Teens Text More than Adults, But They’re Still Just Teens

danah and I have a new piece in the Daily Beast. Summary: the more things change, the more they stay the same.

In the last decade, we’ve studied how technology affects how teens socialize, how they present themselves, and how they think about issues like gender and privacy. While it’s true that teens incorporate social media into many facets of their lives, and that they face new pressures their parents didn’t—from cyber-bullying to fearmongering over “online predators”—the core elements of high-school life are fundamentally the same today as they were two decades ago: friends, relationships, grades, family, and the future.

Read the full piece here.

A lot of the research that we do involving teenagers seems obvious to teenagers themselves. “Duh.” “Why would anyone study that?” “Who cares?”

Unfortunately, teenagers aren’t the ones writing news stories about how Facebook is making us lonely, Facebook is full of creepers, or teens are pressured to reveal intimate details on Facebook (note: those last two studies sponsored by a company that creates parental blocking and monitoring software). They aren’t the ones passing anti-bullying legislation, appearing on television to tell parents that teens study less and are more narcissistic than a generation ago, or implementing 3-strikes laws in public schools.

Our public-facing work aims to explain teenage practice in clear language that isn’t sensationalistic or fear-mongering. Obviously, not all scholarship lends itself to this type of writing. But given that social media is often discussed in utopian or dystopian terms in the press, research can provide a rational, sensible perspective that’s badly needed. Like, duh.

Is blocking pro-ED content the right way to solve eating disorders?

Warning: This post deals with eating disorder and self-harm content and is potentially triggering.

Following up on Tarleton’s terrific post on moderating Facebook comes Tumblr’s announcement that it will no longer allow pro-eating disorder (pro-ED) or pro-self-harm blogs on the site.

Active Promotion of Self-Harm. Don’t post content that actively promotes or glorifies self-injury or self-harm. This includes content that urges or encourages readers to cut or mutilate themselves; embrace anorexia, bulimia, or other eating disorders; or commit suicide rather than, e.g., seek counseling or treatment for depression or other disorders. Online dialogue about these acts and conditions is incredibly important; this prohibition is intended to reach only those blogs that cross the line into active promotion or glorification. For example, joking that you need to starve yourself after Thanksgiving or that you wanted to kill yourself after a humiliating date is fine, but recommending techniques for self-starvation or self-mutilation is not.

(The remainder of this post focuses on eating disorder content, because it’s what I know the most about. I’d love to hear more from people familiar with self-harm communities.)

Pro-ED content has existed on the internet for many years, and it has been studied by many researchers. It is primarily created and consumed by girls and young women, ages 13-25. There is evidence that the viewing of pro-ED websites (pro-ana, anorexia, and pro-mia, bulimia) produces negative effects in college-age women — lower self-esteem and perception of oneself as “heavier” (Bardone-Cone & Cass, 2007). But pro-ED websites have been sensationalized in the media as cults that encourage young women to kill themselves, even ending up as the case-of-the-week on Boston Legal.

At the same time, the cultural pressure on young women to conform to normative body types is intense. In Am I Thin Enough Yet? The Cult of Thinness and the Commercialization of Identity, feminist sociologist Sharlene Hess Biber looks at the complex interactions between media, schools, peers, family, and the health and fitness industry that systemically undermine young women’s self confidence, send the message that appearance is more important than intelligence or personality, and emphasize the importance of thinness overall. Often, the messages found on pro-ana or pro-mia sites– such as “nothing tastes as good as thin feels”, attributed to Kate Moss but actually a Weight Watchers slogan that has been around for decades– are extraordinarily similar to those found in magazines like Self and Women’s Health, or on websites like My Fitness Pal or Sparkpeople that promote weight loss in a “healthy” way. These media emphasize different weight loss techniques, but the message is the same: it is very important to be thin and conform to an attractive, normative body ideal.

Pro-ED websites are a female subculture, with their own vocabulary, customs, and norms. Moreover, the women who frequent these sites are well aware that their practices are stigmatized. In general, women with eating disorders go to great lengths to hide them from friends and families. This is primarily for two reasons: one, they want to keep losing weight and are worried that they may be forced into treatment, and two, they are afraid of being ridiculed or called out by others. The anonymous or pseudonymous nature of pro-ED sites allows these participants an outlet for their social isolation, and (to a certain extent) emotional support from others going through the same experiences that they are.

