FUSE Labs at Microsoft Research is seeking interns for 2014. For these positions, we are looking for graduate students from Computer Science, Information Science, Design, Media Studies, Social Science, and other fields with a focus on social computing and social media.
FUSE Labs is a research and development lab at Microsoft Research focused on the design, study, and development of socio-technical systems. We are a uniquely multidisciplinary team where you have the opportunity to work with developers, designers, and other researchers interested in building systems and studying them critically. Our goals are to contribute to the academic community as well as to invent the next generation of social technologies. Some of the topics that are currently of interest for FUSE Labs are civic media, creative collaboration, informal learning, communities of interest, hyperlocal media, information visualization, and machine learning applied to social data. That said, we are open to a diversity of methodologies.
Last year, Gilad Lotan and I spent some time analyzing the #YoSoy132 protests in Mexico using data from Twitter. Several articles and even books about #YoSoy132 have come out since. For example, De Mauleón wrote an excellent piece for Nexos (in Spanish) that resembled some of our own analysis. Sadly, Gilad and I got busy and abandoned the project, but after this recent conversation, we decided to dig out our notes and post them here in the event that they might be useful for others.
The rise and fall of the “Mexican Spring”
Exactly a year ago, in December 2012, the newly elected Mexican President Peña Nieto took office amid violent protests. As early as May 2012, a number of massive student protests against the then candidate Peña gained a lot of attention on social media, both inside and outside Mexico. The Occupy movement and the international press called these protests the Mexican Spring for its similarities with other “hashtagged” protests. In our analysis, we only focused on the first few months of the protests. Today, #YoSoy132 is only a shadow of what it was, but during the election it was able to accomplish several important victories, including the organization of an online presidential debate (broadcast on YouTube), and the introduction of the issue of media monopolies and media bias to the forefront of the political discussion.
We focused on the origin and spread of the #YoSoy132 student protests by lookign at Twitter trending topics, follower connections, and the content of the tweets. We found that despite the common assumption that the movement appeared “out of the blue,” after an incident involving a candidate’s visit to a university, we can actually trace the movement’s gestation to several months before the trigger incident. Additionally, we found that despite the attempts to link the movement to traditional political groups, i.e. a political party, the movement actually activated typically disconnected groups of people across the political and class spectrum.
Today I was running a seminar at the MIT Center for Civic Media on the journal article as form: its affordances and limitations. We talked about the shifts in how academics reach audiences, as well as the economic, political and institutional forces that surround journal publishing. Out of curiosity, I asked on Twitter about people’s favourite journal articles – what were the ones that changed your thinking? It became such a great list that I wanted to share it with everyone, in case you also find some gems you haven’t read before. As for me, I’d have to say a very influential one is Paolo Virno’s “Virtuosity and Revolution: The Political Theory of Exodus.” It’s in Radical Thought in Italy: A Potential Politics (1996): 189-210; or you can read it online here.
* APPLICATION DEADLINE: JANUARY 31, 2014 *
Microsoft Research New England (MSRNE) is looking for PhD interns to join the Social Media Collective for Summer 2014. We are looking primarily for social science/humanities PhD students (including communication, sociology, anthropology, media studies, information studies, science and technology studies, etc.). The Social Media Collective is a collection of scholars at MSRNE who focus on socio-technical questions. We are not an applied program; rather, we work on critical research questions that are important to the future of understanding technology through a social scientific/humanistic lens.
MSRNE internships are 12-week paid internships in Cambridge, Massachusetts. PhD interns are expected to be on-site for the duration of their internship. Primary mentors for this year will be Nancy Baym and Kate Crawford.
PhD interns at MSRNE are expected to devise and execute a research project during their internships. The expected outcome of an internship at MSRNE is a publishable scholarly paper for an academic journal or conference of the intern’s choosing. The goal of the internship is to help the intern advance their own career; interns are strongly encouraged to work towards a publication outcome that will help them on the academic job market. Interns are also expected to collaborate on projects or papers with full-time researchers and visitors, give short presentations, and contribute to the life of the community. While this is not an applied program, MSRNE encourages interdisciplinary collaboration with computer scientists, economists, and mathematicians.
Can crowds fill the void left by defunct newspapers? Reflections on our experiments with locative crowdsourcing
Motivated by the disappearance of local newspapers, this past summer, we started to explore new ways of supporting community news production through collaborative writing tools. The first incarnation of this is NewsPad, a system for neighborhood communities to collaboratively to report on local events such as festivals and town hall meetings.
