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Why Blaming Ariana Grande for Mac Miller’s Death is Unethical

"Ariana Grande" by Emma is liscensed under CC BY 2.0 (via Flickr).

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On Friday, September 7, well-loved rapper and talented musician Mac Miller died of a drug overdose, according TMZ. The tragic loss of the 26-year-old musician was a painful shock to many, including singer and Miller’s ex-girlfriend, Ariana Grande. Grande, who is usually active on social media, has been understandably silent, posting only one image on her Instagram. Continue reading “Why Blaming Ariana Grande for Mac Miller’s Death is Unethical”

Combating Bias? Nicki Minaj and the Merit of “Twitter Beef”

Photograph of Nicki Minaj on stage holding a microphone

Four years since her last album, Nicki Minaj released her fourth album Queen on August 10th, 2018. According to The Observer, the album was scheduled for its release on June 25, and its delayed and surprising release has had fans reeling. The release of the album and the rapper’s personal life have been imbued in controversy, and considering the standards female celebrities are held to, it is not surprising. However, the Queens native has taken to Twitter and other platforms to declare that this time around, she will not be silenced. While there has been substantial noise and personal opinion regarding Nicki’s actions and Twitter posts, whether you agree or disagree with her approach, the rapper has raised several points that require further ethical examination. Among these points are the contradictory and inconsistent standards that female artists are held to by music critics, and the unequal treatment of female artists by streaming platforms.

Nicki has been greatly criticized for collaborating on “FEFE” with rapper Tekashi 6ix9ine (Daniel Hernandez). Hernandez was found guilty of using a child in a sexual performance, pled guilty in 2015, and has been arrested on multiple counts of assault since then. With this in mind, is it ethical to promote the fame and monetary advancement of  someone who has been known for abusing women? In an article for Pitchfork, Shanita Hubbard writes: “The choice to use her platform to further legitimize a sexual predator is in direct contrast with the nationwide, black women-led movement to silence music’s most infamous abuser [R. Kelly].” According to CNN, Spotify enacted the Hate Content and Hateful Conduct Policy, which included taking R. Kelly off all Spotify Playlists. This has been in part inspired by the #MeToo movement and the voracity with which sexual violence has been amplified and condemned on social media. Furthermore, the principle of non-maleficence would say that actions that cause harm should be completely avoided, and promoting the music of convicted sexual offenders causes an immeasurable amount of pain to people who have been affected by sexual violence: they might be forced to relive their pain when they listen to a sexual offender’s music. Not to mention that the tacit or explicit support of sexual offenders contributes to rape culture.

While the production of “FEFE” is arguably an ethical breach on Nicki’s part, Nicki points to a certain amount of hypocrisy within the criticism she has received. On Twitter, Nicki questioned the praise that Lady Gaga received on her collaboration with R. Kelly by Pitchfork. This leads one to wonder whether Black women are held to a higher standard when it comes to eradicating rape culture, especially considering how the #MeToo movement was started by Black women. Is an unequivocal repudiation of all art created by sexual offenders needed in order for criticisms, such as the ones Nicki is facing, to be just? Additionally, this speaks to what bodies can be “aggressors” and be granted “forgive and forget” privileges. Nicki points to the forgiveness with which Lady Gaga was treated; however, one could argue that at the time of Lady Gaga’s collaboration with R. Kelly, there weren’t as many efforts to boycott artists who engaged in unethical and illegal practices. On the other hand, one could also argue that R. Kelly’s problematic sexual conduct has been public record for decades, and collaborating with him is unethical regardless of the contemporary awareness the #MeToo Movement has created. Furthermore, when dealing with unethical actions, how can unequal responsibility be mediated? Nicki also claimed that she knew of people getting paid to slander her on different news outlets, and Tweeted, “I’m supposed to keep letting these ppl get money to bully me behind the scenes & not say anything. Yikes.” Through her Tweet, Nicki emphasizes how she is expected to keep quiet, even when she sees herself targeted unequally. This speaks to the ways in which women are commodified, especially in the music industry. Audiences want to consume their music and celebrity presence without humanizing them.

