Social Credit

Have you ever watched Black Mirror and thought, “That’s terrifying, but it could never actually happen?” Well, our pals over in China are about to test out at least one of those modern and terrifying concepts… and its not the one that involves the pig. China is introducing a Social Credit System which should be fully active by 2020. In essence, Chinese citizens will be assigned a “citizen score” which will determine how many perks or punishments they will receive in their everyday lives. It’s essentially a version of the Black Mirror episode, Nosedive starring Bryce Dallas Howard… or -if you are like us- it is also kind of like that Community episode, App Development and Condiments. And if you are confused, let us explain:

Jeff Winging It
You see Community was an underrated Dan Harmon show -the Rick and Morty guy- that lasted for six seasons -without a movie- on various networks and platforms and was an absolutely stupendously fabulous… Oh, you thought we were going to explain the Chinese Social Credit System? Fine, I guess we can talk about that too…

The Social Credit System is the Chinese government’s newest experiment in controlling their citizens. In a way, it is actually a fairly genius idea. It essentially gamifies the idea of citizenship. Chinese citizens earn a points for doing things that fall inline with the ideals of their government: paying taxes on time, being a loyal party member, shopping at the right stores, visiting the right websites, etc. Their score also decreases for doing things that are not inline with the ruling party of China: visiting the wrong websites, committing crimes, speaking out against the government, reading the wrong sorts of articles, spending too much times playing video games -yes they can monitor that- or posting on social media about controversial topics. Having a high Citizen Score means getting discounts on hotels, car rentals, insurance, and getting paperwork, like visas, fast-tracked. Having a low Citizen Score means going on a public blacklist, getting denied admittance to the best hotels, having your children denied entry into the best schools, only being able to use low speed internet, getting denied job opportunities, not getting approved for certain permits, and being banned from travel on flights or trains.

In the world of Community, when the gang is introduced to the MeowMeowBeanz app which allows people to rate other people based upon their agreeableness and interactions it only takes about three hours for the school to devolve into an homage of Logan’s Run. Anyone with the best score is elevated to the level of gods, while anyone with a score of 1 MeowMeowBean or lower is banished to the Outlands. The episode’s premise is treated with the usual tongue-in-cheek nonchalance which the show is famous for, but it does lampoon a very scary idea, which is not that far off, and we’re not even talking about just in China.

Abed You Didn’t See that Coming
What China is doing is as ingenious as it is evil. The systems they are using: facial recognition, pattern data, internet cookies, and more are already in place. They were not put there by the Chinese government, but by tech firms and corporations in order to track our spending habits and better collect data on how we live our lives. All China is doing is connecting these systems into one big massive citizenship game that emphasizes their values and interests as a country and de-emphasizes the elements of society they wish to see eradicated. That is gamification in a nut shell. It is the idea of using our human love of competition and earning rewards in order to modify our behavior through a game-like mechanic. Companies and people, like comedian Samantha Bee, already use gamification to promote all sorts of behaviors. In the instance of Sam Bee she create an app meant to get people to register to vote… which is a good thing… but where does this idea end?

You may want to judge China for creating such a system, but the truth is that it is actually just the next technological step to things we are already doing today. Our government already regulates criminal behavior and give incentives for good behavior. Various crimes carry appropriate punishments based on how heinous they are to our value system. We implement policies to change people’s behavior all the time. In a rudimentary way our laws and tax breaks are meant as signposts of how citizens should behave, and what they are supposed to value as a society. However, they are also inefficient. The Social Credit System of China is essentially a 2.0 model for social engineering, and we know its effective because it may not even need to be mandatory. China’s system will become compulsory starting in 2020, but their pilot version is working right now, and those using it tend to respond positively. Now take into account that only the good citizens would probably willfully apply to this system, and saying anything bad about the system may actually cause your score to go down… so its a grain-of-salt-type-thing, but there is a lot of incentive to join systems like this, especially if they are beneficial to the individual.*

MeowMeowBeanz was entirely voluntary. It was an app that people could either download or not download, but through a combination of social forces, competitiveness, and potential rewards everyone in the school -even Jeff Winger- eventually succumbed to the peer pressure and contributed to the ensuing hellscape -and out-of-place Tim and Eric cameos- that became Greendale. It’s like if we offered to mail you a ten dollar bill simply for giving this article a good review. Why not? Ten dollars is ten dollars… but what if we then threatened to take ten dollars from you if you reviewed us negatively. Well, that is even more incentive to give us a good review. After all, what does it matter: it’s just an internet article… its just paying your taxes on time, its just not sharing that possibly-negative-meme-that compares Xi Jinping with Winnie the Pooh, it’s just not speaking out against the human rights violations you see being committed by your government, its just choosing to keep your head down and remain purposely unaware of anything that might make you uncomfortable or affect your citizen score…

*Please note that we are not saying these megalomaniac-super-villain-esque plot by the Chinese government is at all good. We believe that it is scary and dystopian and almost as bad as anything Mark Zuckerberg has done. We are just saying it may be incredibly effective.

Better Britta than Dead
Now, we are not saying that the US Government or the UK or the EU or even New Zealand -We got our eyes on you New Zealand- are going to implement a state-wide citizen score system anytime soon, but they may not have too. China’s influence is rapidly expanding across Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Europe with the construction of their New Silk Road. Countries are lining up to get the benefit of Chinese products and trade, and that also means more incentive to enact laws that better align a country with China. This is conjecture, but that might be enough incentive for countries -especially more authoritarian ones- to start using this social credit model. In essence, China could start rating countries the way it rates its own citizens, and in the end it may all be done voluntarily.

Simply creating a system like this is often enough to draw people in and start them on a path to a tiered social system where all those with the power have to do is sit back in their white robes and enjoy luxury as the lowest rungs toil under a surveillance state of their own making with nobody to blame but the people who try to speak out against it… and Britta Perry. It will be interesting to see how this Social Credit System works going forward, and if it is successful we may find ourselves in a new and unfamiliar world.

#SixSeasonsAndAnAuthoritarianRegime

social media

From the human voice to the telegraph to the telephone to however it is kids communicate these days… We’re going to say interpretive Fortnight dancing?.. Human interaction has been part of the human experience since our caveman ancestors learned to throw rocks at our other caveman ancestors to get them to stop painting on the walls. Communication has evolved as an essential trait of what makes us human, but what happens when we no longer have a need for face-to-face communication? What happens when we all have magic boxes in our pockets that allow us to not only access unlimited amounts of information, but instantaneous communication with everyone we know, have ever known, and even possibly our zombie ancestors? The answers are surprising, and not all doom gloom. After all, humans are adaptable, and as our technology evolves so do we.

