{learning} The Lessons from the Anonymous


In the course ICM820 we screened the documentary on the hacker group The Anonymous:

This online community, often know for its pranks and anti-Scientology actions, but also for its more directly political actions such as Operation Ferguson and Operation HongKong. We used the Anonymous as a case study of online community-building (or creation, or spontaneous formation) because it is quite unlike many other protest movements and groups form the past. As Gabriella Coleman, an anthropologist who has researched the group for a long time, noted in an article few years ago:

ANONYMOUS, WHICH CAME INTO BEING on the online message board 4chan eight years ago, is by nature and intent difficult to define: a name employed by various groups of hackers, technologists, activists, human rights advocates, and geeks; a cluster of ideas and ideals adopted by these people and centered around the concept of anonymity; a banner for collective actions online and in the real world that have ranged from fearsome but trivial pranks to technological support for Arab revolutionaries. In recent months, Anonymous has announced audacious plans to take down the seemingly invincible Mexican drug cartels; instigated and promoted the nationwide Occupy movement; and shut down the website of the Florida Family Association, which is behind the campaign against the television show All-American Muslim, and leaked the names and credit card numbers of donors.

This diversity of actors and purposes, alone, is a significantly different premise than that of many non-digital groups/movements, allowed precisely by virtual communication and organizing. Yet, we found several other take-aways that the Anonymous can teach us:

The SPEED and FLUIDITY of online communities:

What we took away from the documentary is that these online communities, while relatively easy to build, can be used in various ways. It’s almost scary just how quickly this movement came to be.

This is very much related to the lack of defined leadership – ideas and Operations take on like viral memes (this is the critique also about humanitarian campaigns such as KONY2012 – a viral campaign that overshadowed everything else related and then died so quickly):

As one Anonymous member said, we are like a flock of birds flying, if one moves we all move in the same direction. Somewhat like a push and pull movement that extends over a large amount of emotional spectrums.

ACCOUNTABILITY as a capital for (future) online communities that want to make a difference:

While these individuals or groups act anonymously and randomly, who is there to take accountability for the actions, especially when it causes people’s lives to be ruined? Stan Lee once said, “with great power comes great responsibility,” and the fact that these hacktivists have an amazing talent and a great deal of potential but are not owning up to it takes away from their credibility.

The power of the INDIVIDUAL in digital activism (think of Ed Snowden, too):

In the World of anonymous if you’re keeping your plans for your business secret, that is wrong, and all of your private files will be exposed, whether they hurt someone or not. All it takes is one person from the community to feel offended and boom, anonymous is blowing up your emails and phone lines, and creating horrifically mean memes and protesting outside your organizations doors.

At the same time, often the question for the Anonymous is about OUR FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS, as embodied by Internet Freedom. However varied as a group, the Anonymous exemplifies that , there is a new battle over meaning regarding freedom of expression, privacy, and so on, that is shaping our digital lives, globally:

Anonymous proves that, at the same time they are actually, whether legal or not, they are going out there and attempting to preserve our constitutional rights and freedoms.

We see that the overarching theme is to have something in common, whether that be a location, an idea, a favorite TV show, or a passion for fitness. In this case (as was stated in an earlier post) it was a group of ‘misfits’ with similar views on censorship, information freedom, and government policies who realized the truth of the age-old adage, ‘there’s power in numbers.’

While a lot of Anonymous’ efforts have been childish and unimportant, their efforts in the Middle East, their attacks on the hypocrisy of PayPal, Mastercard and The Church of Tom Cruise as well as similar organizations like Wikileaks, show that they have an important voice in society; the people should not fear its government – the government should fear its people.

Online, ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE. You can find others who are interested in the same ideas, issues, products, etc. (think of Anderson’s Long Tail business model for the digital era, or Godin’s “We are all weird” slogan)…

In terms of what can this teach us about digital community building in general – is simply, it’s possible. If you have a group that feels strongly about something, truly believes something needs to be brought to justice, you can cause a blip in the system.

No matter who you are, what your cause is, and what you’re fighting for, on the internet you’re always bound to find someone who is willing to take up arms with you.

Or, as quoted by Gabriella Coleman:

{learning} The Art of Evaluation_#ICM820


We at #ICM820 course have discussed successful strategies of community-building as well as cases gone very wrong. But evaluating – quantitatively measuring and qualitatively assessing – successes is a tricky issue.

From a macro-level vantage point of societies and its institutions, we could ponder how to assess media systems (or, as many tend to say about the digital era of multiplicity, media ecosystems) work effectively, democratically, openly, and so on. I have collected some links to projects, ideas, and cases that aim at measuring media systems and media development from a global perspective.

