On Friday, 7 April at 4pm I’ll be giving a public talk entitled “Saving the Dead? Digital Legacy Planning and Posthumous Profiles” as part of the John Curtin Institute of Public Policy (JCIPP) Curtin Corner series. It’ll touch on both ethical and policy issues relating to the traces left behind on digital and social media when someone dies. Here’s the abstract for the talk:
When a person dies, there exist a range of conventions and norms regarding their mourning and the ways in which their material assets are managed. These differ by culture, but the inescapability of death means every cultural group has some formalised rules about death. However, the comparable newness of social media platforms means norms regarding posthumous profiles have yet to emerge. Moreover, the usually commercial and corporate, rather than governmental, control of social media platforms leads to considerable uncertainty as to which, if any, existing laws apply to social media services. Are the photos, videos and other communication history recorded via social media assets? Can they be addressed in wills and be legally accessed by executors? Should users have the right to wholesale delete their informatic trails (or leave instructions to have their media deleted after death)? Questions of ownership, longevity, accessibility, religion and ethics are all provoked when addressing the management of a deceased user’s social media profiles. This talk will outline some of the ways that Facebook and Google currently address the death of a user, the limits of these approaches, and the coming challenges for future internet historians in addressing, accessing and understanding posthumous profiles.
Update (10 April 2017): the talk went well, thanks to everyone who came along. For those who’ve asked, the slides are available here.
I was part of a great WA Communication Culture Media panel today on the theme of feedback and was specifically asked to comment on receiving and giving feedback on journal articles (mainly via peer review). It was a great and wide-ranging conversation, and clearly applicable well beyond the immediate audience, so I thought I’d post my tips for journal feedback here.
Receiving Feedback via Peer Reviews
 Be Humble. Your peer reviewers are almost always providing free labour when undertaking peer reviews. Sometimes they’ve been mentored and have a great and encouraging system for giving feedback that makes it easy to receive. Often, however, they’re replicating a model of peer review that’s more combative. Either way, most peer reviews (even the dreaded ‘Reviewer 2’) have something useful in them. Be humble and try and find those useful points. That doesn’t mean taking all criticism to heart. Nor does it mean your peer reviews are necessarily right. Be they do exist, and someone took the time to write them, so try and find what’s valuable in them, even if you have to read around sometimes unnecessarily combative language and framing.
 Know The Limits of What You Are Willing to Change. Often peer reviews will suggest an article demonstrate more familiarity with a field, or engage with more specific work. Even if this feels unnecessary, it’s probably worth doing. However, if a review rejects your overall argument, or frame, it’s good to have decided how much you are willing to change, and how much you won’t. How important is it to you or your career to publish in this journal? Which line don’t you want to cross in terms of changing your framework or argument? If the reviews ask too much, and the editors want those reviews taken as a blueprint for change, then sometimes it’s okay to pull the article and find somewhere more appropriate. Just know where that line is for you. Peers are humans, too; sometimes their reviews do ask more than is reasonable for what you want an article to achieve.
 Use Your Response Meaningfully (& Follow the Instructions for Revision!). After you’ve received peer reviews and are invited to revise your article, you’ll usually be asked to provide a summary of what you’ve changed in the article. This is also your chance to dialogue with the editors and peer reviewers (if it’s going to have a second round of review). If your reviews have been contradictory, or you’ve deliberately not followed specific suggestions, explain your rationale here. Editors and reviewers aren’t machines, and will often agree with your thinking (not always, I should add, but often). Equally, if you get specific instructions – for example, to use tracked changes or highlighting to immediately make alterations obvious – then follow these precisely! For editors and reviewers, it can be very frustrating trying to see what’s been changed if that’s not clearly flagged!
 Be timely. While reviews and revisions should be taken seriously, and everyone has many things to do, it’s best to fit these revisions in as soon as you can. This expedites things from the journal’s perspective and your own! The best articles are finished ones!
Giving Feedback and Writing Peer Reviews
 Be timely. Peer review is usually free labour provided by scholars. Know how much you can reasonably and meaningfully review in a given year. But once you accept the role as reviewer, please stick to the requested reviewing timeline if you possibly can. Journal editors struggle to find enough peer reviewers, and hate having to chase reviewers for late reviews. More to the point, it can lead to stagnation in scholarship if an article takes 6 or 9 months for the first round of review. So, only commit if you know you’ve got time, but once you’re committed to a peer review, make the time to do it.