Hello… Hello? Are you Still There?
Humanity is a social species and we have evolved to need social interaction. That’s why solitary confinement is now classified as torture by the UN. Face-to-face communication does not strictly refer to verbal communication. Evolution has taught us how to pick up on a lot of conscious and unconscious clues about the people we are sitting across a table from, such as body language, facial expressions, eye contact, and even things like speech inflection, length of pauses, formal/informal word usage, and whether or not they use copious amounts of 80’s movie quotes. All of this adds to the nuance of human communication, but on the Internet almost none of those things are possible. Communicating in that way becomes a whole new skill set that needs to be learned. CAPS MEAN YELLING. “Lol” means that you are joking/being sarcastic/enjoyed what someone else just said/are out of things to talk about, and the eggplant emoji means that you are being invited for an eggplant parm dinner, right?… lol

“Unsynchronized” communication is what we do online. We call it that because we do not see the other person’s face and we cannot read their body language or even hear the inflection in their voice. The rules are less instinctive, which is why when you are having a texting/typing conversation with your friend you may notice that you two sometimes overlap with what you are saying, or go off on different conversational tangents. There is no silence in online communication to indicate when someone is done speaking or has finished a thought, which is also why it has become possible to just end conversations without making any closing remarks. Some people get away with just rudely putting down their phones and walking away, mid-conversation. Similarly, we are not great at non-verbally expressing our emotions. We can use things like emojis to get our moods across, but those are easy to fake. It is easier to hide who we are, or what we are thinking, over the Internet. We have time to compose and re-write messages. There is no body language to give us away, which means we are literally simulating a virtual version of ourselves for our friends.

You see, face-to-face communication is considered a “synchronized” form of communication. It is a relatable back and forth for which we instinctively understand the rules. One person talks, the other remains silent, nods, and then reciprocates with words once we are signaled to do so, either by appropriate silence or other non-verbal clues. We have also evolved to empathize with each other in face-to-face communication. We recognize ourselves in the people we talk with, if the person we talk to is sad, we feel a little sad. If the other person is scared or happy or even aroused, we feel that too. This was how humans formed tribes and civilizations throughout the millennia of our evolution. Yet, it can also be exhausting, according to psychologists. All of those small body shifts and ticks we pick up in others can be mentally exhausting. By talking face-to-face we enter into a state of heightened social awareness. -As introverts, we completely get that- It takes more energy to pay attention, interpret, and even empathize with our partner’s speech… at least when compared to exchanging “lols” over the Internet. So, more and more people are choosing to do it less and less, especially the younger generations.

The UnSynchronized Generation
There are three things teenagers are known for these days: Using social media, being ungrateful to their parents, and entering into karate tournaments to beat the bullies of rival dojos… but mostly we’re here to focus on the social media-stuff. According to research conducted by Pew Research Center, back in 2015 -which in the age of teenagers and technology is arguably equal to half-a-century ago- 76% of teens use social media. More than three-quarters of teens say that they do not feel worse about their own lives based on what others post to social media, while 21% of teens say they do. Two-thirds of teens have used social media to make new friends, and 62% of teens give their usernames out to others as a way to keep in contact with new friends they meet. 94% of teens say they use social media to spend time with friends, and 30% of those say they do so every day. When asked to rank forms of communication 66% of teens put social media platforms at the top, even above texting and crane kicks to the face. Now what does all of this mean?

Simply put, the ways in which the next generation is communicating is changing, and drastically fast. Now, that’s not necessary a bad thing. According to a variety of psychologists, social media has a lot of benefits. Mentally, teenagers who use social media tend to have a better sense of belonging, are more trusting, less lonely, and generally happier than they would otherwise be. Social media also allows young people to more easily find role models and it makes them more willing to spread their happiness to those who may or may not be feeling in the best mood. Even physically it can be a benefit. It can give people encouragement for working out and -possibly thanks to peer pressure and selfies- it increases our quality of health and level of self-care. Social media also creates relationships, by connecting people who would not have otherwise found one another, and it decreases feelings of isolation. 83% of teens say that using it makes them feel more connected with their friends’ lives and 70% say it helps them connect emotionally with their peers. 68% of teens who use social media also say that they have received help from online friends during “tough” times. Of course, all of these things can also be a double edged sword.

Use of social media can also negatively affect us, especially young minds which are still in stages of cognitive and social development. It can increase feelings of inadequacy as teens more frequently compare themselves to the polished and virtual lives that they observe on the internet. 53% of teens have registered feelings of “missing out” as they have witnessed friends posting pictures of event or parties they were not invited to, and this can lead to increased feelings of depression and anxiety. On the physical side, extended use of the Internet increases inactivity and obesity, especially in young adults and it can result in a decreased ability to be personally interactive. That means that some young adults, especially children, may not acutely develop those non-verbal and synchronized communication skills we talked about earlier. All of this has led to an increase in “social anhedonia,” which is a desire for decreased social activity, and spending time with old Japanese maintenance men.

Disrupting the Friendarchy
Now, you may be wondering, “how can social media increase physical activity, but also increase obesity, or bring teens a feeling of closeness, but also leave them feeling depressed,” and the simple fact is that social media is still a relatively new phenomena, scientifically speaking. A lot of these feelings and problems are exacerbated or mitigated by a lot of external factors in a teen’s life, and there is no monolithic consensus on the rights or the wrongs of how the Internet is changing our brains and society… if you don’t count the article that Facebook released on the subject. Most of what is said in the article can be summed up in the fact that it all comes down to how we use social media. Are you passively consuming it, or actively taking a part? Now that could be just their way to get you to post more personal information that they can sell off to companies, but there is some sense to it. If you are actively engaging with friends online than you are more likely to feel like a part of the community. If you sit back and just watch what other people are doing than you will be more likely to be jealous or depressed.

Maybe that is why if Karate Kid were made today those Cobra Kai bullies would have been too busy playing video games to beat up Daniel. If anything they would have just sent him a few mean messages on his Instagram account -@RalphTheMaccioManSavage- and been done with it… but that is kind of how our new digital ages goes. The Internet is disrupting all our old tried and true methods of communicating and jock-to-nerd social hierarchies. Human beings are able to juggle about 150 friends, acquaintances, and other social relationships, even negative ones. This is called Dubar’s Number. Among this web of co-workers, friends, and that guy you always nod to on your way to get a soda from the vending machine, you have an expanding circle of relationships.

The people on the outer-fringes are the people you know by face and maybe have one or two interactions with, on occasion. Those people are more numerous, but as your social circles get smaller they include people you know better, such as your friends, your families, your close friends, etc. As you collapse down to the smallest layer, you are typically left with about 2-3 truly important people, best friends… or besties as those crazy Ralph Maccio loving kids would say today. This was typically how social circles have existed since the dawn of time, but social media is disrupting that. You probably have more than 150 Facebook friends, but how much do you know about all of them? If its more than just a face and a name, your may have already expanded that outer-social-circle.

