Reflective Essay

To Online, or Not to Online?

I enjoy being online because of all the content there is to consume and discuss that I never would have experienced otherwise. I started playing video games before I was ever a resident of the Internet, but I would not have developed the appreciation I have for the artistic potential of the medium if I had not found communities of other video game fans on social media, first Pokemon in my preteen years and then, starting in late 2015, UnderTale (a game I only found out about in the first place due to how it took the Internet by storm).

Engaging with fandom content has given me opportunities to practice my artistic talents, mainly through music and fanfiction; it’s inspired me to study computer science in college, so I could potentially learn to create my own games; and, it’s helped me connect with a diverse group of fellow fans and creators. I have struggled for most of my life with forging and maintaining friendships. However, I find it much easier to reach out to and regularly converse with people online, especially when it’s so much easier to find people who I can ramble about my passions that way with than it is in-person. And I know I’m far from the only person this applies to.

Beyond all that, being present online has become a necessity in the modern world. Students find most of their sources for essays and other projects on the Internet; jobs require people to communicate via email; and if you’re trying to market yourself, you would be a fool not to have accounts on Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter, or even better, a personal website/online portfolio – like this one!

In short, even if you want to limit your presence online to a minimum, it’s just not practical to cut yourself off entirely. So the question becomes, how do you make the most of it?

Look Twice Before Sharing the Post

A lot of people use the Internet as a source of information. We Google things we don’t know on-the-spot, we skim Wikipedia pages, and we read articles on hot topics or outlandish occurrences. With the sheer volume of data accessible with just a click, having an expeditious way to verify a post’s validity is more important than ever. As part of this class, we learned a methodology for doing just that, known as SIFT. Coined by Mike Caulfield, head of the Digital Polarization Initiative, the steps are as follows:

  • Stop and ask yourself if you trust what you’re reading before sharing it around
  • Investigate the source you’re currently reading from (one quick trick for which is looking it up on Wikipedia)…
  • or, if you care more about checking the truth of the root claim than evaluating this specific source, Find other coverage of the topic
  • Trace quotes, statistics, and other media back to where they originated from

I went through multiple tests trials of this method for a previous assignment and found it very effective, even though I sometimes had to switch strategies to get the information I wanted. In general, you want to be on the lookout for sites/organizations that have significant biases and a negative reputation, or nothing reputable about them at all. If a story has a clickbaity headline and is only reported on by a few smaller publications, it is likely falsified, or at least exaggerated. That’s not to say that the largest, oldest, and most well-known news organizations are always right; to be sure of the truth, you should try to go all the way back to the original source of the claim, verify that, and look for further context.

Being a Productive Digital Citizen

While the Internet can serve as a tool for finding information, keeping up with the news, buying books or whatever else from Amazon, etc., for many people it is also a source of community. There are some sites you merely visit, and some which you might consider yourself a resident of.1

I already brought up some of my general experiences as a resident of social media to explain why I enjoy being online. However, when first joining an online community, it is easy to fall into a bad crowd or find yourself the victim of trolls and other antagonistic folks. Many fandoms garner negative reputations because of their cruelest or most “cringy” members, UnderTale’s included.

If you want your experience in an online community to be pleasant and productive, you have to regulate your own experience. Use the tools provided by the platforms you join, like filtering tags and blocking accounts, to keep yourself from interacting with content and users that will ruin your experience. Find and befriend people who share not only your interests but also your values. Be someone who adds to discussions and lifts up the voices of others.

If you have moderation powers in your community, you should still look to the judgment of others to know when, where, and how you should use them. Make it a space that people feel welcome to participate in. That doesn’t mean tolerating everything people say and do; as Jennifer Peepas discusses in her article “Why Captain Awkward Wanted a Different Kind of Comments”, curation is necessary to eliminate speech that does nothing but degrade others, and to keep debates from spiraling into toxic spitting contests. It’s a tricky, muddled, but essential balance to strike.

I always get annoyed when I see people flippantly say, usually in response to being asked to put content warnings on their posts, that “this is the Internet”. To these people, asking for such content to be tagged in a way that lets those it might hurt avoid it is an admission of weakness. The Internet contains anything and everything under the sun, and a lot of that stuff is crass, gross, offensive, explicit, or otherwise harmful. So, by their logic, you should always be prepared for the potential to see such things, or else log off altogether if you can’t handle the thought of it.