Nicki Minaj has also spoken out about potential foul play by the streaming company, Spotify. Nicki took to Twitter with this issue and stated that Spotify purposefully did not advertise her album sufficiently, since her album premiered slightly earlier on iTunes. She also pointed out that when Drake dropped his latest album, Scorpion, he was overwhelmingly featured on Spotify Playlists and promoted on the streaming platform. Some might suggest that Nicki is stirring controversy on Twitter to increase her album’s visibility (Queen was No. 2 on the Billboard 200, behind Travis Scott’s ASTROWORLD). People who claim that Nicki is simply pulling a publicity stunt might be ignoring the historic silencing of women of color: protesting “peacefully” and “properly” is coded as something only white bodies can do. Furthermore, Nicki does call attention to the inequities that exist between men and women in the music industry, especially within rap.  Whether Spotify recognizes that they treated the release of Drake’s album differently than Nicki’s, an unconscious gender bias could have been at play.

Through her new album, Nicki  Minaj is making a statement: her contributions to rap will not be belittled because she is a woman. Nicki took to Twitter to protest in the quintessential 21st century fashion, and her Tweets and interviews have sparked debate and judgment with many arguing that she is uninformed, ignorant, and dramatic. However, this reflects the silencing that women of color experience when they share their perceptions and life experiences and are told to be quiet. Women of color also experience policing when it comes to their tone and choice of words, which is congruent with the criticism Nicki’s Tweets have received. Whether one agrees with “Twitter beef” and the increasing use of Twitter to settle disputes, it is important that audiences read between the lines. When a woman Tweets “injustice,” the immediate response should not be “exaggeration.”

Chance the Rapper came out in support for Nicki and Tweeted, “I cant [sic] imagine what it’d be like to literally not be able to show yo frustrations with actual inequities and subjugation. Without being called bitter or angry or a liar or crazy. Mfs a literally tell a BW ‘I feel u but u not goin about it the right way’… what?” Chance the Rapper’s Tweet is important, because it highlights the harassment women of color face when they call out oppression; however, it is important to consider the Chicago rapper’s positionality when examining his Tweet. As a man, Chance has the ability to influence a public audience with more credibility. On the other hand, Chance is using his position to uplift the voices of women of color. While justice demands that all voices are heard equally, on and off the “Twittersphere,” this is still not the case. Nevertheless, these are all factors one must consider when assessing the political potential of Twitter.

Bad Tweets and the Ethics of Shaming

Black and white photograph of baseball player Area Turner walking off of the baseball field, glove in hand

Here’s a news story that you’ve probably come across recently: someone’s tweets from a number of years ago have resurfaced, and they’re not good. Tweets that express racist, sexist, homophobic, or whatever other kinds of reprehensible sentiments are brought to light, and the original tweeter is publicly shamed, in one form or another. Making the biggest headlines recently is undoubtedly James Gunn, director of the first two Guardians of the Galaxy movies: Gunn was fired from directing the next installment of the blockbuster franchise due to the discovery of old tweets in which he made a series of tasteless jokes about rape and pedophilia. Or consider two recent examples from the world of professional baseball: the cases of Atlanta Braves pitcher Sean Newcomb and Washington Nationals shortstop Trea Turner, whose Twitter histories were rife with posts using homophobic slurs. The punishments that the Tweeters received upon discovery of their tweets has varied significantly: in Gunn’s case, losing his job, while in Newcomb’s and Turner’s cases, having to issue statements expressing their remorse.

Continue reading “Bad Tweets and the Ethics of Shaming”

Donald Trump and Twitter: A Turbulent Relationship, Here to Stay

An image of Donald Trump making a speech.

Many people across the United States have joked about Donald Trump’s Twitter. He is often brunt and open about his opinions regarding everything from foreign policy to his own political agenda. To the average American, Twitter is a place to get one’s thoughts out there and state opinions. However, Trump is not the average American. He is the President of the United States. Trump’s Twitter has become an immature platform for him to say essentially whatever he wants. Some of his tweets are harmless and ego-inflating. Yet, other tweets present danger to the United States as a whole.

 

On January 2, Donald Trump tweeted, “North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the “Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.” Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!” Despite the playful nature of the tweet, Donald Trump made a threat to use nuclear weapons on North Korea. At this time, North Korea has significantly developed its nuclear program and could eventually have the capability to send nuclear warheads as far as the continental US. Trump’s tweet seems to further destabilize an already unstable relationship.

 

Lawmakers, diplomats, and security experts alike have offered mixed opinions on the tweet and what it implies.Some have expressed their alarm and scorn at the immaturity and the danger of the president’s current approach to foreign policy with North Korea. That approach is characterized mainly by his tweets directed towards Kim Jong Un. In August  2017, a similar threat was made towards North Korea when Trump threatened to rain “fire and fury” down upon the country if it were to put the United States in any sort of danger. Eliot A. Cohen, former counselor to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice under President George W. Bush, said that he found the January tweet immature and dangerous for someone in such a position of power. He tweeted, “Spoken like a petulant ten-year-old. But one with nuclear weapons- for real- at his disposal. How responsible people around him, or supporting him, can dismiss this or laugh it off is beyond me.

