Interview Question: Why am I unique?

This was the hardest blog assignment question for me, so I left it until the end. The problem with this question is that I’m a skeptic who recognizes that very few people are unique. It’s very, very difficult to describe why you’re unique without it coming off as a humble-brag.  A unique person is not described through words but through actions, so this will be tricky to explain.

So why am I unique?  I’m a product of Canadian opportunity.

Let me explain.

My Mother is technically a refugee. When she was a small child she moved from the former Yugoslavia to Germany and then from Germany made her way to Canada. Her immediate family all came in various waves due to the refugee policy at the time, it was a few years until they were all reunited in Toronto. Sometimes when we’re driving through the west-end, she points out the places they lived. Whether it’s the first apartment they lived in on Dufferin, a house they lived on Major St or the first house my grandmother owned on Robert St in the Annex. Her youth was sharply divided between her life in Yugoslavia and her life in Toronto but she recognizes herself as Canadian. She graduated from Harbord Collegiate and did a Bachelors of Social Work at Ryerson.

My father was born here, but just barely. His parents came over just a few short years earlier from Guyana and started their family immediately. They settled into a rented apartment behind Dufferin Grove fairly early on, so my father mostly grew up in just one place. He also attended Harbord Collegiate and then did business studies at Ryerson.

These two crazy kids met up in elementary school but barely remembered each other. They really met when my mother started working for my father’s mother at a Cineplex cinema, which is funny really, when you realize they both attended the same high school.

My upbringing was a true first-generation Toronto immigrant story, which surprises some people. But because both my parents were fluent (my father’s parents spoke English in Guyana and my mother’s family learned English very quickly to fit in) and because my parents went to University and were the first people in their family ever to do so , I simply followed in their footsteps as if we’d been here forever. It was the norm.

I grew up in Scarborough but wasn’t limited to that geography. I grew up at the Zoo, I grew up in the Toronto parks, I grew up in the Scarborough Bluffs and the Toronto beaches, I grew up cycling through Scarborough as a teen and took that with me when I moved downtown. I never felt sequestered in Scarborough but I always tried to push my boundaries to see and do more. Whether that meant a hike through the Rouge Valley, getting bubble tea in Chinatown or journeying to the edge of TTC transit before Pickering to see where the physical boundary of the city ended. When I graduated high school and went to the University of Toronto, I took the same adventurous spirit with me. I’m always ready to get lost although that has become harder and harder the more of this city I’ve explored.

Now I live in the west end in the Junction in my 7th apartment in nine years and I still follow this trajectory. I’m always curious and try to have as unique a Toronto lifestyle as I can. Now that I’m a few weeks out of my first job in Communications working right on Bloor Street, this is just another Toronto adventure, who knows where I’ll go next?

So what did I learn, while arguing that I wasn’t unique?

Never underestimate the journey, that’s usually what separates you from the crowd.


The Social Media & Corporate Communications Experience

Frequent readers of my (multiple) blogs probably already know that I’ve spent the better part of the year in a post-graduate program. I’ve been reliving and experiencing school for the first time since I graduated from the University of Toronto in 2007 and actually it’s my five-year reunion this spring.

And I have to say, compared to University it’s been an intense experience. Instead of long-winded assignments of varying lengths, from eight to sixteen pages or more, this has been a fast-paced world of assignments on a daily basis, 300 – 400 word limitations of abbreviated and concise writing. Instead of relying only on myself with little to no feedback to peers, this program required more team-work than I’ve ever experienced before. I’ve learned new things about myself and about the material.

