Session 7

This session’s assignment is a tough one for me.  The sites I plan on studying are still relatively young, so there aren’t a whole lot of users on them.  Unlike Twitter or Facebook, social networking sites that integrate your location into them have not become mainstream yet. It might even take a while to become mainstream, since access to cell phone GPS is oftentimes limited by the manufacturer.  Nevertheless, I will continue my study into the Brightkite service.

Brightkite’s terms of service is quite similar to Twitter’s.  The age limit is slightly higher for Brightkite, possibly because they want to avoid fighting against pedophiles who stalk children.  I am sure it is quite easy to get around, but it definitely deters child predators. Basic term 3 indicates that “You must provide accurate, current, and complete information about yourself when registering for an account” and that you must keep it current and accurate.  While I can see that you don’t want your users to misrepresent themselves, it brings up an issue of privacy.  Many users on Twitter, for example, only use their screen name and never use their real name.  There is also the possibility that the user’s real name is also a pseudonym.  The rest of the basic terms are almost identical to the terms in Twitter, except that there is no term about harassment in Brightkite.

Brightkite also provides a privacy policy that outlines what information they log from their users and what may or may not be private.  Since the site uses your location, a key point is that it is the user’s choice to reveal your location and make it public. It is up to the user to set their own privacy modes.

Obscene Images on Brightkite

A popular use of Twitter and Brightkite is to post pictures of yourself or things you see around you.  Most pictures are innocuous, like a picture of your lunch or a picture of yourself with your significant other.  Once in a while though, there are images that border on the obscene.  The first offender is the Brightkite user “cakesandvinyl”, who posted an image of herself using the bathroom (image omitted because it could be offensive).  The image itself does not reveal anything (so it is not pornographic), but it’s something that many (myself included) find disgusting and offensive.  Since Brightkite is not a moderated community, it would be hard to come up with a proper response.  One solution that may already be in place is to report offensive posts and users to the moderators.  Given enough votes, the post could be removed.  Another potential solution is to have the moderators make the post private to the user’s friends (the image was found in the public feed).  Perhaps cakesandvinyl’s friends will not find this image as offensive as others.  Another potential infraction is from user “euroice”, who posts images of scantily clad women next to his Ferrari.  Since Brightkite’s users are supposed to be older, it is still something that is borderline offensive.  While Grimes’ paper applied to Virtual Worlds, one can argue that the users in Brightkite need to have their freedom of speech to express themselves on the site, but it needs to be controlled so that extremely offensive material (such as pornography) do not make it to the site.

Illegal material

As stated before, users should be allowed some freedom of speech.  However, publicly stating that you use drugs on a site that records GPS data is not a good idea.  User “luv4piggy” posted a few messages about being high on heroin.  His privacy settings were also set so that his exact address is being displayed!  Again, Brightkite is not moderated, so it is the duty of the members to do something about it. Much like the Twitter reading where a user tweeted about suffocating a child, a nearby user could report luv4piggy’s address and have a policeman sent over.  Fortunately (or unfortunately), luv4piggy didn’t provide their real name (which is incomplete data per basic term 3), so reporting him/her might be difficult to do.  While members do not need to validate submitted material like in Cosley’s paper, some member oversight in taking care of potential problems can improve the community as a whole.

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Communicating with Brightkite

Brightkite has its own Twitter account (which is presumably tied to their Brightkite account) where users can request features.  While not against the terms of service for Brightkite, users sometimes use @Brightkite to complain about the service or to complain when they feel that Brightkite isn’t listening to their users.

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9 Responses to “Session 7”


  1. 1 tom April 22, 2009 at 7:02 pm

    Very interesting site. This does seem like a ground breaker. Thanks for enlightening us to its presence. Doesn’t seem like the site owner really wants to do much controlling.

    I don’t understand something, you seem bothered that you have to enter so much real data about yourself, yet it is a site that can give complete strangers your exact location. Doesn’t it seem strange to worry about whether someone knows your name, if they can find you regardless of your name. Seems like you are worried about the wrong thing.

    I also don’t understand some of the points you make about some of the photographs.
    Why is going to the bathroom offensive? Don’t we all do that? Several times a day?

    What is offensive about scantily clad women? By definition they’re not naked so what is the problem? Why is it a problem on this site? Any adolescent can go into any book store and see scantily clad women standing next to cars. All car magazines are that way, so why is it a problem with this site? What legal grounds are they breaking?

    REgards, Tom

  2. 2 keokilee April 22, 2009 at 7:31 pm

    Thanks for the comment. The point that I was making is that some of the posts really walk a fine line. I couldn’t find any posts that were outright offensive, but those posts in particular are ones that are close. You’re absolutely right that they break no laws and whether they break the TOS is entirely debatable. It’s more about what can users do if they find images they deem offensive, since it (like Twitter) is more of a member-moderated community. Would I report these images? Maybe, but there’s no framework in place from what I can tell (other than post to Twitter, which outs me publicly).