Jeannine Gailey, a sociologist of deviance, wrote a paper on pro-ED websites using ethnographic methods. She concludes:

They need a place where they can share their stories and fears with others who are similarly minded and have had comparable experiences. They, as Dias put it [another ethnographic researcher of pro-ana sites, paper here], are seeking a sanctuary. The internet provides the women with both a sanctuary and a medium in which to express the sensations and intense emotions they experience as they struggle to maintain control over their bodies and lives…. The women’s narratives I explored indicate that they participate in the central features of edgework, namely pushing oneself to the edge, testing the limits of both their bodies and minds, exercising particular skills that require ‘innate talent’ and mental toughness, and feelings of self-actualization or omnipotence.

Gailey frames EDs as “edgework,” a concept from criminology/deviance that describes practices of voluntary risk-taking, like skydiving, rock climbing, ‘extreme sports’, stock-trading, unprotected sex, and illegal graffiti. The skills Gailey describes as part of edgework are similar to those emphasized by other body-related extreme communities, such as those devoted to bodybuilding, crossfit, veganism, and paleo dieting. On such communities, members swap tips, ask for support, show progress, share information and share vocabularies and normative practices.

Obviously, Tumblr isn’t focusing on any of these communities. I’m not arguing that eating disorders aren’t dangerous, or even that they’re potentially empowering. They are not. But the focus on young women’s online practice as deviant, pathological, and quasi-illegal is in line with a long history. Young women and their bodies are often the locus of control of social panics, from teen pregnancies to virginity to obesity to dressing “slutty”.

More importantly, Tumblr banning this content won’t do anything to make it go away. It does take Tumblr off the hook, but even the quickest search for self-harm or thinspo (serious trigger warning) finds thousands of posts, many heartbreaking in their raw honesty. One Tumblr writes:

if tumblr blocks all our blogs then things will be worse. off than they were before, we’ll feel alone again, outcasts! Who can we share our problems with if our blogs have been taken off us? We share our deepest and most darkest secrets on here and if our blogs are taken where are we supposed to put our feelings? They will build up inside of us and things will get worse and worse. Well done tumblr you bunch of arseholes, you’re going to make things worse.

Pragmatically, many of the thinspo content has simply migrated to Pinterest. Others have password-protected their blogs and spread the password to people in the community.

Eating disorder prevention needs to be structural as well as medical. Realistically, eating disorders aren’t going anywhere as long as we have a complex set of mediated images and discursive tropes that pin the importance of young women on their bodies. These issues exist on a continuum that includes everything from Shape magazine and The Biggest Loser to well-meaning anti-childhood obesity initiatives. Young women participating in pro-ED communities are acting upon messages they get from many other places in their lives. While there is no agreed-upon way of dealing with pro-ED communities– and it’s great that Tumblr is going to implement PSA-type ads that appear on searches for these terms– there are more productive interventions that can be made. We must understand the reasons these young women are in such pain and, more importantly, be willing to engage with these communities, rather than painting them as horrific or abhorrent.

What the GPS Device on Antoine Jones’ Jeep Cherokee Means for Internet Privacy

Yesterday the Supreme Court ruled on United States vs. Jones [PDF of court opinion], a case in which the FBI/DC police placed a GPS tracking device on the Jeep Cherokee of Antoine Jones, a club owner in DC who was suspected of dealing cocaine. The cops tracked Mr. Jones for 28 days, and, based on that evidence (as well as a CCTV camera pointing at the club door, a pen register (*) and a wiretap on Jones’s cellphone), charged him with conspiracy and possession with intent. Jones appealed, saying that the GPS data should be inadmissible since it was collected without a warrant.

The Supreme Court held up the ruling of the DC Court of Appeals in a unanimous 9-0 decision, saying that a) this was a search b) a car is a person’s property, or “effects”, and thus affixing a GPS to the undercarriage of the car violates the Fourth Amendment. From the ruling:

It is important to be clear about what occurred in this case: The Government physically occupied private property for the purpose of obtaining information. We have no doubt that such a physical intrusion would have been considered a “search” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment when it was adopted.

What’s interesting here is that there was a 5-4 split on why the Justices ruled as they did. Justice Sotomayor, writing a concurrent opinion, wrote, “When the Government physically invades personal property to gather information, a search occurs.The reaffirmation of that principle suffices to decide this case.” Since the government had invaded property, the Justices did not need to evaluate any of the other principles that this case brings up.

