Tag Archives: fear

Fear the Culture of Fear (danah boyd SXSW 2012)

[fr] A écouter absolument, cette conférence donnée par danah boyd l'an dernier sur le lien entre la peur, l'économie de l'attention, les réseaux, la surcharge d'information, la transparence, et bien d'autre chose encore. Version écrite.

Danah‘s talk is titled The Power of Fear in Networked Publics. Listen to it as soon as you can. (It’s an hour long, and danah is a wonderful speaker.) Or do what I did, which is drop it into iTunes and have it come up randomly a year later when you’re listening to music.

The amount of content available fuels the attention economy, in which fear is a great tool to get people’s attention. The internet and social media increase the information overload issue (though it is not a new problem, as Anaïs Saint-Jude brilliantly explained at Lift12), thus intensifying the role of fear in our society.

Oh, and sewing machines are evil because women will spend their days rubbing their legs together.

Listen to danah. I’m going to listen again. These are complex issues and danah is absolutely great at laying out that complexity.

 

 

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Posted in Connected Life, Digital Youth | Tagged danah boyd, fear, information overload, network, sxsw | Leave a comment

Urges

[fr] Un vieux texte ressorti des brouillons.

A draft dating back from March 2010. Probably inspired by a dream.

Loud rhythmic music started drifting in the air, and the crowd on the festival river boats slowly went quiet. People stood up and started dancing and cheering.

I looked at Paul. We could feel the urge, but knew that giving in would only make it harder to resist what would come next.

Everyone sat down as the music went silent.

People looked at each other grimly. They knew that however strong the urge, they should not jump overboard.

In a flash, I noticed the group of children a few seats away.

“You! Come here right away!” I ordered.

A little bewildered, they came withing reach. People around me had understood, caught the children as they arrived, and sat them firmly in the seats next to them.

As for me, I grabbed two under each arm — two girls and two boys.

The girls didn’t budge, but the little boys started struggling and hitting me. I didn’t let go.

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Posted in Creative | Tagged dream, fear, Music, water, Writing | Leave a comment

My Journey Out of Procrastination: Perfectionism, Starting, and Stopping

[fr] Le perfectionnisme est un aspect bien connu mais souvent un peu méprisé de la procrastination. Y'a qu'à accepter qu'on n'est pas parfaits, que diable! Ce n'est pas aussi simple que ça, car en raisonnant ainsi, on ne tient pas compte des composantes émotionnelles parfois très profondes liées à nos exigeances internes de perfection.

Lorsqu'on souffre de procrastination, on se définit souvent comme une personne ne pouvant pas commencer les choses, alors qu'en réalité le problème est qu'on n'arrive pas à arrêter une fois qu'on a commencé, et qu'on se "perd" dans la tâche. Ne pas commencer est donc une réaction saine pour ne pas perdre contact avec soi-même. Il peut donc suffire d'apprendre à s'arrêter pour pouvoir commencer -- par exemple en fixant une limite de temps (avec minuterie!) lorsque l'on fait quelque chose.

In addition to the five principles I described in my earlier post, two more really important things to understand regarding procrastination are:

  • how perfectionism ties in with it
  • how having trouble starting and trouble stopping are two sides of the same problem.

So, perfectionism. I think the link between procrastination and perfectionism is perceived by most people, but it remains a superficial understanding. Like procrastination, perfectionism is not something you get rid of by just “accepting you’re not perfect” or “lowering your standards”. It’s not that simple.

Perfectionism is often rooted in deep-seated fears of the sky falling on your head if somebody says something negative about you or what you’ve done. Just willing away this emotional component will sadly not be enough to free oneself, in most cases. So, just like procrastination, one’s tendancy to go for perfection perfection perfection needs to be treated gently and with understanding. Where does it come from? Do I really believe that people can love me and appreciate what I do even if it’s (I’m) not perfect? (Don’t answer that question too quickly… The answer is often “no” if you’re really honest with yourself.) What small experiences can I do to show and teach myself that the sky will not fall on my head if I don’t do things perfectly?

It’s also important to understand that one of the things perfectionism does is make mountains out of molehills: if your standards for what you want to accomplish are very high, it’s discouraging. You think about decorating your flat to make it the perfectly decorated place of your dreams, and before you’ve even finished imagining it you’re already discouraged and don’t have any energy to even get started. This is where tricks like breaking up big projects (or aspirations) into smaller pieces can come in handy. (For example, I’ll accept that my flat isn’t decorated, and take the small step of putting up one picture on the wall, even though that won’t make it “perfectly decorated”.)

When I was a teenager, I understood rather quickly that my desire to do things “well” was getting in the way of my simply doing them. In a way, I’d say I’m a reformed perfectionist: I’ve long ago decided that I’d rather do things imperfectly than not do them (I have a “just do it even if it’s crap” mode). I also learned that what I considered “crap” was often considered by others to be “great” — like that time when I wrote a quick and dirty page on what I’d done at a job, mainly for myself, and sent it off to my brother who was working at the same company, who then (to my horror) forwarded it to the manager, manager who then (to my utmost disbelief) got back to me praising the professionalism of my crappy document.

In some cases, you might discover that perfectionism is not the real problem, but a “constructed” problem designed to achieve a goal like help you procrastinate. It might sound a bit crazy, but sometimes causality doesn’t really go in the direction we imagine.

