natematias's blog

Common Questions About Our Online Harassment Report

The process of reporting and responding to online harassment is the least understood and arguably most important part of the problem. Most of what we know about receiving harassment comes from the small number of people who are courageous enough to face the risk of telling their personal stories.

Maeve Duggan's recent Pew report about online harassment helps us understand the experience of harassment across a nationally-representative sample, but efforts by companies to address online harassment are still mostly secret. For all sorts of safety, legal, and business fears, companies are reluctant to reveal the details of how they enforce their policies around harassment and hate speech. So when Women, Action, and the Media approached me to analyze Twitter harassment reports collected over three weeks with the informed consent of participants, I knew it was a unique opportunity to grow our understanding of the problem.

Recent Articles and Blog Posts at The Atlantic and Microsoft Research

In the past month, I've been privileged to publish two articles in The Atlantic's Technology section and several posts over at Microsoft Research's Social Media Collective. I'm posting links to them here so anyone following on RSS or checking my archives can be aware of them.

The Tragedy of the Digital Commons: Advocates for fairer, safer online spaces are turning to the conservation movement for inspiration:
“How do you fix a broken system that isn't yours to repair?” In this Atlantic article, I look at the work of community volunteers to offer peer support and also advocate for change, in online platforms like Amazon Mechanical Turk, and along Boston's Charles River. I try to set out a long-term hope for what it might mean to be proud of our online spaces in the long term.

Legal Risks to Creative Innovation and Research at College: NJ Drops Its Investigation of MIT Students

Eighteen months after winning a hackathon innovation prize for a clever idea of a new online content business model, the MIT undergraduates who created Tidbit are finally free from the legal nightmare attracted by their proof of concept. Earlier this week, the New Jersey Attorney General dropped their investigation of the students, ending a case that hung over these students for a third of their undergraduate education. I'm incredbily relieved for the Tidbit undergrads, though I'm disappointed and upset that they had to face this legal challenge for so long.

In this post, I want to share what we're doing to figure out how to prevent similar problems in the future, or at least to better support other innovative student projects with legal problems. For more about the Tidbit case, you can read Jeremy Rubin's post, an update by the EFF, and a blog post by Ethan Zuckerman. I strongly suggest you read them.

Anti-Oppressive Design: From Theory to Praxis: Jill Dimond at CivicMIT

This post was liveblogged by J. Nathan Matias, Ethan Zuckerman, Erhardt Graeff, Lilia Kilburn, with illustrations by Willow Brugh

Jill Dimond lives in Ann Arbor Michigan, and hails from rural Western Michigan. The logo for her company, Sassafras, evokes the shape of the state of Michigan. After a degree at the university of Michigan, she moved into industry, working on the App Inventor project, and then completed her PhD at Georgia Tech in Human Centric Design in 2012. Most recently, Jill is a worker owner at Sassafras Tech Collective, a worker owned technology cooperative based in Ann Arbor, and they focus on research and technology for social justice.

Civic Values in Technology Design: Read Along With Me!

When people in society come together to collectively perform a task -- from cleaning up a park to organizing around a cause-- the benefits of their cooperation extend far beyond the specific task at hand. People get to know each other, build bonds of trust, argue their understanding of a situation, and often form long-lasting partnerships, organizations, and communities for learning and action. Within cooperative technologies, these civic and community values are not easily computable. As a result, it is easy to pass over these values in favor of improving the performance of a task, increasing the number of petition signatures, or measuring the immediate outcomes of a social action. A core theme of my work at MIT has been to imagine how new kinds of measures more aligned with civic values, community, and social justice might transform our technology designs and our social interactions online. 

Using Randomized Trials in Policy: Oliver Hauser on the UK Behavioural Insights Team

How can policymakers conduct randomized trials and incorporate them into their policymaking? Over the summer, Oliver Hauser, a PhD student at Harvard, worked at the Behavioural Insights Team in London (@B_I_Tweets), sometimes called the "nudge unit." Yesterday at the Cooperation Working Group that I co-facilitate with Brian Keegan, Oliver shared with us the work that the nudge unit has done before opening up the conversation for discussion.

At Harvard, Oliver works with the Harvard Business School and at the Program for Evolutionary Dynamics at Harvard. He is also author of a recent Nature article: "Cooperating With the Future." Oliver's research focuses on cooperation and pro-sociality, and he often works with organizations using randomized experiments and using the term "Behavioural insight," when he uses research from behavioral sciences applies it in the world.

Supporting Change from Outside Systems with Design and Data: Stuart Geiger on Successor Systems

Are social computing and data science just tools for the powerful, or can they be used to question power and reshape the structures that influence us? It's a question I've been wondering as I've watched civic tech & academic communities idolize the employees and "alums" of big corporations and governments-- partly because of the resources they have, and partly because it seems like these companies are the sole gatekeepers of social experiments and large-scale interventions to influence society.

Gratitude, Credit, and Exchange Online: Flickr Selling CC Images Is About More than The Money

Last week, Yahoo! announced that Flickr would start selling prints of Creative Commons licensed photos, and that they would only pay some of the photographers. Some commentators, like Jeffrey Zeldman, see it as a breach of good will. Mike Masnick at Techdirt argues that this is a victory for open licensing, which "is about giving up control so that other people can benefit." Ben Werdmuller, co-founder of Indieweb social platform Known, argues that users don't understand the license, and that we need to give creators more clear controls.

Researching Love and Thanks on Wikipedia: CrowdCamp Hackathon Report

"Change favors the prepared," Louis Pasteur once famously noted in a lecture on the nature of scientific observation. The best academic events create moments of highly likely inspiration, and the luckiest ones bring that inspiration into action. That happened for Emily Harburg and me this weekend at CrowdCamp, a two day intensive hackathon on crowdsourcing and social computing research.

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