Delete! Student Ethos and Editing Web Presence

invisible-man-shadows

Credit: zmescience.com

Overview: In this assignment, students learn about the importance of protecting their information and image online, and in turn, take measures to delete themselves from the myriad places where they are visible/vulnerable.

Juan Enriquez, “Your Online Life, As Permanent as a Tattoo”: http://www.ted.com/talks/juan_enriquez_how_to_think_about_digital_tattoos?language=en

Learning Outcomes:

Rhetoric–Audience, Ethos, Ideology

Digital Literacy–Accessibility, Copyright, Creative Commons, Social Media

Description:

The internet’s memory is gargantuan. Nearly every keystroke one makes is recorded in some way, and used for some purpose by companies and corporations. Sometimes this information is put to uses that we don’t approve of, e.g., marketing or identity theft. The European Union believes this kind of misuse is such a problem that legislation called “The Right to be Forgotten Online” has been proposed.

The purpose of this assignment is to make like the EU and fight back against the misuse of information that one provides online. Students begin by researching various ways to attempt to disappear from the internet. Simple searches like: “how to disappear from the internet,” “how to delete yourself online/from the internet/from Facebook,” and so on, reveal a vast array of possible ways for decreasing one’s online “presence.” There are even online services (like “Reputation Defender”) designed to do information-removal for its clients. Therefore during class instructors can have students research the options available for decreasing their internet visibility, and then have students move to implement it. Instructors can also have students share the tactics they found with other students, and show them how/what they themselves did to diminish their existence online If the instructor wants to require students to accomplish something specific, they can ask them to find a least one-two novel form(s) of digital deletion and implement it/them. This doesn’t have to be anything major, though. If nothing else, students can research how to delete something like a thread-post on Facebook, etc (pssst…there’s an invisible ‘x’ that appears in the upper-right hand corner of FB posts that allows you to delete them), but even small implementations can make a difference.

In order to help students see the value in such an undertaking, consider a couple of approaches: One is to explain to them how online companies and corporations use their data to persuade them (rhetorically) to view media and buy products that they might not otherwise view or buy (e.g., Amazon.com’s recommendations). That is, there is an unperceived rhetoric of manipulation that is silently operating on the internet all the time! Students can also see the value in such an assignment by realizing how vulnerable their information is online. A great way to demonstrate this vulnerability is by virtue of what a colleague of mine christened “The Facebook Blitz.” This involves getting on Facebook and accessing the information that your students have made public (but probably don’t realize it). When you come to class, though, and show them everything you’ve found (e.g., embarrassing images and posts, personal information that is public for anyone to see, etc), students are often shocked, and become more willing to engage in some type of deletion activity, even if only to change their privacy settings on Facebook and Myspace. In sum, this assignment involves lessons in rhetoric, memory/forgetting, and digital media visibility/vulnerability.

Technology:

One great way to have students prepare for this assignment is by reading a selection from Viktor Mayer-Schonberger’s Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in a Digital Age. The first chapter contains especially relevant anecdotes that students may find interesting.

Here, for example, is a wiki on how remove yourself from the internet step by step, and includes tutorials on deleting yourself from Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Flickr, StumbleUpon, Myspace, Paypal, eBay, Craigslist, wikis, Alma maters, gaming sites, blogs, forums, and so on:

WikiHow – Instructions to Delete Yourself from the Internet

Search engines also collect the data we put into them in order to sell products. For example, Google, Yahoo, Bing, PeopleFinder, and other sites all aggregate data:

WikiHow – Ungoogle Yourself

If students are feeling really ambitious, they can visit this site recently featured on South Park called Web 2.0 Suicide Machine. However, this type of deletion is massive and CANNOT be undone, so advise your students accordingly!!!

The Suicide Machine

Instructor Preparation:

In preparation for the assignment, one should consider reading about the EU’s “Right to be Forgotten” legislation and/or a selection from Mayer-Schonberger’s Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in a Digital Age. It’s also a good idea to navigate around and find potential deletion tutorials for students to use, and it’s always a good idea to try these various deletions yourself before having your students try them!

Student Instructions:

Becoming-Imperceptible, or How to Disappear Completely

The internet’s memory is gargantuan. Nearly every keystroke we make is recorded in some way, and used for some purpose by companies and corporations. Sometimes this information is put to uses that we don’t approve of, e.g., marketing or identity theft. The European Union believes this is such a problem that legislation called “The Right to be Forgotten Online” has been proposed. The purpose of this assignment is to make like the EU and fight back.

