Recent news from the Center for Civic Media | MIT Center for Civic Media

Recent news from the Center for Civic Media

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: 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. 

Bot-Based Collective Blocklists in Twitter: The Counterpublic Moderation of a Privately-Owned Networked Public Space

Here at the 16th conference of the Association of Internet Researchers, I attended a talk by Stuart Geiger, who is doing helpful work to theorize the role of block bots in conversation on the Internet. Over the years, Stuart's thinking has been deeply influential to my own approach. I've written about his work twice before, in my Atlantic article about how people work to fix broken systems that aren't theirs to repair. I've also liveblogged a great talk he gave on supporting change from the outside platforms.

Stuart opens by saying that block bots are systems where anti-harassment activists have developed algorithmic software agents to deal with harassment, relatively independently from Twitter. Blockbots involve different kinds of gatekeeping than what we typically think about. It's different from algorithmic gatekeeping (Tufekci), network gatekeeping (Nahon), or filter bubbles (Pariser). How can we make sense of it?

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. 

Online Vigilantes, the Wikipedia GamerGate Controversy, Ethics of Bots at AOIR 16

I'm here at the 16th AOIR conference liveblogging a session on ethics. You can see the abstracts and papers here.

To start out Mathias Klang gives a talk about "online vigilantism," On The Internet Nobody Can See Your Cape: The ethics of online vigilantism. What is online vigilantism? Mathias talks about large-scale online responses to the Justine Sacco case, the infamous smiling selfie from Auschwitz, the dentist who shot cecil the lion, the woman who put a cat in a bin in Coventry. Most of these events don't go to court; they are actions that lead us to be annoyed somehow, says Mathias.

Black Lives Matter Activism through Blogging, Gaming, Hashtags, and Citizen Journalism

Black Lives Matter activism

This is a liveblog from the "#BlackLivesMatter: At the Intersection of Racial Politics and Digital Activism" panel at AoIR16 on October 22, 2015 in Phoenix, AZ. Any errors here are my own.

This panel features four anti-racist, feminist scholars, showcasing how we as researchers take on the role of documenting and amplifying the work that activists are doing already online. Catherine Knight Steele talks about the creation of digital black feminisim in blogging communities. Kishonna L. Gray talks about activist gaming in service to Blacks Lives Matter. Jenny Ungbha Korn talks about themes of racialized imagery in #iftheygunnedmedown on Tumblr. And Sarah Florini talks about This Week in Blackness's brand of citizen journalism around Ferguson.

When the Black Lives that Matter are Not Our Own: Social Justice and a Digital Black Feminism
Catherine Knight Steele

How are our women of color reimagining black feminism online? Black Lives Matter was started by three queer women of color. And its important to remember that even in studying marginalized communities, there are those that are even more marginalized.

Steele carefully frames this as “Digital Black Feminism,” building on literatures of black oral culture, alternative publics, black feminism in response to exclusion, and voice and democratic participation. Preserving black oral culture online is a key part of the cultural practice. Moreover, transferring offline black oral culture online represents efficiency of communication rather than perceived deficiencies.

Unfortunately, digital black feminism has also been excluded from traditional norms of black feminism. Steele studied the blogging community For Harriet, which functions as a kind of "digital barbershop," an enclave that represents a particular context of culture necessary to gain entry. 


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