The meso-level of organizations outlook would be to look at effectiveness of particular political, economic, social, etc. communities, organizations, or campaigns. Is it about eye-balls, likes/shares/follows, comments, retweets/repins etc.? Is it about the ratio between lurkers vs. active participants? Professionally, do we value media differently than we did before, in terms of it as an advertising distribution tool, a news source, a forum for debate, an entertainment source? Here are just some examples of the infinite amount of views on how to measure success and impact in the digital age:


Finally, at the micro – or individual – level: How do you (does one) measure a digital community? Usability, access, relevance, engagement/familiarity, security…?

As experts of digital communities, how do we balance structural/technological concerns, big data metrics, and individual experiences?

{discovery} The Power of the Pack

Discovery, Good News

Mr. Tee’s story continues. Raymond (in the red fleece) socialized him for 2 months. Invited by Raymond to join a ‘playdate’ this morning we witnessed, for the first time, the great fun T and dogs like him can have together. Also, I learned a great deal about the power of the pack.

The pack at home, or, our 2 dogs are polar opposites.

I have known it in theory, but it finally hit home when I saw Tee playing rough with 4 dogs at a time — running, chasing, play-biting, performing roll-overs (to show that he’s means well and fun). This went on non-stop for an hour, and would have continued, had the off-leash hours been extended. Mu, in contrast, only plays one-on-one, 5 minutes at the time — and it took her at least a year to come to that point. He’s bold, confident, rough young rascal who wants to play with every dog; she is a gentle, dignified and even shy, well-mannered, human-focused lady. His biggest problem is over-excitement; hers was fear and separation-anxiety.

It’s been a learning curve to realize that we need 2 very different sets of skills to have a balanced pack. But it’s also clear that Mu and Tee teach one another. She has started to play much more (in the age of 10); he listens to her and gives her space.

The pack in the park, or, the healing power of those alike.

Raymond told us a few months back that there are few dogs who couldn’t be off-leash, given that their owners/handlers understand the circumstances. Today he proved it. Saturday mornings are the craziest in Prospect Park, hundreds of all kinds of dogs off-leash. However, the area is big enough for monitoring the play and retreating  from dogs that don’t seem to match one’s own.

Also, witnessing a group of 8 pits (as well as a few other very athletic, bold dogs) playing together was an eye-opener to how dogs that are alike can help one another to socialize and be nice. That just looks different than play by Yorkies.

And Raymond taught me something even more important. He noted that we all should form an informal group and meet (those who can) in the mornings for play at the same spot. He stressed that as pit owners, we have the responsibility to provide our dogs with right ‘friends’ to play with, and to advocate for the breed by keeping them from harm’s way. He rightly pointed out that dogs are animals and conflicts, even fights, will happen sometimes. But we, as a pit owner group, will learn to know the dogs in our group, so we can understand them all better, as well as in a case of an incident solve it without drama, as a learning experience.

Lucky,2014-10-18 12.13.10 lucky us for Raymond and for our new Prospect Park posse. Also, lucky me to have such a brave, fun, and active, strong dog who was able to learn and rehabilitate himself, with the help of the packs.

PS: This is Mr. Tee, after a total of 2 hours of walk, and 1 hour of non-stop play.

{learning} Another #ICM820 Post: Communities of Commerce and/or Politics


Up until now, we have thought about the consistency of a digital community, the role of media in its formation, the ways of participation, as well as the spatial (proximitydimension of in such communities.

Now we move into the specific, often explicitly planned purposes of communities.

The purpose of this post is highlight some aspects of the importance of digital communities to two major areas of our societies: political participation and commercial activities. In a way, we are taking macro (society) and meso (institutions = business) perspectives to some  purposeful communities.

In the following weeks we will look at these domains more closely, including their intersections, variations, and other possible domains that we might detect. But for the time being, we are briefly mapping the plusses and minuses:

PLUS FOR POLITICS: The Ways of Digital Democracy

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When the Internet came along, there were so many promises of democracy. One of them is the easy access to participation:

An open platform for community building. An accessible arena for deliberative discussion. A means to reach across space and disregard time to forge new relationships and rekindle old ones. An arena to deliberate and solve global issues and to form a multitude of new alliances across geographic, institutional and other sociocultural borders.

Over the last two decades now, cyberspace, known by its alter ego the virtual public sphere, has been overlaid with potential-filled promises to be the venue to engender democracy and build community (…)

Once a means merely to connect people to one another, the internet, with its dressing of Web 2.0 finery, is said to have evolved into a place for substantive social organizing.

