erhardt's blog | MIT Center for Civic Media

Mobile Security Primer for Activists

Signal Logo

At MIT's Day of Action, Nathan Freitas of Guardian Project led a workshop on mobile security for activists, focusing on various secure messaging apps available today, touching on their benefits and risks for different kinds of activities and communities.

Common messaging apps (and their secure setting)

  • Conversations (default, can also interface with other secure XMPP apps like ChatSecure and Zom)
  • Facebook Messenger (secret conversations setting)
  • iMessage (only for messages to another iPhone/iMessage users, i.e. "blue" messages)
  • Signal (default)
  • WhatsApp (default)

All of these apps transfer messages over the internet via your data plan. SMS messages are never encrypted and can additionally be seen by your telephone company, which is particularly insecure because metadata from phone companies can be acquired without a warrant. Instead, internet-based messaging apps can be secured using "end to end" encryption with their secure settings. This means that messages are encrypted and then conveyed over encrypted connections (HTTPS/TLS) between phones and servers.

It's important to understand what each service knows about its users and what it stores. This may include:

  • When you are connected to the internet
  • Your phone number for user identity purposes (thus, they can look up your name at the phone company)
  • Your network of friends, IF you uploaded your contact book

Because of end to end encryption, these companies generally don't have access to your messages unless you are using them on an insecure setting like green messages on iMessage (actually sent by SMS) or non-secret Facebook Messengers messages. Because of this companies under subpoena can only provide metadata, not the messages themselves. 

The Civic State of the Union

The is a liveblog of the “The Civic State of the Union” panel on March 7, 2017, part of the Tisch College Distinguished Speaker Series at Tufts University. The video is on YouTube. Note: this is not a transcript, any errors are mine.

Panel

Panelists
* Robert D. Putnam, Harvard University
* Shirley Sagawa, Service Year Alliance
* Peter Levine, Tufts University
* Mara Liasson, NPR (moderator)

Is the Civic State of the Union strong, and if not how do we go about strengthening it?

Research Ethics in Social Computing: A Discussion

This is a liveblog of the town hall discussion "CSCW Research Ethics Town Hall: Working Towards Community Norms" at CSCW 2017.

Panelists from the SIGCHI Ethics Committee

The SIGCHI Ethics Committee is charged with helping facilitate community conversations—helping social norms emerge from the community. This should help refine ACM’s policies and procedures. The Committee does not make decisions about what is ethical. Bruckman also sits on ACM COPE which works on ACM’s Code of Conduct (which was written before the Web existed).

Bruckman and Feisler start the town hall off by reflecting on how traditional human subjects rules were written for medical research. This is often a poor fit for social science, internet environment, methods that involve stakeholders as full partners, and interventions in public places.

Common open questions in research ethics across computer science communities include how we develop ethical standards that work cross-nationally and cross-disciplinarily. Serious issues involve data privacy and legality with respect to “public” data and platform terms of service, and how to secure truly informed consent. The following are the questions and comments discussed during the town hall.

Social Justice and Design panel at CSCW 2017

This is a liveblog of the Social Justice and Design panel at the CSCW 2017 conference.

Panelists:

Accidental Activists Or: Why I Burst Into Tears during a Research Interview
Shaowen Bardzell

How do we consider CSCW research and activist through personal stories? Bardzell wove her own personal story as a researcher with one of the online activists she studied.

Lessons from Fighting Swiss Right-Wing Populism: Flavia Kleiner and Operation Libero

Flavia Kleiner and Operation Libero logo

In early 2016, Operation Libero, an anti-populist movement cofounded by history student Flavia Kleiner, 26, successfully defeated an anti-immigrant Swiss ballot initiative. The "enforcement" initiative, sponsored by the nationalist Swiss People’s Party (SVP), would have ordered the deportation of immigrants in Switzerland for any criminal offense, no matter how minor. Often, initiative sponsors like the SVP frame such issues in terms of Swiss values and innocuous outcomes for citizens to control the narrative and reduce the potential for negative response. In this case, the SVP initiative followed a long and bruising federal election, and their usual political opponents were exhausted and out of funds to fight the initiative. So Kleiner and friends built a grassroots movement and coalition for "No" on the enforcement initiative to re-frame the issue, reclaim Swiss values, and drive attention to the anti-immigrant initiative. The successful effort has since blossomed into a suite of campaigns under Operation Libero to oppose populist and illiberal rhetoric more broadly.

The Activism of Anna Deavere Smith's Notes from the Field

Anna Deavere Smith in "Notes from the Field: Doing Time in Education." Photo: Evgenia Eliseeva

By Ethan Zuckerman and Erhardt Graeff

One of the best tricks educators can use is the technique of pulling students out of the classroom to encounter the issues we're studying in the "real world." So it's a gift when an artist of the calibre of Anna Deavere Smith opens a new work in Cambridge just as the semester is starting. And given that our lab, the Center for Civic Media, studies how making and disseminating media can lead to civic and social change through movements like Black Lives Matter, a three-hour performance about the school-to-prison pipeline is an unprecedented pedagogical gift. A dozen of us made our way to the American Repertory Theatre at the end of August for a performance we'll likely discuss for the rest of the academic year.

