I was clearing out an old email address a couple of years ago when I spotted a message from a woman I didn’t know. She had been talking to a man online and had become suspicious of his identity. When she did a search on his profile picture, my name came up. She sent me a link to a Google+ account that had my photo and somebody else’s name, but I couldn’t see much else. I had never been particularly strict with online privacy, so I thanked her and reported it to Google. It didn’t seem like a big deal.
Things got weirder when she invited me to join a Facebook group: 20 young women – who had all been talking online to a man called “Paul Green” – were trying to figure out his true identity. They were sharing his profile pictures and the photos he’d emailed them. They were all of me. He’d cropped my new baby niece out of a very recent photo. There was one of me from school, fooling around with a piano keyboard on my head; it was so old I’d forgotten it. It must have been from my deleted Myspace account.
He had talked to these women on teenage forums, dating sites, Facebook, Twitter, Google… and from multiple email addresses. Some had spoken to him on Skype – without video. One girl forwarded me email after email of their conversations. They had been talking for four years. They’d told each other, “I love you.” He said that – like me – he was 22. The young women ranged in age from mid-teens to early 20s. He’d talked of sending them gifts and persuaded some to send pictures back. One message read, “Thank you for those photos, my body shivered a little.” It was creepy.
He came across as intelligent. He liked poetry and literature, and spoke Spanish. He had gained their trust and some of them thought they were in a relationship with him. One said to me, “Oh, it was you we’ve been talking to.” But I had to say, “No. Not at all. These aren’t my interests. This is not me.”
I went to the police, but they weren’t interested. The law doesn’t cover you to protect your face…
Concerned that several dams were on the verge of bursting, Craig started scrolling through the hashtag #HopeMills, looking for anyone with information on the current water level affecting the area. He came across Hart’s aerial photo of several totally flooded houses, and sent it to his brother, joking that at least it wasn’t this bad.
“Apparently it was his house,” Craig told me. “I honestly thought he was fucking with me. I mean, what are the chances.”
Craig then tweeted at Hart, asking for help.
“Holy shit that’s my brothers house..the one with one shutter. Any chance you can boat him out of there? He’s trapped upstairs..,” he wrote.
More than a billion people around the world rely on smartphones and their ubiquitous messaging and social media apps, but none more so than the hundreds of thousands of people who are fleeing war, hunger, and famine in the Middle East and Africa.
The massive crowds of refugees and migrants from Syria and elsewhere who have flooded Europe this year, and continue to arrive en masse, are relying heavily on smartphone apps such as WhatsApp, Viber, and Facebook Messenger, along with other tools like Google Maps, as they risk perilous sea crossings, skirt unfriendly border crossings, and try to keep in touch with their loved ones.
“Our phones and power banks are more important for our journey than anything, even more important than food,” a Syrian named Wael told Agence France Presse on the Greek island of Kos.
Clothes and food can be purchased relatively cheaply, and even cash can be electronically transferred, but a smartphone is crucial. Smugglers who take the refugees across the Mediterranean drastically limit what people can take on board, but the phones are too precious to give up, they say.
The engine of the overcrowded dinghy he was on had died after half an hour of sailing. “We were exactly between Turkey and Greece. I know because I checked the GPS on my phone,” he said. Then the weather started getting worse:
Quickly the boat became full of water and started to sink. I rang the Greek coastguard and started shouting ‘help us, help us’ but they couldn’t really hear me because my phone was wrapped in a plastic bag to protect it from the water. So I sent a Whatsapp message giving my GPS and asking them to help us. I also sent my family a message with my GPS and explained the situation but said ‘don’t worry, even though the weather is bad, we’ll make it across.’
Amulets have been worn for protection for thousands of years. Early peoples lived in a world where strange and frightening things occurred that defied explanation. Consequently, amulets were used to protect homes, families, and livestock.
Amulets were also used to protect people from the “evil eye.” The belief that a person or animal could harm another by staring at them with an evil eye dates back at least five thousand years, and ancient clay tablets have been found that describe the damage that the evil eye can inflict. The Sumerian god Ea spent most of his time fighting the evil eye. Even today, in many parts of the world, the evil eye is considered a major threat, and various kinds of amulets are used to avert it.