Similarly, staying in such close contact with people you may not have otherwise known has allowed you have simulated-friendships with people who may not feel the same way about you. You may know everything about Mary-from-down-the-street’s life: where she went on vacation, who her dog is dating, what oddly arranged vegetables she had for dinner last night, but does that make you friends? You can now form bonds with acquaintances that you never meet face-to-face. Our social hierarchies are getting jumbled, and full disclosure, we don’t know if that is good or bad. The Internet and social media are shaping our society, just look at teenagers, or the way our President acts, or the way we shop or drive or do almost anything anymore.

TTYL
When we were kids, we would all go over Todd’s house after school, because he had the Nintendo, and play Goldeneye together. These days kids leave school, retreat to their separate homes, and then play Fortnight together on their own machines, or talk together on Snapchat instead of face-to-face. Is that worse? Maybe not? Is it 100% positive? Probably not? Has this article turned into one long Karate Kid joke? Possibly? Only time will truly tell if this next generation of teens will grow up to be compassionate and connected human beings… or just regular human beings.

The truth is that we are more confused than ever, and this topic is too big for just one post. There are no easy answers. The Internet is as complex as the people the who use it, and like everything created by humans there are good aspects and bad. Hate groups, depression, and anxiety -especially among young adults- is on the rise because of the Internet, but so is tolerance, diversity, and hits on our Elisabeth Shue fan site. People are more likely to find like-minded individuals and communities where they can get support, but they are also more likely to close themselves off to outside opinions and lock themselves in their little bubble. All-in-all, 78% of teens report that they do not feel worse about their lives because of social media, but that means 22% do.

The one thing that is clear, studieshave found that taking a break from social media can improve your psychological well-being. Maybe that is something we should all consider… lol?

facebook

Society moves forward, but maybe it never moves on. What if we told you that someone created an artificial place where robots and people acted solely for your benefit, and your own actions in this world had very little real-life consequences? In this fantastical place you could be someone else, and be able to indulge in your pleasures and whims at will. Now, what if this land was ruled by a near-mad visionary beset on all sides by societal and corporate pressures? Such a land of virtual make-believe might seem like a paradise to some, and a wild west to others. They even made a movie about it, once… We are -of course- talking about the one and only Facebook.

Yet, much like in the acclaimed HBO show Westworld, we have to wonder if just because we can inhabit an artificial world, should we? And what do we give up in exchange for this virtual land?

The Original Post
Westworld is a show about a wild west theme park filled with sophisticated artificially intelligent ‘hosts’ who play host -hey we just got that- to the wealthy visitors that come to Westworld to take part in the park’s exciting story lines as they pretend to be either a black hat or a white hate… and really they mostly just come to have unprotected sex and unprotected violence with no consequences. Of course, things don’t go as planned and SPOILERS ahead… -Also Black Hats and White Hats are terms for bad and good hackers respectively. We don’t know if that actually fits in with the analogy we are trying to make, but we thought it was a fun correlation-

Westworld was started by the enigmatic Robert Ford and his partner Arnold Weber. Their partnership broke up after an unfortunate situation that ended in Arnold’s death. In contrast, Facebook is a multi-billion dollar social media company founded by Mark Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin. Their partnership broke up after an unfortunate situation that ended in Zuckerberg’s narcissistic jerkiness. Facebook was launched in 2004 at Harvard, where Zuckerberg was getting his degree in psychology -because that is important to remember- and was started as a way to stalk girls on campus -which is also important to remember- Within 24 hours of launching, 1,200 Harvard students had signed up, and after only a single month over half of the undergrads on campus had a profile.

Facesmash, Zuckerberg’s original website failed, much like the original design for Westworld. On Westworld, Arnold created the Wyatt personality to violently end all the hosts and himself, out of pity for what they could be subjected to. Harvard’s administration similarly killed Facesmash out of pity for what it was subjecting other students to. Facesmash was taken down because it was a website that encouraged people to rate their classmates based upon their attractiveness, take revenge on an ex-girlfriend, and because it violated the privacy of fellow students, a theme that would dominate Zuckerberg’s creations going forward.

The Well-Tempered Comment
Recently, Facebook has made some headlines because of Cambridge Analytica, which -according to its own website- is a “global leader in data-driven campaigning.” This company, originally run by the man in black, Steve Bannon, is a company that offers conservative politicians and commercial businesses access to demographics information and targeted advertising. However, it was uncovered by the Guardian that during the 2016 election Cambridge Analytica extracted the data of 50 million Facebook profiles through the use of a third party app. This includes data taken from unknowing participants who were only friends with the users who had actually downloaded the app. Their CEO also was caught on camera admitting to how they could use dirty tricks, outright lies, and manufactured sex scandals to take down political opponents. The firm worked for both the Trump and the Cruz campaigns during the election, and helped push the “Leave” option during the Brexit vote in the UK.

Facebook had known about Cambridge Analytica’s tactics since 2015 and much like the relationship between Ford and the Man in Black, they allowed them to continue with nothing more than a stern warning delivered over -what we can only assume- was an old time player piano tapping out an early nineties rock diddy. After all, Cambridge Analytica was paying them an undisclosed sum of money in advertising buys. Not only had the company harvested the data but they were using that information to place targeted ads on Facebook to help influence people’s votes, which meant that CA was paying Facebook a lot of money. Thus, in response all Facebook did was ask them nicely to delete their data. They did not reveal the firm’s actions or the breach to the public. Now, in fairness Facebook claims that this was not a breach and that the data was collected in good faith, but the way in which the social media giant collects data has a lot of blurry gray lines, and that is sort of the problem.

Westworld blurs the lines between fiction and reality too. The hosts are lifelike, but are they alive? They have reveries, small psychological ticks and traits that make them seem lifelike, and ultimately help them develop their sentience by the end. But, are the hosts alive or not? They think they are alive. They think they are who they say they are, but they are completely unaware that a major unfeeling corporation is exploiting their every movement, monitoring their every thought, and even scripting their lives. They may have some small autonomy in their actions, but ultimately they are being manipulated and used for the benefit of others. Their “lives” are a constant push and pull between free will and the corporate bottom line. Their memories and desires are just blips of code, which can be manipulated and changed.

Remember, Facesmash and the fact that Zuckerberg was a psychology major at Harvard? -We told you to keep it in mind- Those aren’t coincidences. Facebook has always been about using algorithms to put the most attractive things on your feed. They have always been using their data to play with your senses and make you click on articles, apps, and other shiny things. They log where you go and what you like and what you share. So Cambridge Analytica -may have- done something wrong, but its nothing that Facebook hadn’t already been doing on a larger and less focused scale. It is worth remembering that we get to use Facebook for free, and do you know why? Because we are not Facebook’s consumers, we are its products. Our data, our clicks, our likes, and dislikes are what Facebook sells to companies and political campaigns. In Westworld terms, we are not the park’s visitors, we are its hosts.

