social networks | MIT Center for Civic Media

Social networks, or online communities, in the context of civic media work are web sites organized to enable individuals to connect with one another and to share information, photos, videos, and personal reflections.

High Impact Questions And Opportunities for Online Harassment Research and Action

Online harassment has been an enduring and evolving social concern for over 40 years, yet many of the most urgent empirical questions for public well-being and freedom remain unexplored. Nor can our answers currently evolve at the pace of socio-technical change.

On August 17th and 18th, we worked with Jigsaw to convene 35 researchers, advocates, and platform representatives to identify and advance high impact research about online harassment. Together, we have just finished a public report on our conversation:

[pdf] High Impact Questions And Opportunities for Online Harassment Research and Action

How should you use this report? We created this document to share what we learned and to draw attention to research projects led by our workshop participants. If you see a question or a project that you're interested in, we encourage you to contact the people listed with the project.

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.

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.

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.

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. 

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. 

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.