#MoreThanMean Means More Than Being More Than Mean

I have a younger sister who I am very protective of.  We talk sometimes about her challenges as a math teacher, and how kids can be difficult and hard to handle.  Especially teenage boys.  My wife works in customer service, and after she tells me about how her day went, I have on more than one occasion wanted to go to blows with the customer who disrespected her.  There is something that cannot be articulated, almost primal, that makes me feel that somehow they, as women, should be treated differently.  With more respect.  Moreover, I feel like had they been men, the interactions would have gone down a bit differently.

And so, when I saw the video from Just Not Sports, where guys read real online comments about women sports reporters to those reporters, I immediately got it.  The comments were tasteless and ridiculously out of line.  These are professionals who are doing a job they are more than qualified for.  If they had penises and adams apples, they would not be getting lobbed such vulgar words.

 

 

And so my right brain is hoping that the PSA changes hearts and minds.

Meanwhile, my left brain was a little wary of the whole thing.  When I listened to The Trifecta on ESPN this weekend, I understood why.  The Trifecta is a weekend radio show hosted by Sarah Spain, Jane McManus and Kate Fagan.  Bomani Jones, also a host of his own show on ESPN but this time a call-in guest, talked about the PSA with the hosts of The Trifecta.  He suggested that management at Twitter needs to be more mindful of what people post, suggesting that Twitter should censor such comments.

Uh-oh.  I know that Jones is speaking about common decency, but censoring people because we do not like what they are saying bleeds into violations of free speech.  To be sure, as a private company, Twitter is well within their right to tell people what they can and cannot post on their space.  But as a democratic, free society, we have to be brave enough to allow people to say things that are off color or unpopular.  The #MoreThanMean PSA has implications that move beyond simply urging people to not be vulgar and disrespectful towards women.  It is a slippery slope in the direction of chocking off public speech on social media.

We should not censor the public sphere – especially in an age where the public sphere is so accessible and so powerful.  In fact, we need to work extra hard to protect the speech of those who are being so disrespectful to women. That’s right.  I am defending the right of people to call women c—.  Just like I defend the right of whites to call black people n—-.  Just like I defend the right of homophobes to call gays and lesbians p—-.  That’s hard stuff, I know.  But until the comments move into identifiable forms of threat, I feel that it is my duty as an American citizen to defend their right to speak the way they want.

I support the idea that unpopular speech is what a democracy is all about.  In Stalin’s USSR unpopular speech was met with a trip to the Gulag, or death.  Speech – in the form of writing and public protests, is what gave the gay and lesbian movement the free space it needed to articulate its concerns.  Being sympathetic to the social and political concerns of women, racial minorities, and sexual minorities was at one time unpopular speech.  Someone, somewhere, thought it was “more than mean” to say that his or her son was born effeminate and had sexual desires for men.  He or she probably thought it was vulgar, and that person should not be allowed to speak in public forums, write in newspapers, or give lectures on college campuses. 

I agree with the underlying sentiment behind the #MoreThanMean PSA.  But unfortunately, if a listener feels so aggrieved that they wish to send an off color, vulgar tweet to Sarah Spain or any other host that is female (black, Christian fundamentalist, or Muslim as well) it is my responsibility as a lover of liberty to defend that scumbag’s right to tweet it.

 

 

 

On Romance Scams, Populism, Cybercrime, and Cybersecurity

Cybersecurity and cybercrime are very similar in that a computer is the tool in the commission of a crime or the target of a crime.  Cybersecurity is a bit more narrow in that the major concern is the unauthorized access and use of computers, or hacking.  Cybercrime has a broader focus, encompassing hacking along with other computer related offenses such as identity theft, cyberbullying, and online fraud.  In the best case scenario, the two would be treated very similar as similar techniques can be used to understand and prevent both.

However, our nation’s leaders have understood and responded to cybersecurity and cybercrime in two very different ways.  This tells us a great deal about the current gulf between elites and commoners.  It is one more quiver in the bow for those embracing American populism.