Starting and stopping are a good example of this. Almost all people who procrastinate will at some point say something like “Oh, my problem is just starting — once I’ve started, then there’s no stopping me, I’ll do what I set out to do. I just really need to find a way to get started.” I said the exact same thing. Then one day I realised (I had a little help for that) that the real problem I faced was not that I couldn’t start things, but that once I was started, I just couldn’t stop.

I’m a little obsessive, and once I’m doing something, I get completely absorbed in it, don’t see time go by, forget to eat, forget to feel, forget to breathe (!), lose myself. It’s clearly one of the things that helped me develop RSI all those years ago, but that’s not the only problem. It’s that although I’m being productive, I’m “not there”, I’m out of touch with myself, and I’m not really enjoying it, except in a kind of manic, compulsive way. This is not flow, by the way — it’s something else and it’s not healthy.

So in a way, I have a very good reason not to want to start things. I have a very good reason for procrastinating — it’s my healthy reaction against behaviour that makes me lose myself.

The way out, therefore, is to learn to stop. If you know you can stop, then you are free to start. FlyLady understood this very well, and this is why the “you can do anything for 15 minutes” mantra works so well. Trust me, learning to stop is not easy. Once you’re finally doing something and getting into it, stopping after 30 minutes (or whatever time you’ve set) is going to feel very counterproductive. But remember where the real problem is here: if you don’t make the effort to stop, you’re cheating yourself (specially if you coaxed yourself into starting because there was a clear time limit to how much time you’d spend on the task) and it will make it even more difficult to start next time. I find the way FlyLady puts it in her “How to Declutter” page pretty inspiring:

Decide how often you are going to declutter a zone. Do a little every day – use a timer. But be warned – this can become compulsive! Once you get started you will want to clean like a banshee! Don’t burn yourself out! Only do small amount at a time. The house did not get dirty overnight and it will not get clean overnight. When you set the timer you can only do two sessions at a time. This goal may seem unattainable right now, but you can do it in little pieces. In a couple of months, the whole house will be decluttered.

So, concentrate on stopping things, rather than on starting them. Set time limits. Flip the problem on its head, and you should soon see things changing.

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Posted in Life Improvement, Personal, Psychology | Tagged 15 minutes, compulsive, declutter, emotions, fear, flylady, obessive, perfectionism, problem, procrastination, starting, stopping, timer | 9 Comments

Cessons de paranoïer au sujet de la grippe A (H1N1)

[en] Our local newspaper has a full-page interview about the rampant panic around H1N1. To keep a sense of proportion, for 1500 deaths due to that particular flu, the common flu kills 250 to 500 thousand people each year. The doctor interviewed says that recommendations like avoiding handshakes or kisses are medically irrelevant and unethical, and they remind him of the early years of AIDS, when people were afraid of touching HIV+ people.

Thanks for doing your share to bring back some sanity amongst those around you.

Je salue brièvement au passage la page 3 du Lausanne-Cités d’aujourd’hui, qui via l’interview du médecin et éthicien Martin Winkler, s’élève contre la paranoïa ambiante au sujet de la grippe A.

Extraits choisis:

  • Au 6 août 2009, l’OMS recensait 1500 morts sur la planète… Chaque année, la grippe classique (A H3N2) fait entre 250 000 et 500 000 morts…
  • Dans le canton de Vaud, le médecin cantonal – en charge des mesures sanitaires – a laissé entendre qu’il convenait, dès à présent, d’éviter de se serrer la main et de s’embrasser. Qu’en pensez-vous? Que ça me fait penser à ce qu’on disait au moment où le SIDA faisait peur à tout le monde, qu’il ne fallait pas toucher une personne séropositive. Cette recommandation est anti-scientifique. Ca accentue la panique et l’inquiétude dans une société qui n’a pas besoin de plus de méfiance sociale qu’elle n’en a déjà. C’est la grippe, bon dieu, ce n’est pas la peste, le choléra ou la variole! Ne pas s’embrasser ou se serrer la main? Personnellement, je rejette ce genre de recommandation. Médicalement et éthiquement parlant, c’est inacceptable!
  • [L]‘angoisse actuelle est majorée par la situation économique. Objectivement, personne n’a envie que les grands pays industrialisés soient paralysés par une épidémie, parce que ça ne serait pas bon pour les entreprises… donc, pour les actionnaires. Il y a là une indécence insupportable. Ce n’est pas la santé des populations qui inquiète nos dirigeants, c’est celle de l’économie.

Merci de faire votre contribution à la lutte contre la paranoïa auprès de votre entourage!

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Posted in Health, Media, My corner of the world, News and Politics | Tagged angoisse, article, autorités, fear, grippe a, grippe porcine, h1n1, interview, journal, lausanne cités, martin winkler, médias, paranoia, prevention, swine flu | 2 Comments

Reading the Ofcon Report on Social Networking: Stats, Stranger Danger, Perceived Risk

[fr] Le Daily Mail remet ça aujourd'hui, abasourdi de découvrir que les adolescents rencontrent "offline" des étrangers d'internet. Il va donc falloir que j'écrive le fameux billet auquel j'ai fait allusion dernièrement, mais avant cela, je suis en train de lire le rapport sur lequel se basent ces articles alarmés et bien-pensants.

Ce billet contient quelques commentaires sur la situation en général, ainsi que mes notes de lecture -- citations et commentaires -- du début de ce rapport de l'Ofcon.

