Posts filed under “ArchiTechs”

Free Download! ArchiTechs Volume 2

ArchiTech Volume 2

ArchiTech Volume 2


I’m delighted to share the second volume of ArchiTechs, an on-going series of long form essay that explores how individuals are leveraging new technologies to access a scale and scope of power that was traditionally reserved for large organizations and associations. The series explores how technology is impacting our daily lives. Volume 2, focuses on the evolution of online identity and outlines the phases of online development that got us to our current state.

We also discuss how countries like South Korea have tackled some of the challenges of allowing anonymity to exist online and some of the dangers that comes with too much transparency.




Download Red Thread | ArchiTechs Volume 02


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ArchiTechs Volume 1: Free Download


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Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while know that I’ve been working on ArchiTechs intermittently since 2011! I found the subject so interesting that I could never close out a chapter – I kept finding more ideas that I wanted to include and it eventually ballooned beyond your typical book project!

I brought on my sister and co-founder Riwa for her perspective and she came up with the idea to turn ArchiTechs into an ongoing essay series. We collaborated on this first Volume and are currently working on publishing the rest of the series.


ArchiTech Volume 1 (.pdf, 10 pages)





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Thy Pound of Flesh – Public Shaming, Moral Codes and Other Dangers of Cyber Vigilantes

This post explores some of my thoughts around concepts of Digital Culture.  You can find the other related entries HERE. 

In my last post on cyber-vigilantism , I wrote about the three elements needed for such acts to take place:

  • The violation of a social code
  • The lack of traditional accountability
  • The need for tangible consequences.

In this post, I’d like to dig a little deeper and take a look at three implications Cyber-Vigilante behaviour and it’s impact on our digital culture.

1. The People Have Spoken – Too Soon

Once a social code has been broken and an outcry has been made there is always a huge rush to try to track down the suspect. In China, when individuals collectively work online to unmask an individual it’s called the “human flesh search engine,” and it moves crazy fast, often within a few hours or days. This speed sometimes comes with a cost: accuracy.

Often, when the event in question is unfolding at breakneck speed, mistakes are made in the rush to identify the guilty party. The most notable example took place in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon Bombings, when Reddit users erroneously named Sunil Tripathi, a missing student, as a suspect in the attacks. In the chaos of a breaking-news event, his name was picked up by online sources and eventually, even the mainstream media. By the time the Police unequivocally absolved Tripathi from any involvement in the case, his family had already received death threats and hateful messages.

It turned out that Tripathi had committed suicide prior to the attacks, and sadly, his body was recovered from a river about a month later. By then, the damage to the Tripathi reputation had already been done, adding unncessary suffering to a family in mourning. There are several other cases of people who are falsely identified by a mob intent on delivering justice, many with tangible consequences for the poor individuals involved.

It is an interesting clash between our trusting assumptions that reported news has been appropriately vetted and the speed at which information about developing events is available to the public. That last part has two implications: One, the information received by the public from the media isn’t always accurate, and two, sometimes the public bypasses the news completely and conducts their own investigation. 


2. Controversial Social & Moral Codes

At first glance, having cyber vigilantes hunt down child molesters, drug dealers and animal abusers doesn’t seem so bad. In fact, I share the collective satisfaction experienced by many other web users when such an offender has been caught and punished. But the problematic nature of this unchecked vengeance becomes more apparent when the social codes being enforced are of a moral nature instead of a gap in the law.

Take the 2010 of Jesse Slaughter, an 11 year old girl who experienced the wrath of the Internet first-hand.  It all began when Slaughter, an active Tumblr user uploaded a video to YouTube to address her haters. (Have I mentioned how delighted I am that none of these platforms were available to me when I was 11? I don’t know how kids today cope.) In the video, Slaughter is confrontational and aggressive saying things like “If you can’t stop hating, you know what? I’ll pop a glock in your mouth and make a brain slushy.” The video found it’s way onto /b/, a free-for all message board and regular hangout for internet pranksters, jokesters and trolls, who responded by revealing Slaughter’s real name and address and issued a call for their members to harass her. She was the victim of endless prank calls, and hateful messages including demands that she kill herself. Unfortunately, her father tried to intervene by filming his own response video which only amplified the momentum of the movement and resulted in the creation of several memes which brought more attention to the drama. Slaughter was placed in protective custody due to the numerous death threats that she received.


