Welcome to the U.S. – password please

846873215613c38d11d1c-v1As if getting through customs wasn’t painful enough, U.S. Homeland Security has proposed even stricter measures at the border – measures which it has already informally put in place.

According to The Atlantic  U.S. customs and border protection officials have already started demanding cell phone, social media and email passwords from Muslim and Muslim-American citizens entering or returning-to the United States.

During these checks, officials look at private messages, e-mails, tweets and browsing history. Officials are also looking to check financial information and cellphone contacts so “they can check numbers against databases kept by the U.S. and the European Union.”

On February 20, Mashable reported these new parametres had now been extended to include Chinese citizens – holding both visitor and business visas. (3.6 million people annually).

This is scary stuff, which quite blatantly flies in the face of privacy laws and freedom of speech.

And we are not necessarily safe here in Canada either.

Not just in the U.S.

Last year a Canadian man was charged and fined $500 for refusing to give up his cell phone password at the Halifax airport in Nova Scotia.

Israel has been checking phone, social media, and email records since 2012.

According to the Atlantic, the U.S. is encouraging other countries to get on board with the proposed measures which means an American visiting the EU could have their phone checked and the info sent back to the U.S. government.

All of this apparently falls under the umbrella of “increasing security and facilitating legitimate travel”.

After the Snowden revelations in 2013 it became apparent Big Brother was really watching and everyone became a little more conscious of the fact they were now living in Bentham’s Panopticon.

I’m not sure which is more unsettling, the CIA and CSIS collecting our information covertly, or straight-up asking for it.

Likewise, the nature of society dictates that for every law created, a new underground opposition will arise to thwart its efforts.

Those dedicated to hiding their online activities will surely come up with a way to do so – it’s only a matter of time.

But for those of us just wanted to take a trip, are the inevitable line-ups and aggravation worth it?

Everyone is a target

In 2012, my friend and I planned a trip to New York City. I was living in Ottawa at the time, while she was in the GTA so it made sense to take separate flights and meet up when we got there. I flew in and out of LaGuardia, she went to JFK.

When I returned from the states a week later, I was grilled by border services in Ottawa about my trip. They asked if I was travelling alone and I said no. When they learned I had met someone there, their red alerts went off and I was dragged into the little room where all of my luggage contents were placed on display.

While at the time I found this episode humiliating and frustrating, inevitably it is only scraping the surface of what is yet to come.

Twitter: Heading to the U.S.? Prepare to hand over your cell phone. #uspoli

Facebook: Nightmare at the Border – why the U.S. government wants your Facebook password.

Trump, Trudeau and what we really take from important events

Fifty years from now, students will open the pages of their history books covering the Trump era and read about the first meeting our Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had with America’s controversial leader. Will there be a list of the serious issues at stake during that conversation, or will this simply be pasted across the page:

This is already the most iconic photo of the Trump, Trudeau meeting

Less than two hours after the live presser wrapped, the meme-sphere was a-flurry over this image.


Photo courtesy: Buzzfeed.com

Har. Har.

Funny? Yes.

Can I think of a million and one punchlines to accompany this? Definitely.

This is not news, but this is what is going to be shared over and over and over.

When I came across the photo story on Buzzfeed, it was trending with around 500,000 views in less than 3 hours. To compare, coverage on the Globe and Mail’s Facebook page – including a political cartoon of a similar nature had less than 500 likes.

A similar phenomena happened during Trump’s inauguration last month:

The purest meme of the inauguration is George W. Bush with his poncho.


Photo courtesy Reuters

Now, when I watched the video of poor president Bush struggling to figure out how to use his rain poncho, I laughed hard.

The meme is the millennial version of the political cartoon. However, these photos differ from the illustrations in newspapers in one key regard – absolutely no context is provided whatsoever.

To understand the joke implied in a political cartoon, generally you need to have some familiarity with the topic, and that information is generally provided by the publication itself.

That is no longer necessary. Photos are taken completely out of context and all original meaning is lost. The do not add to the story or create understanding, but stand alone as individual side shows. And unfortunately, these side shows are where most younger people are getting their news from.

TV programs such as Royal Canadian Air Farce, The Hour Has 22 Minutes and Saturday Night Live have profited from this sort of news commentary for decades.

I would argue you need to be familiar with current events in order to enjoy a program such as those aforementioned, but this isn’t necessary to participate in the social media meme world.

What are the implications of these type of photos going viral – is it harmless fun, or breeding ignorance?

F: Trump, Trudeau and that hesitant handshake – what we should really take from the leaders’ first meeting

T: Is a meme now worth a thousand words? #trump #trudeau #canadianpoli

Social Media and the ‘fake news’ crisis

10553556_10152589754678701_7534017501245320226_nLast week a report commissioned by our federal heritage minister called for some pretty steep changes to the Canadian media industry. The study came on the heels of a number of major elections around the world – most notably the Trump/Clinton campaign in the United States – which were fraught with “fake” news. Social media has been blamed for this, with Facebook taking a large majority of the criticism.