Amulets were originally natural items, such as an animal’s tooth or a semi-precious stone. However, you can choose anything you like. Medals, bells, keys, and photographs can all be used as amulets. Many police officers in early twentieth-century New York carried St. Jude medals with them for protection. St. Jude is the patron saint of policemen.
Knots make effective amulets because they are believed to catch evil spirits. My grandmother tied knots on all her kitchen aprons to protect both her and the food she was preparing.
Take your time when choosing an amulet. Think about your purpose in wanting one, and how you will wear or carry it. On several occasions, amulets seem to have found me when I needed them. On one occasion, a man I met at an airport gave me a small piece of hematite. I was on my way to see someone to discuss a business proposition. The hematite protected me from his overpowering manner. “
A number of recent events have proven that live video of breaking news can be incredibly important for understanding such situations, and in many cases that video is being streamed on Facebook by those involved, whether it’s a shooting in Louisiana or the aftermath of a protest in Dallas.
Given that, the fact that Facebook (FB, +0.89%) will not only remove videos in some cases but also deactivate a user’s account at the request of police also raises a host of important questions. What responsibility, if any, does the network have as a news outlet when it makes such decisions?
The deactivation occurred earlier this week during an incident in Baltimore County, MD. While in a standoff with police in her apartment, 23-year-old Korryn Gaines was posting video on Facebook and interacting with followers on both Facebook and Instagram.
At some point, the police asked Facebook to shut down the woman’s social-media accounts, and the company complied. Gaines was later shot and killed after she pointed a gun in the direction of the officers, according to statements made at a news conference in Baltimore on Tuesday.
Police said they were trying to serve an arrest warrant on Gaines on charges related to a routine traffic stop in March, including disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. Gaines’s five-year-old son was wounded.
“We did in fact reach out to social media authorities to deactivate her account, to take it offline, if you will,” Baltimore County police chief James Johnson said at the press conference. “Why? In order to preserve the integrity of the negotiation process with her and for the safety of our personnel [and] her child.”
Johnson said that not only was Gaines posting video of the operation as it unfolded, but her followers on both Facebook and Instagram were also “encouraging her not to comply” with police requests that she surrender peacefully. Facebook deactivated the account about an hour after being asked to do so.
Alone and homeless on the streets of Chicago, AnnMarie Walsh found comfort in Twitter.
“It feels so good to know there is someone out there,” she said. “I could Tweet and there was always someone there listening.”
Walsh was homeless for six years before she met a case worker at a Tweetupevent who helped her find temporary housing. Her Twitter profile says she’s been off the streets since April 7, 2011.
Walsh uses the Twitter handle @PadsChicago. The 41-year-old tweets to her more than 4,800 followers about what it was like to be homeless and also advocates for homeless people. When she was homeless, Walsh would tweet from her cell phone or use computers at her local library.
She has slowly amassed more followers as her story of documenting her homelessness on Twitter has gained traction with the media.
She joined Twitter more than two years ago. Initially, she said, Twitter appealed to her because she thought it could help her deal with mental health issues by making her more comfortable talking to people, at least in a digital sense.
“It has really helped me come out and be better functioning in social settings,” she said. “I used it to get my feelings out.”
The response she received from her Twitter followers made her feel more comfortable sharing her story.
Using Twitter “made me realize how many good people are out there,” she said.
Tweets came pouring in from people who wanted to help her. She received two free laptops from people she met through Twitter. People offered to pay her cell phone bill and others sent her bus passes. A documentary filmmaker also reached out to her via Twitter and asked her to be part of his project documenting homelessness. Through that filmmaker, she was invited to speak at Twitter’s 140 Characters Conference, being held in Los Angeles in 2009.
Walsh would also attend Tweetup events in Chicago. At one such Tweetup, she met a case worker who helped her find temporary housing.
“I’m still in a homeless frame of mind because I don’t have any income,” she said. “I would certainly love a job where I can help people in some way.” Walsh says she would particularly love a job working in social media.