Cybersecurity

Modern organizations have a series of interconnected computers housing valuable pieces of information. Only authorized personnel – people with the right identities and passwords – are able to access and manipulate this information.  The network in which I have access through my user ID and password allows me to see student information and manipulate grades.  The employees at Bank of America use their credentials to see the bank statements of customers stored on their computers.  The information kept in these computer networks have various levels of sensitivity – from the contact information of faculty and students to the emails and operational plans on military bases.  People are always trying to get access to these networks in order to steal information or manipulate information.  Sometimes they want access in order to change the way in which these computers operate.

Given the importance of these computer networks, billions of dollars have been invested in developing tools, techniques, and personnel to protect them.  Thus the cybersecurity industry.

Cybercrime

Cybercrime is more broad in focus.  It also deals with the unauthorized used of a computer (in the simplest terms, a virus placed on your computer or the stealing of someone’s computer passwords is unauthorized use).  But the use of computers to steal one’s financial identity, and then run up their credit cards also falls under the cybercrime rubric.  As does using sending out harassing tweets, posts, and emails to someone.  As well as defrauding someone by taking advantage of the Internet’s anonymity.

But it is not the scope of cybercrime that makes it different than cybersecurity.  It is the targets.  Everyday people are the targets of these crimes, not large corporations of bureaucracies. 

Media attention and legislative efforts have been disproportionately aimed at cybersecurity.  Yet in reality more people have been touched and hurt by cybercrime.

The FBI hosts a website that collects and reports cybercrime, the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3). Their website states that: “The IC3 accepts online Internet crime complaints from either the actual victim or from a third party to the complainant.”

One of the types of complaints collected by the IC3 are romance scams.  These are instances where offenders use the anonymity of the Internet to portray their love for a victim only in an effort to fleece them of as much money as possible.  This scam is as old as the world’s first profession, I imagine.  The difference is that the Internet makes it possible to (a) reach more people, and (b) more easily construct the idea in the victim’s mind that the relationship is real and genuine.

In 2014, the FBI reported a total loss of approximately 87 million dollars through romance scams.  This is in an underreporting of the total dollar loss.  People are too embarrassed or do not know about IC3.

 

Romance scams are, in my opinion, one of the more despicable offenses.  They prey on a vulnerable subset of the population – middle aged women.  It is highly likely (although I do not have the data to support this idea) that the victims are low on digital literacy, and are unaware of the many ways that lotharios manipulate the digital environment.  Many individual lives and homes can be destroyed through crimes like this.  However, these people do not have a lobby in Congress to protect them.

One could make the argument that being duped by a man who makes sweet music with computer keys is more about the ignorance of the victim, has little to do with technology, and at any rate is not a new crime.

Well, what about when an individual’s private computer or computer network is used without authorization (i.e. hacking)?   People fall victim to viruses, worms, and phishing attacks (when a fraudulent email is sent) everyday.  All of these are the same types of techniques used to compromise the computer networks of large entities.

The crucial difference is the targets.

 

Follow the Money

In 2009 the Obama administration announced a Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative (CNCI), with a “total budget 40 billion over several years”.   This has trickled to my current home state of Virginia.  Our governor, Terry McAuliffe has been aggressively pushing a number of cybersecurity initiatives:

There is nothing wrong with providing the vision and funding for cybersecurity.  We need it the same way we need to protect our water facilities (see Flint) or our levees (see New Orleans) or our bridges (see Minneapolis).

But there is no such federal initiative and consequent state level programs that deal with cybercrime.  I am sure there are some monies somewhere.  But the level of interest in protecting everyday American citizens is paltry in comparison to the interest in protecting bureaucracies.

I can go a bit further.  This government aid is in all likelihood a subsidy for American corporations.  Corporate networks are much more numerous than those of the military, and although there are many hospitals and colleges storing sensitive information, hackers simply are not interested in x-rays and midterms.  The majority of people who are trained and the greatest application of the innovations produced will accrue to entities like Wells Fargo and Bank of America.

 

American Populism

And so cybersecurity is to cybercrime as Wall Street is to Main Street.  Millions of dollars are being funnelled into protecting large industries while a relative trickle of dollars is devoted to educating the people themselves or the law enforcement charged with protecting the people.

