rights. The U.S. government’s job is less so to share illegally-obtained information with another government, but is more so to protect the privacy of its citizens’ communications – whether those communications are relevant on a broader scale, or those text messages say “Wyd shawty?”



Crowdsourcing…Potato chips?

Cheddar Bacon Mac & Cheese, Kettle Cooked Wasabi Ginger, Southern Biscuits & Gravy, Cheesy Garlic Bread, Wavy West Coast Truffle Fries…these are some examples of three years worth of submissions to Lays Potato Chips’ “Do Us A Flavor” contest.


First launched in 2014, the Do Us A Flavor contest invited consumers to create their own recipe for Lays’ Potato Chips. Finalists were selected and actually created, and set to stores nationwide for consumers to experience them. After munching on the new flavors, sitting beside old favorites such as BBQ and Sour Cream & Onion, on the grocery store shelves, consumers were then able to vote in various ways for their favorite flavor.

The winning flavor, such as Hailey Green’s Southern Biscuits & Gravy in 2015, wins a $1 million prize (or 1% of net profits) and the other three finalists win $50,000. Obviously, a big motivator to submit a flavor and gather support is that nice chunk of change – but what about for people voting for flavors?

Unlike Asmolov’s emergency response information scenario, the Do Us A Flavor contest was not serving a public good or contributing to overall safety, but it was a clever marketing tool that made it easy for people to communicate. Though this study skips two of Asmolov’s three “relationship-types” of “informing, alerting and engaging” (Asmolov 2015, p.163), it does engage with consumers. Consumers were able to vote across platforms – on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, by text messaging and using hashtags such as “#VoteTruffleFries, #VoteBiscuits, #VoteReuben, or #VoteGyro.”


More similar to the Next Step Design contest mentioned in Brabham’s study, is likely participants motivation to participate in the contest. Where as in the Next Step Design competition, participants were designing a possible bus stop (Brabham 2012), in the Do Us A Flavor contest, participants designed a tangible potato chip recipe and had the chance of actually seeing it created. It is unlikely that flavor creators did so for the possibility of a resume boost, both intrinsic and extrinsic motivators were likely at place, such as the opportunity to win the prize money, to see a product of your own creation in stores, because it was easy and to have fun (Brabham 2012).

Overall, though a new potato chip flavor might not contribute to the public good, Frito-Lay (Lays’ parent company) was the obvious win, as brand engagement soared and consumers were able to participate with the brand in a new, successful way.



Mobile Internet: The Haves and Have Nots

Part One

In the two articles read this week, both Wijetunga and Wasserman wrote about mobile cellphone use in Sri Lanka (South Asia) and Africa. Mobile phone use in each of these very different regions of the world had some similarities – the initial belief that access to mobiles phones would breech the “digital divide” and the motivation to attain this technology, by both privileged and underprivileged classes were rampant in both societies.

Wijetunga noted a large disparity between privileged and underprivileged youth in Sri Lanka and how each group used mobile phones though. Underprivileged youth were inspired to attain the latest technological-advancement, yet certain barriers to access such as language skills (or the lack thereof) and inexperience with skills that came from computer familiarity prevented them from fully utilizing this technology though.

Wasserman studied a larger area, most of the African continent, though commenting frequently on South Africa. Like Sri Lanka, material access to mobile phones seemed high on the continent, but many Africans lacked “airtime” or the ability to utilize full call and text opportunities. Wasserman wrote about the development of Facebook Zero, so mobile phone users could go on Facebook for free without the necessary data, but did not comment on possible language barriers associated with that access. Wasserman also loosely based his research on how advancements in mobile technology could affect political engagement.

Both Wasserman and Wijetunga commented on the inability to mere physical access to phones to cross the digital divide and promote digital equality. The lack of skills and experience and other challenges still create barriers for users.

Part Two

Though both of the mentioned studies spoke on the digital divide and mobile phone use globally, there is a divide even here in the United States (though possibly not to the same extremes as in other nations). An interesting study into mobile phone user would be a study with education-based themes and goals that looked at the mobile phone use of students across socioeconomic classes.

