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.

What is going on in Brazil?

In recent days, Brazil has enacted its own “Spring”. It began with demonstrations in São Paulo against a 10-cent increase in bus fares. Last week, the protest was harshly repressed by the military police, but their brutality produced an unexpected outcome. The majority of the population, which had been looking with displeasure at the isolated episodes of vandalism that accompanied the demonstrations, became sympathetic to the protesters’ cause after watching the government’s violent reaction.

On Tuesday, more than 200,000 people took to the streets of the main cities across the country. In São Paulo, they were 60,000. In Rio, around 100,000. These have been the biggest demonstrations since the impeachment of Brazilian president Fernando Collor de Mello in 1992, after a corruption scandal.

Robin Chase and Nick Grossman’s hopes for the sharing economy

Photo by @brianquinn

Robin Chase (@rmchase), founder of ZipCar and BuzzCar, started the first company WAY back in 2000. It made renting a car as convenient as owning car, and "right-sized the asset", meaning you only pay for what you use. In addition to huge savings and new freedoms for consumers, this meant fewer cars sitting around unused in cities.

But less obviously, Zipcar stretched the definitions of "consumers" and "producers" in an economy. Robin prefers 'collaborators' as a more modern term. The company's success hinged on the assumption that most people are good. That trust, and bond with their customers, was key to creating the company.

Skype, Facebook, eBay, YouTube, Wikipedia, et al do the same thing: take excess capacity (sharing) and combine it with a platform for participation. Robin's slept in all kinds of beds, from hotels to a teenager's bedroom.

#FBrape campaign scores quick victory against Facebook hate speech

How many major brands need to pull their advertising from Facebook to affect its policies governing speech?

One, apparently.

Last week I wrote up the #FBrape campaign's strategy: to hold Facebook accountable for the misogynistic content of its users by pressuring advertisers. Only seven days after the open letter was published, Marne Levine, Facebook's VP of Global Publicy Policy, published a response agreeing to the campaign's demands to better train the company's moderators, improve reporting processes, and hold offending users more accountable for the content they publish.

Identity and Presence Online

x-posted to Oddletters the Blog

Last week, I had the honor of speaking on one of the plenary panels at the Media in Transition conference at MIT. I talked about an idea I've been playing with, identity versus presence in the online space. People seemed interested in hearing a little more, so here are my thoughts on the subject right now.

The theme of the conference was public and private media, and there were lots of amazing panels talking about, in one way or another, performances, manifestations, usurpations, and repurposings of identity online. The presentations were brilliant, but as I'm coming down off of writing my masters thesis on activist DDOS actions (ten days till final submission!), I found myself thinking about the concept of "presence," and how the online space, and the civic space in general, is and is not structured to allow manifestations of presence over performances of identity.

Encouraging Flexibility from Social Media Giants: How We Get Private Platforms to Support Public Speech

There are many problems with using commercial technology platforms to host democratic, social, or activist content and communications. These problems came up in multiple sessions at the National Conference on Media Reform last weekend. There are also obvious reasons to continue using these platforms (audience reach, most notably), and so we do. Some activist efforts that silo communications on more open, but relatively unknown platforms strike me as irresponsible, if the goal is to reach as many people as possible (but this is a fine line). The more I think about this issue, though, the more I see potential solutions and a future in working with the platform providers to build some degree of flexibility into their products and policies.

soapbox at #ncmr13
The spot on the carpet reserved for public ranting at #NCMR13

81 Ways Humanitarian Aid has Become Participatory

Update: I've since posted my full thesis and a short summary of it.

My Media Lab Master's thesis argues that information and communication technologies, and particularly the web, have expanded the range of ways the public can help in times of crisis, even (or especially) if we're nowhere near said crisis. Or, to be more formal about it, participatory aid is mutual, peer-to-peer aid mediated or powered by information and communication technology. We're building a platform to help coordinate participatory aid projects, but first, I wanted to share some examples.

Google NegativeSEO: Case Study in User-Generated Censorship

The origin myth is as familiar as that of any dominant empire. Romulus and Remus Larry Page and Sergey Brin met as graduate students at Stanford. Page, casting about for a dissertation topic, settled on the Web as a graph of links. He and Brin began building a program called BackRub which would “crawl” the graph, visiting and counting links between pages, and aggregate the weighted counts into a value called PageRank. This value, they claimed, constituted “an objective measure of its citation importance that corresponds well with people's subjective idea of importance.” BackRub became Google, a prototype search engine which, powered by PageRank, incorporated user input into its ranking algorithm.

At first, Page and Brin were not only confident that they’d built a better search engine, but, as they wrote in a paper explaining PageRank, one “virtually immune to manipulation by commercial interests”:

Graph Search Rejiggers Your Personal Info

liveblog of an MIT Facebook recruiting event by Matt Stempeck, Rodrigo Davies, and Chris Peterson (slide doctored by mstem)

We've had all of our data on Facebook for years. And advertisers have used Facebook’s self-service ad-buying platform, similar to Graph Search, to segment and target ads at us for years. But now, the rollout of Graph Search allows every Facebook user to sort their friends, friends of friends, and public profiles in great detail and by detailed refinements. You can see some fun and some creepy examples at the Actual Facebook Graph Searches Tumblr.

Exising critiques of Graph Search and its privacy implications:

Women, News, and the Internet: (almost) Everything We Know

In my upcoming master's thesis, I'm making large-scale, automated technologies to measure and change the representation of women in news online. Judith Donath, one of my thesis readers, has strongly challenged the assumptions of this project. Can I actually make a good argument that women should have a fair and equal voice in society? Can I create a reasonable definition of equality, one that's good enough to include in computer software?

A positive vision of the role of women in the news needs to start with an understanding of the role they currently play: what are women watching, how are they using their voices, are those voices being heard, how are they presented in the news, and how does that influence what happens in society?

This is the first part of my answer to Judith, a review of what we know about women, news, and the Internet. Have I missed anything? Add it in the comments.

Distributed solidarity: how creates an intimate global movement

Nathan Matias and I recently spoke to a few staffers from 350, a global climate movement organization. Especially worthy of your attention are the concept of “distributed solidarity,” making that solidarity visible to participants and—to Civic—a sort of tightrope between professional and citizen footage. This post is for background; jump over to Nathan's post for some technically based civic ideas.