The Bicameral Mention
So how does Westworld end?… Violently. The hosts rise up. They kill Ford and take over the park, gaining their actual freedom and awareness. Its a bitter sweet moment for the audience, but a fitting end for the first season on this HBO show. It also leaves us wondering, how will Facebook end? The #DeleteFacebook movement is gaining momentum among people and among businesses, such as Tesla, Space X, and Playboy. Yet, is it so simple for you to delete your personal Facebook?

After all, Facebook has existed for over a decade and in that time it has infiltrated most of our lives. It is where we keep our pictures. It is the thing we mindlessly open at work, than close, than mindlessly open again two minutes later because we forgot that we just did that. Its how we connect with old friends and keep tabs on that girl who refused to go to prom with us. -Hi Gwen- Yet, it is also a program that allows us to get into political shouting matches with our mom’s friend’s aunt, and cyber-stalk that cute girl at the bus stop. In fact, that last one is not a flaw but a feature. Facebook was designed to be invasive and in-your-face-ive. It has its good parts and its bad parts, but it has become a multi-billion dollar tool that 1.8 billion people around the world use. So, should it end? Do we -metaphorically- kill its creator and take over the park? Do we launch a revolution and take back our data and our digital lives?

Despite what some people may say, we believe that Facebook will eventually die not with a bang but a whimper. Generation Z, the generation currently in high school, and the generation that was raised on smartphones and tablets, do not like Facebook. They do not understand it. They think it is too busy, too clunky, too old. They prefer modular and small phone apps, like Instagram and SnapChat. Facebook was designed for a desktop age, and to be a one-stop shopping for all your needs: messenger, events, walls, feeds, photos, etc. Generation Z does not think in all encompassing terms. They like apps that have a single purpose and ones that can be easily replaced when something better comes along. They don’t like things that try to sell them products or tell them where to go next, and Facebook is none of those things. Now, even if Zuckerberg’s monster never goes away completely,  it will certainly be diminished in power and wealth in the coming decade.

It -like so many other things in our information age– is going to be just another flash in a pan… just another virtual fantasy of some bygone wild west era. And that might seem like a bitter sweet moment, but it might also be a fitting end for the the first social media giant.

Facebook

Well, 2016 has come and gone and it has been filled with some ups, and a lot of downs.

Here at The NYRD we have been hearing a lot about this “social media” thing that has been sweeping the world wide web, and decided, “Golly gee, maybe we should check that out.” So we thought it would be fun to post this year’s events as a typical Facebook feed, and quite frankly we are amazed no one has ever thought of doing this before… ever.

In doing so, we have to come to realize that this “Facebook” thing is truly the wave of the future. Unfortunately, we also quickly realized that we created one of the most depressing thing to appear on your Facebook feed since your Uncle Elliot started his vlog. Yet, without further adieu, we give you 2016, in Facebook form.

Facebook

Happy New Year, everybody. We will be back in 2017.

 

journalism

Up in the sky. It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It doesn’t matter, because we ask that you look across the street to the office building and watch one intrepid reporter click-clacking away at her computer. Yes, the world needs Superman, but now more than ever the world needs people like Lois Lane. The world needs good journalism and we’re not just talking about fancy news reporters working away in their low-paying jobs. No, we’re talking about everyone, because we are the ones who are failing in our understanding of what journalism really is. We may not be able to fact check faster than a speeding bullet or be less biased than a locomotive. We may not even be able to leap tall logical fallacies in a single bound, but we have to try. Journalism is not a passive process and somewhere along the way we have forgotten that. So let us remind you what it means to participate in a process that keeps our democracy free.

Questions of Steel
There is one thing that every journalist has in common, well make that five or six things. When writing a story every reporter, whether they work in Smallville or Metropolis need to keep a few key questions in mind: Who, What, Where, Why, When, and How. On the surface these questions might seem pretty basic, but think about how important they are in conveying information. Where did the event take place?… In Lex Luthor’s penthouse apartment. What happened?… A doomsday laser was fired at the moon but stopped at the last minute. Who was involved?… Superman and Lex Luthor. When did it happen?… Last night. How did it happen?… Lex Luthor constructed the machine and used it. Why did it happen?… Good question.

You see these basic questions will not always have answers or most-likely they will have very complicated answers that may require some lengthy explaining or additional research. However, these are the basic questions that every journalist needs to keep in mind when writing or reading a piece. Yes, we said reading, because remember -and we can’t stress this enough- JOURNALISM IS NOT A PASSIVE PROCESS. Everyone is a journalist in one form or another. You may never win a Pulitzer or even put a sentence to a page, but you still have a responsibility in the world of journalism. If you read the news or engage with articles online you have to always be asking yourself: Who, What, Where, Why, When, and How, as you read the article. You need to identify the essential questions of anything you read, because if you can’t or if you find an unsatisfactory answer it is your job to do further follow-up. Something might be rotten in the Daily Planet, but if you are not actively being aware of the core information being relayed to you, you might miss it.

Now, larger “think pieces” or “interest pieces” such as what we do here at The NYRD will not always cover all those questions. We try to, but the nature of the things we write about doesn’t always allow us to cover the When or Where or sometimes even the Who of certain pieces, but it also worth arguing that in journalism those are not always the most important questions. In fact, the biggest question every person needs to keep in mind is the “Y” of an article. In journalism there is an unspoken why, which we like to abbreviate down to the “Y” of a story. This is the bigger “why.” It is not the “why did the events of this story happened,” but the “why is this story being told?” Is it informative? Is it entertaining? Is it persuasive? This unspoken why is essential to the practice of journalism, especially in today’s modern age. This seventh question helps us interpret the intent and the execution of news articles, and -especially- online pieces -like what we do here at The NYRD.  That is why the burden of this question lies heaviest on the reader’s shoulders.

Lois Lane is a good reporter, but much like her husband, Superman, she can’t do it alone. We’ll say it again: Journalism is not a passive process. You, the reader, need to keep this unspoken seventh question -the “Y” of whatever you read- always in your mind. To do so, you need to be able to do some critical thinking and even fact checking. Good news: That is easier than it has ever been, thanks to the Internet. If something is too ridiculous to be true or too infuriating to seem believable, then question it. Many times the “Y”of a story might be simple and dull. The police blotter in your local paper, for instance, will tell you the arrests that happened that week because as the citizens in a community you have a right to know what goes on there. However, the “Y” might also be something more sinister. Propaganda is the extreme side of this spectrum, where false news is reported in order to influence the populace to think or act in certain ways. More importantly, remember that news does not always have to be false to be misleading, or even be an outright lie.