Jesse Slaughter exercised her freedom of speech to upload some questionable content on the Internet. She didn’t break any laws and yet was the victim of the wrath of a cyber-mob because she violated an unspoken code by issuing a threat to her haters, which attracted the attention of another subculture who revel in responding to such challenges. She violated an obscure social code that she probably wasn’t even aware of. Also, regardless of what she said or didn’t say, I’ll reiterate this point for the millionth time: she was 11.

More recently, issues like the harassment of feminist blogger and media commentator Anita Sarkeesian in 2012 have shown the troubling, dark side of punishment for behaviours that aren’t a crime. Sarkeesian’s offence was creating an online video series discussing the most widely used female tropes that exist in video games.


Apparently, daring to raise awareness of some of the misogynistic elements that exists in gamer culture (and by the way: a lot of other cultures) was a violation of a social code that justified a campaign targeting Sarkeesian with hate mail, death threats and hacking attempts on her social network. She received bomb threats and the harassment escalated to the point where she was forced to leave her home. Once again, Sarkeesian’s views might have offended some people, but she did not commit any crime, was not spreading hate, did not do anything that would justify her life being threatened.

It’s fascinating to see that for many people the lack of traditionally accountability (normally used within the context of a legal response) is being interpreted as a violation of a moral or social code. And because neither woman committed an actual crime, a subset of the population felt that they both needed to be “punished” through public shaming and other online vigilante behaviours. It’s one thing when a group of citizens take action against an illegal threat – their actions might be questionable but at least rational in some sense. It’s another thing completely for people to use the web to launch private vendettas against those they simply don’t agree with.


3. The Normalization of Public Shaming in our Daily Lives

The most common aspect of cyber-vigilantism is public shaming, and I believe that through repeated exposure, this behaviour is becoming normalized in our digital culture. Shaming itself is a behaviour that has been embedded is practically in every culture since Adam and Eve were shamed into wearing clothes. Not all shaming is bad, often shaming is used as a social mechanism to deter unwanted behaviour (This 2006 BBC article recalls how a Sudanese tribe  punished a man who was caught copulating with a goat by forcing him to marry the animal in a public ceremony.)

What I find interesting is the unpredictability and widespread reach that digital platforms add into the mix.

More and more frequently I have been spotting the emergence of sites that want to publicly shame people, even if their real identities are not revealed. This is the more benign end of the spectrum, but one that is becoming more common nonetheless.

  • Passenger Shaming is an Instagram account where airline employees and passengers shame people who act inappropriately while traveling.
  • Men Taking Up 2 Much Space on the Train is a tumblr blog that shames men on public transit for taking up too much space. This is now also known as “manspreading”
  • Pet Shaming is a site where owners upload photos of their pet along with confessions of shameful behaviour. (This one is pretty funny)
  • Kid Shaming is a similar behaviour except instead of pets, people upload pictures of their own children. Personally, I find this creepy and unfunny.


This is an ongoing area of research for me, so I’ll definitely be exploring some of these themes in  more depth in the near future.






[DigiCulture] DYI Cyber-Vigilantism: The Heroes We Need?

The Heroes We Need ?

This post explores some of my thoughts around concepts of Digital Culture.  You can find the other related entries HERE. 



One of my favorite moments in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight is the final scene where Lt. James Gordon tries to explain to his son why the police must hunt down Batman. “Because he’s the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now,” Gordon says, looking saddened but resigned.

I’ve always loved the quote and find myself thinking of it often. Gotham was dark and flawed and the nature of its own corruption demanded an equally flawed protector. Batman has his own issues that are the foundation for the moral code he is driven to uphold. He sees a gap in existing systems, a failure from trusted institutions to do their jobs, and so he steps in. Within a super-hero movie, his actions are romanticized, seen as a noble sacrifice for the greater good. As viewers, Batman’s story is transparent and so we can empathize with this justification for taking the law into his own hands.

As I was researching an article for Makeshift Magazine  about Cyber-Vigilantes, I couldn’t help but think of Batman and his quest for justice. I wrote about one of the most well known examples of cyber-vigilantes known today – the hacktavist collective Anonymous – and their self-assigned role as our protectors. They too are deeply flawed and sometimes dark. They have made mistakes but have also played a role in highlighting some of the shortcomings of the law (even though they had to break the law to do so.)