 Be generous. Generosity doesn’t mean accepting articles that aren’t ready for publication. It does mean, framing all feedback constructively and, ideally, positively. If you’re rejecting a paper outright, giving the author a roadmap to improve that article and become a better scholar is still important (indeed, perhaps more important than the acceptances or minor review recommendations). Equally, don’t be the person who responds by saying ‘Well, if I was writing on this topic I’d have done it this way.’ You didn’t write it. Does the article add to scholarship on its own terms? Academia has far too many versions of combative review. Peer reviews can always be generous of spirit, even if they’re ultimately not recommending publication. Reviews aren’t just reviews; they’re a form of mentorship.
 Be precise. The most frustrating comments (wearing either my editor or author hat) are the ones that make broad statements without being precise. ‘The argumentation is unclear.’ ‘Needs to engage with the core scholars in X field.’ If the argument needs work, try and indicate where. If there are 4 key scholars you think an article needs to dialogue with, mention their names. While it might not suit everyone, I’ve started giving all peer review feedback as a series of specific and clear numbered points; a checklist of changes, essentially. In my opinion, a clear and precise roadmap to what you think would make the article better is the most useful thing a peer review can provide.
Feedback Doesn’t Stop Once an Article or Publication is Out!
 Share Widely! Most journals will let an author archive a pre-print (ie the submitted version of an article, before peer review) and, after a time delay, a post-print (the peer reviewed but not paginated version). Use this to populate your open access institutional repository, personal website archive, or elsewhere. If your journal allows it, post to academic social networks like Academia.edu and ResearchGate.
 Publicise on Social Media. Increasingly, academics find out about each other’s work through social networks as much as searches and alerts. If you’re using Twitter or Facebook or other online platforms to engage with your academic peers, then share links to your work there. Point to the pre-prints when they’re posted, and point to the final published versions once they’re up online. Celebrate your publications, and celebrate (and retweet) great work by your peers and colleagues! If you get meaningful questions, comments or offers of collaboration, that’s pretty decent feedback, too!
 Engage Beyond the Ivory Tower. One of the skills scholars often lack is translating their work for audiences beyond academia. Yet press releases, or writing short summary pieces, such as those in The Conversation, can make your work far more accessible, and ensure it can have the widest possible engagement and impact. This sort of engagement does take some work, but if you’ve just written the most amazing article ever, and you want an audience, then engaging publicly will make your work available to the widest audience.
A little article about digital death I wrote for The Conversation …
Facebook’s accidental ‘death’ of users reminds us to plan for digital death
The accidental “death” of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and millions of other Facebook users is a timely reminder of what happens to our online content once we do pass away.
Earlier this month, Zuckerberg’s Facebook profile displayed a banner which read: “We hope the people who love Mark will find comfort in the things others share to remember and celebrate his life.” Similar banners populated profiles across the social network.
After a few hours of users finding family members, friends and themselves(!) unexpectedly declared dead, Facebook realised its widespread error. It resurrected those effected, and shelved the offending posthumous pronouncements.
For many of the 1.8-billion users of the popular social media platform, it was a powerful reminder that Facebook is an increasingly vast digital graveyard.
It’s also a reminder for all social media users to consider how they want their profiles, presences and photos managed after they pass away.
The legal uncertainty of digital assets
Your material goods are usually dealt with by an executor after you pass away.
But what about your digital assets – media profiles, photos, videos, messages and other media? Most national laws do not specifically address digital material.
Requests to access the accounts of deceased loved ones, even by their executors, are routinely denied on privacy grounds.
While most social networks, including Facebook, explicitly state you cannot let another person know or log in with your password, for a time leaving a list of your passwords for your executor seemed the only easy way to allow someone to clean up and curate your digital presence after death.
Five years ago, as the question of death on social media started to gain interest, this legal uncertainty led to an explosion of startups and services that offered solutions from storing passwords for loved ones, to leaving messages and material to be sent posthumously.
But as with so many startups, many of these services have stagnated or disappeared altogether.
Dealing with death
Public tussles with grieving parents and loved ones over access to deceased accounts have led most big social media platforms to develop their own processes for dealing with digital death.
Facebook now allows users to designate a “legacy contact” who, after your death, can change certain elements of a memorialised account. This includes managing new friend requests, changing profile pictures and pinning a notification post about your death.
But neither a legacy contact, nor anyone else, can delete older material from your profile. That remains visible forever to whoever could see it before you die.
The only other option is to leave specific instructions for your legacy contact to delete your profile in its entirety.