I don’t know if I’ll get around to writing about the teen cleavage scare before the story goes completely cold, but in my endeavour to offer a balanced criticism of what’s going on here, I’m currently reading the Ofcon Social Networking Report which was released on April 2 and prompted this new wave of “think of the children” media coverage. The Daily Mail is at it today again, with the stunning and alarming news that teenagers are meeting “strangers” from the internet offline (big surprise). I find it heartening, though, that the five reader comments to this article as of writing are completely sensible in playing down the “dangers” regularly touted by the press and the authorities.

Here are the running notes of my reading of this report. I might as well publish them as I’m reading. Clearly, the report seems way more balanced than the Daily Mail coverage (are we surprised?) which contains lots of figures taken out of context. However, there is still stuff that bothers me — less the actual results of the research (which are facts, so they’re good) than the way some of them are presented and the interpretations a superficial look at them might lead one to make (like, sorry to say, much of the mainstream press).

Here we go.

Social networking sites also have some potential pitfalls to negotiate, such as the unintended consequences of publicly posting sensitive personal information, confusion over privacy settings, and contact with people one doesn’t know.

Ofcon SN Report, page 1

Good start, I think that the issues raise here make sense. However, I would put “contact with people one doesn’t know” in “potential pitfalls”. (More about this lower down.)

Ofcom research shows that just over one fifth (22%) of adult internet users aged 16+ and almost half (49%) of children aged 8-17 who use the internet have set up their own profile on a social networking site. For adults, the likelihood of setting up a profile is highest among 16-24 year olds (54%) and decreases with age.

Ofcon SN Report, page 5

This is to show that SNs are more popular amongst younger age groups. It makes sense to say that half of 8-17 year olds have a profile on SN site to compare it with the 22% of 16+ internet users or the 54% of 16-24 year olds. Bear in mind that these are percentages of internet users — they do not include those who do not go online.

However, saying “OMG one out of two 8-17 year olds has a profile on a SN site” in the context of “being at risk from paedophiles” is really not very interesting. Behaviour of 8 year olds and 17 year olds online cannot be compared at all in that respect. You can imagine a 16 year old voluntarily meeting up to have sex with an older love interest met on the internet. Not an 8 year old. In most statistics, however, both fall into the category of “paedophilia” when the law gets involved.

27% of 8-11 year olds who are aware of social networking sites say that they have a profile on a site

Ofcon SN Report, page 5

I’d like to draw you attention on the fact that this is 27% of 8-11 year olds who are aware of social networking sites.

Unless otherwise stated, this report uses the term ‘children’ to include all young people aged 8-17.

Ofcon SN Report, page 5

I don’t like this at all, because as stated above, particularly when it comes to concerns about safety one cannot simply lump that agegroup into a practical “children”, which plays well with “child abuse”. In the US, cases of “statutory rape” which might very well have been consensual end up inflating the statistics on “children falling victim to sexual predators online”.

Although contact lists on sites talk about ’friends’, social networking sites stretch the traditional meaning of ‘friends’ to mean anyone with whom a user has an online connection. Therefore the term can include people who the user has never actually met or spoken to. Unlike offline (or ‘real world’) friendship, online friendships and connections are also displayed in a public and visible way via friend lists. The public display of friend lists means that users often share their personal details online with people they may not know at all well. These details include religion, political views, sexuality and date of birth that in the offline world a person might only share only with close friends. While communication with known contacts was the most popular social networking activity, 17 % of adults used their profile to communicate with people they do not know. This increases among younger adults.

Ofcon SN Report, page 7

Right. This is problematic too. And it’s not just the report’s fault. The use of “friend” to signify contact contributes to making the whole issue of “online friendship” totally inpenetrable to those who are not immersed in online culture. The use of “know” is also very problematic, as it tends to be understood that you can only “know” somebody offline. Let’s try to clarify.

First, it’s possible to build relationships and friendships (even loves!) online. Just like in pre-internet days you could develop a friendship with a pen-pal, or kindle a nascent romance through letters, you can get to know somebody through text messages, IM, blog postings, presence streams, Skype chats and calls, or even mailing-list and newsgroup postings. I hope that it will soon be obvious to everybody that it is possible to “know” somebody without actually having met them offline.

So, there is a difference between “friends” that “you know” and “SN friends aka contacts” which you might in truth not really know. But you can see how the vocabulary can be misleading here.

I’d like to take the occasion to point out one other thing that bothers me here: the idea that contact with “strangers” or “people one does not know” is a thing worth pointing out. So, OK, 17% of adults in the survey, communicated with people they “didn’t know”. I imagine that this is “didn’t know” in the “offline person”‘s worldview, meaning somebody that had never been met physically (maybe the study gives more details about that). But even if it is “didn’t know” as in “complete stranger” — still, why does it have to be pointed out? Do we have statistics on how many “strangers” we communicate with offline each week?

It seems to me that because this is on the internet, strangers are perceived as a potential threat, in comparison to people we already know. As far as abuse goes, in the huge, overwhelming, undisputed majority of cases, the abuser was known (and even well known) to the victim. Most child sexual abuse is commited by people in the family or very close social circle.

I had hoped that in support of what I’m writing just now, I would be able to state that “stranger danger” was behind us. Sadly, a quick search on Google shows that I’m wrong — it’s still very much present. I did, however, find this column which offers a very critical view of how much danger strangers actually do represent for kids and the harmful effects of “stranger danger”. Another nice find was this Families for Freedom Child Safety Bulletin, by a group who seems to share the same concerns I do over the general scaremongering around children.

Among those who reported talking to people they didn’t know, there were significant variations in age, but those who talked to people they didn’t know were significantly more likely to be aged 16-24 (22% of those with a social networking page or profile) than 25-34 (7% of those with a profile). In our qualitative sample, several people reported using sites in this way to look for romantic interests.