Step #1:

We’ll begin by researching various ways to attempt to disappear from the internet. Simple searches like: “how to disappear from the internet,” “how to delete yourself online/from the internet/from Facebook,” and so on, reveal a vast array of possible ways for decreasing one’s online identity. There are even online services (like “Reputation Defender” and “Web 2.0 Suicide Machine”) designed to do information-removal for its clients.

Step #2

After you find a particular “deletion tactic,” write down what it will take to enact it as well as what you think about it: Will it work? What will it accomplish? Is it a good idea? Now you need to decide: do I want to enact this form of deletion myself? If not, keep looking until you find one that you’re okay with. If you find one you’re comfortable with, go ahead walk through the steps, taking notes about what you had to do. However, the form of online deletion involved doesn’t have to be massive. For example, you could research/enact something like deleting a thread-post on Facebook, etc (pssst…there’s an invisible ‘x’ that appears in the upper-right hand corner of FB posts that allows you to delete them).

Step #3

Present to the class (in small groups) what you found out! This can be either a particular tactic for online removal and what you think about it, or how you went about deleting yourself from something. Please at least have something to share concerning your research, even if you didn’t delete yourself from anywhere. That way, everyone can get participation points!

Student Examples:

#1 Deleting Yik Yak — Grace Sovine

For my deletion artifact I decided to delete an entire social media account: my Yik Yak. Yik Yak is a coward’s Twitter; you may post whatever is on your mind, but it is entirely anonymous Great wording with “coward’s Twitter”. It’s an application for your phone and accessible via the internet where you use your phone number as your username. The user name or number doesn’t show up ever though. It’s organized by different locations so the GPS on your phone pinpoints where you are posting from, such as college campuses or even fictional locations like Hogwarts. Each post, or yak, can be up-voted or down-voted, and if a yak is down-voted 5 times then it is removed from the app entirely. This system is intriguing to say the least as it allows complete strangers to have an idea of each other’s thoughts, if they’re in approximation.

I chose to delete my Yik Yak because it’s something I have not really had it for a long time. In fact, I only had my account for about two months before deciding to delete it for this particular assignment. I had the app for about five weeks before even posting anything. Before then, I simply laughed at other people’s immature jokes, up-voted extra witty yaks and scowled at offensive ones. Never once did I down-vote a yak or have the courage to yak myself until registration. Between then and now, I posted four yaks, each about 3-5 days apart and each as unimportant and irrelevant as the next. I did not write things that were introspective or even true to my personal thoughts. Instead, I wrote what I thought might get a decent amount of up-votes. An aspect that I failed to mention in the summary of Yik Yak is something called yakarma. You can gain yakarma by up-voting yaks and by posting yaks that receive up-votes. Because of this, a lot of the content on the Yik Yak feed is repetitive and unoriginal. I think it’s really cool of you to be able to be this honest about yourself and your reasons for posting. But maybe explore how the “fleetingness” (that you also mention in the next paragraph) plays into the immortality–will you really be remembered for fleeting things you post? Or only the ones meant to wound?

Early in this course, we discussed the negative aspects of the growing dependence on technology and one thing that came up in this informal discussion was the danger of online anonymity. Yik Yak is the epitome of online anonymity. The platform seems appealing at first, but when you dissect it it seems superfluous. People are able to post thoughts that are fleeting and see other people’s fleeting thoughts which can lead to bullying and conflict. You could mention here that some people name drop during bullying or harassing but those get quickly downvoted.  However, the platform also fosters an environment in which people can test ideas that they are unsure of or speak up against some injustice when it isn’t necessarily accepted to do so in a normal social setting. YES!! Another benefit of the anonymity is the ability to not be tied to one thought or idea or image for your entire life. Mayer-Schonberger mentions “If all our past activities, transgressions or not, are always present, how can we disentangle ourselves from them in our thinking and decision-making? Might perfect remembering make us as unforgiving to ourselves as to others.” People change and evolve over the years. Is it fair to hold someone to a fleeting thought that they had years before or even months before? The internet poses itself as a place where authorship is ambiguous and publication is less than legitimate, but it tends to act as a crazy ex-girlfriend that pins things on you and won’t let go of the past, love it! no matter how long ago it occurred or how much you’ve changed since. That being said, it could be extremely naive to believe that anonymity means that posts cannot be traced back to authors, even when it seems like they disappear out of existence when the feed refreshes.

