Thank you to The Inquiry, a radio show and podcast from the BBC World Service for their insightful broadcast this week about WhatsApp and its influence on vigilantism. Natalie Dixon, co-founder of Affect Lab, was interviewed for a segment of the show to give perspective and context to WhatsApp groups. Natalie’s focus was on Affect Lab’s research into neighbourhood WhatsApp groups in South Africa and The Netherlands and how this technology creates both a sense of neighbourly intimacy but also facilitates acts of alienation. Listen to the FULL PODCAST here. Read the full paper about WhatsApp groups here.
Author: Natalie Dixon
The messaging application WhatsApp is often adopted in urban neighbourhoods to distribute and discuss information as part of neighbourhood watch programmes. In this context, certain notions of information sharing and the cherishing this implies, are often entangled with ideals of protection in the neighbourhood. Using the case study of an enclosed neighbourhood in Johannesburg, this research draws on theories of affect and mobility to introduce the concept of affective mooring. That is, that a neighbourhood WhatsApp group constitutes an affective mooring – an established practice and point of fixity – that generates a sense of being held in a community through feelings of collective presence and safety. Notably, these feelings of presence and safety are hinged on acts of resistance and alienation towards strangers. In this way, WhatsApp as an affective mooring in the neighbourhood is also a site for negotiating ideals of belonging.
This research was peer reviewed and published in the Open Cultural Studies journal (January 2018). DOWNLOAD THE FULL ARTICLE HERE
Feminists and legal observers in Spain have expressed outrage at what they see as “patriarchal justice” during the trial of five men accused of gang raping an 18-year-old woman during Pamplona’s San Fermín bull-running festival in 2016.
The judge, who will consider his verdict after Tuesday’s final hearing, has come under fire over his decisions to allow evidence to be presented about the alleged victim’s personal life and character, while not permitting the inclusion of texted conversations between the accused in which they apparently discuss plans to rape women.
Searching through conversations in the WhatsApp group called “La manada”, or “wolf pack”, to which the men belonged, police investigators came across an incident in which video showed some of the individuals apparently abusing another woman, who seemed to be unconscious.
Conversations prior to their journey from Seville to Pamplona mention the need to procure date rape drugs and ropes, “because when we get there, we’ll want to rape everything we set eyes on”.
A private detective’s report, commissioned by one of the accused, was compiled by spying on the alleged victim in the aftermath of the alleged attack, including her activity on social media and a holiday with friends. Two weeks into the trial, the defence decided to withdraw the file as evidence.
The strategy of the defence has been based on an attempt to show that the woman consented to group sex with all five of them. They are men in their late 20s, including a Civil Guard police officer who is also accused of stealing the female student’s mobile phone immediately after the incident. If found guilty, the men face prison terms of up to 25 years.
“In this trial, it seems that what is being judged is not the crimes, but this woman’s honour,” says Amalia Fernández, president of Themis, a Spanish organisation of women jurists.
Criticising the judge’s decision to include the detective’s report and media debates over whether the alleged victim had been truthful in describing the late-night encounter with the men as rape, Ms Fernández sees evidence of a systematic bias against women.
“We live in a society with patriarchal attitudes. Courts reflect society leading to a double victimisation as in this case. In crimes against women, the victim is turned into a suspect, something that never happens to complainants in other crimes.”
Ms Fernández questions how the judge could have considered a private detective’s report on the student from Madrid to be of any value in evaluating her level of trauma, while describing the material from the accused’s WhatsApp conversations as irrelevant in terms of their “preparations” for the alleged crime.
She also criticises the fact that the accused were not cross-examined until the end of the trial after hearing all the other evidence and the testimony of the alleged victim, an extremely rare exception to the norm in Spanish trials in which defendants are put on the stand first.
When the five men finally gave evidence, women protestors could be heard outside the Pamplona courthouse shouting slogans including “No means no”.
Media reporting, focusing heavily on the alleged victim’s credibility, has been criticised. In one instance, a major TV network ran a poll on Twitter asking the public if they believed it was a rape or consensual sex.
Videos of the late-night encounter between the men and the young woman from Madrid show how they wandered the streets among other drunken revellers before two of the men led her into the basement block of flats by the hand.
According to the police report on the case, the men surrounded the teenager in a small alcove, removed her clothes and had unprotected penetrative sex.
The men sent WhatsApp messages to friends celebrating the sex act, and promised to share videos they took on their phones. Those videos have been examined by the court frame by frame.
The police report on the videos says that the alleged victim maintains a “passive or neutral” attitude throughout the scene, keeping her eyes closed at all times.