Instagram, owned by Facebook, allows family members to request deletion or (by default) locks the account into a memorialised state. This respects existing privacy settings and prevents anyone logging into that account or changing it in the future.
Twitter will allow verified family members to request the deletion of a deceased person’s account. It will never allow anyone to access it posthumously.
LinkedIn is very similar to Twitter and also allows family members to request the deletion of an account.
Google’s approach to death is decidedly more complicated, with most posthumous options being managed by the not very well known Google Inactive Account Manager.
This tool allows a Google user assign the data from specific Google tools (such as Gmail, YouTube and Google Photos) to either be deleted or sent to a specific contact person after a specified period of “inactivity”.
The minimum period of inactivity that a user can assign is three months, with a warning one month before the specified actions take place.
But as anyone who has ever managed an estate would know, three months is an absurdly long time to wait to access important information, including essential documents that might be stored in Gmail or Google Drive.
If, like most people, the user did not have the Inactive Account Manager turned on, Google requires a court order issued in the United States before it will consider any other requests for data or deletion of a deceased person’s account.
Planning for your digital death
The advice (above) is for just a few of the more popular social media platforms. There are many more online places where people will have accounts and profiles that may also need to be dealt with after a person’s death.
Currently, the laws in Australia and globally have not kept pace with the rapid digitisation of assets, media and identities.
Just as it’s very difficult to legally pass on a Kindle library or iTunes music collection, the question of what happens to digital assets on social media is unclear to most people.
As platforms make tools available, it is important to take note and activate these where they meet (even partially) user needs.
Equally, wills and estates should have specific instructions about how digital material – photos, videos, messages, posts and memories – should ideally be managed.
With any luck the law will catch up by the time these wills get read.
Call For Papers:
Gaming Disability: Disability perspectives on contemporary video games
Edited by Dr Katie Ellis, Dr Mike Kent & Dr Tama Leaver
Internet Studies, Curtin University
Abstracts Due 15 February 2017
Video games are a significant and still rapidly expanding area of popular culture. Media Access Australia estimated that in 2012 some twenty percent of gamers were people with a disability, yet, the relationship between video gaming, online gaming and disability is an area that until now has been largely under explored. This collection seeks to fill that gap. We are looking for scholars from both disability studies and games studies, along with game developers and innovators and disability activists and other people with interest in this area to contribute to this edited collection.
We aim to highlight the history of people with disabilities participating in video games and explore the contemporary gaming environment as it relates to disability. This exploration takes place in the context of the changing nature of gaming, particularly the shift from what we might consider traditional desktop computer mediation onto mobile devices and augmented reality platforms. The collection will also explore future possibilities and pitfalls for people with disabilities and gaming.
Areas of interest that chapters might address include
- Disability narratives and representation in gaming
- Accessibility of gaming for people with disabilities
- Mods, hacks and alterations to games and devices for and by people with disabilities
- Augmented reality games and disability
- Disability gaming histories
- Mobile gaming platforms and disability
- Specific design elements (such as sound) in terms of designing accessible games
- Gaming, television and disability
- Future directions for disability and gaming
Potential authors are invited to submit chapter abstracts of no more than 500 words, including a title, 4 to 6 keywords, and a brief bio, by email to Dr Mike Kent <firstname.lastname@example.org> by 15 February 2017. (Please indicate in your proposal if you wish to use any visual material, and how you have or will gain copyright clearance for visual material.) Authors will receive a response by 15 March 2016, with those provisionally accepted due as chapters of approximately 6000 words (including references) by 15 June 2016. If you would like any further information, please contact Mike Kent.
About the editors:
The editors are all from the Department of Internet Studies at Curtin University and have a history of successfully publishing edited collections in the areas of and gaming, disability, and new media.
Dr Katie Ellis is an Associate Professor and Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Internet Studies at Curtin University. Her research focuses on disability and the media extending across both representation and active possibilities for social inclusion. Her books include Disability and New Media (2011 with Mike Kent), Disabling Diversity (2008), Disability, Ageing and Obesity: Popular Media Identifications (2014; with Debbie Rodan & Pia Lebeck), Disability and the Media (2015; with Gerard Goggin), Disability and Popular Culture (2015) and her recent edited collection with Mike Kent Disability and Social Media: Global Perspectives (2017).
