Journal

Cyberbullying and Sexting

It seems that the issues that I get requested to speak on most during the last couple of months has been the issues of cyberbullying and sexting. Most of the time it comes in the form of an educator who has heard of me and wanted me to talk to other teachers about these technological issues. There was a rare occurrence that I had the opportunity to discuss these issues with high school students.

When I address the issues with educators, what they want to focus on is how they can recognize when somebody is a victim of cyberbullying or if somebody is in a sexting relationship, especially after the focus on both of the subjects by the media. It seems hard for me to separate these two issues as both deal with identity online and others' perception of that created identity. I am not saying that both are the same or even that both have the same social impact. The point is that both of these issues are popping up as teenagers attempt to create their own space in a virtual realm. 

Cyberbullying is really a mechanism that a individual would use to force someone else out of website, social network or the entire Internet structure through the use of negative interactions. It is a power play used to claim control of the area that is hard to regulate and harder to control. The major problem occurs that cyberbullying is often reinforced in the real world setting and forces the individual target of the cyberbullying to protect themselves far beyond their ability to do so.

Sexting, on the other hand, is a mechanism used by a few as a form of individual expression and exposure. I am not saying that this is harmless exposure, rather there are risks that the individual may not be aware of. Once a picture, a video or even a simple note is sent, it can not be retrieved. It remains online forever. This is why I encourage individuals to think before they post anything online.

Both of these issues come back to the idea that one should be manage their online identity and interactions carefully. It is extremely easy to find yourself in a sititution that can be too much to manage if you are careless with what you say or post online.

Phishing on Twitter

It is a rare occurrence that I would stumble across a timely topic. However, it seems that my academic hypothetical discussion has turned into a real world threat. I've been working all day and I finished eating dinner when I see the warning issued by Twitter. The questions that I asked from the last post really seem to hit home. So, I felt that a quick response would be appropriate. (Man, 3 posts in one week!!!) The question of "do identity thieves twitter?" seems to be yes after this threat hit the network. Even though it was using the oldest phishing trick in the book and I hope nobody fell for this trick. But, I believe this is a scary point in the microblogging phenomenon. I gotta believe this is the first step in more sophisticated attacks on identity in the Twitter network. Because it is really easy to post information in this format, we can accidentally expose information that could be a treasure trove for social engineers and identity thieves. This would expand the damage that can be caused by black-hat Twitterer from harmless to harmful. The purpose of this post is not to scare anybody. The purpose is to create awareness about this situation and I hope people will be more careful about what they say on a microblog.

One More for the Road...

Twitterkins lead me down another thought path when he tweeted me "who'd impersonate me when they'd gain nothing? Do identity thieves twitter? Like, to make it 'look good?'" I really don't have a good answer to this question. Also, I figured that this question deserved more than a simple 140 character answer. So, I figured I would poke this topic one more time to see where it leads. I have to preface all of these statements by saying that Twitterkins is Paul F. Tompkins. He seems like a nice guy and technical whiz. First, it's pretty obvious that spam has appear in the Twitterverse and other microblogging communities. The question that comes to mind is why spam when the spammer has nothing to gain. Could it represent something viral? Could it make the spammer feel that they are control of the network by feeding it information or misinformation? Could it make the spammer feel that he or she lead the network to another source that could make the spammer money? Being a sociologist, I can not speak on motive. I can argue that it depends on the type of community, the information being shared and where the links used by the spammer take the community member. Second, let's approach the second question asked by Mr. Tompkins, "do identity thieves twitter?" I would focus on the term "identity thief." According to the wikipedia, an identity thief is anybody that uses fraud to "stealing money or getting other benefits by pretending to be someone else." So, yes there are identity thieves in the harmless sense on Twitter. I can interact (and have had conversations) with the characters from the West Wing, Studio 60 and Mad Men. I doubt that the actor or actress who plays those characters are typing the Twitter posts. The benefit to those playing the characters on Twitter is that they get to play the characters they see on television. Mr. Tompkins is a famous cable show and someone could want to "play" PFT. Others have done research on being a "fakester" by adapting another persona. I have not research on this subject nor read deeply this research. The question I have is "is somebody using Twitter for a more harmful purpose (stealing money from others, causing harm)?" I doubt it, but I can't speak for certain.

Identity Validation Online

I was having a conversation with my wife about the Twilight Zone. Every year the Sci-Fi channel as a 24-hour marathon of most of the episodes. My wife was telling me about her favorite episode "The Changing of the Guard" and how it makes her cry everytime she sees it. During this talk, Paul F. Tompkins (PFT), the host of Best Week Ever and @twitterkins on Twitter was doing a running commentary on the episodes that were playing on Sci-Fi. I sent him a reply telling him my wife's favorite episode and he replied back quickly asking me about the episode. I explain the plot and told my wife that I was telling Paul F. Tompkins about the episode. She asked me the $64 million question... "How do you know its him?"

Hmm, that's a fair question. I told her that there were contextual clues present in previous postings done by @twitterkins. For example, he was having a Twitter conversation with John Hodgman (@hodgman on Twitter). PFT presented himself as an authentic to Hodgman and Hodgman validated him as being PFT. Hodgman talked about his Twitter experience on This Week in Tech. Therefore, I had good idea that I was replying back to PFT. However, let's say I had no real world methods of validating a person's online identity. How would I validate that the person I was talking to was actually the person I was talking to? If I had no real world contacts with the person, I guess the simplest way to validate the person's identity would be to look for virtual artifacts that already have been validated as being created by the person and look for similarities between those artifacts and artifacts presented to me by whomever I am talking to.