Sunday, January 31, 2010

Before you change that Relationship Status

Advances in social media have led to improved speed and efficiency in communication. But rapid change often outpaces society’s ability to create rules and social standards. Take for instance the wonderful world of dating. Forget using a phone these days. Now you can text, email, and tweet your way to someone’s heart. Add to the mix Facebook, MySpace, and other social media and you have a myriad of ways to communicate with your potential partner. Of course, instant and indirect communication courts the potential relationship killers of ambiguity and misunderstanding. Digital messages lack body language and tone of voice and are open to analysis. The early stage of a relationship is already uncertain enough. Add in the ever deciphering mind of one partner willing to review each message over and over again in order to determine the other’s intended (or gasp, hidden!) meaning and current level of interest. Cryptic tweets and status updates on Facebook further complicate the matter. It can get confusing. Perhaps there is no better example of this than the Facebook Relationship Status Change.

Changing Times

As this article at describes, Facebook users can define their relationship status in six ways: Single, Engaged, Married, In a Relationship, In an open Relationship, and It’s Complicated. Users can also avoid listing their status and leave it to the imagination of those who are unaware. Of course, any change by the user to his or her relationship status is broadcast to his or her entire list of friends (depending on specific settings). While it’s nice to be able to update friends and family of changes in your life at the click of a button, it can complicate matters and create hard feelings. Often, the past, present, and/or future significant other is already on the friends list and can be taken by surprise by the change. How would you feel about seeing a message that your long lost love had just moved from single to engaged? Do you really want to know?

Communication is essential in a growing relationship. Prior to the “exclusivity talk” the relationship remains undefined. So what happens when one overeager partner decides to change his or her status from single to “in a relationship?” prior to discussing it with the other partner? How should the one caught unaware interpret this action? What does one make of the partner who refuses to even list a status after the decision to be an exclusive couple is made? Their is great potential for misunderstanding.

Embracing Technology

Technology begins to creep in on what was before an intimate discussion between two people. Indeed, it’s becoming commonplace for tech saavy daters to include a discussion of the Facebook Status Relationship Change in their talk of where the relationship stands or is heading. Some even take it all the way to the altar as this article describes: “I like the story at the end of that article about the couple who changed their status from engaged to married mid-way during their wedding night using their iPhones."

It Gets Personal

An online story at Glamour reminds me of how tough it can be to let the world know that your heart has been broken. A friend of mine was dating a woman for several months when she had expressed that while she just wanted to see where things were going before getting more serious, she wasn’t dating anyone else and so they had time. A month later my friend noticed a sudden decrease in contact from her. Then out of the blue comes an email from her saying that she’s met “the one” and that she was sorry but she couldn’t let this opportunity pass her by. He was surprised and annoyed. He told me that he considered dropping her from his friend’s list but was still curious about how her life would turn out and so did nothing. The next day her “single” status was switched to blank (see here how to change without letting the news being broadcast to all your friends).

He called me several months later to tell me that she had changed her status back to “single” again, followed by a flurry of status replies from friends stating “Get well soon” and “I’ll call to check in on you soon, hang in there.” He told me that he felt a twinge of satisfaction before guilty set-in. At the click of a button, he had reacted to a distant event that was for him just words on the screen but for someone else it was no doubt a painful moment. It was a good reminder of how technology allows us to close the distance between each other and yet does so in a very impersonal manner. Social media’s impact on relationships is still yet to be fully determined but what is clear is that it leads to as much confusion and uncertainty as it does connection.

Will Twitter Elect the Next President?

Watching the coverage of President Obama’s State of the Union address last week, I was struck by the attention given by major news stations to Tweets and Facebook posts, as well as blog comments. CNN kept a running image of the country, showing the divisions between red and blue as the social media updates came in, and providing a Twitter analysis of the speech. Even the White House jumped into the media pool, launching a free iphone app days before the speech. The app enables users to stream live events from the White House newsroom, as well as “get up-to-date information directly from the Obama Administration right to your iphone,” so users could conveniently view the speech right from their phone.

