Postmortem: Social Autopsy


The following post contains references to people and subjects that when mentioned cause extreme emotional reactions in some people.  To make a point very clear: I take no stance on anything related to GamerGate.  I have no desire to discuss anything related to “ethics in gaming journalism” or “harassment” outside a clear examination of what’s made Candace Owens and “Social” tank within one week and how terrible responses to communication affected this entire debacle.  The entire situation is a dumpster fire, but one we can learn from.

“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth”–Mike Tyson

I love this quote from Mike Tyson because it examines your response to true adversity.  On a baseline fight level, Tyson knew this maxim meant you could plan for a fight, but the moment you experienced true adversity most people would freeze up and revert to their own personal defense mechanisms.  The same holds true when you’re examining just about every aspect of your life, especially conflict.  If you’ve polished your “fight strategy” going in and know your counterpart’s moves, you’ll do well until you get “punched in the mouth.”  You’ll freeze up and revert back to your old ways of talking to people or dealing with conflict.

Those who experience true adversity, people who’ve been metaphorically “punched in the mouth,” have an easier time dealing with it when adversity comes knocking.  Conflict is painful, but when you’ve dealt with it repeatedly you don’t have an issue with the pain.   You know what your reaction will be to conflict, and you can control it.  The case study for a complete inability to deal with conflict is Candace Owens and “Social” One good solid round of adversity in attempting to launch her startup made her resort to the very behavior she wanted to change societally.

Initially, Owens’ project, an “online database” searchable for parties desirous to learn about another’s “bad behavior” seemed like a joke.  Attempting to stop “cyberbullying” by calling someone a “cyberbully” is counterintuitive.  Fortunately, people recognized a Really Bad Idea when they saw it, and several people reached out to Owens in an attempt to warn her of the potential consequences for this new index.  One of those people happened to be Zoe Quinn, the alleged “patient zero” of GamerGate.  During a phone conversation, the two discussed the Social Autopsy project.  The world will most likely never know what occurred during the original exchange between Quinn and Owens.  What we do know is Quinn came away from the conversation convinced Social Autopsy wasn’t the greatest thing since sliced bread, and Owens left thinking Quinn mentally unhinged and that “GamerGate” was the subject of Owens’ woes. In that moment of adversity, Owens reverted to her baseline tactic: call people names.

At best, the conversation I had with [Quinn] was weird. At worst, it was unstable.

Randi Lee Harper, another self-styled “anti harassment activist,” took issue with Owens discussing her telephone exchange with Quinn on Twitter.  She penned “An Open Letter To Social Autopsy,” where she described Owens as “a trainwreck,” “shady as hell,” and more.  Owens’ response, yet again, was to decry Randi Lee Harper as a co-conspirator with Quinn and GamerGate in shutting down her Kickstarter because of one line.

You blamed your Kickstarter getting shut down on trolls. You’re wrong. That was us.

That statement can be interpreted in any number of ways.  “Us” could be Zoe Quinn and Randi Lee Harper.  “Us” could be “anti-harassment activists.”  In a moment of complete and utter cluelessness, and relying on something as superficial as Wikipedia to get information, Owens somehow managed to connect Quinn, Harper, and GamerGate as a united front ready to put Owens through some sort of imagined cyber-bully hell.

I announced on Twitter that I would be releasing all of the e-mails; that I would be going on [a] webcast with my suspicions that Zoe Quinn was behind the cyber attacks. I ranted that I thought she was behind all of the e-mail attacks we had received and that this time, to quote her cohort, “the gloves were off”. I announced that I had e-mails and evidence and that I would be speaking out. I focused purposely on the fact that I had e-mails.

My plan worked: the emails magically stopped. They stopped cold turkey. As I sit wring this today, we have gone an entire weekend without receiving so much as one e-mailed threat.

Still think that’s a coincidence?  A total inundation and then a total sudden stop? No that is the work of Zoe Quinn.

No one, I’ll wager, has explained to Candace Owens correlation doesn’t always equal causation.  That said, no one really explained to Owens her fantastical delusion didn’t constitute “terrorism,” either.  That much is evident from her continued screed against Quinn, Harper, and GamerGate.

Randi Harper and Zoe Quinn had discussed my project with one another. Regarding that, there can be no question.

They thought they could get me to pull the project down by beefing up their respective resumes, and with one phone call from “patient zero” of Gamergate.

When that didn’t work, the two of them launched an effort of cyber-terrorism.

Once Owens ran with her gaffe on Degree 180, she started twitting it to every major news outlet she could imagine.  When she got a “hit” from a blog called “Heat Street,” she gave her side of the story and ran with it.  She was favorable to Jesse Singal of NYMag until Singal twitted a less than favorable response to the Social Autopsy project.  When that happened, Owens’ response was to question Singal’s objectivity as a reporter, intimate Singal lose his job, and stated in the same breath she didn’t care about what journalists said concerning her.

Never you mind that Candace Owens is already attempting to silence yet another journalist before an allegedly less than favorable article goes live on a national platform.  This is her new MO; you silence those who are against you and give a voice to those whose ideas you accept.

Cause of (eventual) Death: Hubris and an inability to understand target audience. 