Universities and colleges are scrambling to develop cybersecurity programs and dole out cybersecurity certificates, while little interest is in developing digital literacy courses that teach everyday citizens some basic measures that will protect them from romance scams, phishing attacks, and computer viruses.

I am aware that people are not that upset about how the government ignores their computer security.  The world of bits, bytes, packets, and protocols is too arcane and too distant from the everyday necessities of life.  But the relationship between cybercrime and cybersecurity is another illustration of why people feel the government does not work for them.  They have a legitimate beef, and their support of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders – what has crudely been labeled “populism” – is more than justified.

From the government bailout of banks, to a national health care plan that forces people to give money to health insurance companies, to billions of dollars in subsidies going to sugar producers, to costly wars that only seem to provide benefits to defense contractors and oil companies, to free trade agreements that never provide benefits to working Americans, to cybercrime and cybersecurity, the American people are realizing that their government no longer represents them.

A Sea Change in the Way Politics is Done in the United States

At the time of this writing, Donald Trump’s presidential campaign is surging.  He has just won the New Hampshire primary.  His main challengers for the Republican nomination – Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, are spinning their wheels.  The odds are, barring some (highly possible) meltdown by Trump, he will be the 2016 Republican nominee for president.  Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders just missed beating longtime favorite Hillary Clinton in the Iowa Caucasus and then scored a clear victory in New Hampshire.  While he is not the favorite for his party’s nomination like Trump is, he is now a serious contender.

Trump and Sanders have been labeled outsider candidates, cast by some as the main characters in a political tale about a unique political cycle where angry Americans reject inept establishment candidates in favor of people who promise to change “business as usual” in Washington.

Well, that’s one way to look at it.  But I think there is something more fundamental underway.   Before explaining, let me tell you about a recent experience in one of the classes I teach.

No More Unread Errata

I made a mistake during one of my lectures recently.  I was trying to explain a PowerPoint slide I had put together about formal and informal fallacies (it was a research methods class) and in trying to confuse my students, I confused myself.  In times past, I would have just smiled, shrugged my soldiers, said something that professors don’t usually say to elicit some chuckles, and kept it moving.  In some instances, depending on the alertness of the audience, I would just move on as if nothing was the matter.

But a thought flitted across my mind this time.  Students have Snapchat, Twitter, and any number of social media applications.  It may not do to just shrug the mistake off or ignore it.  What if one of them takes a picture of the mistake, shares it, and via online communication they come to some definition of the mistake.  Given the rules of group interaction it would probably be the worst definition.  The students could come to a consensus about what just occurred without me having any say-so in the matter.

In the past, one or two savvy students may decide to approach me after class and query me on the mistake.  Then, given the differences in power and authority between us, it would be easy for me to explain the mistake or admit error in a manner that is most favorable to me.  Students may chat amongst themselves, but unless the mistake was egregious (like the spook comment from the Coleman Silk in The Human Stain) the incident would be lost, nothing but unread errata.  By the next class, provided it runs smoothly, it would be forgotten.

Students in my class can (and do) use social media to create their own understandings of what is happening in class, irrespective of me. image credit: http://mediadistractionstocollegestudents.blogspot.com/

Students in my class can (and do) use social media to create their own understandings of what is happening in class, irrespective of me.
image credit: http://mediadistractionstocollegestudents.blogspot.com/

The days of controlling the situation simply with one’s authority are rapidly coming to an end. Traditional authority figures – your teachers, policemen, politicians – do not control the flow of communication anymore.  They cannot define events in ways that are most advantageous to them as easily as before.  People, as a collective, can come to conclusions that are their own, and not massaged by authority figures.

America Never Liked Anti-Establishment Candidates Before…Why Now?

The talking heads are saying that this is a unique election.  The reasons usually given are economic and political.

The economic angle would be that wages are not keeping up with the cost of living, that there is growing inequality, and that the new jobs being created offer low wages and few benefits.  In this scenario, people want an anti-establishment candidate because they may have the skills and vision to fix an economy that has been moribund for about a decade now.  I imagine that Democrats would find this angle the most agreeable, however everyone feels the bite of a bad economy.  Meanwhile, the political angle would be that the leadership we have is simply not cutting it.  Decisions being made in the White House are moving the country in the wrong direction and lowering America’s standing in the world.  Politicians are unresponsive to the electorate, and are more interested in campaigning and raising donations than actually doing anything.  I imagine that Republicans would be more likely to latch onto this angle, although there are many Democrats who are unhappy with President Obama and the frontrunner Hillary Clinton.