Of course, this type of strategy is to be expected from the tech-savvy Obama administration. And, as expected, the White House web site also features the first official White House blog, with frequent updates, mostly by White House staffers, but periodically by cabinet members and others in the administration. Maybe the president himself will blog someday.

The 2008 Presidential Election

All the attention given to the social media aspect of the State of the Union address was reminiscent of the 2008 election season. On November 5, 2008, an article on titled “The Vote: A Victory for Social Media, Too," referred to the 2008 election as the "first social media election," and discussed the unprecedented effect all forms of social media had on the election. According to the article, Facebook kept a running tally of users who checked a box indicating they had voted -- and the number had exceeded 4 million by around 10pm. Facebook users could also send each other virtual Obama or McCain buttons, and many wrote on friends' walls showing support for a candidate.

YouTube also came into play in a big way during the campaign season. PBS teamed up with YouTube to ask American citizens to "Video Your Vote," a campaign for people to shoot videos of their voting experience and then upload them to a special section of YouTube.

Not to be left out, Twitter provided another non-partisan voting tool, the Twitter Vote Report, a collaboration of volunteer software developers, designers and others who teamed up with blog techPresident to allow voters to share problems with their voting experience.

As reported on the techPresident blog, Nina Keim and Jessica Clark of American University's Center for Social Media compiled a report describing the project and its results:

"...Developed in less than a month, the project generated more than 12,545 submissions, marshaled more than 7,500 contributors, and involved nearly 20 highly skilled volunteers and partners."

Where Will It Take Us?

We know that the Obama campaign led the numbers in social media, in terms of friends on MySpace and Facebook, and being first out of the gate to use Twitter. The McCain campaign jumped on the bandwagon, but never managed to amass the number of online supporters. However, both camps were heavily dependent on social media by the time election day rolled around. As the use of social media continues to grow and its importance to our culture expands, future candidates will have an unprecedented opportunity to use this free avenue to reach mass numbers of people with targeted messages without dipping into their advertising budgets. Clearly, social media influenced the 2008 election -- what will be its influence on the coming elections in November for Congress -- and what will be its effect on the next presidential election? Will social media become the most important tool in a candidate's arsenal?

Oh Goodness, We're All Gonna Fail!

I know you, dear reader; we are probably a lot alike. I imagine at some point in the last quarter of 2009, you perused the KSU Spring course listings in the hope you would find the perfect class – you know, the one where you don't have to read too much; the one where you don't have to write too much; the one that won't take up every last minute of weekend enjoyment when the winter weather turns to sun and fun.

Like you, I went through the list. One by one, I went through the offerings:

Professional and Academic Editing? Too hard.

Poetry Writing? Poetry is confusing.

Environmental Writing? I recycle my soda cans; isn't that enough?

And then, much like a beacon in the night...a healing balm to my chafed ice cold beer after mowing the yard on a scorching Summer was there. The clouds parted, golden rays illuminated the two words, breathing hopeful life into this student.

Social Media.

Word up.

“So, I'm going to get to play on Facebook for a grade?,” I asked aloud. Sweet. I am positive you thought the same.

Little could our minds comprehend how Social Media, particularly Facebook, would lead to academic catastrophe. For some, possibly worse.

All this time I've been thinking Facebook was fun. It was a great way to reconnect with old friends. It helped me keep in touch with the family members that were only used to hearing from me on Christmas.

But then, I was made aware of “The Study.” This confounded document led me to the understanding that we have all been set up to fail this course. It's true.

In 2009, researchers at The Ohio State University concluded that there is a direct correlation between Facebook and college academics. Specifically, students who use Facebook tend to study less and carry lower grade point averages.

“We can’t say that use of Facebook leads to lower grades and less studying – but we did find a relationship there,” said OSU doctoral student, Aryn Karpinski, co-author of the study.

Typically, Facebook users in the study had GPAs between 3.0 and 3.5, while non-users had GPAs between 3.5 and 4.0.

Ahhhh!!!,...I can feel my 4.0 slipping away through my browser!

However, if there is a silver lining to the OSU study it's that science, technology, engineering and business majors were more likely to use Facebook than were students majoring in the humanities and social sciences. Of course, that's only good news for our colleagues who avoided Social Media altogether.

It gets worse. Much worse.