Anonymous has taken a stance in many political situations, often picking sides and launching attacks in order to uphold their own code of honor. For example, after the Paris terror attacks in 2015, where 10 staff members of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo were killed, Anonymous launched #opcharliehebdo – declaring war on Islamic radicals. They disabled websites and social media profiles affiliated with known extremist groups. It’s an intriguing space, once that can be morally ambiguous. On one hand, taking down the websites of known radicals who actively preach for the killing of innocent civilians is  a good thing. On the other, the means to do it violates the law.

Anonymous has also recently targeted the Missouri chapter of the Klu Klux Klan after the white supremacist group threatened to use “lethal force” against Ferguson protestors. In retaliation, Anonymous “dehooded” Klan members, making their personal information available online and disabled Klan affiliated sites.



Deconstructing Cyber-Vigilantism

I’m particularly interested in the psychology that necessitates this type of response from civilians who deliberately decide to engage in these behaviours without any legal jurisdiction. I started by looking at the commonalities that unite all of these communities, regardless of who their target was. I’ve found that there are three main elements of Cyber Vigilantism.

1) “I was wronged.”  – The Violation of a social/moral/cultural Code  

Someone feels like the code has been broken and the initial outcry is declared, be it through uploaded video, photographs, or first person accounts of what happened. The declaration is important as it calls attention of this transgression to the rest of the web, helping to publicize the offense and increase the scale of the response, especially once the content goes viral. Usually, the outcry begins on a social network or a YouTube video that begins to gain stream through extensive sharing. Content sites like Reddit and Buzzfeed act as amplifiers, helping to curate and direct the information to specific web audiences. Eventually, popular blogs will pick up the story and will bring it to the attention of the mainstream media who will help spread awareness to offline audiences as well.

Good Example:  Trash Bin Lady, Mary Bale who was captured on CCTV putting a neighbor’s cat into a trashbin was identified within hours after the cat’s owners posted the footage on Facebook asking for help identifying the suspect. Within days, the story had received international attention and the CCTV footage was being played on television networks all over the world. (2011)


2) “They’re getting away with it.” – Lack of Traditional Accountability 

Often, the victim of a crime feels helpless and there is always a fear that the perpetrator won’t get what they deserve. This is important, because it refers to the gap that I mentioned above – often, people feel like traditional law enforcement insufficient or incapable of responding. Both, Anonymous and other groups are driven by the belief that they are a necessary part of society, filling a void that is either overlooked or underserved. Their activities are always driven by an unmet need.

Good Example:   There are several online communities who devote themselves to hunting down child molesters, often by posing as minors in chat rooms in an attempt to incriminate offenders. Many members of these communities feel that general law enforcement don’t have the resources or the time to hunt down so many possible perpetrators and so they take on that task themselves, passing along relevant information to the police. In Russia, is a community that has taken their involvement one step further.  The site uses the Internet to lure drug dealers. Once a meeting is arranged, the suspect is confronted, their stash destroyed and they are often beaten up as well. Members of the network blame the police for their inability to curb drug trafficking, so they opt to do it themselves. The site has now “expanded” its services to include hunting down child predators.


3) “You’re Guilty” – Public Shaming and Tangible Consequences for Actions 


The act of cyber-vigilantism concludes once consequences have been delivered. At minimum, the punishment involves some form of public shaming – the exposure of personal identity including information about your past, workplaces, etc. Unfortunately, public shaming is usually accompanied by more severe tangible impacts including receiving death threats and harassing phone calls, loss of employment, and emotional duress.

Good example: Justine Sacco, a communications professional was fired from her job after a public outcry in response to her tweeting “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white.” What’s interesting about this is that Justine didn’t do anything illegal, but violated a social code in a way that had very real consequences.


Brave New World

One of the most empowering aspects of the Internet age is an individual’s ability to access power that was normally reserved for large organizations. The problem is that too often, individuals who act outside the scope of the law do so without any clear accountability. I am often conflicted in my opinion on Anonymous. I am wary of their methods but cannot deny my belief that their work is important, even essential.

In the Dark Knight, the villains were very identifiable, making it easy for us to support Batman’s actions even when they broke the law. However, we all know that in the real world the truth is a far more complex thing, a story with many sides that requires time and patience to unravel – two things that online communities often lack in their fervor to pass a sentence on a transgressor. In my next post on this subject, I’ll explore the implications of wrongful accusations, social codes that are themselves problematic, and the normalization of cyber-vigilantism in our daily digital culture.