Current Status: Project on life support due to victim status monetization. 


Postmortem: Peeple

Prefatory Note: The following was written in January.  As of today, reception to the Peeple app has been mixed at best.  It currently sits on the iOS App Store with a 1.5 star average rating.  The overwhelming number of the 187 reviews are 1 star.  The Peeple website still has the app listed as in Beta testing.  Peeple is zombified, but I consider my analysis still sound. 

Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” is a great horror story.  Underneath that lies a cautionary tale of someone who had an idea that never should have taken flight, and refused to listen to an inner voice that said otherwise.  Julia Cordray and Nicole McCullough, the founders of Peeple, apparently think Doctor Frankenstein’s approach to the creation of their own monster is actually worth pursuing.

“She may have gone underground, but she’s not quitting. The 34-year-old Canada-based recruitment specialist is back with a new, toned down tune. She and her 37-year-old Southern California stay-at-home mom co-founder and best friend have eaten their humble pie, admitting that earlier iterations of Peeple’s policies were “ill conceived.” After taking a lifetime’s worth of burns over the Internet’s most hated app, they ditched the five-star rating system and opted for an opt-out. Peeple isn’t evil, they say, and you’d better be ready because it’s coming soon whether you want it or not.”

The initial Washington Post article on “Peeple,” an app that will allow you to rate people on anything and everything, was enough to turn Cordray and McCullough into the most hated people on the internet within hours of its publication.  People far more experienced than I in pointing out how terrible ideas can get did so on notification of the Peeple monster.

“Given an opportunity, some folks will use Peeple in good faith and some will use it to abuse, harass, and antagonize others. That is the natural and probable consequence of its existence…Bomb always eventually beats bunker; the urge to screw with other people always eventually beats technological innovation. Cell phone confirmation and a review structure stand no chance against a nation chock-full of mood-disordered twitchers will too much free time on their hands.”

Eventually Cordray and McCullough went underground, turning off their websites and social media accounts.  Cordray started damage control after making “Yelp for People” the “quickest way” to wrap “anybody’s head around the concept.”  She did this through posting LinkedIn updates about what happened, what she was doing, and why she was taking these steps as she built the app.

The first step was to shift public perception.  It wasn’t a rating app.  It was a “positivity app.”

“Peeple will not be a tool to tell other humans how horrible they are. Actually, it’s the exact opposite.

Peeple is a POSITIVE ONLY APP. We want to bring positivity and kindness to the world.”

The next step was to fine tune this “positivity app” into what Cordray and McCullough always wanted in the first place, just with a few “tweaks.” This “fine tuning” happened in less than a month after the world told her Peeple was ripe for abuse.

“The first change is that it’s 100 percent opt-in. You have to actually sign up to our platform to be on it and no one can actually add you to the platform. You also have full control over what goes live on your profile. So, if you want to post up positive recommendations only, or you want to do a mix of constructive criticism, or you want to put up some very honest feedback recommendations, which we highly recommend, you can do that. That’s the biggest change — you’re in control over what goes live.

You can now also deactivate your profile. Deactivating will remove any activity that you’ve ever done, as well as any activity that’s ever been written about you. If you decide to reactivate, all of that will go live again, so it’s not like you ever lose the data or the information about you. It just won’t be publicly visible while you’re deactivated.

There’s also something in place of the five star system we had. It’s your recommendation score. It’s a number made up of every recommendation that you receive, regardless of you posting it live on your profile or not. The score is accurate against what people are going to recommend you for. It’s made up five separate elements.

We also have a “Nearby” tab, which allows you to find the highest scored people within a 10-mile radius of your location. So, you could be at a networking event and look people up on the app and you can see who the best of the best are rated professionally. Or, say you’re dating and you’re at a bar, you can look up the best on the dating side.  ”

And how does one “opt in?” Easy peasy lemon squeezy.  All you have to do is double authenticate with a Facebook account and a PIN code texted to your cell phone.

Which still lends the platform to abuse, since there’s nothing verifying whether or not the Facebook profile is the person’s actual account or a fake. I could still get on Peeple, create an account for someone else, have the app verify through said fake account, and get the cell phone PIN texted to me.  Even their “six month activity” time isn’t a guarantee against someone with a grudge.

Peeple is in beta testing right now, which is rather interesting because adamant claim of Cordray against it being used for bullying is “you have to see the app to know it’s not going to be used badly

“I found it ironic that people could bully me and claim I was building a bullying app and I hadn’t done a thing. They did to me what they were scared that my proposed app would do to them, all without ever having seen it.”

The Entrepreneur article linked has a planned release date of December 10, 2015 to the App Store for iOS.  Visiting Peeple’s website still has it in beta testing.

Cordray’s takeaway from her Peeple experience sounds terrifying.

“Sometimes you need to lead down a path that is so innovative and so new that you will cause some fear. That doesn’t make everybody else wrong and you right, it just makes you more convicted in what you are trying to do and prove. Don’t waver on your convictions about what you want as long as it doesn’t harm others. Our app was never going to have the ability to harm anybody.”

Sub out “app” for “monster” in that last sentence and Cordray sounds quite a bit like Dr. Frankenstein.

Take a chance on the “Wrongless approach” here.

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