Yet, Trump’s supporters and even some high level diplomats view the tweet positively as a message of strength. Ban Ki-moon, the former UN Secretary General called the tweets “a message from the international community.” In some ways, the tweet could be seen as a more aggressive tactic for relations with North Korea, as many presidents have seemed to take a passive role in response to the dictatorship.

Amidst the controversy surrounding Trump’s North Korea tweet (and many others), some have called for Twitter to ban Donald Trump. However, Twitter responded to the requests and said that they did not believe that it was beneficial to international discussions to ban political leaders from Twitter. In a way, banning public figures from Twitter silences them. So, in spite of the danger that Trump imposes by tweeting, his tweets are here to stay.

Despite the controversial tweets that spew from Donald Trump’s account daily, banning him from Twitter would be equally controversial. Twitter is right when it says that banning him would be silencing him. Like it or not, he is a powerful public figure and the President of the United States, and his opinions cannot be silenced. However offensive and dangerous his remarks may be, banning Donald Trump from Twitter would probably have negative implications.

Fighting Obscenity with Automation

When it comes to policing offensive content online, Facebook’s moderators often have their work cut out for them. With billions of users, filtering out offensive content ranging from pornographic images to videos promoting graphic violence and extremism is a never-ending task. And, for the most part, this job largely falls on teams of staffers who spend most of their days sifting through offensive content manually. The decisions of these staffers – which posts get deleted, which posts stay up – would be controversial in any case. Yet the politically charged context of content moderation in the digital age has left some users feeling censored over Facebook’s policies, sparking a debate on automated alternatives.

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When Memories 404

The Internet is forever. Think before you post. Once something is uploaded, it can’t be taken back. These prophetic warnings, parroted in technology literacy PSAs and middle school lectures all over the country, remind us to think about our online presence, to consider what will come up when we Google our name fifteen years from now.

Continue reading “When Memories 404”

How Social Media Might Silence Debate

According to this study, social media may have a negative impact on political debate. As the opening of the study notes, in the pre-internet era, there is a well documented phenomenon called “The Spiral of Silence” in which people tend not to voice opinions that differ from their friends and family. The intro also notes that:

Some social media creators and supporters have hoped that social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter might produce different enough discussion venues that those with minority views might feel freer to express their opinions, thus broadening public discourse and adding new perspectives to everyday discussion of political issues.

However, it turns out that this may not be the case. It seems that increased activity on social network sites like Facebook and Twitter also have a negative impact on people’s willingness to voice dissenting opinions that they think might be unpopular. It appears that this behavior extends to the offline world as well.

The study involved 1,800 adults, and they focused on getting participants to discuss Edward Snowden’s disclosures of government surveillance programs. Here is a summary of the findings, taken directly from the study.

People were less willing to discuss the Snowden-NSA story in social media than they were in person
86% of Americans were willing to have an in-person conversation about the surveillance program, but just 42% of Facebook and Twitter users were willing to post about it on those platforms.

Social media did not provide an alternative discussion platform for those who were not willing to discuss the Snowden-NSA story. Of the 14% of Americans unwilling to discuss the Snowden-NSA story in person with others, only 0.3% were willing to post about it on social media.

In both personal settings and online settings, people were more willing to share their views if they thought their audience agreed with them. For instance, at work, those who felt their coworkers agreed with their opinion were about three times more likely to say they would join a workplace conversation about the Snowden-NSA situation.

Previous ‘spiral of silence’ findings as to people’s willingness to speak up in various settings also apply to social media users. Those who use Facebook were more willing to share their views if they thought their followers agreed with them. If a person felt that people in their Facebook network agreed with their opinion about the Snowden-NSA issue, they were about twice as likely to join a discussion on Facebook about this issue.

Facebook and Twitter users were also less likely to share their opinions in many face-to-face settings. This was especially true if they did not feel that their Facebook friends or Twitter followers agreed with their point of view. For instance, the average Facebook user (someone who uses the site a few times per day) was half as likely as other people to say they would be willing to voice their opinion with friends at a restaurant. If they felt that their online Facebook network agreed with their views on this issue, their willingness to speak out in a face-to-face discussion with friends was higher, although they were still only 0.74 times as likely to voice their opinion as other people.

What do you all think? Does this give us reason to think the social media participationg silences debate, as this New York Times discussion of the study suggests? What should we do in light of this?