After the initial pangs of despair subsided, I asked myself what else could possibly happen to me – to us – from partaking in Facebook during this Social Media course. The list is long and deadly, but I feel you must know that Facebook's evil tentacles reach long and deep. Besides destroying academic hopes, it also ruins friendships, is bad for marriages, is a detriment to adolescent minds, single handedly laid waste to the birthday reminder industry, raises the risk of cancer, and in some extreme cases, ruins Christmas.

Folks, don't say I didn't warn you when come May and you check Owl Express, you see a big “F” next to your name and Social Media.

Doppleganger Week on Facebook: Who's Your Celebrity Look Alike?

Is that my friend Nikiah or is it Lisa Nicole Carlson from Ally McBeal?

And I never really noticed that my favorite uncle’s childhood best friend (oh what a tangled Facebook friend web we weave), looks just like Chris Elliott. But now I’ll never get this image out of my head.

Why am I suddenly comparing all my friends to celebrities? Because its Doppelganger Week on Facebook. Nobody, not even the gurus of all things social media over at the Mashable blog, knows where or how Doppelganger Week started, but it has taken Facebook by storm. Like the “What color is your bra?” status update meme and Wayback Week, Doppleganger Week is the newest fad, and it has practically everyone on Facebook changing their profile pictures to a famous face. Now, as I scroll through my friend feed, I do double takes when I see the celebrities my friends (sometimes misguidedly) think they look like.

While internet memes (an idea, catchphrase, game, or concept that spreads quickly via the internet) are by no means new to Facebook, memes that require users to change their profile pictures are. But they make sense. Facebook, more than any other social media platform, encourages users to be themselves. And that includes uploading pictures from their real lives. While people might be tempted to use another picture – such as a funny avatar or a company logo – on Twitter or online forums, Facebook is all about just that… the user’s real face. I’m just surprised that Facebook, a platform that’s celebrating its 6th birthday this week, didn’t adopt memes that played on user’s pictures even sooner.

I confess I rarely get told I look like a celebrity, so I haven’t picked a doppelganger. Should I be annoyed? Or proud that my striking good looks are so um... unique?

Since I was having trouble finding my famous twin, I did what any social media user worth her salt would do. I asked other Facebook users. I got suggestions like Julie Dawn Cole (Veruca Salt from the 1971 movie Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory) and Janeane Garofalo. I liked both ideas, but I thought I might find someone even better, so I turned to Google. After searching the keyphrase, “find my celebrity look alike,” I stumbled across’s Celebrity Collage.

…Which is clearly broken. After uploading this picture, I, flatteringly, received an 80% match with the elegant Grace Kelly, a 78% match with smoking hot Mary Louise Parker, and a 75% match with Gene Tierney. I think this website is trying to sell me something, don’t you?

I then tried, which wanted my email address before finding my celebrity look alike, and then claimed that I looked like two separate teenyboppers named Rachel, neither of which I felt at all resembled plain little ol’ me. I suppose the art of internet-based celebrity look alike identification is as yet an inexact science.

I have yet to pick my celebrity doppelganger. Have you? You’d better get on it, because soon enough Doppleganger Week will be gone the way of the dodo, and Wayback Week, and the What Color is your Bra meme…

Side note: More interested in finding your true facial twin than your celebrity twin? Then check out Coke Zero’s Facial Profiler made especially for Facebook. While it seems to have some of the same problems as My Heritage’s Celebrity Collage and, this snazzy app claims that it will find your twin among Facebook’s over 350 million users. ...Once again, I was “unique.”

Did you have better luck than I did finding a twin? Post your results in the comments!

Jennifer Escalona is an Atlanta-based professional blogger and social media consultant who writes about small business, technology, and intercultural marriage. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook or read more of her work at

Social Media (Ir)responsibility

Photobucket A recent article on entitled "Enough Already! 7 Twitter Hoaxes and Half-Truths" lists prime examples of what can happen when social networking tools are placed in obnoxious hands. The examples raised in the article illustrate just how quickly a rumor can grow out of control and underscores a serious dilemma facing the social media now and for the foreseeable future: the issue of responsibility.