These economic and political angles imply that if things change then Americans won’t be clamoring for an anti-establishment candidate.

But there is something wrong with this analysis.  We have had economic problems before, much worse than now: see the Great Depression of the 30’s and Stagflation in the 70’s.  We have been through periods of where we have lost faith in politicians: see Watergate.  But during those times there was no fear of someone as brash as Donald Trump or an avowed socialist like Sanders getting the nomination.

On the contrary, it seems as if it is the establishment candidates who get elected when voters are unhappy.  Roosevelt was not an outsider when he was elected in 1932.  Indeed, he is as established as they will ever come.  He was a former Governor of New York, had run before, and his uncle had been President.  Jimmy Carter was the archetypal Southern Democrat elected in 1976.  Also a former governor.  Before that he was a senator.   Indeed following Carter was Ronald Reagan, which continues the trend of electing people who are with the establishment.  Yes, he was a former actor.  But by 1979 he had given, along with Obama’s, one of the most famous speeches in convention history and was governor of California.

These outsider candidates are not viable because of elected candidates behaving badly. I don’t believe that our politicians are any less competent or less responsive to the electorate than they were in the past (okay, maybe they are a little less responsive, but nothing compared to the politics of the Gilded Age, where smoke filled rooms were actually filled with smoke and people doing deals).  They are not viable because of a weak economy. We couldn’t elect an outsider, socialist candidate in 1932 or 1936 – back when communism wasn’t a dirty word and we were at 11% unemployment.  But we can do it now?

 

Let’s Get Used to It

The difference is the technology.  The same way I feared that my students would generate their own understandings of phenomena in my class and I couldn’t control it, so it is with politicians.

It is not necessarily that people are choosing an “anti-establishment” candidate.  They are simply choosing the candidate they like, a candidate that happens to not be the candidate that people in power like.  Sure, Trump and Sanders are marketing themselves as outsiders.  But the person who is in office now was also an outsider.  Remember “Change We Can Believe In”?  It is no coincidence that Barack Obama became president in the Digital Age.

Conservative thought leaders have tried their best to discourage the electorate from voting for Trump.  But it ain’t working.  In fact, the more off the cuff or brash or insensitive things he says, the more he is liked.  Actually, what is occurring is that these things are off the cuff or brash or insensitive to people in authority positions, but not the everyday citizen.

Similarly, what will determine if Hillary Clinton wins is not how many endorsements she gets from this Democrat or that community leader.  Ultimately, it will come down to how much charisma she has, and whether or not the people are buying what she’s selling (by the way she is terrible at this, and this is why Sanders has a chance).

 

The conservative establishment is still dreaming that Donald Trump will go away. He may not get the nomination, but it won't be because of the mass meda...no matter how hard they try.

The conservative establishment is still dreaming that Donald Trump will go away. He may not get the nomination, but it won’t be because of the mass media…no matter how hard they try.

 

This is not going to change.  David Brooks and Rachel Maddow and Sean Hannity and whoever else has been granted permission to broadcast their views to the world are now simply entertainers.  Even if we enter into an economic boom period and polls show a rise in confidence in politicians, it will still be the case that people in authority positions will not be able to tell the average citizen how they should think or feel about an event.

This state of affairs will only become more entrenched as people who are more familiar with social media come of voting age and people who depended on mass media for their daily talking points are no longer with us.  Trump and Sanders are not anomalies.  They are signs of a sea change in the way politics is done in the United States.

 

Everybody a Social Movement

A few decades ago, back when the Internet was a cherubic baby and the words “you’ve got mail” made people smile with glee, people were predicting that the Internet would forever change the relationship between government and individuals. Because information could be shared more easily, government could be more transparent and citizens would have more power over their elected officials, they said. Individuals, now able to dip their hands into flows of information no longer controlled by the levees of large media corporations, had more freedom to develop their own opinions about the world, they said. All this would lead to a level of individual freedom never before seen in recorded human history. The biggest changes, they said, would be in societies with authoritarian governments. These regimes would no longer be able to control their citizens.