My own experience teaching in high school classrooms showed me how many students relied on their mobile smartphones to complete assignments and research outside of class because they did not have access to computers outside of school, but were also limited by the economics of phone use and often didn’t have the data either to use their phone outside of a wireless connection.

The research questions would focus on availability of access and use of the internet via mobile phones for students to complete schoolwork.

RQ1: What methods or technologies do students rely on outside of the classwork to complete assignments?

RQ2: Are these technologies efficient or reliable?

RQ3: Does a lack of access affect students’ outcomes in school?

Obviously, one of the most pressing issues of our time is education equity, and it isn’t a secret that there is quite a gap in the United States between certain groups and classes, especially within education. This study would seek to understand how much that shiny iPhone that a student grips in class actually helps them achieve their goals or id they rely on it because it’s all they have.


Head of the State: A Remix


My video is a remix of several famous speeches by U.S. Presidents, such as John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama, contrasted with clips and soundbytes from Donald Trump on the campaign trail.

Note: For some reason the time length of this video shows up incorrectly; it is 6:09 minutes long.

This video is also the mountaintop of graduate student struggles. My first video attempt was muted by YouTube due to my use of the song, America the Beautiful sung by Ray Charles.

This second attempt was barely uploaded before this happened to my laptop:


The Blue Screen of Death (Meghan Mangrum)

Happy Monday, folks!

Digital Outlaws: Hackers, Hacktivists, Sharers and Pirates

Authors Johan Soderberg  and Nicholas John both write about counterculture-type concepts and political movements related to to technology and the internet.

Soderberg explores “technological determinism” and “collective action framing” of hackers. One of his most important points is that “the figure of ‘the hacker’ is highly diverse” (Soderberg 2013, p. 1279). This leads to differentiating between hackers, hacktivists and how their goals and framing affect their views. Hackers often share the same cultural references, values and ideas and Soderberg speaks of the prevalence of Marxist influence in the community. Overall, whether an individual’s main goal is social change with the help of technology (which is more in line with the hacktivist mindset) or the autonomy of technology to achieve a post-industrialist society characterized by a free flow of information, they share some of the same beliefs in software being open-sourced and readily available (and not readily available thanks to a government’s support or endorsement as seen in Peru). Whether or not groups align themselves with technological determinism beliefs is how their collective action frames will differ.

John explores this concept in a slight more simplistic way by looking at the different word choices characterizing file distribution (ie. “sharing”) and how that rhetoric affects political movements. The actions of sharing files, which is rooted in sharing software so as not to duplicate advancements in the early eras of computing as well as the positive societal action of sharing itself, has morphed from dividing available materials or access to duplicating and/or distributing files and information. Some, especially governments, entertainment industry companies and other institutions of power, define such actions as “pirating” so as to attach a negative connotation to these behaviors. John advocates for “file sharing: as a more appropriate term due to the actual goals and intentions of such individuals or actions. In fact, many “pirates” have re-appropriated the term and taken advantage of romantic ideals of piracy in a counter movement to the intentions of those in power. This simple action can help glorify the goals of such individuals or groups, the same way that hackers have been glorified in some cases, especially in situations such as with Anonymous or Wikileaks, where information is released into the bazaar and made accessible to all.

Foreign Policy & the Internet: The Great Firewall

The freedom that Americans experience online is a fantasy of some more authoritarian regimes. In China’s losing battle with Internet censorship, the Chicago Tribune’s editorial board explores some of China’s increasing restrictions on VPNs and therefore Chinese citizens’ access to global websites and information.

In early 2015, “one year into his tenure, President Xi Jinping appear[ed] determined to keep a tight lid on the flow of information in his country,” according to the article (Chicago Tribune 2015). VPNs, or virtual private networks, which allow access to forbidden websites such as Netflix, YouTube or Facebook, were under attack by the Chinese government as the “technology army” conducted crackdowns on such networks.

Though this article doesn’t speak directly of the United States’ involvement or responsibility in this situation, it speaks to some of Clay Shirky’s arguments that accessible information is vital to not only political movements, but also economic structures that can eventually influence the “conservative dilemma” (Shirky 2011,p.33).