Ofcon SN Report, page 7

Meeting “online people” offline is more common amongst the younger age group, which is honestly not a surprise. At 34, I sometimes feel kind of like a dinosaur when it comes to internet use, in the sense that many of my offline friends (younger than me) would never dream of meeting somebody from “The Internets”. 16-24s are clearly digital natives, and as such, I would expect them to be living in a world where “online” and “offline” are distinctions which do not mean much anymore (as they do not mean much to me and many of the other “online people” of my generation or older).

The majority of comments in our qualitative sample were positive about social networking. A few users did mention negative aspects to social networking, and these included annoyance at others using sites for self-promotion, parties organised online getting out of hand, and online bullying.

Ofcon SN Report, page 7

This is interesting! Real life experience from real people with social networks. Spam, party-crashing and bullying (I’ll have much more to say about this last point later on, but in summary, address the bullying problem at the source and offline, and don’t blame the tool) are mentioned as problems. Unwanted sexual sollicitations or roaming sexual predators do not seem to be part of the online experience of the people interviewed in this study. Strangely, this fits with my experience of the internet, and that of almost everybody I know. (Just like major annoyances in life for most people, thankfully, are not sexual harrassment — though it might be for some, and that really sucks.)

The people who use social networking sites see them as a fun and easy leisure activity. Although the subject of much discussion in the media, in Ofcom’s qualitative research privacy and safety issues on social networking sites did not emerge as ‘top of mind’ for most users. In discussion, and after prompting, some users in the qualitative study did think of some privacy and safety issues, although on the whole they were unconcerned about them. In addition, our qualitative study found that all users, even those who were confident with ICT found the settings on most of the major social networking sites difficult to understand and manipulate.

Ofcon SN Report, page 7-8

This is really interesting too. But how do you understand it? I read: “It’s not that dangerous, actually, if those people use SN sites regularly without being too concerned, and the media are making a lot of fuss for nothing.” (Ask people about what comes to mind about driving a car — one of our regular dangerous activities — and I bet you more people than in that study will come up with safety issues; chances are we’ve all been involved in a car crash at some point, or know somebody who has.) Another way of reading it could be “OMG, even with all the effort the media are putting into raising awareness about these problems, people are still as naive and ignorant! They are in danger!”. What will the media choose to understand?

The study points out the fact that privacy settings are hard to understand and manipulate, and I find this very true. In doubt or ignorance, most people will “not touch” the defaults, which are generally too open. I say “too open” with respect to privacy in the wide sense, not in the “keep us safe from creeps” sense.

This brings me to a comment I left earlier on an article on ComMetrics about what makes campaigns against online pedophiles fail. It’s an interesting article, but as I explain in the comment, I think it misses an important point:

There is a bigger issue here — which I try to explain each time I get a chance, to the point I’m starting to feel hoarse.

Maybe the message is not the right one? The campaign, as well as your article, takes as a starting point that “adults posing as kids” are the threat that chatrooms pose to our children.

Research shows that this is not a widespread risk. It also shows that there is no correlation between handing out personal information online and the risk of falling victim to a sexual predator. Yet our campaigns continue to be built on the false assumptions that not handing out personal information will keep a kid “safe”, and that there is danger in the shape of people lying about their identity, in the first place.

There is a disconnect between the language the campaigns speak and what they advocate (you point that out well in your article, I think), and the experience kids and teenagers have of life online (“they talk to strangers all the time, and nothing bad happens; they meet people from online, and they are exactly who they said they were; hence, all this “safety” information is BS”). But there is also a larger disconnect, which is that the danger these campaigns claim to address is not well understood. Check out the 5th quote in the long article I wrote on the subject at the time of the MySpace PR stunt about deleting “sex offenders’” profiles.

I will blog more about this, but wanted to point this out here first.

Yes, I will blog more about this. I think this post of notes and thoughts is long enough, and it’s time for me to think about sleeping or putting a new bandage on my scraped knee. Before I see you in a few days for the next bout of Ofcon Report reading and commentating, however, I’ll leave you with the quote I reference in the comment above (it can’t hurt to publish it again):

Now, on the case of internet sex crimes against kids, I’m concerned that we’re already off to a bad start here. The public and the professional impression about what’s going on in these kinds of crimes is not in sync with the reality, at least so far as we can ascertain it on the basis of research that we’ve done. And this research has really been based on some large national studies of cases coming to the attention of law enforcement as well as to large national surveys of youth.

If you think about what the public impression is about this crime, it’s really that we have these internet pedophiles who’ve moved from the playground into your living room through the internet connection, who are targeting young children by pretending to be other children who are lying about their ages and their identities and their motives, who are tricking kids into disclosing personal information about themselves or harvesting that information from blogs or websites or social networking sites. Then armed with this information, these criminals stalk children. They abduct them. They rape them, or even worse.

But actually, the research in the cases that we’ve gleaned from actual law enforcement files, for example, suggests a different reality for these crimes. So first fact is that the predominant online sex crime victims are not young children. They are teenagers. There’s almost no victims in the sample that we collected from – a representative sample of law enforcement cases that involved the child under the age of 13.

In the predominant sex crime scenario, doesn’t involve violence, stranger molesters posing online as other children in order to set up an abduction or assault. Only five percent of these cases actually involved violence. Only three percent involved an abduction. It’s also interesting that deception does not seem to be a major factor. Only five percent of the offenders concealed the fact that they were adults from their victims. Eighty percent were quite explicit about their sexual intentions with the youth that they were communicating with.