My argument is this: the Internet is not an unholy manifestation of the worst of humanity, an entity unto itself that formed out of nothing and is impossible for us mere mortals to grapple with. The Internet was built and is continuously shaped by human beings. It doesn’t have to be the way it is now. If we all cooperated on marking potentially triggering content as such and keeping it out of spaces where it can cause damage, then people wouldn’t have to be fearful of their boundaries being breached while making use of our species’ greatest achievement.

The Internet exists to serve us, all of us. And it is up to its casual users as much as its developers to ensure it fulfills its job.

Works Cited

Caulfield, Mike. “Introducing SIFT.” Check, Please! Starter Course, Notion,

White, David. “Visitors and Residents.” YouTube, University of Oxford, 10 Mar. 2014,

Peepas, Jennifer. “Why Captain Awkward Wanted A Different Kind Of Comments.” The Coral Project Guides, Vox Media, 26 July 2017,

Reaction Paper #3

For this assignment, I will be evaluating four prompts using the SIFT method as laid out by Mike Caulfield and team in the “Check, Please! Starter Course”. The method goes as follows: when reading information online, Stop and ask yourself if you trust the source before sharing it around. Investigate the source you’re currently reading from, and/or, if you care more about checking the truth of the root claim than evaluating this one source, Find other coverage of the topic. The last piece is Tracing quotes, statistics, and other media back to its original source. There is no one right way to employ this method, and I will use multiple tactics when taking on the prompts below.

1. Child Poverty Rates Worldwide

For this first prompt, I had to find the source of the statistics cited in this tweet:

A tweet from the account @Public_Citizen posted on September 27, 2019. It lists the child poverty rate of 33 countries from lowest to highest. The last listed is the United States of America with a 21% child poverty rate. The tweet concludes with the text, "Good thing we recently passed *checks notes* tax breaks for billionaires."

My immediate reaction was to see if there was additional info in replies to the tweet. Lo and behold, the original poster replied to the tweet with a link to their source: a chart publicized by the OECD, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. The default window of data provided is 2014 to 2018, so it is fairly up to date, and when I doubled-checked specific stats (like the numbers for the USA and France) between the chart and the tweet, they were accurate.

To make sure this data was coming from a reliable source, I went to the about page for the organization. The international group has apparently existed for just under 60 years and works with “governments, policy makers and citizens [for] establishing international norms and finding evidence-based solutions to a range of social, economic and environmental challenges”. As a final check, I looked up the organization on Wikipedia, and found some more detailed information. The group has 36 member countries, had a total budget of €374 million in 2017, and is an official United Nations observer. I find a group with such international support to be extremely credible.

2. Abraham Lincoln Quotes

Of the listed quotes, I first decided to check this one, predicting from first glance that it was true because of the list of sources above the quote:

A screenshot of a Facebook post from the account 'Inspiration and Motivational Instances, Quotes, etc.' posted on October 14, 2016. The post has an image with the following quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln: "There's no honorable way to kill, no gentle way to destroy. There is nothing good in war. Except its ending." Above the image is a caption which lists multiple supposed sources for the quote, including "Abraham Lincoln, Facts for the People: A valuable campaign document" and "Lincoln's Springfield speech".

However, I realized quickly that many of these “sources” didn’t seem related to Lincoln at all, such as the phrases “Trumbull’s Chicago speech” and “the political record of Stephen A. Douglas”. When I tried searching, “lincoln’s springfield speech there is nothing good in war except its ending”, the first result was this goodreads page, which the Facebook quotes page seems to have copied word for word (or the other way around). The next result was an article from The Washington Times which said this quote was one of many incorrectly attributed to Lincoln, but it provided no further information on that particular one. The article cites a website run by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency that apparently lists this quote among others misattributed to Lincoln, but the link was broken.

I didn’t have full confidence in this source, so I tried just searching the full quote on Google. Again, the first result was the goodreads page, but the second was an article from the New York Daily News titled “Five things Lincoln didn’t say — but people think he did“. The quote I was researching was the last of the five listed, and this site gave an explanation for where it came from. Apparently in a season 3 Star Trek episode, the character of Abraham Lincoln appears and says this quote, but it was not based on anything the real-life Lincoln was recorded as having said. The article links to another article which provides a YouTube link to said episode; unfortunately, when I tried to open the video in another tab, it was unavailable, likely having been taken down for copyright reasons.