The Tribune’s editorial board in writing this article, were not calling for the use of social networking sites to bred rebellion or encourage political movements in China, rather they were stuck on Shirky’s more simplistic origin point that access to information is the basis of freedom, though Shirky argues that “the freedom to converse with one another” is almost more important than the “freedom to access information” (Shirky 2011, p.30).

The article does mention the various sides who are upset about more restricted access in China, which illustrates the importance of what information people can have access too. Though cat videos might not be vital for holding a government accountable, viewing YouTube videos of the 1989 Tiananmen massacre might lead to an individual’s search for other information, which is exactly what the Chinese government seems to fear.

The Tribune’s editorial doesn’t touch on the United States’ engagement with China, as Edward Comor and Hamilton Bean wrote about, but one can assume that a restricted flow of information into China would also hinder the United States’ attempts of “engagement” even if Comor and Bean argue that “engagement” is not the proper strategy.

The article does touch on Chinese scholars who “are indignant over the equivalent of being banned from attending overseas conferences,” and students who are restricted from “the latest information in education, science and literature,” which are both sets of people who ideally could be engaged in actual dialogue in better public diplomacy attempts by the United States (Chiacgo Tribune 2015).

Overall, the article doesn’t address what Shirky argues is the more important freedom – that to converse with others, but it does address Chinese citizens’ anger over not being able to visit Facebook and chat with friends overseas or find material and visit websites that broaden their view. Though access to information does not seem to be the end game, freedom of the internet is not necessarily a short-term game, but rather a long-term one (Shirky 2011).

Viral Online Media: The Fly

Today, a new story is trending on Facebook based on last night’s presidential debate. It is not related to tax returns or emails, Donald Trump’s history with women or Hillary Clinton’s decision-making in Benghazi – no, it is the story of “that time a fly landed on Hillary Clinton’s face.”

‘Can I vote for that fly?’: Fly steals the show at second debate

The Fly is trending on both Facebook and Twitter this morning. BusinessInsider, CBS News, TMZ, OregonLive and a variety of outlets published stories about the fly, some humorous and some “punny”; people have tweeted and already screenshots have been surfacing (and editing) depicting the fly.



The Fly is a perfect example of “virality” and why certain things might go viral. Alhabash and McAlister argue that users are “cognitive misers” and are therefore more likely to share the “least cognitively demanding” content in the easiest ways (such as liking a Facebook post or retweeting a tweet) (Alhabash & McAlister 2014, p.1321). Instead of engaging in commentary on some of the deeper, political issues of the debate, it is less cognitively demanding to retweet images of a fly landing on a presidential candidates face.

Jonah Peretti notes that one way for something to go viral is to “capture the moment” (Peretti, #7). “When everyone is obsessed with news stories…” is a good time to jump on a certain aspect of the story – since there has been a lot of discussion and hype around the presidential debates this month, The Fly story could not have happened at any other time. Peretti also notes that “humor is inherently social,” and this viral story takes a very serious (supposedly) event and zooms in on a hilarious aspect of it (Peretti, #9).

Berger and Milkman note that “positive content is more viral than negative content,” and that people are more likely to share content that “physiologically arouse” them (Berger & Milkman 2012). Though the fly on Hillary Clinton’s face example doesn’t necessarily correlate with positive content, it’s humor allows it to play out more humorously than other topics from the debate might have. This content is not as “physiologically arousing” either, and therefore it might not last as an internet story for very long – at least only until the next trending content about something pertaining to the election or either presidential candidate surfaces.

img_7925-1       img_7926-1




Privacy: Is There Any Online? – A Storify

More information is available today than at any other time in history. Whether it’s gossip about public figures or ordinary people’s private data, information is shared both willingly and unknowingly by everyone who logs onto the internet and social networking sites. In this Storify, I explore five important questions to encourage dialogue about one of the biggest issues of the digital age: privacy.

View the Storify here.

Privacy: Does Twitter provide any?

Who I follow, what I tweet, where I am, my lists, what type of phone I use, the time I tweet, what links I click on…Twitter knows everything about me.

According to Twitter’s privacy policy, which the company has right to revise from “time to time,” they track A LOT. The policy therefore covers a lot…cookies, links, log data, widget data, etc.

What does this mean for the average user when they send out those simple 140 characters though?

