Social networking word-of-the-day: “thinvisibility”

A new word for Facebookers and social networkers who cavalierly post embarrassing information about themselves to the web: thinvisibility:  Here’s a starting definition:

Thinvisibility: n.

  1. Being neither completely visible nor completely invisible.
  2. Being a tiny, shiny needle in a haystack of information overload.
  3. Being invisible to everyone except data aggregators and digital preservationists such as Google, the Wayback Machine, the NSA, and others.
  4. Being invisible to employers, colleges, police, neighbors, friends, exes, stalkers, acquaintances, and others, who are not interested in you, until they are.
  5. Being visible.

Comcast and the creepiness factor

I’ve written before about the “creepiness factor,” the uneasy feeling some get when they realize their blogs and social-networking postings are read by “unwanted” visitors like police, employers, professors, etc.  Add to that list corporate America.  The New York Times writes about Comcast’s efforts to reach customers complaining about it on blogs and social-networking sites.  One student complained about Comcast on his blog:

Shortly afterward, he received an e-mail message from Comcast, thanking him for the feedback and adding that it was working on a new interactive guide that might “illuminate the issues that you are currently experiencing.”

[He] found it all a bit creepy.  “The rest of his e-mail may as well have read, ‘Big Brother is watching you,’ ” he said.

A woman’s Twitter complaint about Comcast led to a quick but unexpected response:

“It’s one thing to spit vitriol about a company when they can’t hear you,” she said in an interview.  It’s another, she said, when the company replies.  “I immediately backed down and softened my tone when I knew I was talking to a real person.”

I can see why some people might be creeped out by Comcast’s outreach efforts, but they shouldn’t be.   People keep assuming that the relative anonymity of the web will keep their postings effectively invisible.  That’s naive.  There’s nothing anonymous about the Internet when postings are quickly found by those who want to see what you’re doing (such as prosecutors, as Kaimipono Wenger blogged about recently), or by companies who want to know what you’re saying about them.  The sooner people realize that “relative” web anonymity is not really anonymity at all, the more savvy they’ll hopefully become about their online postings.

Plus, done tactfully and personally, direct outreach by companies might be a good thing.  Direct emails?  Sure.  Public comments on blogs or Facebook walls?  Not so good.  It might embarrass already-angry customers and put them on the defensive.  Worse, it might trigger flame wars involving others.  But a direct email is far less confrontational, and far more likely to lead to satisfied, albeit occasionally creeped-out customers.

Star Trek and the law: the case of Captain Kirk vs. The Computer

CBS is now streaming the original Star Trek series for free on its website. Even better, CBS is now providing code to permit episodes of Trek and many other series to be embedded on websites and blogs.  Very cool, and a good step in the direction being taken by others such as Hulu, and soon, ABC.

Here’s the episode Court Martial, first airing Feb. 2, 1967. Kirk’s being court-martialed for the death of a member of his crew.  The most damning evidence is a computer video log that seems to conclusively prove Kirk’s guilt.  The prosecutor says she will present the case as “Kirk vs. The Computer.”


Watch CBS Videos Online

Enter Kirk’s lawyer, Samuel T. Cogley, who distrusts computers and surrounds himself with his beloved law books.  Around 13 minutes into the episode, you can see Cogley surrounded by what looks like copies of United States Reports and case reporters from West.  (Hmmm.  I wonder what volume Federal Reporter will be up to by the year 2267.  At a new volume every 14 years or so, West should be up to at least F.22d.)

Ultimately, digital skepticism wins the day.  Mr. Spock, believing Kirk to be innocent, tests the ship’s computer.  After winning a seemingly impossible five chess games in a row against the machine, Spock realizes the computer has been altered.  Cogley then moves to present evidence regarding the ship’s computer.  The prosecution objects.  In response, Cogley argues passionately about the importance of not believing digital records blindly:

Cogley: The most devastating witness against my client is not a Human being. It’s a machine, an information system. The computer log of the Enterprise. I ask this court adjourn and reconvene aboard that vessel.

Prosecutor: I protest, Your honor!

Cogley: And I repeat, I speak of rights! A machine has none. A man must. My client has the right to face his accuser, and if you do not grant him that right, you have brought us down to the level of the machine! Indeed, you have elevated that machine above us! I ask that my motion be granted. And more than that, gentlemen. In the name of Humanity, fading in the shadow of the machine, I demand it.  I DEMAND IT!

Cogley and Kirk prevail.  It turns out that the “dead” man was still alive and was trying to get revenge on Kirk for an earlier incident that destroyed his career.  Even in the 23rd century, computers aren’t always right.

“Fire in the hole” and YouTube apologies

Good Morning Silicon Valley reports that a judge ordered several Florida teens to post an apology video to YouTube after they “threw soda at a Taco Bell worker through a drive-through window and proudly posted their actions on YouTube.”  This sorry conduct is called “fire in the hole.”

According to The Today Show:

The “fire in the hole” prank is popular on YouTube, and even today it’s not hard to find plenty of examples there. But [victim Jessica] Ceponis didn’t know that then; she thought it was a personal attack on her. Then a co-worker told her that it was a video prank that was posted online, first on a prank site and then on YouTube.

Ceponis went from feeling victimized to being very angry. She viewed the video and tracked one of the boys to his MySpace site, where she befriended him. She eventually found out where he lived and called his mother, who gave her the name of the other boy.

Thanks to Ceponis’ detective work, both boys were charged with assault as juveniles and were ordered to perform 100 hours of community service, pay the Taco Bell restaurant where Ceponis worked for the costs of cleaning up the mess, and post an apology video on YouTube.

There’s no doubt that the instant notoriety of YouTube and other Web 2.0 sites can encourage those wanting their 15 minutes of fame.  But it also shows that victims might use those same sites to track down wrongdoers.

What about the shaming aspect of this case, i.e., the mandatory YouTube apology, found here?  I understand why the teens — as juveniles — weren’t ordered to show their names or faces.  But it’s hard to see how anonymous YouTube apologies serve much in the way of either specific or general deterrence.