So these are not mostly violence sex crimes, but they are criminal seductions that take advantage of teenage, common teenage vulnerabilities. The offenders lure teens after weeks of conversations with them, they play on teens’ desires for romance, adventure, sexual information, understanding, and they lure them to encounters that the teams know are sexual in nature with people who are considerably older than themselves.

So for example, Jenna – this is a pretty typical case – 13-year-old girl from a divorced family, frequented sex-oriented chat rooms, had the screen name “Evil Girl.” There she met a guy who, after a number of conversations, admitted he was 45. He flattered her, gave – sent her gifts, jewelry. They talked about intimate things. And eventually, he drove across several states to meet her for sex on several occasions in motel rooms. When he was arrested in her company, she was reluctant to cooperate with the law enforcement authorities.

David Finkelhor, in panel Just The Facts About Online Youth Victimization: Researchers Present the Facts and Debunk Myths, May 2007

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Posted in Connected Life, Digital Youth, Social Media and the Web | Tagged bebo, children, Citations, criticism, Culture, daily mail, danger, digital youth, Digital Youth, facebook, fear, internet, Media, myspace, ofcon, offline, online, Online Culture, predators, Press, Psychology / Sociology, report, Research, risk, security, social networking, Social Software, stranger danger, Thinking | Leave a comment

Daily Mail Shocked by Teen Cleavage

[fr] Encore une panique au sujet des photos d'ados sur les réseaux sociaux. Gardez la tête froide. Vais bloguer si j'ai le temps ces prochains jours.

Kevin Marks tweets:

Daily Mail is shocked, shocked to find teenage cleavage on Bebo; reprints it in the paper, beside their bikini stories

The article in question, available online, is Millions of girls using Facebook, Bebo and Myspace ‘at risk’ from paedophiles and bullies.

No time to read it in full now, or blog about it as I should, but a couple of reminders:

And if you were wondering, yes, I give talks on the subject in schools (in French or English). List of past talks. More information on that in French.

I was interviewed a bit less than a year ago by the BBC around fear parents were feeling about Facebook:

If I have time, I’ll try to blog about this tomorrow, but the stack of things to do right now is quite high, and I’m not sure I’ll get around to doing it before this is cold.

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Posted in Connected Life, Digital Youth, Social Media and the Web | Tagged bebo, Digital Youth, facebook, fear, Online Culture, predators, schools, sexuality, Social Software, teenagers, teens | Leave a comment

Reading The Black Swan

[fr] Notes de lecture de "The Black Swan", sur l'impact des événements hautement improbables.

One of the things I did yesterday during my time offline was read a sizeable chunk of The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

It’s a fascinating read. (Thanks again to Adam Hill for saying I should read it.) I just find myself a little frustrated that I can’t effortlessly copy-paste quotes from the book into a text file or my Tumblr as I read. (And no, I wouldn’t want to be reading this online. I like books. They just lack a few features. Like searchability, too.)

Anyway, I’ve been twittering away while I read, and here are a few things I noted. These are not exact quotes, but paraphrases. Consider them “reading notes.” (And then a few me-quotes, hehe…).

  • oh, one quote I did copy to Tumblr (check it, if you’re lucky, you might find more quotes!)
  • Finding Taleb’s concepts of Mediocristan and Extremistan fascinating and insightful.
  • Probably in Extremistan: number of contacts, length of relationships? Not sure.
  • High-impact, low-probability events (Black Swans) are by nature unpredictable. Now apply that to the predator problem.
  • We confuse ‘no evidence of possible Black Swans’ with ‘evidence of no possible Black Swans’ and tend to remember the latter.
  • ‘No evidence of disease’ often interpreted as ‘Evidence of no disease’, for example.
  • Taleb: in testing for a hypothesis, we tend to look for confirmation and ignore what would invalidate it.
  • Interesting: higher dopamine = greater vulnerability to pattern recognition (less suspension of disbelief)
  • So… Seems we overestimate probability of black swans when we talk about them. Terrorism, predators, plane crashes… And ignore others.
  • Anecdotes sway us more than abstract statistical information. (Taleb)
  • That explains why personal recommendations have so much influence on our decisions. Anecdotes, rather than more abstract facts or stats. (That’s from me, not him.)
  • Journalists according to Taleb: ‘industrial producers of the distortion’

Update: Anne Zelenka wrote a blog post taking the last and, unfortunately, quite incomplete citation as a starting-point. Check my clarification comment on her blog. And here’s the complete quote:

Remarkably, historians and other scholars in the humanities who need to understand silent evidence the most do not seem to have a name for it (and I looked hard). As for journalists, fuhgedaboutdit! They are industrial producers of the distortion. (p. 102)

Update 2: Anne edited her post to take into account my comment and our subsequent discussion. Thanks!

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Posted in Books | Tagged blackswan, book, Books, essay, fear, impact, improbable, life, notes, philosophy, probability, Psychology / Sociology, reading, society, statistics, taleb | 6 Comments

Alarmapathy

[fr] A force d'avoir des avertissements pour tout et rien (surtout dans les pays Anglo-Saxons), on finit par les ignorer.

JP is so right!

I have lost count of the number of times I’ve sat in a car whose dashboard is littered with various alerts and alarms. I have lost count of the number of times I’ve seen kitchen appliances whose control panels are flashing whatever they flash. I have lost count of the number of times I’ve seen televisions and video recorders and DVD players and radios and computers with bits and bobs flashing away merrily.

