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.

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

Learning from Political Experiments and Information Cascades on Facebook

This is a liveblog of Lada Adamic's plenary keynote from Political Networks 2014.

When your friends deliver the news
Lada Adamic is a Data Scientist at Facebook and former associate professor at the University of Michigan's School of Information. Her talk is entitled "When your friends deliver the news." Using studies based on Facebook data, she invites us to think about factors of social networks that affect the spread of information.

She opens with a set of questions and concerns raised by the idea of your talk's title: what happens when your friends deliver the news through what they share on Facebook...

  • How is your exposure affected? (Your friends are not a random sample of the population nor are they mainstream media journalists.)
  • Does it affect political engagement? (How interested you are or likely to vote.)
  • What do social movements look like? How does success propagate?
  • How does any information spread, is it predictable?
  • Is it reliable?

Lada shows us the top five most shared stories from a year ago (i.e. June 2013):

  1. Drowning doesn't look like drowning (Slate)
  2. Boy's death highlights a hidden danger: Dry drowning (Today Show piece containing substantial misinformation)
  3. 22 Maps that Show how american speak English totally different from one other (Business Insider maps that were later integrated in the most read NYT story of 2013)
  4. Edward Snowden: the whistleblower behind the NSA surveillance revelations (The Guardian)
  5. 8 Foods we eat in the us that are banned in other countries (Buzzfeed)

She tells us that women in their 40s read the drowning pieces, whereas men in their 20s read the Snowden piece. There are definitely clusters of people more likely to read certain stories. But Lada asks: Is there a filter bubble? Do we get echo chambers, especially across political lines?

Using information from users' profile pages, Lada and team members rated what people's political leanings were: very liberal, moderately liberal, moderately conservative, very conservative. And they coded the different news sites by what was read by users of certain political leanings: from ThinkProgress on the far Left to FoxNews on the far right. They found that content skews liberal in aggregate over Facebook even though ideology is balanced. There is simply more liberal content shared by all users on the network. Lada cites Duncan Watts' Friend Sense app research, and asks: Can we understand what the egonetwork of a conservative looks like?

People's friends aren't exclusive to their political beliefs. They found that the distribution of friendships skews toward their own political leaning but still retains some balance across the spectrum. Then they looked at the interactive patterns between users and news across the political spectrum, breaking them down into four buckets of user-news interaction:

  • Potential: all of the news your friends are sharing
  • Exposed: what showed up in your news feed (balanced diet of liberal and conservative for conservative users)
  • Selected: what was clicked on (no effect, they were clicked on in proportion to what showed up in feed)
  • Endorsed: what is liked this is where the difference exists, conservatives are much less likely to endorse liberal news

They found that endorsement was the key difference between users of conservative versus liberal ideology. Conservative users were significantly less likely to endorse liberal news, even though they were served and even clicked to read liberal news at similar rates to the liberal users.

Research by Solomon Messing and Eytan Bakshy looked at and experimented with activity on Facebook prior to the 2012 election. The treatment involved adding more political news in certain users' news feeds. (Edit: Lada later clarified to me that the treatment involved adding more news content of all kinds to certain users' news feeds, not just political news. - EG, Oct 29 2014) They found that people reported being more interested in politics and government when, unbenkownst to them, they were getting more news in their feed. There was a greater effect for users that don't log in everyday, since people who log in everyday are more likely to read everything. The treatment group also reported they were more likely to vote, with a stronger effect again on less regular users.