While I don’t have time to track down and watch the Star trek episode, and I didn’t do a full background check on any of the three news websites, they all seem to be in agreement. And with there being no evidence to support that the quote originally came from the actual Abraham Lincoln, I feel it’s safe to say that the quote is misattributed.

The second quote I decided to research was this one:

A tweet from the account @AmyMek, a blond white woman based on the profile picture. The tweet was posted on February 12, 2019, and reads as follows: "My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God's side, for God is always right." The tweet attributes the quote to Abraham Lincoln.

I had never heard Lincoln being referred to as particularly religious person, which made me wonder if this quote was falsely attributed to Lincoln as a way of saying, “You all know this intellectual, well respected, historically significant individual? Well guess what, he was also religious!”

Since this quote didn’t have any source mentioned, I started by just searching the whole thing in Google. Among the many generic quote sites that came up, I noticed that the third down had a date attached, so I checked that one first. This took me to a website titled “Prof. Boerner’s Explorations”, specifically a page on Lincoln’s 1858 Senatorial Speech. Many quotes were listed there attributed to Lincoln, including the one I was researching; however, it didn’t make it clear whether or not those quotes actually came from that speech, or if they were just there because Lincoln (supposedly) said them. At the bottom of the page, the quotes were cited as having come from the website BrainyQuote, but that website doesn’t provide sources for the individual quotes either.

Feeling I had hit a dead end, I went back to the first page of search results and scrolled down further. Soon I found an article from Politifact, which I’ve found to be a reliable source for fact-checking before. The article was reporting on something Sarah Palin said a few years ago, which included a paraphrasing of the Lincoln quote. Near the end of the article, the reporter tracked down the Lincoln quote to a book titled Six Months in the White House with Abraham Lincoln. The original quote, coming from page 282 of the book, is as follows:

“‘I am not at all concerned about [the Lord being on our side],’ replied Mr. Lincoln, ‘for I know that the Lord is always on the side of the right. But it is my constant anxiety and prayer that I and this nation should be on the Lord’s side.”

– Francis B. Carpenter quoting Abraham Lincoln

In short, it seems the version of the quote in the original tweet is based on something Abraham Lincoln did actually say, but it has been reworded to be more positive and straightforward over the many repetitions of it in popular culture.

3. Arsonist Birds?!

For this prompt, I was asked to investigate the truthfulness of this article from the National Post. Right away, the wording of the headline made me suspicious. The phrase “Australian birds have weaponized fire” implies the birds are doing this intentionally, and the article’s subtitle seconds this.

Raptors, including the whistling kite, are intentionally spreading grass fires in northern Australia, a research paper argues. The reason: to flush out prey and feast.

One key difference, however, is that the second half of the headline (“because what we really need now is something else to make us afraid”) makes it sound like the birds are specifically targeting humans. It makes the subject matter sound more urgent and sensational than it actually is.

That being said, a brief look at the research paper cited makes me confident that the article’s main claim is true. The paper has multiple authors, was published just two years ago, and a quick glance at the Wikipedia page for the journal that posted the article, the Journal of Ethnobiology, gives just enough for me to see it as credible. It is peer-reviewed, has been running since 1981, and the editors-in-chief are university professors. In the paper’s abstract, not only does it talk about the specific species of bird which have been observed participating in this phenomenon, but the researchers say that aboriginal communities have been aware of the fire-spreading birds for some time, which the National Post article also brought up.

4. Bizarre Creature from Under the Ice

For the final prompt, I had to evaluate this article from Express, a news organization based in the UK. The article is reporting on a discovery supposedly made in a documentary titled “The Secrets of Antarctica” that was posted to YouTube on July 9 of this year by the channel TRACKS. The YouTube video description contains a link to the channel’s Facebook page with the caption “From Expedition Antarctica”, implying that they are the ones who ran the expedition. However, it is evident from the Facebook page that TRACKS is not a scientific organization, but rather a self-described “Media/News Company” & “Local & Travel Website”.

The Express article seems to just recap what is said in the documentary without factchecking it; it does not contain any conversations with the “scientists” involved with the expedition, other than quoting what one scientist said in the video itself, or any outside experts. So I tried searching “antarctica expedition sea cucumber 3,500 meters under ice” to see if there were other articles on this subject listed under Google News. The second result was an article with the same exact headline from a website called Unilad, another UK based publication. This article is basically just a slight rewording of the previous article, with some tweets from random people added on at the end. There were no other relevant results under Google News; a few more articles come up on general Google, but none of the websites had names I recognized. If this discovery were as ground-shaking a discovery as the two articles I found presented it as, I’m sure more reputable sites would have covered it by now.