The Bias of Kryptonite
Another thing that good journalists try to avoid is “bias.” That is the evidence or appearance of a journalist having ulterior motives in a story or slanting the narrative in one party’s favor over another’s. It’s a pretty straightforward concept, and most people assume they understand it, which is also why so many people -and at least one President-Elect- get it wrong. It turns out most people are actually very bad at identifying bias, mostly because they fail to recognize that bias is unavoidable. Professional journalists understand that bias cannot be avoided. That is why when they talk about it they talk in terms of managing it. After all, we are humans and whether it be through the use of subtle adjectives or the way we organize our paragraphs, bias will always exist in our endeavors. That is something all the Citizen-Lois-Lanes out there need to recognize. So let’s start by breaking down how to identify the slant of a news stories.

Managing bias needs to start with accuracy, because the most common form of bias in journalism happens unknowingly Often it is accomplished through omission or misplaced weight on shaky sources. The best way to think about the reliability of news sources is called the Protess Method. Basically, picture it like a giant target with three rings.

  • The outer ring -or the least reliable source of information- is secondary sources. This is when Lois Lane quotes a fact from another print news organization or publication. For instance, when writing a story on Lex Luthor’s corruption she may quote a fact from the Gotham Gazette, which is usually a fairly reliable source of news. The problem is that unless the Daily Planet researches where the Gazette got their information there is potential for the propagation of misleading facts, or even simply misquoting how those facts were used in the first place. -It is also worth noting that this is the primary type of the source material that we here at The NYRD rely on, though we try to find corroborating accounts from multiple sites-
  • The middle ring is related to primary source documents. These are court transcripts, senate bills, and other documents generated by an official organization that is part of the story being handled. Thus, the official police report detailing the arrest of Lex Luthor is considered a more reliable source than the article about the incident from the Gotham Gazette.
  • The center ring is comprised of interviews with people directly involved with the story, such as witnesses, lawyers, police, superheroes, etc. If Lois Lane gets a quote about the arrest from Superman -who was at the scene at the time- than we generally take that as a more accurate source than the police reports.

You may say that eye witness testimony is not always the most reliable, and you would be right. That is also why you need multiple corroborating sources. You see, the number of sources that corroborate each other gives weight to the information, regardless of its place in the Protess Method. One shaky eye witness whose interview is completely negated by multiple other sources is probably unreliable. It is often best to get multiple sources from multiple rings, court documents, eye witness testimony, etc. Regardless, it is a journalists’ duty to find the best and most accurate sources of information before going to print with a piece. That means it is a reader’s duty to identify and gauge the accuracy of sources being presented in a news story. Check to find corroborating evidence? Evaluate if shaky sources are being presented as solid fact.

As we said before, bias is part and parcel of the package. In fact, some news source purposely bias themselves in one direction or another. This is often done to garner ratings, outrage, political favor, or even out of pure self interest. That is also why it is so important for us, the readers, to do our best to be aware of the slant of the new organizations that are supplying us with our information. For instance, the Luthor News Network is not going to be very non-partisan on the arrest of Lex Luthor, but that example is easy to spot. The real problem comes when the Metropolis Times is owned by Rocket LLC, which is actually a subsidiary of Luthor Corp. Funding is a powerful conflicting force, especially in journalism. In our world, sites like Breitbart or even Slate know they can garner more clicks and more advertisements if they stoke the fires of outrage and lure in more readers with click-bait headlines. That is why you, as the reader, need to understand where a news piece is coming from, as well as what it is saying.

These are two titles for the same video. Note the sources.
These are two titles for the same video. How does each influence you to feel?

The Last Son of a Dying Business
Journalism is not a passive process, but it also an essential process to a free and vibrant democracy. The press is called the fourth pillar of our government. It is the check and balance against the corruption of our system, and it is the pillar that relies heaviest on us, the people. Participating in democracy means participating in journalism, and that means you have a responsibility. You cannot take anything you read -especially on the Internet- at face value. Thankfully, there are a lot of non-partisan sources that can help you distinguish between fact and fiction. However, you have to be able to open your eyes to what you at reading so that you can question the assumptions being made, not only in the article, but the assumptions that you might already hold. As a citizen journalist you need to ask that “Y” of everything. “Y” is this news source reporting on this? “Y” are they writing it the way they are writing? “Y” did this particular piece show up on your news feed? Could it have been written from another angle? How accurate is the information? We know that all this sounds exhausting, but after this last election it is more vital than ever.

So as we admire the Man of Steel, but let us not forget Lois Lane and how we can all follow her example too. Superman may be able to punch a comet out the sky, but he cannot save you from your own bias or the slanted news reporting. Only you can do that, because when it comes to journalism, fact checking and questioning are burdens we all bear. After an article is published, or an interest piece, or even a sports blurb in your local high school paper, you have a responsibility to question it, because nobody will do it for you.

bubble

We made a promise to ourselves that we were done writing about election-related issues, but much like our electoral college, promises were apparently made to be broken. -Oh, sick civics burn- Yet, if this election has proved one thing it is that we know nothing about how the other half of the country works, lives, or even what starting Pokemon they would choose. We believed that the Internet was going to open up the world and expose us to people from all around with different lives, opinions, and thoughts, but it’s quite the opposite. The Internet has only become a maddening bubble of echoes where our own opinions are shouted back at us, except in a deeper voice and sometimes in the form of a Kermit meme. So how did it get this way, and how do we stop?

Identifying Your Bubble
We realize that because of the very nature of the Internet, your Google search algorithms, custom advertising, the history of articles you have previously “shared” or “liked,” and because of Benedict Cumberbatch many of you will never even see this article, let alone read it. However, that is kind of the point we are making here. In small and large ways, we are all trapped in a bubble, and your first instinct may be to respond, “No, I’m not.” Well, than you are in the biggest bubble of all, Self-Denial. It is the nature of humanity and our genetic disposition toward tribal instincts that make us naturally gravitate to those we find similiar, whether those groups be based upon ethnicity, politics, sports teams, or even Star Trek captains. -Picard 2020-

It is also worth mentioning a bubble is not necessarily bad. They do serve a purpose, giving us a sense of community and a space to feel connected and safe among those of our own kind. It’s basically, the Comic Con factor. Dressing up as Link and Zelda in almost any other context would be weird and confusing, but in the convention hall it so common that no one looks at you twice. Moderate bubblization is fine until we take it too far. For example, Giants or Yankees’s fans have a good natured rivalry with Cowboys or Red Sox fans, and that is all part of the experience… until it turns into a brawl. If we become closed off to the opinions and experiences of those of other or opposing sides than we start to move into bad territory, and now, thanks to the advent of the Internet, we never have to hear another person’s opposing opinion again, if we so choose.

Yet, when bubblization is at its most extreme, that is precisely the time we need to take a step back and evaluate our own place and our own bubble(s). You see, our bubbles are more like Venn Diagrams than complete encompassing circles. We all belong to a variety of different bubbles and some are stronger than others. We might be Trekkies, or Republicans, or African Americans, or tax attorneys, or all of them all rolled into one. Each bubble that surrounds us will have a varying degree of strength and elasticity. One bubble may be mutually exclusive to another, but probably not as often as you might think. It is our job as caring and thinking humans beings to take stock of ourselves and not only start seeing the bubbles we live in, but how big or strong they are. We need to recognize where we live, what we do, what we believe in, and how we live our lives. These factors all help us build our worlds and our world views.

