FATE postdoctoral position opens at MSR NYC

Exciting news! The FATE group (Fairness, Accountability, Transparency, and Ethics) at Microsoft Research New York City (MSR NYC) is looking for a postdoctoral researcher to start in July, 2017. This one-year position is an ideal opportunity for an emerging scholar whose work focuses on the social impacts of machine learning and AI. Application deadline: April 3, 2017.

Postdoctoral researchers receive a competitive salary and benefits package, and are
eligible for relocation expenses. Candidates must have completed their PhD, including submission of their dissertation, prior to joining MSR NYC (i.e., PhD submitted and preferably conferred by July 2017). We encourage candidates with tenure-track job offers from other institutions to apply, provided they are able to defer their start date to accept our position.

Microsoft Research provides a vibrant multidisciplinary research environment, with an open publications policy and close links to top academic institutions around the world. Postdoctoral researcher positions provide emerging scholars with an opportunity to develop their research career and to interact with some of the top minds in the research community. Postdoctoral researchers define their own research agenda. Successful candidates will have a well-established research track record, evidenced by top-tier journal or conference publications, as well as a strong service record (e.g. participation on program committees, editorial boards, and advisory panels).

While each of the Microsoft Research labs has openings in a variety of different disciplines, this position with the FATE group at MSR NYC is specifically intended for researchers who are interested in challenges related to fairness, transparency, accountability, and ethics in machine learning and AI. The FATE group includes Kate Crawford, Hanna Wallach, and Solon Barocas, among others. For a sampling of recent publications see their respective websites.

We will consider candidates with a background in a technical field (such as machine learning, AI, or NLP) as well as candidates who study socio-technical questions in the fields of anthropology, media studies, sociology, science and technology studies, and related fields.

The ideal candidate should have a demonstrated interest in the social impacts of machine learning and AI, and be interested in working in a highly interdisciplinary environment that includes computer scientists, social scientists, critical humanists, and economists.

To apply, please submit an online application on the Microsoft Research Careers website: https://careers.research.microsoft.com/

In addition to your CV and names of three or more referees (including your dissertation advisor), please upload the following materials:

* Two journal/conference publications, articles, thesis chapters, or
   equivalent work samples (uploaded as two separate attachments).

* A research statement (maximum length three pages) that 1) outlines
your research agenda (~one page); 2) provides a description and,
if appropriate, a chapter outline of your dissertation (~one page);
3) offers an explanation of how your research agenda relates to
fairness, accountability, transparency, and ethics (~one page).

Please indicate that your location preference is “New York” and include “Kate Crawford” as the name of your Microsoft Research contact (you may include additional contacts as well). Note: if you do not do this, it is *very unlikely* that we will receive your application.

After you submit your application, a request for letters will be sent to your referees on your behalf. You may wish to alert your referees in advance so that they are ready to submit your letter by April 3, 2017. You can check the progress on individual letter requests by clicking the “status” tab within your application page.

Microsoft is committed to building a culturally diverse workforce and strongly encourages applications from women and minorities.


Welcoming the SMC interns for 2014!

This was an incredible, overwhelming year for internship applications. We had well over 200 PhD students apply, and we were deeply impressed by the quality of suggested projects. Thanks to everyone for your submissions. Here are the four people who will be joining us over the summer – congratulations to you all. We’re looking forward to working with you!

Tressie McMillan Cottom is a Ph.D. candidate in the Sociology Department at Emory University in Atlanta, GA. Broadly Tressie studies organizations, inequality, and education. Her doctoral research is a comparative study of the expansion of for-profit colleges (like the University of Phoenix) in the 1990s.) She will be working with Kate, Mary and Nancy this summer on a project about hashtag activist groups on Twitter and their ties to institutional power.

Luke Stark is a PhD student in the Department of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University under the supervision of Helen Nissenbaum. His dissertation research focuses on the history and philosophy of digital media technologies, and their use in tracking, monitoring and shaping the everyday emotional lives and experiences of users. This summer he will be working with Kate on epistemologies of big data, privacy, and computational culture.

Katrin Tiidenberg is a Ph.D. candidate at the Institute of International and Social Studies at Tallinn University in Estonia. Her dissertation is about online experience and identity in the context of NSFW blogs on Tumblr. She will be working this summer with Nancy on a project about selfies, power and shame.

Kathryn Zyskowski is a Ph.D. Student in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Washington and an Editorial Intern at the Journal of the Society for Cultural Anthropology. Her doctoral work examines identity, representation, and Muslim/Hindu relations in South India. This summer, she will work with Mary studying how people crowdsourcing in India and the United States use online discussion forums to organize their work and structure their identities as workers in specific locations.

Journal articles that change how you think

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.

Continue reading “Journal articles that change how you think”

MSR Social Media Collective 2014 PhD internships now open


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.

Continue reading “MSR Social Media Collective 2014 PhD internships now open”

Big Data, Big Questions, or, Accounting for Big Data

In exciting news, Mary L. Gray and I are kicking off a special section for IJoC that takes a critical look at big data: from the disciplinary perspectives and methods, to issues of access and epistemology. Please pass on to your networks, or even better, send us an abstract.

Call for Papers
“Big Data, Big Questions, or, Accounting for Big Data” 

International Journal of Communication

Guest Editors:

Kate Crawford
Microsoft Research
University of New South Wales

Mary L. Gray
Microsoft Research
Indiana University

Larry Gross
University of Southern California

Previously isolated data sets, from social media and demographic surveys to city maps and urban planning documents, are now routinely interlinked. Combining separate, often disparate, multi-terabyte sets of information reframes our capacity to see into the behaviors of — and relationships between — people, institutions and things. Researchers in fields as varied as computer science, geography, sociology, marketing, biology, economics, among many others, use the term “big data” to capture a wide range of activities revolving around accessing and analyzing these vast quantities of information. What are the implications of big data as a cultural, technological and analytic phenomenon? What are the practices of big data, the underlying assumptions, and ways of modeling the world? Who gets access to it, and what effects does this produce?