Although social media websites provide a great avenue for communication, the trend is also potentially dangerous because there are no rules. Because social media outlets are tools used by ordinary citizens, users are not held to the same accountability standards as professional journalists. And, according to the Social Media Bible, there is “virtually nothing” that can be done about what is reported on these sites. “This behavior is human nature. People are going to talk and gossip and complain,” the book observes. Therefore, anyone can be a “journalist.” Anyone can tweet, blog, digg, and utilize any variety of social media outlets to gain recognition even if what one says is not exactly true, and even if there is little to no research to support the claims made. I would like to believe that the reading public is discerning enough to distinguish between opinions and well researched articles, but the state of today’s news cycle leads me to believe that far too many people pay little attention to where they are getting their news.

However, as incidences of lies and offensive behavior circulate more frequently, more people are beginning to take note and take action.

Taking a stand, and then again, not

A more recent article regarding social media misuse highlights the story of Adorian Deck, a high school student and owner of the Twitter account, @OMGFacts. With more than three hundred thousand followers, Deck on MLK day posted a salacious "fact" regarding the civil rights icon. Deck could not recall where he came across the information, and could only provide links to websites that reported his fact as an unconfirmed rumor. As a result, an apparently ineffective movement was started to encourage followers to unfollow @OMGFacts which still has more than three hundred thousand followers.Photobucket

In another attempt at taking a stand against irresponsible social media users, Matt Singley, a social media observer and blogger, gave a scathing response to a fellow blogger’s call for action against McDonalds in the wake of what she inferred as support for racism and hate. Singley challenged her for “spreading fear and hatred, with very little room for facts or personal understanding. I hate seeing such spurious activism being propagated through social media… already many people have tweeted that message, but I am guessing than none of them have done any fact checking.” Although she was put on blast very publicly and very passionately, the blogger in question has yet to respond.

Then again, and proving that some social media followers are as concerned with ethics as the people they follow, is the story of Annemarie Dooling. Some of Dooling’s Twitter followers lashed out against her when, after gazing up from her mobile tweeting long enough to observe a bank robbery in progress, she decided to tweet about it rather than call the police. However, in an environment where “going viral” is a good thing, word of Dooling’s unfortunate day at the bank made her two hundred followers stronger by the end of the day.

High tech yellow journalism

Instead of setting an example for the social media to follow, the traditional press does its best to keep up with the enticing headlines and bold claims that bloggers and others are known for. Because readers and viewers are quick to berate news organizations for their slow reporting when compared to blogs which require no fact checking, it is now common for the mainstream press to quote well known blogs in order to circumvent journalistic constraints, like verifying the legitimacy of a story. Some news organizations actually re-post sub-par articles that lack clear guidelines, show no evidence of fact checking, contain no relevant sources, or too few on the record sources.

In addition, headlines regarding minute details on the lives of A to D list celebrities can just as easily be located on the websites of ABC, CNN, and other respected media outlets as on TMZ or Perez Hilton. In fact, it is quite plausible that the social media’s lack of standards is egged on by the traditional press who are quick to credit social forums with “breaking the news” which incites competition to do just that.


Because of the vast nature of web publishing, it is virtually impossible to police it all, but there are options to help users manage what they publish and readers to better trust what they read. The website encourages bloggers to sign a pledge and display the blog with integrity badge on their sites indicating their commitment to writing with honesty. Others have suggested a widget system indicating the level of trust that can be placed on the information derived from certain sources. However, the ultimate fact is that the integrity of internet reporting can only be rescued by honest publishers and readers who demand the truth.

Publically Private

As a twenty-three year old grad student, I am stereotypically supposed to understand all social media and use it constantly. I'm supposed to log onto Facebook, Twitter, or one of the other numerous social media outlets to give everyone updates on my life. From what I ate with my morning protein bar to how I feel about aiding Haiti, my life is supposed to be an open book. In fact, users who never post anything are generally considered to be pretty boring. However, how many social media users have stopped to consider who is reading that very open and public book?

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, a large percentage of adults are in danger of identity theft or burglary due to overexposure on social media sites. Two examples from my own Facebook friends reveal a disturbing trend:

Anonymous Friend 1: "going to see my brother, then Candice! then out for an epic night in Charlotte."