These prophecies, to some degree, came to pass with the Arab Spring. Scholars were giddy over the people power presented in those social movements, and were quick to point out the role social media played in challenging, and sometimes removing, authoritarian regimes in countries like Egypt, Tunisia, and Djibouti.

I believe that these events were momentous. And like many scholars, I believe that the Internet has the potential to help bring democracy to authoritarian countries.

But I think that the biggest sea change will occur not in authoritarian countries, but in democratic societies. It is in democracies that the Internet and social media may affect the most lasting changes in the relationship between government and individual. It may not seem so, because every four or eight years we meet the new boss who is the same as the old boss. But a social media enabled “revolution”, as it were, may be occurring right now in the United States.

Over the past several weeks, three distally related events suggest to me that this is the case:

  • Two people who have never held public office are the frontrunners for the Republican nomination. There is a general feeling of mistrust in America towards its government officials. So much so that conservatives are willing to throw their support behind anyone who is not seen as a part of the establishment. Conservatives want “citizen statesman” as opposed to career politicians. As a result, two rather odd characters are the frontrunners. One is a once-bankrupt blowhard with perpetually puckered lips. The other is a mild-mannered surgeon who looks to me to be always squinting.
  • Law enforcement is suggesting there is a “Ferguson Effect”. FBI director James Comey said in a recent speech that law enforcement is afraid to be proactive because of social media: “In today’s YouTube world, are officers reluctant to get out of their cars and do the work that controls violent crime? Are officers answering 911 calls but avoiding the informal contact that keeps bad guys from standing around, especially with guns? I don’t know whether this explains it entirely, but I do have a strong sense that some part of the explanation is a chill wind blowing through American law enforcement over the last year. And that wind is surely changing behavior.” Comey made these remarks at a time when the violent crime rate in the United States has increased. Some have linked the “Ferguson Effect” to this spike, while others have said there is no evidence to support the claim. What is important here for the argument I am trying to make is that police officers feel like they are under more scrutiny.
  • The President and Chancellor of the University of Missouri step down. A coalition of black students, faculty and graduate assistants, and football players (most importantly, the football players) formed a movement that ousted the president of that university. As is often the case, protest begets more protest. Protests were seen within a matter of days of the president’s ousting at over twenty campuses – including Yale and Smith colleges.

All three of these phenomena are examples of a loss of authority. Individuals simply don’t believe in the people and institutions that have been charged to lead them.

Authority

People have been talking about the decline of trust in government for some time now as it relates specifically to government officials. But I think it goes deeper than that. There is a sea change in the cultural expectations individuals have for all authority figures of a certain type. The German sociologist Max Weber identified three types of authority:

  • Legal-rational – based on abstract legal principles. A person or institution’s ability to exercise power over another is grounded in the rule of law. Weber saw bureaucracy as the epitome of legal-rational authority. Think about the guy who holds your fate in the palm of his hands at the DMV.
  • Traditional – this is authority that is passed down or based on custom. Unlike legal-rational authority, there is no rational basis upon which a person or institution is given the authority to make decisions.  He could be an idiot, but he has authority simply because it was always that way.
  • Charismatic – this type of authority is based on an individual person’s ability to inspire others. Religious prophets and leaders of social movements have charismatic authority. No law or tradition gives them the right to tell people what to do.  People follow because they have the chutzpah to thumb their nose at traditional authorities.

Modern Western societies are dominated by figures vested with legal-rational authority. Local and federal governments have power over many aspects of people’s lives. Indeed, Weber was writing at a time when Western societies were becoming more rational and less traditional, with a growing importance of the state making decisions. This has, with some exceptions, only increased. Ronald Reagan famously said in a 1986 speech that “the nine most terrifying words in the English language were ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help you’”. Reagan, as were (are) many conservatives, railing against government bureaucracy encroaching over aspects of their lives that were traditionally the purview of the family.