“I just wanted it to finish as soon as possible,” she said on the witness stand.
The woman was found in a reportedly distraught state by a couple in the street outside the scene of the alleged crime. She told the court she is still having psychological treatment to deal with trauma from the alleged attack.
A Qatar Airways plane has been forced to land midflight after a woman who used her sleeping husband’s thumb to unlock his smartphone discovered he was having an affair.
The couple and their child were flying to Bali, Indonesia, for a holiday after boarding in Doha. The woman repeatedly hit her husband after learning of his infidelity and the captain was forced to make an unscheduled stop in Chennai, India, when the cabin crew was unable to restore order.
The family was then taken to a detention centre at the airport as they did not have an Indian visa before being put on a flight to Kuala Lumpur.
“The Qatar Airways flight QR-962 (Doha-Bali) was diverted to Chennai after the pilot requested it citing unruly passenger on board as the reason,” an officer from India’s central industrial security force (CISF) told the Hindustan Times, which first reported the incident.
“The woman and her husband, along with their child, were offloaded and the flight departed for Bali.”
The newspaper said the plane’s crew failed to calm the wife, who it said was an Iranian national. “The woman had unlocked her husband’s phone using his thumb impression when he was sleeping and then blew her top after discovering his infidelity,” it reported.
The Times of India said the Iranian woman made “such a ruckus” that the plane had no other choice but to make an unscheduled landing.
The family spent the day at Chennai airport and left for Malaysia on a Batik Air flight at 10.30pm.
Qatar Airways declined to comment in order to protect its passengers’ privacy.
“strange bodies are produced through tactile encounters with other bodies: differences are not marked on the stranger’s body, but come to materialise in the relationship of touch between bodies…. it is the very acts and gestures whereby subjects differentiate between others that constitutes the permeability of both social and bodily space”
– Sara Ahmed, Strange Encounters (2000, page 15.)
Our digital technologies aren’t politically neutral. The young person who cannot or will not be alone, converse with family, go out with friends, attend a lecture or perform a job without monitoring her smartphone is an emblem of our economy’s leechlike attachment to our very bodies. Digital technology is capitalism in hyperdrive, injecting its logic of consumption and promotion, of monetization and efficiency, into every waking minute.
Disturbing but not unexpected narratives are circulating about migrants and refugees traveling to Europe, centered on nationalist fears, job losses and worst of all – skepticism about the severity of refugee plights. Some narratives find expression in social media memes circulating on Twitter and Facebook like this one…
Props to writer Philip Kleinfeld and Vice.com for exposing the paranoid bullshit content of these memes – which are often blatantly falsified. The image above has nothing to do with European refugees, in fact it were taken in 2013 on Christmas Island in Australia.
Some narratives have centered on the crippled logic that smartphones are a sign of prosperity and are in conflict with refugee life. While the veracity of memes cannot be trusted, the content of these narratives – specifically the relationship between people and technology and what this signifies – are still incredibly interesting to analyse, succinctly done by the blog Everyday Analysis:
The horrible meme makes out that fleeing a war zone and the traumas associated with that is not enough to deserve our sympathy if you have a Samsung phone. Possess a symbol of capitalist success and modernity, manage a smile of relief and, in our unforgiving political climate, a traumatised refugee is be deemed a fraud….in the eyes of the British right, why should a refugee not have a mobile phone? …why should a refugee not take a selfie?
In the end this meme shows us three things. First, it quite simply and obviously shows how much hateful fascism there is in our society. Second, it shows how these structures are still supported by a colonial ideology that sees the passage to modernity as the natural course of events and does not want to admit that this trauma and devastation is a modern problem that our own brand of modernity is responsible for. Third, it warns us of the danger of our preconceptions and expectations when it comes to refugees and shows us how deeply ingrained in right wing ideology some of our assumptions may be.
“Hello Barbie” was released on 14 February at a toy fair in America- she’s wi-fi enabled and records kids conversations to develop authentic, real-time responses to them. While the tech press and others are dubbing her “eavesdropping Barbie” and “creepy” she’s not the first doll to be internet enabled. See Cayla, a talking doll that uses speech-recognition and Google’s translation tools, that was subsequently hacked. Besides the obvious questions around privacy and safety, what does this mean for the future of play?
I didn’t go looking for grief on Christmas Eve, but it found me anyway, and I have designers and programmers to thank for it. In this case, the designers and programmers are somewhere at Facebook.