Dr Mike Kent is a senior lecturer and Head of Department in the Department of Internet Studies at Curtin University. Mike’s research focus is on people with disabilities and their use of, and access to, information communication technology and the Internet. His other area of research interest is in higher education and particularly online education, as well as online social networking platforms. His book, with Katie Ellis, Disability and New Media was published in 2011 and his edited collection, with Tama Leaver, An Education in Facebook? Higher Education and the World’s Largest Social Network, was released in 2014. His latest edited collection, with Katie Ellis, Disability and Social Media: Global Perspectives is available 2017, along with his forthcoming edited collections Massive Open Online Courses and Higher Education: What went right, what went wrong and where to now, with Rebecca Bennett and Chinese Social Media Today: Critical Perspectives with Katie Ellis and Jian Xu.
Dr Tama Leaver is an Associate Professor in the Department of Internet Studies at Curtin University. He researches online identities, digital media distribution and networked learning. He previously spent several years as a lecturer in Higher Education Development, and is currently also a Research Fellow in Curtin’s Centre for Culture and Technology. His book Artificial Culture: Identity, Technology and Bodies was released through Routledge in 2012 and his edited collections An Education in Facebook? Higher Education and the World’s Largest Social Network, with Mike Kent, was released in 2014 through Routledge, and Social, Casual and Mobile Games: The Changing Gaming Landscape, with Michele Wilson, was released through Bloomsbury Academic in 2016.
For Kath: How to replace every mention of “Internet of Things” with “Skynet” and vice versa in your Chrome browser.
- In Chrome, install the Word Replacer 2 plugin.
- Click the plugin settings, select settings.
- Click ‘new’ on the left and enter your item name (I’ve called mine “Internet of Things” in the left box, “Skynet” in the box next to it on the right.)
- At the top of the right pane, select ‘Swap’ (or just ‘Simple’ if you just want “internet of things” replaced, but IOT mentions of Skynet turing into Internet of Things).
- Type “internet of things => skynet” into the right pane’s text box, and hit return/enter.
- Click Export (ensuring the tickbox is still selected on the left next to your new item).
- The instruction will be made into code, and shown to you. Something like this …
- Click ‘Apply to selected’ after the code has appeared.
- Click the ‘x’ to close the settings window.
- Click on the Word Replace II icon and ensure it’s enabled (the term enabled will be green).
- Search for “Internet of Things” and see if it works. (If it doesn’t, I’d blame Skynet.) Also, checking the “Internet of Things” Wikipedia page becomes amusing.
- PS If it is working, this post clearly won’t make sense anymore!
Here’s the Call for Papers (well, call for Abstracts, initially) for a special issue of Social Media + Society I’m editing with Bjorn Nansen:
Special Issue of Social Media + Society
Eds Tama Leaver (Curtin University) and Bjorn Nansen (University of Melbourne)
From the sharing of ultrasound photos on social media onward, the capturing and communicating of babies’ lives online is an increasingly ordinary and common part of everyday digitally mediated life. Online affordances can facilitate the instantaneous sharing and joys of a first smile, first steps and first word spoken to globally distributed networks of family, friends and publics. Equally, from pregnancy tracking apps to baby cameras hidden inside cuddly toys, infants are also subject to an unprecedented intensification of surveillance practices. Reflecting both of these contexts, there is a growing set of questions about the presence, participation and politics of infants in online networks. This special issue seeks to explore these questions in terms of the online spaces in which infants are present; the forms of online participation enabled for and curated on behalf of infants, and the range of political implications raised by infants’ digital data and its traces, for both their present and future lives. Ideally papers will focus on the impact of digital technologies and networked culture on pre-birth, birth and the early years of life, along with related changes and challenges to parenthood and similar domains.
Possible areas of focus include, but are by no means limited to:
• Social media and infant presence and profiles
• Cultural and national specificities of infant media use and presence
• Digital media in the everyday lives of young children
• The app economy, and capture of infant attention
• “Mommy blogs,” and online curation
• Identity and impression management
• Ethics, persistence and the right to be forgotten
• Geographies of infant media use
• Infant interfaces and hardware
• Cultural responses to parenting, “oversharing”, privacy and surveillance
• Erasure of maternal bodies in digitising infancy
• Apps and services targeting infants as a consumer market
Abstracts of 300 words should be submitted to both Tama Leaver email@example.com and Bjorn Nansen firstname.lastname@example.org by Friday, 1 April. Where appropriate, please nominate an author for correspondence.
On the basis of these short abstracts, invitations to submit full papers (of no more than 8000 words) will then be sent out by 15 April 2016. Full papers will be due by 1 July 2016, and will undergo the usual Social Media + Society review procedure. Please note that an invitation to submit a full paper for review does not guarantee paper acceptance.