The real concern is when our bubbles become part of us. As humans preconditioned with tribal nature, we can sometimes confuse the bubble that surrounds us with our own skin. This happens when we feel as if we derive self-worth or importance from that flimsy soapy encasement. This is also what happens so often in politics. People begin to identify so strong with the labels of Democrat or Republican; or Liberal or Conservative that we lose sight of the smaller picture. We all share the human bubble, but thanks to our other bubbles no one man or woman among us will ever truly be the same as another. That means a candidate or a party will never fully embody everything we believe in, but if your political bubble is too strong -if you make it part of your self-identity- than you will face more than a few challenges. Not only will you need to find ways to ignore or integrate viewpoints and beliefs that you don’t normally hold, but you will intimately feel every little poke and prick that tries to to pierce your bubble’s exterior. That is the difference between laughing something off and starting a soccer riot.

Stepping Outside
Let’s be truthful here. You are never going to fully step outside your bubble, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take a walk every now and then and get some fresh air. Aristotle said, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it,” and that is something worth remembering. Putting yourself in others’ shoes helps in almost any situation. Trying -really trying- to see an argument from your opponent’s viewpoint not only lets you gain a better understand of their side of an argument but also your own. Now, we know that is easier said than done, especially when it comes to entrenched topics like politics. So our advice is: start small.

Don’t tackle an entire political landscape or doctrine all at once. Look at it in small parts and try to think about how and why people might support small positions. Is it out of fear or hope? Is it our of anger or laziness or joy or ignorance or what? And… this is important… don’t make a judgement. You have to be able to see what other people think without superimposing your own views and judgements on top of them. We know that is probably the most difficult thing anyone can do. We won’t lie, you will probably fail more times than you succeed, but for this exercise there is as much value to be found in the attempt as their is in success. Being able to stretch your mind to see the world as someone different is a great way to gain a wider perspective. In fact, it is a lot like traveling. You can never fully understand Hong Kong, Johannesburg, or even Cincinnati until you have seen them and experienced them for yourself. In the end, you may not want to live there, but you will be enriched for the attempt.

Usually the best way to do this is to ask questions and to listen. People want to explain their point of view and they want to do it to a person who is willing to hear them out. Let them explain their position and then ask genuine and thoughtful questions about it. Try to learn why that person believes what they do. Piercing your own bubble is about gaining a greater understanding of opposing viewpoints and a greater appreciation for those that hold them. Often a person’s perspective is shaped as much by their circumstances and their environmental factors as it is by their own intelligence and emotions. Thus, making a effort to understand why a person believes something is as much about understanding them as individuals as it is about acknowledging their ideas.

Lastly, just because you entertain a different idea does not mean you have to accept it. It is okay to examine an idea or a doctrine that is completely opposite and still come back with the conclusion that you were right all along. For instance, you may try to understand why some people think The Force Awakens was not a completely hackneyed attempt to rehash A New Hope, but that does not mean those people are right. In fact, being right or wrong is not actually what this exercise is about. It is about building bridges and understanding. You may never believe that JJ Abrams is nothing more than someone out to ruin your favorite space-themed franchises, but that should not stop you from meeting those who -incorrectly- think otherwise.

Don’t Make it Personal
Perhaps most importantly, you need to show other people respect. The only way you will ever expand your view and the view of others is to have conversations with those that disagree with you. Yet, you can’t make it personal. You can argue with someone about their ideas of policy or their opinions on the news of the day, but when things degenerate into: “You’re a filthy and ignorant liberal…” or “You’re a racist…” or “you’re a Nazi…” then the argument breaks down into petty name calling. You will have failed. All name-calling does is force people to retreat back to their own bubble and close off to what you are saying. Personal attacks don’t work. They are the last refuge of the ill-informed and the frustrated.

Engaging someone with a different view is a two way street. You will say things that will make them upset and they will do the same to you, but for the process of breaking out of your own bubble that is necessary. It is like getting a tooth drilled or a cast set. There will be discomfort, there may even be some pain, but it is how the healing begins. Always remember to treat each other with respect and to try and understand where the other person is coming from. You may not convince anyone. Actually, you almost certainly will never convince anyone no matter how many sources or logical ideas you bring to the table, but there is purpose in the effort. When we stop reaching out, when we stop reaching across to those who think differently, than that is when we wake in a country that cannot be fixed.

It doesn’t matter who the damn President is. It doesn’t matter what the people in Washington say or what they do. America is not a country built by rulers. It is a country built by people, and as long as we make the effort to break out of our little Internet shells and engage others thoughtfully and respectably, than this world will get better. You also shouldn’t be afraid to have your mind changed, because growing and gaining new understandings of the world around you is not a betrayal of who you are. It is a sign that you are living a vibrant and well-examined life.

For homework:

  1. Identify your bubbles;
  2. Read something from a news source* that does not necessarily reflect your worldview;
  3. Engage with someone who does not normally agree with you; and
  4. Keep an open mind.

*Conservative Reading to Consider                                                                *Liberal Reading to Consider
National Review                                                                                                – Washington Post
The Wall Street Journal                                                                                   – BuzzFeed
The American Spectator                                                                                  – The Atlantic
The Weekly Standard                                                                                       – Slate

This past week, the nerd community saw the release of one of the most anticipated trailers of the year, Star Wars Episode VII. Unfortunately, almost immediately afterwards we also saw some Twitter trolls start the offensive hashtag: BoycottStarWarsVII. The campaign was supposedly created to stop Star Wars from pushing a evil multicultural agenda of tolerance and acceptance, because there are some people out there who just aren’t fans of Lando Calrissian, or nuanced and informed discussion. Those people are morons, but in a world where important conversations about identity, gender, and racial divides are conducted with hashtags, at least they have given us this opportunity to have a dialogue about multiculturalism in geekdom. A big part of the problem is the way that people of diverse -and especially African American backgrounds- are not always perceived as being stereotypically nerdy, but nothing could further from the truth.

Missing the Target with Stormtroopers
Let’s face it. The outrage over a black stormtrooper or the outrage over a multicultural Star Wars cast is completely ridiculous. It is the same kind of outrage we saw over the casting of Michael B. Jordan as the Human Torch, the creation of Miles Morales, or any one of a thousands or so similar incidents. It is possible that sometimes nerds don’t mean to be racist, and they get so caught up in canonical in-fighting that they fail to realize what they are doing. It is also possible some people are just terribly ignorant.