Reaction Paper #2


This unit of my Digital Citizenship and Identity course was focused on privacy and security online. One additional reading I did for this class was a New York Times article titled “Tracking Phones, Google Is a Dragnet for the Police”. It focuses on the example of a homicide case in Phoenix, Arizona where police made a false arrest based on data tracking the suspect’s phone to the site of the crime and security video including the model of car said suspect, John Molina, owned. To get the phone data, the department ordered a “geoforce” warrant, specifying a time and location, and Google sent them information from its database called Sensorvault about the devices that were there, labeled with anonymous ID numbers (though we’ve discussed in class how nothing digital is truly anonymous). From there, according to the article:

“Detectives look at locations and movement patterns to see if any appear relevant to the crime. Once they narrow the field to a few devices they think belong to suspects or witnesses, Google reveals the users’ names and other information.”

In under a week, the Phoenix police found more evidence that exonerated Molina, and later arrested his mother’s ex-boyfriend, who sometimes borrowed his car and already had a criminal record.

This article reminded of a different NYT article we had to read at the beginning of this unit, titled “Your Apps Know Where You Were Last Night, and They’re Not Keeping It Secret”, which went into depth about the deceptive ways apps record and use their user’s location data, creating whole maps of their daily routines. One woman’s phone recorded her coordinates as often as every two seconds. Most smartphone users these days understand that their device records their location, but the way that data is used, and who gets access to it, is rarely made clear when first activating location services for an app, often only laid out in its esoteric privacy policy/terms of service.

The first article shows the practical consequences of letting ourselves be tracked through every hour of the day, and it comes across as much more serious than the now apparently begrudged acceptance of targeted ads based on our commodified personal data. While that article provides multiple examples where the data proved genuinely helpful in criminal investigations, it also points out the following:

“According to several current and former Google employees, the Sensorvault database was not designed for the needs of law enforcement, raising questions about its accuracy in some situations.”

Both of these articles were authored primarily by Jennifer Valentino-DeVries. She has worked for years reporting not just for the New York Times, but also the Wall Street Journal and ProPublica, researching the ways issues of technology, privacy, and computer security intersect with the business and legal worlds. This included serving as a lead reporter for the Journal’s Pulitzer Prize qualifying series on digital privacy, “What They Know”, from 2010 to 2013. Ms. Valentino-DeVries has a master’s degree from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. This all makes it sound like the topic of this particular article, how Google’s technology is being used by law enforcement and the potential ethical implications, is right up her alley.


This part of my paper is directed at my younger brother Kamden, who, like me, uses an iPhone. After the readings I’ve done for this class on strengthening the privacy settings on our devices, there are some practices I’ve taken on that I think he (and perhaps you, dear reader) should adopt as well. Open the Settings application and scroll to the bottom, where you can view what features each app you’ve downloaded has access to. You can change a few things from here, such as which apps have access to your location and which apps send you what kinds of notifications. I recommend turning off access to location for any app that doesn’t require it to function, and if you don’t want anyone peeking at your notifications, you can set them to not show up on your lock screen and/or to not be saved to your notification center. 

One other thing I learned from the article “How to Check and Tighten All Your iPhone’s Privacy Settings” on How to Geek is to go to Settings > Safari and make sure it’s set to prevent cross-site tracking, warn of fraudulent websites, and block all cookies. As the article notes, blocking cookies will mean “you’ll need to log in to services more frequently and some features… will not persist between sessions.” However, if having to log in to sites repeatedly sounds like too much of an annoyance to you, the article also recommends alternate browsers that were made with privacy as a priority, such as DuckDuckGo.

Works Cited

Brookes, Tim. “How to Check and Tighten All Your iPhone’s Privacy Settings.” How-To Geek, How-To Geek, 8 July 2019,

“Jennifer Valentino-DeVries.” The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones & Company,

Valentino-DeVries, Jennifer, et al. “Your Apps Know Where You Were Last Night, and They’re Not Keeping It Secret.” The New York Times, The New York Times Company, 10 Dec. 2018,

Valentino-DeVries, Jennifer. “Tracking Phones, Google Is a Dragnet for the Police.” The New York Times, The New York Times Company, 13 Apr. 2019,

Movie Review: Ad Astra – “Space Bad, So People Good?”