And there are many principles that this case brings up. Sotomayor talks about many of them: what about electronic surveillance if no property was trespassed upon? What about the chilling effects of potential long-term electronic surveillance? What about the fact that GPS monitoring gives far more specific information, and is far easier and cheaper, than traditional visual surveillance? What about the fact that this data can be stored and mined later? She writes:

I would take these attributes of GPS monitoring into account when considering the existence of a reasonable societal expectation of privacy in the sum of one’s public movements. I would ask whether people reasonably expect that their movements will be recorded and aggregated in a manner that enables the Government to ascertain, more or less at will, their political and religious beliefs, sexual habits, and so on. I do not regard as dispositive the fact that the Government might obtain the fruits of GPS monitoring through lawful conventional surveillance techniques… I would also consider the appropriateness of entrusting to the Executive, in the absence of any oversight from a coordinate branch, a tool so amenable to misuse, especially in light of the Fourth Amendment’s goa lto curb arbitrary exercises of police power to and prevent “a too permeating police surveillance.”

But most awesomely, Sotomayor then goes on to critique the third party doctrine. This says that if you disclose information to a third party (whether that’s your sister, Google, or Ma Bell), you have no reasonable expectation of privacy governing that information, and the government has a right to access it. As Sotomayor writes, “This approach is ill suited to the digital age, in which people reveal a great deal of information about themselves to third parties in the course of carrying out mundane tasks” like checking email, signing up for Facebook, or buying a pair of shoes online.

In a concurring opinion, four other judges agreed with the majority ruling, but not the use of the property doctrine to decide it. Instead, Alito, Ginsberg, Breyer and Kagan seem suspicious of electronic surveillance overall. In Alito’s concurring judgment, he mentions GPS, road CCTV cameras, electronic toll collectors, and, most interestingly, cell phone location data as potential invasions of privacy. He laments that Congress and state governments have done little or nothing to regulate the use of this data by law enforcement.

I think the SCOTUS is itching for a fight on digital privacy. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens with similar cases in the future.

* Don’t get me started on pen registers. They track what numbers you call, and have the technical capability to track where your cellphone is and even your text messages. Yet the standard for ordering one is much lower than, say, wiretapping; the potential surveillee just has to be part of an ‘ongoing criminal investigation.’ Even more worryingly, Chris Soghoian has documented that law enforcement makes tens of thousands of requests to phone companies for cell phone location information. Requests to internet companies for location information are not even subject to the pen register standard; all they need is a subpoena.

What’s the difference between SOPA and PIPA?

I decided to put my slightly-dormant internet policy research skillz to work to figure this out. It was surprisingly difficult. Most stop PIPA/SOPA websites conflate them– but they are different. (Note: The best resource was an article I found at Area 51 Technologies.)

#1: SOPA’s a House bill, PIPA is a Senate bill.
SOPA = House of Representatives
PIPA = Senate

The Senate tends to be older and more conservative than the House, meaning that it’s more likely to be completely clueless about the internet. That’s not good.

#2: PIPA has a greater chance of passing.

SOPA has gotten so much guff that it’s temporarily off the table. PIPA, on the other hand, has been relatively ignored and so is much farther along in the process.

#3: They are essentially the same “anti-piracy” bill, but with a few different provisions.

Both PIPA and SOPA focus on “foreign rogue websites” (e.g. the Pirate Bay, Wikileaks) that facilitate piracy. And they both establish systems for removing websites that the Department of Justice decides are “dedicated to infringing activities.”

PIPA does NOT have a provision that requires search engines to remove these “foreign infringing site[s]” from their indexes. SOPA does. And it’s been highly criticized.

PIPA does seem to require more court intervention to take down a site– that’s good, right?– but it DOESN’T have any provision that penalizes a copyright holder for making a false claim of infringement. In other words, a Big IP company can claim that a site is infringing, drag it through hella expensive litigation, be proven wrong, and the site can do nothing about its costs incurred in the process. SOPA DOES include a provision that penalizes copyright holders who do this “knowingly,” including making them liable for damages and legal costs.

#4: They both require DNS blocking.

Because this has been protested not only by civil rights groups and internet enthusiasts, but engineers and computer scientists who say that DNS blocking will damage internet infrastructure (like, say, the Domain Name System itself), the sponsors of SOPA and PIPA have agreed to strip this from both bills. They claim that this will eliminate much of the current opposition. (See related technical whitepaper. [PDF link])

The bills share many other odious traits, which are summarized by Katy Tasker from Public Knowledge in this handy chart:

Chart of the differences between PIPA and SOPA. The two bills are essentially the same.

Ultimately, PIPA and SOPA are not particularly different. They are slightly textually different versions of the same legislation– supported by the entertainment industry and, for the most part, heavily opposed by the technology industry (including us at SMC). If at this point you still haven’t called your senators or representatives, you can easily do so at americancensorship.org.