Anonymous Friend 2: "will be landed in Vermont in 3wks to the day."

Benny Evangelista, of the Chronicle, suggests that "if [social media users] post updates from a trip, that tells thieves that no one is watching your house." More shockingly, fourteen percent of adults give their home address away on their social media profiles. Even though the popular site Facebook now allows its members to firmly manage who can see what information, the Federal Trade Commisssion is still investigating the site for its privacy controls. The article below from CNN focuses on children, but also describes what Facebook has done to improve privacy:

The creator of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg himself, could be prompting this trend. His Facebook profile has low privacy settings and shares events he will attend as well as personal pictures to the masses. As one savvy blogger on emphasizes "if everyone followed Zuckerberg's lead Facebook would be a great place for finding stalkers rather than finding friends." Elizabeth Fish's blog about Zuckerberg is linked below:

So what does this mean for my generation? Well, we can learn to value our privacy. We have become open books. Employers, professors, even strangers can find out a little too much about us. Whatever happened to a bit of mystery? Does everyone on your social media site really need to know your street number? I don't know many people my age who would consider giving this information to a stranger on the street, so I struggle to understand why we feel the need to do so online. The self-esteem movement may have created this need to extol ourselves online but common sense should eradicate the need to over share.

I think we feel a mental block of communication when we sit down in front of the computer screen. We feel like we are typing only for ourselves, but that is obviously wrong; in just one click, information is disseminated for all to see. Whether this information comes back to bite us in the form of burglary or rejection by employers is unknown, but it can have detrimental results. After reading this news article, I did a little self-examining of my own. Did I need to tag those photos of a girl's night out? Did I really need to give the location of my office? Just how private is my profile and how can I control what others see? A cursory overview of your own privacy settings could eliminate future hassle.

This YouTube video features shocking news stories as proof of what can happen when we over share information online:

To end on a lighter note, remember Anonymous Friend 2 who was going to Vermont? She ended with a warning:

Anonymous Friend 2: "By the way, if anyone gets the brite[sic] idea to break into my house, my husband is home and is very trigger-happy."

Talk about over sharing.

Friday, January 29, 2010

What Price Freedom?

Social media. If you’re here, you’re a part of it. Everyone’s doing it these days. Not too long ago, I received a Facebook friend request from someone’s grandmother – so, yes, I feel confident when I say that EVERYONE really is doing it now. Social media are great ways for people to connect and engage in open discussion. Social media have provided us with new and effective methods to self-publish, share knowledge, and do business. Social media has made it easier for people to find everything from obscure music, to long-lost high school friends, to dates. But this convenience comes with a price, and that price is our privacy.

What does your profile say about you? Could someone use that information against you in some way? Is there information about you on the internet that you would not want certain people to see? The reality is, the information you post on “private” social networking pages isn’t really private at all. Privacy rules on social networking sites are pretty murky and many popular social media sites are under investigation for potentially violating privacy laws.

Basically, if it’s on the internet, it’s fair game. According to recent research, two-thirds of human resource professionals run internet searches on potential applicants. One in four has rejected a candidate on the basis of their social networking profile. Do you think all of this snooping stops when you get the job? Think again. Do you really want your employer knowing EVERYTHING you do and say? I sure don’t. And neither did this woman who was fired from her job when her employer discovered she was updating her Facebook profile while out sick.

Think you have the freedom to say anything in your tweet? Ask Jon-Barrett Ingels how that worked out for him.

Think you have the right to express your opinions on a social networking site? Not exactly…

Big brother is watching, but most of us don’t seem too concerned. In “How to Lose Your Job onYour Own Time,” Randall Stross reports the findings of a study that states “that 60 percent of Internet users surveyed are not worried about how much information is available about them online.” Do these people have nothing to hide or have they simply come to terms with the lack of privacy that our technologically advanced world has created?

Cyber snooping isn’t limited to employers. Your online activity can potentially expose you to criminals as well. For those of us that would like to protect our privacy, Robert Siciliano offers some prudent tips.