  3. 3 Stacy April 23, 2009 at 1:51 pm

    Isn’t it interesting what someone will consider obscene or not? This kind of site would really make me nervous, what with the GPS and all. Online harassment can be such a pain–but real world harassment is just terrifying.
    I was hoping you could clarify something for me. You wrote above, “Since Brightkite is not a moderated community, it would be hard to come up with a proper response.” and then you wrote, “One solution that may already be in place is to report offensive posts and users to the moderators.” Are there moderators? Or are they more like administrators/designers?
    The casual collective of Brightkite brings to mind the Grimes reading: “Finally, some virtual worlds allow individual users to seek redress through informal channels. This approach allows a user the ability to make requests, alert problems, or issue challenges. There is, however, no guarantee that any request will be acted upon.”
    It sounds like the photos you talked of might get some complaints but, ultimately, will remain posted.

  4. 4 keokilee April 23, 2009 at 2:01 pm

    Sorry, it should be about reporting to the administrators/designers. There aren’t any moderators in the sense that there isn’t someone looking over the posts made there.

    It is quite interesting what people find obscene. After thinking about it, I would remove the post if I were the “dictator” of Brightkite (like a Steve Jobs). On the other hand, these social websites are designed to give the users some power (as in the Grimes paper). Thus, it shouldn’t be up to me to decide whether or not a post should be deleted or not. Also, taking action could cause users to revolt and ultimately leave the service. If I were designing a similar service (and I kind of am), I wouldn’t play the role of a dictator unless the infringement was clear (pornography, drug use, etc). And even then I might wait for user reports (especially if I have a large amount of users).

  5. 5 Denise Guerin April 24, 2009 at 8:43 am

    This is an interesting disucssion about our perceptions regarding obscenity vs offensiveness. We all have our own boundaries so both of these are certainly relative terms. The picture of someone using the bathroom reminds me of elementary aged students who think “potty humor” is hilarious. Most of us grow out of that so by the time we’re parents we try to teach our kids that it’s really not that funny and help them through this phase.

    From my own perspective on the bathroom picture, I am disgusted with images of actions that would better be kept private. I would tend to leave social networking sites where this kind of image might be encountered. I think if the site administrators would like the Brightkite site to become popular, they should make some efforts to encourage the kinds of posts that would be acceptable to a broad majority of society.

    It’s interesting to me that the heroin user disclosed that information on this site. It reminds me of one of the articles that we read earlier in the semester – the mother on Twitter who made a threat about harming her child and the police came to her door. In that sense, posting the information seems like a cry for help. Possibly the individual who disclosed the active drug use is also reaching out for help from a community – particularly since his location is so easily determined.

    This is an interesting new site and you’ve generated some thought provoking discussion. Thanks!

  6. 6 thechickenbus April 25, 2009 at 9:09 pm

    I had a difficult time with this session’s assignment as well. I took a look at Britekite just now, and did not see anything offensive at all. I wonder how long you had to search to find those examples you included in your post?

    I noticed that I do like to check in to see what’s going on in Honolulu, and you can really get to know a lot about a person if you look at their posts, and the places they report they are at. It’s surprising that no big stalking incident has hit the news yet. I can see how one may become infatuated with someone that posts regularly. The stalker might find patterns in the person’s schedule, and start to hang out in the same places… Or am I being paranoid?

  7. 7 molly due April 26, 2009 at 11:38 am

    Yes, Brightkite is certainly an interesting site in it attempts to mix the online and offline world. Thanks for bringing it to our attention. When you introduced this site in an earlier session my first reaction was “holy crap, this is a bad idea.” Like Joyce I worried about stalking and the dangers of basically announcing to the world, including all the crazy people, your location. But there are of course controls and for the most people around the world are nice and mean you no harm. People on Twitter frequently announce there location and I haven’t heard of a major stalking incident and Twitter has a lot more users.
    In terms of what is offensive, I believe that freedom of speech is important and I believe users of sites should be given some freedom to create a community. As in the case of Answerbag and many other online communities the ultimate communities created were most influenced by the users and not the creators. I think it alienates a lot if users when they see an overly zealous administrator or moderator.

  8. 8 Linnea April 26, 2009 at 8:35 pm

    I am also intrigued by this site…I would think that a site that requires a current and accurate profile and tracks GPS might encourage users to be more circumspect in their activities. The GPS factor in particular. As you pointed out, identifying yourself with illegal activities in such a forum could have significant consequences. You indicated that the user who clearly identified him/herself with an illegal activity also failed to meet the Terms of Service. However, there doesn’t seem to be anyone monitoring activity or whether or not users are meeting the TOS commitments. With a young site like this, it will be interesting to see how the moderation/governance continues to develop.

  9. 9 yili April 27, 2009 at 6:57 pm

    Wow. “You must provide accurate, current, and complete information about yourself when registering for an account”. This scares me. I usual don’t post my personal information online unless I have to. It seems this site can figure out the information you registered is real or virtual. I just wonder how it can figure out the real name the user provides is really a real name, not a pseudonym. Except comunicating online, does this site contact users offline ?


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