msauter's blog | MIT Center for Civic Media

Identity and Presence Online

x-posted to Oddletters the Blog

Last week, I had the honor of speaking on one of the plenary panels at the Media in Transition conference at MIT. I talked about an idea I've been playing with, identity versus presence in the online space. People seemed interested in hearing a little more, so here are my thoughts on the subject right now.

The theme of the conference was public and private media, and there were lots of amazing panels talking about, in one way or another, performances, manifestations, usurpations, and repurposings of identity online. The presentations were brilliant, but as I'm coming down off of writing my masters thesis on activist DDOS actions (ten days till final submission!), I found myself thinking about the concept of "presence," and how the online space, and the civic space in general, is and is not structured to allow manifestations of presence over performances of identity.

Towards a New Framework for the Ethical Analysis of Activist DDOS Actions

In this project I am continuing my work on creating an framework for the ethical analysis of activist DDOS actions. Though distributed denial of service attacks have been used as a tool of digital activism for the past two decades, the past few years has seen an explosion in the popularization of the tactic and a sharp increase in the attention its use attracts from the media and state actors. All this attention has brought with it loud criticism from various stakeholders in the digital space, including other digital activists. However, both the tactic's critics and defenders seek to declare the tactic as a whole good or bad, without a nuanced understanding of the variety of circumstances and contexts which can render the tactic's use ethical or unethical. In this paper, I aim to lay down the preliminaries for a framework by which to perform an ethical analysis of activist DDOS actions.

My Adventures at NewsFoo

x-posted from

Sometime between the power outage Thursday night that left most of Cambridge in the dark and severely messed with my ability to construct my Ignite slide deck, and getting up at 5AM to catch a taxi to the airport, I started to have serious doubts about whether I should go to NewsFoo at all. Reading over the guest list (NewsFoo is a by-invitation conference) was an exercise in “Oh God, everyone is so much more awesome than me.” NewsFoo also fell on an end-of-the-semester weekend packed with PhD application deadlines and final papers I should really be working on. I was plagued with anxiety about my Ignite talk crashing and burning, being too shy to talk to any of the big name journalists and tech heads in attendance, and generally being the most awkward person in the room for three whole days.

You guys, it was so not like that at all.

Fun Fun FOIA

A FOIA, or Freedom of Information Act, request is supposed to be a way for the average citizen to reveal information and documents controlled by the federal government. Anyone can file a FOIA request for pretty much damn near everything, and in Intro to Civic Media we started that process a few weeks ago.

The State of the Research: DDOS and Doxxing

My work on my final project for Intro to Civic Media, an examination of the ethics of activist distributed denial of service attacks, continues apace. I've got a good pile of primary sources from groups that have historically engaged in activist DDOS actions, including the Electronic Disturbance Theater and the electrohippies, as well as my ever growing stash of Anonymous-related materials. I'm also looking more deeply into some recent DDOS actions in Russia, as well as older actions like the etoys action in 1999 and the "help-israel-win" campaign (Ethan has a good write up about that campaign here). This paper is about drawing an ethical spectrum that can be applied to DDOS actions, so I want to be sure to include actions that are ethically indefensible as well as those that are ethically appropriate uses of the tactic, and those that muddle around somewhere in the middle. If anyone has any ideas for sources I should be looking at or actions I should explore, please let me know!

Is the election over yet?

I may be a little tired of the election news cycle.

In class this week we made up NewsJacks of the CNN and Fox News front pages from Wednesday night. Despite the fact that the Northeast was still being wracked by the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, CNN felt it was necessary to *still* make one of its "above the fold" headlines about the election: namely "Can storms ruin election campaigns?"

God, I can only hope so.

I've noticed that CNN formats its webpages to be filled with lines and lines of tiny type, perhaps to maximize the appearance of constantly cranking out content. I tweaked some of those subheadings to underscore that practice.

There is also some commentary on gourd-on-gourd violence if you scroll down far enough.

Enjoy, and Happy Halloween (in the past)!

My value to Facebook? Not a whole hell of a lot, probably

In Sasha's class last week we tried to calculate our value to the online social networks we participate in. In the equation my partner and I created, we took into account three variables: Biodata, Influence, and System Value. Our equation is: (Biodata + System Value) to the power of Influence = Value of the User

We defined Biodata as anything that is contained within the social network's conception of the user as an individual, so their written bios, the content of their posts and comments, the things they "like" or retweet, the ads they click through, and their personal interaction patterns. Basically, we consider the Biodata variable to be an estimation of the social network's knowledge about who you are, based on the information you've given it.

The Influence variable is drawn from a number of factors, including the size of your personal social network, the intensity of your interaction with the members of your network, and how your content spreads within your networks and the networks outside your own. This is essentially the "Klout Score Variable."

The Ethics of Activist DDOS Actions: A Historical Analysis

For the last year and a half or so, I've been studying the use of distributed denial of service attacks in activism. This is part of a larger analysis of the practice of civil disobedience in an online context, an exploration which has taken me into hacktivism in the 1990s and early 2000s, doxxing and human flesh search on the Chinese internet, and Anonymous in the present day. Last year I wrote a paper on the evolving design of activist DDOS tools, and how changes in those designs affected the participant population in a number of different actions over the course of a decade and a half. This year I want to push forward on a ethical framework for these actions, something that will allow for an analysis of the aims, methods, and outcomes of these actions, and a judgement on the ethics of the action, and (hopefully) the long-range political viability of the tactic and civil disobedience online as a whole.

New year at Civic!

Hello all again! This is Molly Sauter. I'm a second year graduate student in Comparative Media Studies and at RA here at the Center for Civic Media. I took the Networked Social Movements class last semester, and this semester I'm looking forward to spending more time poking at the function of technology in social movements and protest.