Another negative aspect of the app could also be its reliance on GPS. When viewing a yak, a map is shown in the background showing where the original poster is located within a one mile radius. creepy! Mayer-Schonberger writes the issue of surveillance stating, “Instead of protecting citizens from overbearing surveillance and memory, policy makers are compelling private sector data collectors to perfect the digital memory of all of us, and keep it easily accessible for public agencies from the intelligence community to law enforcement.” GPS is an extremely sketchy thing for an application on your phone to play with as users are completely unaware of who has access to this information and what implications that may have.

Because of my lack of emotional investment and the lack of importance of this form of social media, deleting my Yik Yak was easy and I am happy with my decision. After delving deeper into theory and what negative implications the app may have if there is ever an information leak, I am even more content.

(Edits by Kelsey Hill and Christian Wordham)

#2: A Pledge to be Less Visible — Christian Wordham

For this artifact, I did not delete anything on my personal social media pages. I did not delete any media pages I had that I no longer use (though I’m sure there’s still a MySpace out there that needs deleting…). I did not delete anything people will ever really see. Instead, I deleted an e-mail that had been sitting in my AOL inbox for several years now. It was not an e-mail I received or even sent, but simply a draft of an e-mail I wrote. It was an angry, sad, and desperate e-mail that I created mostly to get my feelings out, with the idea of one day sending out to several people whom I though deserved to hear these angry, sad, and desperate thoughts. Yet one thing we discussed in class in terms of deletion was the idea of “Deleting, Forgetting, Forgiving.” While this is usually forgetting and forgiving something someone posted about you, or that you hatefully posted about another person and want to be forgiven for, I focused on forgiving myself for being petty in writing this e-mail in the first place. I focused on forgiving all the circumstances that inspired me to write the e-mail. I focused on forgetting it ever existed, instead of letting it remain in my e-mail files like a never-healing sore. This is not just something I face either, but Victor Mayer-Schonberger and Bradford Vivan talk about this deletion trend in their texts Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in a Digital Age and “Deletion and DamnatioMemoriae” (respectively). They speak on the way people face their online demons through these posts they make or e-mails they type, and that they must learn to forget and delete, lest they and society hold on to it, “…an offense that he thought had long been forgotten by society as irrelevant to the person he had become. But because of digital technology, society’s ability to forget has become suspended, replaced by perfect memory.” If we are not able to delete and move on, neither will society.

Beyond deleting this e-mail and attempting to move on from its existence, I also want to take a pledge to be less “visible” online. I’ve started the process by making my Facebook much more secure. The tumblr I made for this class will remain entirely vacant of my own personal information. I have even thought about using that silly ‘duckduckgo’ site for searching, instead of Google (“Quite literally, Google knows more about us that we can remember ourselves” (Mayer-Schonberger)), just to demonstrate to myself and others that I don’t accept the idea of being tracked online. I do not have any instagram or twitter accounts, and will never make any. The notion of having more social media sites that display my information is unwelcome. If I want to share pictures or thoughts, I will do so on my already secure Facebook account. By limiting what information people can access about me on the internet,  I can avoid being a Stacey Snyder (Mayer-Schonberger).

I also want to pledge to keep my posts focused on the positive. There should be no need for me to feel the need to delete things I have said, because I want the things I say and the things people read to be positive, not something that has to be forgiven. If these posts are to be my “electronic tattoos” that make me digitally immortal, I want that immortality to be a good experience. *snaps fingers* yaaaas I want people to look back on what I’ve produced with technology as a cause for good, not for anger or pettiness. I think I should like to depend on the internet less, as a whole. While this semester has taught me that I cannot be entirely removed from technology ever, it has also taught me to be mindful, considerate, and respectful toward the power technology has. Technology can bring people and ideas together, it can lead to cooperation and collaboration, but it can also lead to “Digital Genocide” and the spreading of hate. By being less visible on the internet, I want to disassociate myself and my image with these negative aspects of the internet. Perhaps this will spurn on more deletion in my life, even the removal of visibility-causing decisions like perpetually shopping online, making space for more positive activity (that remains, in general, less visible to major corporations).

(Edits by Gracie DeSantis)

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