[N]ot only have we now found an extensible environment to support our diverse and distributed public activities, but we are also spawning a culture of participation that enables us to showcase our individuated productions while simultaneously adding both nuance and weight to the composite portrait of public activity. (Erickson & Aslama)

To be sure, social media communities have brought conflicts and protests for the entire (wired) world to view. Most wold argue that from the Arab Spring to Hong Kong, we all monitor and, to some extent, participate as witnesses f major polirtcal events.

A key figure in theorizing media and democracy, Peter Dahlgren (Dropbox reading) has categorized ways of online activity and interaction that is relevant to political participation and democracy:

  • e-government,
  • advocacy/activist domain,
  • civic forums (“where views are exchanged among citizens and deliberation can take place. This is generally understood as the paradigmatic version of the public sphere on the Net, but it would be quite erroneous to neglect the others”),
  • the parapolitical domain  (“airs social and cultural topics having to do with common interests and/or collective identities; political participation is always a possibility”), and
  • the journalism domain (from major news organizations to bloggers).
Case in Point:

Democracy is changing.

A new force, rooted in new tools and practices built on and around the Internet, is rising alongside the old system of money intensive broadcast politics.

Today, for almost no money, anyone can be a reporter, a community organizer, an ad-maker, a publisher, a money-raiser, or a leader.

If what they have to say is compelling, it will spread.

The cost of finding like-minded souls, banding together, and speaking to the powerful has dropped to almost zero.

Networked voices are reviving the civic conversation.

More people, everyday, are discovering this new power.

After years of being treated like passive subjects of marketing and manipulation, citizens want to be heard.

Members expect a say in the decision-making process of the networked organizations they join. Readers want to talk back to the news-makers.

Citizens are insisting on more openness and transparency from government and from corporations too.

All the old institutions and players – big money, top-down parties, big-foot journalism, cloistered organizations – must adapt fast or face losing status and power, and some of them are. That evolution is happening as some governments, political organizations, businesses and nonprofits begin to embrace participation and transparency.

The realization of “Personal Democracy,” where everyone is a full participant, is coming.

This is a part of the Manifesto of the Personal Democracy Forum, a TED-like “hub for political practitioners and technologists”. The topics of their video lectures showcase the diversity of takes on digital democracy (please do explore for ideas and inspiration, here). And, according to Johnson’s high hopes about communities (Dropbox reading):

… [A] new model of political change is on the rise, transforming everything from local governments to classrooms, from protest movements to health care.

[T]his new political worldview [is] influenced by the success and interconnectedness of the Internet, by peer networks, but not dependent on high-tech solutions — that breaks with the conventional categories of liberal or conservative, public vs. private thinking.

PLUS FOR BUSINESS: Free Labour, Viral Marketing of the Long Tail, Brand Trust

OScreen shot 2014-10-03 at 6.49.38 AMnline communities have given businesses the advantage of The Long Tail (Anderson – Dropbox reading): Niche markets are interested in, and will get to know about, niche market products.

In addition, digital communities are free labour for businesses. They do a lot of the work of marketing research companies (everyone is at least somewhat aware of the fact that we reveal key data about us online), as well as advertising agencies and media outlets.

Hence: Viral marketing campaigns are working to a great extent because we are working. We share with our communities (and for a few other reasons: here is a fun  analysis of successful recent campaigns). As our friend Seth Godin would note, the power of the sneezers — those who are central in spreading ideas — is multiplied because of digital communication, and communities.

At the same time, the distance between us and companies, brands, and products has never been more like “trusted friends” than today.  This is how Forbes magazine summarizes the benefits in terms of trust to one’s brand:

  1. Communicating Thought Leadership: One way for a brand to lose credibility with a social audience is to simply spam them with “opportunities” to purchase a product or service without providing any value. This value can come in many forms, but should be designed to teach, entertain, ignite discussions, and gain honest feedback. Social media is the perfect platform for a brand to communicate their expertise in a given industry, and do so by providing great content that people will share with others. This is how companies can become thought leaders in their space.

  2. Transparency: This is an area that executives and decision makers have feared the most but a hurdle that must be overcome for a company to be successful using social media. In today’s digital world, transparency is an inherent reality, as people will be talking about issues associated with your brand online. Companies need to embrace this and get involved in guiding that conversation. In a report from eMarketer, 77% of buyers said they are more likely to buy from a company if the CEO uses social media, and 82% trust the company more. This is impressive, and telling of how consumers want to engage with brands and top-level executives.