Using Off-the-shelf Software for basic Twitter Analysis

Mary Gray, Mike Ananny and I are writing a paper on queer youth and “Glee” for the American Anthropological Association’s annual meeting (yes, I have the greatest job in the world). This is a multi-methodological study by design, because traditional television viewing practices have become so complex. Besides traditional audience ethnography like interviews and participant observation, we are using textual analysis to analyze episode themes, and collected a large corpus of tweets with Glee-related hashtags. This summer, I worked with my high school intern, Jazmin Gonzales-Rivero, to go through this corpus of tweets and pull out useful information for the paper.

We’ve written and published a basic report on using off-the-shelf tools to see patterns and themes in large Twitter data set quickly and easily.

Abstract:

With the increasing popularity of large social software applications like Facebook and Twitter, social scientists and computer scientists have begun developing innovative approaches to dealing with the vast amounts of data produced and collected in such environments. For qualitative researchers, the methods involved can be daunting and unfamiliar. In this report, we outline some basic procedures for working with a large-scale Twitter data set to answer qualitative inquiries. We use Python, MySQL, and the word-cloud generator Wordle to identify patterns in re-tweets, tweet authors, dates and times of tweets, frequency of hashtags, and frequency of word use. Such data can provide valuable augmentation to qualitative inquiry. This paper is aimed at social scientists and humanities scholars with limited experience with big data and a lack of computing resources to do extensive quantitative research.

Citation:
Marwick, A. and Gonzales-Rivero, J. (2011). Learning to Work with Large-Scale Twitter Data Sets: Using Off-The-Shelf Tools to Quickly and Easily See Tweet Patterns. Microsoft Research Social Media Collective Report, MSR-SMC-11-01, Cambridge, MA. [Download as PDF]

If you’re a seasoned computer scientist or a Big Data aficionado, the information in this paper will seem quite simplistic. But for those of us without programming backgrounds who study Twitter or other forms of social media, the idea of tackling a set of 450,000 tweets can seem quite daunting. In this paper, Jazmin and I walk step-by-step through the methods she used to parse a set of Tweets, using free and easily accessible tools like MySQL, Python, and Wordle. We hope this will be helpful for other legal, humanities, and social science scholars who might want to dip their foot into Big Data to augment more qualitative research findings.

Citation:

You’re the Manager but I’m the Mayor: Understanding Foursquare Check-ins in Claimed Venues

Get Microsoft Silverlight

This talk is by Germaine Halegoua, one of our fantastic interns this summer and a brand-new Assistant Professor at the University of Kansas. She outlines her findings from her summer research project, about the location-based mobile service Foursquare.

The presentation includes preliminary findings and analysis from an ethnographic study of Foursquare users in the Boston area, focusing on their relationships with “friends” as well as “claimed venues” on Foursquare. This project aims to investigate how and why managers of Foursquare’s claimed venues and their patrons use location-based services; what relationships are forged between vendors and customers via Foursquare; how participants understand their own participation and the audiences for their actions; as well as attitudes about locational privacy and the meaning of location announcement over these networks. Some of these findings reflect information flows, practices of listening and responding, and relations of power that are relevant across other social network sites as well.

If you’re interested in LBS, this is a great introduction to some academic thinking on the topic.

Watch the full talk here.

What We’re Reading

We’re a diverse bunch here at the SMC, but what we have in common is that we are nerds who read a lot. I went on office patrol to find out what my compatriots have selected as their August summer reading.

danah boyd

Books danah boyd is reading
Parenting out of Control: Anxious Parents in Uncertain Times, by Margaret Nelson
“It’s a phenomenal examination of two different common parenting strategies and their class dimensions.”

The Cookbook Collector, by Allegra Goodman
“It’s so relevant even to today. Through fiction, [Goodman] shows the different players from different angles seeing the dot com boom and crash play out. I think in the tech industry, we tend to forget about these different angles.”

Danah is also reading The Wind-Up Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi, a critically-acclaimed steampunk/dystopia. She and I share a love for YA, sci-fi, and YA sci-fi.

Kate Crawford


Behavior in Public Places: Notes on the Social Organization of Gatherings, by Erving Goffman
“It’s a classic, but nobody’s read it. Eytan [Adar, visiting researcher] and I are using it to think about the London riots.”

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot
“Danah recommended this, because the theme of cell propagation is bizarrely relevant to [the paper they’re working on about] Big Data.”

Eytan Adar

Books Eytan is reading
The Taming of the American Crowd: From Stamp Riots to Shopping Sprees, by Al Sandine
“I bought this but haven’t read it yet. It’s for Kate and I’s project on the London riots.”

The Magician King, by Lev Grossman
“If you want junky books, I just finished the Magician King. I’m actually looking forward to the sequel. ”
I also just finished this, so I responded that a) it was written by the book critic for New York magazine and therefore is de facto not junky, b) it was a lot better than its predecessor, “The Magicians.”

