Big Data Surveillance: The Case of Policing

Former SMC Postdoctoral Researcher, Sarah Brayne (University of Texas at Austin), has recently published a piece in the American Sociological Review about police use of big data.

The article is evidenced off over two and a half years of fieldwork with the Los Angeles Police Department — including observations from ride-alongs in patrol cars and interviews at the Joint Regional Intelligence Center (the “fusion center”) in Southern California.

Abstract: This article examines the intersection of two structural developments: the growth of surveillance and the rise of “big data.” Drawing on observations and interviews conducted within the Los Angeles Police Department, I offer an empirical account of how the adoption of big data analytics does—and does not—transform police surveillance practices. I argue that the adoption of big data analytics facilitates amplifications of prior surveillance practices and fundamental transformations in surveillance activities. First, discretionary assessments of risk are supplemented and quantified using risk scores. Second, data are used for predictive, rather than reactive or explanatory, purposes. Third, the proliferation of automatic alert systems makes it possible to systematically surveil an unprecedentedly large number of people. Fourth, the threshold for inclusion in law enforcement databases is lower, now including individuals who have not had direct police contact. Fifth, previously separate data systems are merged, facilitating the spread of surveillance into a wide range of institutions. Based on these findings, I develop a theoretical model of big data surveillance that can be applied to institutional domains beyond the criminal justice system. Finally, I highlight the social consequences of big data surveillance for law and social inequality.

You can read the full article here.

SMC at #4SBoston

The 2017 Annual Meeting of the Society for Social Studies of Science (4S) is being held in our very own Boston, MA this year. The Social Media Collective’s Tarleton Gillespie (Microsoft Research, New England and Department of Communication/Department of Information Science, Cornell University) and Mary L. Gray (Microsoft Research, New England and Berkman Center for Internet and Society) are serving on the local organizing committee.

The conference is thematically organized around ‘STS (In)Sensibilities,’ asking:

“If sensibility is the ability to grasp and to respond, how might we articulate the (in)sensibilities of contemporary technoscience? How, similarly, can we reflect on the extent and limits of our own sensibilities as STS scholars, teachers, and activists? The conference theme invites an open reading and exploration of how the world is made differently sense-able through multiple discourses and practices of knowledge-making, as well as that which evades the sensoria of technoscience and STS. Our aim is that the sense of ‘sense’ be read broadly, from mediating technologies of perception and apprehension to the discursive and material practices that render worlds familiar and strange, real and imagined, actual and possible, politically (in)sensitive and ethically sensible.”

For more information on logistics & the full program, visit the 4sonline Annual Meeting Homepage. You can find a list of scheduled appearances by the Social Media Collective family, past and present, here: By Name/By Time.

Learn It, Buy It, Work It! Performing Pregnancy on Instagram

Katrin Tiidenberg (Aarhus University, Denmark and Tallinn University, Estonia) and SMC Principal Researcher Nancy Baym (Microsoft Research, New England) have recently published an article in Social Media + Society that analyzes how pregnancy is performed on Instagram. According to Tiidenberg and Baym,

‘Pregnancy today is highly visible, intensely surveilled, marketed as a consumer identity, and feverishly stalked in its celebrity manifestations. This propagates narrow visions of what a “normal” pregnancy or “normal” pregnant woman should be like.’

Drawing on Tiidenberg’s work during her Ph.D. internship with the SMC (2014), the article asks:

‘[W]hether they [women] rely on and reproduce pre-existing discourses aimed at morally regulating pregnancy, or reject them and construct their own alternatives.’

You can read their findings here.

“Just how artificial is Artificial Intelligence?”

SMC member Mary L. Gray (Microsoft Research, New England; Berkman Kein Center for Internet and Society) and colleague Siddharth Suri (Microsoft Research, New York) have published an article for the Harvard Business Review asking, “just how artificial is Artificial Intelligence?”

Whether it is Facebook’s trending topics; Amazon’s delivery of Prime orders via Alexa; or the many instant responses of bots we now receive in response to consumer activity or complaint, tasks advertised as AI-driven involve humans, working at computer screens, paid to respond to queries and requests sent to them through application programming interfaces (APIs) of crowdwork systems. The truth is, AI is as “fully-automated” as the Great and Powerful Oz was in that famous scene from the classic film, where Dorothy and friends realize that the great wizard is simply a man manically pulling levers from behind a curtain.