[...]

Apathy sets in when we have too many alarms, too many meaningless alarms. Alarms should be risk sensors that help us make decisions that carry risk. Instead, we may be moving towards a world where nanny-state numbness is moving on to devices, and as a result apathy will increase.

You know what I mean. You know that we live in a world where a “talking” bag of peanuts is no longer science fiction, where the bag says “Warning: The bag you are opening contains nuts”. Where you can’t take something out of the microwave oven without someone intoning the words “Warning: Contents may be hot”. Where swimming pools will recite the mantra “Warning: contents wet” as you enter.

We need to be careful. Otherwise our alarms and nanny-state-hood will have appalling consequences, as alarmapathy increases to terminal levels.

JP Rangaswami, Wondering about alarmapathy

Coming from Switzerland, the thing that strikes me the most in London is the number of warnings and safety announcements and “danger signs” (it’s even worse in San Francisco, where I spent my summer).

The first few “security announcements” had me worried — but then I quickly learned to ignore them. Just like I ignore any burglar alarm in the UK, because as we all know, they’re always false alarms…

I also wonder what it does to our perception of the world when we are assailed with so many messages about how dangerous our environment is. I’m sure it can’t be good.

In the SF MUNI, the wall behind the driver is literally covered in signs saying things like “it’s forbidden to assault the driver” — and I think “gosh… people around here spend their time assaulting MUNI drivers? what kind of place is this?”

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Posted in Stuff that doesn't fit | Tagged alarms, Citations, fear, london, muni, Psychology / Sociology, safety, sanfrancisco, society, underground, warnings | Leave a comment

MySpace supprime les profils de 29’000 “délinquants sexuels”

Il y a quelques jours, on a attiré mon attention sur cet article de la BBC, qui rapporte que le site MySpace (une sorte de super-Skyblog d’origine américaine) a supprimé de son site les profils de 29’000 “délinquants sexuels” (“sex offenders”).

J’ai écrit deux billets à ce sujet en anglais, qui ont reçu pas mal de couverture dans la blogosphère anglophone. J’ai aussi été interviewée par la radio BBC World suite à mon message leur signalant ma réaction.

Ces deux billets comportent un résumé bref en français que je reproduis ici pour plus de commodité.

MySpace exclut de son site 29’000 “sex offenders” (des gens qui ont été accusés de crimes sexuels) enregistrés. C’est problématique d’une part car suivant l’Etat dans lequel elles ont été condamnées, ces personnes enregistrées peuvent être coupables de choses aussi anodines que: relations homosexuelles, nudisme, uriner dans un lieu public, faire l’amour dans un lieu public, etc. D’autre part, je rappelle les chiffres provenant d’une récente étude sur les crimes sexuels impliquant des minteurs, qui vont à l’encontre de l’idée qu’on se fait habituellement de ce genre de cas. En agissant ainsi, possiblement poussés par la paranoïa ambiante, MySpace contribue à cette paranoïa. Je regrette que la presse joue systématiquement le jeu de la peur et ne se fasse pas l’avocate d’une attitude moins paniquée face à la question des prédateurs sexuels en ligne. (En résumé: les enfants courent plus de risques hors ligne qu’en ligne, et probablement bien plus à chaque fois qu’ils montent dans une voiture ou traversent la route…)

Stephanie Booth, MySpace Banning Sex Offenders: Online Predator Paranoia

Conseils aux parents (après mon interview à la BBC ce soir au sujet des “sex offenders” bannis de MySpace):

  • pas de panique, les prédateurs sexuels tels que nous les présentent les médias ne sont pas légion, votre enfant ne court pas des risques immodérés en étant sur internet;
  • dialoguez avec votre enfant; intéressez-vous à ce qu’il fait en ligne;
  • souvenez-vous que fournir des informations personnelles n’est pas un très grand risque; par contre, s’engager dans des relations de séduction avec des inconnus ou des amis adultes en ligne l’est.

J’ai écrit relativement peu en anglais à ce sujet jusqu’à maintenant. En français, lisez Adolescents, MySpace, internet: citations de danah boyd et Henry Jenkins, De la “prévention internet”, les billets en rapport avec mon projet de livre sur les adolescents et internet, et la documentation à l’attention des ados que j’ai rédigée pour ciao.ch.

Stephanie Booth, Parents, Teenagers, Internet, Predators, Fear…

Donc, en faisant ma tournée sur technorati, pour voir qui a mentionné dans son blog l’article de la BBC, je suis tombée sur un billet en français qui se réjouissait de la nouvelle. Mon long commentaire à ce billet devenant trop long, j’ai décidé de le faire ici, sur mon blog, et du coup, de parler un peu de cette histoire pour mes lecteurs francophones:

Bonne nouvelle signée MySpace qui vient de supprimer 29.000 profils de délinquants sexuels américains errants sur son espace qui compte 80 millions internautes. La suppression a été effectuée grâce à son partenariat avec le bureau de vérification Sentinel Tech Holding Crop qui développe une base de données nationale de délinquants sexuels. La législation américaine facilite cette tâche car elle permet de consulter librement les fiches de ces déliquants sur le site du ministère de la justice…

M/S, MySpace a les yeux sur les délinquants sexuels

Comme je l’explique donc dans ma réaction à l’article de la BBC ce n’est pas une si bonne nouvelle que ça. Ce sont les états qui définissent ce qu’est un “délinquant sexuel”, et suivant où, on peut être sur une de ces listes pour avoir montré ses fesses en public. De plus, les profils supprimés seraient ceux où l’adresse e-mail fournie correspond à celle qui se trouve dans le dossier des délinquants sexuels. Vous pensez vraiment qu’un “pervers à la recherche de victimes” (et encore, voir plus bas pour ma réfutation de la forme qu’on donne au problème) serait aussi bête?

