erhardt | MIT Center for Civic Media

Recent blog posts by erhardt

Binders Full of Election Memes: Expanding Political Discourse

This is text of the talk I delivered for the "Click, Meme, Hack, Change: Civic Media Theory and Practice" panel I organized at the Digital Media and Learning Conference, Chicago, IL on March 14, 2013.

What do I mean by memes? Well I'm talking about internet memes: cultural artifacts that are generally user-generated content that is shared widely and remixed in various ways. This should be very familiar to most people in the Digital Media and Learning community.

We've got image macros like the lolcat, we've got animated gifs, and the viral video. There are of course political versions of these popular meme forms. And I'm going to focus on three that came out of the last US presidential election cycle: "Fired Big Bird," "Binders Full of Women," and "You Didn't Build That."

Each of these memes mainly consist of image macros, and I'm going to feature the image macros because they are the easiest meme to produce, thus available to the most people to produce. There are several image macro meme generators online now that allow you to upload your own image and overlay the classic bold white font.

But what I want to argue in this talk is that it isn't just about the creation of these memes—which we all know is interesting and valuable—it's also about the sharing of them. Sharing these memes I believe represents a political speech act itself, which generates political discourse of value. And just like we have low barriers to entry for creation, so also do we have low barriers for sharing with ready audiences on Twitter, coalescing into publics around hashtags, or on Tumblr, through tagging and curation.

Mapping the Trayvon Martin Media Controversy

This is a summary of the article “The Battle for ‘Trayvon Martin’: Mapping a Media Controversy Online and Offline,” co-authored by Erhardt Graeff, Matt Stempeck, and Ethan Zuckerman and appearing as the lead article in the February 2014 issue of First Mondayhttp://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/4947.

News coverage about the killing of Trayvon Martin started as a short-lived, local Florida news piece, but through strategic activation of traditional broadcast media and participatory online activism, eventually became the most-widely covered story about race in the last five years. The story drew immense coverage from professional journalists and active public engagement online and offline, offering a potent case study for examining the role and influence of participatory media on media agendas.

To make this research possible, we’ve been building Media Cloud with colleagues at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society. It’s a toolset for rigorous, quantitative studies of media agendas and frames. Media Cloud collects stories from a corpus of more than 27,000 mainstream media and blog sources, and uses a link-following methodology to expand the corpus to other relevant sources.

The first major analysis to use Media Cloud’s tools for the purposes of “controversy mapping” considered the emergence in nontraditional, online media of opposition to proposed SOPA-PIPA legislation. In contrast to SOPA-PIPA, the Trayvon Martin story occurred and unfolded substantially offline: the shooting of a black teenager eventually sparked a national debate across multiple media channels, in rallies and marches, and in the speeches and actions of major political figures. Initially, the story passed with little notice, but the efforts of a small pro bono team of lawyers and publicists attracted the national limelight. From there, the Trayvon Martin story spread to broader audiences through a widely signed online petition, 24x7 cable news coverage, multiple activist campaigns including competing political agendas pushed by participatory media, a deeply emotional response from President Obama, and a widely televised criminal trial.

Diversity and Contention Online: Talks by Anselm Spoerri and Jisun An

On Friday, November 22nd, the Berkman Center for Internet & Society's Cooperation group and MIT Center for Civic Media hosted two speakers—Anselm Spoerri and Jisun An—to talk about their research into diversity and contention online. This is a liveblog of those talks authored by Erhardt Graeff, Dalia Othman, Catherine D'Ignazio, Chelsea Barabas, and Nathan Matias.

Anselm Spoerri

Anselm Spoerri: Visualizing Controversial and Popular Topics in Wikipedia across Languages
Anselm is a Swiss-born information visualization researcher. He did his PhD at MIT in computational vision, and is now a lecturer and assistant professor at the Rutgers School of Communication and Information. His latest work looks at contention in Wikipedia.

The project he shares with us, on Edit Wars in Wikipedia, presents a fascinating visualization of a dataset prepared by Taha Yasseri and Janos Kertesz of the "most controversial" topics in 10 different language versions of Wikipedia. 

Patsy Baudoin and Lessig address Boston's Aaron Swartz Hackathon

In cities around the world this weekend, people are participating in an Aaron Swartz Memorial Hackathon. Patsy Baudoin of MIT Libraries and Larry Lessig addressed the Boston-based hackers working from the MIT Media Lab.

Patsy Baudoin (@pbmit)
Patsy begins by saying that today she's not speaking as an MIT librarian, but just as a librarian. She quotes Peter Suber's definition of Open Access: "Open-access (OA) literature is digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions." The last part is a black hole of academic discussion, which he goes into in his book.

Patsy argues that the ecosystem that we call scholarly communication is unfriendly to open access. The three legged stool of publishers, libraries, and readers, needs to change such that the power flows from readers and publishers and opposed to vice-versa. 

Moving Beyond the Question of Whether Neighborhoods Matter

Liveblog of Patrick Sharkey's presentation to the Inequality & Social Policy Seminar Series at Harvard on September 23, 2013.

Patrick SharkeyPatrick Sharkey is an associate professor of sociology at New York University and affiliate of the Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service. His research looks at stratification and mobility with a specialized interest in neighborhoods and cities, and he is the author of the recently published book Stuck in Place: Urban Neighborhoods and the End of Progress toward Racial Equality.

His talk entitled "Where, when, why, and for whom do neighborhoods matter?" was based on a just completed review paper, co-authored with Jacob Faber, updating the literature on neighborhood effects (specifically the research looking at cognitive / developmental outcomes), looking at how this literature has been interpreted and evaluated over time, and proposing what is or should be the future of this work.

Sharkey focused on three examples from his own research that suggest ways in which the literature can get beyond what has been long-term hangup in the field in terms of ignoring various contextual factors and nuance in order to answer the question, "do neighborhoods matter?" I found that his insights offered a helpful critique not only to his own sociological subdiscipline but for social scientific research in general, pushing us to never blindly disregard the particular for the universal or play into dominant research narratives.

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