For Gray and Suri, the mythos of “full-automation” is akin the Great and Powerful Oz, famously depicted as a man “manically pulling levers from behind a curtain” in the classic American film.

This blend of AI and humans, who follow through when the AI falls short, isn’t going away anytime soon. Indeed, the creation of human tasks in the wake of technological advancement has been a part of automation’s history since the invention of the machine lathe.

Full text of the article is available here.

Amplifying the Presence of Women in STEM

December 7-13th is Computer Science Education Week!

Recently, feminist media scholars have demanded we take seriously seriously the dearth of women and people of color in computing fields. This week presents the opportunity to broadcast professional role models to inspire young minority techies in pursuit of their STEM dreams, both in industry and in academia.

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Source: Microsoft Corporate Blogs

Mary L. Gray, senior researcher at the Social Media Collective, was recently featured in Microsoft’s “17 for ’17: Microsoft researchers on what to expect in 2017 and 2027,” which sought to work against this gap by highlighting 17 women from within their global research organization.

Mary offers insights on the digital world we should anticipate over the next decade and where to position ourselves as scholars.

SMC at AoIR 2016: Internet Rules!

The 17th annual meeting of the Association of Internet Researchers is being held this week (Oct 5-8) in Berlin, Germany. It is a thrill to see so many past and present SMC members presenting their latest work, especially with Kate Crawford as part of the conference’s plenary panel Thursday evening. Below is a cheat sheet of all the SMC presentations, in case you want to follow along. (If we forgot somebody, please email us and we’ll add you!)

Wednesday, October 5th, 2016

Nancy Baym 9:00 AM – 5:30 PM Studying Labor: A Workshop on Theory and Methods
Jean Burgess 9:00 AM – 5:30 PM Digital Methods in Internet Research: A Sampling Menu
Kevin Driscoll 9:00 AM – 5:30 PM 404 History Not Found: Challenges in Internet History and Memory Studies
Tarleton Gillespie 9:00 AM – 5:30 PM The Internet Rules, But How? A Science and Technical Studies Take on Doing Internet Governance
Mary L. Gray 9:00 AM – 5:30 PM Studying Labor: A Workshop on Theory and Methods

Thursday, October 6th, 2016

Mike Ananny 9:00 AM – 10:30 AM Like, Share, Discuss? How News Factors and Secondary Factors Predict User Engagement with News Stories on Facebook
Nancy Baym 9:00 AM – 10:30 PM Platform Studies: The Rules of Engagement
Jean Burgess 9:00 AM – 10:30 AM Platform Studies: The Rules of Engagement
Katrin Tiidenberg 9:00 AM – 10:30 AM Session Chair: Fakes
Nancy Baym 11:00 AM – 12:30 PM Economies of the Internet
Eszter Hargittai 11:00 AM – 12:30 PM Session Chair: (Non)Participation
Tero Karppi 11:00 AM – 12:30 PM Algorithmic Identities
Alice Marwick 11:00 AM – 12:30 PM Scandal or Sex Crime? Ethical Implications of the Celebrity Nude Photo Leaks
Nancy Baym 2:00 PM – 3:30 PM Technically Unequal: Representational Issues in Technology Scholarship and Journalism
Eszter Hargittai 2:00 PM – 3:30 PM Unconnected: How Privacy Concerns Impact Internet Adoption
Katrin Tiidenberg 2:00 PM – 3:30 PM Representation, Presentation, Embodiment/Emplacement
Siva Vaidhyanatha 2:00 PM – 3:30 PM Technically Unequal: Representational Issues in Technology Scholarship and Journalism
Tarleton Gillespie 4:00 PM – 5:30 PM Roundtable: Censorship Online, and the Challenges of Studying What’s No Longer there
Kishonna Gray 4:00 PM – 5:30 PM Color-Coded: Breaking the Rules of Whiteness Online
Kate Crawford 7:00 PM – 8:30 PM Plenary Panel: Who Rules the Internet? Kate Crawford (Microsoft Research NYC), Fieke Jansen (Tactical Tech), Carolin Gerlitz (University of Siegen)