When your movie’s goal is to make the audience feel alienated, don’t be surprised when they can’t connect with it.

Yesterday I saw James Gray’s Ad Astra starring Brad Pitt, a film that’s been favorably reviewed by critics but, at least according to Rotten Tomatoes, has not been as well liked by audiences. Scrolling through those audience reviews, the most common complaint, though not the only one by far, is that the movie was boring and too slowly paced. This critique is not one that I agree with; I was actively engaged in thinking about the film the whole way through, and there were multiple action set pieces well placed to keep the stakes and tension high. There are also complaints about the lack of realism in certain scientific aspects, but I don’t know enough to evaluate it on that level.

However, there are certain aspects that I agree with the audience reviews on. For one, the CGI is beautiful, and impressive to the extent I only caught myself thinking, “wow, I can’t believe nearly every location in the movie was animated in a computer” after the fact. While I’m being positive, the soundtrack was great; the cinematography was pretty good, often emphasizing the protagonist’s sense of isolation; and no one performance from the actors stood out to me as bad.

The other main aspect which I agreed with RT’s audience reviewers on, which is what I’ll be focusing on for the rest of this review, is that the story felt underdeveloped. From here on, there will be spoilers, so if you’d like to experience the film blind in the future, here’s where you’ll want to stop scrolling.

The main message of the movie is that we should not forsake connections with people for scientific progress; that we should prioritize the present over the future. The protagonist’s father, H. Clifford McBride (played by Tommy Lee Jones), is the main example of what happens when you don’t heed that moral. He is so obsessed with the idea of finding intelligent extraterrestrial life that he not only neglects his wife and son for his work, but when the expedition he’s on, the Lima Project, fails to find evidence of life on any of the many distant planets it gathers data from, he refuses to give up. The crew, yearning to return home, eventually mutiny, and McBride deals with it by killing them all. He is left orbiting Neptune with no companionship for the next sixteen years, with everyone on Earth presuming him dead.

Flash forward to the “near future”, and his son, Roy, is on a mission to Mars to send a communication to the Lima craft, which has begun sending out antimatter rays that are devastating both the Earth and humanity’s space bases. The film spends most of its runtime delving into Roy’s mental state, often through very on the nose first-person narration. It’s evident from how the movie starts, with Roy remaining almost perfectly calm as he tumbles from a satellite through Earth’s atmosphere, that he has learned to compartmentalize and suppress his emotions – in fact, he literally spells this out for the audience later in a moment of reflection after fighting off some rabid space monkeys (don’t ask, they’re there and then they never come up again). He speaks of focusing only on the essentials during his routine pysch test, the audio accompanied by a shot of him drinking coffee in the kitchen on one side of the frame, with his wife standing in the middle of the frame but out of focus. On the flight to Mars, he leaves the crew to have fun in 0 G while he watches a secret government video on the other side of the door.

Both McBrides are isolated. Every companion Roy has on his journey either gets left behind or killed. And it’s all in the pursuit of one goal. Roy is so focused on his mission, so convinced that he has to be the one to face to his father, that he not only tries to convince the captain on the trip to Mars to ignore a mayday signal from another craft (though in hindsight doing so would have saved them from the Space Monkeys), but when the crew is set to be sent to Neptune without him, he breaks onboard, leading to a violent struggle (despite his efforts to keep the situation from escalating) that only he survives. This leads to my favorite sequence from the movie, where Roy has to endure the 80 day flight to Neptune alone, with nothing to do but “eat”, watch old recordings of his wife and father, and sleep.

When father and son finally come face to face, both men determined and narrow-minded to a fault, both workaholics who let their marriages rot, both murderers, both having endured intense isolation far from Earth, the question becomes: what makes them different, other than time?

This question is most clearly answered at the emotional climax of the film. Having planted bombs on the Lima to destroy the antimatter engine, Roy tries to bring his father back with him to his craft. However, McBride senior fights back, eventually forcing Roy to let him go (get it? get it? the movie wants you to get it) by unclipping his tether and letting himself drift off into space. Why? Because McBride has no interest in Earth, in any of its features or its inhabitants; why care about such things when the possibility of life on other worlds exists?