I chose Twitter’s privacy policy to read because though Fuchs said that “Facebook ranks number two in the world in the list of the most access websites,” Twitter sometimes gives users the illusion that what they post isn’t permanent (Fuchs 2012, p.1). The newsfeed constantly update and tweets “disappear” into the abyss (or marketers databases) and often these tweets include inflammatory, troubling or downright weird comments.

I think Taddicken was right on when she wrote that how people feel about privacy, and how they behave and reveal their information doesn’t often line up – “Previous research has shown that users are indeed concerned about their privacy within the Social Web, but do not apply these concerns to their usage behavior” (Taddicken 2013). For my myself, I think this doesn’t necessarily apply because I’m not overly concerned about my privacy.

In my Advanced Law and Big Data classes, I was often the counterargument to those who were very worried about privacy infringement and how their data and information is collected and used. Based on Taddicken’s explorations, I am generally willing to disclose both public and personal information both in real life and online. Now, this does not go to say that I don’t present myself in a certain way online (drunk selfies, profanity or extreme political commentary aren’t my cup of tea), but I share a lot of my personal feelings about world events, my work and my personal life online.

This attitude probably helped keep me from being shocked by Twitter’s privacy policy. As a private entity that I choose to participate in, it does not surprise me that Twitter reserves the rights to share my information. I do believe my information such as financial information related to some of Twitter’s “commerce services,” should be protected and I don’t believe that Twitter necessarily does enough to track minors online (though the policy states that “our Services are not directed to persons under 13”).

My assumptions about the average consumer though is that they do not feel the same way. As Taddicken pointed out, many people are okay with disclosing public information such as name or profession online, but are not as willing to share private information in any sphere. I think many people don’t understand just how much right social networking services have to the information on their site and therefore do not adjust their behavior accordingly. In terms of actually reading privacy polices, I cannot hold myself superior because I had never read a privacy policy of a social networking site before this assignment and I’ve belonged to Twitter since 2011.


Twitter: My Week Following the NFL

I have been tweeting as @memangrum since February 2011. Over the years, my use of Twitter has changed drastically and today I am an avid user. For this assignment, I was wary because I use Twitter frequently and already follow various types of Twitter users – journalists, education influencers, activists, etc. So I decided to explore a topic that I knew I had never explored on Twitter before: sports, more specifically the NFL.

Inspired by both the beginning of the 2016 season and the Colin Kaepernick controversy, I decided to follow ten NFL experts (mostly journalists) including Richard Deitsch, Jim Trotter and Chris Mortensen.

I also put together a list of NFL players. I added Kaepernick first and then chose players suggested to me, including quarterbacks in Florida I was already familiar with like Blake Bortles and Jameis Winston.

The first thing I learned about sports writers and players is that they tweet A LOT. I was pleasantly surprised by the amount the players tweeted about non-football topics. It seemed by reading Kaepernick’s tweets, I was also observing a social change activist. By this weekend, I began noticing more football-related information on my Twitter feed though…which made sense as Sunday and Monday Night Football approached.

As I explored the world of the NFL, which I have little knowledge and even less interest usually, I thought of Crandall and Cunningham’s theory that “because new media is mobile and decentralized it allows people to circumvent traditional barriers to entry” (Crandall & Cunningham 2016, p.25).

Since I am not a sports reporter or the NFL’s biggest fan, I traditionally would not have access to the thoughts and opinions of NFL players, but via Twitter I was able to easily access and observe some of their interactions.

It does make me wonder about the dark side of Twitter though, and how easy it might be to be “‘superficially’ involved.” Though Crandall & Cunningham were speaking on social movements, I was definitely only superficially involved in the NFL world as I merely observed, but did not engage with the influencers and players (Crandall & Cunningham 2016, p.26).

I also thought of the parallel of the sports or football community on Twitter to Black Twitter, or any other subset or niche community on social media. As Brock points out, Black Twitter would have been considered “niche” if it had not been made “public” by hashtags and trending topics. I think the Kaepernick controversy parallels this – his efforts to speak out have brought more eyes to the NFL than might have traditionally been following players (Brock 2012, p.545).

Overall, it was quite interesting to be exposed to an area of Twitter I had never delved in before, and I wonder what other conversations I am missing out on!