I never thought I'd get chance to put Reagan in one of my blog posts! In this Dec. 29, 1988, file photo President Ronald Reagan waves to onlookers as he arrived in Palm Springs, Calif. Reagan's line “the nine most terrifying words in the English language were 'I’m from the government and I’m here to help you'” is in essence a critique of the encroachment of legal-rational authority.

I never thought I’d ever be putting this man in one of my blog posts! In this Dec. 29, 1988, file photo President Ronald Reagan waves to onlookers as he arrived in Palm Springs, Calif. Reagan’s line “the nine most terrifying words in the English language were ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help you’” is in essence a critique of the encroachment of legal-rational authority.

Everybody a Social Movement

The rise of outsider candidates, the purported Ferguson Effect, and the removal of University of Missouri’s president, suggest to me that we are at a critical juncture in American society. I think charismatic authority is rapidly gaining legitimacy at the expense of legal-rational authority. Scholars prophesied that it was in less developed countries, dominated by traditional authority, where the Internet would have its greatest impact on governments. But this is not the case. The Internet, and more specifically social media, has had and will continue to have its greatest impact within democratic countries whose leaders possess power through legal-rational authority.

The growth of charismatic authority is not about a few exceptional human beings leading moral crusades against unjust legal-rational and traditional authorities in the style of Mahatma Gandhi. Imagine Gandhi  – tiny, with walking stick in hand, blinking placidly behind thick glasses.  British soldiers with stiff upper lips are pointing rifles down at him, waiting on orders from their commanding officers.  Behind Gandhi are multitudes of Indians, ready to forge ahead. It was, in some ways, a hierarchical assembly led by a charismatic authority figure standing up to another, more powerful hierarchical assembly led by legal-rational authority figures. But the days of transcendent figures being able to command and a group of people in this way seem to be over.  Indeed, the people who try to organize people to walk down main street are ineffectual at best, and tired  jokes at worst.  Think Al Sharpton.

The type of charismatic authority that is eating away at legal-rational authority has a different form. In an age of social media and networked individualism we have hundreds of thousands of people who are busy collecting “likes”, “followers”, and “retweets”. They have their own view of things and their own narratives about the world. They do not need a Cesar Chavez or Martin Luther King to speak truth to power. They can do it themselves.

It is not readily apparent that the desire to gain followers is something akin to the desire to lead a social movement.  But if we think about it, they are very similar in function.  The idea is to be witty or provocative enough with 140 character quips to get people to pay attention to you, to repeat what you said, and regurgitate your ideas to others.  The goal is to influence others to take your views – to follow you based solely on your charisma.

Everybody is a social movement these days.

Unforeseen Consequences

The consequences of this new form of charismatic authority encroaching on legal-rational authority are hard to predict. But I can venture some ideas that flow along political lines.

For progressives, movements like Black Lives Matter are not as focused and directed at specific policy changes. You’ve got too many cooks in the pot, so to speak. Everybody has their own version of what Black Lives Matter means, and they tweet their versions to their thousands of followers. There is no seminal charismatic figure as the focal point of the movement, given the authority to define goals and set strategy. If you ask five people what is the end game of the Black Lives Matter movement, you will get six different answers. Interestingly, it has been through legal-rational channels that progressive movements have ultimately entrenched their victories. Martin Luther King may have changed hearts and minds with charisma, but concrete changes were only got through changes in law. And so ironically, as people with an interest in progressive causes invest more of their energies in social media and following the multitude of charismatic networked individuals, they may be siphoning energy away from the type of authority that can create lasting change.

For conservatives, I think that their party may be gutted from the inside. Indeed, it already has. Although they like to see themselves as the party of self-sufficient families and small businesses, in reality the Republican party is just as much beholden to government (see: military-industrial complex, see: Trans-Pacific Partnership) as Democrats. True Republicans know this, and thus you see people supporting the Tea Party, a growth in the presence of Libertarians, and yes Donald Trump and Ben Carson.

Social Networks and Dealing with White Affirmative Action

A few years ago I did some data analysis on the uses of social networking sites by different racial groups.  I found something very interesting.  African Americans were more likely to do activities on social networking sites that connected them to new people.  In that study, I used the literature on social capital to suggest that black people online were trying to tap into new streams of information for jobs and opportunities.