Social media has changed the world and will continue to do so in the future. But as technology outpaces privacy laws, users need to be cautious about what they do and say online – or anywhere for that matter, since anybody’s cell phone camera can record your drunken rendition of an Elton John classic and put it on YouTube.

Tiny Dancer (The Drunk Version) - The best bloopers are here

The rule of thumb is “if you wouldn’t want your mother to see it, don’t do it,” because if you do, your mother, my friend’s grandma on Facebook, and everybody else who is watching you WILL find out.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Frittering in the Information Age

Do You Know Where Your Children Are? 
As reported in the New York Times, the Kaiser Family Foundation has published a study indicating that the average American child under eighteen years of age spends an amazing seven-and-a-half hours per day online or otherwise connected with media. This average time spent connected is up over an hour per day from the Kaiser Foundation’s previous study done four years ago. The researchers were quite surprised by their findings, apparently, because they had thought that the six-and-a-half hours of connected time reported in 2005 represented the apex of the trend.
Ten Hours or More
The present study doesn’t even take into account various hand-held media such as texting, cell-phone use, or laptops. Nor does it allow for the fact of multi-tasking. When both of these factors are considered, the researchers speculate that the average American youth is exposed to over ten hours of social and entertainment media per day.

Poor Mama
If my poor, sainted mother were alive today, this study would kill her. When my siblings and I were youngsters back in the dark times known as the fifties and the sixties, she waged her own personal war against that most despicable of all childhood activities. Yes, I am referring to frittering—her word, not mine—and I am here to testify that I am where I am today because I never frittered. Or more specifically, I never frittered in front of her.
This was a woman who would allow me one comic book a month. And then it had to be an Archie comic, or one of those classic comics such as Gulliver’s Travels or Robin Hood. Television was one hour per week, period, just long enough for either Bonanza or Disney, but not both.

And movies? If a movie had a G rating, and if it was showing at the drive-in, and if my parents had five dollars, all three of which were pretty big if’s, then we got to see a movie. To this day, every time I see Mary Poppins, it makes me want to climb into the back seat of a 1957 Ford, drink warm Kool-aid, munch cold, chewy homemade popcorn, breathe second-hand smoke, and watch one of my siblings get backhanded from the back the front seat. Talk about the good old days.
Frittering Takes Time
All of which brings us the long way around the barn and back to the Kaiser Foundation study. With children spending an average of seven-and-a-half hours per day connected, that means that some are spending much more. And even though the internet is the literal doorway to all the knowledge in the world, somehow I get the feeling that not all of this net time is being spent at the Library of Congress Rare Book site or over at the Discovery Channel website.

According to the Pew Research Center, the estimated 21 million American teens who regularly use the internet spend the majority of their online time sharing music and video files, on social networking sites, and with online gaming. Sounds like a whole lot of frittering going on, to me. You've sort of got to wonder where Mom and Dad are.

Bad News on the Horizon
As my mother always suspected, the trouble with frittering is that sooner or later, the piper must be paid. If kids are spending close to eight hours per day at the activity, that doesn't leave much time for anything else, such as education. Once you throw in another eight hours for sleep and some time to eat, bathe, and brush their teeth, the youngsters that are over on the right-hand side of the frittering bell-curve are already running out of time.

Trouble in River City
In 2009, the National Center for Educational Statistics found that American high school students came in a mediocre 34th in math literacy when compared to students in other nations. They came in an equally sobering 28th in science literacy when compared to the same group. What’s happening? I don't claim to know the full answer, but I know what Mama might have said.  She'd say that the young folks today are frittering away our future. Frittering. Which rhymes with Twittering.  And as those of you who recall The Music Man might remember, that stands for trouble in River City.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

This Government Won’t Let Us Say What We Want. Social Media Will.

by: Jessica Allgaier

I have to admit, when I think of the term social media, I envision popular social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook, and Myspace, and maybe a trendy iPhone app like Urban Spoon. I picture mindless tweets about picking the kids up from school or a twitterpic of a really janky car in the drive-through at Burger King. Social media, I once thought, was merely a way to stay in touch with friends from high school or to announce a new relationship cyberly. Chapter 2 of The Social Media Bible says social media enables conversation (1). My narrow definition used to limit that “conversation” to idiotic text jargon and self-portraits from strenuous camera angles, but lately my definition is widening. Through Obama’s presidential campaign, permission based text message advertising, authors using NING to localize readers, and the promotion of unsigned bands through Facebook events and RSS feeds, I’ve realized—perhaps later than my tech savvy peers—that social media is an uncensored way to create and share news content.

