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

Recent news from the Center for Civic Media

Forget joint ventures: BCIC are coopting investment...

Bustling into Clover in Harvard Sq. in the early evening of November 3rd and scanning the faces there, you probably wouldn’t have noticed anything out of the ordinary. Maybe, if you’d been looking for it, you would have noticed a rather expansive gaggle of people on the central downstairs table. You might have even bothered to ponder why the gaggle was  gathered so tightly despite the surrounding spare seats - but you probably wouldn’t have.

The members of the Boston Cooperative Investment Club do not immediately strike one as strange. Yet, if you talk to them, you realise that what they’re doing is quite extraordinary. The twenty or so people gathered round the table were all there as members, officers or interested parties of the BCIC, a club that raises money to invest in cooperatives and, as they say on their website, ‘organizations and associations that support cooperatives’.

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. 

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. 

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