Heather Castells


Paying for Sex: The Gentlemen’s Guide To Web Porn, Strip Clubs, Prostitutes & Escorts – Without Humiliation, Job Loss, Bankruptcy, Infection, Bloodshed Or Incarceration, by Kerr Fuffle and Roscoe Spanks
“Danah and I found this on Amazon. It’s a self-published guide for people who want to buy sex with escorts and prostitutes and how not to get caught. We wanted a better view of what the demand side looks like in human trafficking.”
Me: Is it written from a male perspective?
Heather: They say in the beginning of the book that it’s aimed solely at men.

Laura Norén

Books Laura Noren is reading
Look at Me, by Jennifer Egan
“I allow myself to read fiction in the summer. I loved the Goon Squad.”

Personal Connections in the Digital Age, by Nancy Baym
“This relates to research I’m doing. I’m excited for the chapter on communities and networks, because I think it’ll be relevant to my project on food blogging. I’m also excited for the chapter on authenticity, which apparently everyone has trouble pinning down.”

The Naked City: The Death and Life of Authentic Urban Places, by Sharon Zukin.
“I did not like this. It’s primarily about authenticity in the East Village and Red Hook, and I live in Red Hook.” Note: Laura also goes to NYU which is pretty much in the East Village. “I got my hopes up, meaning it was easy to disappoint me. It didn’t do quite what I thought it was going to do. On the other hand, it did help me understand how personal an experience of shared space is.”

Alice Marwick


Note that these are fake quotes from me, since I don’t talk out loud to myself, at least not usually

Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline
“I stayed up til 2 am last night finishing this. It’s about video games and 80s nostalgia in a dystopian future. I couldn’t put it down.”

Gender Circuits: Bodies and Identities in a Technological Age, by Eve Shapiro
“I’ve been working on a book chapter about gender and social media and really struggling. The snippets of this book I found on Google Books convinced me to buy it. I’m hoping it comes from Amazon tomorrow.”

What Technology Wants, by Kevin Kelly
“I haven’t started this either, but I’m interviewing Kevin Kelly next week and I’m pretty intimidated. I hope reading his latest will help me put together some non-idiotic questions.”

What are YOU reading?

Behind the Meme: People’s Champion

SMC alum Alex Leavitt posted this fantastic documentary on his Tumblr. It’s a behind-the-scenes breakdown of the infamous Eli Porter rap battle, which got like 4 million YouTube hits and has been referenced by Kanye West and T-Pain, among others.

People’s Champion: Behind the Battle from Trent Babbington on Vimeo.

As Alex wisely says:

“I could say a lot about this documentary, about race, class, school life, discrimination, subculture, celebrity. And about the power of the internet as a network for recontextualization. But it really boils down to this: “There’s so much about it that’s dope, in a non-laughing-at-him kind of way. There’s something about him that I really want to listen to, regardless.”

My fascination with internet celebrity is well-documented and I’m pumped to see more stuff like this. What’s it like when something you’ve made, or been in, has the visibility of a network television show? What is it like when people know you, but you have none of the traditional trappings of fame to protect you?

Anyway, this is excellent procrastination fodder as it’s only 30 minutes long and very funny. The producers are trying to Kickstart Part II.

“If you don’t like it, don’t use it. It’s that simple.” ORLY?

We’ve had a controversial week here at SMC, with both danah and Bernie jumping into the fray over Real Names (TM) and social network sites.

I’m not engaging with that mess, but I am interested in the response to it. Over, and over, and over again, when anyone– academic, pundit, journalist, blogger, regular person without a fancy appellation– criticizes social media, you’ll see a plethora of comments like the following (real comments from various things we’ve written with names removed):

“How dare you write software and give it to me for free under terms with which I disagree? That’s an abuse of power!”
No, it isn’t. Get your sense of entitlement under control.

The solution is rather simple – don’t join Facebook.

The internet is a big place. There’s room for all kinds of social networks. You don’t have to join every one of them.

It’s common, and easy, to say “just don’t use it.” There’s actually a term for this– technology refusal– meaning people who strategically “opt out” of using overwhelmingly prevalent technologies. This includes teens who’ve committed Facebook suicide because it causes too much drama; off-the-grid types who worry about the surveillance potentials of GPS-enabled smartphones; older people who think computers are just too much trouble; and, of course, privacy-concerned types who choose not to use Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, websites with cookies, or any other technology that could potentially compromise their privacy. (This does not include people who can’t afford internet access or computers, or who live in areas without cell towers or broadband access.)
Continue reading ““If you don’t like it, don’t use it. It’s that simple.” ORLY?”