The report calls for a new tax on foreign companies selling digital subscriptions in Canada, a more local focus from the Canadian Press, and harsher restrictions for the CBC — specifically denying it the ability to monopolize digital advertising as a way of helping newspapers.

Former journalist Edward Greenspon authored portions of the report and stated, “make no mistake, the situation for journalism, and therefore democracy, is getting worse.” Ironic really, when social media was intended to aide democracy and give a voice to average citizens.

The report’s authors are now suggesting a $400 million dollar influx to the industry is required to save it.

So what happened?

Well, as a former journalist I take a “too-little-too-late” standpoint. I worked in three major newsrooms in Halifax, Toronto and Yellowknife and watched as staff numbers were slashed in half, then quartered until the majority of desks were empty and those of us who remained bitterly tried to fill the holes.

Newspaper reporters in particular, are passionate people. We believe our job is a hallmark of democracy, a way of recording history and a huge responsibility we owe to our fellow citizens. Since 2008, we have been ignored, scoffed at, lost our jobs and had our wages reduced. I don’t know how many times I’ve been to cover an event or tried to get an interview and been treated like a lesser because I work for print and not digital media.

We were abandoned as websites like Mashable and Buzzfeed became the go-to sources for news and as “news” became “26 facts that will ruin your day” or “are these puppies cute or nah“.

Now we’re in “crisis”.

In his editorial for the Guardian titled “Here’s the truth: Fake news is not social media’s fault“, Roy Greenslade said the nature of falsehood is nothing new, but technology allows it to permeate and spread faster than ever.

“It’s not the fault of social media, but it is a consequence of it, because lies can be passed on so swiftly and indiscriminately.”

Personally, I think it is unfair to blame social media platforms. In light of recent criticism Mark Zuckerberg has stated Facebook is working to try and filter or reduce the amount of false news, but doesn’t some of the blame rest on us, its consumers?

Why are we choosing to read articles on disreputable sites, and if we do come across one in our news feed, why are we not cross referencing it against another source? We have abandoned our journalists and put faith in strangers sitting in their basements. And according to Greenslade, these people are preying on our fears and our prejudices, which is the key to their success.

“It is also about human fallibility. Lies that play to our prejudices are more easily believed and we pass them on thoughtlessly, exacerbating the problem.”

You cannot expect quality or truth unless you demand it.

So who is really to blame here?

Facebook: Stop blaming Facebook for fake news.

Twitter: We’re all to blame in the ‘fake news’ crisis. #trump #facebook #fakenews #democracy

Facebook as Fight Club — self expression and social media

“What is hell? Hell is oneself.
Hell is alone, the other figures in it merely projections.
There is nothing to escape from and nothing to escape to.
One is always alone.”
— T. S. Eliot, The Cocktail Party



Over the last few years there has been much talk around the psychological implications of social media.

Some say we are losing our ability to socialize face-to-face, that our online personas are fabrications — that being, is less important than being “seen”.

In her article Social Media has Distorted our True Sense of Self, Priya Virmani says technology has taken the spontaneity out of life and is now breeding a culture of manipulation. She says the online world is a carefully constructed domain made for public consumption —including our online representations and the relationships forged as a result.

Huffington Post writer R. Kay Green gives this anxiety a slightly more positive angle, in her article The Social Media Effect: Are you Really Who You Portray Online? Green says creating an ideal version of yourself online can actually inspire you to be better in reality due to the positive reinforcement from followers.

However, the sense of “ideal self” verses “real self” was around long before Instagram.

In the 50s, psychologist Carl Rogers said the concept of “self” has three components: self-image, the view you have of yourself; self-esteem, how much value you place on yourself; and the ideal self, what you wish you were really like.

Similarly Sigmund Freud believed the unconscious part of our brain contains our truest feelings and desires and could only be accessed during sleep when the expectations and demands of the Ego and Superego (society and environment) were not at play.

fight-club-3Social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Pinterest provide an outlet for both Rogers’ concept of the ideal self and Freud’s notion of the subconscious because they allow for more honest expression and stream of consciousness application.

We can feel alone out at the bar, we can feel alone at parties, we can feel alone at work — but we never feel alone on the Internet.

A friend you spend time with in person, may feel the person you are on Tumblr is not honest, but how often do we tell people what is really on our mind, how we actually feel or what our deepest desires are? Every conversation is a careful dance whether we realize it or not.

Which brings me to Fight Club.

In his 1996 novel, Chuck Palahniuk explores many of the anxieties plaguing American society. Although it was written before social media — or even mainstream use of the Internet, Palahniuk’s description of unconscious repression is still relevant today. The character of Tyler Durden — although sinister — represents the narrator’s alter ego or his “ideal self”. In the desire for freedom from societies expectations and his boring life, the narrator uses Durden and fight club to escape and be himself for the first time without inhibition.

What do you think? Is Facebook is Fight Club? Is social media the only place we can be truly honest — or is it breeding a culture of manipulation and dishonesty?

Facebook post: Is Facebook our Fight Club? Finding freedom in social media.
Twitter post: Tyler Durden used his fists — we tweet to escape. #fightclubisfreedom