erhardt | MIT Center for Civic Media

Recent blog posts by erhardt

The Activism of Anna Deavere Smith's Notes from the Field

Anna Deavere Smith in "Notes from the Field: Doing Time in Education." Photo: Evgenia Eliseeva

By Ethan Zuckerman and Erhardt Graeff

One of the best tricks educators can use is the technique of pulling students out of the classroom to encounter the issues we're studying in the "real world." So it's a gift when an artist of the calibre of Anna Deavere Smith opens a new work in Cambridge just as the semester is starting. And given that our lab, the Center for Civic Media, studies how making and disseminating media can lead to civic and social change through movements like Black Lives Matter, a three-hour performance about the school-to-prison pipeline is an unprecedented pedagogical gift. A dozen of us made our way to the American Repertory Theatre at the end of August for a performance we'll likely discuss for the rest of the academic year.

Deavere Smith's work is often referred to as "documentary theatre," and Notes From The Field: Doing Time In Education follows a model she's rightly been celebrated for. Portraying individuals she's interviewed while researching a controversial topic, she recreates their physical tics and speech patterns on stage, telling their stories—and the work's larger narrative—through their original words.

Part of what makes this work is Deavere Smith's ungodly skill at mimicry. As it happened, the first character she portrayed during Notes From The Field is a friend of Ethan's—Sherrilyn Ifill, director of the NAACP's Legal Defense Fund—and when he closed his eyes, the rhythm of her speech was so similar to Sherrilyn's voice, he thought it must be a recording. In the next scene, as Deavere Smith donned orange waders to become a 6'4" 300-pound Native American fisherman, we were all willing to suspend any disbelief.

No Permission, No Apology Opening Keynote by Megan Smith

Megan Smith

This is a liveblog of a talk by Megan Smith, US CTO and MIT Corporation Member. The No Permission, No Apology conference will provide opportunities to develop the professional and personal skills that can help women navigate spaces not necessarily created with them in mind. This will also be a chance for men to better understand how to foster inclusiveness, bridge divides, and serve as effective allies. (Liveblog by Erhardt Graeff and Rahul Bhargava)

 

How do we make sure everyone on the planet is fully included in solving the hardest challenges in the world?

We never see black technical women in movies like we do in the upcoming Hidden Figures—the new film featuring black women engineers on the moon mission. It's untrue and it's debilitating.  We never see people like Margaret Hamilton, who coined the term software engineering and led the source code development for the lunar lander. We wouldn't have landed on the moon if she had not architected the software in a way that we address memory issues.

We had female astronauts who went through the training with the male astronauts, but were never allowed to fly. We never made spacesuits for them. But they passed all the tests and in some cases better than the men. "Stereotype Threat" is a danger that leads us to question whether women are able to do the task. People never think that about men. 

Forbidden Research liveblog: Hacking Culture at MIT

liveblog by Willow Brugh, Natalie Gyenes, and me

Speaker: Liz George, MIT Alum Class of 2008 and MIT Hacker

Liz starts by defining hacking as any good scientific endeavor begins.

Hacking, (noun)

  1. A project without a constructive end
  2. An unusual and original solution to a problem
  3. An activity that tests the limits of skill, imagination, and wits.

If you can build a model of the system, you can push it to its limit or test a system in a way you'd never otherwise be able to do.

Hacking, (verb)

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. 

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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