Friday, October 7th, 2016

Mike Ananny 9:00 AM – 10:30 AM Roundtable: Still Platforms: The Apparent Stability of Digital Intermediaries in the Face of Change and Challenge
Solon Barocas 9:00 AM – 10:30 AM Roundtable: Still Platforms: The Apparent Stability of Digital Intermediaries in the Face of Change and Challenge
Tarleton Gillespie 9:00 AM – 10:30 AM Roundtable: Still Platforms: The Apparent Stability of Digital Intermediaries in the Face of Change and Challenge
Stacy Blasiola 11:00 AM – 12:30 PM The Rules of Engagement: Managing Boundaries, Managing Identities
Jean Burgess 11:00 AM – 12:30 PM What Would Feminist Big Data, Data Studies and Datavis Look Like?
Kate Crawford 11:00 AM – 12:30 AM What Would Feminist Big Data, Data Studies and Datavis Look Like?
Airi Lampinen 11:00 AM – 12:30 PM The Rules of Engagement: Managing Boundaries, Managing Identities
Katrin Tiidenberg 11:00 AM – 12:30 PM Making and Breaking Rules on the Internet
Kate Miltner 2:00 PM – 3:30 PM Playing with the Rules
Kishonna Gray 4:00 PM – 5:30 PM The Cultural Politics of Feminism and Anti-Feminism After Gamergate
Tero Karppi 4:00 PM – 5:30 PM Disconnect. Unfriend. Disengage.
Susanna Paasonen 4:00 PM – 5:30 PM The Cultural Politics of Feminism and Anti-Feminism After Gamergate

Saturday, October 8th, 2016

Jean Burgess 11:00 AM – 12:30 PM The Sharing Economy and Its Discontents
Stefanie Duguay 11:00 AM – 12:30 PM The Sharing Economy and Its Discontents
Mary L. Gray 11:00 AM – 12:30 PM The Sharing Economy and Its Discontents
Dan Greene 11:00 AM – 12:30 PM Internet Industry Research Rules! A Roundtable on Methods
Germaine Halegoua 11:00 AM – 12:30 PM Intersections of Technology & Place
Jessa Lingel 11:00 AM – 12:30 PM Session Chair: Tech/Place
Nick Seaver 11:00 AM – 12:30 PM Internet Industry Research Rules! A Roundtable on Methods
Lana Swartz 11:00 AM – 12:30 PM Internet Industry Research Rules! A Roundtable on Methods
Kevin Driscoll 2:00 PM – 3:30 PM Session Chair: Histories
Annette Markham 2:00 PM – 3:30 PM AoIR Institutional Memory Panel
Dylan Mulvin 2:00 PM – 3:30 PM Embedded Dangers: The History of the Year 2000 Problem and the Politics of Technological Repair

New Article in New Media + Society

Germaine Halegoua (University of Kansas), Alex Leavitt (Facebook), and Mary L. Gray recently published an article based on research conducted while Germaine was a Ph.D. Intern and Alex was a Research Assistant at MSR.

The article, “Jumping For Fun?: Negotiating Mobility and the Geopolitics of Foursquare” was published in Social Media + Society and is available here: http://sms.sagepub.com/content/2/3/2056305116665859.full.pdf+html.

Abstract: Rather than assume that there is some universal “right way” to engage social media platforms, we interrogate how the location-based social media practice known as “jumping” played out on the popular service Foursquare. We use this case to investigate how a “global” or universal system is constructed with an imagined user in mind, one who enjoys a particular type of mobility and experience of place. We argue that the practices of “Indonesian” Foursquare jumpers and the discourses surrounding their use of Foursquare illustrate that practices understood as transgressive or resistive might best be read as strategies for engaging with a platform as groups contend with marginalizing social, economic, and/or political conditions.

Citation: Halegoua, Germaine R., Alex Leavitt, and Mary L. Gray. “Jumping for Fun? Negotiating Mobility and the Geopolitics of Foursquare.” Social Media + Society 2, no. 3 (July 1, 2016): 2056305116665859. doi:10.1177/2056305116665859.