One of the first challenges we encountered when testing NewsPad in the wild, was the difficulty of bootstrapping these collective action efforts to produce even lightweight articles in the form of lists, also referred to as listicles.
We decided to explore this challenge using on-demand, location-based labor through TaskRabbit. We were able to produce articles about the events in under an hour, and for less than $100. Here we we share some of initial reflections after running a few experiments.
(Originally written for TIME Magazine)
We’re afraid of and afraid for teenagers. And nothing brings out this dualism more than discussions of how and when teens should be allowed to participate in public life.
Last week, Facebook made changes to teens’ content-sharing options. They introduced the opportunity for those ages 13 to 17 to share their updates and images with everyone and not just with their friends. Until this change, teens could not post their content publicly even though adults could. When minors select to make their content public, they are given a notice and a reminder in order to make it very clear to them that this material will be shared publicly. “Public” is never the default for teens; they must choose to make their content public, and they must affirm that this is what they intended at the point in which they choose to publish.
Representatives of parenting organizations have responded to this change negatively, arguing that this puts children more at risk. And even though the Pew Internet & American Life Project has found that teens are quite attentive to their privacy, and many other popular sites allow teens to post publicly (e.g. Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr), privacy advocates are arguing that Facebook’s decision to give teens choices suggests that the company is undermining teens’ privacy.
But why should youth not be allowed to participate in public life? Do paternalistic, age-specific technology barriers really protect or benefit teens?
One of the most crucial aspects of coming of age is learning how to navigate public life. The teenage years are precisely when people transition from being a child to being an adult. There is no magic serum that teens can drink on their 18th birthday to immediately mature and understand the world around them. Instead, adolescents must be exposed to — and allowed to participate in — public life while surrounded by adults who can help them navigate complex situations with grace. They must learn to be a part of society, and to do so, they must be allowed to participate.
Most teens no longer see Facebook as a private place. They befriend anyone they’ve ever met, from summer-camp pals to coaches at universities they wish to attend. Yet because Facebook doesn’t allow youth to contribute to public discourse through the site, there’s an assumption that the site is more private than it is. Facebook’s decision to allow teens to participate in public isn’t about suddenly exposing youth; it’s about giving them an option to treat the site as being as public as it often is in practice.
Rather than trying to protect teens from all fears and risks that we can imagine, let’s instead imagine ways of integrating them constructively into public life. The key to doing so is not to create technologies that reinforce limitations but to provide teens and parents with the mechanisms and information needed to make healthy decisions. Some young people may be ready to start navigating broad audiences at 13; others are not ready until they are much older. But it should not be up to technology companies to determine when teens are old enough to have their voices heard publicly. Parents should be allowed to work with their children to help them navigate public spaces as they see fit. And all of us should be working hard to inform our younger citizens about the responsibilities and challenges of being a part of public life. I commend Facebook for giving teens the option and working hard to inform them of the significance of their choices.
(Originally written for TIME Magazine)
This post is in response to hearing Tarleton Gillespie’s AoIR plenary talk on SNS’ responses to trolling. First, a nod to Lisa Nakamura’s point that when we talk about discriminatory acts as trolling, it potentially deescalates the real harm engendered by racist, sexist and demeaning behaviors. This in fact reminds me of boyd and Marwick’s arguments that teens use the term “drama” over “bullying” because it allows them to acknowledge a behavior without taking sides. At the risk of not doing what Nakamura suggests (usually not a good idea when talking about the Internet) I’ll continue to use the term trolling here, in fact bringing it into an offline context. In listening to Tarleton’s talk, I started thinking about two incidents at last year’s Anarchist Book Fair in NYC. I want to look at how these two incidents were handled within the anarchist community and then consider how they differ from those of mainstream SNS policies.
I should preface this with the request to take anarchism as a legitimate political ideology – it’s only been in the past year that I’ve recognized my own deligitimizing prejudices against anarchism, having previously accepted the widely-held belief that anarchism represented nihilist, violent anti-politics. I credit Anarchist Pedagogies as a text that helped me recognize my own failure to learn about anarchism as a belief system, which is pretty embarrassing given that the dismissal of anarchism (like the dismissals of feminism) as a viable set of practices is one of the most effective tools of maintaining hegemonic, capitalist norms.
