erhardt | MIT Center for Civic Media

Recent blog posts by erhardt

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: 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. 

Black Lives Matter Activism through Blogging, Gaming, Hashtags, and Citizen Journalism

Black Lives Matter activism

This is a liveblog from the "#BlackLivesMatter: At the Intersection of Racial Politics and Digital Activism" panel at AoIR16 on October 22, 2015 in Phoenix, AZ. Any errors here are my own.

This panel features four anti-racist, feminist scholars, showcasing how we as researchers take on the role of documenting and amplifying the work that activists are doing already online. Catherine Knight Steele talks about the creation of digital black feminisim in blogging communities. Kishonna L. Gray talks about activist gaming in service to Blacks Lives Matter. Jenny Ungbha Korn talks about themes of racialized imagery in #iftheygunnedmedown on Tumblr. And Sarah Florini talks about This Week in Blackness's brand of citizen journalism around Ferguson.

When the Black Lives that Matter are Not Our Own: Social Justice and a Digital Black Feminism
Catherine Knight Steele

How are our women of color reimagining black feminism online? Black Lives Matter was started by three queer women of color. And its important to remember that even in studying marginalized communities, there are those that are even more marginalized.

Steele carefully frames this as “Digital Black Feminism,” building on literatures of black oral culture, alternative publics, black feminism in response to exclusion, and voice and democratic participation. Preserving black oral culture online is a key part of the cultural practice. Moreover, transferring offline black oral culture online represents efficiency of communication rather than perceived deficiencies.

Unfortunately, digital black feminism has also been excluded from traditional norms of black feminism. Steele studied the blogging community For Harriet, which functions as a kind of "digital barbershop," an enclave that represents a particular context of culture necessary to gain entry. 

Building Civic Tech with Mexico City's Experts (Its Citizens)

written by Erhardt Graeff and Emilie Reiser


CC-BY-SA: Mexico City by Kasper Christensen


Mexico City is huge. Over 21 million people live in the metro area—the most populous in the Western hemisphere. Nearly 9 million people live in the federal district alone. There are pockets of immigrants from all over the world and of course the full spectrum of Mexican ethnicities. This means there are myriad interesting issues to tackle and a wide mix of voices with opinions on how best to go about it.


August 31–September 4, 2015, the MIT Center for Civic Media traveled to Mexico City for a workshop organized by the Laboratorio para la Ciudad and MIT Media Lab. Gabriella Gómez-Mont, the Laboratorio's founder and director, is a Director's Fellow at the Media Lab this year, which opened the door to collaboration.


In a few intense days, we worked with Laboratorio staff and local experts, as well as select students from nearby universities, to prototype projects worthy of Mexico City's scale and complexity. Our team focused on how to integrate new forms of citizen input into the planning and transformation of public spaces around the city using both digital and non-digital strategies. Our solution: EncuestaCDMX (

How Interfaces Demand Obedience

This is a liveblog of a talk by Mushon Zer-Aviv on April 23, 2015 at the MIT Center for Civic Media. This is not a perfect transcript but are notes collaboratively taken by Yu Wang, Dalia Othman, Erhardt Graeff, and Catherine D'Ignazio.

Mushon presenting at Civic

Mushon Zer-Aviv introduces himself as interested in disinformation and ambiguity. He is teaching at Shenkar College and is working with Public Knowledge Workshop on civic engagement and government transparency. As a designer he's been working on these issues for many years and will discuss political design interface through:

  1. Communication cycle
  2. Protocol
  3. Interface for resistance

When we talk about life online, it is distributed, open, social, emancipatory. Online life is repressive, destructive, shallow. All these hopes and concerns when it comes to online life, we meet them through interface. It is at the heart of the debate.

What is interface? Mushon defines interface as "a common boundary or interconnection between systems, equipment, concepts, or human beings." Specifically, the concept of common boundary and interconnection. The idea that the interface is common implies some kind of relationship between all the components without implying a level of control or that one is more important than the other.