  3. Quick & Responsive Customer Communication – If consumers know they can reach out to your company via social media and are encouraged to do so, this is a good opportunity to provide great service in front of a large audience. Don’t be afraid of customer complaints. Address them head on. These opportunities can often turn into great testimonials when customers are handled with care.

  4. Ensures Accountability: When companies are openly engaged in social media and encouraging their audience to interact with them, it ensures a certain level of accountability. In using social media aggressively, a brand can essentially hold itself accountable for providing great products, services, and customer service. They can’t afford not to! But isn’t that the goal anyway?

  5. Fun & Simple Engagement: Another way to build and maintain trust is through entertainment. Don’t always make it about your company and its services or value. This goes back to thought leadership and content marketing. Provide value in a fun and creative way through daily content, apps, videos, contests, sweepstakes, and infographics. The opportunities are endless.

  6. Social Responsibility: A great way to build trust with your customers is to let them know that you care about others more than just yourself. The same goes for building brand equity. Socially responsible brands often gain more momentum because their customers know they aren’t just about profits, but also giving back to their communities or the world around them. Social media channels are the perfect platform to communicate this message and let it spread organically. For example, Marriott is running a check-in campaign that encourages guests to check-in, and the hotel will donate $2 to charity. This promotion is intended to leverage a typical social interaction for the greater good.Screen shot 2014-10-03 at 6.27.57 AM

Case in Point:

One of the classic cases is that of the DKNY PR Girl. Started as a spontaneous (and first anonymous) personal gossipy fashion-focused Twitter account the phenomenon went viral and became a model on how to build online communities around a brand. Behind it all is the the senior vice president of Global Communications for Donna Karan International, Aliza Licht who finally revealed her identity on YouTube.

Licht’s recent view on creating an online brand community:

On Social Media: Be yourself…

Licht credits her social media success to its authenticity. “It’s organic and I think that’s why it works,” she said. She said posts are always better when they’re a natural extension of yourself and aren’t overly planned — since 2009, Licht said she’s only planned one post (on Tumblr) and hated the results, which she said felt disjointed with the other conversations she was having in real time. Since then, authenticity has been her key to success.

“I find things I like and turn them into social moments,” she said. If you’re trying to build up your own social media following or your company’s, don’t force it. Oftentimes, the less pre-determined posts are, the better.

…But understand you’re your own brand

By now, most people know that you have to be careful about what you post, tweet or Instagram. But as Licht explained, it’s still easy for people to post something in the heat of the moment that they later regret. While authenticity in posts is certainly important, there’s a line between being candid and being inappropriate.

“You have to be cognizant of what you stand for,” the social media maven said. “Sometimes I want to mouth off about something in the news, and literally will write the tweet and then delete it to try to vent a little bit … While I tweet off-the-cuff, I think about every single tweet.”

Bottom line: Nothing online is private. Only post things you want people to associate with you, even from a “personal” account.


That is for you to map out.

Find out a bad, bad case of a digital community gone wrong, either in the realm of politics or business.

Share your cases here on VoiceThread: 3 sentences describing the case, 3 sentences about what we can learn from the case.

PS: How to Work With VoiceThread

Create a (free) profile for yourself.

Answer by recording a video with your computer webcam or its internal microphone, text/call, or write a comment. It is easy: Just follow the prompts that Voicethread gives you.

This screenshot illustrates the view when you are screening the video on Voicethread.

To leave comment, you will simply click the Comment button.

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Then you can choose whether you want to call in your comment (the phone icon), record it with webcam (the camera icon) or computer mic (the mic + record icon), or write it (the A + type icon). Just click on the comment option of your choice.

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In this screenshot,  you can see on the left my video comment playing (my profile picture = the dog):

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{teaching} HONY

Good News, ICYMI, Teaching

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I teach a course on digital communities, in which we explore the idea/l of a community, and look at theories of online communities. (if interested, take a look at my previous course blogs here and here).

While Fall 14 semester is still far away, I have already begun to plan the course — because of HONY – the photo blogging art/book/Facebook project based in New York.

I have decided that we will explore the issues of


gender, race, and class,

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globalization and migration,



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as well as states of alone-togetherness (as by Turkle)

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‘cognitive surplus’ and generosity (as by Shirky),


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and even some concrete lessons about social media, marketing, copyrights and crowdfunding.





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We will try to get to the bottom of why this multimedia art project / global Facebook debate forum has touched so many people all around the world. Why and how did HONY become a community?

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