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.

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.

The Responsive City: Susan Crawford at the MIT Media Lab

Today at the Media Lab, we were joined by Susan Crawford, visiting professor at Harvard Law School and co-director of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society. Susan's last book, Captive Audience, focused on net neutrality. Her most recent book, The Responsive City, focuses on ways that cities are using data to support governance.

(this blog post was written by Nathan Matias and Ed Platt

"The most human technology we have is the Internet," Susan tells us. It gives us the ability to talk to the people we need to, when we need to. "I'm very worried about democracy," she tells us. This past midterm election had the lowest voter turnout in 72 years. At the same time as we have all time lows in participation, citizens are worried about issues of surveillance.

How to Identify Gender in Datasets at Large Scales, Ethically and Responsibly

A practical guide to methods and ethics of gender identification

For the past three years, I've been using methods to identify gender in large datasets to support research, design, and data journalism, supported by the Knight Foundation, with an amazing group of collaborators. In my Master's thesis, used these techniques to support inclusion of women in citizen journalism, the news, and collective aciton online. Last February, I was invited to give a talk about my work at the MIT Symposium on Gender and Technology, hosted by the MIT Program in Women's and Gender Studies. I have finally written the first part of the talk, a practical guide to methods and ethics of gender identification approaches.

How To Party Online

How do you party with a group of people across four continents? As a trustee of Awesome Knowledge, I'm looking for great ways to celebrate our community and congratulate our grantees. Every month or two, we give $1000 to an awesome project that spreads knowledge (learn more, and unlike most Awesome Foundations, we're a distributed group who have no shared geography. Most chapters conclude each grant cycle with a party, where a wide community is invited to celebrate as the grantee receives a big cheque or bag of money. After weeks of grant reviews and hard decisions, it's this party that often keeps the foundation Awesome.

Awesome Knowledge can't easily party in one place, so we're looking for ways to celebrate online.

Gratitude and its Dangers in Social Technologies

How do our designs change when we start emphasizing people and community and not just the things they do for us? Over the next year of my research, I'm exploring acknowledgment and gratitude, basic parts of online relationships that designers often set aside to focus on the tasks people do online.

In May of last year, Wikipedia added a "thanks" feature to its history page, enabling readers to thank contributors for helpful edits on a topic:

Thanks on Wikipedia July 28-30, 2014

HOPE X: Themes and Reflections

Image by Willow Brugh.

Over the weekend, I attended HOPE X, the 10th Hackers on Planet Earth conference, organized by 2600 Magazine. HOPE is my favorite hacker conference, and a strong contender for my favorite conference overall, because although content is tech-heavy, it's not really about technology. HOPE is a conference by and for those interested in the hacker ethos of free information, understanding the world, and empowerment to fix what is broken— including keynote speakers Edward Snowden and Daniel Ellsberg. So HOPE is a great place to think about the intersection of technology, journalism, and activism. Throughout the conference, I noticed several recurring themes.

Code Is Not Enough