The most phenomenal display of social media, in my opinion, occurred this past June 2009 during the protests to Iran’s presidential election. Thousands of Iranians took to the streets, assembling the country’s largest protest since their revolution in 1979. “We want freedom,” protesters chanted, claiming, “This government won’t let us say what we want” (2).

The Iranian government closed news websites and newspapers, banning Western journalists from covering political rallies. BBC’s correspondents in Iran were arrested, video footage confiscated, and broadcasts suddenly became more discreet, like this video posted on YouTube. Because the U.S. doesn’t have an embassy in Iran, on-the-ground news sources were not available, except through social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook. Internet broadcasting, weblogs, and status updates allowed news coverage to exit the country’s borders and feed into the rest of the world’s MacBooks, PCs, and PDA’s. Through social media, news broadcast companies such as CNN, headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, were able to access user created content from the ground without actually having correspondents, let alone contacts, in Iran.

Across the globe, Twitter users manipulated their own account settings to prevent the Iranian government from tracking Iranian tweeters. By changing their location to Tehran, Iran, tweeters—in New York, Toronto, Singapore!—increased the number of #IRANELECTION feeds, making the amount of content too overwhelming for the government to filter (3). In certain locations where social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter were also disabled, CNN’s iReport was still assessable, allowing Iranians to share content (including video footage and photographs) with Western news sources. iReport, a news source that gives “news consumers” the ability to create and share journalistic content as iReporters, is utilized daily by the CNN audience and their producers in order to “paint a more complete picture of the news” (4).

Take a look at this iReport about Iran, a collection of video footage, commentary, and photos submitted by iReporters all over the world (5).

Perhaps the most famous and horrifying footage from the Iranian protests is the death of Neda, an Iranian student gunned down in the streets of Tehran. Her brutal and bloody last moments were captured on video and were shown on news stations and online broadcasts worldwide (6). I remember the first time I saw the footage on, and then viewed it again on YouTube. I was stunned, mainly because the gravity of what I just experienced, but also because social media had allowed me to witness the same catastrophe Iranians were witnessing first hand. At this moment, information was not bound to borders; it was unable to be censored by government. Thanks to social media, information was truly in the hands of the general public.

The footage from Neda’s death appeared on in a post titled “Iran Election Crises: 10 Incredible YouTube Videos.” The website, subtitled The Social Media Guide, says “Social media is raw…YouTube allows you to get the uncensored version of things. We cannot be blind to that fact” (7). Footage from her death is under video 9, viewer discretion advised.

Social media testimonies like this example from Iran, updates and broadcasts from the most recent catastrophe in Haiti, and even the increasing number of businesses that have at least one employee dedicated to social networks all lead to an undeniable fact: social media is defined by its users. People who create content—news, reviews, videos, and photos—essentially become self-publishers, allowing anyone and everyone to participate in a greater conversation.

But some people who participate in the greater conversation defame their subject. ESPN reporter Erin Andrews was horrified to learn that Michael David Barrett, a former insurance company executive, secretly captured nude videos of her in her hotel room. Barrett allegedly video tapped 17 other women without their knowledge and broadcasted the footage on the Internet. Although Barrett faces prosecution in February, Andrews, back on the job, is receiving derogatory comments from sports fans. “I don’t want somebody else’s career to be ruined by this,” Andrews said (8).

I’ll leave you, dear reader in the blogosphere, with this question: if social media enables access to the uncensored truth, how much control do users have in regards to self-censorship? Are our lives forever on display with status updates or incriminating photos posted to our profiles? Do we enable narcissism and voyeurism with sex-tapes plastered on YouTube and clips of ESPN correspondents illegally obtained from a hidden camera in a hotel room? What happens when uncensored user-created content exceeds a healthy journalistic trend (like iReport) and becomes damaging to either the viewer or the subject?