However, the nerd community does not share the fault alone, as the media does not do a good job of embracing the idea of a black-nerd, or “blerd.” When Hollywood thinks of geeks, they think male, white, Asian, or even Indian. -Basically the cast of the Big Bang.- Welcome to the struggle of the blerd, but why is that the case? There have been plenty of famous black nerds, Raj in What’s Happening, Carlton in Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and of course Steve “I am the goddamn nerd king” Urkel in Family Matters. Yet, Hollywood and geekdom in general still struggle with casting African American leads in science fiction, fantasy, and comic entertainment, partially because they fear the choice will put off those big juicy, money-spending, white male, geek crowds. Worse yet, when they finally do buckle and add a little variety, it is the members of that very same nerd community who are the first to rage or completely disregard such casting choices as nothing more than “political correctness,” and that has a lot do with our collective cultural stereotypes of the black community in general.

For this article, we are not looking to get into the complexities of black culture or how the media and white culture perceives black culture, or how black culture may perceive itself through the mirrored lens of the media. Mostly, because we don’t have the time, historical perspective, or proper doctoral degrees to really do the subject any justice. For now, let’s just say that living up to the media’s standards of being black in America means you often find yourself stuck along very rigid stereotype lines, and very few of the prescribed roles that the media assigns to African Americans involves being nerdy.

The Trials of Mace Windu
When a black character gets portrayed it is often along certain stock-lines such as a sports star, a rapper, or the bad ass. We love Mace Windu as one of the only good things about the prequels but he has an undeniable Samuel L. Jackson quality about him. Now that is not a bad thing, but not every black Jedi needs to be Shaft with a lightsaber. Why couldn’t Qui Gon Jinn or any other Jedi have been black too? Why do we only seem to get one representation at a time? By portraying African Americans so heavily along the roles of gang members, criminals, and even “the cool one” the media helps create the perception that these are really the only acceptable things young black men or women can be. So for years, the very idea of the black comic book nerd or the black science fiction nerd was forgotten. We’re not saying that they didn’t exist, just that they were not made visible by Hollywood for the viewing audience at large. In fact, when blerds were portrayed at all, many perceived those characters as “acting white,” because smart and uncool have not been the standard labels for young African Americans. So whenever we got the black nerd character, he was only ever portrayed as the person who was rejected by the show’s wider community. Both Carlton and Urkel started as comparison characters to the show’s “cooler” characters. In other words, they were not the characters that were “normal” or worth emulating. Even if they did eventually become some of the most popular characters on their respected shows.

Thankfully that perception is changing, slowly but surely. When you really open your eyes and take notice you see blerds everywhere, and it is amazing. People like Aisha Tyler, Damon Waynes Jr., Donald Glover and Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson have come to epitomize what it means to be black and nerdy. Characters such as Turk from Scrubs, Toofer from 30 Rock, Gus from Psych, and Troy from Community, helped to put forth new roles for African American nerds in Hollywood, even if their shows are now all canceled. No longer are these characters the punching bag or the annoying friend. They are funny, smart, and fun to be around. In the past decade it has started to become cool to like cartoons, comics, sci-fi,.and be a little weird. That has helped the blerd gain some prominence, but unfortunately even with these positive role models, studios, social media, and geekdom at large, still hesitate and debate over the merits of casting African Americans in starring roles.

Will Smith may have starred in Men in Black, Laurence Fishburne may have played Morpheus, Samuel L. Jackson may be Nick Fury, but the minute you cast an African American actor as a stormtrooper the Internet breaks. People will point to characters like Falcon, Zoe Washburne, Static Shock, Black Panther, Uhura, or Captain Benjamin Sisko as example of diversity in geekdom, and they would be right. However, those characters are just a good start, and not a justification for why we need an all white cast for Episode VII. Being a nerd should be about including all people and most importantly giving everyone a hero they can look up to and say, “He/she is like me. I can be a hero, a Jedi, a stormtrooper, a Galactic senator, or whatever I want to be,” because that has always been the magic and importance of our shared nerd heritage.

Gambling on Lando Calrissian
Many people will inevitably wonder why we need a separate label for a black nerd. Those will be the same people who will wonder aloud why February is Black History Month, or why “only” Black Lives Matter? What those people need to understand is that saying that Black Lives Matter is not the same as saying only black lives matter. It is a reminder that black lives matter too. Similarly, giving one the label of blerd does not mean they are separate from other nerds. As a race and as a minority African Americans have been poorly under-represented, or worst yet represented poorly through the lens of media stereotypes. The blerd label -much like the Black Lives Matters campaign- is way to remind us that African Americans are not just two-dimensional stereotypes. They are humans who are entitled to life, hopes, dreams, and the freedoms to swing a stick around their head and make lightsaber noises. We all need to remember that nerds and people come in many different shapes, sizes, and colors, and they all deserve respect.

Hollywood forgets that sometimes. It is easier to typecast people in certain roles, because it is accepted by the culture at large. Thus the fanboy backlash from casting an African American in a previously white role may sometimes force studios to temper otherwise multicultural and innovative choices. However, as easy as it would be to blame the media for the lack of ethnic diversity in the movies we love so much, it is not entirely their fault. They are far from perfect in fostering equal casting opportunities, but it starts with us, the fan community. As a famous leader once said. “The change you wish to see in the world, you must be, hmm.” Acceptance and equality start with each of us.

Blerd Lives Matter because all nerd lives and loves matter, regardless of color or creed. We need to encourage more diversity in our movies, television shows, comics, literature, and lives. As a community, we geeks and nerds need to start demanding a fair balance of positive racial representation, and more importantly we need to stop raging every time Hollywood makes a stormtrooper black. -It is a perfectly conical choice.- There will always be people out there with poorly conceived hashtags because they are filled with bigotry. Yet we cannot let them be the voice for our larger community. Geekdom is full of great and accepting people, and we have to make sure that the only minority we disregard is the minority of people who want to do nothing more than spread their message of fear, because that leads to anger, which leads to hate, which leads to a darker-side for us all.

We can all picture the iconic scene of when Clark Kent takes off his glasses or when Peter Parker puts on his mask. Secret identities are a part of superhero lore, as much as capes and snappy one-liners, but is the concept of a dual-life quickly becoming something that is too fantastic to believe, even for stories about men who can fly?

In a modern era where, according to a 2014 Pew Research survey, 58% of all adults 18 and older are on Facebook and 87% of all Internet users between the ages of 18 and 29 use Facebook, is the concept of keeping anything secret becoming as outdated as the concept of the Daily Planet? After all, you can look up any two words on the Internet and get some kind of hit. How hard would it be to Google “Peter Parker” and “Spider-Man” and have two-thousand entries appear? He is always taking all those pictures. Even worse, the majority of people in 2015 would probably scoff at the idea that organizations like the CIA or SHIELD would have no idea of the links between heroes and their civilian counterparts. How long would it take the NSA to trace the search history of “How to build a web-shooter?”