I know they’re probably very proud of the work that went into the “Year in Review” app they designed and developed, and deservedly so — a lot of people have used it to share their highlights of 2014. I kept seeing them pop up in my feed, created by various friends, almost all of them with the default caption, “It’s been a great year! Thanks for being a part of it.” Which was, by itself, a little bit unsettling, but I didn’t begrudge my friends who’d had a good year. It was just a weird bit of copy to see, over and over, when I felt so differently.
Still, it was easy enough to avoid making my own Year in Review, and so I did. After all, I knew what kind of year I’d had. But then, the day before Christmas, I went to Facebook and there, in my timeline, was what looked like a post or an ad, exhorting me to create a Year in Review of my own, complete with a preview of what that might look like.
Clip art partiers danced around a picture of my middle daughter, Rebecca, who is dead. Who died this year on her sixth birthday, less than 10 months after we first discovered she had aggressive brain cancer.
Yes, my year looked like that. True enough. My year looked like the now-absent face of my Little Spark. It was still unkind to remind me so tactlessly, and without any consent on my part.
I know, of course, that this is not a deliberate assault. This inadvertent algorithmic cruelty is the result of code that works in the overwhelming majority of cases, reminding people of the awesomeness of their years, showing them a selfie at a party or whale spouts from sailing boats or the marina outside their vacation house.
But for those of us who lived through the death of loved ones, or spent extended time in the hospital, or were hit by divorce or foreclosure or job loss or any one of a hundred possible crises, we might not want another look at this past year.
To show me Rebecca’s face surrounded by partygoers and say “Here’s what your year looked like!” is jarring. It feels wrong, and coming from an actual person, it would be wrong. Coming from code, it’s just unfortunate. These are hard, hard problems. It isn’t easy to programmatically figure out if a picture has a ton of Likes because it’s hilarious, astounding, or heartbreaking.
Algorithms are essentially thoughtless. They model certain decision flows, but once you run them, no more thought occurs. To call a person “thoughtless” is usually considered a slight, or an outright insult; and yet, we unleash so many literally thoughtless processes on our users, on our lives, on ourselves.
Where the human aspect fell short, in this case, was in pushing the preview image into my Facebook timeline without first making sure I wanted to see it. I assume Facebook only showed the ad to users who hadn’t already created a Year in Review, in an attempt to drive more adoption. So the Year in Review ad kept coming up in my feed, rotating through different fun-and-fabulous backgrounds but always showing Rebecca, as if celebrating her death, until I finally clicked the drop-down arrow and said I didn’t want to see it any more. It’s nice that I can do that, but how many people don’t know about the “hide this” option? Way more than you think.
This whole situation illuminates one aspect of designing for crisis, or maybe a better term is empathetic design. In creating this Year in Review ad, there wasn’t enough thought given to cases like mine, or friends of Chloe, or really anyone who had a bad year. The ad’s design was built around the ideal user—the happy, upbeat, good-life user.
It didn’t take other use cases into account. It may not be possible to reliably predetect whether a person wants to see their year in review, but it’s not at all hard to ask politely—empathetically—if it’s something they want. That’s an easily solvable problem. Had the ad been designed with worst-case scenarios in mind, it probably would have done something like that.
To describe two simple fixes: First, don’t prefill a picture into the preview until you’re sure the user actually wants to see pictures from their year. And second, instead of pushing a preview image into the timeline, maybe ask people if they’d like to try a preview—just a simple yes or no. If they say no, ask if they want to be asked again later, or never again. And then, of course, honor their choices.
As a Web designer and developer myself, I decided to blog about all this on my personal Web site, figuring that my colleagues would read it and hopefully have some thoughts of their own. Against all expectations, it became an actual news story. Well before the story had gone viral, the product manager of Facebook’s Year in Review emailed me to say how sorry he and his team were for what had happened, and that they would take my observations on board for future projects. In turn, I apologized for dropping the Internet on his head for Christmas. My only intent in writing the post had been to share some thoughts with colleagues, not to make his or anyone’s life harder.
And to be clear, a failure to consider edge cases is not a problem unique to Facebook. Year in Review wasn’t an aberration or a rare instance. This happens all the time, all over the Web, in every imaginable context. Taking worst-case scenarios into account is something that Web design does poorly, and usually not at all. If this incident prompts even one Web designer out there decide to make edge cases a part of every project he or she takes on, it will have been worth it. I hope that it prompts far more than that.
In a double loop-de-loop of weirdness, you heard it right: a Ugandan pop star, Desire, has to contend with naked pictures of herself floating around the interweb machine (thanks to her ex) and the State Minister for Ethics & Integrity in Uganda wants to arrest her. Yes, Uganda has a State Minister for Ethics & Integrity (Simon Lokodo) in case you thought that was a joke – this stuff’s for realz mafreendz!