The ABF provoked two kinds of trolling, one that arose ahead of time and the other during the actual book fair. I was attending the ABF as a member of Radical Reference, which has often tabled at the fair to promote our activities. As the bookfair neared, I learned that a number of organizations were threatening to pull out because a provocative figure (I’ll call him Horace) in the local anarchist community had signed up to attend. As I learned about the stakes of Rad Ref attending or not attending the book fair (ultimately, Horace either wasn’t granted or didn’t apply for a table), I was struck by just how procedural the response to Horace was, involving a series of conversations, documentations and investigations. As a counter-example to assumptions that anarchist ethics are pure chaos, Thadeus had in fact been subject to a number of adjudication and accountability processes, as a result of violence, abuse, disruption and snitching. Anarchist ethics for managing disruptive behaviors are fundamentally centered on collective processes and accountability, holding people to a particular set of group-centered ideals. This process reminds me of the TOS processes in a lot of counter-cultural sites online. Since the early 2000s, I’ve been a member of an online community for people interested in body modification. The TOS violations process has changed significantly over the site’s history, but for a long time, the procedure involved a TOS forum, where complaints were vetted as to whether someone had violated the site’s clearly articulated ethics of tolerance and diversity. The message board also provided documentation of users’ removal from the site, such that if you logged into the site one day and realized that a user no longer “existed” you could check the TOS forum and see if and why that person had been removed.
Contrast this to the flag approach of sites like Facebook, YouTube and (more recently) Twitter. Tarleton and Kate Crawford have a forthcoming paper that points out the incredible range of flagging technologies, and questions whether flags can bear the weight of contesting online content. Perhaps the thing that makes comparison so impossible is the fact that Thaddeus had run up against defined communities bound by shared political ideologies, whereas Facebook, Twitter and Youtube are platforms for an effectively infinite array of beliefs and norms. Yet how interesting that in a community frequently derided for lawless chaos, there are clear mechanisms for managing violations of standards and ethics, whereas sites like Facebook are in fact far more inchoate and chaotic.
A second form of trolling emerged at last year’s ABF, and many ABFs before. The National Anarchist Tribal Alliance attempted to attend the ABF last year, which might sound like an unremarkable thing if you’re not aware that NATA are white supremacists. Throughout the book fair, tablers and attendees had voiced strong disapproval of the venue’s insistence on hiring a private security force to screen bags and monitor behavior, provoking ire for violations of person and property. Yet this same security force was responsible for keeping NATA folks out of the ABF, heading off a direct confrontation and probably keeping a number of my friends out of jail. My own thoughts on whether or not the security force should have been there are mixed, but in the context of trolling, I’d like to note two things – first, note the similar Trojan Horse tactics by NATA and, as Mark Dang-Anh pointed out in his AoIR talk, the appropriation of tags to confuse and disrupt counter-protest actions. Second, the conflict in this case cannot be understood on an individual level, and only makes sense in terms of group behavior.
The biggest takeaway for me from this thought experiment – considering how offline approaches to handling trolls within anarchist communities could play out on mainstream social media platforms – is the need for collective rather than individual means of assessing offensive online behaviors. This is important for two key reasons – first, there isn’t just one Internet, there are many, and a single policy cannot hold water in all of them. I think ABF’s treatment of Thaddeus worked because it reflected local norms and values, and moreover documented the process. I am in a way reminded of Sara Ahmed’s work on the way that difference produces a physical marker of deviance – there’s something to be said for the production of an artifact (a flyer, a blog, a report) that documents a wrong, especially in contrast to the invisible process of flagging, the disappearance that leaves no trace or explanation of protest.
Second, as Nakamura pointed out during the plenary Q&A, it’s dangerous to assign responsibility for monitoring hateful content at the individual level. Partly, this is because a user-versus system process of adjudication makes no sense if the system lacks community level ideology; although Facebook phrases its policies as “community standards,” it is ludicrous to think of Facebook as as having an identifiable sense of community ethics. Moreover, the notion of community dissolves as soon as it becomes incumbent on the individual user to report behavior. As well, the example of NATA demonstrates the extent to which trolling isn’t always individual, and is instead collective. Anarchist ethics for managing disruptions of community norms underscore the extent to which these processes need to be collective not only in terms of grassroots procedures for adjudication, but also a conceptualization of disruption that accounts for collective rather than individual violations.