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The Evolution of our Web Personas

In a world permeated by online social tools, individuals are willingly publishing more and more information about themselves. From the earliest iterations of blogging platforms such as Angelfire and Live Journal pages, people began discovering opportunities to share their thoughts with a much broader audience than was ever possible before. It was the first time in history that publishing was so accessible at the individual level.

The introduction of social networks enabled us to place ourselves (and our thoughts) within a broader map, where the links between us and our family and friends were now visible, further cementing the ties between our online activities and our offline lives. Today, each tweet, Facebook status update, or blog post leaves a digital footprint that gets compiled into this concept of our digital identity.

I would like to propose that the nature of online identities has evolved through six stages:

1. The Birth of Online Handles

It all started with the introduction of online handles, which allowed web users to create nicknames to identify themselves online, particularly when interacting with others on websites, message boards, and in chat rooms. People could pick whatever handles they wanted. As a result, there was originally a large divide between our online and offline lives. Users were protected by the anonymity of online handles, and could interact with other people without ever knowing who was really on the other end.

2. Link to Real-Life Identity Within Individual Sites

The widespread adoption of Facebook by users around the world helped herald the second big phase of e-dentity evolution. While the social-network giant had been preceded by several other players (including MySpace, Friendster, and Hi-Five), it was the first strong supporter of linking online accounts to real names. As a part of Facebook’s terms of service, users who wanted to activate an account had to use their legal names as they appeared on a piece of government-issued ID. This meant that people were linking their real names to their online behaviours. By 2011, Facebook boasted over750 million members, making it arguably the biggest push for the convergence of our online and offline identities in the history of the web.

3. Data Portability: Online Identity Across the Web

The next big push occurred in 2008 with the introduction of Facebook Connect and Open Social, services that enabled people to use their Facebook or Google account credentials to log on to various sites around the web. This meant that our online identities could be extended beyond a single social network – that we could take them with us as we visited various sites online, using them as we interacted with friends and family all over the web, not just within the walls of Facebook.

4. Geo-Spatial Technologies: Erasing the Online/Offline Boundaries

The next big push came with the introduction of geo-spatial technologies such as FourSquare andFacebook Places, and their uses through the mobile platform. Using smartphones, we are now able to “check in” to different locations in the real world and share information about our immediate activities with our Facebook/Google friends. This means that our online identities are no longer linked only to our online activities – they are now also tied to our offline actions and whereabouts.

5. Aggregation and Quantification: Online Reputation and Influence

With all the data we are uploading (Facebook estimates that there are over 30 billion new pieces of content created on the social network each month), there is an enormous overflow of information available. We are currently seeing the introduction of services that are compiling and analyzing this information. Sites like, which create a visual representation of what an individual posts about, are great examples of this. Facebook, which has been a pivotal driver in data aggregation, has introduced the concept of ” Frictionless Sharing,” where users can opt in to share even more information about their lives – including the songs they are listening to, the books they are reading, and the television shows they are watching – by enabling such information to be automatically updated to their profiles.

Perhaps the most interesting developments taking place are attempts to quantify the value of our online reputations. Services like Klout use a person’s online posts and interactions to generate a score that measures that person’s ability to influence his or her social network. Facebook will soon be getting into this game as well: At the latest Facebook Developer Conference (F8), CEO Mark Zuckerberg marvelled at the power of info-graphics, and wondered what a Facebook profile would look like if it generated “an annual report” for each individual.

6. Post-Transparency

As many of these services become more widely adopted, we will likely see more and more post-transparency curating, something that Google moved towards with its launch of Google+. Interestingly, Google has recently decided to change their terms of service to allow pseudonyms instead of requiring real names. As we continue to grapple with the ramifications of placing so much personal information online, I think more people will pull back from the features that allow their online presence to mimic their “real lives,” and instead use sites like Facebook and Google + to present a carefully curated image of how they want the world to see them, instead of how they really are. In this sense, Facebook is becoming a type of fun-house mirror, reflecting distorted and unrealistic images of its users.

I’ll be tackling the implications of Facebook’s recent changes in another post, as well as continuing the conversation around online identity in the coming weeks. Stay tuned!


[This piece was also cross-posted at the Mark News and Hypervocal]