In contrast, Roy not only appreciates Earth after his isolation in space, but is desperate to return to it. And once he does, we see him reconnect with his wife in a moment that parallels the scene from the beginning of the movie where he says he’s always focused on the essentials. This time, she’s the one in focus.

Now, why does Roy still care about Earth when his father does not? Why does the former still miss his wife when the latter outright says he didn’t care about his wife or son? What kept Roy from fully becoming McBride?

That’s a question the film never sufficiently answers.

The movie doesn’t show Roy choosing to quit being an astronaut after everything he’s been through – in fact, its final shot is him taking yet another psych test in his spacesuit. And there’s no indication that the “near future” Earth has become a danger-free utopia in comparison to space.

We never see what Roy likes about Earth. We don’t get to see Roy appreciating his home before he gets sent off. He only laments about missing the natural beauty of the planet after the fact. Meanwhile, the film’s gorgeous CGI makes a spectacle out of the solar system, while nearly every obstacle Roy faces is the result of humanity: pirates on the moon hunting for resources; the monkeys that were experimented on; even the power surges themselves are caused by the Lima. In addition, when Roy is on the Moon, he resents how the ever-extending hand of capitalism has turned it into a kitchy tourist hub.

As discussed prior, the movie goes to great lengths to make you feel Roy’s isolation. However, the focus on Roy’s narrow perspective causes most other aspects of the film’s narrative to suffer. His initial companion on the mission, a former friend of his father’s, grew on me quickly, but gets dropped from the story right before Roy heads to Mars, having been incapacitated by a heart attack. Almost every character who gets introduced in between then and Neptune is just a cardboard cutout there to fill the roll of crew member, obvious fodder, or villain. Roy’s wife, Eve, comes up four times in the movie, and only speaks one of those times, in a recorded message. She tells Roy, “I’m my own person; I can’t just wait for you.” What kind of person is she? The movie doesn’t tell us a single thing.

In alienating the audience from all but one of its characters, Ad Astra alienates the viewers from the film itself. And when it uses its setting, the thing which likely drew in most of those audience members, as both the stage for and manifestation of that alienation, without offering much to connect with in return, it leads to a foundational dissonance that’s difficult to ignore:

“…when space is your metaphor for isolation, the ultimate message of your space movie is ‘space bad.'”

– Ian Danskin, @InnuendoStudios on twitter1

Now the problem isn’t simply that Ad Astra uses space as a metaphor for isolation to send the message that it (isolation) is bad (though it certainly isn’t that groundbreaking of a moral). The problem is that a) the movie is hypocritically exploiting the spectacle of space the whole way through, and b) it’s so focused on driving home the isolation = bad idea that it never shows us how people = good. In fact, the film contradicts the second half part of its message by having pretty much all of Roy’s problems be caused by people. And when the negative angle isn’t properly balanced out by the positive angle, the movie as a whole ends up feeling anti-space exploration.

The thing is, I think there’s a relatively small addition the film could have made which would have fleshed out the people = good side of the message and given viewers more of a reason to care, without diminishing the negative affects of isolation the audience feels vicariously through Roy.

On Mars, Roy meets a woman named Helen Lantos (played by Ruth Negga) who was born on the planet and serves as the Facility Director. Their first proper interaction occurs after Roy gets told he will be sent back to Earth. She informs him in private that the crew that brought him to Mars will soon go to the Lima Project without him to destroy it; she is also the one who reveals that his father killed his crewmates on the Lima, two of whom were her parents. Roy and Helen agree that he has to be there to confront his father, and so she helps him get to the rocket launch site, despite admitting that it will get her in trouble.

Like most of the other characters and events that Roy encounters on his road trip to Neptune (remember the Space Monkeys?), we never get a follow-up on what happens to Helen, and we don’t get to really know her as a person before he leaves her behind. But what if, in a different version of the movie, we did get to know her? What if she had visited Roy a few times in his solitary “comfort room”, at first just being friendly in the hopes it would make him more cooperative, but slowly forming a genuine bond with him? What if we got glimpses of flashbacks while the two of them talked about what they love about Earth, with Roy filling Helen in on all the things she didn’t experience during her one childhood visit to the planet?

I’m not saying the film would have to spend a long time developing this character, even a little montage would have gone a long way. Imagine if we got to see Roy letting his walls down for the first time, rediscovering the joy of true human companionship… only to have to leave her behind. Imagine how much more crushing the isolation of the ensuing 80 days would have been.