Deavere Smith's work is often referred to as "documentary theatre," and Notes From The Field: Doing Time In Education follows a model she's rightly been celebrated for. Portraying individuals she's interviewed while researching a controversial topic, she recreates their physical tics and speech patterns on stage, telling their stories—and the work's larger narrative—through their original words.

Part of what makes this work is Deavere Smith's ungodly skill at mimicry. As it happened, the first character she portrayed during Notes From The Field is a friend of Ethan's—Sherrilyn Ifill, director of the NAACP's Legal Defense Fund—and when he closed his eyes, the rhythm of her speech was so similar to Sherrilyn's voice, he thought it must be a recording. In the next scene, as Deavere Smith donned orange waders to become a 6'4" 300-pound Native American fisherman, we were all willing to suspend any disbelief.

No Permission, No Apology Opening Keynote by Megan Smith

Megan Smith

This is a liveblog of a talk by Megan Smith, US CTO and MIT Corporation Member. The No Permission, No Apology conference will provide opportunities to develop the professional and personal skills that can help women navigate spaces not necessarily created with them in mind. This will also be a chance for men to better understand how to foster inclusiveness, bridge divides, and serve as effective allies. (Liveblog by Erhardt Graeff and Rahul Bhargava)

 

How do we make sure everyone on the planet is fully included in solving the hardest challenges in the world?

We never see black technical women in movies like we do in the upcoming Hidden Figures—the new film featuring black women engineers on the moon mission. It's untrue and it's debilitating.  We never see people like Margaret Hamilton, who coined the term software engineering and led the source code development for the lunar lander. We wouldn't have landed on the moon if she had not architected the software in a way that we address memory issues.

We had female astronauts who went through the training with the male astronauts, but were never allowed to fly. We never made spacesuits for them. But they passed all the tests and in some cases better than the men. "Stereotype Threat" is a danger that leads us to question whether women are able to do the task. People never think that about men. 

Forbidden Research liveblog: Hacking Culture at MIT

liveblog by Willow Brugh, Natalie Gyenes, and me

Speaker: Liz George, MIT Alum Class of 2008 and MIT Hacker

Liz starts by defining hacking as any good scientific endeavor begins.

Hacking, (noun)

  1. A project without a constructive end
  2. An unusual and original solution to a problem
  3. An activity that tests the limits of skill, imagination, and wits.

If you can build a model of the system, you can push it to its limit or test a system in a way you'd never otherwise be able to do.

Hacking, (verb)

Political Bots, Subverting Twitter, and the Online Political Practices of Estonian Youth at AoIR16

Political Work Panel

This is a liveblog from the “Political Work" panel at AoIR16 on October 24, 2015 in Phoenix, AZ. This is not a transcript but recreation of people’s comments. Any errors are my own.

Architecture for Understanding the Automated Imaginary: A Working Qualitative Methodology for Research on Political Bots
Norah Abokhodair, Samuel Woolly, Philip Howard & David McDonald

This paper is led by Norah Abokhodair, is developing a working method for qualitative analyzing political bots. Summarized here: http://politicalbots.org/?p=314. Their research question: How are bots being used for political purposes?

They started with a set of definitions:

  • Bot = a software program that automates ‘human’ tasks on the web
  • Political bot = social bots, engage with human users. They mainly function on social media and are used to further specific political causes (for good, ill, or in-between)

The project has a three part research process: 1) comparative event data set, 2) international fieldwork with bot coders, and 3) computational theory building. The international field work involves interviews with people who build bots and track bots as well. We’ve looked into government contractors that track bots to combat activism online.

This paper focuses on stage one of the research: building the comparative event data set. They are documenting cases of political bot usage. They gather all media coverage of bot use around the world, and then use multi-coder content analysis of the media reports. They started in Hungary with students at Central European University, and triple coded all the media. They developed a Google Form that the coders would follow when coding each course.

The output of this is the contextual understandings of 100+ unique cases of political bot usage across 40+ countries. They noticed that anytime there was a political crisis or election there was use of political bots to manipulate public opinion. 

Private Platforms under Public Pressure at AoIR16

This is a liveblog from the “Private Platforms under Public Pressure" roundtable at AoIR16 on October 23, 2015 in Phoenix, AZ. This is not a transcript but recreation of people’s comments. Any errors are my own.

This roundtable featured scholars J. Nathan Matias, Tarleton Gillespie, Christian Sandvig, Mike Ananny, and Karine Nahon working on both critical and constructive appropriates to defining the roles and responsibilities of platforms, the governance of those systems by users, corporations, algorithms, and states, and the question of where we are at our public consciousness of what it means to have a new definition for or new socio-technical system called a platform.

Each panelist reflected on what brought them to the research topic and also on the panel theme: What happens to private platforms when they are put under public pressure? They found much left to explore in the topic: many questions were raised and the need for more research and new approaches was clear. 

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