This special section will offer a range of critical engagements with the issues surrounding big data and its related models of knowledge. We seek scholarly articles from diverse fields, and a wide range of theoretical and methodological approaches: including media studies, communication, anthropology, digital humanities, computational and social sciences, cultural geography, history, and critical cultural studies.

Possible topics include, but are not limited to:

  • What is the history (or histories) of big data and its related practices?
  • What are the epistemological ramifications of big data?
  • How can computational and social sciences use big data in cross-disciplinary work? What are the strengths and pitfalls of new hybrids?
  • What are the ethics of big data use, be it in city management, social media research, or political campaigning?
  • Who gets access to big data? What are the issues of class, race, gender, sexuality, religion and geography?
  • What are the labour politics of big data research?

The International Journal of Communication is an open access journal (http://ijoc.org). All accepted articles will be published online. The anticipated publication date for this Special Section is August 2013.

Manuscripts should conform to the IJoC author guidelines. See http://ijoc.org/ojs/index.php/ijoc/about/submissions#authorGuidelines

Send your abstract, title of your paper and a list of five potential reviewers with their titles and e-mail addresses by October 1, 2012 to IJOCbigdata@gmail.com. Your suggested reviewers will help streamline the peer-review process.


October 1: Abstracts due 

November 1: Acceptance of abstracts

January 28: Articles due 

If you have any questions, please contact Kate Crawford at kate@microsoft.com or Mary Gray at mlg@microsoft.com.

Riots, social media, and the value of ‘first responders’

David Cameron has vowed to do ‘whatever it takes‘ to restore order after the riots: this seems to include blocking access to social networking sites.

“Everyone watching these horrific actions will be struck by how they were organized via social media,” Cameron said. “And when people are using social media for violence we need to stop them. So we are working with the police, the intelligence services and industry to look at whether it would be right to stop people communicating via these websites and services when we know they are plotting violence, disorder and criminality.”

We’ve heard a great deal about the use of social media for rioters to organize, as well as boasting about their ill-gotten gains – posting images of stolen goods and inciting others to do likewise. Exactly how much incitement to riot was occurring in these spaces is unclear. Mobiles, too, are implicated, as BlackBerry’s BBM encrypted messaging service was purportedly used by some to coordinate looting.

Is it desirable, or even possible, to shut down access to social and mobile media networks during times of crisis? Exactly what does Cameron have in mind?

To find examples of technical feasibility, we have multiple examples in the Middle East, where access to the internet has been cut off several times during the events of the Arab Spring. Egypt, Libya and Syria have all severed net traffic during protests, and with considerable effectiveness. It’s not the kind of list we’d expect a mature democracy like England to want to join. If Cameron is thinking about something more individualized, where only some people are restricted, this will still land him with some very sticky civil liberties issues.

But is shutting down networks – in part or whole – even a good idea? To answer that seriously, we need to look at the whole range of activities that occur in social media spaces like Twitter and Facebook. Social media spaces are complex: they perform critical roles of sharing information, news gathering and emotional support, while also being conduits for rumor and abuse.

If we take the case of the London riots, we have seen extraordinary acts of pro-active social engagement: from #riotcleanup which rallied people to clean up the streets, to various forms of citizen journalism that have made substantive contributions to media coverage (for example, see Leon Piers‘ @BristolRiots on Twitter or Casey Rain’s Tumblr, Birmingham Riots 2011). Malaysian student Asraf Haziq, who was attacked at knifepoint by rioters, became the focus of a social media campaign to raise money for his recovery.

These significant social responses, organized and distributed via Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr, would cease to function if networks were restricted or shut down. We can consider the people on social media sites who engage in community rebuilding as ‘first responders’: before government programs respond or insurance claims can be filed, people are organizing via a range of space (some online, some not) to organize and assist those who have been most affected by a disaster or a riot. We saw similar actions in response to the devastating Queensland floods: first responders used Twitter to share information and assist flood-affected communities. If governments restrict or paralyze these networks, they also bring to a halt precisely the kinds of pro-social organizing that communities use to fill the gaps long before many official institutions can respond effectively.

Instead of considering the complex ecology of social networks, we are being told they need to be shut down and, as Cameron argues, greater policing of communication channels. There’s considerable research that points to this being ineffective, and more likely to increase community fragmentation and anger (see, for example, the discussion of the sociological literature here) There’s a need for more research to show the complexity of activities that occur in network spaces during acute events (I’ve been doing some work on this in Australia with Jean Burgess and Axel Bruns). But while many of the negatives (looting, rioting and the like) will occur regardless of social media’s availability – we need only look to Paris in 2005 or countless other ‘pre-Twitter’ riots – many of the ‘first responder’ positives rely on social media networks to function. The #riotcleanup idea could not have occurred on such a scale had it not been for Twitter. As Debbie Chachra writes on Twitter: “Urban rioting existed before SMS/social media. You know what didn’t? Large-scale community cleanups, spontaneously organized within hours.”

If the riots remind us that cities are always vulnerable spaces of politics, negotiation and rupture, Cameron’s realpolitik underscores that social media networks are also fragile. They are susceptible to challenges, both technological and political: including hackers, accidental system overloads, and politicians who wish to censor, restrict or block them, be they in democracies or dictatorships.