Three Things That I’ve learned about Social Media & Corporate Communications

  1. There is no rule book – Things are evolving on a daily basis, a social media site that may be hip and happening one day may be purchased by Twitter or Google on another. (Hello Posterous!) There is no way to be active on every network in an influential capacity, so the best way is to really dig down and recognize your own or your organizations strengths and weaknesses and find the social media that works for YOU. It should be something you enjoy, not something that is a chore.
  2. Understand your audience – A few recent major faux-pas on the social media sphere have been attached to Twitter hashtag fails or ‘bashtags‘ when a corporation (like McDonalds or Rogers) puts out there an ambiguous hashtags to ‘increase engagement’  without actually thinking it through. I think there’s a certain naivete about the medium. Twitter users are a particularly vocal group. Accounts can be as anonymous as you want and I think many communicators live in a PR networking bubble where they think that since all their friends are Stepford-y and peppy, all users are. The reality is that lots of people flock to Twitter to complain. They don’t have an organizational goal to be chipper all the time and sure as heck don’t like patronizing. Compare this with David’s Tea who have great, positive engagement on Twitter by retweeting and responding directly to customers. THEY reward THEIR customers for engagement, they don’t ASK for the customer to reward THEM with engagement.
  3. Apologize, move on and learn – If you screw up, the worst thing you can do is pretend the experience didn’t happen. As you would with any negative interaction, try to learn from it and move forward. Your customers or your followers will appreciate a genuine apology over a deleted post or tweet any day, maintain your own ethics and integrity and this will take you far. But also, don’t pull a McDonald’s and fail at the same thing THREE DIFFERENT TIMES. But, if anything, this tells you that even a disastrous social media campaign still may not make the difference at the end of the day, at least, if you’re as big as McDonalds.

So there we have it, a few things I’ve learned about how organizations and communications teams deal with Twitter. The best tip I have going forward? Think before you tweet.

Copyright: To Pinterest or not to Pinterest?

Back in the wild, wild west days of the Web 1.0, people were already wary about the use of their images online, whether photography, art or graphic design. There was no TinEye so people needed to protect their images and their work with hefty (and annoying) javascript codes. But stealing wasn’t the only problem, bandwidth was also an issue, it wasn’t cheap and when people direct-linked to your images, it caused quite a strain. But when they stole and used your image without attribution, it was a different kind of loss. A creative kind.

I spent a lot of time on my web design. I took pride in my content creation. I tried to use images I had scanned or photos I’d taken or stockphotos to create my layouts or designs. I tried to attribute them as best as I could, to the person who made it, while also trying to control my adaptation of the work. Unfortunately I became a victim of theft when I had an entire website layout (hand-coded) stolen from me and I was at a loss. Multiple attempts to contact this person failed and while my friends knew the work I had done, once in awhile somebody would come out of the woodwork and accuse ME of stealing from my own thief. Unfortunately, this has happened to everybody at one point or another. (Heck, look at Urban Outfitters! They do it all the time!)

Which brings me to Pinterest.

I’m a bit torn over how to exactly use this new social media platform due to my concerns about the pinning of images. I’m already hesitant of tumbling my own photos to my personal tumblr due to the way that people can de-link from your hard-written/tagged work. Pinterest adds a new element to this problem due to a murky roundabout way that “pins” all responsibility on the uploader to verify the copyright of an image. While Facebook pushes users to click that little button to verify the legality of the image (whether it’s fair use or not) and takes legal responsibility if there’s a concern, Pinterest takes it for granted.

While it’s unlikely people would get sued (except in the most egregious of situations), this is an age-old problem on the web that could be addressed in a few different ways.

  1. Tie in with a tool like TinEye, a great partnership idea that could ask users to verify their image or tie back to a reference link.
  2. Creative-commons tie in. Perhaps as a tool to train users who upload their own images about their rights as a copyright holder. Similar to the requirement for Flickr uploads.
  3. Even something as little as a second-verification process like Facebook.

Pinterest has the potential (and definitely the legs) to be the next BIGGEST thing, up there with Facebook and Twitter, it could be the veritable “third social media must-have” ** and really needs to address these issues if it wants to continue being a powerhouse. With major websites like Flickr moving forward with “Pinterest-killer” codes, it’s something serious they need to address in the near future.

Either way, Pinterest seems to be here to stay, just be careful what you pin.