Aussi, la problématique des prédateurs sexuels sur internet est dramatisée et déformée par les médias. Tout d’abord, on perd de vue que la grande majorité des crimes sexuels sur mineurs impliquent la famille ou des amis proches de la famille (et non des inconnus ou “connaissances” provenant d’internet). Les cas faisant intervenir internet sont une minorité, et sont plus de l’ordre “relation de séduction d’ados” que “duperie et enlèvement d’enfants”. On peut légitimement se demander si une telle action de la part de MySpace est vraiment utile (il s’agit en fait plus de sauvegarder leur image), et si on n’est pas en train de se donner bonne conscience tout en évitant de faire de la prévention utile, mais quelque peu plus complexe (puisqu’il s’agit d’aller plonger dans la façon dont les adolescents vivent l’éveil de leur sexualité et de leurs premières relations amoureuses). Voir à ce sujet De la “prévention internet”, billet qui, au milieu de mes grands questionnements, aborde cette question.

Mon ami Kevin Anderson, journaliste américain vivant à Londres, a écrit un excellent billet au sujet de toute cette histoire suite à un interview assez frustrant qu’il a donné à la BBC: ‘Think of the children’. Yes, but also think about the journalism. Entre autres, il en appelle à la presse, qui couvre systématiquement ce genre d’événement selon l’angle “mon Dieu, ça grouille de pédophiles sur internet, enfin on fait quelque chose, mais est-ce suffisant?”

I am taking an issue with the format and the journalistic assumptions made. Yes, there is a problem here, but it’s not the one that is being shouted in the headlines. The facts don’t support the sensationalist story of a predator lurking behind every MySpace profile or blog post. As Steph points out in her posts, the threat to youth isn’t in them having blogs or being on social networks. The problem is one of emotionally vulnerable teens being preyed upon by opportunistic adults. It’s more complicated and less emotive than saying: Keep the paedos off of MySpace.

Kevin Anderson, ‘Think of the children’. Yes, but also think about the journalism

Après mon interview à la BBC il y a deux jours, j’ai envoyé à quelques (3-4) journalistes romands de ma connaissance un e-mail contenant un appel à une couverture plus “réaliste” que “sensationnelle” de cette histoire. Voici à quelques variations près le message que j’ai envoyé:

Vous avez peut-être entendu parler du fait que MySpace a “viré” de son site 29’000 personnes se trouvant sur les listes de délinquants sexuels tenues par les Etats aux USA. J’ai écrit une assez longue réaction à ce sujet (en anglais) et me suis également faite interviewer par la BBC.

En deux mots:

  • la définition de “sex offender” est problématique (dans certains états, on peut finir sur ces listes pour avoir montré ses fesses ou eu des relations homosexuelles)
  • une telle action de la part de MySpace (pour sauver leur image, principalement) est problématique d’une part car elle renforce la peur (peu justifiée) ambiante autour des prédateurs sexuels en ligne, et d’autre part car c’est une mesure peu utile car elle est déconnectée de la réalité des “problèmes/agressions à caractère sexuel” que rencontrent les ados en ligne.

[liens vers mes deux articles]

Je ne sais pas si c’est votre rayon ou non et si ça vous intéresse, mais si vous connaissez quelqu’un qui serait susceptible de couvrir cette histoire sous cet angle (un angle qui manque cruellement dans les médias “traditionnels”) n’hésitez pas à leur dire de prendre contact avec moi (+41 78 625 44 74).

Deux réponses intéressées à ce jour (une personne en vacances qui a retransmis le mail, et un quotidien local pour qui ce n’est peut-être pas évident de couvrir un tel sujet international). Je réitère donc ici mon appel: y’a-t-il une publication romande qui veuille relever le défi?

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Posted in Connected Life, Digital Youth, Media, My corner of the world | Tagged adolescents, Citations, Digital Youth, enfants, Essay-Like, fear, internet, Media, médias, myspace, Online Culture, paranoia, pédophiles, prédateurs, predators, prevention, réaction, risque, securité, security, suisse romande, Wanted | 4 Comments

Parents, Teenagers, Internet, Predators, Fear…

[fr] Conseils aux parents (après mon interview à la BBC ce soir au sujet des "sex offenders" bannis de MySpace):

  • pas de panique, les prédateurs sexuels tels que nous les présentent les médias ne sont pas légion, votre enfant ne court pas des risques immodérés en étant sur internet;
  • dialoguez avec votre enfant; intéressez-vous à ce qu'il fait en ligne;
  • souvenez-vous que fournir des informations personnelles n'est pas un très grand risque; par contre, s'engager dans des relations de séduction avec des inconnus ou des amis adultes en ligne l'est.

J'ai écrit relativement peu en anglais à ce sujet jusqu'à maintenant. En français, lisez Adolescents, MySpace, internet: citations de danah boyd et Henry Jenkins, De la “prévention internet”, les billets en rapport avec mon projet de livre sur les adolescents et internet, et la documentation à l'attention des ados que j'ai rédigée pour ciao.ch.