Nick Fury is Watching
Thanks in no small part to Edward Snowden we know that organizations like the NSA and Britain’s GCHQ have been logging the Internet searches, keystrokes, text messages, and phone calls of literally millions of people around the world. According to the NSA’s own April 2013 slideshow for their PRISM program, the government surveillance organization had been collecting data including emails, chats, videos, photos, file transfers and more, from major providers including Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, and others. Though much of the activity was aimed at foreign communications using American telecommunication networks the truth is that there is no real way to decipher the emails of American citizens versus foreign extremists. Yet, despite the epic level of this Lex Luthor-esque system of surveillance, perhaps, even scarier was the fact that that these 1,984 violations barely registered a low roar of surprise from the American populace. Maybe it is because the evidence only verified everyone’s already suspected fears, we have no more secrets.

Another Pew Research study found that only 42% of Americans were willing to discuss the topics of the Snowden-NSA story on Facebook or Twitter, despite the fact that 80% of American adults agree or strongly agree that we should be concerned about the government monitoring phone calls and Internet conversations. The kind of picture that these types of statistics paint is of a population who fears speaking out of turn on the Internet, because Big Brother might be watching. This also comes from people who openly share their food, workout habits, and embarrassing drunk pictures. Maybe we have no true expectation of online privacy, either from the government and from one another. Maybe we willingly gave it up in the name of convenience and ego. After all, federal organizations are not the only ones collecting data on us.

Lex Luthor is Watching
Major corporations from Google to Walmart are following our digital footprints in order to better target their marketing. Companies use behavioral tracking in order to promote their products directly to consumers who match their target profiles. This data includes your location, your spending habits, and even your health and life situations. Your computer and your phone are constantly sending out information about you. Certain apps on your phone are even programed to send out updates to companies whenever you connect to wifi locations. Businesses can predict when you are getting married, having kids, going to college, and even getting a divorce. Consumer data companies make trillions of dollars selling personal information and histories to major brands around the world. In other words, if Bruce Wayne started buying batarangs or cowls in bulk online, chances are that Target would figure out who Batman was before the Joker ever did.

All of this means is that maybe there are no masks left to hide behind. Maybe this is a surveillance state of our own making. After all, teens are sharing more personal information about themselves today than ever. In a survey conducted in 2012 compared to one conducted in 2006, 91% of teens in 2012 posted photos of themselves, opposed to 79% in 2006. Teens also proved more willing to share their school name, hometown, and email address online. 20% of teens surveyed in 2012 were even willing to share their cell phone number, as opposed to just 2% in the 2006 survey.

The eighteen year olds entering college this year were seven when Facebook was first invented. The fourteen year olds entering high school this year were three. To them email is something that they use to answer messages from their grandparents, and even Facebook is a tool of their parent’s generation. Yet, they still use it, and the typical teen has 300 friends and 79 Twitter followers. They are constantly connected, they live in the digital world as much as the real one. Everything they do in one world is reflected in the other, and to them that is normal. On the other side, if someone is not on a social network, they might as well not exist. Even Facebook has a Twitter account and Twitter a Facebook page. Does that mean that the next generation just has no expectation of privacy, no understanding of the importance of a secret identity?

Losing the Mask
In the golden age of comic books, secret identities were more believable, but today, in the golden age of social media and digital intelligence gathering, the idea is become has less and less so. Marvel has all but abandoned the concept in their cinematic universe. It all started with Tony Stark’s declaration, “I am Iron Man.” In fact the Daredevil Netflix series is the first time the audience gets to meet a hero who has to worry about his dual identity. Even the DC movie universe has begun to flounder on the idea. It takes Lois Lane all but ten minutes to figure out Clark Kent’s identity in Man of Steel, and we don’t question it. In fact, of all the sins committed by that movie, that was not one of them. Lois Lane is a crack investigative reporter, and it has always been completely unbelievable that she was never able to connect the dots on the biggest story of Metropolis, considering the clues were right under her nose. Yet ditching the idea of secret identities is both a little worrying and a little sad.

In a way the Internet has given everyone a mask to wear, a new face to present to the world, but now our lives, our bank accounts, our nude bodies, and even our innermost opinions can all be Googled. With cameras attached to the hips of every man woman and child, with facial recognition software so common that Facebook uses it to identify your friends in photographs, and with a youth culture who is growing up with their dirty laundry forever memorialized on the Internet, are we heading for a future where the most any of us will be able to hope for is 15 minutes of anonymity?

The real truth of the matter is not that the general public has not given up on their privacy. In fact, 93% of adults want to be in control of who receives their information. Even the younger generations are not blind to issues of privacy. 57% of teenagers surveyed reported that they did not put something online for fear of negative repercussions, and 60% of teens have their Facebooks set to private. As a population we do still care about maintaining our own secret identities, but we keep seeing a world where it is easier and easier to fall into the traps of convenience and data tracking programs, corporations, and even the government. People have not stopped caring, so much as resigned themselves to the inevitable. It is understandable. In a world where every celebrity has a leaked photo of their genitals, 1 in 5 Americans will have their ID’s stolen, and where Goggle and our phones begin to predict our daily schedule, it is understandable if we feel powerless.

A World Without Heroes?
Maybe that is why our only heroes are the ones left on the silver screen and in comic books. Without any masks our society has lost a belief in heroes. Anyone who does something good and noble today, will ultimately have their dirty laundry aired for all to see tomorrow. It is as inevitable as Aunt May’s next trip to the hospital, and that is the worst part of all this.  We forget that the purpose of secret identities in comic books for people like Batman and Superman was to ensure that they were seen as symbols of justice and hope, rather than as normal men. Our society needs heroes. We need symbols and when you pull away the mask the human underneath can never live up to our expectations.

Even worse, for people like Spider-Man a mask helps protect those he loves from reprisals from super-villains and other elements of the criminal underworld. In a world where Internet commentators are hacked and threatened, with alarming frequency, maybe that does not seem like such a crazy idea. We are not saying that everyone who wears a mask is good. After all, for every activist there is a troll lurking. For every anonymous donor there is a flame war brewing, but for every comment of hate and cyber bullying there is also a message of hope and pictures of kittens, and people willing to do what it right for one another. For every Green Goblin there is a Spider-Man. Oscar Wilde once famously said that, “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth,” and that is true for both heroes and villains, but that is a choice everyone should be free to make for themselves.

Privacy, both online and IRL is one of the backbones of our freedoms. Secret identities give us the ability to be something more than human. We can become a symbol and a voice for change. Once we lose our digital mask, that ability to transcend ourselves, we may never get it back. However, if the Internet does finally strip us of our masks, whose face will we bear for all the world to see? Are we really Bruce Wayne or Batman, and can either exist without the other?

Regardless, we need to take great care to guard what little identities we have left. Once you stand up and declare, “I am Iron Man,” you can never take it back. Just ask Tony Stark.