**As much as I adore LinkedIn, it’s not as sexy or as fun as other networks and it should stay that way.

Facebook Prosecution: Two judges, two family feuds, two decisions

Now that Facebook as a wide-spread tool for connecting in the 21st Century, personal matters are becoming public on the world’s largest social network. In my personal experience, in University I found myself in a Facebook faux-pas when a boyfriend and I broke up. It was absolutely final and in my mopey-ness, I proceeded to remove our relationship a few hours after the breakup (maybe 6 hours later). The next week I found myself pounced upon by one of his friends for being “indifferent” and uncaring because I removed it so fast, when in reality, he broke up with me. While I wasn’t harassed further, I learned some nebulous implications of a personal relationship turned public and since then, my current partner of 5 years and I have no formal Facebook ‘relationship’ preferring to show our affection in person. But relationship incidents are on the rise on the platform and here are two examples that are ending in litigation.

In Cincinnati, Mark Edward Byron, a man under a restraining order against his wife for a domestic violence charge, was charged in contempt of his restraining order and ordered to pay his wife over $1,100. The crime? Calling her out, swearing about her and defaming her character on Facebook to their mutual friends. The judge also offered an alternative punishment, which would have Byron offering an apology every day for thirty days to his estranged wife on Facebook.

In Minnesota, Randall LaBrie was not charged in online harassment of his nephew Aaron Olson on Facebook. Olson charged that LaBrie posted old family photos of him with “vulgar and coercive statements” attached to them and would cause “substantial hardship” for Olson. The court dismissed the case, ruling the photos were innocuous and could not be the basis of harassment and that the comments were not damaging.

So what happened here?

It’s obvious that in Byron’s case, he had a history of causing grief and harm to his wife and had been put under a restraining order for it. Part of his restraining order was to never cause harass or annoy her, something he obviously ignored when he began his tirade online. Also, Byron was falsely claiming that his wife was not obeying their custody agreement, but the court discovered that it was Byron himself who had been missing the visitations. In this case, Facebook was merely the vessel for more harassment, whether it was this social media platform or Twitter or email, he would have been in contempt due to his previous charge.

In LaBrie’s case, he and Olson had a history of family disagreements. Olson’s petition against his uncle also included a request for a restraining order and some confusing testimony about the timeline of events. The way his case was presented made it seem that the mere fact that LaBrie had posted the photos at all were enough for Olson to become upset, regardless of the captions. Olson was upset that somebody else could upload photos of him and comment and that he couldn’t control whether the images were on Facebook or not. He claimed that the visibility of the photos was negatively impacting his life, a claim that was cleanly dismissed by the court.

So what can we learn from this?

Judges are beginning to sift through the muddle that is caused when personal interactions become public using social media, especially Facebook, the biggest threat. We should expect inconsistencies in rulings but in these two instances I think they were judged fairly. Byron has already been charged and the eye of the law is upon him to prevent any more harm to his wife and LaBrie’s nephew Olson seemed to be using the law to prove a point and to settle hurt feelings. The rulings are fair in either case so this is a good sign for future cases.

On a side note…

Byron seems to have disregarded the judge’s verdict and has publicly tweeted his displeasure about the ruling. I’m assuming this means he doesn’t agree with the social media punishment he’s been delivered, but the Huffington Post says he’s cooperating. His attempts to tie in his behaviour to free speech activism is a bit disturbing considering his history (domestic abusers being manipulators who often try to drag their spouses through the mud to lower their reputation or ‘worth’ in others eyes). This is something I’m going to tackle in another post, the fact that anybody can be public and available due to social media to respond to any perception of their behaviour. Whether it’s Chris Brown or this guy, everybody has a voice on social media. For better and for worse.

Judge orders man to apologize to wife on Facebook. – Daily Dot
Minnesota man files harassment charges against uncle over Facebook photos. – Daily Dot

How to unfollow friends and delete your digital footprint.

