natematias's blog | MIT Center for Civic Media

The Meaning and Downsides of Academic Fellowship: What I Learned by Receiving the Harvey Fellowship

What does it mean to receive an academic fellowship? Are fellowships just polite language for recognition and money? Or do great fellowships offer something deeper by giving us meaningful networks of friendship and support?

Fighting Racial Bias with Big Science: Calvin Lai on Mass Cooperation and Open Knowledge in the Social Sciences

How are mass collaboration and open data changing the ways we do social science? While we're used to thinking about data science as a major impact of computation on the study of human behavior, changes in scientific collaboration are driving even more fundamental change in the study of human behavior. In recent years for example, the Reproducibility Project: Psychology coordinated over 270 authors to attempt replications of published findings in psycholog. The working method they developed could dramatically improve the quality and rate of experimental knowledge, even as it revealed serious weaknesses in the slower single-study approach that has been more common.

Finding other Christians in Computer Science at CHI 2016

Academic conferences offer many great moments to connect with other people who share passions and interests. In that spirit, Robin Brewer (PhD candidate, Northwestern) and I hosted a coffee break for Christians at CHI 2016 this year.

Christian Coffee Break at CHI 2016

Before posing for this photo, we paused to pray for each other and for everyone attending the conference. It can be hard to convey the remarkable sense of peace and encouragement that something simple like group prayer can bring.

How do Social media Shape Collective Action? Helen Margetts at the MIT Media Lab

How does the changing use of social media affect politics?

Today at the Media Lab, Helen Margetts of the Oxford Internet Institute joined us to talk about a new book with Peter John, Scott Hale and Taha Yasseri, Political Turbulence: How Social Media Shape Collective Action. Ethan Zuckerman facilitated the conversation.

The Effects of Surveillance and Copyright Law on Speech: Jon Penney at Berkman

What effects do laws and surveillance have on the exercise of freedoms online?

Today, the Berkman Center welcomed Jon Penney (@jon_penney), who is finishing his D.Phil at the University of Oxford, to talk about his dissertation research on chilling effects. Jon is a lawyer, Oxford researcher, and a research fellow at the the University of Toronto's Citizen Lab.

What is a chilling effect? The idea, theorized in a US context by Schauer in 1978, was that laws might have an effect on legal, protected, and desired activities. Judges have been skeptical about this idea. In Laird v Tatum, judges claimed that chilling effects were not a 'cognizable' injury. In response to recent NSA cases, chilling effects were dismissed as too speculative. Scholars agree. Kendrick argued that chilling effects have a "flimsy" empirical basis. Many open questions remain, including the magnitude of chilling effects and their reach. In his dissertation, Jon set out to answer some of those questions.

reddit Moderators: Let's Test Theories of Moderation Together

Are you a reddit moderator or the creator of software to support moderation (bots, browser plugins, etc)? Do you have questions about the effectiveness of your tools or your approach to moderation?

Over the next few months, I'm looking for moderators, tool-builders, and experienced community members to design moderation experiments together to answer questions or debates that your subreddits have about moderation. TLDRAre you involved in debates about the impact of subreddit moderation policies on your communities? Let's Talk! If you are interested, send me reddit mail at /u/natematias or participate in the /r/TheoryOfReddit conversation about this research.

Designing The Numbers That Govern Wikipedia: Aaron Halfaker on Machine Learning in Large-Scale Open Production

How can we engineer open production at scale, and what can we learn from feminist critiques of technology that could help us achieve those goals? At the Berkman Center this Tuesday (video), Aaron Halfaker talked about the challenges of scaling large-scale cooperation, the values that motivate efforts to keep that cooperation going, and lessons from Feminist Science and Technology Studies for maintaining large-scale socio-technical endeavors like Wikipedia.

Monitoring, Explaining, and Intervening: Field Experiments and Social Justice

What role can field experiments and other causal research play in efforts toward social justice in social computing? Aren't experiments tools for reductionistic, top-down paternalism? How could causal inference ever support grassroots approaches to social justice?

This question is a central struggle in my effort to decide a dissertation topic. The idea of participatory experimentation motivated me to work on the cornhole experiment. It was also at the back of my mind in my talk on discrimination and other social problems online at the Platform Cooperativism conference (start at 1:00:30 mark). In this post, I outline my current thinking on this question.  I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Mentorship, Intellectual Freedom, and a Great Environment For Research: My MSR Internship at the Social Media Collective

The hardest part of being a PhD intern at the Social Media Collective last summer happened on weekday mornings. On those mornings, when I joined the optional Writing Power Hour, we would sit together at a long table overlooking the Charles River and write. For one or two hours, we committed to silence, collectively focusing on our work.

For a community of caring scholars who love sharing ideas and love to be with each other, staying quiet was no small challenge-- and not just because Tarleton Gillespie and Mary Gray seem full of energy and perpetually on the cusp of a mischievous joke. Everyone is just too curious to stay in their own heads for very long.

A New Starting Point for Understanding Online Harassment

If you're a platform designer or a researcher just starting to look into the issue of online harassment, where is a good place to start? To help you out, we have created an Online Harassment Resource Guide, which covers academic research on the topic.

In the months after I led the research team on a peer reviewed report about harassment on Twitter, many designers, platform operators, and advocates have asked me if there's any academic research about online harassment and what it says. As a researcher, I felt the opposite problem. Online harassment and abuse have motivated so much research that it can be hard to wade through it all, especially because the research often appears in fields that rarely talk to each other. In many cases, designers and advocates propose great ideas that have also been tried elsewhere, approaches whose benefits and problems have already been discussed at length.

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