msauter | MIT Center for Civic Media

Recent blog posts by msauter

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.

Towards a New Framework for the Ethical Analysis of Activist DDOS Actions

In this project I am continuing my work on creating an framework for the ethical analysis of activist DDOS actions. Though distributed denial of service attacks have been used as a tool of digital activism for the past two decades, the past few years has seen an explosion in the popularization of the tactic and a sharp increase in the attention its use attracts from the media and state actors. All this attention has brought with it loud criticism from various stakeholders in the digital space, including other digital activists. However, both the tactic's critics and defenders seek to declare the tactic as a whole good or bad, without a nuanced understanding of the variety of circumstances and contexts which can render the tactic's use ethical or unethical. In this paper, I aim to lay down the preliminaries for a framework by which to perform an ethical analysis of activist DDOS actions.

My Adventures at NewsFoo

x-posted from

Sometime between the power outage Thursday night that left most of Cambridge in the dark and severely messed with my ability to construct my Ignite slide deck, and getting up at 5AM to catch a taxi to the airport, I started to have serious doubts about whether I should go to NewsFoo at all. Reading over the guest list (NewsFoo is a by-invitation conference) was an exercise in “Oh God, everyone is so much more awesome than me.” NewsFoo also fell on an end-of-the-semester weekend packed with PhD application deadlines and final papers I should really be working on. I was plagued with anxiety about my Ignite talk crashing and burning, being too shy to talk to any of the big name journalists and tech heads in attendance, and generally being the most awkward person in the room for three whole days.

You guys, it was so not like that at all.

Fun Fun FOIA

A FOIA, or Freedom of Information Act, request is supposed to be a way for the average citizen to reveal information and documents controlled by the federal government. Anyone can file a FOIA request for pretty much damn near everything, and in Intro to Civic Media we started that process a few weeks ago.

The State of the Research: DDOS and Doxxing

My work on my final project for Intro to Civic Media, an examination of the ethics of activist distributed denial of service attacks, continues apace. I've got a good pile of primary sources from groups that have historically engaged in activist DDOS actions, including the Electronic Disturbance Theater and the electrohippies, as well as my ever growing stash of Anonymous-related materials. I'm also looking more deeply into some recent DDOS actions in Russia, as well as older actions like the etoys action in 1999 and the "help-israel-win" campaign (Ethan has a good write up about that campaign here). This paper is about drawing an ethical spectrum that can be applied to DDOS actions, so I want to be sure to include actions that are ethically indefensible as well as those that are ethically appropriate uses of the tactic, and those that muddle around somewhere in the middle. If anyone has any ideas for sources I should be looking at or actions I should explore, please let me know!