Recently, on the advice of an instructor and the nagging voice in the back of my head that kept telling me to “cover my tracks”, I embarked on a virtual trek to delete old, dusty accounts attached to my name or my aliases. Along the way I found accounts connected to social buying sites such as Livingsocial, music sites like and corporate sites I’d joined to vote for contests. After my hard work, when you google my name you find ten carefully curated accounts that represent the way I wish to be viewed online. Applause.

But it’s a bit trickier for me than for most, there is only one other person in the world (according to google) with my name, so almost anything connected to me is easily searchable. If I had a more common name like Danielle Smith, this wouldn’t be such a problem. In a world where cultivating your personal brand and using SEO tactics to advance above your peers is important, I’m fortunate enough to already be at the top of the heap, at least, in terms of my name.

This exercise made me wonder, how much do people truly care about over-sharing? I agonized about leaving a connection to an anime website I used to contribute to, worried that people would perceive my writing as amateur and geeky when really, it was exemplary that a 16 year old was engaged and producing online journalism. Don’t get me wrong, I was no Tavi Gevinson, but I didn’t want to edit out a portion of my work and my life.

But for those who grew up with Facebook as teens, this could be a more serious problem. With the recent launch of Facebook Timeline, it’s possible to dig up dirt on profiles that was once nearly impossible to find. The only way to wipe this clean? A 14 day ‘purge’ of Facebook to properly deactive the account. While I disagree with the skewed poll options in a recent Digital Trends article about worries over Facebook Timeline, it summarizes the complications of this two week deactivation period and the complicated ways in which users need to ‘opt out’ of web activity.

With popular sites like Suicide Machine and Delete Your Account dedicated to walking you through the steps required to remove your account from popular websites, it appears that everybody has at least a few online profiles they’d love to forget. In my experience, it was a cathartic exercise in email/reputation management and a walk through memory lane. While I’m nowhere near ready to get myself off the grid and delete Facebook, at least I know I’m not the only one.

The Internet: Trusting a secret with thousands of friends.

For the next few weeks I will be blogging as part of an assignment for my Corporate Communications and Public Relations program. We’re required to post about social media, PR, items of general interest and about ourselves. Of the requirements, I find it the most difficult to blog about myself, which inspired this, my first post, a comment on the impact that negative responses to a blog can have on your output. In my case, it changed my creative direction to this day.

You can call me an old-timer of the internet. In 1998, at 13 I launched my first blog on a website I used to have and moved to diaryland a year later. Blogging became a part of my daily life, I felt guilty going a day without logging my thoughts. Diaryland allowed you to password protect your diary so only an exclusive group of friends were allowed to know my intimate thoughts. As a teen I was a prolific writer, I wrote short stories, poems, often thinly veiled but related to my own life. Blogging allowed me to expand my group of friends and share my work with them, pieces I never would have allowed them to view face-to-face.

The blogging revolution also came at a very sensitive time in my life, when I was 14 my parents divorced, I was separated from my brother and felt my world collapse. I blogged furiously about my anger, fear, sadness, anxiety, and every teenage hormonal response I had to my changing emotions and my changing world was logged. Then that trust was abused. A friend gossiped about something I’d written, something that was less than flattering and I experienced my first instance of virtual uncloaking. While a physical journal may have been kept safe in a physical hiding spot, a journal with a password, or with ‘allowed access’ only needs a friend with malicious intent to betray you. The fallout from this incident caused me to delete almost all my personal writings and to this day, I haven’t posted even as much as a poem to the internet under my name.

As you can tell, I no longer blog about my personal life anymore, I haven’t in awhile. Instead I turned to online journalism, writing commentary and reviews for the now defunct AnimeFringe website and designed and collected content for fan-pages instead. I ran a popular website about a television show that hit one million unique visitors before I archived it, a website for my high school that they kept for four years and a website for my student union in University. Post-University I joined blogTO as a writer in 2008 and have run for at least six years (I can’t remember my own anniversary!) as a repository for my cinematic endeavors. I’m essentially all over the web but a little more guarded because I learned my lesson early. As much as I love the internet, I wouldn’t share my innermost thoughts with my thousands of “friends.”