Update: radio stream is up and will be so until next Wednesday. MySpace piece starts at 29:30, and I start talking shortly after 34:00. Use the right-facing arrow at the top of the player to move forwards. Sorry you can’t go backwards.

I was just interviewed by BBC World Have Your Say (radio, links will come) about the MySpace banning sex offenders story. (They didn’t find me, though, I sent them a note pointing to my blog post through the form on their site.) Here’s a bit of follow-up information for people who might just have arrived here around this issue.

First, I’m often asked what advice I give to parents regarding the safety of their children online (the BBC asked this question but I didn’t get to answer). So here’s my basic advice, and a few things to keep in mind:

  • don’t panic — the media make the whole online sexual predator issue sound much worse than it is; (they might even be more at risk offline than online if they’re “normal” kids who do not generally engage in risky behaviour, given that most perpetrators of sex crimes against minors are family members or ‘known people’)
  • talk with your kids about what they do online; dialog is essential, as in many educational situations; show interest, it’s part of their lives, and it might be an important one; start early, by introducing them to the internet yourself, rather than letting them loose on it to fend for themselves from day one;
  • keep in mind that sharing personal information is not the greater risk: engaging in talk of a sexual nature with strangers/adult friends is, however <insert something about proper sexual education here>;

I regularly give talks in schools, and I speak to students, teachers, and parents — all three if possible, but not at the same time, because the message is not the same, of course. When I talk to parents, I see a lot of very scared/concerned parents who understand very little about the living internet their kids spend so much time in. But they read the mainstream media, and they’ve heard how the internet is this horrible place teeming with sexual predators, lurking in chatrooms and social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace, on the look-out for their next victim.

I may be dramatizing a little, but this is basically the state of mind I find parents in. I’ll jump on this occasion to introduce a piece by Anastasia Goodstein: Dangers Overblown for Teens Using Social Media. I’m quite ashamed to say I only discovered Anastasia and her work about a month ago — we seem to cover similar ground, and I’m really impressed by what I see of her online (for example, she’s actually published a book about teens online whereas I’m stuck-stalled in the process of trying to get started writing mine — in French). She also reacted to the MySpace Sex Offender Saga.

Anyway, my job when I’m talking to parents is usually:

  • play “tourist guide” to introduce them to this strange internet culture (my background in Indian culture clearly helps me manage the cross-cultural internet/offline dialogue) — I encourage them to try chatting (find a friend who chats and can help you sign up to MSN to chat with her/him) and blogging (head off to WordPress.com and write about random stuff you’re interested in for a couple of months)
  • de-dramatize the whole “internet predator” thing so they’re not as tense when it comes to having their kids online, or being online themselves, and put forward the positive aspects of having an online life too.

What am I concerned about, when it comes to teens online? A bunch of things, but not really sick old men in raincoats posing as little girls in chatrooms or MySpace profiles.

  • their blissful unawareness of how permanent digital media is; photos, videos, text etc. are all out of your control once they’ve left your hands; easy to multiply and distribute, they could very well be there for ever; they also don’t realize that all their digital interactions (particularly webcam stuff) is recordable, and that nothing is really private;
  • their perception of the online world as “uncharted territories” where all is allowed, where there are no rules, no laws, no adult presence; for that, I blame adults who do not accompany their young children online at first, who do not show any interest in what’s going on online for their kids, and who do not go online to be there too; teens need adult presence online to help them learn to become responsible internet citizens, just as they do offline; our fear of predators is resulting in teenager-only spaces which I’m not sure are really that great;
  • their certainty that one can evade rules/law/morals by being anonymous online and hiding; we’ve told them so much to stay hidden (from predators), and that one can be anonymous online (like predators) that they think they can hide (from parents, guardians, teachers);
  • their idea that what is online is up for grabs (I’m not going to stand up against what the record companies call “piracy” — that’s for another blog post — but I do feel very strongly about crediting people for their work, and respecting terms individuals or small businesses set for their work).

There are other things which are important, but discussed so little, because “online predators” is such a scary issue that it makes everything else seem unimportant: the “chat effect” (why is it easy to “fall in love over chat”?), findability of online stuff (yeah, by parents, teachers, future bosses), what to say and what not to say online (“what am I comfortable with?”), gaming environments like WoW…

One thing we need to remember is that kids/teens are not passive victims. Some teens are actively seeking certain types of relationships online, and when they do, chances are they’ll find them (proof the “catch a predator” operations in which “normal people” or policemen pose as lusty/consenting teens to trap dirty predators… sure it works, but most teens aren’t like that!)

I remember getting in touch with a kid who had an account on Xanga. He had lifted some HTML code from my site, and visits to his page were showing up in my stats. I asked him to remove it (“hey, lifting code like that isn’t cool!”) and he didn’t react. I found his ICQ number and messaged him, and he was outright obnoxious. A few days later, he started messaging me vulgar messages out of the blue (“I want to f* you, b**!”). We finally trapped him, a friend of mine posing as a Xanga official who scared him a bit so he’d remove the code from his site, and who actually had a long, long talk with him. He was 9 years old.

If you came here via the BBC, leave a comment to let me know what you think about these issues, or what your experience is!

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Posted in Connected Life, Digital Youth, Social Media and the Web | Tagged advice, anastasiagoodstein, bbc, children, ciao.ch, Cyberspace, Digital Youth, Education, Essay-Like, fear, internet, Media, myspace, offline, online, Online Culture, panic, paranoia, parents, predators, Press, Psychology / Sociology, schools, security, Social Software, socialnetworks, talks, teenagers, teens | 14 Comments