Bridging and Bonding

Past research had shown that black people tend to have very dense networks of friends and family, usually more dense than other ethnoracial groups.  African-Americans are often enmeshed in a web of parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and family friends who they have known and expect to interact with all their life.  In the parlance of social capital studies, they have on average a large number of “strong ties”.  The resources that are available through networks – information, money, even a shoulder to lean on – is called “bonding capital”.  It is a wonderful thing, this bonding capital. (As a side note, I often wonder if American society could take a lesson from how blacks build and maintain these fruitful networks…but that is for another time).

However, black people tend to have comparatively less connections with people outside of these intimate social networks.  As a group, African Americans have fewer “weak” ties based on professional contacts, or with people in different lifestyle groups.  This has tremendous consequences, as it is often in weak ties where one finds out new information not already available in one’s web of strong ties.  In other words, your family and close friends will always be there for you, but it is the guy in the corner office who can provide unique information about a new position opening up or what the human resources person is looking for on resumes.  Unfortunately for non-whites, most coworkers tend to be white, and those connections are rarely made.

Race matters in structuring networks and the type of capital a person has.  People tend to make connections, however casual and passing, with people who are of the same racial group.  Conversely, they avoid contact with people who are constructed as the racial “other”.  In a lecture given at Brown University, Duke sociologist Eduardo Bonilla-Silva argues whites treat each other as “fictive kin” in professional settings.  Of course, black people will do the same.  The difference however is that the most important job leads, information, and other types of “hook-ups” are found within white networks.  In this way, racial inequality is reproduced without racism.  This happens even in a context where whites are liberal and progressive on racial matters (indeed, Bonilla-Silva’s comments were directed at academics and his experiences as chair of the sociology program at Duke, where many decisions about department policy where made in white networks before any formal meeting took place).

Duke sociologist Eduardo Bonilla-Silva talks about

Duke sociologist Eduardo Bonilla-Silva talks about “homo academicus” and how through whites forming fictive kinships with other whites, racial inequality within academia is reproduced. The lecture is about 40 minutes, this particular segment starts at the 24 minute mark.

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Ashley Madison and Cultural Dopes

I can imagine a movie done in 2050 about the 2010’s.

It’ll be a period piece, with the usual cultural exaggerations done to let the viewer know it is about that era. Ever notice how movies set in the 1970’s show every house with a lava lamp and a water bed? Some music will be playing in the background to make sure you now it is 70s. Carol Kane? Elton John? If it is a movie set in an urban setting, then you will hear Stevie Wonder. In these period pieces, some cultural attitude or behavior is pointed out for the purpose of showing how naive or silly people were. If it is a movie about the 1950’s, there will always be the obligatory racist or sexist remark – often inserted into the dialogue casually in order to show how commonplace those ideas were.

The period piece set in the 2010’s will have women sporting that “thrift shop” look, men wearing slim fit clothes, and people drinking fair trade coffee. The soundtrack will be by Daft Punk or Adele. And what will be the cultural attitude or behavior that is made fun of? People’s unbelievable naiveté when putting personal information into the hands of online companies.

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African-American Digital Practices and Their Relation to Issues in Criminal Justice

Criminal justice professionals with an interest in African-Americans have given little attention to the role information and communication technologies (ICTs) may play in their work.  There are few scholars and professionals who explore how technologies like the Internet, social media applications, and mobile phones impact African-American experiences in modern society.  This state of affairs is understandable.  When one imagines a connection between technology and criminal justice, one thinks of cybercrime, and the battle between large corporations and the highly educated (often white and male) criminals who try to steal money.  African-Americans are not a part of this picture.  One may also think of ICTs as being merely for fun and games, tangential to the concerns of criminal justice professionals.  However, if we widen our gaze and conceive of ICT usage as having an effect on family communication, labor market participation, and political engagement the connections between African-Americans, ICTs, and criminal justice become clearer.

Criminal justice professionals have been slow to explore the links between race, technology, and criminal justice issues. Image credit: Mashable.com

Criminal justice professionals have been slow to explore the links between race, technology, and criminal justice issues.
Image credit: Mashable.com

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