I think by just doing this (and, if it’s not asking too much, giving us at least a little information on what kind of person Eve is, what about her Roy misses), Ad Astra‘s message would have felt much less one-sided. Going to such great lengths to show us that space/isolation is bad, but then being too lazy to show us how much better Earth/human connection is by comparison, feels like a big waste to me. Plus, having another actually fleshed out character for Brad Pitt to play off of probably would have helped keep those audience members who found the movie boring, invested.

There are a couple of smaller gripes I had with the movie that I could go on to discuss, like its inclusion of religious faith as a very underdeveloped theme, but I’ve already typed a lot more than I planned to. This film certainly made me think, I’ll give it that. I just wish its writers had given it a little more thought themselves.

Reaction Paper #1

One factor which makes a huge difference in the culture and toxicity of online communities is the level of anonymity they provide. After all, if no one can trace what you say back to you, you can say whatever you want without consequence – at least in theory. As Anil Dash brings up in the article “If your website’s full of assholes, it’s your fault”, there is a difference between the anonymity provided by having a pseudonym that you publish things to the community under, and true anonymity1. A prime example of this is tumblr: users have the ability to send each other “asks”, and they can choose whether or not to let the receiver see the name of the account that sent it. Anonymous asks have developed a negative reputation among the community, because people are more likely to send cruel asks to others when it can’t be traced back to them. 4chan is another community that is infamous for both the level of anonymity it provides its users and for generally being a very negative space.

Another factor in the level of tolerance an online community appears to have for hurtful behavior is the systems it has for dealing with said behavior. On Discord, for example, every server is run solely by the people who make it, and a select few others whom the server creators give moderation powers to. The server can easily become an unpleasant place to be under any of the following circumstances: the moderators are not active very often; there are very few of them compared to the overall number of people in the server; they are lenient on people who break the rules, or even actively support them and their toxic behavior. Even on sites like YouTube and Facebook that have corporations behind them and huge teams employed to monitor for content that breaks their Terms of Service, there is so much content posted regularly that keeping up with it is a monumental, if not impossible, task. 

On top of that, there is a mental and emotional cost for the people who take on such roles. Back in February, Casey Newton wrote an article for The Verge about the experiences of some of the people who review reported content on Facebook. Their job is a balance of “striving to purge Facebook of its worst content while protecting the maximum amount of legitimate (if uncomfortable) speech,” 2 and they are evaluated based on their efficiency and accuracy. The article goes over many sickening aspects of the situation, such as how employees are allotted very little break time because of the sheer number of posts there are to review. Exposure to horrific posts like video of people being killed causes many of the workers to develop PTSD or other mental illnesses, while consistent exposure to offensive humor and conspiracy theories bleeds into their personal lives and, seemingly antithetical to the purpose of the space, creates a working atmosphere where these things are tolerated. Most of the former employees interviewed for the article quit the job after a year3.

The main impression I took away from this article is how impossible it is to regulate online communities on a large scale. This is why I do my best to regulate which segments of online communities I participate in. For example, I used to be in a few different discord servers, but some of them occasionally posted political content from sources that I deeply distrusted, and some of the biggest members in those servers would repeatedly say casually bigoted things. When I realized that I couldn’t trust the mods of the servers to keep things on topic and crack down on the bigotry, I quietly left the servers, and have since been much more active in the couple I feel comfortable in. 

The readings I’ve done for this class, particularly the article by Jennifer Peepas for Coral, have only further reinforced that I made the right decision. She tailored her blog, Captain Awkward, to be a community where visitors are assured the opportunity to “have a reasonably civil and constructive discussion” centered “around the idea that there is power in speaking up…  It was always about the words”4. To me, this is the biggest part of being a digital citizen: regulating your own online experience to get the most out of it. Use the tools at your exposure, like blocking people and filtering tags, so you can have a good time in the communities you’re interested in. 

Works Cited

Dash, Anil. “If Your Website’s Full of Assholes, It’s Your Fault.” Anil Dash, Anil Dash, 20 July 2011,

Newton, Casey. “The Secret Lives of Facebook Moderators in America.” The Verge, Vox Media, 25 Feb. 2019,

Peepas, Jennifer. “Why Captain Awkward Wanted A Different Kind Of Comments.” The Coral Project Guides, Vox Media, 26 July 2017,